If you have seen more bicyclists than usual zooming down Baker City streets, chances are they’re passing through town on the Trans Am Bike Race, an annual cross country race from Astoria to Yorktown, Virginia.
Only the most seasoned and adventurous cyclists will attempt the 4,210-mile race, which kicked off at 6 a.m. on June 6.
Taylor Anthony, a 25-year-old from New York City, is one of the 56 cyclists competing in this year’s race. He had planned on participating last year, but the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19.
Anthony knew he wanted to sign up for the race after watching interviews with competitors and meeting a rider who had just completed the event.
“Seeing that got me pretty inspired to get out here and try myself,” Anthony said. “But now I’m here and things are very different from the outside looking in. It’s pretty crazy.”
The race is broken into 12 chunks of around 250 to 400 miles each, and participants are encouraged to go at their own pace.
Some competitors enter the race with a goal of winning, while others are more focused on exploring America in an unforgettable way.
Once they leave Oregon, bikers ride through Yellowstone National Park, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky and finally Virginia. The current record to complete the race is 16 days and nine hours, but most people just try to make it in under a month.
Some cyclists who are riding to win will sleep for just two to four hours per day, and they don’t bring a change of clothes.
Anthony said he now has a better idea of what is necessary for the trip; for example, he brought camping gear but realized after the race started that riders do not usually camp along the way. After riding for hundreds of miles in the rain, he said, the last thing anybody wants to do is sleep in a downpour.
In Baker City, longtime bicyclists Brian and Corrine Vegter have been tracking each cyclist’s location online.
The couple, who formerly organized the annual Baker City Cycling Classic, have greeted each competitor with food and water when they pass through town. Most have stopped to chat and relax, but others are too focused on riding to take a break.
“We’ve brought out hamburgers, tamales, pizza, potato chips, orange juice, water and cookies,” Brian Vegter said. “We watch the tracker and can sort of calculate when they should be at the corner of Auburn and Main. So then we come out with a cowbell and we ring it and call out the rider’s name and ask them if they want anything or need anything.”
Riders are not supposed to receive special help from friends and family in certain locations, so it is important that people who greet bikers along the way offer the same support to everyone.
Brian Vegter has a passion for long-distance cycling, but he said it would be too hard to take enough time away from his business to complete the TransAmerica Trail race. One day, though, he hopes to make the journey.
“Riding is still a big part of our lives, so maybe in 10 years from now we’ll take a casual ride across the country,” Vegter says.
The Vegters own Churchill School in Baker City, which has art events, music and a hostel.
Anthony said he has seen some beautiful sights on his ride through Oregon, but it was rainy and cold for the first 100 miles. He arrived in Baker City on Saturday, June 12, for about three days to get some rest and tend to mild injuries. He is debating whether he wants to continue the race or stop now and spend the rest of this year training for the 2022 race.
“I’m like, ‘Oh man, is this going to be worth getting hurt?’ But at the same time, I have the bike and I came all this way,” Anthony said. “I kind of want to finish what I started.”