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Baja Divide- Published!

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The Baja Divide, done.

Nine months since crossing the border at Tecate and committing to a route project in Baja California, MX, the Baja Divide is done!

From San Diego, CA, USA to San Jose del Cabo and back to La Paz, BCS, MX, the route is 1700 miles (2735 km) long with 92,000 feet (28,000 m) of climbing and is expected to take about six weeks to complete. The route is conceptually divided into four chapters: Northern Sierra, Valle de los Cirios, Missions, and Cape Loop. These groupings provide convenient distances for riders seeking shorter trips, ranging from 1-2.5 weeks, and each of these chapters can be reached by public transportation (plane or bus). In total, the Baja Divide is divided into 20 shorter sections, each beginning and ending at major resupply points and almost always on a paved road. These sections range in length from 44 miles to 167 miles and are largely defined by access to food and water, which is a frequent consideration for the Baja Divide traveler.

The Baja Divide route and equipment guide covers a variety of topics and is our best effort at providing the information needed to properly prepare for a ride on the Baja Divide. The Overview page is the best place to begin browsing the new site, while the route History page provides insight into the development process, including the many challenges to routing in Baja.

Each route section is described in detail including distance, notes, resupply points, and a narrative which prepares you for the the rigors and rewards of that section. Full-screen images also provide a flavorful impression of each section. Of the four route chapters, the Northern Sierra (306 mi) and Cape Loop (283 mi) are the shortest and most accessible. The Northern Sierra begins in San Diego and provides about a week of riding to Vincente Guerrero at MEX 1, where a bus will quickly return the rider to Tijuana, which is only a short bike ride back to San Diego and the airport. This section is the most accessible on standard 2.25″-2.5″ mountain bike tires. The Cape Loop is easily accessed by flights into La Paz or San Jose del Cabo and provides about a week of riding.

The mapping page features a simple Google-based interactive map of the route. For more advanced web-based viewing visit the Baja Divide on Ride With GPS, which features elevation profiles and multiple map layers. A series of downloads is available from a Baja Divide Google Drive folder including GPX tracks, a resupply and distance chart, as well as a waypoint file indicating resources along the route. GPX files are available in multiple configurations, including a full-resolution file, a downsized 10K version for smaller and older devices, and individual files for each chapter of the route (Northern Sierra, Valle de los Cirios, Missions, Cape Loop). The resupply guide and distance chart is a two-page PDF which could easily be downloaded onto a smartphone or printed onto a single sheet of paper.

The “Lael’s Globe of Adventure” Women’s Scholarship is offered to one female rider who plans to ride the Baja Divide in 2016-2017 and posesses an interest in international travel and global cultures, has some off-pavement bicycle touring experience (or substantive paved touring, backpacking, or travel experience), and is willing to share her ride on the Baja Divide through writing, photography, visual art, or music. The winner will receive an Advocate Cycles 27.5+ Hayduke or Seldom Seen, a complete Revelate Designs luggage kit, and a $1000 community-supported travel grant (minimum amount). Applications are due November 11, 2016. The recipient will be expected to provide one substantial written piece each to Advocate Cycles, Revelate Designs, and the Baja Divide website. Once a recipient is selected we will launch a crowdfunding campaign in their name to finance the travel grant. Spread the word!

We are proud to announce Revelate Designs and Advocate Cycles as sponsors of the Baja Divide. We have given months of our lives to route research, writing, editing, and publishing to produce this massive new resource. To show their support, these companies have pledged to offset transportation expenses and are donating generously to the women’s scholarship. Their financial support will also enable the development of a printed map and resupply guide and will support some expenses associated with the January 2, 2017 group start.

Revelate Designs produces the highest-quality bikepacking equipment in the world and is committed to creating durable goods, minimizing waste, and innovating a better riding experience. Eric Parsons has experience bikepacking on several continents, from the Himalayas and the Andes to the Iditarod Trail in Alaska, and has supported the Baja Divide since the beginning. Lael and I have been using Revelate equipment since 2011 for both long-distance tours and ultra-distance races.

Advocate Cycles innovates steel and titanium bicycles and donates 100% of profits to bicycle advocacy organizations such as Adventure Cycling Association, People for Bikes, NICA, and IMBA. Their 27.5+ models– the Hayduke and the Seldom Seen– are perfect for the Baja Divide. Lael was one of the first riders to put a steel Hayduke to long-term test in Mexico while investigating the Baja Divide. Tim Krueger contacted us early in the development of the Baja Divide and offered to support the route in any way.

The group start on the Baja Divide scheduled for January 2, 2017 is nearing capacity and “registration” is now closed. To maximize rider enjoyment and minimize impact on small communities and the natural spaces of Baja California, the group start will be limited to about 100 riders. If you have expressed interest in the ride via e-mail or a comment on the blog, you will receive an e-mail soon inquiring about your intent to ride. If you have already made plans to start the route on January 2 but have not contacted us, please e-mail Nicholas Carman at bajadivide@gmail.com. We will share a rider list once the details are finalized.  Note, the route is open to ride at any time!

The Baja Divide is going to Interbike! The Revelate Designs booth (21070) will be dressed in a wall-sized map of the Baja Divide route with images from our ride, while Lael and I will be there to chat about the route. Visit the Revelate Designs booth on Wednesday at 4PM for a brief presentation about the Baja Divide.

Finally, we’re excited to move past this phase of this project, just a month before the Baja Divide season begins. Once tropical storms have passed for the season we look forward to seeing and hearing about your experiences on blogs, Facebook, and at #bajadivide on Instagram. If you wish to share impressions or reflections on the Baja Divide site, please contact us at bajadivide@gmail.com. We will be updating the “News” page on the site over the next few months to share other tips and insights from our experience on the route. A “Baja Riders” series will survey a half-dozen riders from the 2015-2016 season and my inspire you to carry a small guitar, ride a singlespeed, or not to get a steel fatbike with a Rohloff.

After Interbike, Lael and I will be riding in AZ, NV and CA for the rest of the year. We are interested in presenting details of the Baja Divide in communities around the region, including Sacramento, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Enjoy the new site and the Baja Divide!

-Nicholas Carman

Baja Divide: August update

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Nearly 200 people attended our Baja Divide presentation in Missoula, MT, hosted by FreeCycles. Thanks to Bob Giordano for hosting!

I spent the summer working at The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, AK, while Lael was busy riding and racing across the country in the Trans Am Bike Race.  I picked her up in Virginia, we limped north to NY, CT, MA, VT and back to NY, and flew west to Montana to celebrate Adventure Cycling Association’s 40th anniversary.  We flew back to NY for a wedding, and to complete the Baja Divide route.  And that’s where we are now, drinking coffee and writing all morning, swimming in the afternoon, writing some more in the afternoon, enjoying family dinners every night, watching the Olympics in the evening.  Since Lael tripped while running on the trails at Wellesley Island State Park the other day and sprained her big toe, we’ve also put in considerable effort to watch the entire West Wing series in a very short time— it’s the least I could do to get her to sit still long enough to heal.  I’m repeating some of the details of the past six months because otherwise, I’m not sure I’ll remember them.  Somehow, every year seems busier than the last.  I’d like to derail that trend in the near future.  Baja California is always a good way to reset the clock.

Baja Divide Update

We’ve completed the section narratives, which describe the route in 20 segments each beginning and ending with major resupply, detailing route features and riding conditions, resupply challenges, and rewards.  It features a distance and resupply quick reference.  The route guide is 75% complete and will be finished this week.  It is a resource which describes the route as a whole, and assists in planning and preparing for a ride on the Baja Divide.  This includes discussions about the route, bikes, luggage and packing, camping, food and water resupply, traveling in Mexico, getting to and from the route, and an ultimate pack list.  The GPX track is nearly complete and currently provides context of the entire route.  Our GIS associate in Alaska, Rob Clark, is currently on a boat in the Arctic and will return with the complete edited track in a few weeks.  I sent him north of north to the Bering Sea with a giant folder of edits which he will use to manipulate the track into its final state to adjust for errors, noise, and other extraneous data.  We met Rob at the after-party to the Talkeetna Trio fatbike race in Alaska this spring where he offered to help with the project.  In fact, Rob spied Alex’s signature helmbrero, they started a conversation which led to talk about Baja and Rob’s offer to help with the project.  He couldn’t have imagined the birdsnest of GPX files that I would dump in his lap.  We have also been working with a man named Roman de Salvo in San Diego, a volunteer field agent who we met at a presentation last February.  Roman is responsible for much of the route from the San Diego Airport to Tecate.  Just yesterday, Roman completed and signed off on that segment, which was the final hole in the route.  Additional thanks to Alex Dunn and Montana Miller for helping with route development south of the border.

Lael and I will have all of the Baja Divide content complete by next week when we fly to Denver to ride the Colorado Trail.  The new site will be published in the beginning of September when we have the final GPX track.  We will be at Interbike in Las Vegas with Revelate Designs again this year.  We are working on some displays and events relating to the Baja Divide.  Anyone planning to drive from Durango or elsewhere in Colorado to Las Vegas with room for two riders and two bikes?  We could probably find a way to get to I-70.

Also, Lael has been publishing an account of the Trans Am Bike Race on her blog, state by state.  Check it out!

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This update is also being posted to the Baja Divide website.

The Road to Missoula; Baja Divide presentation at Free Cycles, July 14

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We’re in Missoula for Adventure Cycling Association’s Montana Bicycle Celebration which coincides with their 40th Anniversary.  Lael and I will be presenting about the Baja Divide route at Free Cycles on Thursday, July 14 at 7PM.  Here, Lael crosses the Manhattan Bridge.

From the end of the Trans Am Bike Race in Yorktown, Virginia to New York City, seaside Connecticut, a tour through Nutmeg Country and the Berkshires of Massachusetts to a corner of Vermont and the Adirondack Mountains of New York to the St. Lawrence River, a plane from Ottawa to Bozeman and a quick six day tour to Missoula via the Trans America Trail.  That’s less than a month, 5 trains, two short distance car rides, one plane, and about 600 miles of casual (mostly) paved old-fashioned bike touring.

In the days following Lael’s finish on the Trans Am Bike Race we awaited several other finishers including Steffen, Evan, and Kai. 

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Race organizer Nathan Jones was in town for the day, before beginning a return car trip to Portland, OR.  Driving the route in reverse, he encountered most of the racers still out on the course.  Here, Steffen, Nathan, and Lael at the finish.

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Lael enjoys her first sit-down meal in 18 days, and is most excited to be able to order breakfast at 5PM.

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Kai Edel, of Germany, arrives a day and a half later.  I peeled Lael out of bed at 6AM to ride back to the Yorktown Victory Monument to meet Kai.

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We brought coffee, strawberries, muffins, Gatorade, and beer.  As you’d expect of any German bike-messenger cross-county bike racer, Kai is more than happy to crack a brew at 7AM.  Let the record show that Kai is the first finisher to enjoy a beer at the finish line.  Nathan, any chance there can be points or colored jerseys next year for riding a 17 year old carbon fiber bike, or finishing a beer at the finish line at 7AM?  

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Saying goodbye to the Yorktown monument for the last time, Lael, Kai, and I board an Amtrak train north to New York City. 

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We arrive at Penn Station at 2 AM, reassemble our bikes, and part ways.  Kai is a regular in NYC and plans to ride for a few weeks as a messenger, to pay all his debts from eating gas station food across America

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Lael and I navigate pubic transportation to reach Brooklyn that night where her brother is living.

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We enjoy a short visit and a long walk around town.  Asian pastries for breakfast, tacos for lunch, a haircut for Lael at a Mexican salon.  Brooklyn is rad.

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We roll over to Manhattan to connect with an MTA train to Connecticut where my brother is living.

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After a brief visit in Stamford, we board another train to meet a mysterious man further up the coast of Connecticut.  The train slows as it enters a region known as Nutmeg Country.  

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There, a shirtless bearded man greets us and leads us into a small cave full of collectible and very well-used Shimano equipment, Made in the USA curios, and an assortment of odd Asian imports.

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We recognize the print on his denim jersey, a sketch celebrating his bike gang, the Hot Bod Rando Boyz.  The sketch was done by our mutual friend Yuval from Jerusalem.  

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The bearded man lures us to an old commercial pier with a lone lobster roll eatery.  There, a group of bicyclists await.

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The group rides through an expansive television set made to look like a quaint New England town, c. 1998.

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The group converges at the crossroads between several manicured dirt roads, all rideable on Lael’s 28mm tires.

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The least machismo arrangement of shirtless men ever assembled gather to talk about the way they dress their bicycles, while the women drink beer and talk about nothing important.

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Roads grow rougher, until finally the group dives into the pizza portal.  Our fearless leader promises the most exquisite margherita on the other side, which is convincing enough to send Lael down a rooty singletrack trail on carbon fiber aero wheels.

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The promise of margherita pizza comes true. We empty our framebags of all the pesos and shekels we can find and ride away into the night. 

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In the morning, our sage host grinds a roasted bean from a distant continent and brews a potent black elixir.

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At our request, as I long to visit my family in the distant land of New York, far up north near Canada, we are led to one of the few portals out of Nutmeg Country.  To pass, we bath in the algal stream below this bridge and ride as a causal pace through a tunnel of trees.

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Out the other side, we find ourselves in a place called Massachusetts, where railroad tracks are converted to bike trails.  The East Coast is pretty great.

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Crossing through a small corner of Vermont, we meet The Professor on his home turf.  We’ve crashed his honeymoon in Prague, forced him to almost miss an important dinner in Santa Fe, and shivered through a wet night on the frozen Yenta river together this March.  Meet Joe Cruz, who turns everything into an adventure.

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Entering into my home state of New York always feels familiar, even though I’d never visited this part of the state.  Something about New York, as soon as we cross from Massachusettes, briefly through Vermont… something feels different.

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Running short on time, my parents agree to pick us up so that we can spend the holiday weekend with them up on the St. Lawrence River.  We spend time on the water and pack our bikes to fly from Ottawa to Montana the following day.

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We arrive in Bozeman, an hour after our friend Christina arrives from Anchorage.  Christina has joined us for segments of our travels in Israel, Baja California, and now Montana.  She is an ever-ready adventure partner in Alaska as well.

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Leaving Bozeman, we camp at Norris Hot Spring on the first night before connecting with the Trans America Bicycle Trail in Ennis, en route to Missoula, MT.  Our aim is to to reach Missoula for Adventure Cycling Association’s Montana Bicycle Celebration from July 14-17.  Lael has been invited to speak at the event on Saturday night and we will be hosting a presentation about the Baja Divide route project at Free Cycles in Missoula on Thursday, July 14 at 7PM.  

Free Cycles is the most high-functioning bike co-op or community bike shop I have seen anywhere.  Bob Giordano founded Free Cycles 20 years ago and the organization has had a profound impact on the community of Missoula.  They have just funded the down payment to purchase the expansive compound which they have been renting for many years.  Learn more about FreeCycles and donate to support the future of their mission.  Several years ago, after less than a few hours in the shop, Bob offered me a key to the building and allowed to sleep at Free Cycles for several nights.  We shared several engaging conversations about bicycles as vehicles of change, about urban planning, and travel.  Bob has also founded Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transport (MIST) which is a “citizen based nonprofit organization” which aims to support “active walking and cycling cultures”.

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The Trans America Trail is a well-travelled route from Virginia to Oregon.  Small towns have embraced the cyclists who pass, and cyclists develop a camaraderie along the route, often sharing campsites and stories.  

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In Twin Bridges, we arrive at the Bill White Bike Camp at the public park along the Beaverhead River.  Five other Trans Am cyclists are staying in Twin Bridges for the night.

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The donation based bike camp offers shelter, power, hot showers, and toilets, as well as tent sites adjacent to the structure.

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White boards inside the shelter show signs of many inspired rides along the Trans Am.

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Traveling toward the Continental Divide, each pass leaves us a little higher in elevation.

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We rejoin several riders from England that we first met in Twin Bridges.  Just up the road, we meet two riders from Texas who are section-riding the Great Divide Route.  This is one of several places where the Trans Am and the Great Divide routes meet, and the two actually share several miles of pavement just south of Polaris, MT.

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At that junction, with the help of a few text messages in areas with little phone service, we manage to cross paths with our friends Thomas and Mary from Anchorage, AK.  I first met Thomas about three years ago when I sold him an older Salsa Fargo which we had on sale at The Bicycle Shop.  He used the money he saved on the bike to build a dynamo wheel along with a lighting and charging system.  Last summer, after Lael’s two Tour Divide rides, Mary purchased her well-travelled Specialized Stumpjumper, but not before I replaced the broken frame!

It is a point on the route about 50 miles south of here where Lael got stuck in severe mud and wore a hole through the carbon frame in a matter of hours. 

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Lael’s old Tour Divide bike is now Mary’s Great Divide touring bike.  Lael is enjoying her Specialized Ruby once again.  For a minute, she was about ready to throw it into the Atlantic Ocean.  Now that she’s rested, none of us can keep up with her.  I’ll say it out load, Lael is faster than me.  That has almost never been true before, but 6,000 miles of road riding seems to have helped.  Now that she is fast on a bike— and we know she can sit on that thing for a long time— imagine what she can do.

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Weathering a wind storm with Thomas and Mary that night, we encounter cold wet rain the following day and make a short ride to Jackson.  The following morning we awake to snow, but clearing skies allow us to proceed.  Not what I was expecting on July 11.  Maybe shorts and Birkenstock sandals were not the best idea.

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As the weather clears the following day, we meet this cycling family from Hamilton, ON on the south side of Chief Joseph Pass.  It is so cool to meet people like this riding bikes.  There are always a few cold shoulders on routes like this, but the majority of the people we meet are awesome.

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The snow level the day before was somewhere around 7000ft.  We bundle up for the 3000ft descent to the Bitterroot Valley.

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 A friend meets us to camp at Lake Como on our final night before Missoula. 

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The last day of riding is mostly along the new Bitterroot Bike Trail from Hamilton to Missoula.  State paving crews are putting the finishing touches on the trail prior to the ribbon cutting event this weekend.

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Of course, our first stop is Adventure Cycling Association.  We’ll give you a full tour after the weekend.  If you aren’t already a member of ACA, join now.  They do good stuff.  Come visit us at Free Cycles on Thursday night if you are in town!

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Lael Wilcox finishes Trans Am Bike Race 2016 in 18 days 10 minutes

 

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Lael arrives in Yorktown in 18 days and 10 minutes.  She is the first American to win the Trans Am Bike Race, her time is the second fastest time in race history, and it improves upon the old women’s record by nearly 3 days.  

Departing from Astoria, OR on the morning of June 4, 2016, an international field of over 60 riders raced to Yorktown, VA in the third annual Trans Am Bike Race.  The self-supported Trans Am Bike Race was founded in 2014, building on the growing style of self-supported bikepacking races like the Tour Divide, and popularized in a documentary film by Mike Dion called “Inspired to Ride”.  In 2014, both men’s and women’s records were set by high profile ultra-endurance athletes—Mike Hall finished in 17d16h and Juliana Buhring in 20d23h.

Lael rode to the finish on Wednesday morning, June 22, 2016.  She arrived a the Yorktown Victory Monument at 11:10AM, 18 days and 10 minutes from the start line in Astoria.  Her time improves upon the old female route record by almost three full days, and hers is the second fastest time recorded in the race, after Mike Hall.  She is the first American to win the Trans Am Bike Race.  

Lael averaged 235 miles per day for 18 days, resting an average of 3-5 hours of sleep per night.  On the final two nights of the race, Lael scaled back sleep to ride over 400 miles in about 33 hours.  Her efforts put her within 20 miles of the leader, Steffen Streich, who awoke from a 2.5 hour sleep on the last night and made a fatal mistake.  He got on his bike and began riding the route backwards.  The two met soon thereafter, on a dark road in rural Virginia near the community of Bumpass.  Here is her account of the meeting.  

Lael asked, “What is you name?”  

“Steffen.”

The two had never met, although Lael knew that she had been chasing him for over 4000 miles.  She started hammering on the pedals, and for a period of time, Steffen made chase and the two rode side by side.  Lael made a wrong turn amidst minor roads and farm fields.  Steffen indicated her immediate error, and waited at the junction with a proposition.  “We’ve been racing hard for two weeks. let’s ride to the finish together?”

“No way”, Lael said with immediate conviction.  “This is a race.”  She took off and Steffen never caught her.

As soon as she pulled away from the former race leader, her Di2 battery died.  The electronic shifting systemenables fast, crisp shifting and minimal hand fatigue over thousands of miles.  But it requires a battery, and Lael had struggled to keep it charged for more than 3 days at a time.  The system is designed to power down in sequence, losing the most power hungry functions first.  The front derailleur stopped shifting, and the rear derailleur is spared a few dozen shifts before doing the same.  Lael found a comfortable gear and singlespeeded the bike into Ashland, VA, where she switched to her spare battery, hiding behind a wall at the Sheetz gas station to avoid being spotted by Steffem.  Unable to remove the battery from her seat post— it is fit with a rubberized press fit— she simply unplugged the old one and reconnected it to the new battery and jammed it all into the frame of the bike.  It worked, and after some struggle with the proprietary seatpost wedge (clamp) on her bike, she was riding again toward the finish.  Steffen had nearly caught her at the Sheetz.

From video logs by race organizer Nathan Jones on the TABR Facebook page, Steffen spent a nearly equal amount of time at the Sheetz, eating and drinking.  Lael grew her lead to the finish, reaching Yorktown about two hours before 2nd place finisher, Steffen Streich of Lesbos, Greece.  Third place rider, Evan Deutsch, or Portland, OR, arrived on the same day, about seven and a half hours later.  All three competitors were riding within a hundred miles of each other for most of the race.  Steffen is a veteran of the TransContinental Race across Europe, and the TransAfrika Bike race across South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho.  Evan Deutsch is a veteran of the Trans Am Bike Race and the Tour Divide.  Lael has completed the Tour Divide and the Holyland Challenge in Israel and brings extensive cycletouring experience to ultra-distance racing. 

Follow the remaining 51 riders of the Trans Am Bike Race on Trackleaders.com.

Many thanks to Nathan Jones creating the Trans Am Bike Race.  Thanks to the Adventure Cycling Association for developing the Bikecentennial route 40 years ago, and for supporting cycling in America.  Thanks to Anthony Dryer and Nathan Jones for providing photos and video from the route from their humble “media car”.  Thanks to Revelate Designs for the best luggage in the world and the stars and stripes framebag; Mike Shupe and The Bicycle Shop in Alaska for continued support and seasonal part-time employment; Specialized for the Ruby Pro Disc UDi2 and the tubeless-aero CLX 64 carbon road wheelset with custom dynamo front wheel; the bike is a super comfortable ripper; Patagonia for the M10 shell and Alpine houdini rain pants; Intelligent Design Cycles for the SP PD-8 dynamo hub; and K-Lite for awesomely powerful dynamo lighting.  Thanks to Tailwinds Cyclists in Pittsburgh, KS; Newton Bike Shop in Newton, KS; Bill and Shawna in Afton, Lucas and Monica in Oregon, Kevin at River City Cycles in Portland, Jessica and Justin in Portland, Skyler in Vancouver, and Evan Deutsch for being an awesome friend.  Lael says “Thanks to my parents for thinking my ideas are good.” 

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Nathan Jones, race organizer, and Anthony Dryer raced across the country in a late-model sedan to capture images from the road.  Support their efforts by donating to the Trans Am Bike Race Media Fund.

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Steffen Streich of Lesbos, Greece, finishes second in 18 days 2 hours 18minutes.

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Evan Deutsch of Portland, OR finishes third in 18 days 7hours 44 minutes.

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Follow the rest of the Trans Am Bike Race on Trackleaders.com.

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016 Update: Ashland, VA

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Lael leads the Trans Am Bike Race 2016 with 90 miles to go.  Photo courtesy Nathan Jones and Anthony Dreyer via the Trans Am Bike Race Facebook page.

7:30 AM EST, Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The three leaders of the Trans Am Bike Race began the day in a familiar standing, with Steffen out front by about 50 miles, Lael in second, and Evan about 40 miles back.  Evan put a few miles on Lael in the night, taking one less hour of sleep and closing the gap for second place to 30 miles.  Steffen persisted with a short sleep on that night and was down for less than two hours.  All three riders were anxious not to lose ground, and all three riders were excited to try to gain some distance on the others, if possible.  Heavy thunderstorms arrived on Tuesday afternoon as Steffen, Lael, and Evan summited the Blue Ridge Parkway from Vesuvius to Afton.  

Continuing on to Charlottesville, it appeared that Steffen was either lost or looking for something.  He followed a unique route into town, the nature of the detour unknown considering the severe weather in the area.  It is now known that he had suffered a series of flats in the past few days.  From a brief video log on the TABR Facebook page, he verifies the flat tires yet indicates that he did not replenish his supply of spare tubes in Charlottesville, a bustling college town home to many bike shops.  Reports from race organizer Nathan Jones also suggest that Steffen was dealing with a failing GPS device, an internal issue more complex than a dead battery.  

Steffen continued out of town and kept pace into the evening.  He settled down by the side of the road just beyond the community of Beaverdam, south of Lake Anna.  He rested for about 2.5 hours and awoke at 2AM.

Lael continued out of Charlottesville several hours after Steffen, keeping pace into the night.  As he hit the ground to sleep, she continued pedaling, gaining on the leader.  Eventually, her tracker stopped for a period of about 45 minutes.  She called when she awoke to tell me that she had slept, was feeling good, and was gunning for Yorktown.  In concert with a shot of 5 Hour Energy, she was riding high into the night.

What happened next stunned all that were watching.  When Steffen awoke at 2AM, he began pedaling backward along the route.  He was riding right towards Lael!  She had closed the gap to 20 miles, and the two were now racing toward each other.  Eventually, the pink dot and the blue dot collided near the community of Bumpass, VA.  One can only imagine the brief conversation they had, and the heartbreak of learning that you have just lost a lead won over 4100 miles in a mid-night mishap.  Steffen righted his tires and rejoined the race to the east.  Both of their trackers transmitted intermittently during this period.  It took some time to see who would come out of this situation ahead.  Surely, Steffen has proven to be a much faster rider throughout the race.  But Lael recovers well and remains rested, at least as much as can be expected after a 250 miles day and a 45 hour nap.  This was her first night with very little sleep.  

Race organizer Nathan Jones reported seeing both riders together right around this time, but once the trackers transmitted, it was clear, Lael was in the lead.  As more regular tracking resumed from both devices, Lael maintained a narrow but consistent lead.  Steffen stopped briefly at one of the first junctions after their meeting, which indicated that he was indeed having issues with his GPS.  But he managed a series of turns along the route thereafter, so he had some means of navigation.

Evan stopped in Charlottesville for several hours, although it is difficult to determine his exact stopped time.  He rolled out of town around 3AM EST.

At the time of writing, just east of Richmond, VA, Lael leads with only 70 miles remaining to Yorktown, Steffen is 10 miles behind, and Evan is about 80 miles back from the leader.

It is too soon to speculate much about Steffen’s error, although a few things are known from a series of rambling video logs from Nathan Jones on the TABR Facebook page.  It is known that Steffen has suffered a series of flats and is riding without a spare tube to the finish.  His GPS has been failing him, likely requiring frequent restarts or other manual manipulation.  He is tired, as is expected.  He has been riding fast and far, and has tapered his sleep over the last few days.  It is an unfortunate error, much like Sarah Hammond’s deviation from the route in Montana.  It is a feeling that Lael knows well, as she deviated from the official track in the 2015 Tour Divide, following an older course.  Officially, she was disqualified from the race, although her time was considered valid.  As a result of this error, and the risk of GPS failure, she carries two Garmin eTrex 20 units, each loaded with maps and the race track.  She is not carrying maps.  

I will be at the finish line today as our three riders cross the line.  Over the past 17 days, we’ve come to know the way they sleep and the pace they ride, we often know what and where they eat and what kind of company they keep.  I look forward to welcoming Evan, Steffen, and Lael, along with Kai, Sarah, Benjamin, Janie, and anyone else that will arrive in the next few days.  A least for a minute, I don’t think Lael and I are going anywhere fast.  

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Trans Am Bike Race Update 2016: Catawba, VA

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Lael left Anchorage on May 1 with a lightweight touring load including a pair of running shoes, a jump rope, and all 12 maps for the Trans America Trail which she studied on the ferry down from Haines.  I will meet Lael at the finish line tomorrow with her seatpack, jumprope, sleeping bag and pad, and a fresh pair of clothes.  We’ll take a few days to rest before riding to northern NY.  Here, Lael calls from western VA while riding past a Dollar General, the “rural Wal-Mart” as I like to call it.  Check out more photos from Nathan Jones and Anthony Dreyer on the Trans Am Bike Race Blog.  

“Did you see me riding good?  I just drank a Mountain Dew!  It’s everywhere around here, and in Kentucky.  Mountain Dew is everywhere there, and there are lots of those above ground swimming pools and broken cars.  Kentucky is pretty ghetto but I like it.” 

Lael called this morning while working hard up the hills of western Virginia.  Her proximity to the end of the race lifted her spirits, and the Mountain Dew sent her through the roof.  She was whooping and hollering on the phone.  Notice how many photos Nathan and Anthony have posted of Lael on the Trans Am Bike Race Blog where she is pumping her fist, usually at road signs?  She does that a lot in real life too.  Usually, when we’re trying to get some miles done, she pretends to be wielding a six-shooter and fires off a few rounds at signs indicating places and distances, once these micro-goals have been achieved.  320 miles to Yorktown?  Bang, bang!  

Lael seems to have settled down for a 3.5 hour rest last night, preparing for the 400+ mile push to the finish line.  If she can stay on the bike tonight, she is likely to arrive in Yorktown before noon on Wednesday.

Steffen holds strong to his lead out front, currently fifty miles ahead of Lael with 265 miles to the finish.  This distance will be hard for any rider to challenge unless Steffen is forced to stop.  Steffen appears to have slept for as little as 45 minutes last night, although he did sleep about 6 hours in Hazard, KY the night before.  In the nights before Hazard he also dabbled in short cat naps as Evan and Lael pressed from behind.  All of this is contrary to the regular long periods of sleep he took through much of the race.  However, he did ride through the first night of the race, only to stop before the end of the second day for a nine hour rest.  If he can keep his eyes open tonight he will be the first rider to Yorktown.

Evan Deutsch stopped for only 2.5 hours last night in Wytheville, gaining an hour on Lael in the process.  He is also coming off a 7 hour rest the night before in Hazard.  It will be interesting to see if all three riders will be able to continue through this final night.  

I received a message from Gerry this morning, a TABR fan who was on the route in the mountains of western VA.  He writes, “I just met Lael in Catawba at about 8:00 am. She was smiling, looked strong, and was pleased to have a tailwind. She said that she was trying hard to do well. She blasted off, missed her turn, and then got back on course. She is moving!”  

As of 10:44 AM EST, Steffen is 260mi to the finish, Lael is 310mi, and Evan is 344mi.  We can expect the first rider to arrive around sunrise on Wednesday.  Showdown at the corner of Bacon and Main Street in Yorktown, VA.  

Check out this brief video captured by Nathan Jones of Lael riding alongside a cycletourist this morning.

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016 Update: Breaks, VA

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Folded, eroded by water, and steep.  The roads are anything but straight in eastern Kentucky and western Virginia.

Lael called this morning as she passed into the twelfth and final state on the historic Trans America Trail, the beginning of a series of larger climbs through the deeply folded Appalachian Mountains.  She was breathing hard, riding one handed uphill with the phone to her ear.  The next hundred miles may be the most mountainous of the entire route, although the climbing doesn’t end there.  The Trans Am doesn’t descend out of the mountains and onto the gently sloping coastal plain until three hundred miles from her current location.  She just crossed the Russell Fork River in Kentucky, and soon thereafter passed into Virginia adjacent to the Breaks Interstate Park, one of the only interstate parks in the country.  The region boasts a canyon as deep as 1600ft, one of many natural features I’ve heard billed as “the Grand Canyon of the East”.  As we ride north from Virginia to New York, we may take in the rail trail in the Pine Creek Gorge of northern PA, often called the “Grand Canyon on Pennsylvania”.  I’ve also visited Letchworth State Park in Eastern NY, also called “the Grand Canyon of the East”.  Here are a list of other deep river valleys which stake the same claim

Once out of the mountains, there are about 200 miles to the end.  Lael knows that her strengths include her ability to climb.  At the moment, she is healthy and rested.  She did, however, take a short night of sleep last night, bedding down for about 2.5 hours.  In doing so, she put some miles on both Evan and Steffen.  Evan trails her by 50 miles, and Steffen is now only 28 miles ahead.  With just 500 miles to go, the tension builds. Lael’s energy levels remain high; she maintains an exuberance which first emerged after the extreme heat of Kansas passed.  She is excited to be finishing soon, and was thrilled to learn that I am already in Atlanta, boarding a plane to Virginia.

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016 Update: Kentucky

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I’m excited to be reunited with Lael.  Speaking with her this morning, she is now racing to meet me at the finish. Photo courtesy Przemek Duszynski in Poland.

The Trans Am Bike Race continues with three riders gunning for the finish.  Steffen Stretch, who has held the lead since the Rockies, holds onto a 75-80 margin.  Early in the race, he rode at breakneck speeds and slept long nights, at much as 7 hours.  His pace has diminished, now matched by chase riders Lael Wilcox and Evan Deutsch, and he is taking shorter and shorter nights of sleep.  Last night, for the first time, he recorded several one hour breaks— most likely roadside cat naps— yet no prolonged period of rest.  For now, the plan is working, but it signals that he is digging deep.

I spoke with Lael this morning form Kentucky.  She was exuberant.  She has been healthy for the entire race (for the first time ever in an ultra-distance cycling event), she has been sleeping a lot, and she claims to be riding well and crushing the hills.  I don’t know what her plan is, and I don’t think she really has a plan, but at some point in the next two nights she needs to dig deep if she wants to be the first rider to Yorktown.  With under 800 miles to the ocean, there may not be a third night for the top three riders.  

The remaining route includes continuing punchy climbs in eastern Kentucky, and a few longer ascents up and over the Appalachian Mountains to the rolling coastal plain of eastern Virginia.  

I told Lael that both of the riders who reached out to us to prepare for the Tour Divide had dropped from the race, Adam Martinez of Anchorage, AK and Jan Bennett of Houston, Texas.  Josh Kato and Seb Dunne also dropped from the Tour Divide.  Juliana Buhring dropped from the RAAM.  I gave her updates about Mike Hall’s progress on the Tour Divide and she was stoked.  Lael said, “I gotta do this”.  Only 730 miles left to do it.

I fly from Anchorage, AK to Newport News, VA this evening to meet Lael and other racers when they arrive.  We plan to rest for a few days and and begin pedaling to Northern NY to see my family.  I hope to include a segment of the C&O Canal Trail along the way.

I will be at The Bicycle Shop on Northern Lights Blvd in Anchorage today if anyone wants to stop by.  I leave for the airport at 4PM.

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016 Update: crossing the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers

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The ferry at Cave-In-Rock, IL is a unique feature of the Trans Am Trail, and provides passage across the Ohio River from Illinois to Kentucky.  The ferry operates from 6AM to 9:30PM.  All photos courtesy Nathan Jones and Anthony Dryer via the Trans Am Bike Race Blog.  

Less than a thousand miles to Yorktown for the top three riders in the Trans Am Bike Race 2016.  Riding fast will expedite the process, limiting stopped time will help, but at this point the first person to the finish will do both of those things and sacrifice sleep.  For Lael and Evan, who continue to trail Steffen by about 75 miles, one of them will need to trade around 5 hours of sleep over the next few days to catch Steffen, and maybe more to overtake him with any margin.  Although I expect Steffen is currently running low on sleep, if he can employ the same strategy, he may hold off the chase.  And if he can get his legs moving like he did at the start he might be able to make some distance by riding fast.  For the first half of the race he recorded long nights of sleep and extremely fast rides.  His pace has changed, and he is now taking shorter nights, traveling at a similar pace to other riders.

Just one day out of Newton and Lael put a 1 cm long gash into her tire.  The tubeless system lost air and sealed at around 50 psi.  She attempted to air it up again and it continued to lose air, even after applying some Super Glue to the gash from the outside.  She put a tube in the tire and continued riding, and found a shop yesterday that stocked road tubes with long valves.  Her 64mm rims require 80mm valves, which are not especially common in small shops.  In addition to the single long valve tube she packed at the start of the race, she also has a valve extender in case her option for tubes are limited to standard length valves, such as in a small town bike shop or a Wal-Mart.  

Steffen, Lael, and Evan crossed the Mississippi River by bridge yesterday, entering into Illinois for a little over 100 miles of riding in the Land of Lincoln.  They continued into Kentucky by ferry at Cave-In-Rock, IL.  Temperatures remain in the high 80’s in Kentucky, and the weather looks mostly clear to the finish for these three riders.

I finish my brief season of work at The Bicycle Shop in Alaska this weekend and jump on a plane Sunday night, arriving in Newport News, VA on Monday.  I will put my bike together at the airport and ride to Yorktown to meet the riders.  Lael and I will rest for a few days before beginning a slow pedal to northern New York to visit my family.

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Trans Am Bike Race 2016 Update: Ellington, MO

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Missouri rollers.  All images courtesy Nathan Jones and Anthony Dryer via the Trans Am Bike Race Blog.

I called Lael last night after a shop ride at Kincaid Park.  Days before summer solstice, with temperatures around 80F in Anchorage, everyone in Alaska is outside having fun.  We get up early, we go to bed late, if at all.  We awake with the sun blasting through our windows at 4AM and do it all again the next day.  I pedaled to the trails for a group ride with friends from The Bicycle Shop.  We made a broad loop of the singletrack trails and even ran into a black bear in the last few minutes.  As I pedaled home, dropping into an aero position on my 785mm wide handlebars, I thought of Lael and called.  I wasn’t following the tracker, I just called to see if she might be awake, and if she might actually have her phone on.  She keeps her phone off to save battery, and turns it on if she needs to make a call.  

She answered in a small, sleepy voice.  She was inside a motel room somewhere in Missouri.  Our conversation was brief, mostly a series of I love yous and how are you feeling. In her sleepy voice, she said that Evan was hurting.  I didn’t inquire further, but I assumed this meant that he was physically tired, perhaps achy or cramping.  From the webcast at the Newton Bike Shop, we learned that Steffen is suffering from some numbness in his hands, and he seemed a bit stiff.  None of this is surprising considering the distances covered in the last twelve days, and both Evan and Steffen are in their 40’s, 42 and 46 years old, respectively.  Lael is nearing 30 and makes a daily habit of cross training by doing the things that she loves— running, yoga, jumping rope, swimming.  In speaking with her the last few days, she hasn’t complained of any stiffness or soreness, and aside from a few trying moments, her energy levels seem high.  We know she is sleeping a lot.  The question is, who will make it to Yorktown first?  

All three of the top riders can do it.  For many miles in the middle of such races, riders typically fall into sustainable patterns to pass the distance.  The drama of the first few days has passed at that time, and it would be too soon to begin racing to the end.  However, the top three riders are around 1200 miles from the finish.  The race to the finish starts now.

From photos on the Trans Am Bike Race Blog, Lael appears to be in good form.  She isn’t an experienced road cyclist, and hasn’t owned a road bike since the early ’80’s Bianchi she rode on our first bike tour in 2008.  She borrowed her mom’s Specialized Ruby a few summers ago for a series of long point-to-point rides in Alaska, as well as for the Fireweed 400 race.  I’ve seen her improve her skills over the course of this race.  She is now riding lower on the bike, standing when it makes sense, staying seated more than ever before, and tucking into the wind on fast descents.  Now that she knows how to ride a road bike, perhaps she can race these roadies to the finish.  The next few days will be exciting to watch.

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