P2: Trans Am Bike Race 2018 complete!

Trans America Bike Race 2018 is complete!

Phew, so if you've read part 1, chances are you've started to realise that this is one hell of a journey.

Part 2

  • Food tactics & vegan considerations
  • Physical complaints
  • The odd struggle

Everyone's favourite hobby: consuming CALORIES baby!

Fine-dining vegan Trans Am style

As far as I could work out, it seemed very few previous racers had completed this as a vegan. This is likely due to the sheer minority of us as a bizarre species, more than anything else, although gradually we are now increasing in number. The Indian Pacific Wheel Race, the Australian relative of the Trans Am, was won this year by a vegan. So, obviously it worked ok for him!

Putting nutritional requirements ahead of morals made me initially unsure of adding my diet to the challenges posed: the gas station diet of small-town America would make even Average Josephina malnourished... but actually I pulled it off. Boring as hell though it was!

The Mountain Dew diet, a passion shared with ride bud Steve Pawley

General calorie & refuelling considerations
Each of us would be burning a crazy amount of calories, anything from 5-8,000 every day. That's quite hard to match, even if you drank oil & chomped on lard all day. Add to that the other issues:

  1. Palatability: are you going to want to eat it (e.g. lard) every few hours, all day, every day for around one month?
  2. Time efficiency (THE no'1: think more minutes wasted = less miles &/or less sleep): can you eat it either ON the bike to save time, or if not, can it be found, ordered & eaten in as short a time as possible? (N.B. a 20min wait at a Subway took my whole ride break once: not impressed!!). Some places are also off-route = extra miles & time wasted.
  3. Calorie dense: goes with introductory statement. Also consider a constant stream of calories (little & often), as if you're not careful you can have periods of low sugar we call 'bonking' (yes yes rude joke, ha ha very funny): this leaves you nauseas, shakey & some riders even hallucinate. Not a safe state, especially on a remote stretch or if riding through the night.
  4. Gastric distress / food volume: ever heard of the runners runs? Well, yes, cyclists get it too. Especially during mammoth all-day physical exertion. Basically if you eat too much, or something that your now fragile stomach decides to disagree with, for whatever reason, you've just earned yourself at least a few hours of either nausea (ha, you're lucky!), the runs, or heartburn +/- regurgitation. If you're even more lucky, you'll end up with cramps & loose stool after taking ant-acids for the severe heartburn you had (yep, me on day 2. Screw you medicine.).
  5. Location & frequency of refuelling: you must study the route, & know the services available ahead of you. You can then plan how, when & by how much you want to replenish liquids & foods.

THANK GOD FOR CHEAP (dairy-free!) GAS STATION JUNK FOOD. Chompin' on ma daily treat, as a morale-booster though long remote stretches.

Considerations as a vegan

All fast-food options en route, when available, are out, except for a salad sandwich at Subway. The McDonalds here don't offer vegetarian options like in the UK, & even their chips contain a beef 'natural favouring'. Thanks for that, Ronald.
Once in the central plains you barely come by these places, anyway.
This means the commonest food options throughout the route are provided by gas stations & 'dollar' convenience stores.
Now, it's not only a matter of calorie replenishment & all of the above as a vegan, you're also restricting certain nutrients which can't easily be replaced with the options you have. Sure, it's 'only' a month. But it's a health risk I wasn't too keen on taking at first.

The 'Coop' at the starting town, Astoria, fulfilled my vegan fantasies before a tough month ahead... why do you think i exercise so much? :'D

Fellow vegan Tim & I enjoying hazelnut cheese (!) pizza, on the night before D-day

Nutritional issues: there are certain things to be 'careful' with as a vegan, which when in the UK, & cooking for yourself you can ensure you cover.
  1. Micronutrients: Iron, Calcium & B12
  2. Protein
Don't cover the iron/b12 & you'll be anaemic. One month is probably too short a time, but still not ideal to scour your body's stores of these whilst it puts up a constant physical fight. Protein: salad sandwiches & nuts may not adequately repair your working bod, & if you're in a calorie deficit (likely to happen a lot) you start to metabolise muscle. No thanks!
I'm not preggers mum, don't freak.

My vegan plan:
Take supplements for the micros (I don't need to do this at home, but let's be sensible for this eh!), & get the extra protein from tins of BEANS! YES - even most gas stations would sell black or pinto beans! Couple this with nuts & peanut butter, & my nutritional woes would be washed away! Woooohoo

Probably crying with joy at this point.

Daily Diet:

  • Peanut butter sandwiches - I'd carry a PB jar, & pick up bread buns each night, making my sarnies before leaving in the morning.
  • Cliff bars /Builders bars - vegan, high protein & calories, & amazingly in almost every US gas station. Except for Kentucky.
  • Other sweet rubbish e.g. Oreos, dark chocolate, cheap gas station fruit pies (so cheap they're dairy-free, & an absolute treat! I saved these for desperate times.)
  • Nuts
  • Crisps as a carby snack
  • Subway 'veggie delite' - order two footlongs, with guacamole (always), eat half or the full one there, & put the rest on the bike for later.
  • Cold beans - whatever variety available
  • Pre-cooked rice packet e.g. Uncle Bens
  • Fruit/dried fruit when available 

Best Beacall invention yet.

All of the above, minus my 'meals' (Subway, beans & rice) were always eaten whilst cycling. I had a homemade sandwich holder on my aero bars, & multiple food pouches. I would eat at least one item per hour.
Needless to say, I ended up my normal weight! That's a win, I guess.

This was literally all I ate, every day, for 27 days. It drove me crazy near the end.
As you can imagine, my bike was heavily loaded with food, most of the time. Not great for the hills/overall speed, but potentially a strategic advantage in that I would always have food to last me at least half-full day. Finding mini towns with nothing open never bothered me as i definitely always had food covered. Also meant I bombed down any descent: me & my mobile grocery store :D

What a treat, I got cold Gnocci today instead of rice!

Injuries & Health Issues

Caution: not for the squeamish.
Here is a list of general physical woes the ride gave me:

Locust-filled road of Idaho!

  • Weak left hand
An 'ulnar nerve neuropraxia' caused by compression. This was actually not too bad, just a few days where I couldn't change gears with my left hand, but I maintained full sensation.
  • Rashes
Heat, sweat, poisonous plants & bugs can cause skin reactions.  I had a couple of bad ones on my right leg which were very red/swollen/itchy. But you just try to ignore it. Unless you scrape your rash with a pedal or something, then that really sucks.

  • Slit in lip
Amazing how the smallest of wounds can affect you so much, mentally /mood-wise. Constantly changing temperatures, humidity, winds & excessive UV light can all damage your skin: this includes around your mouth. As lip cracks develop, despite vaseline use, they're poor to heal (apparently I talk quite a lot... ha which can result in it constantly ripping open, ouch!) & are terribly painful when eating foods with salt or strong flavours.
  • Back of leg sweat rashes/abscesses
This was a new one: the sweat & friction behind my knees, on pedalling, created little sores/pustules, similar to saddle sores. They would sting whenever my knee bent during a pedal stroke, so I'd slap sudocrem over them during the day & that helped. I didn't care that i looked as though i was challenged with applying suncream.

  • Sore knees
A common niggle during or after some big hill climbs, fortunately I never suffered too badly with this.
  • Saddle sores
The biggie.
Oh, geez Lou-fricking-ise. 😐🔫
Two types: one from where your sit bones take your body weight, on the saddle (therefore saddle & chamois pad choice/testing out are important); another from a general reaction of your skin to the sweat & friction. The latter has always been my issue, nomatter what saddle, shorts, or 1009967 different cream concoctions are used.
By day 5, despite hourly anti-chafing cream, sudocrem & local anaesthetic use, I was effectively sitting on sharp stones. When the road surface became poor, shaking me around, I was almost in tears.
It's true that thankfully your skin & the scars can thicken over time, & I found the pad in my leggings to erode my skin less...so i got rid of my shorts, & hand-cut my leggings!
N.B. A fellow rider ended up with an abscess which was surgically drained... trying to prevent, treat, & keep these areas as clean/hygienic as possible, especially for a ride this long, is stupidly important. He finished the race... standing up the whole way.. (!)

A random man gave me his boxers - as maybe covering the edge of the chamois pad would help the rubbing? Hilarious

  • Achilles tendon pain
Another new one for me, but seemingly common in these cycle events due to the amount of hill climbing. Fortunately mine started to hurt 2-3 days from the finish. Lucky!
  • General pain downstairs
From the derriere, due to a poor low fibre diet (apologies, but quite painful at times!), & in the lady area from bearing all bodyweight when leaning forwards on the hard bike seat.

Think you escape parasites by not sleeping outside? I slept in a bed-bug infested room. Nice.

Man, I'm such a pansy!

In all seriousness, I feel extremely lucky, & expected much worse physical issues. The riders that got hit by vehicles are also a constant reminder as to how grateful I should be.
S'all good man


I can proudly say there was never a point where i wanted to, or felt like quitting. However, there were obviously a couple of times where i questioned the sanity, or 'fun' in this whole venture, & a few moments of utter misery.
Why? Just why am I doing this?

The Hunger Games
Picture this: you've barely slept, as you tried to bivy in a forest at 2000m of altitude where it got to sub-zero & you got gently snowed on. You bleary-eyed & shivering get back on the road at 0530 in your dirty padded shorts, which kick off the stabbing pains around your bum & you start one of four major climbs of the day. To make it to a town where you can have a bed yet make a good distance, you'll have to do a very high mileage day which will make it pretty late as it's a hilly one: less sleep again. As the hours tick by on these slow going hills, "it's ok", you remind yourself, "there's one massive downhill in the middle where I can make up time". You reach this huge descent, & immediately face an overwhelming headwind. As you fight to make the speed that you EARNED on this only 'easy' section of the day, the hard shoulder deteriorates into gravel & chunky holes, which aggravate & turn your saddle wounds into burning knives. Large closely-passing lorries & dirty exhaust-spouting trucks force you to stay on the road edge.
You begin to tear up with frustration & pain.

As you near the last small town before the big 'White Bird' mountain pass, the winds increase, & the thick skies break apart; plummeting lumps of hail shower onto your body & strikes of lighting fill the vision. Awesome.

Keep pedallin' sista!

^ that was my first 'bad day'. & at times it really does feel like you are fighting in the hunger games. What else are they going to throw at you? What else can go wrong? Never be deceived in Trans Am that the miles will come easily, as if they are, it's only a matter of time before your chain will snap, the winds will increase & obviously turn head-on, or you'll develop an injury. This really is a game, set to break you. It's all quite exciting stuff!

Good riddance to a tough & windy Wyoming, I'm heading, hopeful, into northern Colorado!

"Are you having a lovely ride? :D"
Unsurprisingly it was initially difficult to work out if this was what I thought it would be; if this was worth all the time, financial debt & sacrifices; if this was enjoyable. It's a very extreme paradox. We are often having an awful time, but we still want more. Maybe there's just something wrong with us?

Topping out at Togwatee Pass on the TABR!

UPDATE: I'm extremely saddened to hear the news that one of our fellow riders has just lost his battle in hospital, after being hit by a vehicle in Kansas. I can't express with words how this has affected us all, and I can't imagine what his family are going through. Sincere condolences to his loved ones.

Thank you for your interest & support. 
Please help me in my campaign to raise funds to feed, clothe & integrate local asylum seekers & refugees into the community: I am supporting Asylum Link Merseyside & would be over the moon if you could help: www.justgiving.com/alainastransam

PART THREE of race themes in the next post!


  1. What may seem to some as rambling thoughts are how your mind keeps you going. I have not raced Trans Am, but I did ride the route as a young 63 year old man. I'm a vegetarian, so do eat yogurt and sometimes cheese. Still, your dietary choices seem appropriate. You just have to get those calories in, and no one who has not ridden the route can comment about why you chose one food over another.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the songs you gave us as you pedaled along. I sang, but I prefer never to let anyone else hear me sing. Your voice was wonderful. I'm glad you completed the race and expect you'll find some solace in knowing it's complete. Best wishes to you. And if you ever get to Alaska, I'll be glad to help show you around.

  2. Alaina, you are one magical lady. Your spirit, sense of adventure and (somewhat) stubborn fortitude are an inspiration to the rest of us. I will always remember our time in Yorktown with a great deal of fondness. Wishing you good speed and tail winds wherever you travel.


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