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    Days before he traveled to Oregon, Tom Hughes plotted points on a map: every grocery store, Dollar General, gas station. They’d be his lifelines for bananas, bagels and Gatorade during the Trans Am Bike Race, a 4,300-mile endurance test that spans 10 states, from the Pacific Ocean in Oregon to the Atlantic Ocean in Virginia. As the 32-year-old charted the course, he ate a big bowl of soy ice cream topped with globs of peanut butter and spoon-shattered Oreos, a hearty addition to the eight pounds he’d already gained in anticipation of the race’s June 2 start date. From January to May, the Highlands resident accumulated 4,000 practice miles, often on an empty stomach. One time, he did 400 miles without stopping, a 30-hour endeavor. “I tried to simulate the race as much as possible,” he says, “but you don’t know what your body’s going to do if you ride 1,000 miles in a week.”

    The first Trans Am Bike Race was five years ago, but the trail it uses was established in 1976 as the Bikecentennial. Hughes, the fleet manager for Louisville bike-sharing program LouVelo, was one of 116 racers who pedaled through temperatures topping 100 degrees, climbed mountains and slept outside in what he calls “billion-star hotels.” (This year’s winner broke the record, finishing in just 16 days.) While riding, Hughes practiced “active meditation” and listened to podcasts (he loved the P.T. Barnum episode of Stuff You Should Know), music (Gorillaz, Kendrick Lamar, the XX), and the audiobook The Five Elements of Effective Thinking twice. He secured a triangular pack to his bicycle’s 19-pound frame so he could carry an Army-issued waterproof blanket, an $80 sleeping pad and a small sleeping bag. He wrapped both sets of handlebars — for bent or upright riding — with thickly padded red and black tape. Gatorade and trail mix occupied two “feedbags.” The two handlebars in front like bull’s horns often became bagel holsters. “When I was on the bike, I literally did not stop eating,” Hughes says. He rode for 16 or 20 hours each day, following the line on his pared-down GPS. Each day, he estimates, he ate at least one pound of bananas and an entire bag of onion bagels, plus frequent stops at Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway or — if he was lucky — a local diner. “The best was in Idaho,” he says. “Two dollars of French fries at a gas station was a mountain.” He lost 12 pounds.

    Nineteen days and 3,252 miles after leaving Oregon, Hughes made it to Bardstown, Kentucky. “I’m pretty happy with Oregon to Kentucky,” he says.

    This originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine as the Portrait. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Jennifer Kiefer's picture

    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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