Trans Am 2017 Day 2: McKenzie Bridge, OR to Prairie City, OR — 213 miles, +11,067 ft
I woke up on day 2 soaking wet and freezing in the McKenzie Bridge grass, my alarm waking me from my daze. The dark figure of Simone loomed above me as she rolled up her bivvy, and I started to crawl out of mine. I was amazed to find upon standing up that I didn’t have a headache or sore legs, but instead felt pretty excited and ready to rock up this hill. The idea that I’d just biked over 280 miles the day before crossed my mind for a split second, but I really just focused on keeping moving and getting up the pass. I threw on my thick ass leg warmers (which I took off after like a mile and a half of uphill), packed up and rolled out — still under cover of darkness — with Simone.
This would be the only time in the entire race that I’d spend the night in the same place as another racer and leave with them in the AM. While I’d much rather be alone, it did certainly help to have someone to ride alongside and chat with to help shake out any first morning cobwebs. Simone was another young, recent college grad, having just finished at UVM. We were both clearly pretty excited about how far we’d gone at that point and it was great chatting about life off the bike while we took on the preamble to the climb. I had yet to fall into any sort of rhythm in the race and it all felt very, very new.
We pedaled through the gate to the McKenzie pass (the image of Mike Hall riding past here in the middle of the night in Inspired to Ride very present in my mind). My goal had been 300 miles in the first 24 hours, and I ticked over that mark somewhere on that climb and I was fucking stoked. We rode by Martin Cox, who had a rather controversial race. I didn’t see him again for the rest of the race, although I wondered which of the many Rapha-clad cyclists would finish first. Nevertheless, we took it pretty easy on the way to the top and I wasn’t surprised when I heard two voices come up behind me after I’d stopped to pee.
Going through the gate at the bottom of the pass, I’d seen a couple riders gearing up to ride and assumed these were weekend warriors out for an early morning climb. But, as the second rider pulled up next to me, I recognized the Rob English TransAm bike and distinct, carbon fiber seat post box (I guess we’ll call it). Simone had looked at the tracker the night before and told me Rob was sleeping 30 miles or so down the hill from us, so I wasn’t too surprised to see the day 1 breakaway.
We said hey but it was very obvious that he wasn’t out for a chat. Despite the 40 degree morning, Rob was dripping sweat and out of breath and I had to push some pedals to keep up with him and soon enough we’d zipped past Simone. He told me that, at around 250 miles, day 1 had been his longest ride ever but he was feeling strong and executing his plan of getting a massive nights sleep, riding 250 a day, and riding fast. He, like the rest of us, seemed like someone out to test his boundaries and go hard and looked happy and focused doing it, so I was excited for him.
His riding partner, a friend of Rob’s from Eugene, was much more talkative and asked how the race was going, and we shot the shit for a bit before I decided their pace made zero sense for me and dropped back. The next time Rob and I spoke would be in Darby, Montana, when I directed him towards the best beer in town after he pulled the plug on the race.
McKenzie is steep and gnarly for a while as it winds its way through pines and the side of a mountain, then the final miles to the top flatten out through crazy volcanic rock. It was gorgeous and cold and there was snow everywhere, and felt very far from where we’d started the day. I’d heard a lot about the pass and the crazy rocks at the top, but my focus was on keeping things moving rather than soaking it in. So, I peed, took one photo, put on a layer, then Simone and I rolled out as Ken pulled up.
I was low on food and tired as we pushed through the flats into Sisters. I decided it best to listen to another bit of Donncha’s advice to pause and eat a good breakfast, and Simone agreed. We rolled into Sisters and sat down at The Depot Cafe and I ordered a stack of pancakes and a plate of eggs and potatoes. It was a bit more of a pause than I think Donncha had in mind when he gave me that suggestion — he was many miles up the road at that point, BTW— but I wanted to take stock of everything that had happened thus far and not blow myself up. It would be only one of two sit down meals I had the entire race.
I ran across the street to a gas station to snack up while waiting for the food, then Simone and I chatted while we scarfed down our many plates, drank coffee, and “recovered”. It was good to hang with another young rider. I lingered on my delicious pancakes just a tad bit because I knew that I’d get on my bike immediately after I’d finished them. I gobbled them up and left as soon as I could pay, but Simone opted to catch a couple more minutes of chill.
I got back on my bike and called my mom. I was pretty amazed at how far I’d biked in the previous 27 hours so definitely wanted to make sure someone was watching the tracker and had taken note of that in case that was as good as it got. I also hadn’t had service since the previous evening so wanted to check in to let her know all was well. That was the first of many, many conversations when someone would tell me on the phone that Ken Ray was nearby and I needed to pass him, now!!! We spent a lot of time in close proximity, Ken and I.
A couple miles outside of Sisters, I experienced the “I’m on 3 hours of bad sleep and just ate thousands of calories” post-breakfast food coma. I felt super drowsy and was annoyed at myself for it, but was still pumped that I was up and moving, had miles under my belt, and was more or less keeping pace with everyone else around me. Though, somewhere before Prineville, Ken zipped past me with a non-TransAm lady rider in tow of his wheel, and I told him to chill out and not show off. Just kidding, but I thought it cause I wished I was going that fast.
I bounced back a bit after the blood started flowing and rolled into Prineville looking for some water and final snacks to make my way over the pass to Mitchell. I was FUCKING DELIGHTED when I was flagged down by a couple heroes in a parking lot along the route through town. The fantastic humans from the Good Bike Co. had set up a kitchen in front of their shop and were passing out pancakes, bacon, syrup (most importantly), coffee and other delicious bits to racers. One of the guys ran into the shop to grab some chain lube for me (yes, I left Astoria without chain lube) while I ate and shot the shit. I think most of the racers coming through at that point were in a rather different state of mind, so they were happy to have someone smiling, talking, and making eye contact. They were so cool and so kind, and are obviously committed to supporting all riders that come through Prineville on the TransAm, racing or not, which is really cool. Again, this kind of support is MASSIVE. Thank you guys!
I rolled out of Prineville feeling stoked but knowing it wouldn’t last too long. I became drowsy again a few miles out of town and started the slog up the climb Ochoco Pass. It’s not a bad climb — gradual and never too steep — but just long. I hadn’t looked at the mileage or the profile too closely (there’s a map, look at it, Max!), so really didn’t know how much I had left at any point. I mistook a false summit for the top and was pretty frustrated with the 10 miles of slow climb until the actual summit, thinking each crest would have a downhill following it.
Somewhere in this stretch, a major loser in a car driving the other direction hurled a beer can at me and it zipped by a few feet from my front wheel. Bummer, but luckily jackasses like these are few and far between while most every person you interact with on the road is extremely kind, and there was no choice but to blaze on. I gave them the finger, considered picking up the beer and drinking it, and was relieved when I found the summit a few minutes later.
I stopped for a pee and a snack at the top and someone rolled past me, so I hustled to chase after them. It was a good reminder that descents are the time for recovery and eating, not the top. I also would soon find a decent technique for peeing while still moving on the bike (yes, this was news to me that people do this all the time). Early days these were, so I was not yet fully ready to rock.
We rolled into Mitchell where the heat was real and were flagged down by more heroes from the Spoke’n hostel (check out their Instagram, it will get you juiced to go bikepacking). They gave me and a couple other racers snacks, water, and pasta, and I hung out in the shade for a few minutes with the people there. They told me all about everyone who had been by that day, and said Andrew had been through that morning looking incredibly fresh. As I learned the previous year’s tour, one of the best part about these rides is the people you meet along the way, and I didn’t want the urgency of the race to crush all hopes of positive interactions. So, I was willing to shoot the shit with people when the opportunity came up. I didn’t want to waste time, but I knew interacting with great people would give me more energy on the bike and help in the long run.
I rolled out of town well-snacked, watered, and chatted up, and loved the climb out of Mitchell. It was steep, hard, and straightforward. Just a pure climb in a pure desert. I chatted with Amy on the phone for the first time since the Oregon coast, and was stoked to hear that she wasn’t far behind and was on her way out of Prineville, where she had also noshed with the Good People.
She wasn’t feeling too hot, though, and was thinking she would spend the night at the hostel in Mitchell. I told her the climb out wasn’t bad and was followed by a huge descent, so she should keep going. Service ran out before the top, however, and I was definitely spurred forward by the pace she was putting on behind me. I was creeping up to the summit just as I realized my back tire had a nice slow leak in it. I stopped at the top and curled up in the small bit of shade behind the one tree to fix it.
I’d unfortunately ridden with it flat for a bit too long, so the sidewalls had incurred some damage. I thought about switching front and back tires (thinking a damaged tire would do better up front), but it wasn’t bad enough to warrant that time suck. I checked for anything sharp, threw a tube in, and pedaled on.
One thing that became pretty clear in the first couple days of the race is that a lot of people didn’t know that Oregon has a ton of climbing — the toughest climbing in the west — but somehow thought that the real climbing started in Colorado. Really, does no one look at a fucking elevation map??? Seriously, it’s on the website and is really quite obvious. Oregon, Idaho are hard, Hoosier is cookies, and the most climbing happens in Missouri, Kentucky, and Virginia. There’s a map, look at it people! Measure the elevation in the first 2,100 miles of the race (just after Pueblo) and the second 2,100 miles and you’ll see they are almost the same. The second half includes the large pancake that is eastern Colorado and Kansas, so that should tell you something about the Appalachians.
So, after a big climb out of Mitchell, I went straight back down a truly massive descent towards Dayville, which felt like it must be one of the bigger climbs on the east-to-west route. As you descend, you go lower and lower into a canyon and the road gets steeper and steeper. The sun was setting and gave the canyon walls a golden light and I was feeling pretty stoked on life. I rolled into Dayville to find everything very closed, so I filled up some water in front of the convenience store. On the door there was a sign saying that any cyclists who needed food or drink or work on their bike should call the owner and they would help out. I was glad I didn’t need any of that, but felt super grateful for the hero that had offered. You guys rock, Dayville.
It’s about 45 miles of gradual up between Dayville and Prairie City and I’d been warned that it could be super windy, so was pumped when it was instead totally calm and beautiful in the evening light. There was no sign of other riders and I didn’t really know where they were. In my original plan, Prairie City had been my goal so I was just focused on getting there. It was peaceful, and I enjoyed daydreaming and looking around while I listened to American Gods on tape. It wasn’t particularly good, but I’d been at it for a while and wanted to see what happens in the end. The sun was going down while the hills and farmland around glowed. I was rolling well, and, for a while, I felt great.
I caught a little suffer, though, after 30 miles or so and rolled into John Day ready for a gas station. I had food but wanted coffee and figured there would be something in town, but was disappointed when it turned out everything was closed. Standing over my bike in the middle of a shuttered, dark, and creepy town, I flicked through my phone but had no service, and one lone man walked down the sidewalk and asked me about where I was going. I vaguely knew, but definitely didn’t tell him.
There was a gas station about 1.5 miles before town that had seemed open, so I kicked myself while I doubled back to hit it. I kicked myself again when it turned out it was closed. I had plenty of food for the night and was probably going to be fine to get to Baker City, but I knew I had plenty of work to do to get there and wanted to find something if I could. So, I hit the one place I thought I might have some food and every traveler’s favorite stop: Fuggin’ Best Western. Since I was a kid this was the go to motel on the road, and they never disappoint. I asked the woman at the desk if I could score some food and she was happy to help. I snagged as much yogurt, granola, and other goodies as was reasonable before I started to feel guilty. I rolled out of town with peace of mind, though, and immense gratitude for the institution of Best Western. Thanks homies.
A very strong drowsiness set in maybe 10 miles from Prairie City, and I counted down the miles as I drifted sleepily into town. I rocked up to the post office in town and was stoked to find Bo Dudley asleep. Bo was one of a few people carrying less than me, but I was still surprised to find him curled up with no bivvy, jacket, or anything between him and the ground. “Harden the fuck up, Maxwell,” I thought as I pulled out my sleeping bag liner. The two people who took this no sleep comfort approach pulled out (Bo and Donncha), so I take solace in that.
Day 2 in the books and I’d finished my goal for the day within a reasonable time. Fuck, I was feeling good and feeling lucky, almost in disbelief that I’d been able to live out the race as I’d imagined so many months before. I was well on my way to my 48-hours goal of 500 miles and at my destination, Prairie City. Janie Hayes was also in town, as were a couple of other racers, and Lael’s dot from 2016 was just out of town. I knew all these guys had arrived in town earlier than me and would hit the road super early, so I’d have to go low on sleep if I wanted to keep up. But, I decided that I needed to stay within myself, stay strong and get real sleep. I settled in for 4 hours on the post office floor.
Stay tuned for more to come…