My Route 66 World Record attempt actually started almost two years ago. I was walking in Santa Monica, with one of my best friends, discussing my life transformation. When I was at my lowest, I was admitted to mental hospital, an alcoholic and an addict. I had gone from being told by doctors that I wouldn’t be able to function as a member of society without mood stabilising medication to owning a business operating in 20 countries around the world and winning multiple awards both on and off the bike. Damen, my friend, was adamant that this story would inspire others as much as it did him. After a while I agreed and said that I would only share my story if I could tie it in with a way to raise money and awareness for mental health causes. At that moment we walked past the ‘End of Route 66’ sign on Santa Monica pier, and the idea was born…
Fast forward almost two years and again I find myself stood by that sign. This time it was 4:45am and I was wearing my cycling gear. I had Thomas & Chris, my now good friends, there with me as I was about to embark on a 2500-mile journey across the United States. A terrible night sleep in a dodgy motel wasn’t going to deter me, nor was the thought of battling out of Los Angeles traffic on Labor Day weekend. I was ready, excited and motivated.
Stage One was the longest stage with some of the hardest riding you can do on a road bike. At over 240 miles, a mix between concrete jungle and desert, I knew it was going to be a long day. The LA traffic was actually non-existent and we took scenic rides through Hollywood and Beverley Hills as we headed out of the greater Los Angeles area, which took us four hours, and into San Bernadino. As you can imagine, it was an interrupted ride. Stop signs, traffic lights and bike paths do not make for a fast ride. This left me already feeling disappointed that we would be behind my schedule. Each day I gave myself a two-hour cushion, which was to be used for stops, and in the event I fell behind, the stops could be shortened to bridge that gap. It meant the only way to keep on track was to be very efficient with time off the bike.
If you’ve followed my training journey, you’ll know that I don’t really like gravel. During the first stage of the Haute Route Rockies, I took a big fall on the first stretch of gravel. I needed stitches in my arm and many trips to the medical team to get my wounds cleaned. While I am open to conquering my off-road fear, I didn’t expect there to be a half mile stretch of road work that left Thomas & I riding gravel (more like sand), with me skidding and swearing, and Thomas laughing. Thankfully, I made it across!
The pursuit of finding the most effective way to test my training led me to approach the Haute Route North America team. Initially I had hoped simply to ride their San Francisco event, it was geographically close and the three-day structure presented a good test of the training I had been doing. I have ridden many events, from races to sportives to Gran Fondos, and nothing compares to the experience Haute Route provided. Police outriders, crossing Golden Gate Bridge and a time trial around Angel Island were just a few highlights of an event that had me craving more.
I was lucky enough to also participate in the three-day Asheville and seven-day Rockies events. The organisation of all these events is above anything I’ve ever experienced. I met people who are now my closest friends, visited some of the most beautiful places in the United States and tested my performance, giving me confidence that my body would sustain long, multiple days in the saddle. Haute Route truly is the pro experience for us mere mortals, the next best thing to riding a pro tour. If you get an opportunity to ride on, don’t miss it.
Back on Route 66, and on the climb to Victorville, you have to leave the comfort of the frontage road and get on the interstate. If you’ve never ridden a road like this, imagine a five lane highway with traffic moving at over 60 mph. The shoulder of I-15 was also a bombsite; you could probably build a replica vehicle with the debris left at the side of the road. Thankfully, I had Chris & Thomas in the car behind us with flashing lights and signage to warn other road users and we made the long trip up the mountain unscathed.
Once you finish the climb, you have, what you’d assume is, a pleasant downhill. Sadly, this is where the great state of California lets us down; the frontage roads are very worn with large gaps, rough road and a ride akin to the pave in Belgium. Many of the riders involved in my research, that had ridden Route 66, had commented that they thought about, or did, jump the fence and ride I-15 for the better surface. I didn’t take this option, we have a route to follow and I had to follow that unless there was a significant reason to deviate from it.
Despite being provided with, arguably, the world’s most comfortable bike, a Trek Domane, courtesy of William Sawyer Cars. I still took damage to all the points where my body made contact with the bike. For the remainder of the event I would be riding with both sore feet, hands and bum (well, that general region!). Although, my feet did make a recovery after a few days. There simply is no preparation you can do for this, not that will allow you to break the record. You couldn’t ride a mountain bike or anything setup like that, you’d be too slow and there’s no swapping of bikes unless there’s a serious malfunction of the bike. I was already riding 32 wide tyres, it was brutal!
We had a solid finish to this ride as we made it into the desert, with the heat being not more manageable in the afternoon. We were eventually joined by Luis & Alan, who were delayed, firstly by Luis’ plane being cancelled and then by his bike going missing at the airport. They picked up ‘The Meg’, the RV loaned to us by Road Shark RV. ‘The Meg’ was fantastic to have somewhere to rest each night and the sight of her each day at stops really motivated me, I can’t thank Ed and Johnny enough. We all rode into Amboy, a ghost town in the desert together in the pitch black. Shake, shower, dinner, bed…
Up at 4:15am to be on the bike by 5am. I didn’t feel too bad. Again, sleep wasn’t the best, but, from there on out I’d sleep like a baby. The first obstacle of the day was the 10 or so bridges that were closed. We were faced with the choice of a long detour, and ride on the Interstate, or to try to force a way around them. I had no doubt that, given it was bone dry, I could walk around the bridges if I had to. We also knew that the car could double back and drive around if it came to that, so we pushed on.
The bridges were certainly closed to cars. But, after some manoeuvring, and thought, we realised we could simply drive the car around too. Simple, so we thought, but, one of the final bridges wasn’t even there, it had gone, with no way to ride it. So, like I had planned, I walked around. The loose, rocky surface was not easy to walk on and about half way around I twisted my ankle. I didn’t feel any immediate pain, but, I was quietly curious as to whether this would come back to haunt me.
After a stint back on the Interstate, now I-40 which we would follow in some form for most of the trip, we crossed the Colorado River. That was a sight to behold; amazing beauty in what had been such a barren landscape. We then headed deep into the Arizona desert where the temperature would be at its brutal highs in the 40’s (with my Wahoo topping out at 50c). This day I was thankful for my Spruzza most, a small mister unit that sprays water into your face, this tool is a life saver! With barely any appetite, I was drinking nearly 1.5 litres of fluids every hour and still suffering. I wasn’t able to enjoy the small town of Oatman as much as I’d have liked. This tourist trap with its stray donkeys might be the only place on Route 66 where tourism is affluent enough to keep businesses going.
Thankfully, as we headed back towards the Interstate, the heavens opened and I got drenched. This was a welcome gift to cool me down, bringing me back to somewhat normality. We stopped in Kingman for some food, before Thomas & I headed back out to finish the last 75 miles. Another, almost 240 miles in the bag today. Another late night, but, still feeling very good!
We started and finished in Arizona today. After yesterday’s predominantly desert day, it was nice to experience some of what the state has to offer at altitude. The first challenge today was major road work as we approached Flagstaff. Interstate 40 is not the busiest of roads, certainly nothing compared to Stage One’s Interstate 15! It is mainly a route for long distance truckers, many of whom gave a supportive honk of their horns as they passed. We imagined that in the time we were following I-40, we probably saw the same trucker many times. Anyway, everyone seemed nice and content to give me as much room as they could.
However, and unfortunately, the road work reduced I-40’s normal three lanes to one, meaning the truckers had no option but to pass by me close. Again, I have nothing but massive respect for the guys and girls who drive long distances. In the vast majority they all were courteous and moved lanes to give me room on the interstate shoulder. In this instance they just couldn’t do that. To make matters worse, for short periods, the wide shoulder was reduced to no more than a foot. Having semi-articulated trucks pass you, well within the three-feet law (no fault of the drivers’ mind), was terrifying and I mentioned to Chris, who could no longer drive directly behind me, that if it got bad I’d bin the record attempt for my own safety.
Thankfully, it didn’t last forever and, after Thomas joined me, we even managed to ride down to closed section, having the whole one side of the interstate to ourselves. With the wind with us, we were making good time and we even got to stop at an American Diner, much to Thomas’ delight! After that, and a quick mechanical stop to bleed my front brake, we left Flagstaff and headed towards the New Mexico border. With the wind with us we were flying, but, the shoulder of I-40 was another bombsite. Thomas had three punctures, which shortly followed by me blowing a tubeless tyre wide open too. I was riding a set of the ridiculously good Zed Bike Wheels, they glide well and you can tell a lot of care goes into the hand building of each set.
After spending 160 miles on the interstate, I was glad when we turned off and headed towards Petrified National Forest Park. The area after leaving I-40 was what I was hoping to see, old single track bridges and more remanence of what Route 66 was like before the interstate programme was brought in. You can really feel the soul of the road here. All the pictures I had seen researching the trip, everything that filled me with joy and excitement was now right here in front of me. You really are able to retrace the steps of pioneers who made the journey between both coasts.
As darkness approached we were heading into the National Park. Here we encountered one of the failings in my planning. I hadn’t thought about park closure times and when we got to the gate it was shut. We could’ve jumped it and ridden on, but, we would need to clear the park, nearly 30 miles, unsupported. This left us wondering if that was a risk too far. At worst, if we suffered a fatal mechanical, we would have to walk 15 miles in freezing conditions in the depths of the forest (It’s worth a mention that it’s no longer a forest and actually closer resemblance to the Grand Canyon).
With that in mind, we called it a night and parked up. It was during this stage my ankle had started to give me some issues, and when Thomas, our sports therapist, treated it I could tell he thought it was bad news. In the latter stages I asked him whether he thought I’d be able to continue on it, he said he was certain it was game over.
After losing over an hour the day before to the park being closed, we lost a further hour to the park opening the on Stage Four. Rather than our usual 5am start, we jumped the gate at 6am and headed off, knowing that the car would be able to come through with us at 7am. This already put us around 50 miles down on our target, something that was hard to comprehend given we had only really just started.
Petrified National Forest Park might be the most beautiful area I’ve ever cycled in, made more so by the sun coming up at dawn. I was lucky to share the ride with Alan, who I had met at Haute Route Asheville. Eventually we made it back to I-40, which we followed for around 70 miles, some on the shoulder and some on frontage roads. We even made a small navigational error upon approaching New Mexico and had to run across the interstate to get back on track. Like I said before, I’m just glad I-40 isn’t the busiest of roads!
New Mexico was a place I was excited to see. I’ve never been to this state and the thought of seeing some of the extra-terrestrial heritage along the route was a nice reward! Gallup was our stop for lunch, a nice little city, where I was glad to see ‘The Meg’ for a brief break.
I prepared a lot of my food beforehand. I mass cooked my favourite bars; a mixture of oats, seeds, dried fruit & dark chocolate (100% dark), there is nothing but goodness in them. I then vacuum seal them for freshness and I ate about 5 squares a day. On top of that, we had bananas and other fruit, jerky, sweets, sandwiches and gluten/dairy free treats, as I’m intolerant. I wanted to prove you could do a ride like this without ‘sports food’, it’s not necessary at all. My hydration was provided by Precision Hydration, the only ‘sports nutrition’ product I would use. PH have tailored electrolyte strength for my level of sweating, that is volume of sodium lost. I used to suffer badly with cramp, I didn’t get one episode during this trip.
After lunch I was delighted to be heading away from the interstate. But, my delight was short lived when the heavens opened and I got drenched. Now riding solo, I had no option but to push harder as, even wearing multiple layers, there was a real risk of hypothermia if I rode too slow. My power meter, a Stages model, had been intermittently working for a few days. The readings were well off and I think I set a new 60-minute power PB during Stage Three. I’m more than capable of riding to feel, but, having the meter to hold me back is beneficial, not that it was optional in this weather! Stages have since been very kind in replacing my power meter, even though it is outside of warranty.
Thankfully, the thunderstorm didn’t last forever and as soon as it dried up I was joined by good friend, and client, Luis for a stunning ride through the El Malpais Wilderness Area. Our finish, in Grants, was again behind schedule and we were unable to make up the distance lost the day before due to the hour late start in the morning plus an hour lost to time zones. Arizona doesn’t have daylight saving, so it meant we actually lost that time entering New Mexico. Being behind and having to get Chris to rebook RV parking was frustrating, given we were only on Stage Four. Not only that but this was a day where I rode slightly under a double century, two days in a row now and I hadn’t planned for even one day less than 200. With us entering Texas tomorrow, we would lose yet another hour to time zone changes.
By this time, I had figured out that if I didn’t flex my ankle I was able to stop it hurting too much. With the help of some k-tape and pain killers I was able to keep pedalling, even if this might be somewhat reckless.
Today was an incredible stage, I look back at this as one of my favourites. Although Albuquerque, somewhere I really wanted to see due to my love of the television show ‘Breaking Bad’, was massively underwhelming. There was nothing bad about the city, it just seemed to lack character and anything of great interest. Thomas even asked me when we would be heading through the downtown area, I replied a few miles ago. It was an understandable question; I only knew because of the street signs.
The ride north to Santa Fe was incredible. Passing through the small town of Madrid, where the movie ‘Wild Hogs’ was filmed was amazing. You can almost feel the out-of-this-world energy. Probably in part down to the warning signs with little flying saucers above cows. Luis had joined Thomas and I. It was perfect weather, the climbing was stunning and it was mixed with fun, fast descending.
Thomas and I found great amusement in appreciating the smaller things. Whether that is trying to get one of the many freight trains (many, many freight trains) to honk their horn, pretending to be motorbikes riding downhill or even the occasion where Thomas comes out of nowhere and scares the crap out of me on the interstate. All these factors added to the camaraderie the ride was creating between us all, I’m truly blessed to call the guys who made up the support team my friends.
The main issue with us following ‘Bicycle Route 66’, designed by Adventure Cycling Association, is that it does take you on all the tourist areas, even off the main route itself. I had opted to use this route for continuity, so the next person had a route that wasn’t designed by me, something which could lead to bias. But it did mean taking odd trips to historic landmarks, just for the tourist value in it.
Catching up today was going to be hard. The planned stage was already nearly 230 miles, and we had now fallen around 50 down. Finding new places to park the RV overnight was hard. Sure, we can dry camp at the side of the road or at a truck stop, but, then you have five people trying to use one bathroom. You also need to empty tanks and top up water/propane. You can get away with one night on the side of the road, but, too many and you need to stop the next day as well.
But, it was a stunning ride to camp tonight, once you stray away from the busy roads there are so many smaller places full of character and history. Into Las Vegas, the New Mexico version, for the night. New Mexico didn’t pull any punches in showing us how beautiful the scenery can be. Viva Las Vegas.
One of the least hiller days, this should’ve been where I started to catch up. After 45 miles of tailwind through the countryside we got back on the I-40, which we would follow for the rest of the day (almost 200 miles further).
If you want evidence of just how damaging to Route 66 the interstate programme was, visit some of the towns along this section. They are baron, almost wastelands. Every town is hopeful of one thing, tourists. But they all offer the same experience, so who is benefiting? In the years before I-40, these towns would have been prosperous places where weary travellers could rest their heads and find some food. Now they are desolate, devoid of any money and barely surviving.
Once you come down from the Rockies, you normally have a tail wind, of some form, from there all the way to Chicago. Named ‘The Westerly’s’ it’s only about one in every five or so that it blows in the opposite direction. Thanks to the hurricanes about the make land on the east coast, this year would be one that bucked that trend and I was faced with 200 miles of headwind today with the prospect of over 1000 miles of headwind to come in the following stages.
That was sole destroying. I hate wind. But, it was never going to be enough to make me quit. When we were on the frontage roads, the grippy surface and lack of vehicles made me wish I could get on the interstate where there was an abundance of draft from passing vehicles. When I was on the interstate, I was unable to switch off for even a second, with the danger of hitting debris or the rumble strip meaning that I had to be mentally focused at all times. I wish I had the option of filtering between mental or physical exhaustion, but, following the ACA route, I was at their mercy.
The road surface was almost as bad today as it was on Stage One. Some of the roads during this trip went on as far as the eye could see. Sometimes this was ok, others, like today where you could simply see the hard packed chip surface, were not. I was delighted to turn off one of these roads at one point, only to be thoroughly disappointed to find a gravel section lasting around five miles to follow. Again, Thomas behind in the car laughing, I crept my way to the frontage road by I-40.
New Mexico has a high clay content in its river beds, that turns a lot of its rivers red. While pretty and nice to look at, when faced with riding through it I had my concerns. One flooded section of the road, I sent the chase car ahead, to test the water and find a safe line. I could see by the movement of the car it was bad. I opted to run around the edge. While I didn’t fall in, it did take a good five minutes to clear the clay from my cleats and that was the death of the Stages power meter.
It was during this stage that we had a call from Mathew, one of the support team we were due to meet in Oklahoma City. Mathew suffers with Sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease and the reason I sometimes wear a purple version of my jersey. Mathew had been struck down with another episode and was hospital bound. He wouldn’t be able to make it. I know he feels terrible about this, like he let me down, but, all I wanted to know was that he was and would be ok.
I was very much looking forward to visiting Texas though, another state I’d never been in. The border town of Glenrio would be a welcome stop for the afternoon. I enjoyed a late afternoon break before the final push. However, taken in by entering a new state, I missed the off ramp. No matter I thought, unlike the dual carriageways in the UK, where you can be on them for many miles before getting off, US roads typically have exits much more frequently. Ten miles later we pulled off at a rest stop…
We finished the day just outside Amarillo, one of the larger cities on the route, now 70 miles behind schedule we were facing the prospect of needing to use an extra day to finish the attempt. That was ok, no one has ever followed Route 66 like I did on this ride. The closest before was a woman who did it in 23 days, but even then I had a few people message me wishing me luck as this person had been falsely claiming the ‘record’ for many years. There was a Route 66 bike race one year, cancelled after multiple riders were hit by cars in Chicago. Many of the unaffected riders continued, but, they were in groups. The only limit on our time was the support team needing to get back to their day jobs. It wasn’t what I wanted, but, having to ride an extra day was looking more likely with every stage.
This was the stage I was looking forward to most. The profile looks like someone literally drew a downward line from one side to the other. Around 230 miles of descending, granted there would be some lumps and the descent was actually only marginal, but, it would be an easier day. Or it should’ve been an easier day. The wind put an end to that.
It was the right choice to not ride through Amarillo the previous night. At 5am the roads were quiet, but, you could tell it would be slow when busy. We made it out of the city and off into the countryside, again, loosely following I-40 for the day. It was a gloomy day too, although I was sporting some extreme tan lines, mainly to the right side of my body (where the sun is most of the day), so I wasn’t too worried about that.
I had developed a system to keep my mind focused each day. I tried to never think about how far in total I had to go. More how long until my next stop, how long until my next bar, how long until the next state, and so on. On top of this I had downloaded many audio books to listen to. Today I was listening to Bear Grylls’ ‘Mud, Sweat and Tears’ a really motivating story about how he overcame adversity. Thanks for the ‘encouragement’, Bear.
Again, today there was very little to see here today other than towns struggling to survive. It was amusing to see the Tesla charge stations around here though. Given there was nowhere else to put them, they had to put them in a ghost town. But, if you’ve ever considered doing a road trip along Route 66 or wanted to ride certain segments, do it now, it’s very hard to see how the businesses will survive. I presume they are run by diehards who want to preserve the heritage. Unfortunately, much like the towns they hope to preserve, they are all on a shelf life themselves and I find it hard to believe there are too many people looking to spend their days running dead end businesses.
As we approached Oklahoma my spirits lifted. Every new state was one state closer to the finish. Again, with the headwind, we weren’t going to make much distance up today, but, another solid day in the saddle with 225 miles covered. More importantly, mind and body were holding strong. Of course, it’s a daily occurrence to have the “why am I doing this” thought. I usually deal with this by letting my ego take over, thinking about what people might say or think if I quit. Our egos can sometimes be incredibly damaging to our persona, but they can have their uses.
Another stage I was really looking forward to. This marked the turn from travelling mainly east to travelling north-east. This was a mental marker for me, almost like we were turning to head home, it was the last stretch.
Two big cities today, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, meant that in reality, we still might not bridge any of the distance we had lost, especially if those cities took time to get through. And, as we approach Oklahoma City my gear cable snapped. The bike had done well, but, I was glad that both my mind and body had made it further than the bike. Forgetting the two slow flats and one blow out I had on the tubeless wheels, the bike had survived a lot! For a few days pervious I had noticed my shifting was sloppy. I simply put it down to it being dirty. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case my ride was halted.
Once I got on the spare bike, Oklahoma City was great, a real pleasure and the support we had from people was incredible. People asking questions at lights, honking their horns. My mood was at an all-time high today. Chris took the Domane to be fixed, big thank you to Al’s Bikes for doing that so quickly and for the cost of the parts only. It was a revelation being back on my Madone though. I had ridden the Domane, setup mainly for comfort, for so long, that when I jumped on the other bike, in all its aerodynamic glory, it was a shock to be going so fast! I also had power back for the first time in a few stages and was pleased to see my effort was around my target power for each stage, 160 watts.
As we left the first major city of the day we were riding busy back roads. This was a first for us, usually we were on quiet back roads, but, now we were faced with having to manage traffic and not wanting to upset anyone. This was fine for a while, until the chase car got a flat. It’s hardly surprising, you spend all day every day riding the gutter, or the dirty shoulder of the interstate, and you will inevitably get one. Somewhere we had gotten three nails in the tyre. I’m just glad it was this far in and wasn’t repeated for the remainder of the event. This did mean that as soon as Chris brought my Domane back, he was off to fix the car. It also meant that I was now being chased by ‘The Meg’, the wide and 25’ long beast, which is less than suitable to chasing a slow bike rider on busy narrower roads.
As we approached the midway point in the day, I noticed a warm sensation in my right quad. Nothing like I had ever experienced before, I wasn’t too worried at first and just kept on riding. I figured that I would have some issues along this event, that was a given, and as there was nothing I could do right then, I’d wait until my evening massage to address the situation.
As the light started to fade we made it into Tulsa. Tulsa is an amazing city, very artsy and beautiful. I enjoyed none of it. My leg had gone from moderate burn to stabbing agony. I had no power through that side, not without more pain anyway, and now standing to relive pressure on my injured bum was also a problem.
Before I continue with Stage Eight, I wanted to mention the support crew, give thanks and explain how we came together as a group. For those who didn’t follow my training journey, I had originally arranged for the support team to be made up of family and friends. The friends I had invited had, long before, told me that due to either finances or new businesses, they couldn’t make it. While initially disappointed, I was respectful and understanding of their situation, at the end of the day it’s not a paid job to support me and they have lives to return to after.
This presented an excellent opportunity to recruit some other people. Firstly, I had Chris approach me. Chris is an amazing human being, one of the most thoughtful and compassionate people I have ever met. In fact, we had only met the one time before Route 66, at Tour de Big Bear. We then had Thomas, from Altitude Training Cycling Camps. Thomas came on board as he would be in the US preparing for his gravel tours. He was more than happy to run my social media (a great job he did too) and offer support with massages in the evening. Mathew also offered to support the last four stages (Chris would take the first five). Mathew, a client like Chris, I met the day before I had my first date with Noelle, my fiancé. Mathew is another kind and generous person who I’m delighted to have in my life. Get well soon, mate.
About two weeks before we were due to start Route 66, my father called me with some bad news. He had been diagnosed with cancer, again, and a more serious heart condition. He, and my mother, wouldn’t be unable to travel to support. This was devastating for me. I now faced the fact that I would be supported by people I had met no more than once. While I am completely grateful and appreciate the efforts of the team, you can’t replace people who have known you their whole lives. There is a bond that can only be built with time, something I look forward to building with the team, and that was a crucial part that was now missing.
This situation also left me with replacing two members of the team. First Chris stepped up and got unpaid time off work (thank you to Team Ford Lincoln). He would now be there from beginning to end. We then had Alan, who I mentioned I met at Haute Route Asheville, come into the fold. Luis, another client, also came forward. While no replacement for my parents, they provided me with amazing support throughout the trip. I’ve mentioned this many times before, but, I wouldn’t have gotten this far if it wasn’t for their help. Thanks guys!
In the whole event I can only remember having two issues, the first was being fed gluten, something I’m intolerant too and leaves me with an upset stomach and skin complaints. The second was a misunderstanding on this stage. Around 150 miles in I was asked how far I wanted to ride today. I was feeling good, this was prior to the leg issue, and said I wanted to make some distance up today. A question was asked to me about how far I wanted to ride, I responded with an answer that would gain us maybe 10 miles on the deficit. Unfortunately, as we left Tulsa, it become apparent that rather than 10 miles to go, we had 30. This was a real low moment for me, I knew I was in trouble with my leg and having an extra 20 miles to do was not good news. But, we pushed on.
Unfortunately, the situation didn’t get better and in the small town of Claymore, we turned off the main road and headed towards our stop. I was again very frustrated (an understatement!) to find we would need to ride 4 miles off route to get to camp. 4 miles might not seem like a lot, but, it really is a lot extra that you don’t need to be doing. I opted not to get in the car. Getting in any vehicle is prohibited unless it is to move past an impassable object, this I didn’t feel was characterised by that.
In my mind, when we finally rolled into camp and I could barely walk, this was the end.
Thankfully, my leg felt better in the morning. I did, however, opt to get a ride to re-join Route 66, this would technically be an end to any official world record, although Guinness were denying our pleas to get the attempt recognised saying it wasn’t significant enough.
But, the thought of using the car, and the depression lingering from the night before, brought me to a standstill at a gas station around 20 miles into the day. I had given up. With Luis by my side, I sat down and drank a cup of gas station coffee. I text Chris and waited to be picked up.
It is at our lowest points where we are defined. Do we sit and stare into the distance, never knowing what it would be like to try, or do we pick ourselves up and give it our best shot? After several minutes of meditation, thought and reflection, I got back up, jumped on the bike and headed off.
The wind had given me a break, the sun had come out and like a touch from the universe itself, I was revitalised. My energy and motivation returned and I was flying with a smile on my face.
I got about 30 miles further into the ride before my leg started hurting again. It was manageable but pain killers were no longer helping me. The thought of what the copious amounts of drugs were doing to my gut was frightening too. From that point, every 15 miles I’d need to stop and relax, but, I pushed on to the century mark, where we met ‘The Meg’ just outside of Joplin and I sat to reflect.
Thomas and I went to work to see what we could find about the condition, whether it could be managed, and I spoke to a physio friend, it wasn’t good news. What was almost certainly an elongated muscle wouldn’t get better while riding and could lead to serious complications later on. The modified pedalling style, to protect my ankle, was coming back to bite me. Sure, I may have finished the stage in agony, but, three more stages would be out of the question. It’s at times like these you need to be objective. One of the most powerful questions came from Luis, “what would I say if it was one of my clients?”. My answer was fast and firm “I would tell them to stop”. And that was it…
I wasn’t as upset as I thought I’d be. I had given it my best shot. My body had lasted longer than the bike. My mind had lasted longer than my body. Of course, I had moments, even that morning, where my mind had thought about quitting, but I carried on.
This event was never about physical performance; it was about mental. The fact that I knew I could finish, if my body was well enough, was satisfying. It was a tearful live video I posted that afternoon to tell everyone the sorry news. But, the support received was amazing. I know I couldn’t do anymore, but, I wasn’t beaten.
One of the strongest motivators for me was being able to ride with Chris in Illinois near his mother’s grave. I was heartbroken that this wouldn’t happen, it was his one wish and he sacrificed a lot to get it. I insisted that we still stop and pay our respects graveside. Then we went for an amazing dinner with his family. It was a warm and welcoming reception from them, something that characterises the American people.
There were two other items on the agenda; visit the Route 66 sign in Chicago and drop Luis off at the airport. After the first lay-in we had in over a week, we made this happen. I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be. My ankle was sore to walk on, but, my leg was feeling ok. Mentally, it was hard to be at the Route 66 sign without being in my kit. Of course I was disappointed, but, I was motivated too. Even within an hour of quitting my event, Chris and I were planning the second attempt in a year’s time. That in itself tells you a lot.
One more night at a camp site near Chicago and we set off the following morning. A road trip that lasted about 30 hours to Las Vegas. ‘The Meg’ is a totally different beast when towing a car. To save two people driving, plus gas money, we rented a dolly and hitched up the car to the back.
I can remember being tossed around the bed in the back every turn Thomas made driving the RV up the Rockies in Colorado. We were all pretty disappointed that we made the Rockies at night, they are spectacular, and of course we missed it all.
We were all feeling pretty grim by the time we pulled in Las Vegas. A short turn around to get everything not needed off the RV and I drove the RV back home. If the theme of this trip was how big an influence the wind could be, it would be the same on the way back. Some of the wildest winds Nevada had experienced made driving the RV as difficult as it would be riding in it! I have even more respect for truck drivers who deal with that as part of their job.
Of course, it was great to be home. Home truly is where the heart is. Every night I still wake up and, dreaming, wonder where I am. I dream that I’ve been riding all day and we are pulling into a new location for the night. It takes me a while to recognise that I’m in my home. Can’t place why, I guess I have unfinished business…
Yes, I’ll be back next year. In terms of planning and execution, it went really well and I have no doubt that, without the injury, I’d have succeeded. I would change somethings though.
Firstly, I do need one of any of the following people with me in support; my fiancé, mum, dad or best friends. It’ll largely be the exact same team with the one addition. The extra one will double up as chef/nutritionist too. Something we definitely were lacking was a person who had nutrition, or at least my take on it, down. Having helped prep my food for years, either my fiancé or my dad would be perfect for that. Either of my best friends would be too, as they live my lifestyle and know exactly what I want and need. There is some truth to the myth that when you ride as much as I was you can eat anything. But, I always ask my clients who ride a lot “do you want muscles made of cake or of something a little more substantial?”.
We will also be more flexible with the route. The thought of facing as much headwind again is scary. If we could leave it until the last few days before the attempt and make a call based on current weather conditions, we could make the attempt far easier. It would mean the possibility of driving the RV all the way to Chicago to start, but, we have to drive it both ways inevitably. It could just be a rush to get started but I’d more than likely get a plane to ensure I wasn’t already fatigued by the start.
We might throw the rule book out… If Guinness won’t recognise it as an official record, then we could aim to just smash it! Allowing for change of bikes could mean that the faster interstate sections could be done on an aero or even time trial specific bike, we could use a lightweight bike for the hills and still have the comfortable bike for the harsh sections. We will see about this one, but, it could be fun to see exactly how quick it can be done, and what a demonstration of what different types of bike can do.
I will also probably work out my own route. While the ACA Bicycle Route 66 is good and fun, there are significant gains to be had from not following it. We would need to see where this stood in terms of a record, but, cutting the tourist parts out and being more direct could shave a big portion. The detour for Route 66 also takes you up to Santa Fe before returning back down, the original route followed this but was changed, taking this huge section out might shorten it by most of a day. I’ll definitely plan the ride through Petrified National Forest Park a little better too!
One of the more disappointing elements for me was the amount I raised. Granted, I could not be more grateful for every donation that people gave me, it was all personal donations, so I’ll be sure to get more sponsorship from businesses. Given that the sponsors and partner companies got exposure of over 7,000,000 people, I think next year I should be able to get several large companies to put forth some serious cash to get their name next to mine.
The last thing would be testing some custom fitting clothing. I’ll be looking into getting some clothing made specific to my size. I think there’s definite comfort gains to be had from this. Nothing against what I have now, both the Direct Power Cycling Team and Assos shorts I use are great, but, after so many hours in the saddle it can still be uncomfortable. At least experimenting with this might add extra comfort.
For now, that’s it! I’d like to thank everyone who has helped me get this far again, I’ve named you all within this blog, so there’s no need to again. Feel free to reach out and get in contact, be you well-wisher, business or sponsor I’d love to hear from you.