I’m in Thunder Bay now, the trek around Lake Superior is done. But there’s something else I want to write about first. It’s a bit of a long long story, but hold on, there’s lots of nice photos in the end. Exactly one year ago today something great happened. I was about two-thirds into my TransAm trip. My journey across Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and part of Wyoming had been a solo experience for most of the time. Obviously I had met a lot of people, biking or not, but other than a few days in Missouri I hadn’t really biked together with anyone. But my trip had been great , I had never been in a better shape and I was cycling at an ever faster pace through these wonderful American landscapes.
As I entered Rawlins, Wyoming on July 31st after another one of those long days I had no clue that things were about to get even better. On my way to the campground I saw two long-bearded touring cyclists on the other side of the road. I went over to talk to them, one of them, Garry, was clearly Irish and the other one, Evan, well he was clearly American. When they said they had met each other on the road and had been cycling as a group for some time together with a Portuguese couple I knew right away who they were talking about: Sara & Pedro! I had met them in Berea, Kentucky on the 4th of July just before they rented a car to skip most of the Kansas part of the TransAm due to visa limitations. Ever since I entered Colorado I had been chasing them as they left traces all along the route. Guestbooks, other cyclists I met going East,… they all told me about this Portuguese couple on a two-year honeymoon bicycle adventure. I actually only biked to Rawlins that day because I met a cyclist who told me they were probably staying there that night.
I had to make my way through a crazy headwinded Interstate stretch of the TransAm and a big thunderstorm that day, but there they were: Pedro & Sara! I think they were just as surprised as me that we had caught up. It was getting dark and we only talked briefly as the four of them had agreed on getting a hotel room that night. After making plans to meet up in Jeffrey City the next day I headed over to the campground. It was in that ghost town, once a uranium mining boomtown, now just a pit stop for TransAm cyclists because it mysteriously has a bar, that I got to catch up on cycling stories with Sara and Pedro. As I also got to know Garry and Evan a bit better all of a sudden another familiar face turned up at the bar: Joe! The first time I had met him was ages ago in Roanoke, Virginia on my fifth cycling day. He was all about going fast and lightweight so I assumed he was already somewhere in Oregon. But there he was, slowed down a bit after some knee problems and a short break from cycling with his wife.
The next day I biked together with him to Lander. It was quite a challenge as he continuously tried to go a little bit too fast for me becaue that was part of his game. But I think to his surprise I was able to hold on. And while we were taking a relaxing swim in the pool in Lander after a much earlier arrival than the rest of our group of six he congratulated me and said something like “You know Maarten, you could be fast like me if you’d ditch some of the weight you’re carrying.” It still makes me smile when I think about how he said that, all those who met him while cycling across the US last summer can probably imagine exactly how it sounded. He nearly lured me into cycling with him for the rest of the journey. But as we all went over to set up our tents in the city park the next day after an overnight stay with someone we had met in the Lander Bar and had kindly given us shelter for a stormy night, Joe said he couldn’t spare a rest day and he moved on West. While Evan was taking a rest in his tent feeling a bit feverish, Garry, Sara, Pedro and I went over to the Lander Bar again for a lazy afternoon with beer, burgers, wine, ice cream and more beers.
As the sun was setting after a great rest day we were getting a little buzzed, or at least I was. At some point a group of five touring cyclists showed up at the terrace. After some inquisitive looks back and forth one of them, Annie, came over and asked us about our trip. With all the answers to the usual questions she headed over back to her four friends from Virginia who she was biking across the country with. A bit later one of the guys, Eric, came over and when he bought a pitcher of beer to share I was witness to the birth of the bromance between him and Garry. Annie had told us that one of the other girls in her group had studied in Belgium for a while so I went over to the rest of the group to talk about that. After many more shared stories and beers it was great to wake up the next day at the city park and see all those tents and bikes together. It was also clear that I wasn’t going anywhere that day, our original group of five happily decided to have another rest day in Lander.
And that was it: a group of ten cyclists was born. We didn’t always bike together and there were different group formations along the route, but for the next six weeks, the last 2300 kilometers of my TransAm trip, we would stick together and become friends. It was a truly glorious time and there’s simply too much that happened to write about within this blog post. That’s why I’ll wrap up this story with an extensive photo slideshow of our traveling together.
As September came we all went our own way and I finished my trip on the Oregon Coast together with Annie. But we got to meet up again with Evan, Garry, Liz, Sara and Pedro in Portland before finally saying goodbye. Since then I’ve returned to Colorado to visit Annie and do a road trip along ten National Parks of the Southwestern States. She also biked with me for two weeks on my current bicycle trip across Canada. We’ll meet again. I for sure would love to see any of the others of our group of ten back at some point. Ireland and Portugal are only a stone’s throw away from Belgium, so that’s gotta happen at some point. Of course Sara & Pedro will first have to finish their honeymoon as they are still cycling in South-America right now. And maybe I should make plans to actually visit my sister in Australia including a possible meet-up with Kevin & Jeanné?! Dreams, dreams, dreams, I should keep both feet on the ground. Or better, keep them on my bicycle and pedal to Winnipeg in the next few days. There’s still a lot of Canada ahead of me!