Have you ever heard someone tell you that they’ve journeyed from coast to coast across America?
I bet you have.
But, have you ever heard someone tell you that they’ve gone from coast to coast across America on a bike in just 18 days? Probably not, because it sounds insane! But, that’s just what I did in my recently concluded Cruise Across America (CRAAM) on a bike.
What motivated me to do this?
How did I prepare for it?
What was the day-to-day experience like?
What were my takeaways from doing this event?
What life lessons did I learn?
What advice/tips do I have for you, should you wish to take on this demanding yet rewarding cycling experience?
Read on to find out.
What is CRAAM?
“CRAAM” or Cruise Across America is a fast-paced cycling adventure ride across the United States. It is organized and managed by Tour de Bicycling, an organization dedicated to giving cyclists opportunities to have a ‘crew’ as they enjoy tour rides across the States.
Covering an average of 100 miles a day, guests cycle from Borrego Springs, California to Savannah, Georgia (west coast to east coast) in 18 days. The small group ride is accompanied with a rolling aid station (a van), and concludes nightly with hotel stops. This year, only 2 cyclists joined the entire ride: John Kashbohn & me.
My Preparation and My “Why’s”
It was just on June 7th when I was researching what endurance events were still happening during the COVID-19 pandemic that I luckily stumbled upon CRAAM.
Being the go-getter person that I am, I was immediately captivated by the challenge this event posed. However, I had a couple of reservations before fully committing. First, I hadn't thoroughly reviewed the logistics of the event yet so didn’t know what was involved. Second, I coach many athletes under Feisty Fox Coaching that are depending on me. I need to make sure they are taken care of. Third, I was concerned about my bike handling skills due to my lack of outdoor training brought about by the COVID-19 lockdown and my busy schedule. Fourth, my road bike wasn’t ready. I was using my tri-bike only all that year. On top of those, 18 days seemed like a long time to be away from home.
Daunting as it seemed, I reminded myself of my belief that I should always seize opportunities when they come. I thought to myself, “If not now, when else?”. Knowing my skill set, competency, and determination, I knew that I would eventually find ways to make things work. After all, if you really want something, you wouldn't doubt yourself, would you? It was during this same weekend when I committed myself to joining and completing the CRAAM event.
With just four weeks before the cruise commenced, I knew I had to immediately get down to business. Physically, I knew that my legs were ready and were strong enough to get me through the cruise. I knew that because of the training I had already put in by recently concluding vEveresting and Double vEveresting events.
If you haven’t heard of vEveresting, they are community-based challenges for cyclists across the globe that virtually mimics the essence of climbing Mount Everest. In these events, you pick your Zwift world, ride repeats of a climb in a single activity until you ascend 8848 meters, and submit your Strava results for approval.
Both vEveresting events had prepared me sufficiently for CRAAM. Mentally and emotionally, I was very excited. I knew that it was going to be amazing.
To keep me motivated during my preparation, I listed three of my “why’s” in doing this cruise:
First, I wanted to continue with my mission to inspire and give hope to individuals. I wanted to be a living proof that we can transform negativity into something positive, beautiful, and amazing.
Second, I wanted to prove and show that dreams can come true. To cycle across America has been one of my lifelong dreams.
Finally, I did this because sports are part of my actions to continuous recovery.
Specifics of the Cruise: A Day-to-Day Account
Beginning of the Cruise (Days 1-6)
As the cruise commenced on July 7th, our team was immediately greeted by a steaming hot ride of over 100F.
The team included cycling legend and transcontinental record holder Seana Hogan, and local east coast rider John Kasbohm. Accompanying us was also Seana’s trusted RAAM (Race Across America) crew leader Stephen in a support van.
We ended Day 1 in Blythe. On the borderline of California and Arizona.
The following day, we headed for Prescott, Arizona. Weather was still hot, reaching about 106F, but was bearable thanks to Seana who let me borrow her much more comfortable saddle. Day 2 was more challenging than Day 1, because of the increased elevation gain. Stephen was the one who took care of our lodging at night.
By the third day of our cruise, I noticed that my breathing was becoming heavier because of the high heat, elevation gain, and lack of sleep. I was only getting about four hours of sleep at night. This was compensated, however, by conditions that got better in the afternoon. Temperature got much cooler, coupled by a strong tailwind.
Day 4 was probably one of my favorite days of the whole cruise due to the great weather condition, and the mesmerizing Colorado mountain views. Temperature was much better than the earlier days, which reminded me of California’s temperature during summers. It was my first time in Colorado on a bike, rather than by plane.
We were still in Colorado on day 5 of the cruise. We started at 7500 ft elevation, reaching up to almost 10,800 ft elevation within just about 26 miles. We conquered the Wolf Creek Pass, a huge feat because it was my first time to be on over 10,000 ft elevation. At the end of Day 5, I checked my body maintenance. My knees were in perfect condition. I experienced no coughing and no sneezing. I felt great.
On Day 6 of the cruise, I still felt elevation in my head, but whenever I felt it I did this:
continue to control my breathing and see to it that I breathe from my diaphragm
manage my energy
hydrate and be on top of my nutrition
relax my mind in a mediational approach
dance to the music and enjoy the views
During day 6, we were greeted by scenic views: Curacha river, lake at the top, big wall-like rocks, and the serene/quiet space.
Mid-Cruise (Days 7-12)
It was our first day in Texas on Day 8 of the cruise. Temperature reached a high of 113F. Our ride was mostly flat with very little short hills. By afternoon, I experienced a little mishap when my bike wasn’t shifting right, but it was immediately troubleshot by Seana. My ride during Day 8 reminded me a lot of cycling in Palm Springs, California. We concluded our cruise by visiting Fort Phantom Hill Historic Site.
The first part of our ride on Day 10 reminded me of Solvang. Our cruise was bumpy due to the gravel roads and numerous hills. We saw the country part of Texas: full of cows, horses, deers crossing the streets and lots of greenery. I was in a better condition to ride during that day because the weather was more humid compared to the last three days, plus I got more sleep. My legs were quite sore, but other than that, my body condition was at its optimum; no cramping, no saddle sores. We stopped at Red River Valley Veterans Memorial, another historical site.
We started Day 11 on a bike path at Paris Trail in Texas. It was a very memorable day because we had a couple of crazy experiences: (1) I got chased by two dogs on separate occasions, both of which were handled by John (2) My Garmin pedal broke. Stephen tightened the screws and got it fixed up in no time. We finally reached Arkansas that day.
On Day 12, I fell in love with Arkansas. The tall trees, nice roads, sumptuous southern foods, and rich fauna. What I didn’t enjoy, however, was my experience with dogs as I was chased yet again by six more of them. During Day 12, I also had the opportunity to meet Richard, an Arkansas local, who is a decorated hunter and preacher.
End of the Cruise (Days 13-18)
By Day 13, we reached the Mississippi River Bridge, a first, so I made sure to capture a selfie with this iconic landmark.
The following day, the crew rode from Mississippi to Alabama. I remember getting so excited as I got to cycle across Natchez Trace Parkway, one of the qualifying race trails of Racing Across America (RAAM). Weather was hot and humid. The highlight of Day 14 was that I had the pleasure to be interviewed live by on-air personality Michael Brosius of KTFS Newsradio 107.1 FM on “Texarkana Talks with Michael B”. In my interview with him, I explained why I’m cycling across America.
On Day 15, I had the amazing opportunity to cycle with two of Alabama’s cyclists, Billy Ritch and Brian Toone. Billy is the founder of Restoration Ride, which was one of the century rides included in Alabama’s popular Backroad Series. He is also a manager of Cycling Alabama, a large growing Facebook community devoted to all things cycling in Alabama. Briane is a two-time Racing Across America (RAAM) finisher, placing seventh in 2015 and fourth (third in his category) in 2017.
In the morning of Day 16 I had another interview in the middle of the day. This time with WBRC FOX 6 News reporter Sheldon Haygood. During the interview, I talked about my mission to help victims of abuse.
On Day 17, we rode the Silver Comet Trails from Alabama to Georgia.
On Day 18, I woke up to heavy, dark clouds. At about 30 miles, approximately 2 hours, before we reached our final destination, the rain started pouring. HARD. I was heavily drenched in rainwater and sweat to the point that I had to squint because the weather conditions were affecting visibility. As the rain kept pouring down harder the puddles of water on the side of the roads kept getting bigger.
After 99,000 feet elevation gain, 2,760 miles of distance covered, 18 days of cycling, 8 USA states visited, and an experience of a lifetime, we finally completed the CRAAM on July 25th, reaching our final destination in Savannah, Georgia. The culmination of this event was covered by another press giant, Fox 28 News. News anchor Trey Paul and Jamie Burton broadcast an interview during their Fox 28 News at Ten with all of us arriving at the finish point.
Cruise from a Bird’s Eye View: Highlights, Hurdles & Tips
Every day, every state, destination, and moment was unique and had something to offer. I sincerely loved each of them. I was living my dream and savoring every little joy and first time experience. Case in point, I was chased by dogs six times in one day in Arkansas. It was scary at the time, but because of the experience, I learned how to handle the situation and feel confident that I’d be okay next time I encountered one (or six more) dogs. It was also my first time to have ever cycled up to 10,000 ft elevation, my first time to see an armadillo, my first time to witness a herd of cows running alongside the road, my first time to meet a hunter with trophies in his house, my first time to ride my road bike along very challenging terrain in the mountains, and so much more.
As I was about 10 miles away from our destination in Savannah, Georgia, I was very happy. I couldn’t believe that I had just cycled from California to Georgia. That was insane and surreal, but I had to believe it, because I did it! I thought to myself, “You can finally rest. You won’t be needing to charge your electronics, or wake up early the next day”. Although the experience was exhilarating, I couldn’t wait to be back home. I missed my family. 18 days to me was a very long time.
During the cruise, I experienced two conditions I considered hurdles: safety and self-management.
In terms of safety, it’s no joke when I say that CRAAM is a perilous venture, that’s why it should be participated in with maximum precaution. Trucks were driving past us at full speed. Some roads had no shoulder or bike lanes. Numerous hills had immensely steep slopes. Weather conditions were unforgiving.
In terms of self-management, I struggled with managing my time, energy, and attention. On some occasions, it felt overwhelming to juggle everything at once: fulfilling my mission during this journey, taking care of myself, connecting with my family, and ensuring that my athletes were still receiving quality coaching.
To make things simple, I’ll break down this section into four parts: routine, nutrition, and equipment.
First, I highly recommend for you to build a sustainable routine that you believe you can follow for the entirety of the cruise. This will optimize your efficiency for the whole day, eliminating the hassle of thinking about the tasks you have to accomplish each day. I started my days at 4:30 AM with 30 to 60 minutes of coaching work, followed by a 20 minute breakfast and a quick body maintenance session. During the cycling, I made it my goal to record my experiences by taking short videos, selfies, and writing down notes. At the end of each day, before I slept (between 11PM and 12PM), I plugged in to recharge all my electronics, caught up with Vineta about coaching, had dinner, conducted coaching sessions, and did body maintenance.
For nutrition, I struggled a bit because it was hard getting food in the mornings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I had to resort to what’s available at a particular hotel we were sleeping at. Usually bagels, eggs or hash browns complemented with coffee, Beet It Sport, and Klean Athlete supplements. Tour de Bicycling occasionally offered breakfast; I had bagels, bananas, and Nutella on those days. There were times when there was no breakfast available. During those situations, I went for my natural Thunderbird bars. My tip is: consume foods high in carbohydrates to give you energy for the entire day. During cycling, your nutrition should depend on weather conditions and how your body responds. I usually consume 1 bottle of custom Infinit nutrition per hour, Plant Fusion Protein, Salt stick every hour, caffeinated Honey Stinger Chocolate Flavor Gel / Gluten Free Wafer, and Thunderbird Bar Coffee Flavor. My lunch consisted of lunchable meals (nuts, turkey or chicken, raisins, etc), a bar and an electrolyte drink. Dinner usually consisted of salad and chicken, steamed vegetables or mashed potatoes and a cup of hot water.
Of course, I highly recommend you to get quality equipment as they support your cycling performance. I used a Garmin bike monitor and watch. I listened to music through Noxgear speaker, 52 Speaker & iPod, which kept me going mentally as it made me happy and alert at all times. I had my phone, GoPro, and portable rechargers with me for documentation and communication purposes. I also used the NiteRider rear lights and helmet-attached side mirrors to ensure maximum safety at all times. For body maintenance, I brought with me Compex EMS for recovery at night and Addaday massager, which I used before and after each ride.
Cruise in Hindsight: Musings and Memories
On the Cruise’s Impact
Physically, I became much stronger. I rode with athletes Seana Hogan, Brian Toone, and John Kasbohm, who are all very strong and fast. They are extremely passionate and competent cyclists, and I look up to all of them. I did my best to keep up with them, improving in the process.
My body also went through intense adaptation with varying weather conditions: over 100F temperature in summer, high elevation, and high humidity. At the time, I picked up strategies on how I can keep healthy, injury free, and full of energy. I learned how to effectively manage time in order to coach my athletes, catch up with Vineta, take care of myself, and do the daily rides all within 24 hours.
I also learned how to strengthen my forearms and hands, to strengthen my grip. I had difficulty holding the handle bar especially on downhill slopes, because my wrist and hands were hurting. In fact, my grip got weaker while riding in Arizona and Colorado, forcing me to be very conservative whenever we went downhill.
Mentally, I feel like I became mentally stronger overall. My mind and body were in a constant battle whenever I felt like pulling out from the cruise due to fatigue, safety, and other circumstances. However, I had managed to pull through each time, because of my mental capacity to push myself and aim for gradual progression.
On Being Featured in News Media
For many years, I used to feel like someone who did not have a voice; someone who had her hands over her mouth; someone who was afraid to speak up about the abuses she has suffered. It was only in 2014 when I mustered up the courage to change my thinking and tell myself, “I gotta have a voice”. At the time, I didn’t know how, or whether I could do it. All I knew was that I had to get it done because I want to help as many individuals as I can who are struggling in life and are at their rock bottom.
It took a lot of brainpower, courage, and dedication to commit to this mission. Every single day, I asked myself, “Am I doing the right thing? Why would people listen to me? I’m just an average person after all”. I had no idea whether I was going on the right path. I spent so much of what little money I had. I maxed out my credit cards, and even had loans from school, but one thing’s for sure: I have good in me and I eagerly want to help. I had the urgency to dream big, have a vision, and make it come true.
My mindset was that if I had survived so much difficulty in the past, how much worse can this be? I told myself that if I’m okay right now, then I know I’d always be okay no matter what, even if I encounter challenges or difficulties. I needed to be the best person that I could be, so as to have a voice that people would listen to. But, I don’t want to just talk. Through my actions, I want to prove and show everyone that despite any sufferings, challenges, and/or horrible past, we can transform negativity into a life that is beautiful and amazing; that we can make dreams come true as long as we don’t give up.
With this mentality, I was able to turn my life around. From being that girl who used to think she did not have a voice, saw herself as an average person, and felt like she’s not worthy of anyone’s time, I took control of my life, turned it around, helping others along the way. With all the sacrifices I’ve made, including the extremely difficult decision to leave my 15-year engineering career, I fulfil every day what I have worked so hard for. To reach, help, inspire, touch people’s hearts and help others transform their lives are and have always been my main motivations in doing the things I do, including this CRAAM event. It’s a dream come true that I’m making positive strides on a global scale. It’s what I’ve always wanted. It’s the main reason why I’ve worked so hard and have made countless sacrifices.
On Lifelong Learnings
Let me share with you the three important life lessons I’ve learned from this experience.
First, always commit to your life’s purpose by having your “why’s” mapped out. This will help you especially when things get hard; when people around you won’t support you, or will doubt you and your capabilities. By having your “why’s” written in black and white, you’ll mentally set yourself up to achieving your goals by finding ways to get what you really want.
Second, make the most out of today and be the best person you can be. Remember that what makes life precious is that it ends. Every single day is important, so better make it count. We don’t know what’s gonna happen next year or even tomorrow, but what we do know is that we can take control of what we have now - the present. Know to love yourself and always aim to be happy.
Finally, take courage and action to make your dreams come true. You can be anyone you want to be so long as you take charge and not make any excuses. Going for something big within a short amount of time with little planning can definitely be scary, but I usually follow five simple steps to overcome this fear, and eventually achieve my dreams.
First, I follow my heart, then visualize my dreams materializing. Second, I check in again with myself how badly I want it as sometimes, it could be just a spur of the moment wish. Third, I evaluate what’s holding me back by asking myself questions “What do I have to lose?”, “Will I be ok to lose it?”, “How can I mitigate or eliminate those losses and/or risks?”. Fourth, I ask myself, “What is there to gain?”. Fifth and most importantly, I ask myself, “If this is my last year to live, how do I want my year to be?”.
Cruise Across America (CRAAM) is one of the most epic events in my professional career. CRAAM isn’t just a mere cycling accomplishment. It’s a total package of a lifelong experience. I was able to visit historical sites, got to experience numerous firsts, was able to hear interesting stories from locals, got to cruise along with cycling legends, and was able to witness all the beautiful sceneries each state has to offer. CRAAM truly is a worthwhile dream, and a milestone I’m humbled enough to have experienced and have accomplished.
With this, I extend my deepest heartfelt gratitude to the people who stood with and by me to make this event a huge success: Tour de Bicycling, Seana Hogan, Stephen Peters, John Kasbohm, Brain Toone, and my sponsors. I also want to thank Michael Brosius of KTFS Newsradio 107.1 FM, Sheldon Haygood of WBRC Fox 6 News, and Jamie Burton and Trey Paul of Fox 28 Media who have taken both my journey and my cause to the centerstage of the news. Ultimately, I want to thank my wife, Vineta, and my family and friends. I feel incredibly blessed with all your love and support in helping me achieve my dreams, one cruise and/or race at a time.
May this story equally inspire you to take action to always dream bigger and bolder, to constantly challenge yourself to progression, and to never stop hustling and putting in the work until you’ve achieved those dreams. Remember, if you’ve worked hard for something enough for you to deserve it, all the universe conspires to make it happen. To those who had a horrible past due to circumstances they had no control over, I am one with you. I stand with and by you. I dedicate this cycling journey to you. May this achievement serve as a beacon of hope that you can take back control of your life, and an account of what you can accomplish in spite of those circumstances.