In 2013, I rode across India on a bicycle and decided then that I would someday ride across the world. I believe that in order to do anything of this sort, I would first need to fix a date and everything else would follow. After almost zero thought or even looking at a calendar, I set the date as 20th June 2018. People have asked me, “Why that specific date?”, and my answer has been, “Because I can.” I had five years to figure out finances, visas, everything else, and get my folks to agree to what they considered a fool’s errand. As with everything in life, things change. I got a new job that paid reasonably well, I got married, we adopted three dogs. In between all this, I would still go out on long multiday tours across the country.
In late 2016, I found out about a race called the Trans Am Bike Race, which starts in Astoria, Oregon and ends all the way at the other end of the USA, in Yorktown, Virginia. It is a 4300-mile race where you get to ride over the Rockies and the Appalachian mountains. (https://transambikerace.com/) Half the race was in the cold part of the country before getting to the warmer climates in the east. The most exciting part of the race is when we would ride through Yellowstone National Park. I figured it would be a nice ride to do. Since I was getting married the next year and would need to take time off for that, I let the plan slide that year. In 2017, we went to Russia and did the train ride across the country. Sadly, I did very few rides in 2017, but when we came back from Russia my wife and mum seemed to like the idea of me riding across the US. Mum would sponsor it, or so she said. So I registered for the race but kept putting off getting started with my training plan. I figured that worst case, I would get a few long rides in before the race, which was set to start on June 2, 2018. The hope was that about 3 months of preparation would be enough to see me across the 4100 miles. Fortunately, my boss was alright with giving me the time off I needed for the trip, which was near on 3 months in itself.
By December 2017, I’d booked my tickets and applied for a visa. The visa officer seemed interested in the race and after a quick chat agreed to stamp my passport. With the formalities done, it was time to start buying gear. Andrew, another racer I had met via an online forum, added me on Facebook and started to help plan my ride. I had tons of questions, mainly about how to handle the cold. I finally got around to picking up all the gear I could possibly need and had, at least temporarily, gotten the seemingly never-ending questions out of the way. Before I knew it, it was May and time to leave. Ideally, racers pack up and test everything before the race, but since it was peak season time at work, I barely managed to get the bike packed before my flight. I haven’t heard my wife nagging me this much ever. The evening before my flight was scheduled to leave, a friend asked if I would raise awareness about banning the online sale of dogs, and given that the topic is one rather close to the heart, I agreed. The t-shirt he wanted me to wear during the ride would reach me just before my flight took off. Since I was really busy getting things done in time to catch my flight I hadn’t sat down to think about the task at hand. This was the time when Trump was talking about the H1B status of Indian immigrants. I had read a few articles about this and heard about how the country was reacting to immigrants stealing jobs. This would be my first visit to the US and I was going to ride through the red states.
OFF TO USA
From the time I checked in and sat down to wait to board I started to panic. I wasn’t sure if I should have gone through with the ride. The chatter in the head was nonstop. I hadn’t trained for the ride, I didn’t have enough money to handle any unforeseen situations, and most importantly, how was I to survive without curd rice and chai. That day went by like a flash and soon, I found myself in Seattle, waiting for Alan to pick me up at the airport. Alan and his wife are folks I met on Warm Showers, and once I’d written to them, they readily agreed to host me for the few days that I’d be stopping by at Frasier’s city. I set up my bike at their house and for the first time riding on the right-hand side of the road. Though the experience was a little unnerving at first, I quickly got used to it. The next couple of days were spent exploring Seattle. I spent an entire day at a music festival, and of course, took a trip on the famous ferry. Like Bangalore, Seattle seemed to have lots of traffic jams. Incidentally, I found out too that the ferry was the easiest way to get out of Seattle and onto the highway.
I had made plans with Bowlek, a 6-foot tall Polish bicyclist, to ride together to Astoria. What I did not factor in was what would happen if he was faster than I. We expected it to take about 2 days to get to Astoria. Bowlek was a little nervous, he had heard about the American gun culture and was sure that someone would shoot him if he did something that was out of the ordinary. We got to a campsite by late evening and sneaked in. It was a beautiful place by the lake and since there was nobody manning the counter, we were able to spend the night at no charge. The next morning, we hit the road really early. The scenery was breathtaking. Our ride took us through forests with tall trees that have been around for about 100 years. The path looked like was set up for a movie shoot. Traffic was low and there were hardly any people on the way. We saw plenty of ‘No Trespassing signs in the middle of nowhere.
By six in the evening, we’d reached Astoria. You know you’ve gotten close to the town when you see a large bridge to get across the Columbia River. We speeded up, heading towards Steve’s house. Steve was a host on Warm Showers and had agreed to host me, and later Bowlek too till the start of the race. He had moved from San Francisco and worked from home for a tech company that he founded. Apparently, he had visited Astoria a while ago and had fallen in love with the place and decided to move there and work remotely. We spent the next couple of days on our asses doing nothing, just waiting for the race to start. Bowlek even cooked us a nice Polish meal of pasta and potatoes. He had already gotten sick of eating the food from McDonald’s. The day before the race was spent meeting a bunch of racers at the local bike shop and the racer meeting. We were given some simple instructions about the rules of the race and the route. A safety check was conducted and we went back home to pack up our bags. As I sat outside packing up, a passer-by stopped by to drop off a crate of beer. He had a few bottles left over after a party. Since I don’t drink, the beer meant nothing to me except a kind gesture, but the boys inside were thrilled. With our bikes set up and bags packed, the alarms were set for 4:30 am. I wonder why all rides start so early. Can’t they start at 10 am instead? That way it would be nice and warm and we could start after a couple of cups of coffee.
We got to the start line just in time for the race to start. Turns out, Americans are punctual. It was cold outside and for the first time in my life, I was wearing about 4 layers and had every inch of me covered. The race kicked off with everyone riding slowly out of town. To me, the other riders’ ‘slow’ pace seemed fast. We had to get to the base of McKenzie Pass in 2 days before the road was shut down. Any longer than 2 days and we’d be forced to take the alternate route, a longer one than the original. By the time we were about 20 miles out, the pack had split. I was at the tail end and it started to feel like taking part in this race was a bad idea. So, I stopped for a few minutes to make a decision. Sitting on a rock on top of a hill, I asked myself if it really mattered what race position I was in, what was the objective of riding across this country and was I going to think about ranking rather than riding for the next couple of months. All of the questions had one simple answer, which was that all I really wanted to do was to ride the bike and enjoy myself. I had two months ahead of me and there was no point in finishing the race in a hurry as I didn’t have enough money to reschedule my tickets. Hence I decided that I wasn’t going to get hung up on the distances covered by the other riders, I was simply going to ride and enjoy myself. On that first night, I met Don, and we decided to stop at the campsite at Pacific City. Don was having a little trouble with his new phone. I taught him how to use the GPS app so that it would be easier for him to navigate. We were now racing against time as we had less than 24 hours to cover the 200 miles to the base of McKenzie Pass.
Though we didn’t make it there on time, I was curious to find out whether someone would be there at the top to turn me around. So I climbed up to the summit of the mountain, on a completely deserted road. I was eager to see the lava rocks on the mountain. I slowly made my way to the top, stopping a couple of times on the way. The summit was a ridge that you had to ride on for a mile or so. Everything I was told about the summit of McKenzie by Brad, who I had bunked with at Steve’s house, turned out to be true. The view was breathtaking. I was met with fields of rock made of lava, as far as the eye could see. A couple of smokes later, I raced down to the town of Sisters. Don, on the other hand, had taken the alternate route and caught up with me while I was at Subway eating a sandwich.
We now had to plan our supply points till we exited Oregon. Our next stop was to be in the middle of the painted hills, in the town of Mitchell. This town, unfortunately, is in the midst of the Oregon desert. I had almost given up while climbing up the pass. On the summit, I saw a guy crouching down in the woods and waiting for something. I quickly got away from there. After riding for over 14 hours we finally rolled into town. The good folks of the Spoken Hostel cheered and rang cowbells to welcome us. With no stores or towns for the next 50 miles, the hostel is an oasis in the desert. The place is run by a couple, both pastors, who preferred the idea of setting up a comfortable place for passing cyclists, to that of merely preaching the word. We slept till 9 am, which was the longest I slept since the race started.
The next couple of days were rather uneventful, till we hit the town of Austin where we got stuck in the rain. The higher we climbed, the colder it became. After battling the cold for about 50 miles, we arrived at Baker City. This stretch between Austin and Baker City is completely uninhabited, and all we saw the whole day through was vast sweeps of forests. Mike, a school teacher from North Carolina, who was also riding the Trans Am, was at Baker City. This morning he had gotten hit by a car while riding out of the city. Thankfully nothing serious had happened to him or the bike. He had stayed back at Baker City to gather his nerves. Don and I had ridden through the rain to get to town and by the time we reached the hotel Mike was staying at we were drenched to the bone and shivering. Mike let us share his room, which was nice and super warm. The nicest part of the hotel was that they had a laundry facility and we were able to dry our clothes.
We next stopped at the little town of White Bird, a town named after an Indian chief who had defeated the American army during the first Nez Perce War. A one-street town surrounded by hills and a population of merely 91, most of who congregated at the local bar. It was established in 1952 and has the nicest bartender ever. While I was warming myself with a steaming mug of coffee, Don was trying to find us a place to stay for the night. There we ran into Ben who had been so unfortunate as to have lost his bike in the town of Eugene. But he was back on the road again, with a new bike to boot. Luckily for him, the police had managed to find his bike and trailer but he had lost all his gear.
Our next couple of days were expected to be stressful, with another pass to cross. The Lola Pass is famous for the rapidly changing weather near the summit. After a few days of hard riding, we found ourselves stuck at the top of the pass at 9 pm, unable to descend in the dark. As luck would have it, though there was a visitor’s center on the summit, it was closed. The restrooms were open for the public and had been freshly cleaned. So Don ended up sleeping in the men’s loo and me in the women’s. Turns out, some people do stop by at night to use the restrooms. The lady who came into the loo was a little surprised to see me. Thankfully, she saw the bike and figured out why I was there. In the morning when the visitor’s center opened they served us fresh coffee, satisfying my craving.
After we climbed down Lola we met up with Roger, a dot watcher (someone who is a fan of the race and tracks the riders throughout the entire course using the GPS data that the trans am site displays), who’d written in earlier to the riders, asking them to do short interviews on the way. It was so nice that strangers were so vested in our success. We stopped at our Warm Showers host, Curtis’ house at Darby about 80 miles after Lola pass to spend the night when it started to rain. It rained steadily till the next afternoon. Sadly, my bike and gear got wet even though it was in the garage. Thankfully, Curtis let me use the dryer and we got everything sorted. By the time we left Darby and got to the top of the next pass, it was foggy and rainy. Not wanting to spend the night at the top of the pass, we cautiously made our way down in the dark. Cautiously because there was plenty of deer running across the road and the incident of another rider who’d gotten hit by a deer a few days back was fresh in our minds. We finally reached a campsite in the middle of nowhere and ducked in for shelter. We woke up to another rainy day and the prospect of crossing another pass before we would reach the warm interiors of our next host’s home. As the day progressed, so too did the heaviness of the rainfall.
A Swedish cyclist who I bumped into coming from the other side declared the weather to be intolerably cold. When the Swedes think so of the weather, imagine my plight from tropic South India. Don had managed to find us a host in town who would pick us up from the main road and take us home. By the time I met Larry outside a McDonald’s I was soaked. He put my bike in his truck and took me home. Don had already reached his house a little while earlier. He had gotten lucky and missed getting hit by the rain. Larry was a retired teacher who lived just outside the town and would host at least 20 cyclists a week. When I walked into his house I saw Chad. Chad and I had stayed at Steve’s place in Astoria together. Chad had to scratch from the race as he had almost gotten hypothermia on the top of Lola pass. Somehow, he willed himself to ride to Larry’s house and decided he would try again the next year. Equipped with information about the route ahead and with our clothes nice and dry, we headed towards Yellowstone.
We reached the park on the 20th of June. As mentioned before, this was a date of supreme importance to me. The fact that, on the day I had intended to begin my bicycle journey across the world, I found myself watching the Old Faithful geyser blowing, was nothing short of amazing to me. Mike, who was a few miles ahead of us all along had to scratch at Yellowstone. The accident at Baker City had caused an ACL tear, which he discovered only after getting to Yellowstone. At the campsite at Grant Village just outside the park, we met a girl. Don scared her slightly by claiming to know where she was headed. Put to the test, however, he turned out to be right and had the girl worried for a while before he set her mind at ease by explaining that the little titbit had come up in his conversation with the campground host the previous day.
We settled in for the night and vainly tried to keep warm as the temperature kept dropping. The thought of warm, sunny days ahead once we got across Pueblo was somehow enough to get me through the night. Our next day was long and hard. I climbed the Togwotee Pass in the middle of the night and had to bivvy at a campground in the middle of nowhere since I couldn’t use my fingers to brake. It was cold descending the pass and wasn’t safe to pedal till the town of Dubois. Don had gone ahead and had made it to town by nightfall.
The next day I did about 130 miles riding towards Jeffery City, but still ended up having to bivvy outside a ranch near Sweet Water Station. Unfortunately, a bull near the fence kept bellowing throughout the night, disturbing my sleep. The next day I got to Jeffery City at about 10 and made a beeline to the closest coffee shop. Again, like the town of White Bird where I had met Ben at the bar, this town too had a population of 50 and a bar that everyone visits. I headed out soon to get to Rawlins, and as has been customary over the past week or so, it started to rain heavily. The road to the top of the next pass was the worst I have ever been on. Trucks whizzed by with inches to spare. Construction work on the road made it hard to ride since large swathes of it were dug up. With no shoulder to ride on, it just kept getting harder. The fact that the downpour only worsened, didn’t help, and I pedaled into Rawlins, cold, wet and weary. I wrote to the only person on Warm Showers in the town of Rawlins, but they were out. It turns out that the host was the mother of one of the racers, and she was out on a ride of her own. Don and I found a school to sleep at and prayed that the rain would let up since the overhang wasn’t too large for complete shelter.
The next morning saw us heading to the hardware store for a quick stop to pick up bungee cables for Don since he had left behind his pair the previous day. Our target for the day was to get to Walden, a little over 100 miles away. I was hoping to get to town a little early so that I would get a chance to relax. No luck though, it was about 11 at night when we rode into town. We found the local bar open and stopped by to have a drink. Walden is another small town with about 400 residents and a historic bar. A couple of cups of coffee later we headed to the city park to camp.
The next morning, we ran into Aaron, another racer, who was in the same town since he was having a problem with his knee. We decided to ride to the town of Kremmling for the night and treat ourselves to the luxury of a hotel room and a hot bath. After 26 days spent outdoors & in campsites, I felt I deserved this indulgence. The hotel was run by an old couple who had designed the place to resemble the hotels in the 1900s. They were extremely nice and generous people who not only give you free popcorn but also a discount on the rooms if you were a cyclist. We spent a comfortable, albeit smelly night in a room with 3 beds. Aaron and I had taken off our shoes and socks indoors, and that was a mistake. The combination of not washing our socks for the last month in addition to wearing them all the time had gotten the shoes to smell rather abominably.
The next day we rode towards the town of Pueblo. I ran out of water on the way and it took forever to flag a car down to help with some water. Someone had told me that the ride towards Pueblo would be all downhill but sadly turned out not to be the case. After a couple of hills were conquered, I finally rolled into the town. Met with Don and after a quick break headed out. We were trying to get to the town of Ordway, but the winds were so bad that we kept getting knocked off our bikes. Instead, we stopped at the town of Boone which didn’t have a store but had a park that we could stay at. While searching for a cup of coffee I accidentally wandered into someone’s house. My confusion was justified as the place was set up like a café. After apologising I asked for some coffee and they willingly obliged. We chatted for a bit and I found out that the water in town was unfit to drink. The water had been contaminated due to mining and the people in town drive 20 minutes away to the town of Pueblo to fill up drums of drinking water. I quickly headed to see Don who was in the park writing emails home. Told him about the water situation and looked at the map to see where we could fill our bottles. It looks like we would need to wait till we got to Ordway the next day, to fill water.
After spending a night at the city park, we needed a place to take a shower. The next night at Eads was similar. I had sent my tent and sleeping bag to Yorktown since it was now warmer and we wouldn’t be using it so had to sleep under the picnic table. It got super cold at night and I had to relocate my sleeping pad to a building across the street just to get away from the wind. Apparently, Don had done the same. We had left all our stuff at the park unattended. This is one of the reasons I love small towns, nobody steals from you. The next day we spent a little time at the gas station. Being unable to sleep well the previous night was hard. We also took some time to find the sign that read halfway across America. Our plan was to go to Sheridan Lake and stay at the park. As luck would have it we were sitting outside a grocery store in Tribune talking to a couple of people when someone mentioned that the pool had showers open for cyclists. We decided to call it a night and stay at the gazebo in the park. The pool was locked up so a couple of touring cyclists and I jumped the fence and went for a swim. Just as we were chilling in the pool the sheriff drove by. We quickly jumped out of the pool and headed into the showers. As we were sitting outside chilling, a storm started to blow through. We immediately gathered up our gear and headed into the horse stable. The sheriff pulled up to make sure we were okay. He gave us instructions on what to do if a tornado hits and left. Just as he left it started to rain. We made a makeshift barrier with tables inside the stable and set up for the night. Don and I had gotten lucky. It was a good thing that Don and I had decided to stay back at Tribune instead of heading out again.
The next day, we had our sights on Digiton. We figured that it would be a decent place to stay for the night before getting to Rush city. I happened to meet the sheriff outside Digiton and asked him if he would allow us to sleep in the jail at night if it was empty. The idea was to sleep somewhere away from the wind. The sheriff wasn’t too keen on the idea of us behind bars for no reason. During our conversation, the recent reports about law enforcement officials targeting black people came up. He was eager to understand my experience with the police here. The only time I had any interaction with the police was when the Sheriff in Tribune came over to give us instructions on where to hide if a tornado hit town. After a brief chat, I headed to the city park to find a place to sleep for the night.
The next day we headed towards Rush City. We planned to get to the town of Sterling which was a little away from our route to participate in the 4th of July celebrations. Don had been there earlier and loved it. On the way to Rush City, I stopped by the memorial site of the racer that had gotten run over last year. Spent a little time there and picked up the things other racers had left in his memory. The idea was that the last rider through would pick up anything that was left at the site and send it to Eric’s family from Yorktown. With that done, we headed towards Rush City, hoping to find a fire station or a church to stay at. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, everything was shut. We found an overhang outside the Senior Centre and set it up for the night. A neighbour came over with a bag of chips and a soda. Unfortunately, he didn’t know anyone at the church to open it up for us. After a peaceful night outside the Senior Centre, we headed towards Sterling. I was hoping to get there at night so I could participate in the 10k run that was organised as a part of the 4th of July celebration. But we weren’t able to make it till the next day.
The 4th of July celebrations were epic. I happened to get to the town square in time to see the parade and the tractor pull. In the evening we headed towards the community feast and caught the fireworks display on the banks of the lake. Don had lost his wallet outside a hotdog stand and someone had given it to the guys at the stand, who returned it to Don. One more reason to live in a small town, lovely people. After an enjoyable night, we headed out towards Benedict. At the town of Burns Don found us a place to sleep outside the Mennonite Church. The people in the church were nice enough to give us some food and cups of coffee. They also ran power cables outside to the overhang for us to charge all our devices.
Our next day was a little difficult since we had lots of climbing to do. By the time we got to the town of Benedict Don had separated from LE and me. LE had caught up to us during the climbs and also planned to get to Benedict for the night Don had camped at the town of Toronto and I had headed out. I slept at the post office in Benedict with another racer, LE. Early the next morning he got up and left without saying anything. I later discovered that he could hear me snore and that disturbed him. As I was coming out of town I happened to see a car and flagged it down to ask for directions to the shop. With no shops in town, the driver invited me home for a cup of coffee and a bite to eat. From there, I headed to meet Don at the town of Chanute. . Don was raising money for 2 charities. One of them was the boy scouts and the other was Elance. He called it a penny a mile and wanted to raise 4300 dollars for each of the charities. He was meeting Michelle from Enlace, the organisation that he was raising money for and invited me to join them for lunch. Don had been talking for a while about an ‘all-you-can-eat’ Chinese meal commonly available in the country, and today he found a Chinese restaurant serving that. Turns out the Chinese restaurant did not have a buffet. Rather than wasting time trying to find a new place, we just sat down to order off the menu. After a long conversation with Michelle, we pedaled off to the town of Girard. Just before town, Don stopped in front of a church when he saw a sign on the wall inviting cyclists to spend the night. It was already getting dark so we decided to stop for the night. Tonight’s dinner was special. We had a pineapple and a box of cupcakes that Michelle had given us.
As we continued towards Ashgrove the hills got steeper. We had entered the land of the Ozarks. Now it was hot, humid and hilly. Getting to Ashgrove was a task by itself. Just before we reached the town, Don had a visitor. Someone he had worked with at the power plant had driven down for four hours to ride with us for a few miles. At Ashgrove, we stopped by to meet Wendy. Wendy and her husband gave each rider passing by Ashgrove a memento to remember the ride by. We got on the road and slowly started to climb the hills towards the town of Houston. We met with a French couple who we had camped with 2 days ago in the city. They were struggling with trying to fix a broken derailleur cable. Turns out Don had a spare cable with him and he was happy to give it to them. With that sorted, we headed towards Houston. Don’s wife would meet us there so he could sign his retirement papers and make them official. Joyce had booked a hotel room for us. This was my first rest day with no riding. After a nice and restful day, we headed out towards Farmington to meet Don’s brother and his family. After a quick stop at the McDonald’s to catch up with a reporter for the Farmington Record, we headed to a pizza place to meet Don’s brother. I learned a lot about America from Daniel, Don’s nephew. We talked about politics and how it has divided the country. Turns out that they did not like Trump, not because of his policies, but because he was being a dick. Wayne, who was a Councilman from Farmington came to meet us. He was a cyclist and meets as many cyclists as possible to ask about what more could be done in town to make it cyclist-friendly. He was instrumental in converting the old jail to a hostel for cyclists.
As we headed towards Illinois, we had to deal with some nasty heat. On the day of crossing into Illinois, a few people stopped us to tell us not to ride anymore because it was about 45 degrees Celsius. Since I had ridden through North India is worse temperatures than this, it didn’t matter much to me. Finally, we entered Illinois through the town of Chester, the home of Popeye. A quick stop for pictures and headed out again. We had a short ride through Illinois and would have to get on a ferry to enter Kentucky. When we were camping out at Eddyville waiting for the ferry service to open, LE found another route and paid a local fisherman to drop him on the other side of the river. As we entered Kentucky we stopped at the Amish store. The Amish, even though they don’t use electricity, make some fantastic furniture by hand. They seem to find ingenious ways to ensure that their stores and houses are cooler, even when it's 50 degrees outside. After a snack break and a conversation with the Amish guy at the store, we rode to Seabre. The town had a church that had set up a hostel for cyclists. After a wonderful shower and a night well rested we got on to ride into Kentucky. I was asked to be careful from here on till I got out of Kentucky, especially in the Hazard district. Apparently, in the Hazard region, they don’t like outsiders, especially people from another country.
On my way towards Hazard, Don and I got separated. He was having a tough time climbing towards Sandgap. I kept going further hoping he would catch up later. That night, as I slept inside the church in Mackville, Don found a place to sleep at the airport. The next day was my birthday and it seemed like the day was long and dragging. I barely had any motivation to go on till I reached a gas station run by a Gujarati guy. He not only gave me free coffee but also the lunch that his wife had made. After a nice lunch, a little sev and a couple of packets of Parle G, I was ready to ride. I seemed to be homesick and the Parle G solved that. The next couple of days seemed to drag on and I was beginning to wonder if I should even continue riding when a lady walked up and gave me a bottle of water. As I was getting up to leave Cathy sent me a video that she had made for my birthday. She had figured out that I was homesick and had put together a kickass video. That was super motivation to get off my ass and start riding again.
As I kept riding further I finally entered Virginia. The last of the 10 states. One of my stops along the way was at Crazy Larry’s Bed and Breakfast. Larry, the owner of the establishment, was amazing. He had spent a lifetime trying to get away from people and to be on his own. He had discovered the trail a few years ago and after hiking the trail decided he would settle down in Damascus. To make ends meet he opened up a hostel on the Appalachian Trail. We chatted for a bit and after I settled down Larry helped me do my laundry and made me a little dinner. When I woke up in the morning Larry had breakfast ready. The best pancakes ever. After a rather large breakfast, I headed towards the highest point on the eastern part of the trail. My next big challenge would be to climb to the top of Vesuvius and ride along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
After a couple of days of leaving Damascus, I got to the base of Vesuvius at six in the evening. A quick stop at the Gentry country store where every racer stops to hydrate and get some cake after a long 30-mile ride to the base of Vesuvius. This would be my last stop before I could get to Afton about 20 miles away. I started to climb. The post office was super cold and I couldn’t sleep inside, the church was under construction, forcing me to start climbing in the evening. By the time I got to the summit of the mountain, it had gotten foggy and very dark. Every ghost story/horror movie scene flashed before me. A few minutes later a car passed by and then turned around and followed me for a little bit. Turns out a dot watcher was waiting for me and decided to come up to see what was happening. He stopped and gave me some grapes and after a quick chat headed down to wait for me at the base of the mountain. I finally rolled down to the base of the mountain and followed David to the Bike House. The Bike House is something of a legend. In 1976, an old lady had noticed that there were many cyclists passing by and had set up a tap outside her house. Though she started with simply giving out free water, soon she was feeding the cyclists and eventually letting them sleep in her guest bedroom. After she died, Victoria, another trail angel, kept up the tradition so that cyclists always had a place to sleep when they got to town.
Unfortunately, a cyclist was already inside and had locked the door. I went to the back of the house and managed to wake the cyclist up. Finally, got settled in for the night. My next day was super hard. I figured that if I was going to finish the race on time, I would need to push forward towards Glendale by the 27th. On the way to Glendale, it started to pour. Thankfully, I was at Ashland and managed to duck into a store to keep dry. Towards the evening, met with Prince Purple who came out with a sign to see me. We chatted for a little bit and after a little motivation, I headed out again…for what seemed like the thousandth time. The ride towards the church was difficult. It was dark and the roads had no shoulders. Cars would whizz by, too close for comfort or safety. Finally, I rolled into the church and found Christy, the girl who I had met at the Bike House there. This would be our last night on the ride. Tomorrow we would be in Yorktown.
I woke up early in the morning and slowly packed up. I would need to ride about 60 miles to get to the finish. Mike was waiting for me at the finish. He had driven 4 hours with his wife to come to see me at the finish line. After a really long ride through Jamestown, I turned off to ride through cobblestone streets to get to Yorktown. Entering Yorktown was hard. I stopped a couple of times, wanting to turn around. Finishing the ride meant I would need to go back to work but on the plus side, I could sit on my favourite chair bully my dogs and trouble my wife while she tries to read. On one hand, the race would be over but on the other, I could go home. Finally reached the town and rode towards the monument. Tuned towards the monument and climbed my last hill. The first thing I saw was Mike at the finish shooting a video. A quick ride around the monument and I set the bike up against it. It was over. After a quick picture at the monument and catching up with some dot watchers there, Tom took me to the bike shop to pick up the gear that I had shipped from Florence. After spending fifty-five days on the road, this was the first time I didn’t have to ride to go anywhere. It took a little while to get used to how fast the car was going.
Tom dropped me at the church that hosted cyclists in town and was going to drop me at the railway station to take the train to New York so that I could catch my flight back home. The next day I sat down with a smoke and a cup of coffee reflecting on the last couple of months. What amazes me was that in spite of riding through all the Red States, nobody was mean to me and most of all, nobody had shot me. Considering that I started my journey believing the media narrative of the gun culture was true my journey across the US had been pleasantly surprised. As I sat down thinking about it asked myself what would be next. The first task at hand would be to get home and spend some time with family. Sitting on my ass playing with the puppies while my wife pampers me with some kickass chai and brilliant south India meals seems like a good plan. After a few hundred chai’s I could decide if I would ride across Australia or Europe.
About the Author
Nishanth Iyengar is a founder at Print India. He belongs to Bangalore, India. He is a bicycle-crazy and dog-crazy person who loves writing as well. He loves cycling along with his passion for traveling and has led him to explore the world on pedals. He is the first and only Trans Am Finisher from India.
To know more about the Trans Am Race, you can check the blogs by Nishanth at https://cyclingiyengar.com/