Almost overnight, without even realising it, we’ve become veteran long distance cyclists. In the early days of the ride people reacted to our challenge of crossing America by bike with surprise. Now the response, particularly from other cyclists we meet, is one of respect and awe. With 4,000 miles under our tyres we’ve been elevated to a new level and as we begin our 15 mile climb over the McKenzie Pass, our last major hurdle before the Pacific, we find ourselves giving advice and encouragement to other would-be TransAmericans.
The message we give is simple. It’s perfectly possible for a cyclist of average ability (ie: can tackle a 60 mile day ride a couple of times a week without too much trouble) to make the crossing. Yes the hills are hard and the traffic, occasionally, a little scary. Yes, you do need to deal with dogs – particularly in Kentucky – and a lack of fresh food (ie anything not fried!) pretty much from Virginia to Idaho. And yes you also need to plan ahead to avoid potentially hazardous weather events.
Like everything else, the US does weather big-time – we’ve experienced everything from tornados to forest fires from ice on the tents in the morning to temperatures topping a hundred degrees. But it’s amazing how the body adapts and within a week or so, getting up everyday and riding 60 miles will seem perfectly normal. There will be more of our thoughts on this in future blogs, but if you are thinking of riding it, then don’t hesitate – it really is an experience of a lifetime and yes, you can do it!!!
Having said that, we’ve not completed it yet, but as we climb up through redwood forests, the air thick with the smell of pine, there’s a certain euphoria between Terry, Mike and myself. We don’t fear hills anymore – in fact we relish the challenges they bring and as we cycle past the snow capped peaks of the Sisters – and later Mounts Washington and Jefferson, we are rewarded with incredible views on one of the TransAm’s most spectacular rides.
It is our last major climb of the journey and, as we’ve experienced a few times now, we’re surprised it’s not harder. Maybe it’s because our legs are now made of iron, or that the horrors of the Osarks are hard to shake, but a 6 percent gradient over a few hours is no great problem anymore. Of all the hills and mountains we’ve climbed though this one really delivers the goods – jagged black fields of lava stretching out for miles, distant peaks cloaked in snow, the wind whipping up drifts on Jefferson so the mountain appears as if it’s smoking. And then, across the horizon, actual smoke from the on-going forest fires which are causing problems across Oregon.
It’s an extraordinary and dramatic landscape and one that is so difficult to leave behind. We climb the observatory, constructed out of the lava, and identify the surrounding peaks. Below us is a patch of lava flattened by early settlers creating a wagon trail to the coast. It’s almost unimaginable how hard it would have been to force a route through such an unforgiving landscape – and that’s after many of the immigrants had already travelled thousands of miles west. It puts the ease of our passage, on tarmac, into perspective. Video: Climbing the final part of the McKenzie Pass(NB this is the final mountain pass of the TransAmerica – there were some more hills – of course!)
The descent takes some time to get going as the top of the pass is a vast lava plateau, but once the gradient does dip it’s a roller coaster of twists and turns so tight that one slip could end the trip. As the grade smooths out a little we are able to appreciate the stunning forest on the western slopes of the pass. Gone are the browning pines scorching in the East of the State, now we are in the Willamette National Forest, a temperate rainforest, regularly soaked by rain. Consequently the trees are much bigger and we gaze skywards at pines more than 200 feet high. It’s without doubt sons of the most stunning forest we’ve seen on the entire trip, deep green in colour with deciduous trees mixing with the coniferous as we drop in altitude. It’s so beautiful that rather than taking our reward for the climb by racing through we slow, stop and gaze.
We stop for lunch near McKenzie Bridge and then, by chance, meet up again with Tuan who also had to change his plans to avoid the fire on the Ochoco Pass – he ended up hitching a ride on a hippy bus being dropped off in Madras (the one in the US, not India, although Tuan said they were so spaced out they may not have known where they were anyway) and he rejoined the route from there.
We cycle on to Nimrod where we’d hoped to camp for the night, but not spotting anywhere particularly welcoming (this stretch along the McKensie River appears to be going through problems with several properties abandoned, or for sale) we take the decision to push on all the way to Springfield, on the outskirts of Eugene. It means cycling another 35 miles and means we will arrive after dark, but we’ve got the wind on our heels and the four of us run a rolling peloton and before long we are eating up the miles.
Soon after we are eating up pie – lots of it! Needing to take on more fuel to push up the mileage we stop at Vida where Mike buys a huge pie. Jerry and Jonathan are hooked on their ‘cherry bomb’ pies to get them through tough climbs with an explosion of sugar, but this thing was more like a 1,000 pounder. But with tired legs and empty stomachs it was demolished in minutes, washed down with Gatorade and a Iced Coffee and then we were back on the road, in-line and on target.
We saw Springfield miles before we reached it due to a huge fire blazing in a wood yard. The long busy strip of retail reminded us at times of our start to the ride at Virginia Beach, not the best cycling conditions, but at least there was a shoulder to provide some separation from the traffic. Eventually with the mileage close to clocking 90 miles (with Tuan well over a ton) we spotted a motel, checked in and crashed. It had been a long, but exhilarating ride and by the end of it we were all buzzing. Were it not for the fire burning across the road we could almost have convinced ourselves we could smell the ocean.
Today’s Miles: 89
Miles since First Landing: 4176