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Over the past couple weeks Melbourne’s Jesse Carlsson has been racing from west to east across the USA, taking part in the brutally hard Trans Am bike race. Jesse completed the race not long ago, capitalising on a lead of nearly 500km to take a comfortable victory. Well, as comfortable as one can be after riding more than 300km per day.
Liam Crowley rode with Jesse during the Tour Divide and knows exactly what Jesse has been through over the past couple weeks. Liam’s been in contact with Jesse and wrote this final report about Jesse’s impressive tilt at the 2015 Trans Am.
Jesse has ridden the entire width of the USA (and then some). He’s covered 6,700km, climbed more than 50,000 vertical meters including a highest pass at 3,600 meters, been pushed off the road by a bus, had squirrels steal his food, had gastro, seen gremlins whilst suffering heat exhaustion and experienced countless dog attacks. He’s battled endless hills, a busted back and swollen limbs, slept everywhere from churches, to park benches to the Hilton, and consumed milkshake after omelette after milkshake.
Yet despite all this Jesse still found the time to deliver plenty of beaut photos, cool little vids and to stop and say g’day to fans and people along the way. He has inspired us no end with this superhuman feat, but also told us his story through the eyes of an ordinary albeit amazing and gentle human being.
While the route profile for the final 600km or so of the race looked relatively easy, the truth is this homeward stretch through the Appalachians was a real sucker punch after 5,500km of racing — a parting gift from this sufferfest of a race.
Why such a sufferfest? Let’s rewind a little to Colorado. We know that Jesse had intense back pain and heat exhaustion leading into the mountains; hardly confidence-building form. We now know Jesse’s stomach situation was much worse than he first divulged.
After three days of riding and hundreds of toilet breaks, Jesse was nearing Silverthorne, high in the Colorado mountains. Skidding to halt outside a park lavatory he rushed inside only to hear some rustling coming from his parked bike. Not wanting to lose his scant rations to the native animals, he scrambled to bring his bike inside the loo.
He recalls locking the door, but not the part where he passed out. Waking on the floor of the public toilet, he finally became alarmed at his deteriorating state and decided he needed a longer break. Jesse choose to push on to Breckenridge, the highest of the towns along the route … on a Saturday night in the middle of peak tourist season.
An unsavoury Jesse finally found refuge in the Hilton. In his own words: “I’m so proud I’ve made it this far”. And this was at the halfway point …
Kansas provided the next obstacle and another new extreme. Riding mountains, while physically challenging, can at least occupy your mind and keep you focused. Kansas offered no such relief. Pancake flat roads and monotonous scenery reminds your body and mind of only one thing: the need for sleep.
Sleepiness comes fast and hard. Legs are so tuned to spinning they work remotely; you can look down and wonder who or what is making them turn. A glance at the cycle computer tells you how little you have travelled since the last time you looked, perhaps a minute that felt like a lifetime. Despite the heightened awareness of the moment, entire days are lost to a confused muddle of diners, gas stations and pickup trucks.
Finally leaving the flatlands, Jesse rode straight across the Missouri Ozarks with roads that are never flat. Twenty-degree pinches made for slow and painful progress, interrupted only by careering wagons and lunatic dogs. Jesse mused that Missouri is too close to the word ‘misery’ to be a coincidence.
A tropical storm welcomed Jesse to Kentucky. The misfortune of riding for three days in continuous rain was then eclipsed by the very real threat of a tornado. Jesse took refugee in a small town gas station with locals, making aisle five his home for the night.
The danger of a charge from the chasing riders in the race never materialised. The distance was too great, their bodies too sore. That said, 35 of the original 41 starters continue to haul themselves across the great expanse of the USA.
One of the ‘scratched’ riders wrote how the race had broken them, a challenge too great. To me, this person has achieved something great; to fail trying is more than most can say. Bravo to all those who lined up two and half weeks ago and faced this enormous test.
Jesse, too, was broken. From back spasms to swelling arms and from numb hands to blistering lips, discomfort management was the only tool he had. The question is why he kept going?
Firstly he is uniquely stubborn — once committed to a plan he will not deviate. In his mind the only remedy for all the pain was in Yorktown, Virginia, the end of the race. Slowing down, resting or sleeping more actually extended the discomfort, making the journey even harder.
Secondly he didn’t want to disappoint his friends, family and well-wishers. And finally, despite all the hardships, Jesse loves riding his bike. A bike mind you, that has carried him without issue, a credit to the team at Curve Cycling.
The Trans Am was never going to beat Jesse, it was only ever going to be another display of his strength and determination. That said the value of the messages he has received cannot be underestimated. He really did get a huge lift when people took time out of their lives to wish him well.