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Cross Country USA: The First 10 Days

Days 1-10: Astoria, OR -> Missoula, MT. 801 miles and 42,887 ft of elevation.

Admit it. You’ve perused the many enticing Trek Travel trips for ages. There’s one trip you’ve glanced at. Perhaps you even loitered enough to absorb the nitty gritty details. Then you’ve looked at that map with the blue dotted line stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and thought, “Could I? Would I want to? How would I train for such a thing? How does it all work?” Portland to Portland tugged at my cycling partner’s heart for quite some time. When Silk told me in January 2021 that he wanted to sign up I was cautious. Knowing what it is to train hard and long for a specific thing is searingly familiar. He forged ahead. I followed soon thereafter despite my trepidation about returning to training for something specific.

For many years now I’ve happily trained daily for the pure pleasure of it: Running, cycling, gym work, ergometer rowing, hot power yoga and so on. Sure I trained for a few sculling races here and there but this was going to be an 8-month training task. Been there and done that. I wondered if I still had the physical and inner resources to train for this thing. What if I crash on my bike? What if I get sick? What if after all the training something happens and I have to cancel? Once I worked through those machinations I realized this was no different than what I’d spent a lifetime doing. Embracing the unknowable and forging forward regardless.

I read somewhere that nobody is brave, generally. We can only be brave, specifically. I realized that we would both have to be brave to commit to this audacious, mysterious, unknowable task and then be even braver to go do it. It would be so much easier to lounge on a beach somewhere taking selfies or to go wherever the latest destination is to see things. I think that might be Iceland. Instead we were going to be embarking on a grand land voyage propelled by our legs, hearts, lungs and brains all on two wheels. I decided I wasn’t afraid of failure or of the unknown. I believed I was capable of doing this challenging thing. It was out there waiting for us. Without having a clue about who we’d be doing this with, I sensed the poetry of the trip would be supplied by the other unknown 19 cyclists and the guides who would make this trip happen for us.

On 1/4/21 we put down our deposits. On 3/18/21 we were officially booked. As far off as it was, the trip loomed. Once in awhile I’d catch myself and think, “What have we done?” and I’d quickly shove the thought aside. Official training started on on 12/1/21. For a few months I was all about hot power yoga, running, the rowing ergometer, gym work, and Zwift as the snow piled up outdoors. As the months went by we transitioned to outdoor riding including a week in Greenville at the TT Ride Camp. We started accumulating ridiculous amounts of hours in the saddle, focusing on accumulating back to back centuries and as many hills as possible. It was all about building two-wheeled strength, endurance and hours.

Along with the cycling, I’d be ripping off intervals on the erg, getting runs in, putting in time in my old-school gym. Silk faithfully ran during the week and went to core yoga. Once in awhile he’d ask me, “How many centuries have we done now?” There was always a hopeful tone in his question as if he was wondering maybe I would declare ourselves ready. Before we knew it the clock had run out. It was time to go find out our story.

Day 1: Astoria, Oregon Can you imagine a moving village of 21 cyclists, 5 guides, 21 Trek Domane bicycles and three vans two of which are pulling trailers? There was a first day of school feel going on with lots of excitement and “Can you believe we’re here?” That’s what was going on here. Day 1 had its moments. It also had a lot of logistical knowledge passed from the guides to us. All in all it was a road trip from Portland to Astoria, a meet and greet, bike-fitting, picnic lunching, GPS lesson, safety lesson, and cycling 30 miles kinda day.

Guides Megan, Rae, Blake, Brian and Brent were tasked with every single logistical detail needed to move us including our luggage, food and bikes safely from coast to coast. It was abundantly clear they knew exactly what they were doing and that if we followed their lead it would all work out. How little we knew then about what these over the top superbly detail-oriented guides would be doing for us. Or how much we would come to admire their commitment to our dream of pedaling across the United States. On top of their daily tasks, two of the five guides would be on bikes each day sharing the miles with us.

We were going to be a 26 person team with the attendant inherent challenges and gifts therein. We were 8 women and 13 men from all over the USA. I was struck immediately by the pure confidence and happiness emanating from these folks who had done exactly what Silk and I had done to be ready. That camaraderie coupled with the enormity of what was in front of us produced waves of lightheartedness tinged with focus.

A sparkly day of sunshine with ocean breezes wrapped around us in Astoria. The mighty Columbia River was at our elbows with cormorants flying and ginormous container ships easing past (one carrying windmill blades which looked like elephant tusks writ large). We found our bikes, listened to Blake explain the logistics that soon enough would be second nature, enjoyed Megan and Rae’s first picnic lunch and exchanged introductions. Blake let us know that the myriad tasks each morning and evening would soon become second nature and we’d be a well-oiled operation in and around the actual cycling.

My inaugural ride? I was lighthearted. Marveling at the wonder of training my body. Trusting it now to carry me to Maine. A feeling so large and expansive it stunned me to realize, “This is it. It’s happening now. Don’t let a single hour slip past now without feeling grateful for this experience.”

Day 2: Portland, Oregon We went from goosebumps breezy Astoria right into the frying pan on day 1 after breakfast at the Pig ’n Pancake. 100 miles to Portland with 4800 feet of elevation. First ritual of each day: snap a pic of the whiteboard on the lunch trailer. The daily numbers were all right there: the day’s miles, rest stop mile markers, lunch mile marker, any other details the guides thought critical. I realized hours later that I had no idea what I’d read on the whiteboard.

Our many many miles on Route 202 had us on serpentine woodsy roads deep into what felt like mysterious rain forests. Criss-crossing several rivers many times (Nehalem River I’m talking to you) and riding alongside the sparkling, burbling, coursing water I could hear and see kingfishers. More than several of them. We had a couple of challenging climbs today and the cooler crisp air gave way to thicker hotter and more intense heat as we were closing in on Portland.

Day 3: Hood River, Oregon For most of the morning the cloud cover was welcome and we delighted in being completely away from cars. The Vera Katz Esplanade in Portland to the Springwater Corridor trail took us to Gresham and then soon enough we were at rest stop 1 and starting out on the Historic Columbia River Highway. (HCRH) We climbed and climbed and soon found ourselves passing waterfall after waterfall.

Day 4: Condon, Oregon Given the snippets of conversation that floated around the breakfast room, it seemed more than a few cyclists had trepidation about the big day ahead. Lead guide Blake was honest as he stood at the white board this morning, “Today is a tough ride.”

Not only was it long, it was going to be a day where the heat built as the hours ticked by. Then there was the reality of 8000 feet of climbing. Some climbing in the morning but the bulk of it later in the day. I am not a “dial in on the route map with all details of where and when the hills are” kinda girl. Silk is a “know all the details of the route” kinda chap. Between the two of us we get the job done and today was a perfect example of how we operate.

Today’s takeaway: it doesn’t matter to me when the hills come or how hot it is. This endeavor has me “inhale (ing) great draughts of space” (Walt Whitman, Song of the Open Road) with alacrity. I like where my feet are.

Day 5: Hermston, Oregon Today was another 90+ mile day. I track our elapsed time in my training log along with our moving time because it matters. Covering the miles is one thing and the all day affair of this dog and pony show is another thing entirely. Just another reason we make the effort not to dally at rest stops or lunch unless it’s necessary. One of my diversions today was to move a barn owl off the road and thank her for letting me have a few of her wing feathers. She was beautiful. Took me quite awhile to catch back up to Silk who didn’t realize I’d stopped.

Silk and I rode and rode. The miles slipped past and we discussed how it is that little towns like Condon end up the way they do after more prosperous years. We tossed around the concept that we will be doing this for 41 more days. That lead to several miles of silence with both of us contemplating the reality of what it is we are doing.

As Silk says on just about every ride after we are done, “It’s SO good to be out of the saddle.” He’s not kidding. Another reason we had trouble sleeping last night: both of us are nursing chapped fannies. As I told my friends Tracy and Dave in Calgary who we met in Greenville at the TT ride camp in April, “Fanny management is job 1 on this trip.” We have our elixirs and we are on top of it!

Tomorrow we are bound for Walla Walla. Goodbye Oregon. I miss you already.

Day 6: Walla Walla, Washington A much better night’s sleep and our organization of our bags the night before meant Silk and I were operating on all cylinders this morning. We started out with a group of 8 and soon it was just Silk and me in our own rhythm with Sandy nearby. There’s a trick to being compatible endurance companions. Silence is often the most comforting as we move but then conversations can be just the right thing, too. Sandy has it down.

It was a day for open roads, few cars, and the sun emerging from cloud cover. It was a non-demanding day knowing how few miles were on tap. I enjoyed the freedom of not having to gut out those ubiquitous last tough 20 miles on 100 mile days. A picnic day for this justagirl cyclist. I know full well what’s in store for the rest of the week.

Riding with Sandy has been a happy discovery. She’s zesty, smart, outgoing and completely aware of the beauty all around. She calls out, “Jennings! Look at that light!,” “Look at those clouds!” “I love this!” I ride alone at home or with Silk and it was a treat to discover such a compatible riding partner to share the miles with. She and Silk often broke out into song together. While cycling. Too funny.

Day 9: Kamiah, Idaho 117 miles dawned clear and crisp as the rolling herd gathered in the parking lot of the of the Kamiah Clearwater Motel at 6:45 am. The Clearwater River was streaming by and I could hear kingfishers chitter chitter chittering from where I was slathering sunscreen, filling my water bottles and making sure the little bento box on my ride had a few packages of fig cookies.

My task: to get up and over Lolo Pass on this 117 mile day knowing the climbing was going to kick up at mile 103 with near to five miles having to haul my carcass uphill. Pretty late in the game for the Big Show if you ask me.

The guides masterfully assisted us in chunking the miles so we could negotiate our way with as much buoyancy as possible. Though we were every minute of the ride today with the sparkling Clearwater River off our right shoulders and continuous spectacular high scenery all around, it was a day-long continuously relentlessly sneaky climb. All while knowing the big climb was still ahead. The Bitterroots were deep, mysterious and provided visual serenity all day.

As the climb got going I was passed by two of our group (boys) and decided I would try to hang onto the wheel of Bruce the latter of the two. Tall, lean, a super strong rider and a recently retired anesthesiologist from CO with triplet children I knew he’d be strong as the climb wore on. I rode behind him and then decided to vault past. He stuck with me (I could see his shadow on the road off to my side). Hmmm. Ok, time for a little fartlek. I rode 15 pedal strokes hard and 10 easy and repeated that three times and I didn’t see his shadow any more. I didn’t look at the Garmin. I kept my gaze affixed to the road in front of me and kept on pedaling. Finally I felt the breezes, looked up and saw the van .25 mile away. Yeah! Montana sign! Yeah!

Day 10: Missoula, MT We passed log cabin homesteads, ragtag machinery sheds, the first wild purple asters of the season and ponies. Lots of ponies. Many with appaloosa fur jackets — grazing ponies, galloping away at the sight of us ponies and a few strings of pack ponies with big mounds of hay for munching. They all looked as if they were waiting for a cowgirl to come out with a saddle over her shoulder.

Silk and I cruised into Missoula riding with a pack and we all were in love with the final 8 miles into Missoula — a separated bike path. I was swooning over the chicory that was everywhere. Spirits were beyond high. The various wish list doings had been articulated at breakfast: ice cream, laundry, swimming in the Clark Fork River, massages, chill out time galore. One aspect of the trip had became obvious: there was very little down time each day particularly at the close of the day.

6pm saw us gathering for a social with everyone clean and holding some kind of libation. The waves of chatter and laughter were heartening and satisfying. Clearly the group has gelled. Kaye offered up her leadership for a yoga class on Saturday morning. Various spouses and family members made the trip to come visit and/or ride with us from Missoula to Helena.

Jacque’s young adult children came, too. Her daughter Brook rows at the University of Tennessee and she and I had a meeting of the minds talk about the purity of the sculling stroke, seeing the oar blade puddles moving away from the stern of one’s sleek sliver of a boat. Sandy and Pat were sleuthing which ice cream shops to go to, laundry outings were being planned, our shared cycling exploits were re-capped and celebrated.

I looked around at all of us, triumphant in our miles ridden. The architectural structures of our proficient bodies so different from each other. Long sinuous legs. Powerful legs. Short bodies. Tall drink of water bodies. All of us capable, trained and willing. The knowledge that strong mile after mile cycling is the only way to get where we want to go. It’s our steadfast will that is the same. We all believe we can do it and we are getting it done.

Stay tuned for more from Lynn.

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