Martyn Hollingworth

Documentary Film Maker

Jane Tomlinson: Across the USA

Blog for the Sky News website: Week 3

The daily blog from the 64-day challenge to ride from San Francisco to New York. (Words and pictures by Martyn Hollingworth.)

See the diary from Week 9 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 8 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 7 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 6 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 5 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 4 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

A tough hill to ride
A tough hill to ride

Week 3: Big Journey

Updated: 10:09, Sunday July 23, 2006


Day 23 Montrose to Gunnison
63.7 miles

The final major ascent of Jane Tomlinson's trans America cycle tour is looming on the horizon. At 11,312 ft Monarch pass is by far the highest summit to be climbed.

Early in the ride Carson Pass was the first of these summits to be overcome and with Jane's health in those early stages being in serious question, a day when the end of the mountains would be in sight seemed wishful thinking.

However today from the lowest altitude in the Rocky Mountains stage at Montrose; a shade under 6000ft we started the climb towards Monarch Pass.

The 63.7 miles saw Jane climb two challenging summits, each time hard won ascent was lost to some degree as we plunged down the other sides of the passes but by the end of the day we had reached the town of Gunnison, population 5,409 at a height of 7,750ft.

Jane ended the day good spirits and seems poised to conquer the final pass tomorrow.

Day 22 Telluride to Montrose
64.6 miles

Starting at 6:45am we headed down the valley from Telluride to Placerville, an unpleasant road due to the volume of traffic pounding the highway. It is difficult to give an accurate assessment of pleasant drivers versus unpleasant ones, as you tend to only remember the bad, but most of the section was spent in a nervous state of mind as there was no escape should a driver make a mistake and get too near.

From Placerville we joined highway 62 and began the climb up to Dallas Divide, the only major summit on today's stage.

Leopard Creek Canyon was another delightful valley, typical of the Rockies we have seen so far, lush grass, endless slopes of graceful trees, the constant sound of gently flowing water often glimpsed as a sparkle within the vegetation and numerous beaver dams creating still warm pools.

From the summit at 8,970ft was a breathtaking view south to the Mount Sneffels Wilderness range of mountains, which stayed as a backdrop as we swiftly descended into Ridgway.

The final section into Montrose was generally flat and Jane seemed to enjoy the chance to open up the speed, though not enjoying the increased traffic along the route. Passing up on the chance to stock our saddlebags full of wholesale beef jerky from a roadside warehouse we arrive in what feels to be the largest town since Carson City in Nevada. I make that assumption because it has a Starbucks.

Lizard Head Pass, day 21
Lizard Head Pass, day 21

Day 21 Dolores to Telluride
63 miles

After a rest day in Dolores, Jane's next hurdle to overcome was Lizard Head Pass. This would be the first real ascent within the Rocky Mountains. The name "Lizard Head" is derived from a dramatic volcanic spire seen a couple of miles northwest of the pass.

Jane progressed steadily up the grade, which increases in severity towards the end; in total the ascent to the summit is nearly 40 miles in length.

Highlights along the route were large beaver dams across the main river and three of the creatures themselves playing in a small stream beside the road.

The stage finished in Telluride, named in honour of Tellurium, an element often found in association with the gold and silver ores of the district.

Day 20 - Rest day

Day 19 Blanding to Dolores
84.7 miles
11.2 mph average speed
45.6 max speed
7hrs 33m ride time

An early start had been arranged as we had over 80 miles to cover today but time was lost due to a flat tyre. It was obvious Jane was not feeling well today, her spirits were low and she apologised in advance saying she would be very slow today, though no apology is needed.

Exhausted after the ride
Exhausted after the ride

It was a long drawn out climb to Monticello, where Jane spotted a place for breakfast. A half-hour break lifted the quiet mood and soon we were heading off on a new road, worryingly it had been route 666, but had been re-numbered.

Until the border of Utah and Colorado were the most chaotic series of roadworks, involving riding on dust and dirt beside the tarmac, hopping on an off the bikes to avoid construction trucks and generally feeling annoyed with progress.

Also we had been stopped by a highway patrol and told we must ride to the right of the verge line. The trouble is that strip of tarmac never gets smoothed by vehicle tyres so it is painfully bumpy, added to that mix are the stones and grit kicked off the main carriageway.

To cycle on it is a lesson in frustration. Jane used all her strength today to get through the distance and was visibly in pain as we finished. Thankfully tomorrow is a very well needed rest day in Dolores, a small town within sight of the Rocky Mountains.

Day 18 Colorado River to Blanding
71.3 miles
10.8 mph average speed
42.3 max speed
6hrs 32mins ride time

After an overnight stop it was a long drive back to the point where the ride was halted yesterday due to extreme heat.

Jane was on the bike at 7am and the ideal scenario was to reach the town of Blanding by the end of the day, but the weather would be a major factor in that outcome.

Fortunately a large isolated cloud threw the Bicentennial Highway into shade for over an hour. Then once the sun broke through, a cooler wind helped relatively fast progress to be made.

Cycling through canyons
Cycling through canyons

Over to the north the dramatic shapes of Jacobs Chair mesa and to the south, Tables of the Sun were slowly pedaled into the distance behind.

Gradually the summit we had been trying to reach over the last couple of days came into view and we finally escaped from the baking heat of Glen Canyon.

Perhaps those last 100 miles have been the most testing so far. The hills can be climbed eventually, the miles can be ticked off one by one, but the weather is insurmountable.

The last twenty miles into Blanding were hot, but finally Jane reached her target. It has been a remarkable show of endurance and perseverance since she left Cedar City.

Both Ryan and myself are showing signs of fatigue; it is impossible to imagine what Jane, in her condition, feels like.

Day 17 Hanksville to Colorado River
55.9 miles
11.6 average speed
4hrs 47 mins ride time

Across America is a heatwave, and it's the last thing we want. The distance Jane was looking to achieve today was definitely manageable being just over 70 miles to Fry Canyon. Leaving Hanksville it was soon clear that a hot day was in order.

Yesterday the temperature reached 106F in the aftenoon. Today it got there in the morning. Such temperatures increase the rate of fluid consumption during the cycling, meaning that the support vehicles cannot be too far away to replenish supplies, and provide and element of safety should any of the party get into trouble.

Taking our minds off the heat was the scenery. Once we had cycled across the high plains, dotted with table top mountains, the road wound down a canyon, vivid reds and oranges all around from the sandblasted rock. Somewhere ahead was a lake, though it was impossible to believe one would actually be there in such a parched landscape, but finally Lake Powell shimmered into view.

After crossing the Colorado River, the temperature was up to 111F and it felt like we were cycling in an oven. A slow climb out of the basin and then Jane makes a decision to stop for the day. We climb into the RV and head for the nearest town; Blanding.

Day 16 Escalante to Hanksville
96.8 miles
11.9 average speed
8hrs 5 mins ride time

Jane has pushed back the boundaries of her already incredible list of achievements.

A target of 96 miles in itself is an achievement considering the riding conditions the cycle team are experiencing; today the temperatures rose to a stifling 106F as the route wound through arid bright orange sandstone canyons and bleak expanses of desert.

However, into that mix Jane added a staggering climb of over 4,000ft from the Escalante River to the pass over Boulder Mountain, the day's total climb being 7,000ft.

And to complete the hat trick of achievements, during the fast descent through the stunningly beautiful Capitol Reef National Park, Jane clicked over the 1,000-mile mark on this epic journey.

As the conditions became more difficult, in true Jane Tomlinson-style she seemed to relish the seeming impossibility of the task.

Last night a man in Escalante stated he believed it was not possible to cycle from Escalante River to Hanksville, and although this was not her main motivation by any means, a sparkle in the eye at the end of the ride revealed she was happy to have proved him wrong.

Cycling through the sandstones
Cycling through the sandstones

Day 15 Panguitch to Escalante
82.6 miles
13.9 average speed
5hrs 55 mins ride time

Within an hour of leaving the overnight stop at Panguitch we entered Red Canyon, a stunning area of weather worn red sandstones, vivid against the blue sky.

The road passes through a series of rock arches so cyclists are taken onto the adjoining trail. Along here Ryan got a flat tyre. Although a seemingly insignificant thing to mention, we were trying to cover a distance of over 80 miles, and any time delay adds to the heat experienced by the cycling team as the day progresses.

Within half an hour, Ryan suffers from another puncture. Its another fifteen minutes before we are on the road again. Tropic Valley is descended and then the third flat tyre. By the point of leaving after this stop we have only covered 20 miles and we feel to be losing a lot of time.

Thankfully the next sections of road offer fast cycling, only hampered by a testing climb out of Henrieville.

All along the route the scenery has been stunning, but after passing through Escalante a vista opens out which truly defies written description. All in all, a very memorable day.

See the diary from Week 2 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

See the diary from Week 1 of Jane Tomlinson's ride across America.

View the documentary (Flash video)