Trans Am

In 1976, America celebrated its Bicentennial – the 200th anniversary of its independence from the British Empire. Greg Siple and his wife June, together with their cycle-touring friends Dan and Lys Burden, decided a mass-participation ride across the country was a fine way to celebrate. From Oregon to Virginia, the Pacific coast to the Atlantic, ‘Bikecentennial’ attracted more than 4,000 riders and laid the foundations for what is now the most used touring route in the United States – the TransAmerica Trail.

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Cutting through national parks and summiting vast ridges, the 4,250-mile trail quickly gained notoriety, with thousands now riding all or part of the route each year. Over time local businesses grew wise to the steady stream of cycle tourers passing through their towns, adapting to suit the needs of the tired rider in need of a place to recharge. Many of the hotels, cafes and restaurants also keep journals for cyclists to record their visit, providing a glimpse into the history of this near-40 year old route.

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In 2014, veterans of the route and similar cross-country adventures asked, “How fast could we ride it?” A race seemed the only suitable way to find out. A set of rules was decided on, based loosely around those found in other endurance races, and the TransAm Bike Race was born. Anyone is free to enter, and there are no fees. Equally, there is no prize – “you win by taking what you can from it,” say the organisers.

This year’s edition of the TransAm is now well underway, having started on Saturday 6th June. And Jesse Carlsson, a long distance cyclist and friend of Rapha, is currently leading the field (http://trackleaders.com/transam15).

Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Jesse has an impressive palmarès. He was youth BMX world champion, and placed second in the 2013 Tour Divide, a cross-country race from Canada to Mexico in which he wore one pair of Rapha Classic Bib shorts and a merino jersey for 15 days. In the week leading up to his TransAm attempt, Jesse spoke to Rapha about the various challenges that long distance races throw up, and the pressures associated with a race that never rests.

“There’s only one stage in this race – the clock doesn’t stop. Ever. That means riding is only part of the race. When you’re re-supplying at a supermarket – that’s part of the race. When you eat – that’s part of the race. How long you sleep – that’s part of the race, too. As one seasoned racer explained, it’s like being a fugitive, always on the run, always being hunted down – even while you sleep.

Trans-Am-9“Riders can access commercial services along the way, but there’s no support crew or team car tending to bike issues, handing out bottles and preparing a bed to sleep in. Riders have to find their own food and water, fix bike issues out in the wilderness, carry all the equipment and spares they need to be safe, and find places to catch a few hours of sleep.”

Why do people take part in these punishing and relentless events? It’s certainly not for the prize money, says Jesse. There isn’t any. It’s certainly not for the glory, either – hardly anyone knows about them.

“For many people, there are two reasons: a hunger for adventure, and that itch to test yourself. These events are amplified versions of bike touring, bringing adventure in spades. You see the spectacular high-country vistas of big-sky Montana, are threatened by tornados in Kansas, and can chat with small-town locals over breakfast pancakes in a diner. These events are also tough. And if you’re into racing, why not test yourself in the toughest events available? You’re forced to confront your biggest fears eye-to-eye and push through the low points.

Trans-Am-7“When I’m out there, I’ll be flipping constantly between these two reasons. I’ll be reminding myself to enjoy the adventure, telling myself that I’m just out there touring. Then when I’m climbing a pass in Colorado, I’ll flip to reason two. I’ll be forcing myself to dig deeper, push harder into the night, and make those folks behind me suffer more to get to where I am.”

At the time of publishing, Jesse was entering Wyoming, more than 100 miles in front. You can track his progress here (http://trackleaders.com/transam15).

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Rapha will be following Jesse on social – (www.instagram.com/dexterskidmore) he’s using the hashtags #JesseTransAm and #RaphaBrevet. Check our Instagram and Facebook page for updates on his progress.

 Black and white images courtesy of Adventure Cycling photo, shot on the TransAmerica Trail in 1976