Training for months, slowly building up the mileage. I just wanted to finish. Just wanted to cross that finish line. Beaten down after 20 miles, I only had 6.2 miles left to go. Any distance runner says the real workout is the last few miles, the first 3/4 is just to tire you out and get you to that workout point. That’s exactly how I felt after my first marathon.
I just moved to Baltimore back in 2009. Early one morning I woke up to the sounds of cheers coming from the street. I had no idea what was going on, but i was intrigued. Heading outside, I see roads blocked, people cheering, and a runner or two running down the street. It turns out it was the weekend of the Baltimore Marathon, and I had no clue I happened to live on the final mile of the race, on Eutaw St right outside of Camden Yards. I was inspired. I started the morning not knowing what to expect from the echoing cheers. I left that morning telling myself “Next year I’m going to run this.”
I started training 16 weeks before the 2010 Baltimore Marathon. The training was tough. I couldn’t run 3 miles without stopping. 26.2 seemed daunting. Almost impossible. But slowly and surely I built up the mileage. Sixteen weeks later I lined up for the big race. Unsure if I could really finish. But ready to go out and try.
26.2 miles is flat out insane. Every training plan to run a marathon maxs out at a 20 mile training run, anything after that and you’re literally just injuring yourself. The starting gun went off, and the first 20 miles went just like the training. But the last 6.2 were all foreign, all new, and all brutal. But the last 6.2 miles was the real race, the first 20 was all just routine.
Day 61 left out of Ennis, MT. I spent the morning in a local coffee shop, catching up on all my real world obligations. And spent the rest of the day climbing over one of the biggest passes of the trip. A long, steep, relentless 2,500 ft climb uphill road that seemed never ending. And I enjoyed every second of it. It was one of the first times I was riding by myself uphill, the past few weeks I was always with a group facing these climbs. It was a refreshing change of pace, I was really was able to get into a rhythm slowly but methodically climbing up this mountain. I felt unstoppable, from that point forward I knew whatever the road was in front of me, it was surpassable.
I spent the night of Day 61 in Dillon, Mt. I stopped at a local fundraiser at a brewery to help raise money for the family of fallen local firefighters in the area. From what I gathered, the firefighters were in the process of performing a controlled burn in the Desoto National Forest, when suddenly, their helicopter lost power. They crashed into the area they just set ablaze. Only one of the four people in the helicopter survived. The survivor suffered serious 3rd degree burns, but was able to attend the event. Although I missed his speech, I heard it was moving. Wish I got a chance to talk with him, but he was overwhelmed and still recovering. I spent the night talking to locals about this great event to bring the community together over this tragic event.
Day 62 was another hilly day out of Dillon, MT. I was heading to the flat and historic Bitterroot Valley, part of the path of Lewis and Clark, guided by Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe in 1877. In order to get to the Valley, however, I spent my day climbing over 4,000 ft in elevation. Several big passes came one after another. But much like yesterday, I was still riding solo. I felt great climbing these mountains one after another, at my own speed. I was rewarded after a long 105 mile day with a 10+ mile 6% downhill into the valley. I arrived at Sula, MT with the only store in town closed for the night. There was camping available for $20 a night, but I decide to save the money and camp hidden off the side of the road instead. Running low on food and water, I cooked one of my emergency freeze dried meals, rationed my remaining water, and tucked into my tent for the night to avoid the awful bugs in the area.
Day 63 was spent in the valley heading north toward Missoula, MT. Home of Adventure Cycling, the organization who makes countless bike routes across the U.S including the infamous TransAmerican Trail back in 1976. I learned Tom was a few miles behind me at a camp ground. Isaiah, Ronnie, Vaughn, Ben, and Naomi were 20+ miles ahead of me, but we were all planning on meeting up in Missoula for the night. With the end point set, a dead flat ride along the valley, and almost no wind, I decide to make it a race to Missoula. My goal was to average 18 MPH for 80 miles. Once again, this is load down in weight, and on a bike as aerodynamic as a sail. I spent 4 hours of my ride watching meticulously my average speed hover anywhere between 17.8 and 18.1. It was stressful, but 75 miles in I was at 18.0 MPH even. One final hill getting into Missoula brought the average down to 17.9 MPH for 80 miles. What a bummer! But by far the fastest ride of my trip. I almost wished I had further to go today, I was finished with my ride by 2 PM. But I had to check out the Adventure Cycling Headquarters, and meet up with the rest of the group.
Missoula was a cool town, and extremely biker friendly. We met (briefly) a guy named Bruce, who was kind enough to let everyone and everyone camp out in his yard. Literally, his entire front yard was full of 15-20 tents. Stories have it that people stayed there for up to a month. It was a biker safe haven. A perfect place to spend a rest day. It was a great night, as the rest of the group rolled into town. Most the people I rode with along the trip happened to be here the same night. We all set our tents up, and head to a chinese buffet to load up on calories. It was bittersweet, we knew riding together was coming to an end. Turns out it would be the last night we were all together. Tom, Glen, Isaiah, Vaughn, Ronnie, Ben, Naomi, and I all grabbed dinner, and then headed back to Bruce’s place to camp out for the night.
There’s good and bad with having and open door policy like Bruce had. It made it incredibly easy to find a place to stay for the night. But the word was out, combine 15 young cyclists and there is bound to be some excitement. Drinking and partying went on until 3 am. For the first time in my life, I felt like being an old man, debating coming out of my tent and telling these guys to “quiet down! Some of us are trying to sleep!” It was an exhausting night, and I woke up less rested than when I went to sleep the night before. Turns out Tom got so sick of the noise that he left at 5 AM, and the dinner before would be the last time I see him. Good riding with you buddy
I woke up Day 64 exhausted, and in no motivation to ride. Looking back I’ve ridden 17 days without a full rest day, with one or two partial days while enjoying the National Parks. I decide to take a rest day in Missoula, which would give me a day off the saddle, a day to plan my exit strategy, and a chance to visit Adventure Cycling, which reopened the following morning. For one of the first times in my trip, I felt stressed. Stressed to what was coming after this trip. I had no flight home. No job lined up. And the realization that this trip was in its home stretch. I sent out my job resume everywhere, and considered taking faster routes to the west to finish up my trip. I decided to finish my trip taking the Lewis and Clark trail instead of the TransAm trail. It was 100 miles shorter, slightly flatter, and followed the route Lewis and Clark took to the Pacific. Sign me up. And after talking about it with Isaiah, Ronnie, and Vaughn, they were considering it too. But we still had time before the TransAm deviated from the Lewis and Clark Trail, so they still had time to decide for sure.
Day 65 started with a goal to finish this trip as quickly as I could. I told myself I was ready to push myself. Going into Missoula I pushed how fast I could travel. But from here on in I wanted to test my endurance, how long I could ride for. I’ve said countless times throughout the trip, everyone is pretty much traveling at the same speed. Everyone’s bike is heavy, every bike isn’t aerodynamic. It all comes down to how long you’re physically pedaling that determines how many miles per day you go. It all comes down to what time you wake up and get started, and how long your breaks are. That determines your miles per day much more than the speed your traveling at.
The day started with meeting Isaiah, Ronnie, Vaughn, Ben, and Naomi at Adventure Cycling. They had a few gimmicks to try and get people to stop on in, including a official bike weigh in, and getting your picture on their wall. I got the bike and gear weighed in, officially coming in at 93 lbs. Man, that’s heavier than I thought! We take our group photo. And last we have to say goodbye to our Aussie friends Ben and Naomi, who are heading north from Missoula. It was great riding with them, and they brought a lot of excitement to any town were at for the night. Wish you guys the best in your continued travels.
After finishing all the Adventure Cycling activities and saying our farewells, it was another late morning to start. I went back southwest into Clearwood National Forest, aiming to get past Lolo Pass, the border between Montana and Idaho. At an attitude of 5,233 ft, the pass was a reminder how we were slowly descending from the thin air of the midwest. The climb was slow, gradual, and easy. From this pass, William Clark was quoted saying:
“From this mountain I could observe high rugged mountains in every direction as far as I could see.”
From there, we followed the Crooked Fork River through Clearwood National Forest. It was a gorgeous ride. The river and road weaved through the dense forest. I told Isaiah how each turn could be described the same way, and yet it was never boring. Each turn left me wondering what came around the bend. I would definitely recommend it if you’re ever looking for a weekend ride out west. The park was around 120 miles wide, so we had to camp out in the park overnight. We slept next to the river, cooked a meal together, and plotted our next day.
Day 66 continued our ride along the beautiful Crooked Fork River and Clearwood Forest. We arrived 60 miles down the road to a town called Kooska, ID, and the other 3 guys needed to decide if they were going to continue the TransAmerican Trail, or head west down the Lewis and Clark with me. After much discussion, they opt for the Lewis and Clark Trail. But we also realized that unless I wanted to wait until after the 4th of July to finish, that I would be aiming at a much faster finish than they were planning on. It was tempting to finish with a group, but at the same time I had that race mentality brewing in my head. I spend the last two days only doing 70-80 mile days, which was lower than the average I was hoping to push myself to do. I made the hard decision to split from them the following morning, and get to the Pacific as fast as I could. Isaiah, Ronnie, and Vaughn spent some time that night telling stories about the memories of our trip, how hard it was to believe how long ago we all met, and what our plans were for once this was all over with. We all went to bed for the night, knowing by the time they woke up the following morning, that I’d be gone. And by 5:30 AM day 67, I was on the road. I was all alone now, and ready to push myself to the limit.
I remember that starting gun go off back in 2010. The first marathon I ran. 13.1 miles in and I felt great. Barely winded. Surely if the first half was so easy, the second half would be too. That’s obviously not how any endurance event goes, The first half merely bends you. The last half is what breaks you.
I set off day 67 with my eyes set on a 200 mile day. It was ambitious. I remember back in Kansas I told Tom I was hoping to have a 150 mile day. He looked at me like I was crazy. “150?!” he said, “that’s crazy.” Weeks later 150 wasn’t good enough anymore, I had my eyes set on 200. For those keeping track at home, I was aiming for 3x my longest ride ever before starting this trip. I woke up at 4:30 AM, packed my gear, and set off by 5. After a quick breakfast, I hit the road. The Lewis and Clark Trail followed the flat river to a town Lewiston, ID, and Clarkston, WA. I was flying, hitting 70 miles before 11 AM. But that was when all the fun began. The scenery was unlike anything I’ve seen. The Snake River passes both these towns, and provides the valley with plenty of fresh water. But anything above the river received none of the fresh water, and the mountains surrounding the water was as barren as could be. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
I slowly pass Clarkston, WA and enter an a 2,500 ft climb into the dry barren land known as Hell’s Canyon. Named appropriately, it was scorching. and completely unexpected, I had plenty of water, but still managed to run low towards the end of the pass. It was exhausting, and set my pace back for my 200 mile day.
On top of the pass, I run into two cyclists, a father daughter team. I was racing to get to 200 miles, and considered blowing past them. But I decided I could use a short rest, and talk to them for a few minutes. After a few minutes talking with the pair, I learn the father is a dentist! What a small world, I ask if he retired, and he tells me he just sold his practice in Daytona Beach. What an even smaller world, I have family 20 minutes from there. I say my last name to see if they were his patients, and he doesn’t recall the name. All of a sudden the daughter chimes in “was your mom or grandma a teacher??” Turns out my grandma was the girls 4th grade teacher! What are the odds of that?! It’s crazy who you might run into in the world, hard to imagine that I’d have any connection with someone out in the middle of a desert. Unreal!
I continue the rest of my ride with two more large passes. I should have checked the elevation profile before declaring my 200 mile ride. But still, after 15 hours of riding, I was at 165 miles and ready to push for 200 miles, even if it meant I would be riding until midnight that night. But fate made that decision easy for me, right as I entered Walla Walla, my rear tire blew out. It was the end of the ride for me, and I was just glad I was lucky enough to have this happen while I was 2 miles away from a bike shop. I’ll have to wait until another day to take a crack at 200.
Day 68 was a short day, as the route took me 59 miles down the road to Umatilla, OR. Past Umatilla was 70 miles of no services. No water, no food. 59 miles was a comparatively short day. But I weighed my options. Stop in town, stock up on food and water for camping, and start early the follow day sounded like a good plan. As opposed to head out to the middle of no where, and hope I had enough supplies to last the night and the rest of the ride the following day. I enjoyed a leisurely pace, and got to rest up some of the soreness from the 165 mile ride the day before. I get to town, realizing I only have 300 miles to go. I realize my ambitious goal of finishing in 70 days is just on pace. I just need to average 150 miles the next two days.
My night was set thinking about the home stretch, and what I’ve been through up to this point. I call it an early night, and get to bed around 10. That was until, turns out my camping spot must have been a hotspot for local kids to party and drink. I woke up at midnight hearing a ton of yelling, and kids doing what kids do. They couldn’t have been more than 100 ft away from me, luckily they didn’t see me or my bike. I weighted my options, get out and yell out them. But I’d risk them ignoring me, and just cause me more problems. I could move my camp, but at midnight that didn’t seem like a great solution. Or I could grin and bear it. I opted to endure the hourly wake up calls and just sleep the best I could. Enjoy what I little sleep I had until my 4:30 AM alarm the next morning
Day 69 started feeling drained. I was supposed to feel rested after only doing 59 miles the day before. Instead I felt the opposite. Exhausted, drained, fatigued. Not the way you want to orchestrate a big finish. It felt like mile 20 back in 2010 during the marathon. Everything ached. It was a struggle to start moving. I desperately wanted to just snooze and go back to bed. But I knew the 5 AM start was the only way I could finish by day 70. Today was the set up day, I was looking to set myself up to make tomorrow a manageable day. I made a less vocal attempt at 200 miles again, hoping to get to Portland, OR, and make it a “short” 100 mile ride to finish up the following day. However, the thought of 200 miles was short lived. I entered the Columbia River Gorge, which was incredible. The river was all I needed to follow to the Pacific. The surrounding land was dry and barren, much like Lewiston several miles back. There was a tremendous amount of water, and yet nothing was living on the surrounding mountains. I was exposed with no shade, no water, no food for this 70 mile stretch. And by 11 AM, it was scorching outside. I watched the temperature slowly rise. in the 90’s by 11 AM. 95 degrees by noon. At its peak, I was riding in 108 degrees. 200 miles was impossible in such conditions, I spent my time stopping frequently for water at any stop I could. I spent an hour grabbing lunch in the middle of the day, including a 40 oz milkshake in the middle of the ride. The gorge slowly became more lush and tropical. Trees started to cover the once vacant mountains. I had a place to stay in a town 120 miles up the road. But I though in my head what that would mean to finish tomorrow. I would need a 180 day to finish tomorrow. A day forecasted to be even warmer than today. I knew I needed an extra 20 miles to give me a chance to finish the following day. And I was tested almost immediately after pushing for those 20 miles.
Right after passing the town I had a place to stay for the night, I had my serious accident of the trip. For the past thousand miles, I’ve been having issues with my pedals coming unclipped while riding. It was annoying, but manageable up to this point. Going up a hill, my foot quickly came unclipped. As you can imagine, if you expect to have the force of your pedal there, and there is nothing there, you lose your balance. Think any time you expect there is another step on the staircase, but there really isn’t. You lose balance. Thats exactly what happened on a small two lane road. I lost balance. I tried to catch myself, but fell to the ground, landing on my left and and hip. A few cars behind me saw me fall, and stop in time to avoid a bigger accident. I’m pretty frustrated at this point, mostly that I let this equipment issue go so long without correcting it. Luckily, only minor damage to the bike, and a sore hip and scraped up hand for me. One guy asked if I needed a lift. I politely turn him down, at 3,950 miles now isn’t the time to catch a ride.
The next 20 miles were painful, but I knew I needed them to set up tomorrow. My hand hurt so much I could barely hold the handlebar. My hip felt sore every rotation of the pedal. But I grin and bear it to Stevenson, WA, and call it a night after 141 miles in a blistering 108 degree day. Easily one of the hardest days of my life. I couldn’t breath through my mouth without my throat drying out immediately, feeling like I was choking from the heat. But I was determined to get another 20 miles at the end of the day, and didn’t a spill stop me from doing it. Everyone asked me how I was biking on a humid 108 degree day, and I just told them its the same as any other day, you just pedal. I didn’t let and of this get in my way. It was pain coming down the home stretch of my marathon. It was all unfamiliar after 20 miles of running, it was all new for me. But I kept pushing mile after mile to get closer to that finish line on Eutaw St.
I grabbed dinner at a local restaurant, absolutely exhausted and in need of a good meal. I had no clue where I was going to sleep, but getting out of the heat was all I cared about right now. This was the second time in the past three days I’ve biked from sunrise to sunset, and had the same plan for the following day. I met a guy named Mike, who told me about the area, and all the amazing things the Columbia River Gorge has to offer. Mike was an outdoor enthusiast, doing a little bit of every. Seemed like a great guy. I asked him if I could camp in his backyard. He offered me a better offer, sleeping on his couch. I had another 4:30 AM wake up planned, so I felt bad setting my alarm this early in his house. But he insisted, and I accepted the invite. After a shower, I crashed immediately. I was definitely glad I could get a few hours rest without kids waking me up in the middle of the night. I said thanks to the hospitality from Mike, and called it a night.
Day 70, was another 4:30 AM wake up. Third day I’ve woken up and beat the sunrise. I collected my belongings from Mike’s place, grab another gas station breakfast, and hit the road. I cross the Bridge of the Gods, a bridge connecting Washington and Oregon east of Oregon. Its part of the Pacific Crest Trail. Rumor has it, its mentioned in the book Wild. I crossed the bridge as the sun rose, and reflected what the next few hours could bring me. I was 165 miles away from what I started 70 days ago. 165 miles from finishing a dream of mine for 6 years. I set off on a mission that nothing would stop me today. It was the home stretch.
Those final 6.2 miles back in 2010 were some of the most physically demanding minutes of my life. My body was past its breaking point. It was simply a matter of enduring it. Finding a way to muster up whatever energy you had left in you. This time around, it was more mental fatigue than physical. Sure, I was sore, my knees ached the first 10 miles. But it paled in comparison to barely getting any sleep the past few days. The mental drag of spending over 14 hours a day on the saddle. I was on the cusp of the my breaking point, but refusing to give in to finishing at anything less than 110%.
I posted in my last post here that I dared whatever obstacle out there to bring it on. I knew there would be something unexpected. And 10 miles in I was faced with just that. A 30 foot staircase part of the “bike trail.” I complain about it for a second, then lug that 93 lbs bike up those steps and keep on my way. Nothings slowing me down.
I climb up a hill on the Oregon side of the gorge. Two beautiful waterfalls come within sight of my path. As badly as I want to push it today, I know I need to stop for these wonders. I snap a few photos, take a moment to admire them, and head on my way.
On the top of the climb I run into a local cyclist in town. I can’t remember his name, but I started chatting with him riding along the gorge. He was out for a morning workout, yet decided to ride at the slower touring bike pace, to stay and hear my story. I told him I was hoping to finish my journey today, and he said he’d thought about biking cross country himself. When I asked him why he never did, he told me “he can’t now with his wife and kids. I should have done it when I was younger.”
It’s truly amazed me along the trip how many people have told me they’ve thought about biking the country. But instead of hearing all these success stories, I kept hearing about people who always thought about it, but never took the leap. It always reminds me of the quote “Life passes most people by while they’re making grand plans for it.” Its just a reminder that the planning is just one aspect of a story, but actually taking the action is what makes the story. Bring those plans to action.
I noticed two age groups throughout my trip, the young recent graduate, or the 50+ year old who is close to retirement, or already retired. It makes sense, when else could you take time off work, away from family, etc. to be away from home for 3 months. My morning riding partner missed his earlier window, but seemed optimistic he might try to complete the ride later in his life. Lets hope he can bring that idea to action later down the road, when life settles back down.
Having someone to ride with for the morning lifted my spirits. It was just what I needed. I noticed my pace when much quicker, I felt like I had more energy. Next thing I knew, I was already 30 miles into the ride. He gave me some energy bars, and wished me luck today. He congratulated me on today, and I told him I still had plenty of riding left before I finished. He smiled and said congrats again, he must have been able to tell how determined I was to finish it all today.
I pass through Portland, and breathe a sigh of relief. The city traffic was one thing that could have slowed me down. Lucky for me, the bike lanes in Portland were great. I got through most the city without having to slow down at all. The land flattened out and I was on my way to Astoria, OR. A nasty headwind caught me for a 15 mile stretch as I changed directions out of Portland. It was killing my pace. I decide to stop and take a rest for 10 minutes, and it turned out to be a great decision. I came back stronger, focused to take an hour and hit this wind as hard as I could. I tucked into a more aerodynamic position, focused on the music playing, and knew I had to beat this wind.
I watched the ETA on my phone hover between 8:15 PM and 8:45 PM all day. It was stressful, every second I stopped was a second I needed to earn back. I had to get to Seaside, OR before sunset to take the pictures, which was at 9:10 PM. Not much margin of error on a 165 mile ride in 90 degrees of heat.
The hills were rolling, gently but noticeable. Gradual enough that they were manageable. But steep enough to be annoying. My body was aching at this point, every rest stop I took was a struggle to get started back up. I arrive at Astoria around 7:15 PM. Just 18 miles away from the Pacific.
I spent the last hour of my ride thinking about that home stretch down Eutaw street during my first marathon. I was drained, bruised, but coming back to familiar territory. Crowds cheering. Running through the gates of Camden Yards, into the footsteps of Ravens Stadium. If the last 6.2 miles of a marathon is the actual race, than the final mile is all the glory. All the cheering, all the excitement, all the time to soak up what you just accomplished. This final stretch of 18 miles was all my glory, encapsulating all the hard work I put in the past 4,000 miles. I owned the moment. I took a few minutes to text friends in family telling them I was an hour away from finishing. And I savored the last few miles as much as I could, while still trying to beat out the sunset that was rapidly approaching.
I arrive to Seaside, OR with just minutes to spare. It was surreal. I arrive to see the sun barely above the horizon, with a statue of Lewis and Clark and a waving American flag overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was perfect. They say a sunset on the Pacific can’t compare to anything on the east coast. Maybe it was just how much that moment meant to me, but I can assure you it was one of the most beautiful images I’ve ever seen in my life. It was beyond words, and ingrained into my memory.
The sky glowed a vivid orange. The ripples of the ocean glistened the majestic colors of the ski. There was one lone cloud above the horizon, glowing vividly the brightest orange color I’ve ever seen. I’ve never been the spiritual type, but it radiated in a way I felt had to be beyond fate. A picture didn’t capture its true beauty, and will just be a reminder of the image ingrained in my mind.
I dragged my bike the few hundred feet to the shore. The first time I’ve ever been upset about a wide beach! I barely make it in time to dip my tires in the water, but make it just in time for some amazing pictures. For those who asked, no I didn’t wait to take those pictures. This is literally the second I got into town and got to the coast.
As I dragged my bike to the water, it really hit me, I was finally done. One of the biggest accomplishments of my life. Probably the most mentally grueling experience I’ve ever been apart of. I teared up getting close to the shore, and I just tried to let my emotions roll. In 70 days I pushed myself to the limit, and sprinted down the last 4 days for a finish to remember.
The final stretch of the marathon was full of cheers and celebration. A medal to mark my accomplishment. A band playing at the finish line. a flood of congratulations, and crowd of people to “tell your tale” of the course with.
It was the first reminder of how far I’ve come since then. When I started into these challenges back in 2010, it was all about the personal accolades of finishing these goals. I needed that cheering, I needed that extra boost to finish that race. I finished that marathon to a crowd full of people cheering be on.
I arrived to the Pacific with no one there cheering me on. A crowd of people stood watching the sunset, not one with the slightest clue I just finished my 4,141 mile journey. And honestly, it was perfect. Back in 2009 the roaring cheer was what motivated me to run that marathon a year later. But now? The silence of my arrival let me truly reflect on what I’d accomplished over the past 70 days. That reflection; both the reflection of journey, as well as that incredible sunset reflecting over the Pacific, motivated me for whats yet to come in my life.
530 miles in the final 4 days. 4,141 miles in total. Surf City, NJ to Seaside, OR. Coast to Coast in 70 days!!!
Thanks for following everyone! See you all on the next adventure!