Race Report: Delta Epic 2018

[I’m dusting off this page to start recounting my races in the gravel and ultra-endurance cycling scene. It’s a sport too near and dear to me, one that I see more people showing interest in. I learned a lot by others’ race reports, and I hope that others can gain something from mine.]

Here’s my experience of the Delta Epic. I’d not done a midnight start, and I knew that I’d break my personal record for the amount of miles ridden in 24 hours no matter what. It was a massive challenge, physically and mentally, and often my recollection of these events is scattered. It’s especially the case this time with the late (early?) start, and my body had issues adapting to a near-nonexistent sleep schedule. It’s not a perfect recollection, but here’s some impressions I’ll pass on:

1. Midnight start, climbing up to the levee path along the delta. It's so humid and dark that you can't see the black cattle grazing on top of the levee until you're almost on top of them. They’re as indecisive with direction as squirrels, but a thousand times larger. I learn to listen for squealing wet disc rotors from the front two riders a hundred yards ahead of me to warn me to brake.

2. Water tastes like plastic hose for miles 50-10ish, filled from the hose in front of a fire station. It's 3:30am, too early for anything to be open. Pass the relay team vans at multiple points, they look way better rested

3. Hate hate hate out of tedium how flat (absolute [ancake flat) the delta farmland is and visually monotonous it is and why did I sign up for this. One layer up, I realize how calorie starved I must be to be locked into this mindset and I eat as much of one of the bars I brought as I can make myself.

4. Roll into Gunnison at mile 112. It's the largest town for the next 70 miles and that means the only food option is one tiny rural gas station market with no fresh food so I get a cheese sandwich with white bread and put Doritos on it. It's 9am. It's still early in the morning, technically. After that I drink a coke, make an 'espresso' with the last of a bottle of water and two packets of instant coffee, and then listen to a few songs from a shared playlist. I remind myself how hard this is and that I've already been riding 9 hours and to not take that for granted and my mood lifts for a few hours.

5. You get rained on again. It's the third or fourth time. There's no point in putting on a rain jacket most of the time in the Southeast because it's so warm and humid that a jacket would feel worse. It washes the salt off my skin and makes the roads tackier.

6. Miles 112 to 178 are rough red gravel through farmland. It's mostly grey, it all looks the same and I find myself blinking in and out of sleeping in the saddle, jerking back awake whenever I swerve to one side. I remember I didn’t end up sleeping during the day Friday, so I was running on almost no sleep for the past 36 hours.

7. Rolling into Indianola, my friends and I shared a hotel room to rest, order pizza, dry out, shower and wash kits. I find out my shoes are so bad at draining that the skin around my toes is already bright white and saturated, extremely close to trench foot. It erased any doubt in my mind that a stop was necessary. I sleep in a towel on the sofa and wake up two hours later, put on my damp kit (the hotel dryer was broken) so that my body heat can dry out the kit before I leave town or put on shoes again. The skin on my feet had returned mostly to normal. After packing up, kitting up, brushing teeth etc, putting back on our wet shoes is the last thing any of us does.

8. Two riders take over the hotel room as two of us leave, one to scratch and one to sleep through the night. We roll for a pleasant 30 miles of flat, paved darkness. It's so remote that only our direct surroundings are lit up and make it feel like we're in a desert or floating movie set removed from our surroundings.

9. Rolling washboard red gravel forever. Doesn't matter if we are riding at night because it's so rural. We eventually ask some farm workers at 1030pm if they know of a water source. They say “no” as the melted ice sloshes in the cooler one holds in his hands. We find a well spigot a few miles down the road that spits out slightly yellow but clean water.

10. Riding partner starts arguing with me, refuses to let me stop to sleep for ten minutes to restart my brain, which is shutting down. Delta mosquitos would have made it near impossible, anyway. My legs are stopping and jerking. Even though it's rough riding, I'm so tired I'm getting road hypnosis. He fights me on pausing to nap all night and after a hellish close to hundred miles more we finish the stretch on farmlands. To be fair, this is part of the reason I chose to ride with him all night. Once we reach pavement again I cry a little with relief as I stretch the smaller muscles that have been blasted by the last 29 hours of riding in the same position, due to the absolute lack of elevation.

11. The 3000 feet of elevation gain posted on the ride are all in the last 30 miles. We ride a flat paved road for a quarter mile and then turn to follow the course up, down, and up steep rolling gravel climbs. It's brutal, but the most enjoyable part of the whole ride. Our legs cooperate since we finally get to stand out of the saddle and climb, let alone coast back down the other side of the hills. The sky starts to glow through the trees dully and then brighter. As we peak the rolling hills the sun is up over the horizon. The last five miles is a rolling gravel straightaway where my riding companion and I play at sprinting our loaded bikes at sheer excitement from being near the finish. At the last turn even he admits the view is worth stopping for and we take pictures of the orange sunrise over the cotton fields, then follow a road paralleling the railroad line back to the start at Bentonia.


Hey y'all, I'm on vacation, getting my brain back in order!

I retired from woodworking right before the TransAm and now I'm figuring out what's next, and where. I'm also on my first solo vacation ever, aside from some short tours. My posts may be delayed for a bit as my brain has been scattered to the four winds.

In the meanwhile I've been getting some rad riding in and can't wait to update y'all on my latest adventures. 

actual scientific diagram of my brain

actual scientific diagram of my brain

Gear, Part 1: Cockpit

Disclaimer: I want to describe what my setup was, but gear choices like handlebars differ from person to person. And with bag and packing setups, remember that there's more than one way to skin a cat.

I personally did research and changed a lot up about my cockpit in the two months before the race, which was a bad idea. Ideally, I should've been riding with my race set up for a few months before the race. But I only decided to try the TransAm in late March, so I was limited in time!

Pack list

  • Salsa Cowbell, 42cm
  • Profile designs T3
  • 3D-printed crossbar c/o Phil
  • Brooks leather bar tapeApidura
  • Apidura feedbag
  • Revelate designs gas tank TT bag
  • Sea to Summit eVent compression drybag, 10L
  • QuadLock phone mount

Handlebars. I had been riding Salsa Cowchippers for the last six months or so, which I absolutely love, but I got it into my head that I needed bars with less flare to be riding exclusively paved roads. I realized this was the wrong choice after the first few days of the TransAm. I really prefer the angle that flared bars allow my wrists to sit at, and combined with an ill-timed change in gloves, the Cowbell led to major hand numbness issues. After a while, I got frustrated when I tried to shift to a lower gear with my Force groupset during a climb and ended up shifting to a higher gear two or three times before finding the right angle to get my weakened numb hand to shift the entire sweep up to a lower gear. I'll say this, though—that's a matter of my own fit to my bike and my own riding preference, so this is more a disclaimer to be well-fit to your bike than recommending a specific product.

And handlebar tape—I rely on my gloves and a good fit to minimize the need for heavily padded bars (LOL @ then dealing with numbness issues). But I stand by Brooks tape. I've used it for several years on my main whip, it got hit by a car, and has been wrapped around several sets of bars. It's still comfortable, and leather tape is minimally absorbent and still grippy when wet.

I liked riding the Profile T3 bars, but also wish I had more time to ride them before the TransAm. For a less aggressive positioning, I had them spaced out as wide as I could get away with before they tapered to a narrower clamp diameter. It might be an asthma thing but the amount I'd gain being more aero with a narrower posture was canceled out by the amount my ribcage and lungs could expand with the wider stance. A friend printed put a crossbar that I mounted my lights and phone mount to, which kept my cockpit from being too cluttered.

I kept my sleeping kit slung under the aero bars in a Sea to Summit compression drybag. Definitely had no issues with it being waterproof, and was easy to deal with. Again, I was pretty lazy with packing, so having something to stuff my sleeping kit in while groggy in the morning was nice. If I did it again, though, I'd try to be a more efficient packer and keep my sleeping kit in or on my seat bag, which would free up more cockpit space for feedbags.

Feedbags! I should have left more room for these. They're very versatile and many are large enough to put either food or an extra bottle in. The Apidura I used was very minimal and tucked out of the way behind my compression sack, but I also have a larger one with side pockets sewn by Atlanta bagmakers at the Spindle, aptly named the "40 oz crusher" by its carrying capacity. I missed this badly on the TransAm, but left it behind since the compression sack made it sit back far enough to cause knee strike if I was even slightly out of the saddle. These are the bike equivalent to a cup holder and glove box. Just throw whatever crap you need to in here that you may need at a moment's notice.

I also had a Revelate Designs gas tank. These waterproof top tube bags are bombproof. I kept spare charger cords, wallet, inhaler and USB port in here. Bigger than you'd thing and with an optional Velcro divider. It looks like the new version has a magnetic snap instead of a zipper, which would've been handy, especially since I had cables routed in and out of it.

Atlanta, GA

One of the things that has caught me off guard is how people see participants in the TransAm and other cyclists and athletes as some kind of superhuman entities. For sure, those winning the races are incredibly talented people in peak physical shape, who have found a sport they excel in. I don't mean to belittle theirs or anyone else's accomplishments. Instead, the average person might be more of a superhuman than they'd think.

One of the challenges of any sport is knowing your weaknesses, physical and otherwise. I've got a list as long as my arm that I could rattle off at the drop of a hat of my own limitations. 

I've struggled for years with allergies, asthma, and anxiety. I've actually spent about half the last four years sick with complications from these things. It took a long time for me to realize that (a) I needed medical treatment to get a handle on them and (b) it was worth the time and money to figure them out (American healthcare system eat your heart out). I have lots of environmental allergies, including seasonal, dust mites, and fire ants. Great for someone who loves to spend time outside, and a big part of why I decided to move from Savannah—to be able to be a healthy person.

(Hell, great for someone who chose to do woodworking for a living. I had chronic sinus infections bad enough where an ENT recommended sinus surgery. I eventually gave that up, since I would have a swollen face and eyes even under safety glasses and a respirator, and using a dust collection system.)

So I've spent a lot of money out of pocket figuring out asthma medications and getting allergy shots. My fire ant allergy used to be bad enough that if I was bitten on my foot couldn't fit it in a shoe the next day; eventually it got bad enough that my throat would tighten up within the hour. I carry an EpiPen and lost days at a time in a sleepy haze of Benadryl. Now, with allergy shots, I only get small welts around the bite. It's taken a year to get that far and I'm proud of it.

I still carry an EpiPen, allergy medicine, Benadryl, a daily inhaler, and an emergency inhaler with me. I joke about how living in Savannah was allergy resistance training. Any time I ride there I have to use my emergency inhaler, but I used it only a handful of times during my two-thousand-mile TransAm effort, mostly for high-altitude flare ups around Hoosier Pass. That should give you an idea of the swampy coastal Georgia air; I feel like a million bucks everywhere else, pretty much. But even the West isn't perfect: I was glad to have what I did during the race, as cottonwood trees seem to be another trigger, and I woke up several mornings with my eyes swollen almost-shut. But the allergy medicine got me back on the bike.

I guess what I'm saying is that acknowledging your weaknesses can actually make you stronger. I learned to take care of myself and made a strong showing in a race I never thought I'd be physically able to participate in.

Ultimately, it was another chink in the physical armor that cut short my effort. I live in low altitude and didn't anticipate that my feet would expand a whole shoe size. I cycled for a week in too-small shoes before I could be refit at a bike shop. I stayed the course and managed the swelling for another week, but the Achilles damage was done and I decided to scratch before causing permanent damage.

But now I'm back on the bike, waiting for my new (larger) shoes to arrive, already evaluating how to come back even stronger and more prepared next year.

Breckenridge, Colorado

A short post about FOOD on the TransAm!
TransAm is basically eating your way through gas stations across the rural United States. Like any ride or exercise activity for a prolonged amount of time, you’re trying to get really good calorie value—which means you end up eating a lot of junk food. But you also have to get some kind of nutrition, otherwise you’re going to be running on pure carb-and-sugar fumes. 
It’s funny: you start to see patterns when you stop at places with different riders. We all like to have baked goods. CLIF Bars are always great. Those Odwalla smoothies! Anything that’s green like that is really great. Fresh bananas and bagels ... A lot of the stuff we end up eating is super sugary. So I know that I—and a lot of other people—start craving savory stuff. 
My perspective is sort of limited because I don’t eat meat, and can’t eat much dairy because I’m lactose intolerant. But I eat some things that have dairy in them—my fair share of Snickers bars.
I get to a point where I’ve burned so many calories, I walk into a store and feel my eyes lock in to the one thing I’m craving. So I’m like, my body is probably lacking that! 
On the interior stretches—Wisconsin, Montana—where there are really limited food options, just having something that isn’t brown on your plate is really nice. Like finding a Mexican place with veggie fajitas. I just rolled in to Silverthorne, Colorado today, and the clouds opened up and light shone down on a Chipotle sign, and I got a giant burrito full of veggies and needless to say, it was pretty miraculous.
One thing you don’t realize at first is the amount of electrolytes you miss. You get a lot if you drink Gatorade. I’ve been eating an absurd amount of salt recently. Even the saltiest foods don’t taste salty to me anymore; I’ve been adding salt to everything like crazy because I’ve been sweating it right back out. A lot of racers carry hydration pills—that’s a really smart move, one I wasn’t smart enough to prepare before the race. I’ll just take my super salty gas station pickles, extra soy sauce, and extra salt packets when I can. 
In short: race food is everything you’re not supposed to eat, to be a healthy person. Tons of salt, tons of calories, tons of sugar. The more processed, the better. And then get the nutrition in when you’re in towns that have real food. When those restaurants are still open. All of us will have earned a really solid detox diet after the race is done.

Dillon, Montana

So let’s see, after White Bird …
The route went through some cornfields that were just rolling and huge. Everything was really pretty.
The road went down to the river. The most steeply graded, badly paved road I’ve been down in my life. I actually stopped halfway down to chill out and let my brake rotors cool off. I want to say, Sheeps Grade Road … Lambs Grade? It was along a long stretch that had almost no services whatsoever. 
So that morning was White Bird Pass, and then after that steep downhill was the start up to Lolo Pass. It was about 90-100 miles to the top of the pass. With hardly any services. Just a constant, steady, one-percent-grade climb, up and up and up. The kind of thing where it’s uphill, but doesn’t really look like an uphill, so you’re like, dang, why am I going so slowly up this? It’s frustrating. Plus there wasn’t a lot of a shoulder there. Not that it’s not safe, but you get tired of logging trucks flying by. 
Several hours into it, I caught up with someone else and rode beside them for a while. I was just like, hey, what’s up? Let’s talk because I’ve seen no other people for several hours now, and it’s driving me nuts. This guy Ben, we rode together for about ten minutes and just talked. Then I kept going up.
After about 80 miles of going back and forth alongside this river, between the mountains, the actual climb to the pass starts. So you’ve been going up all day, and then you really start going uphill. (Evidently, near the bottom I missed a resort that had a gas station and restaurant.) It climbs up forever and is mentally brutal. 
I got to the top as the light was fading. I stopped so many times. I was just crawling up the side of that pass. I had gotten up that morning after two or three hours of sleep at the post office and had already done one pass, so it wrecked me. But you have to just keep on going.
I was completely out of food, completely out of water, and it was dark by the time I reached the top. I was looking forward to hanging out at the visitors center at the top. It has nice heated bathrooms. But they were locked! Evidently, they’ve been having some water issues. There was a log bench and I was just so drained that I passed out there for about 20 minutes, until my buddy Mike rolled up.
It was getting cold and my clothes were soaked from the climb up. I was having a hard time, and Lolo was still about 30 miles away. Mike was completely done from the climb too, but he had stopped earlier and he saved my ass--he gave me some bars to eat.
We both put on all the clothes that we had, and ended in the dark, near the first campsite on the other side of the pass. There are these--not port-a-potties, but campsite bathrooms? Little concrete buildings that have big overhangs, walled in against the wind and cold. We found two of those and bivvyed under the awnings for the night. It was actually super comfortable.
Then we went on to Lolo. Ended up at a McDonald’s and ran into a bunch of other racers. I ate a ton of food. I was really dragging from the day before and had to catch up on my calorie count. 
My buddy John, who had gone ahead and made it to Lolo that night, messaged me and told me that there was a bike shop about 30 miles up the road in Hamilton. I was still wearing my old shoes, too small even with no insoles, and was in a lot of pain. My Achilles were not happy, and there was pain shooting from the ball of my right foot to my big toe. I was having to stop every half hour.
I rolled on to Hamilton and went by the bike shop. Cool people. They had some shoes in my size. I also got some heavy duty winter gloves, because there’s a cold front coming this way. They also gave me kombucha, chips, and mango salsa, which was awesome! So I was super happy rolling out of there.
I took my time. I knew that it was going to be a day of getting used to the new shoes. To let my body get used to it, and used to the sit. Especially because I had lost enough time getting the shoes, there was no way I was going to make it to Dillon, so Wisdom was really my goal.
I stopped and had a really good lunch before hitting the road. Went up to the top of the next climb, just past Sula, I want to say? There was a visitors center that was actually open at the top. That climb wasn’t nearly as bad as either of the ones from the day before. But it was cold and sprinkled a bit, so I was like, okay, do I wear my raincoat? … That’s too hot, I’m sweating … then the wind starts up and it’s shady and I’m cold … so when I got to the top I sat underneath the hand dryers, drying my clothes out before the last little bit of the climb and the descent into Wisdom.
I ran into Mike there. Evidently he had missed the turn to Wisdom and descended two miles before he realized what he had done, and had to turn around and climb up again. So he was pretty emotionally spent. So we rode side by side for a good bit of the way, and stopped to take pictures. That pass was the first time the race crossed the Continental Divide. 
We both hauled ass into Wisdom. Approaching it, you come down the pass zooming, and everything opens up all of a sudden, and you’re right by Big Hole National Park. One of those places with the dumbest names, but there really are no words to describe how amazing it is. Like, you’re really in the middle of this big … hole. There are mountains and snow-capped peaks all around you, but they’re dozens of miles away across rolling pasture and hills in every direction, so far away. Seriously, big sky country. And the sun was setting so the sky was just on fire. I tried to take a panorama shot but it didn’t turn out right. You just can’t photograph some things easily.
So we came into Wisdom. There was a saloon open with about four or five bikes already leaned up against the rail out front. It became an unofficial biker bar for the night. A bunch of us sat around and ate pizza and drank beer. I tracked down the last open lodging in town, a little rental cabin that was really a tiny little house, and a few of us crashed there last night. It was great to have a place that was warm and have a shower. 
So far this morning, I’m in Dillon so I’ve probably covered about 70 miles. Rolled out of that cabin pretty early, returned the key, and picked up a cinnamon roll from the owners--who also run the diner in town. I was listening to a song, Brains, by Lower Dens, with a really powerful rolling beat. I used to listen to it a lot when I was sick, when I was getting over surgery, when I had mono a few years ago, or when I was getting over a sinus infection. It’s a song that I’ve come back to because it’s like, patience, sleep, you can weather through this thing. I don’t listen to it often, but it hit me this morning and made me think of all the times in the last few years that I’ve absolutely bottomed out, emotionally, physically, whatever. Being so weak and fatigued that I couldn’t even ride my bike to the store and back. There were days that I’d get up and take a shower and go back to sleep. Those things just kept happening and wearing me down. I would have never thought that I’d be able to do something like this. 
The fact that I’m here, and weathering through these things that I’m having to deal with--Achilles issues, bad allergies, asthma--and I’m still doing so well … it means everything to me. 
So. It was a cold ride this morning. There was a cold front heading through but it didn’t bother me, I didn’t feel it. I was in the zone. I couldn’t feel fatigue, tiredness--it was just a really good ride this morning. 
Gonna keep on rolling on. Hopefully, going to make it to somewhere around West Yellowstone today. Going to finish all this food I have piled up in front of me, and this coffee, and hit the road again. 

Grangeville, Idaho

It’s day six, I think? I don’t even know anymore!
Yesterday I woke up at a campsite in the canyon, just on the Oregon side of the border. 
I found some aspirin. My Achilles tendons were swollen and painful and I was hobbling around. I figured out my shoes are too small for how much my feet have swollen up from this amount of riding. So I threw away the insoles (that seems to have helped) and kept pedaling on.
It was a beautiful, steep climb out of the canyon, rolling around the edge. We had a couple of climbs right before dams, and a long, gradual, sweeping downhill into the next town.
We ran over all these crickets. Sort of like the lubbers are in Georgia, except much smaller? These hordes of red crickets were on the road every once in a while, and there was no way to avoid crunching half of them. 
It was a super hot day: in the 90s, a dry heat. Gatoraded up. I found some melon and some cucumber-lime Gatorade, which sounds like a small thing, but you get tired of drinking the same flavors over and over! 
Powered through the hottest day of the ride so far. Super brutal, super sunny, not a lot of shade at all.
We went through a National Forest. Right outside there was this old country store with pie and ice cream and army surplus gear. The owners were literally sitting on the front porch whittling a stick.
After downing a quick soda, I rolled a fast six miles into a town called New Meadows, basically just an intersection. I had the best Subway sandwich of my entire life and cooled down.
(Yesterday was a big day for temperature management. I’m really glad I had one of those zinc oxide face sticks that you use when you go surfing? It was absolutely necessary.) 
After New Meadows, we headed to a place called Riggins. After the forest it was all downhill: you take a sharp left and the road goes into Hells Canyon and follows the Salmon River. Absolutely gorgeous. At the right time of year, it must be a great place to kayak. Super high water. The road swooped back and forth, back and forth. I made great time! Fun, fast, and slightly shaded for 30 miles, probably the easiest 30 miles of the ride so far.
Got in to Riggins. John got there before the rest of us and found a motel owned by a Vietnamese family. We rented a room to do laundry and shower. Across the gravel parking lot, the same family had a food truck that the locals go to with a mix of Mexican and Asian food. I had the best veggie spring rolls I’ve had in my life, and some Idaho-potato fries.
Every other business in Riggins advertised that they gave away free beer. I felt like I missed out, but had some excellent sweet tea with mint instead. 

We headed toward White Bird; White Bird pass wasn’t that far away. And it had been such an easy ride we planned to power through and go on to Grangeville for the night. 
It was absolutely beautiful, this wide canyon. Too dark to see the water but you could hear it flowing alongside us, with an almost-full moon and our spaced-out bike lights. 
We got into White Bird around midnight. Mike and I decided to call it a night at the post office. Both of us had been drifting off a little. I had really wanted to power through to Grangeville but was terrified of falling asleep on the descent and crashing somewhere. Or the last thing I wanted was to have to turn around in the middle of the 11-mile climb--to coast those miles back down and have to try again in the morning.
So we got a solid four hours of sleep at the post office--Aaron was there as well--and headed out a little after 5 AM.
John had gone ahead of us and powered through the night. An absolute badass. He made it into Grangeville around 4 AM, and we made it around 7 AM. 
So now we’re in Grangeville, getting coffee in this huge coffee house, about to go and get breakfast somewhere. 
My Achilles tendons do still hurt a bit but aren’t as swollen as before. Seems like if I keep taking aspirin and pacing myself, that could fix the problem. 
Or I’ll have to figure out a way to get some better shoes. These are great shoes, just not for this distance of riding, or for this kind of riding. They’re mountain bike shoes with a carbon sole and a Vibram outsole and they're great--I love them for riding around Savannah, commuting, and other stuff like that--but with the hard toe box there’s no room for my feet to expand. Kind of like when you go hiking on the A.T. with larger-than-normal boots because your feet start to expand after a couple days. So, lesson learned, I guess!
But also lesson learned for when I’m in pain from this kind of thing: once you fix the problem, the symptoms will start to go away.
A few of the other riders have dropped out from exactly the same issues that I’ve been dealing with, and probably because they’ve been pushing harder than I have. I have to say, this is a race of attrition. I’m gonna keep on going.
Off to finish this coffee and eat a huge breakfast!

Baker City, Oregon

Last night continued:
A lot of us decided to push on after dinner last night. It was about 15 miles to the store in Bates, Oregon. We decided, you know, it’s only 15 miles, no big deal--but we had to climb up a pass.
It got pretty cold, and between that and the altitude I was pretty miserable. We stopped at the top and took a few pictures. There was a covered wagon at a lookout point. 
The descent back down is really the coldest part of any of these rides. I hadn't put on enough clothing, so I actually had to stop part way down. I put on my puffy coat to stop shivering. And besides my lights, it was absolutely pitch black. No cars, the other cyclists had gone ahead of me and were waiting at the store at the base of the hill. 
I started shivering again and stopped to get my leg warmers. I had been waiting because I have to take my shoes off to put them on, these guys are going to think that I crashed off the side of the road somewhere … so I finally got the leg warmers on, pull my shoes back on, and roll down ... and I was literally just around the corner from the store where we were staying for the night. I guess I spooked them for no reason!
I stayed in this weird tent-camper, sort of like the StarCraft camper that we had growing up. It had a couple of sleeping bags thrown into it. It was pretty cold last night, so I was grateful to have an extra sleeping bag, but that trailer was so dusty that I woke up this morning and could barely open my eyes or breathe out of my nose from dust allergies. 
So it’s been tough getting rolling today, but I’m glad we tackled the worst of the climbs before Baker City last night. I had a really bad case of the “don’t wanna’s” this morning but just kept pushing through.
The descent into Baker City and the ride across the flatlands was fun. It largely went along this gully with the river flowing next to the road. A lot of the roads we’ve descended through the mountains are like that: beautiful blue-green water, gentle rapids, a lot of farmland, lambs and cows. Sorta dusty, so my voice is getting a little hoarse. 
Rolled into Baker City, and now I’m sitting at a cafe, waiting for food. 
I ran into Andrew Suzuki. He’s the guy who was in first place. He actually broke the record for the farthest traveled on the first day of the ride. But he got this thing called Shermer’s Neck, basically a really bad neck cramp since those muscles are weak, and you can’t hold up your head to see the road anymore. But he’s a pretty cool guy! Super low-key, you wouldn’t have expected him to be here to get number one, but I was super impressed--all of us are super impressed with how well he did, even though he had to scratch. He’s flying back out of Boise today.
I’m going to push on after breakfast. Hopefully I’ll make it to Idaho by tonight. 

Phillips Lake, Oregon

It's the morning, starting to warm up finally. Day four.
Passed through a lot of places: started out in Prineville yesterday, passed through Dayville, stopped at this place that had an awesome general store. 
There was a hostel in this town called Mitchell just over the Ochoco Pass--they have a beautiful bike hostel there. They had spaghetti and coffee and snacks for everyone, complimentary--they’re mission based. Perfect timing: had a really good spaghetti breakfast there, and powered on. 
We were rolling along this river most of yesterday. [John Day River] It’s really dry in Eastern Oregon and around the Ochocos, and there was the smell of lavender and sage and jasmine for miles and miles along the river. 
Eventually made it all the way to town, John Day. Stops had been hot all afternoon. I found a place that had food and coffee and it was absolutely perfect because it had been in the 80s for a good while, and sunny. It felt good, the first time on this ride I've really felt warm. 
The cold has been tough, and the altitude too. It’s making my asthma flare up a bit. I actually had to use my inhaler for the first time yesterday. But I think three days into the TransAm isn't bad for somebody who struggles asthma like I have.

More about last night and this morning later!

Prineville, Oregon

The first day was really cool, riding out of Astoria. We had a big mass depart: everyone left and sort of grouped up for the first 10, 12 miles or so. You get to chat and talk with some of the riders that you don't normally get to ride with. 
It's sort of a bummer because I flatted out and took a spill the first 20 miles or so, and had to replace a tube, and later in the day I realized that my derailleur hanger was bent. I was going to tough it out the rest of the day, but there were too many climbs, and the derailleur was only letting me ride in the harder gear. So I pulled over at a truck stop (which was pretty cool because I happened to stop somewhere with free coffee!) and then back out on the road. 
There was a lot of up and down yesterday in the coastal range of Oregon. Then we turned east, and I stopped in Corvallis, which was pretty cool; I ate a bunch of tofu lo mein and fell asleep. 
So that was the first day. I covered about--I want to say 175, 180 miles, maybe? My longest day in the saddle ever. Until today. 

* * * 

I just finished day two a couple of hours ago. The first day was a lot of magical tall trees and forest, lush green Oregon coastline. That was the case again for a lot of today, when I rolled out of Corvallis. Rolling fields and farmland.
Then up into the mountains on the climb to McKenzie Pass. That ended up being about 5,000 feet of climb from where we started off! 
That was a really, really long, tough climb, about 60 miles that switched back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It was crazy because it went on and on. Eventually you think, how much farther can it be? How much longer can it be? I didn't want to look at the map. The trees get smaller, more and more snow starts appearing.
At the top, there’s a huge, open vista of mountains, the Three Sisters. There’s a crater in the middle and all this exposed volcanic rock, and the huge snowy peaks around you. It’s absolutely breathtaking. 
That was the first major climb and peak of the ride. After that, there was a really fun, really long descent down into the town. I ran into a bunch of other cyclists, and we were all just so exhausted and hungry. We went to a Mexican restaurant and then rolled out.
Once you get over those mountains, Oregon turns really dry and sort of desert-y, almost, and flattens out into a valley. A lot of the grasses and stuff here--it’s weird to see pinkish, reddish, purple fields of grass. 
I ended up deciding to stay in Prineville. It’s right after this canyon--what used to be the rim of a canyon, eroded down--opens up. You dive down and around the edge of it, at least 35 miles an hour around the lip of this bowl, down into the bottom of the valley, into town.
I came in as the sun was getting lower in the sky, and it was absolutely amazing. Three or four times today, just from the views I had, I was left with my mouth open at how beautiful it was. 
So, staying here tonight. And washing out all the salt from my kit that’s accumulated in the last couple of days. And getting back to it early in the morning!

Astoria, Oregon

So it's the day before the race and we're all in Astoria. Woke up feeling good after a ride over from Portland on Thursday. As I finished last minute errands I ran into others doing the same. I think we bought all of the lithium AAA batteries in the entire town just for our GPS trackers.

The seals are still barking outside of my hotel room window. I don't think they ever stop. They seem to take turns pushing each other off the prime space on the pier.

Everyone's attention span, mine included, seemed to shorten as the day went on. We met at the column in Astoria to pick up our hats and GPS trackers, milled about and talked with all the other riders there. We headed down to the brewery a few at a time and carb-loaded as much as possible. 

The number of riders this year is impressive, about double the number for last year, at the latest count.

I've unpacked and repacked my bags about half a dozen times the last few days, whether from preparation or nerves I'm not sure (pot-ay-to, pot-ah-to?). I'm leaving a small pile of odds and ends at the hotel, and I'm sure I'll continue to shed stuff as I get tired of lugging it along.

Well, gonna try to get some sleep in a real bed for the last time for a while. Hopefully the seals will keep it down.