Trans Am Bike Race Update 2016: Catawba, VA


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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