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Naomi  The Biking Life

 by: Naomi Bloom  11/1/2006

Mom's TransAm Odyssey

In 1996, when Will Lamping was six years old, his Mom, Anne Paulson, turned 40. That's when she wanted to celebrate by doing a TransAm tour, but she felt Will was too young to leave. So when she turned 50 this year, she knew it was time. When her husband announced that he'd be available to chauffeur Will to roller hockey tourneys, the deal was cinched.

On May 27, 2006 Anne dipped the rear wheel of her Rivendell Atlantis in the Pacific Ocean at Anacortes, Washington. Then, along with five other TransAm riders she pedaled off toward Bar Harbor, Maine.

It was "extremely cool," she enthuses. "Absolutely great! You can't believe how much fun it is. There's nothing better."

Of course, Anne's felt that way about cycling since she started commuting on a clunker in New York in the 70s. By the 80s she was in Silicon Valley with a BS in Computer Science from Brown University, a new job and her bike. A bikie coworker suggested she try a "little ride" that went over the Santa Cruz Mountains to the coast and back. "I was blown away," she recalls, "but I persevered and finished the ride."

Indeed, she was hooked. She soon joined Western Wheelers Bicycle Club, as well as Bikecentennial, originator of the TransAm and now known as Adventure Cycling Association. She quickly grew into a strong, fast rider with top climbing skills.

I myself joined Western Wheelers about the same time but I could never keep up with Anne. The only time I ever beat her up Tunitas Creek to Skyline, I was jubilant! When she finally huffed and puffed to the top, she was apologetic. "I'm sorry I'm so slow," she said, "but I'm pregnant!" Sure took the wind out of my sails, but that's the last time she rode Tunitas until well after Will was born.

Anne lost little time getting her son into a trailer. When he got too big for it, she got him a tandem with a crank adaptor that reached his short legs. "He was only three and I thought I'd have to lift him up onto the saddle," she remembers. "But he climbed right on." Today Will is 6-foot-3, rides his own bike to classes at Foothill College, and gets around town on two wheels pretty much the same way his Mom does. Six for the road There were just four men and two women in Anne's little TransAm group. Her constant companion on the road was Hans from the Netherlands. "I started riding with Hans the first day because we were the fastest. At first I had to draft him to keep up, but after the Rockies it wasn't an issue." Hans took most of the photos here. You can see more of his photographic record at his Orange Foto site

Their leader was Andy, "a good ole boy from Kentucky" who smoked cigars, sometimes while riding. He regaled the group with stories about former trips, and Anne suspects that he liberally embellished the most of them.

Cal was from New Jersey, near where Anne grew up. "Whenever I hear a Jersey accent I feel at home," she says. He carried lots of creature comforts (including a chair) on a custom Seven. He kept getting flats (27 in all), earning him the nickname "Tube Assassin."

Paul had a GPS and rode the whole trip looking at it instead of his surroundings. "He always tried to ride the shortest distance and get to the campsite first." He had a Teddy bear alarm clock, and Andy thought he needed more Teddy bears. It was Anne who found one and attached it to Paul's bike. "Pablocito," became his fond riding buddy ("I will treasure him always," says Paul on his Northern Tier Cycling Expedition blog).

"Fluffy" was another story, however. Andy found the stuffed rabbit and snuck it into Paul's tent. Thereafter Fluffy was passed around from tent to tent and whoever ended up with it in the morning (usually Paul) had to carry it that day. Apparently Fluffy rode with Hans the day they crossed Kancamagus Pass, before it was left behind in New York, "on purpose."

The other woman, Linda, rode alone almost the whole time. Anne learned little about her. "Her bike wasn't a touring bike and she walked up every single hill. I hardly every saw her."

The road provides

The group followed Adventure Cycling's Northern Tier Route through Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. They camped in small towns, often in county fairgrounds or city parks. They almost always had access to showers, at municipal swimming pools or campgrounds.

They left on May 27 and finished on August 25, two days earlier than planned. They had skipped one layover day and had taken a detour around Glacier National Park because Going to the Sun Highway was closed to due to snow slides. The detour over Marias Pass was shorter but they had to skip Waterton Lakes National Park on the Canadian side of the border. Worse, they had "an unbelievable headwind all the way up," Anne reported. "I did not stray more than six inches from Hans's rear wheel, hanging on by the skin of my teeth." At the top they reached the Continental Divide and it was clear sailing all the way down.

They did cross into Canada later, from the Upper Michigan Peninsula. They rode north of Lake Erie, avoiding Illinois, Indiana and Ohio and entered New York at Niagara Falls. Then they took a ferry from Ticonderoga, NY to Vermont, for Anne the highlight of the trip. "Vermont has hills, cows, little villages, great scenery, nice drivers, and lots of BEN & JERRY's.

"Once you get over the Rockies to the great plains you ride through wheat fields. As it gets flatter, it's cornfields, but you couldn't eat the corn yet, it wasn't ripe that early in the season. But when we got to Vermont, the roadside farm stands were open." The leader, Andy, had told them "The Road Will Provide" and it became the group motto.

She also liked Minnesota, where the paved roads were so busy, they took to riding the many dirt and gravel roads. "I improved my dirt riding skills because I learned to go faster. At speed the bike handles better."

So what's not to like about transcontinental touring? For Anne, it's "what passed as food in the heartland. Velveeta and packaged mac and cheese are NOT food!"

"I don't like to get up in the rain, pack a wet tent, then at day's end put up a wet tent."

Near the end her tent stakes fell off the bike. She recovered them but they'd been run over by a car and were broken in four places. Hans managed to fix them. "Hans could fix anything," she marvels. One of her wheels went totally out of true, with spokes poking through, but Hans "beat it into submission" with a tent peg mallet.

I listened patiently to all these woeful stories, then had to ask: What about all those mountain passes and steep rolling hills? Anne didn't think the climbing was very challenging. The longest climbing day she guessed might have been 3000 feet.

"For Californians like us, that's an easy metric century. We can ride all year. The other people on the trip stopped riding over the winter. On the first week, we were riding the Cascades and we had a pass every day. For me, that was noticeable but not very difficult, but for several of the others it was a major undertaking."

Yes, Anne is used to hills. "I normally ride up Quimby Road to Mt. Hamilton Road every weekend," she says, "and I do my normal errands and get around by bike."

To prepare for this tour she did add a bit more training. "But not that much," she demurs. "I did the Mount Hamilton Ascent (4400 feet of climbing in 37 miles), and I rode over to visit friends in Boulder Creek. Stuff like that."

The group dipped their front wheels in the Atlantic at Bar Harbor, ME. Then Anne rode 170 miles solo to Portland and took a train to Boston, where she shipped her bike home. Her odometer read almost exactly 5000 miles, including rides into town from camp or rides on days off as well as point-to-point mileage.

After a family visit in New Jersey, she returned home 15 pounds lighter and able to climb Old La Honda Road in 31 minutes, 25% faster than before she left. And although she has "six or so" bikes she now usually rides the Atlantis.

So what's next for TransAm Mom? Maybe the Great Parks North with Hans and another group, to finally get up Going to the Sun. Or she might meet up with Hans in Scotland. Or maybe a tour in her home state of California. Oh, and she'd like to do the Great Divide Mountain Bike route some day. Once Will goes off to college in a couple of years, the sky's the limit.

Photos by Hans Schroote and Paul Taylor

Naomi can be reached at naomibloom@earthlink.net



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