3,700 KILOMETRES DOWN, 3,000 TO GO
FIRST TIME RACER PAST HALF WAY POINT AS SHE NEARS THE LEGENDARY NEWTON BIKE SHOP IN KANSAS
From the very beginning of her planned 6,700 km bike adventure across the continental United States, Geneviève Arcand was pushing her limits.
After stopping to set up camp on night one, one of her fellow Trans American Bike Racers asked her what her longest ride had been. After calculating her distance from the start of the race to that point (approximately 230 kilometres), Arcand had her answer.
“My longest ride ever was today,” she replied.
That was on June 2. The 29-year-old Jasper cyclist has been going strong ever since, logging an average of 220 kilometres per day in her first ever cycling event. The Trans Am is the longest self-supported cycling race in the world. Much of the field consists of sponsored athletes.
For Arcand, she simply wanted to see how far she could push herself.
“Anybody can do it if I can do it,” she said via Facebook Messenger at 3 p.m. on June 13, while travelling at a steady 31.5 km/hr in the Wyoming desert.
Maybe not anybody. Only about half of Trans Am Race participants finish in any given year (the inaugural race was in 2014). Already more than one in five riders this year have dropped out.
Certainly what makes the Trans Am so hard is the distance, the terrain and the weather, but the real grind is the fact that any type of support is not allowed. No drafting, no food drops, no resting in the family RV. Arcand said the rules mean it can be hard to find good nutrition and accommodations, but also that the participants form a close bond.
“I’ve been having a blast,” she said. “Everybody is so positive.”
Not that she hasn’t gone through her fair share of discomfort. A swollen knee limits her pace; she recalled with a shudder her experience sleeping in a Yellowstone National Park bathroom when freezing weather outmatched her bivy sack; and don’t even talk about saddle sores.
“My butt is not in a good place,” she laughed.
That’s been the key—laughing. Arcand’s elder sister, Jasper’s Marie-Andrée Arcand, said the optimistic vibes her sibling has been putting out have been nothing short of inspiring.
“I’m so proud of her,” Marie-Andrée said. “She can laugh about anything.”
Geneviève says it’s a deliberate strategy. She said being all alone, she can be either her own worst enemy or her biggest supporter.
“When you’re having a bad day you have to cheer yourself on,” she said.
Although at times, others join in. Her spirits were lifted in Oregon when, after a particularly gruelling hill, she got to the top to find a gathering of “dot-watchers”—Trans Am enthusiasts—cheering her on, screaming her name and ringing cowbells. They had prepared a spread of food to intercept the riders with.
“It was heaven,” she said.
On the flip side, being in the middle of the pack has meant that occasionally, in the remote towns along the Trans America Bike Trail, convenience stores and restaurants have been completely cleaned out of food by the riders who arrived before her.
“Those are the times you realize what a mental challenge it is.”
In the end, perspective is everything, she said.
“You need to love pain and be a bit crazy, but you realize at the end of the day we’re just riding bikes.”
For her sister Marie-Andrée, who is among the many Jasper “dot-watchers,” from what she’s seen of her younger sibling so far, she knows Arcand can go the distance if she has the opportunity.
“If she puts her mind to it, I know she can do it.”
Follow Arcand’s progress at trackleaders.com
Bob Covey // firstname.lastname@example.org