Following Jesse Carlsson on the Trans Am: battling illness

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Over the past couple weeks we’ve been giving you updates on Jesse Carlsson’s progress as he tackles the Trans Am a 6,800km race from west to east across the USA.

Liam Crowley rode with Jesse during the Tour Divide and knows exactly what Jesse is going through. Liam’s been in contact with Jesse and wrote the following on how things are panning out. You can track the race live here.

Jesse has now completed 2,400km in the first week with circa 4,000km to go. He has endured burning sun, multiple heat exhaustion moments and chronic back spasms right from the start. Once past that initial body blow, he got down to work, took hold of the lead and rode an average 50km per day further than the other Trans Am racers.

Fifty kilometres doesn’t sound like a lot for a cycling-bot such as Jesse, however that two to three hours a day is subtracted from the sleep and rest his body and brain screams out for. It’s some of the hardest time he will do on his titanium flying machine.

Jesse’s reward is a 300km lead nearing the half way point. Alarmingly though, a serious dose of gastro has forced Jesse to stop completely. Not able to hold anything down, Jesse is trying to recover as quickly as possible and get to a point where he can start rolling again. It’s a big blow to his quiet hopes of a course record but far from a complete disaster or even a surprise.

Jesse’s diet over the past week would make even our largest American cousins raise an eyebrow. Consuming over a hundred dollars a day worth of high-calorie, processed food in order to replenish his ever depleting reserves is a high-risk strategy, pushing his body perilously close to the ‘toilet’ edge.

Over the past few days, Jesse has criss-crossed the ‘Tour Divide’ route in Montana and Wyoming. Memories of long and painful days in that endurance race would have been a wonderful distraction during the long and painful days he is having now.

Entering Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park, Jesse was greeted by a procession of giant RVs speeding their way to the great outdoors. On the plus side, he had spectacular scenery to keep him entertained and all those vehicles hurling past meant no mid-pedal naps.

On the downside Jesse said he almost gave it all up after a very close encounter with a school bus travelling at 100km/h. He had his gilet open for cooling, and it was flapping around behind him. A school bus passed so close that it clipped the zip of the flapping gilet and blew him off the road.

Once over the 3,000-metre Togwotee Pass in Yellowstone, Jesse headed down and on to the dreaded ‘Great Basin’ in Wyoming.

The Basin is an elevated desert, sitting about 2,000 meters above sea level and is famed for blazing hot days, freezing nights and lots of wind. It’s also home to the Pronghorn antelope, North America’s very own 90km/hr speed demon, built to run from predatory cougars and petrified cyclists. Jesse is known for his dislike of wildlife, specifically varieties that hurl themselves across his path. He wards off all living creatures with an oversized, orange marine whistle.

The remaining Trans Am contenders are, at this point, battling hard for second place. Belgian Kim Raeymaekers and German Michael Wacker have kept in touch with the other podium chasers. Sharing the lead from one day to the next, each racer looks on occasion to be breaking free only for another blue dot to creep past (see map below).

The Irish rider (the blue dot labelled as “DC”) has ridden the RAAM (Race Across America) and will remain the biggest threat to Jesse until the very end. Evan and Aidan are still riding strong if not slightly inconsistently, taking long breaks, followed by long stints in the saddle. I suspect they are riding until they can ride no more.

Initially easier, this strategy allows them to focus on riding fast/hard, however it is a mentally tough way to travel. To remain focused without knowing what you are trying to achieve that day or the next, means you are always making decisions when you are super fatigued. More often than not, you can spend precious time figuring out where to eat, when to sleep and for how long.


Without a clear plan, a four-hour sleep and eat could involve a 6-8 hour stop. When Jesse starts his day at 11.30pm, his style offers him bed and rest in 400km. It’s a blunt, almost brutal approach requiring inhumane amounts of determination and willpower to pull his aching bones off a bed and on to his bike to achieve this daily task.

As we wait for Jesse’s bowels to regroup, I suggest flicking over to the other great North American endurance event, the Tour Divide. Fellow Aussie Seb Dunne and his wife Bethany have made impressive starts for course rookies.

Seb is part of a lead group of six racers, each averaging 300km a day over mountains on loaded MTBs. Who will crack first? Who will emerge as a clear favourite? Exciting stuff!

Previous instalments

– Part One: An introduction
– Part Two: Roughly 2,000km into the ride

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