After winning the Race Across America several times, Lon Haldeman and Susan Notorangelo created a company called Pactour that runs fast tours across America. I rode my first Pactour from Redmond, WA to Virginia Beach, VA with my friend Anne Marie McSweeney in 2004. Between 2004 and 2011 I rode five more tours. Not having ridden a Pactour for five years, I decided to sign up for the Northern in 2016, going from my home in WA to Boston. The ride would cover 3,560 miles and 111,250 feet of climbing over 32 days of riding.
I created a simple training plan: ride a whole bunch of miles. Following are my monthly goals vs. actuals. I didn’t set any specific goals for climbing, because I knew I would do a lot of that anyway From January to June I climbed over 300,000 feet.
Month Jan Feb March April May June
Goal 200 400 600 800 1000 1200
Actual 330 650 749 813 1189 1295
Highlights of the Odyssey
A day before the official start, I left from my house on Bainbridge Island and rode 38 miles to Everett. I received a surprise escort by old friends and coworkers from Microsoft.
On Sunday, the first official day of the tour, we took the ferry from Mulkiteo to Whidbey Island, then rode 98 miles to Sedro Wooley, WA. The rolling hills of Whidbey Island are surprisingly tough. We climbed over 6,000 feet that first day. I find riding many short hills much tougher than long climbs, because they never allow me to find my steady climbing rhythm.
Next day we rode over the North Cascades Highway to Winthrop WA, 126 miles with over 8,000 feet of climbing. Because the weather was looking sketchy, I skipped the last two sag stops and made a beeline over Washington Pass and down into Mazama, where I finally got hit by rain. Nearly every other rider was smacked by cold rain and ice storms at the top of Washington Pass, and a treacherous descent into Eastern WA.
The following five days, from Winthrop to Thompson Falls, MT, were relatively short, about 100 miles each day, allowing the riders to “ease” into the tour.
Rolling hills in eastern WA, lake country of Northern Idaho and Montana, then rolling hills and farmland. East of Missoula we hit a moderate climb up a canyon to Anaconda Lakes, then descending into the town of Anaconda before entering Butte. Just after hitting the Great Plains in Columbia, MT, we headed south into the cowboy country of Wyoming.
On Day 12, we climbeb more than 8,000 feet over the Bighorn Mountains between Powell and Sheridan, WY. During the toughest twenty mile stretch, the grade inceased to 8%, then 10%, then 14%. After reaching the high point above 9,000 feet, we rode about 20 miles of rolling hills through alpine meadows before the long breathtaking descent into Sheridan.
Gillette, WY featured factories for coal and gas production. We passed train after train hauling coal to Seattle, where it is shipped to China. East of Gillette, we climbed into the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota, where gold was discovered over 150 years ago, leading us to kick the natives out and carve
white faces into the stone. East of Rapid City, we rode through the Badlands, an ancient seabed carved by thousands of years of wind and water erosion into a stark landscape that disappear in another 5,000 years.
Through South Dakota, Minnesota,Wisconsin and Michigan we rode through endless acres of farmland – mostly corn and soybean. The wealth of this country’s heartland, the food we produce, is beyond my minds measure.
A car hit me while I was stopped at an intersection in Houston, Minnesota. The driver was turning left, cut the radius of the turn too short, driving into the lane where I was stopped and plowing into my front wheel. My bike and I rolled up over the hood of the vehicle, then off the side, and I smacked the pavement. The back of my helmet cracked, absorbing the impact, saving me from a serious head injury. Amazingly, I had no broken bones and my bike wasn’t wrecked. Aside form some minor scrapes, and a laceration where the chain wheel dug into my calf, my only injury was bruising and soft tissue damage in my left leg. It was seriously sore and swollen for about a week, preventing me from riding several days through Minnesota and Wisconsin. After that I started riding again, even though it’s still sore while I’m sitting here writing this blog.
From Michigan we crossed the border to ride through southern Ontario to Niagra Falls. Flat boring, not sure why anyone would want to live there.
The rolling hills and family farms of Upstate NY rekindled fond memories of when I used to live there forty years ago. Green mountains of Vermont gave me my last chance at extended climbing. I was riding in sandals on platform pedals encountering difficulty getting my cleat out of the left pedal with my injured knee. I was surprised to see how well I could ride and climb without my Speedplay cleats and pedals.
I rode Mavic Open Pro 32 spoke rims. These rims had 10,000 + miles before the ride. After the ride, rims are as good as when started. Of particular note, the front rim is still true after being impacted by a Ford Mustang in Minnesota.
I had two punctures during the entire trip. Tires were Roubaix Pro 700 x 23/25c. Tubes were Specialized Ultralight, inflated to 90 psi front, 100 psi rear. I weigh 140#, and my bike a other stuff weigh about 28#.
I rode the entire ride on the original set of tires. After the trip, the treads look fine, I’m not changing the tires.
I rode the entire trip on the same Shimano Ultegra 11 speed chain. At the end of the trip, there’s hardly any chain stretch – less than 1/8 inch for entire length of chain. I could continue riding the same chain, but changed it because it was so full of grime.
At the end of each day, I used the Lon Haldeman 2 min cleaning technique – and lubed my chain with Finish Line WET Synthetic Bike Lubricant about once every 300 miles.
I rode SpeedPlay X2 Cleats, and broke a cleat about halfway through the trip. I did not lubricate the cleats. Lubrication may have helped, but also may have caused the cleat to pick up more dirt and grime. In general I would not recommend these cleats. I ride them because they provide a lot of float, and many years ago I found my knee felt better riding them, compared to SPD cleats.
I rode the last three days on platform pedals because, after getting hit by a car and hurting my knee, I was having difficulty getting my left cleat off the pedal. Amazingly, I found I could ride nearly as well on platform pedals and floppy sandals as I could with bike shoes and cleats. I would seriously consider riding my next Pactour on platform pedals.
My saddle was a Brooks Pro, which had a little more than 1000 miles of break in before the trip.
I used Asos Chamois Cream, which I applied to the chamois of my shorts each morning before starting to ride. That’s all I used – each sag stop had chamois cream available, which most riders used liberally. I had no problems with saddle sores. Each night, after washing my shorts in the sink and drying them with towels, I poured rubbing alcohol over the chamois, mainly for sanitation. It also helped the chamois to dry quickly.
I never used a laundromat, finding it took very little time to hand wash my shorts and jerseys in the motel sinks.
I found one of the greatest joys of this trip to be the experience of riding with 50 odd cyclists who share my passion for cycling. We considered our fanaticism to be normal.
Bob – Liberal Lawyer (retired) from Conneticutt, doing his second transcontinental. We enjoyed endless conversations ranging from politics, to the civil war, to politics, then World War II, American History, and oh yeah, more politics. I really wanted him to convince me that Trump has no chance to win the election in November.
Jonathan – Doctor from Australia, doing his gazillionth Pactour, was a locomotive. He dragged me and other riders through headwinds and into the lunch stop while telling funny stories.
Amy – Retired investment banker from Manhatten, a little spark plug of cheer and enthusiasm. She crashed, receiving a concussion on Day 7, went home to receive treatment, then returned to ride strong and finish the tour.
Brett – Lawyer from Arizona, probably my best buddy, also best buddy to half the other people on the trip. Strong, funny, half the time spewing bullshit and exagerations, and there to help as a true friend when anyone needed him. He took charge of the scene where I got whacked by the car, keeping the driver in the car, collecting important information before the police arrived. There’s another side to him that he didn’t talk about much, probably because he was on vacation. Jesus Christ is his savior.
NC Bob – retired programmer from North Carolina had dreamed about doing a transcontinental for twenty years.
Retta – wife of NC Bob, drove their car and volunteered as part of the lunch crew. We shared many conversations while I rode in her car for several days after my accident. She has a servant’s heart.
Terry and Louise – both really strong riders, were on their honeymoon. Terry won the 508 a few years ago. A couple years later, he came in third while riding a fixed gear. He also hunted all his own food for 15 years, using a bow and arrow, or scuba diving, built his own house and own bike. Super friendly people.
Rod – young skinny guy, enjoying his first PacTour.
Jon – Rod’s buddy, really strong, could do wheelies while climbing mountains.
Scott – Joined us for the last week of the tour. Only guy I know who actually completed the Strava Everest Challenge – that means riding the same hill over and over, to climb 29,000 feet in a day.
Bruce – from New Hampshire, CFO of a company that makes bird feeders.
Jack – Seventy year old retired musician, was good a reading the “spots off the page”. Currently living in Colorado, moved there after driving a motor home around the country for seven years. Made his own beer, roasted his own coffee beans, and rode umpteen PacTours.
Andrew – Another doc from Australia, rode the Elite as his first PacTour in 2008. Strong rider, always there for genuine help and encouragement.
Tom – From San Franscisco, created all the GPS routes we downloaded to our Garmins. Strong rider, usually riding near the front, often with a scowl on his face. I teased him that I knew he wasn’t a grumpy as he looked.
Lon and Susan – my heroes. Original winners of Raam, they’ve already done anything they ever expect from anyone else on the bike. For years they’ve been bring transcontinental experiences to ordinary people.
Strava Links with More Pictures
Leg 0A – Home to Ferry Leg 0B – Seattle to Everett Leg 1A – To Mulkiteo Ferry Leg 1B – To Sedro Wooley, WA Leg 2 – To Winthrop, WA Leg 3 – To Coulee City Leg 4 – To Spokane Leg 5 – To Sandpoint ID Leg 6 – To Thompson Falls, ID Leg 7 – To Missoula, MT Leg 8 – To Butte, MT Leg 9 – To Bozeman, MT Leg 10 – To Columbia, MT Leg 11 – To Powell, WY Leg 12 – To Sheridan, WY Leg 13 – to Gillette, WY Leg 14 – To Custer, WY Leg 15 – To Rapid City, SD Leg 16 – To Murdo, SD Leg 17 – To Mitchell, SD Leg 18 – To Worthington, MN Leg 19 – To Albert Lea, MN Leg 20 – To Houston, MN Leg 22 – To Manitowoc, MI Leg 24 – To Midland, MI Leg 25 – To Imlay City, MI Leg 26 – To St Thomas, Ontario Leg 27 – To Niagra Falls Leg 30 – To Bennington, VT Leg 32 – To Atlantic Ocean
I began this tour with four goals:
1) EFI – that means ride every inch. NOT DONE
2) Get to know and enjoy the people. DONE – Probably my greatest joy of the journey
3) Finish the ride, not wanting it to be over. DONE – I felt really sad when the trip ended. I still miss seemingly endless days of riding, the simple life of few decisions, the experience of not just seeing, but feeling the country, the sun, rain, and wind, the bumps in the road, the smell of the air, the climbs and descents
4) Figure out what to do next in Life – Still working on this one…