I came back from Austin with an unwanted souvenir – a nasty cold that has kept me from training. While sidelined, I took time to watch the documentary “Inspired to Ride” about the inaugural TransAm Bike Race held in 2014. The race was organized by the same people who organized Tour Divide.
The TransAm Bike Race covered 4,233 miles over 10 states following the TransAmerica Trail from Astoria, Oregon to Yorktown, Virginia. It was a self-supported ultra-endurance cycling event (i.e., no support teams driving along with extra gear) with no prize money, no stages, no checkpoints, no teams. The 45 cyclists who started were on their own. The film followed them as they raced across the Rocky Mountains, the plains in the Mid-West, over the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia to Yorktown.
I was fascinated by the people who entered the TransAm Race. There was Jason Lane, a Canadian cyclist who holds the Canadian record for the Race Across America (RAAM, a supported bike race) in 9 days. Instead of eating real food, Jason was living on a liquid diet called Spiz, used by endurance athletes as well as cancer and AIDS patients. He refilled his supplies via shipments he had sent to various Post Offices along the way. Mike Hall, a cyclist from the UK, had completed the Tour Divide in 2013 as well as the 18,000 mile World Cycle Race in 2012. During the TransAm, Mike was like a machine that never stopped.
The cyclist that I was most fascinated by was Juliana Buhring from Italy. Ultra-endurance sports in general have an extremely low percentage of woman participants. But Juliana is an extraordinary woman. She started cycling in 2011 at age 30. In December 2012 she became the fastest female to circumnavigate the world by bike. She completed her journey in 144 days of cycling (152 if you include the flights between segments).
Throughout the TransAm race, I saw her face challenges that would have easily sent me home. Nothing seemed to upset Juliana. No tears. No “why me?” No pouting. Time after time Juliana just dealt with whatever life threw at her. She suffered a bad crash and ended up with a bruised sternum and a badly skinned knee. Although it hurt to breathe, she kept going. She had trouble with her seat, which was slowly sinking and causing her knee pain. She stopped to get it fixed and then kept pushing on. In Kentucky, her chain broke and she spent hours with a “hillbilly” who locals said could fix anything. And he did.
There was one scene that I can’t get out of my head. Juliana was sitting outside a grocery store eating a sandwich when a woman stopped to talk to her. When she heard Juliana was racing across America, the woman told Juliana she was crazy. Juliana replied “crazy is sitting behind a desk from 9 to 5.” When I worked, I sat behind a desk frequently for over 10 hours a day. I have to agree with Juliana – that was crazy.
I won’t tell you who won the race. You need to watch the film for yourself so that you can hear each of the cyclists’ stories and see the incredible scenery. You might think they are crazy too but I am starting to think that ultra-endurance athletes are more sane than we think.
I like the way that Mike defined adventure. He said “adventure is being willing to take on something that could be bigger than you thought.” Every day presented new unpredictable challenges to the cyclists including cold and snow in the mountains (in June!); grueling cross winds in Kansas; snapped bike chains and cracked bike frames; bloody saddle sores; dangerous encounters with motorists. But the thrill of racing and adventure kept them going.
In two years I hope to be finished with my 50 state endurance challenge and all 6 Major Marathons. I am starting to look for my next challenge, my next adventure. As Mike said, I just have to be willing to take on something that could be bigger than I think it could be. I don’t think I am tough enough for the TransAm but there might be another ultra event that I could do. I will keep looking.
I hope you take the time out to watch “Inspired to Ride”. It was a good one.
The Adventure Cycling Association is a non-profit organization that promotes travel by bicycle. Their web site has routes and maps for the over 44,600 miles of cycling routes across the United States.
I wrote about the documentary “Ride the Divide” back in September 2014. If you haven’t seen the documentary about Tour Divide (called “Ride the Divide”), rent it. That one is not to be missed.