Three-thousand, seven-hundred, and twenty-seven miles. Sixty-three days. Six flat tires. Two bicycles. That’s how you quantify the trip two local teachers made last summer as they pedaled up mountains and over plains on the TransAmerica Trail—a long, circuitous bike route from Yorktown, VA, to Florence, OR.
“We’re not quitters—that’s for sure,” Masherra Herndon laughed, looking back on the feat.
Masherra, a science and social studies teacher at Lone Oak Intermediate School, packed her bicycle-friendly bags as soon as summer vacation began in May 2018. Then, she joined Aspen Carrigan, a music teacher on break from Sharpe Elementary School in Marshall County, on the cross-country trip of a lifetime.
This was a special trip for Aspen because her father had inspired it.
“He did a cross-country bike trip when he was my age,” she explained. “So, I’ve always wanted to do it.”
She and Masherra joked about making a trip like her dad’s for a while until they simply decided to commit and mark the dates on their calendars.
The killer first leg.
The two didn’t have many opportunities to train outside regular CrossFit routines, so they had to throw caution to the wind and jump on their bikes with little sport-specific preparation. That cost them. The first leg of their journey made their legs ache and their lungs burn.
“Just to get through some of the mountains, we would become quite delirious sometimes and come up with names for the mountains as we were going up them,” Masherra said.
Those names, they admitted, probably weren’t printable.
The women struggled to pedal two miles per hour uphill in Virginia. Those mountains possessed steeper slopes than the Rockies or Cascades and proved to be the hardest terrain they encountered. Some days, they didn’t know if they could make it—and that’s when texts from their friends and families made a difference.
“We had a lot of people who supported us and pushed us through,” Masherra remembered. She said her husband even scouted out places for them to stay and eat as they made their way up the trail.
The long middle stretch.
Those long uphill days paid off, though, as the women crossed the Virginia peaks and entered more friendly terrain. They passed their days listening to podcasts and music, watching the American landscape slowly pass by. They spent their nights camping wherever they found level ground, like near schools, in parks, on soccer fields, and even in baseball dugouts. The two rarely asked for permission and never got kicked out.
Days along the trail evolved into long stretches of pedaling, punctuated by encounters with other cyclists. Sometimes those other adventurers would join them for a time and then break off to pursue their own journeys. The two said they created a buzz among other cyclists as they traveled down the path.
“A lot of people thought we were crazy because we were just going out with two women and no men,” Aspen said. She added, “There was never a time when I felt like I was in danger.”
While they biked, Aspen and Masherra got stuck in hail storms in Kansas and once took shelter in a nearby barn. They soaked up the Colorado beauty as they summited the Rocky Mountains. And, they felt complete senses of awe as they road through McKenzie Pass, a piece of landscape that transitioned from high desert to fertile forest in central Oregon.
“As we were going down, all of a sudden, [we saw] these giant trees and this big, lush leaves,” Masherra recalled. “We hadn’t seen that in so long.”
The emotional ending.
McKenzie Pass marked a close to the trip. As they rode through, they knew they had to finish quickly. Masherra’s students would return to school soon, and her boss had started calling for updates on their progress. The time crunch had even forced them to take a few shortcuts along the route—but they continued to ride. Eventually, they saw signs for Florence, OR.
“We had 30 or 40 miles to go that last day,” Aspen said. “And, that whole day was different. We were just quiet all day. We knew it was going to be a big, emotional moment [when we finished the trail].”
The cyclists said they cried as they pulled into the town. They felt road-weary but happy. They had accomplished a goal very few tackled in their lifetimes, and they had grown acquainted with the country in a new, more intimate way.
Aspen and Masherra are contemplating another adventure along Missouri’s Katy Trail or, perhaps, across a new cross-country route. They know what their bodies and minds can achieve—and they’re ready for another challenge.