Trans Am Bike Race 2016 Update: Sisters, OR

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Lael riding upstream along the McKenzie River, her K-Lite dynamo light showing the road.  For a detailed account of the long road to the Trans Am, check out my last post entitled “Arizona to Baja to Alaska to Trans Am”.  All photos: Josh Spice

Lael called yesterday leaving Corvallis, OR, no doubt riding one-handed while riding down the road with her phone to her ear.  She never calls while riding into town or in town, she only calls once fully restocked and rolling out of town.  She described her first day as a “scorcher”, with temperatures into the high 90’s, maybe close to 100F in some places in Oregon.  Temperatures over the next couple of days are slowly cooling.  The 4250 miles Trans Am Trail travels cross-country via paved road from Astoria, OR to Yorktown, VA, passing into more arid climates on the east side of McKenzie Pass and the Cascade Mountains  Most of the route in the next week, between central Oregon and Kansas, will remain above 2000ft, topping out at 11,542ft on Hoosier Pass south of Breckenridge, Colorado, meaning somewhat cooler temperatures and cooler nights.  Most of the west is experiencing high pressure, high temperatures, and clear skies at the moment.  Lael grabbed a load of McDonald’s sandwiches in Corvallis.

Even before I could ask Lael how her breathing was, I could hear it in her voice.  She sounds good, in fact, she sounds great!  She battled a lingering cold for several weeks leading up to the race, so much that on her final riding days down to Portland I forbade her from riding a 104 mile day into Portland in the rain.  Instead, she checked into a $39 motel along I-5 in Centralia, WA and rested.  She walked to the local book store and found a pocket sized copy of HUD by Larry McMurtry.  On the second morning, with more rain and static health, I suggested she stay another day, knowing that once in Portland she would be committed to spending time with family and friends.  It isn’t easy to get Lael to sit still.  In these two days she watched a half-dozen motivating ESPN documentaries about basketball teams from her childhood including “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks” and “Survive and Advance” the story of the 1983 NC State Wolfpack and coach Jim Valvano.  Before ultra-cycling fame Lael was a distance runner at the University of Puget Sound and in several ultra competitions, a competitive soccer player on the Alaska Goldstrikers while in high school, and a dedicated junior high basketball player.  Basketball was her first love, and there are few people our age who didn’t love the NBA in the 80’ and 90’s.  Over those two days, we’d call each other and make recommendations for motivating sports films we’d found on Netflix.   

Lael called in again this morning leaving Sisters, OR.  Her breathing is still as near 100% as I’ve ever heard during an event, and she reports feeling great and getting “great, restful sleep”.  She said that her breathing improved through the first day, likely the result of a conservative pace and a commitment to riding her own race.  Warm temperatures, low elevation, higher humidity, and low anxiety are likely to thank for her positive health after a 285 mile day from Astoria to the base of McKenzie Pass.  Even during the second Tour Divide ITT, in which she averaged nearly 200 miles per day for the first five days, she had symptoms of breathing problems, similar to her first TD ride, so it is really encouraging to hear her voice as strong as it is.  

Lael was joined last night by our friend Josh Spice, formerly of Fairbanks, who recently moved to Eugene, OR.  Josh rode with Lael for a bit up the McKenzie River until she decided to wind down for the night.  Lael slept last night behind a sign that said “No Entry”, to be away from the road, and reports no bugs or moisture.  After such a warm day, nighttime temperatures were likely in the low 60s or high 50s.  Passing through Sisters this morning she purchased goods from a Mexican grocery, packing several burritos into her framebag.  On a sunny Sunday morning, she saw lots of road riders on her way down the east side of McKenzie Pass.  From the Willamette Valley on the west side of the Cascades, McKenzie Pass is the single greatest elevation gain on the Trans Am Route, from 200ft at the river to 5335ft at the top of the pass.

There are currently four riders ahead of Lael including Lee Fancourt, Sarah Hammond, Evan Deutsch, and Steffen Stretch.  Lee and Steffen rode long and fast yesterday, and while Lee took a solid night’s sleep on the pass, Steffen pushed through the night and seems not to have closed his eyes since before the race start.  All of these riders are maintaining incredible riding speeds and are slowly pulling away from the main field of riders.  The top five riders should be through Oregon sometime tomorrow.  The Trans Am Trail and the Adventure Cycling Association (formerly the Bikecentennial organization), who first published the route back in 1976, are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year.  Lael and I plan to travel to Missoula, MT in July for the Montana Bicycle Celebration.  Join us in Missoula for the biggest cycletouring celebration of the summer, as well as an exclusive Baja Divide presentation at Free Cycles on July 14th.   

Thanks to Lucas O’Laughlin and Monica Garcia for providing support before the race in Astoria, and for all the help last summer at the end of the Tour Divide.  Lucas and Monica keep moving around the country, coinciding with Lael’s race starts and finishes.  Also, great thanks to Josh Spice for these awesome images of Lael in action in the night, not an easy thing to capture while handholding a camera and riding in the dark.  Check out this video clip that Josh recorded while riding alongside Lael last night. 

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6 thoughts on “Trans Am Bike Race 2016 Update: Sisters, OR

  1. Nice post! I hope her health holds out.

    I’ve never met you guys but I’ve been following your blogs for a few years. That was when, or right after, you were traveling in Ukraine. I love Ukraine and still want to ride there.

    Fast forward to now, It’s been amazing to see Lael become this high level racer. It should have been a clue when in the past you wrote about how you would ride hard all day then at the camp spot, she would then go for a run. She had an unusual amount of stamina and energy.

    You two are quite the team. It’s amazing how you have embraced the racing and have been the ultimate support person.

    I just saw the Outside film. Very cool! I’d love to see more videos/films. You guys have a unique lifestyle. I’d love to see a film of one of your trips. Combining bikepacking with international traveling, and doing it in the minimalist way that you do, is fantastic. You are both an inspiration to me and I have traveled a lot.

    Take care and all the best with the race.

  2. Nick-

    Thanks HUGELY for providing these TransAm updates on Lael. I really enjoy your writing and photos, and find your and Lael’s team approach to adventure travel and racing to be truly inspirational.

    Carry on.


  3. Lael is so awesome. I was worried how she would handle the hot ride through the valley at the peak of grass pollen season. As much as I wanted to stay at the pass and watch her come through, I know how bad that road is and didn’t want to distract any racers from their goal. You really need to be fully present and concentrate as you dodge the divots and pot holes. It was thrilling to see her go by up on the road while I was at Cold Springs. Hope to see you both in MT in July. I’ll be there hugging the wall. I am not a crowd person. I’ll be watching her pink dot. Go, Lael, Go!

  4. The half hour I get for lunch is highlighted by following Lael’s little pink bubble across the US on trackleaders! Go Lael Go!!! You guys are both an inspiration!!!

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