Trans Am 2017 Day 14: Ash Grove, MO to Pilot Knob, MO — 225 Miles, +12,325 ft
I think I slept maybe 5.5 hours, but after a shower and a meal of peanut butter accompanied by the simple carbohydrates of white bread and jelly, I woke up feeling like I’d hit the full recharge. Ken and Bo were long gone, but I was now feeling like a rockstar. The day before had sucked, but I’d still cranked out 212 miles and pushed through some rough times. I came to the Trans Am to eat some suffer, so it’s all good.
Nevertheless, I moved slowly in the morning, and lingered around the grocery store where I met Wendy, Mike’s wife. She told me how they had watched my dot the night before and waited up late to welcome me. I was so grateful to them as it was a massive help to have slept in that unexpected hostel. Wendy told me that Bo had wanted to have a short rest but refused to get up when they’d tried to wake him at the instructed time, and instead he’d slept through the night. I knew his sleep patterns had been insane and wasn’t surprised to hear that he’d taken a major rest night.
I was still moving slowly and felt groggy as I rolled out of town, and stopped again soon in Walnut Grove to get some breakfast sandwiches and other snacks. After another short stop at Bolton’s General Store for a bathroom break and water, I finally started cranking it up and I was calling friends and ripping rollers all the way to Marshfield.
I hit Subway in Marshfield and took a couple sandwiches for the road. I left town before Bo, but his dot was only a mile behind me for a while so I wasn’t surprised to see him pedal up behind me when I stopped to pee near Hartville. I was happy to see him, and we pedaled and chatted for a bit. He’d been suffering pretty hard the last couple days, and said he couldn’t stop sleeping. He’d slept for something like 12 hours at the hostel, and napped at points that morning in random places. I could tell he was wrecked and, from his obvious desire to pedal together, probably super lonely.
Bo asked me about my plans for the ferry and we wondered whether any of the riders in front of us stood a chance to make it by the next night. I realized that I’d made a pretty stupid tactical error in not planning for the ferry the day before. It was clear that if either of us was going to make it to the last ferry the next night, we’d have to make a really hard push. Bo said he had no intention to and had dreams of a rider party in Cave in Rock, but I knew that I would likely try and make it. I should have been focused on keeping pace to make the ferry it since I got into Missouri, but I had mostly just been glad to be out of Kansas!
We were having a good time hanging out, chatting about life back home and our experiences thus far, and it helped the time go by as we kept a pretty good pace.
Until we got a gun pulled on us. Bo consistently rode in the middle of the lane next to me, so every car had to wait behind him and pass in the other lane. It was pretty obnoxious of us because the road didn’t have a shoulder and was super winding so cars always had to wait for a straightaway to pass. Almost every car did so without incident and was extremely patient and safe when they did. Even this red pickup truck with a trailer moved around us without incident, but the driver rolled down the window and yelled, “Get the fuck out of the middle of the road!” I had to agree with him, but Bo didn’t. Bo yelled back to go around us, and the driver no doubt heard his suggestion. He pulled up to a stop sign a hundred yards ahead and got out of his car. Uh oh, this was not going to go well.
We pulled up, hoping to just skirt by, but he started yelling at us that he was tired of cyclists like us acting like we own the road, and that he lives there and pays the gas taxes that pay for the roads and that we don’t. Bo answer back by saying “Yeah I can tell that you live here,” and “Dude, chill out.” Not good answers! I tried to interrupt Bo and ask the guy how we could do better (defuse the tension, ya know) just so we could get moving again without incident, but then the guy reached to his back hip and pulled out a black hand gun. FUCK.
He started waving it around, hollering something about this being what chilled out looks like, and Bo let out a big groan while I turned around and bolted. No mas, no thank you, not my fight. I’m gone. The guy didn’t really point it at us, so there wasn’t that kind of urgency, but it was just time to walk/pedal away. Bo stuck around for a second and threw a couple more chirps at him, and the guy went back to his car. This was the last thing I saw, but Bo took a look at the license plate and said that the guy pulled out a big bag of white powder (Bo thought it was cocaine) and told us to go ahead and call the cops. What a shit show. We pedaled away with any good feelings zapped.
Trans Am riders are generally cool humans (as Bo is), but I was really disappointed to see the attitude assumed by many riders. The sense of entitlement on the road, the way that some riders look down on the areas and people we pass, and the unwillingness to adjust riding style to accommodate drivers.
The Trans Am Facebook page is full of posts wondering what we need to do to get drivers to be more aware of bikers, but the only question that we can really answer is how to get bikers to be more aware of drivers. How do we nurture the biker/driver relationship the best we can? I’m tired of seeing a biker in the middle of a lane, unflinching while a row of cars piles up behind them, expecting instead for the cars to wait for a straightaway to pass. I understand the theory that it is safer to ride in the lane where the driver is more likely to see you, but once it’s clear you’ve been noticed, get out of the way! It is the same thing if you were driving a slow RV in the left lane — courtesy is courtesy, no matter the vehicle, especially when you are a visitor to an area.
For a fantastic, thoughtful, and self-aware take on Safety, refer to the pros Sarah and Jesse:
It’s a collaboration between biker and driver to keep everyone safe. Drivers, as the history of cycling has shown, are not going to respond to bikers telling the world on internet forums that drivers need to pay more attention. Bikers have done plenty of it, and it’s never changed anything, so why do we keep belaboring the point? As bikers, we have to say OK, we are going to control what we can control. We have to do our best to stay out of the way of drivers, share the road, and ride in a predicable and gracious manner. If you’re tired and swerving across the road, it’s your responsibility to get off your bike and rest. Assume the worst and ride defensively, but also assume the best that most people on the road don’t want to hurt you, and that everyone out on the road has places they need to be and want to get to safely. I’m a cyclist AND I have a car, and I know how fucking scary it can be to drive near someone on a bike, particularly when visibility is bad.
The best we can do for the driver/biker relationship is to, as Jose Bermudez said in his post a few months ago, be a good ambassador for the sport. Also, this is not a comment on road Safety, but on road Etiquette, so don’t go all Frank Proud on me:
On any ride, especially the Trans Am, it is worth considering the lingering feelings that a driver has after they encounter you and take to the next cyclist that they pass. Do they drive off saying “Screw you cyclist, you are so annoying and pretentious and act like an entitled prick?” I think we have all driven past some cyclists for whom we have those feelings. If you are biking 5 miles in front of another racer on a lonely road in Missouri, how do you want that racer to behave towards the cars that pass them? For me, this question is a microcosm of the biker/car relationship as a whole. Do you want that other cyclist to park in the middle of the lane and piss everyone off, so when they see you, the next cyclist down the road, that spark of animosity that they got from the other cyclist somehow gets thrust in your direction? I definitely would not want to be the next person that the guy in the red truck saw riding a bike!
What if the racer behind you is kind, moves out of the way when they can, and gives a simple wave??? Just wave! I bet the driver waves back, feels a spark of positivity towards cyclists, and won’t be aggressive towards you, the racer down the road, when they reach you. It isn’t all on the cyclist, obviously, but we can only control what we do, so let’s focus on that and be the best at it. We are 1000% a part (not the whole!) of any problems that exist between cyclists and drivers.
We also need to be aware of our role as tourists in these rural places and not act like pretentious dicks. Pretty simple there. We’re biking through peoples’ towns, along the roads they take to work every day, and past their homes. They didn’t ask to have their house along the race route. Be nice to the people you meet, tell them about the race and where you’re from, and the next time they get in their car outside Marshfield or Walnut Grove or wherever, they’ll be more aware of all the cyclists — racers or tourists or commuters — out there and probably a bit more cautious on the road.
Michael Wacker caught us in Houston, where we’d stopped to eat, a couple miles later. He’d been hit by a car a day or two earlier, had spent a day in the hospital, and was only just getting back on the road. He was in good spirits, however, and had decided not to ride at night and that he wouldn’t be “racing.” Nevertheless, he still asked, “Who’s in front of us?” Massive props to him for finishing after his accident. Bo and I snacked at our own pace, then set off after him.
We stopped again in Summersville, unsure if it would be our last chance to fuel up for the night, and were thoroughly impressed by the massive hill on the way to Eminence. Oh, little did we know what was ahead. I got more food in Eminence since it would definitely be the last chance for the night, and we set off to Ellington.
The 25 mile stretch from Eminence to Ellington is maybe the hardest in all of bike riding. Not just the race — I mean the entirety of the sport. The hills are so steep I was out of the saddle and grinding up each one. Bo was clearly wrecked, and so wrecked that he literally fell over on his bike at one point going up a ridiculously steep hill. I was impatient and wanted to keep going, but waited for a second at the top of the hill to make sure he was moving again. He got going, and the massive climbs eased a bit in the final miles to Ellington.
At one point, we speeding down the bottom of a roller (the upside of this stretch is that the descents are monstrous) and pushing hard to carry our momentum in the next. Bo was a few yards to my right and a bike length ahead. All the sudden, he jumped and I saw a rock come into his light and he swerved right just fast enough to only clip it. Unfortunately, he sent it my way and I was forced to swerve left to avoid it. If either of us hit it straight on, it would have sent us over our handlebars at 30 miles an hour and done some serious damage. It was a risk of riding at night and I am lucky that I never ran over anything. The stretch took a long time, and it was after midnight when we got to Ellington.
Bo was hurting and wanted to stay in Ellington, but I wanted to keep moving and get back to my solo adventure. I thought I would at least go a few more miles down the road just to get some solitude if he wanted to stop there in Ellington. We sat in the light of a gas station and ate, marveling at how hard that stretch had been. We were both wrecked, but I wasn’t too tired and was recovering while he was fading fast. Two different cars pulled up to us to chat, check in, and let us know where we could sleep. It was the middle of the night in rural Missouri, and all kinds of people were looking out for us. A guy in one of the cars that came to chat laughed when we told him how shocked we were at the hills and told us that everyone who comes through says Eminence to Ellington is the hardest stretch on the whole Trans Am. I’d have to agree. As my Swedish friend Anton says, it’s “mental.”
Bo announced his intention to sleep, and I told him I would at least try and get to Centerville and handle the climbs there tonight. I felt good, and with a lot of riders spending the night in Ellington, felt like I had a good opportunity to get ahead of some peeps. Realistically, I should have been pushing faster and more efficiently all day to give myself the best chance, but I still had a slim shot. Making the last ferry would give me a chance to get a good gap on everyone we were near, as it looked like only Jose had ambitions to make it as well.
Evan Deutsch wrote in his post Trans Am note about chasing to get to the ferry (he was in Ellington a couple hours earlier in the day, now that I look at it) that he felt, “nothing but excitement for the ride ahead.” As with almost every line in his note, I resonate strongly with that sentiment. I realistically could sleep for only two or three hours, would need to be smart about when I chose to do so, and would have to pedal quickly and steadily. I made the decision to push on from Ellington with the knowledge that I would probably not make the ferry and that this would be in vain, but I couldn’t resist the urge to go for it.
I told myself that if I pushed hard but missed the ferry, I would be able to take a really long sleep and would then have a massive advantage over the other guys who would barely make it in time for the first morning ferry. I had also just emerged from Kansas where I spent most of the time hanging on, unable to push my pace and make any moves. It felt a little like I had been moving in the wrong direction after Kansas, I didn’t want to keep hanging on. I was feeling strong, and I came to the Trans Am to flat out empty the tank, and here was an opportunity to do so. I wanted to take it.
I dropped a 5 hour energy, directed Bo to the post office, and set out on my way. I felt great, I was having fun, and I was flying. I called Luke, who was lounging at home very reluctantly, and told him about my plan. He gave shouts of joy, urging me to leave it out on the road and push for the ferry. We chatted for a bit and I breezed through the hills to Centerville. I hadn’t been able to fill up water in Ellington, so pulled over quickly to do so in Centerville. A restaurant/convenience store had closed an hour earlier, but the woman who ran it was still inside counting money, so I knocked on the window and she kindly let me fill up in the bathroom.
I felt great going up the hill out of town, the only question in my mind when I would take my couple hours of sleep. I knew at this point in the race that I shouldn’t pedal late into the night if I got super tired and my speed dropped, so I was ready to get sleep whenever that moment came.
I knew Sofiane was sleeping somewhere a couple miles out of Centerville and considered joining him if he had a good spot so I could keep an eye on him, but opted out when I rode by the spot his dot was stopped and saw he was sleeping in a cemetery. No thanks. The climb between Centerville to Pilot Knob is actually much more like a Colorado climb than a Missouri one. It’s a long, low grade winding it’s way up a valley to the final steep section. I was tired but moving quickly, so was OK with keeping on when I passed Sofiane. If I were to do it again, I might sleep for two hours somewhere around this point so that I wasn’t so tired when I did go to sleep. Going to sleep super, super tired at 4 in the morning makes you want to sleep more and even more sleepy when you do wake up. A quick 2 hour nap at 1 AM would allow me to go to sleep feeling good and wake up not totally wrecked.
Maybe 10 miles outside of Pilot Knob, I started to really battle the sleep and was definitely slowing down. I only had a couple miles to the top, though, and could zip down the descent into town and sleep. I fought the drowsiness and kept pushing, never dropping off too hard but definitely in a fight against sleep. I was pushing myself hard, but was energized and spurred forward by the fact that I’d left all these riders behind and had the ambitious goal in mind of getting to the ferry. I’d slept well the night before so hoped that I wasn’t digging too deep into the reserves. I felt like I’d never see all the riders around Ellington again.
I finally made it to Pilot Knob around 4 am and was excited to find Richard fast asleep in the post office. As always, the thought crossed my mind to continue on, but I said I’d take a quick sleep and get moving again fast. No one behind was moving yet, and it was clear that Richard and I were the only ones with ambition or a chance for the ferry. I ate, settled down quickly and was out fast.
Stay tuned for more to come…