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by Pamela Blalock

 

The tears were streaming down my face. I had been fighting the most ferocious headwind I had ever ridden a bike into for hours and hours, all alone, just hoping to see the sag vehicle, so I could stop this torture and get off the bike for the day. But when I finally did see the vehicle, it just drove right past me, and didn't stop. I was emotionally and physically a wreck. I looked at my odometer and figured I had another 25 miles of the 150 mile ride to get to West Yellowstone. I looked at my watch and the quickly setting sun, and tried to figure if I could get in by dark. I had been making these same calculations since mile 80, when the winds picked up and tried to blow us backwards. The winds at lunch had blown our food off the table. Susan had warned us about a potential hail storm ahead. I had actually hoped for the rain, since maybe the winds would die down after the storm went through. I rolled out of lunch into a cross wind. This same cross wind had almost tossed me off a steep descent earlier in the day, and was really making it difficult to control the bike. I couldn't really tell which direction we were going to go, but hoped that we would turn and have this wind as an aid at our backs. Well we turned, but in the wrong direction and felt the full fury of a 30-40 mile per hour headwind. I shifted into a lower gear and plodded along. I was thankful to have my granny gear, and figured I would be using it a lot during the day. I kept looking in vain for trees that might offer break from the wind, or for a turn into the mountains for some relief.

After 20 miles, I spotted an oasis in the form of a store, where I bought a drink and found other riders. Unfortunately they were calling for sag, and I really wanted to continue riding. I kept telling myself that it couldn't be this bad all the way in. It just couldn't! I got back on the bike and continued on. Paul passed me and I tried to draft, but I couldn't stay with him. Later my lower gears proved to help and I passed him. We rode back and forth for a while until I passed him for the final time, as he was walking along a 1% grade waiting for the sag, and I was plodding along in my 26-25 low gear.

I kept telling myself that the winds would die down, or we would turn, and just tried to push on. I decided to aim for the snack stop at mile 130, where I would either get in the van or press on if there was any relief in sight. Just before mile 120, I saw Marty, a member of the support crew, who told me about a snack stop they had set up just ahead. I had in my mind to go for 130, so I kept riding, not realizing that this was the snack stop. The road turned and began climbing, in the same direction a river was flowing. I could not figure out how the river was going uphill, but just pressed on. I finally reached the visitor center that was listed as the final snack stop. An arrow painted on the road pointed left, and I followed it around, but saw no one. No Pac Tour vans, no vehicles at all. The bathrooms were locked, the visitor center closed, and the water fountain dry. I leaned up against the building and cried and cried.

Finally I decided I had to get going. I was either going to have to ride in or hitchhike! I knew there were still riders behind me, but I didn't understand why they had already closed the snack stop. Were we riding so much slower than everyone else? I was just too tired to realize that stop I had bypassed was the snack stop. I got back on the bike, and rode a few more miles until I saw a campground, where I filled my Camelbak, and asked about the terrain to West Yellowstone. I was told that there was a steep climb, and then rolling hills. At least I was finally back in the mountains, and out of the really bad winds, so I decided to just keep going. After the steep climb, I found myself next to a beautiful lake and rolling along, finally back into double digit speeds. I had averaged 9 miles an hour for the past 60 miles, and it felt like I was flying when I hit 15 mph.

Then one of the support cars drove by, and kept going! And there I was in tears again. But still moving forward. About 5 miles later I saw the Ford van parked on the side of the road. I rolled up and leaned on the side of the truck and every emotion welled up inside again, and the tears flowed. Joanne and Diane Penseyres got out to check on me. They hugged me, got me food and drink, and gave me the courage I needed to go on. I only had 20 miles to go. The sun was still high enough that I would probably make it by dark, and there were still 3 people on the road behind me trying to get in. Almost a third of the riders had sagged in, but I was determined that if I had suffered through the winds that I wouldn't give up now when it was so much easier. I made it in, 15 or 20 minutes before dark. Richard and Micha came in a bit later with the car behind them providing light. After fighting the wind for that long, we deserved to pedal in.

This day provided me with inspiration for every other difficult part of the ride. Every time the hills got steep, the wind got vicious, or I just got lonely and depressed, I'd think back to how I got through this day, and continue riding. The memories of this day, while they include tears, also include an incredible sense of accomplishment for pushing on and finishing, and of how good it felt to roll into the parking lot and honk my little horn, as those few who were standing outside cheered my arrival. This is a lot of what Pac Tour was about for me, a personal sense of accomplishment in the face of adversity. According to Lon Haldeman, one of PAC's founders, it's the challenges you remember, not the mishaps. Many people have asked me if I had fun, and I know I did, just not all the time. This was not a fun day, but it was a rewarding one, and only one of the 24 days I took to ride my bike across the country.

When I was 13 years old, my parents took me camping in Williamsburg, Virginia, where my desire to ride a bike across the country was born. I met some riders who were almost finished touring across the country on their bikes, with a final destination of Washington, DC, and decided that I would like to do the same thing, someday. But, when I had the time, I didn't have the money, and then when I had the money, I couldn't take the time. Last year, after a dear friend was killed by a drunk driver, I realized that I might not always have time to do things later. I decided do my ride across the country and dedicate the ride to and be inspired by memories of my dear friend, Al Lester.

Pac Tour's Northern Transcontinental route covers 3400 miles in 24 days, with an average of 140 miles a day, so I would only need 3 weeks off work to ride across the US. I sent off my deposit and application. I felt that the type of riding I normally do, a few brevets, a few doubles and a lot of centuries, and my regular commute would adequately prepare me for the ride. I did add a few miles to my commute home at night, rode a lot of times when the weather would have stopped me before, and maybe did a couple of extra centuries, but I didn't really stray too far from what I would have been doing anyway. I probably should have, and looking back now, I would do a little weight lifting in the winter, and a little more speed work, try to weigh a little bit more at the start and try my darndest not to have an accident 2 months before the trip. I ended up working seven days a week throughout the winter on a pretty high profile project. It cut into riding time, but it also gave me the extra vacation time I would need to do the ride.

One evening last winter, I was working pretty late, and as usual had ridden my bike to work. The weatherliars™ had predicted that a couple of inches of snow would fall after midnight, but I figured as long as I left by 10 PM I would be fine. Well the snow started right at 10, when I left, and by the time I got home, 2 inches of snow covered the ground. My biggest problem riding was wiping the snow off my goggles so I could see. My soft fat tires on the mountain bike provided good traction in the snow, and I didn't slide or fall. But what was really great, was when I got home, there was a big box on the front step covered in snow, with all my Pac Tour stuff inside, including my gear bag, jersey, arm and leg warmers, jacket, and bottles. It was a great way to end the day!

After a busy and difficult winter, with lots of snow and lots of work and lots of riding, and a spring that was much the same, collision with a dog, resulting in a new bike for the tour, and some new car shopping as a result of a dead, melted car two weeks before the trip, I was finally on my way the afternoon of July 21. My friends and co-workers, Linda, Ron and Jodi drove me down to the airport to send me on my way. I was a bundle of nerves for a week before the trip and they were probably happy to be rid of me!

My friend, Terry met me in Seattle and gave me a place to stay for a couple of days before the tour. I put the bike together Thursday morning, and went for a little test ride, where I managed to rip a 500 mile old Michelin tire in half on a piece of chain link fence lying in the road. Fortunately I always carry a spare tire, but if I didn't I could have take a ride from one of the 5 or so cars with bike racks that stopped to see if I needed help. (This would not happen on the east coast!)

Friday morning, equipped with a map and my lousy sense of direction, I left Terry's and rode my bike up toward Everett to check in and go to orientation. I made a few wrong turns and did 1000 or so extra feet of climbing, but eventually found my way there. At the riders' meeting, Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo introduced themselves and our crew. For those who may not know, Lon and Susan are both former RAAM winners and hold many solo and tandem transcontinental records. Our crew had some pretty impressive credentials as well, including Pete and Joanne Penseyres (Pete still holds the record for highest average speed in RAAM and Joanne, as crew chief deserves a lot of the credit for that), Jim and Diane Penseyres (Jim lost a leg in Vietnam, but didn't let this stop him from completing RAAM), Marty and Lisa Hoganson (PAC Tour veterans), Roberta Hillman (one of the top 5 American women in PBP in 1991), Mike Bishop (mechanic-extraordinaire), and Phil Kohl (the masseur who got me and many others across the country). Finally, Susan's niece, Karen, was taking care of their 6 year old daughter, Rebecca to complete our crew.

They told us about our daily routine for the next 24 days. Breakfast would be served buffet style in the parking lot of each hotel between 6 and 6:30 AM. Riders would begin rolling out between 6:30 and 7:00, with the fastest riders leaving last. There would be two snack stops before lunch about 30 miles apart, and one stop after lunch approximately 30 miles from the end. The daily average is 140, with the shortest being 105 and the longest 171. There were three vehicles, a minivan for tha snack stops, a full size van pulling a trailer which served as the lunch van, and a U-haul pulling a trailer, which carried all our gear from hotel to hotel, as well as being a rolling bike repair shop. Each vehicle would have a mesh bag, where riders could put in rain rackets or other clothes for the day. You could both send clothes ahead and dump them along the way. Each vehicle had a assigned stop and we would only see the U-haul at the second stop, the lunch wagon at lunch and the caravan at the first and last snack stop. (I figured all this out after a couple of days and got used to sending the right clothes to the right stop.) Riders should bring their gearbags and bikes to breakfast. Gearbags were loaded into the U-haul. When we reached the hotel each day, bike stands would be set up, so riders could clean and lube their bikes, gear bags were set out, room assignments were posted, mesh bags were dumped, and cue sheets for the next day were available. A white board posted important messages about good restaurants for dinner, and changes in routine, route, or time zones. Laundry was done every three days. We each had a mesh bag with a number on it. Our clothes would be washed and dried inside the bag during the day and returned at night. Finally, they emphasized that this was not a race, to take it easy the first few days, and then let us continue getting ready for our great adventure commencing the next day.

We had a pre-ride banquet that evening. Terry brought up my gear bag, and got the opportunity to meet some of the riders and crew. He also planned to return the next morning and join us for the ride out to Steven's Pass.

 

 


The first day

Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16
Day 17
| Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Looking Back