The past few days of R&R have afforded the opportunity to reflect a bit on the Transcontinental, and consider why one might decide to do it, or something like it.
Even for a diehard cyclist, the TCR has a format unlike any extended bike tour. 200 cyclists, around 2,800 miles and 100,000+ vertical feet, through 10 countries, entirely solo and unsupported, no rest days between start and finish, and little time to immerse yourself in the local surroundings that can make for the most rewarding part of traveling. I’ve come to decide that its attraction comes from an ideal shared by this active community of 2,000 current, past, and future race participants. All seek a form of adventure and self-reliance that is purer than can be found in the familiarity and convenience of daily life, and the luxuries and good company of a typical vacation. In short, all are driven to push personal limits, physically as well as emotionally, to arrive at some new level of self-understanding.
Whatever you’d call this type of experience, the solo bike race format is interesting because even when you avoid catastrophic failures, small things continually go wrong and you have nothing to do except solve each problem as it arises, by yourself, with the constraint of time ensuring you don’t languish in self-defeat for too long before picking yourself up and finding a new way to address an issue: replacing a critical piece of gear you lost/broke, fixing a mechanical malfunction in a country without bike shops, correcting navigational errors when the road you’ve been following for 10 miles turns to grass and gravel, getting hydrated when you find yourself stuck on a mountain in between towns and out of water, surviving the night when you’re alone in Bosnia being chased by stray dogs. And then there’s the challenge of simply riding over difficult terrain for days on end in the face of growing fatigue.
But the Transcontinental certainly isn’t all grime and suffering. For every low point there are five high, whether you’re summiting a mountain, coming upon a stunning view, discovering a doorway older than the U.S. that seems to have a story to tell, fortuitously receiving a USB charger from a friend you met five minutes earlier, or enjoying one of the best meals of your life at a family-run restaurant in the middle of nowhere in Turkey. (This year’s TCR winner Josh Ibbett called the Transcontinental an adventure thinly veiled as a race. Based on my caloric intake, I’d call it thinly veiled culinary tourism.) The TCR was the dream vacation because there was so much to enjoy, but even the low points conferred lessons in the process.
The Transcontinental might not be for everyone, and adventures in the outdoors might not be either. But I think everyone has some idea of an experience that strikes them as inherently intriguing yet terrifying – terrifying because the chance of failure is high, and terrifying because it can be uncomfortable to learn about yourself. (Not everything turns out to be so positive when you’re being pushed to your limits.) Whatever those experiences might be, let’s encourage each other to lock on to these bold ideas as they form, without letting fear and self-doubt override. Life is too short to hold out in the comfort and safety of ordinary day-to-day experience. I already have an idea for my next adventure, though it will take awhile to formulate, and then to plan and execute. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to following yours, whatever they may be. 🙂