Trans Am 2017 Day 4: Council, ID to Lochsa Lodge, ID — 224 Miles, +10,239 ft
As I mentioned, my stomach was a bit unsettled when I woke up and I hit a gas station on my way out of town. I just about hit spot on my goal of 700 miles in 72 hours, so I was content with progress as I biked out of town when a creature emerged from the bushes a couple miles from Council. Simone! Simone had pedaled until the wee wee hours of the morning and jumped into a roadside bush to sleep for an hour or two and emerged just as I passed her. She looked tired AF and, even though she’d made up some ground, looked like she had nothing in the tank for the day. I said hey and she mumbled something back then started the process of getting on her bike as I pedaled ahead. She had been frustrated by a slow morning the previous day due to foot issues and wanted to get back on track, but I think she reached a bit too far into the tank too early.
She was a few minutes behind as I rolled into New Meadows where MC and Anthony Mennona also stopped for breakfast, and we enjoyed a chat with some locals over homemade breakfast goodies at a gas station in town. It was clear that, as is the case in many rural towns, the gas station was also the go to breakfast spot. Because of this, there was a robust hot case full of really good breakfast food that all the bikers in there took full advantage of.
I think I rolled out of town first to start the long, winding road down the Salmon river to Whitebird Pass, and I definitely hoped I wouldn’t see any of those riders again when I did. It’s a great ride and gorgeous, but as I said before I hate the slight downhill roads and this one had about an 8 mph headwind, so it was really frustrating. It’s long and tedious (and feels a bit dangerous on that highway) and I got bored as shit!
I passed through Riggins and just as I did, my dad texted Amy and I saying “Dudes, You’re going thu riggins today which is where we concluded our 1998 raft trip down the salmon river! Insanely beautiful spot.” Despite my not remembering this raft trip, I got pretty nostalgic when read that. It was reflective of a feeling I’d had since we set out and a common conundrum of the TransAm race. So often I felt like I was missing out on something, not savoring a feeling, a moment, or — in this case — a memory but instead just hurrying on ahead. I wanted to walk through Riggins, ask my dad where we had stayed, where we went, and relive a much, much younger version of our family. But there was no shot I was stopping or even slowing, and I lobbed a banana peel from the morning into a street side garbage can as I cruised through town.
I held strong for a while but slowed in the height of impatience and Anthony caught me 8 miles or so from Whitebird. We rode together into town and he braved traffic by riding along side and chatting. He’d had some hellacious luck with his wheel, breaking a spoke on day one, and it wasn’t looking to hot going forward. He’s from Vermont and we chatted about the East vs the Rockies and it helped the time go by going into Whitebird. I kept my pace, but he would have to slow down and speed up to get out of the lane as cars came by.
We finally made it to the left turn into Whitebird, and I got a flat right where the road turns up the hill towards town. It was my only my second flat of the race so I almost celebrated when it happened, feeling like I was lucky that I’d only had that many. Gotta pay your dues. There wasn’t a spot of shade to be found and I knew that roasting in the midday sunshine would tire me out quickly, so I hurriedly got out a new tube (I was carrying three because patching sucks) and went to work.
I was back on the road shortly and ran into Ken when I got to the tiny town of Whitebird. He told me that Anthony and a Dutch guy were up ahead and I had no idea who the Dutch guy could be. He was sweating and putting on sunscreen in the boiling sun when I walked past him and into the shop. I opened the door to the cool AC and shared a laugh with the shop owner as we both nodded at the lycra-ed man sweating outside. Rookie move, Ken! Put the sunscreen on inside, where you are cool, not dripping in sweat, and not baking in the sun.
I wanted to catch whoever was ahead on the long climb and stay close to Ken, but I got to chatting with the store clerk and lost about 15 minutes. He was a great guy, had a son who played college football, and had moved to Whitebird from some other far off place to find some quiet. I didn’t want to be rude and run out, so we talked for a while after I’d loaded my bike and put on sunscreen (in the AC), but I eventually got back on the road feeling like I’d wasted time.
I had been stoked for the 12 mile, switchback galore of a climb for a long time. When we ran into Luke the prior year, he had told us about this climb in Idaho with all these switchbacks and no trees that was unbearable hot when he went over it. So hot that he lathered aloe gel (not sunscreen) on his arms and legs as he went up. I had Google mapped it, Strava’d it, and had been excited to tackle it for a long time.
You see the road curling up the wall of an old, sloped canyon immediately as you pedal out of town and it is siiiiick. Huge switchbacks going up this barren, grassy wall. It was hot but not unbearable, and I thoroughly enjoyed making my way up the quiet road. A plane kept swooping super low overhead and dropping little specks which ballooned to large, lively objects when their parachutes opened. They must have had 20 people in the plane because they just kept going around and around, dropping bodies all over the place. I gaped up at the floating adventurers and dodged cows as I did. After a while the plane made a wide turn and made for a landing somewhere in the valley, passing overhead close enough that I gave it a little fanboy wave and figured they must have seen me. Oh, it’s the little things.
It’s a long fucking climb, and I was guzzling water. I’d filled up one bottle of water, one gatorade, and one Fizz in Whitebird, but ran through the water quickly. I regretted the Fizz and wished I’d stuck to just water because my mouth felt sticky with sugar and I didn’t think I was taking in enough pure water. Neither of my drinks made me feel less thirsty, and I started to feel just a bit dehydrated when the road reconnected with the main highway. I was excited to be close to done, though, and I got a lift when I hit the right turn to continue up the old Whitebird Pass road.
I reached the top and saw signs for a lodge/B&B so I tucked into the driveway to find some water. The first people I ran into was a couple sitting on a motorbike, the man shirtless and both clearly having a blast, and they directed me around the building to the entrance. I wandered in, cleats clicking on the stone walkway, and was welcomed in by the woman running the place. She filled my bottles up and we chatted briefly. I eyeballed the plates and plates of snack food on the table and told her I was tempted to stop and hang out. She laughed and said anytime as I click clacked my way to the door and I said thank you. Dope spot, but we got places to be!
The descent off Whitebird is so underwhelming it hurts. It’s a mile or two of ripper then it’s flattens out and you are expected to pedal again. Shit. Not far to Grangeville though, and I stopped in town looking for a floor pump to help out my recently popped and hand pumped tire but found nothing, so I went into a grocery store and got some real food (fried everythang).
I didn’t know this at the time, but the Dutch guy ahead of me in Whitebird had been Pim Ter Hennepe. Pim stayed with my family (through Warm Showers) many years ago when he was touring the Great Divide route solo and, when Amy and I recognized his name on the roster, he had been one of the people I really, really didn’t want to lose to. We’d end up spending a couple day together in Yorktown after the race (more on that later), but at this point he was Public Enemy Number 1, I guess because he was a young rookie who I knew. He’d end up spending 12 hours in Grangeville, so I wouldn’t see him again for a couple of day.
The farm country rollers to Kooskia gave me a preview of what I imagined Kansas and Missouri would be like (that stretch is probably most like western Missouri). The roads are dead straight and you hit a couple tiny but steep rollers. I felt great and chatted with my uncle Barney and cousin Alex along the way. It was sweet. Barney was getting ready to do Ride the Rockies, a week long, supported tour through Colorado complete with masseuses and gourmet food and had been knocking out a number of big rides to train, so it was fun hearing about all of it. The descent into the canyon before Kooskia is steep AF which caught me off guard. I couldn’t imagine going up it and held onto my brakes for dear life going down.
Lolo Pass is one of the legendary stretches in the Western half of the Trans Am and most people have seen a picture of the “Winding Road Next 99 miles” sign. In reality, it’s not 99 miles of no services (more like 60 without food and there is water at campgrounds. If Lochsa Lodge isn’t open, then it’s a really long time without food). Some people love it, some people hate it. I hate it. I’d done it the year before with Amy when we biked to Seattle and was so bored on the ride down that I started listening to a story tape for the first time. It’s beautiful at points, but is incredibly monotonous no matter which way you are going on it. Once you have seen one three mile stretch, you’ve seen all of the west side of Lolo Pass.
So, when I set out from Kooskia at 6 PM, I wasn’t excited but I at least knew what to expect. My goal was to get to Lochsa Lodge before going to bed, if not making it all the way to the top of the pass and potentially over (I had dreams of sneaking into the hot springs at the resort). I’d felt strong all day and felt like I could go for a really long time, just a matter of what was smart in the long run. I made a snack and drink stop at the restaurant in Syringa, and the waitress advised me to spend the night at some hot springs just off the road at mile marker 140 or so (about 20 miles short of the lodge where I KNEW I could make it no problem. No problem. I was sure.). I said thank you and wondered if I would have any need for that knowledge.
The thing about a canyon is it gets dark way earlier, obviously, so I started to feel the nighttime drowsies early on. I knew the drowsiness wasn’t going to be really bad until I turned on my light and got the tunnel experience, so I waited until it was almost pitch black to turn it on. Cars going the other way must have thought I was insane, but fortunately I was only passed by one or two going my way, and I moved off the road for them to zip by, figuring my back lights weren’t enough. A good number of trucks ripped by coming down the hill, though. With the approaching dark and a long day, I was on a steady mental decline, and pretty soon I was in trouble.
With about 40 miles to go to the lodge, a desperate, desperate need to sleep had taken hold. Like, a need that I had never experienced before and all I could think about was how badly I wanted to get off my bike. My saddle sores were killing me, the road was in terrible shape, I could hardly keep my eyes open, and I had 40 miles to get to where I wanted to be. Every mile marker jumped out at me and I couldn’t help but stare at them intently, even though I did everything in my power to ignore them. Did I have any shot to get to the top?
It’s hard to describe the intensity of the urge telling me to stop. A lot of people reading this have probably experienced a similar feeling at some point, and it was fucking intense. Everything screamed stop, but I clung for dear life to my plan to get to Lochsa Lodge.
My mind was racing and never stopped, going anywhere from how many miles I had left up to the summit to whether I could even make it to Yorktown. Was I going slow? What time was it? I would pop a couple Skittles every few minutes and play with them in my mouth to keep my head remotely present and focused on the road. I’d sit in the saddle for a couple minutes before my saddle sores started screaming, so I’d hop out of the saddle for a few turns before sitting down again. The further I went, the more simple my thoughts got. Soon all I could think was STOP SLEEP SLEEP STOP SLEEP STOP STOP STOP SLEEP STOP. Then, for whatever reason, Durian Rider’s video of Peter Sagan jumping a curb in a pro race and dropping the dudes chasing him got stuck in my head. The video has a simple line of text written over it: “HOLD THE FUCKING WHEEL.” Hold the fucking wheel, mannnnn! So that’s what I would do. I rolled up the hill, my thought process something like this:
HOLD THE FUCKING WHEEEEEEL
HOLD THE FUCKING WHEEL MANNNNNN
My ass hurts badly
Mile marker 124
SERIOUSLY STOP YOU’RE TOO FAR PLEASE SLEEP
HOLD THE FUCKING WHEEEEEEEEL
HOLD THE FUCKING WHEEL
Mile marker 125
HOLD THE FUCKING WHEEEELLLL
I noticed every fucking mile marker. I counted down the miles to Lochsa. When I was 30 miles away, I told myself that once I got within 20 miles I would be close enough to make it. Once I got within 20 miles I said just get within 15, you’ll be there!! A couple times I succumbed to the urge to stop and I pulled my bike into the gravel and said fuck it, I’m sleeping. For half a second, I’d think about the closest place to sleep, but I couldn’t let myself not be moving. Not only did I want to get to the top, but I was worried about how cold it would get along the river and if I would be able to sleep safely and well. Every few minutes I’d get a blast of cold air off the river and I became very aware of how cold it was in that canyon. I COULD NOT STOP.
HOLD THE FUCKING WHEEL
HOLD. THE. FUCKING. WHEEL.
Over and over, resisting every urge to blow up, fall over, scream, whine, cry. I was utterly miserable, but I was moving. Just hold the fucking wheel. Again and again and again.
Along with my cheesy, salty, fatty pretzel on the Oregon coast and my ride with Donncha, the climb up Lolo was a massive moment in my race, and it’s a moment I look back on with a lot of pride. The only other time in my life I’ve come even close to that level of focus is when I had a panic attack after boarding a plane. That time, I sat in my seat to get ready for a 4.5 hour flight from Boston to Colorado, and all the sudden, for the next two hours, had to try and meditate and breath, doing everything in my power to suppress the urge to try and open a door and get myself off the plane. It was fucking scary, but eventually I made it. My night on Lolo was hard and a bit scary because of the cold and intense mental fatigue, but it’s only a friggin’ bike race.
If I could have seen the tracker, I would have seen that the whole time I had been making up ground on Hippy and passing a number of people sleeping further down the hill, but in my mind I was pedaling in mud. But, almost 7 hours after I left Kooskia, I rolled into Lochsa Lodge, relieved and hoping I could score a room. The front desk was closed, so I found one of the bathrooms, locked the door, curled up inside next to the toilet, and snacked. It smelled awful, but unfortunately (er I guess fortunately) that smell was me, not the toilet.
When I wrote in my note the night before the race “a bit nervous just about the suffering”, it was moments like those going up Lolo that I had in mind. Going into the race, I knew intense moments like that will come, but I could only wonder how I would respond. Will I focus and bear down or back off from the pain and stress? I thought I would face the challenge, but I really didn’t know. Going up Lolo, I toughed it out and it gave me the confidence that I could again if I needed to later in the race. It was also a turning point because I left behind a number of racers who’d rested at the bottom of the climb or somewhere along the way, and they were racers I wouldn’t see again. I was working my way up the standings. Lochsa proved to be one of the first breaking points for racers, and a lot of people got caught up or quit on or near it.
I was occupying one of two toilets for the many guests at the lodge, so my stay had to be short. I set my alarm for 2.5 hours later at 4:15 am and fell asleep with my legs up the wall and food in my mouth.
Stay tuned for more to come…