The Trans Am bike race is to west-east what the Tour Divide is to north-south, and since Lael Wilcox crushed the women’s record on the latter in her very first attempt, why not do the same thing on the Trans Am? Cause that’s what Wilcox does.
In this case, late last week Lael rolled into Yorktown, Virginia, after leaving Astoria, Oregon, on June 4, pedaling 4,270 miles in 18 days, 10 minutes. To put it another way, she averaged 235 miles a day for two and a half weeks, getting just a few hours of sleep each night. She slept in motels or her bivvy sack–no sleeping bag–and refueled her food supplies in convenience stores, getting by on a steady diet of granola bars, pizza, and chocolate milk.
Wilcox raced the first half of the competition a bit off the back, with the leaders consistently 100 miles or more ahead of her, mostly because she doesn’t do as well on flat terrain. Once she hit the hills of Missouri, though, she began climbing back into it.
In Virginia, nearing the end the race, she received an unexpected gift from leader Steffen Streich, of Greece, who, groggy from lack of sleep, got confused and rode the route backwards.
As Wilcox told Alaska Public Radio:
In the middle of the night, the day of the end of the race, I took a cat nap for about half an hour and then I got up to ride. I saw a light coming towards me and it was all dark otherwise. We’re in really rural Virginia. And I thought, ‘Who is that?’ Somebody on a bike with a really bright light. When I caught up to him, we crossed paths and then he turned around and started riding the same direction as me. And I looked over at him and, you know, he looks like a racer. And I asked, ‘What’s your name?’ and he said ‘Steffen.’ And all of a sudden I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. This is the guy I’ve been chasing.’ So I just took off and started sprinting away.
And he was of course holding on; we’re both sprinting side by side through basically farmlands in Virginia in the middle of the night. And we’re making turns there’s stop signs. I was riding really aggressively just ’cause I was giving it my all. But at the same time, we’re 130 miles from the finish. So, I knew that I wasn’t gonna be able to sprint for 130 miles. I took a wrong turn on the track. I wasn’t focused enough on the map, and I turned to the left. And he said, ‘It’s to the right!’ And he kind of slowed down for me to catch up. And he said. ‘I want to talk to you for a minute. We’ve been battling for two weeks. Why don’t we just finish this together?’ And I said, ‘No way. This is a race. I’m gonna finish it.’ So I just kept riding hard. We rode together for a couple more minutes and then he dropped off. And I never saw him again.
The Trans Am is modeled on the same rules as the Tour Divide. Rule number one is “no complaining about the rules.” Beyond that, organizers say, “The rules are essentially a slightly modified version of the Tour Divide’s ruleset. They are not perfect but they are pretty close to what represents the bikepacking ultra-racing ethos. The Trans Am Bike Race is based on one guiding principle: Cycle the Trans America trail end-to-end, as fast as possible in a solo, self-supported fashion.”
The race is relatively young (this is the third year) but still, Wilcox turned in a stellar performance. She logged the second-fastest time and beat the women’s record by three days. Streich finished two hours after her, taking second.
Photo courtesy Trans Am Bike Race.
ADVENTURE JOURNAL QUARTERLY IS IN STOCK! GET IT NOW—$15!!
Readers are raving about the inaugural issue of Adventure Journal! Order today and get it via priority mail for arrival within one to three days!
132 pages of stoke, inspiration, deep thoughts, and real adventure. See what the buzz is all about.