The Trans Am Bike Race starts tomorrow and I am not exaggerating when I say that it may be the greatest sporting event going right now. Is there anything more quintessentially American than a self-supported race where you subsist on a diet of shitty convenience store food? You get to see a large swath of this beautiful country. You probably go through some of the lowest points of your life, only to bounce back with a life-affirming climb/descent or panoramic vista. Finishing a self-supported bike race across the country is something that so few will even attempt in their lifetime, much less complete. It is in the pantheon of great athletic accomplishments and you can’t convince me otherwise.
Every single piece of me wishes I was going to be at the starting line in Astoria, Oregon, racing. Competing. Suffering.
Sure, being a spectator is fun. You can watch the competitors, equipped with GPS trackers and shown as “dots”, overlaid on a map of the route. On social media you can speculate with countless other fans about whether a competitor has been stopped too long or knows they are going the wrong way or is due for a sleep break. Last year’s race was thrilling and there is enough uncertainty about what is happening at any moment that it keeps you glued to the proceedings. The livestreams from the great Newton Bike Shop are hilarious and riveting.
I can’t imagine that it holds a candle to actually racing.
More than any other stupid thing on my list of stupid things I want to do before I die, the Trans Am Bike Race is above everything else, and it isn’t even close. It’s not even a bucket list item, to be completed and tidily checked-off. It’s more than that but when I try to put it into words it just sounds obsessively weird (even more than usual). I want to ride in the tracks of the great Lael Wilcox, Mike Hall, and Juliana Buhring. I want to pass out on a picnic table at three in the afternoon because I’m so tired I can’t see straight. I want the blackout sleep that comes from pedaling almost continuously for 18 hours. I want the primal hunger triggered by burning through 12,000 calories in a day.
One day I am going to be on that ferry at Cave In Rock, crossing the Ohio river, mere days from finishing. Until then, I will happily watch and re-watch Inspired to Ride. I will read and re-read Janie Hayes’ incredible retelling of her 2016 TABR experience. I will wear my Newton Bike Shop shirt. And I will dot-watch on the Internet just like everyone else, longing for the day that the JCS dot will hammer across the country, fueled by the finest garbage our convenience stores have to offer.