Riding the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail — the story of Timothy Oracion, part 1
A new year or celebrating an important milestone-birthday means for most people to set new goals, such as to go on a diet, exercise, save money or learning a new skill. Today, we start the first part in a series, telling the story of a local Roswellite (born and raised in Roswell) whose goal went beyond the average person’s and may be just the inspiration for our readers to reach their own goals in 2020.
Timothy Oracion considers himself a true cross-trainer for life, so when he thought about a new goal last year, he wanted to combine his love for traveling the U.S. with his love for bicycling for his 60th birthday.
Meeting Oracion for the first time, one can tell that he works out. The lean, wiry man is bursting full of energy. What did it take for him to be in such good shape and to achieve his goal? To answer this question, Oracion said that his youth in Roswell had a huge impact. “I always liked riding bicycles, ever since I got my first Schwinn bicycle,” he said. “That’s what I wanted for Christmas, so I got that.” There is pride in his voice when Oracion remembers his first modern bicycle at the time. “I got my first 10-speed for doing the paper route. I paid for it — it was a Schwinn Le Tour, I got that when I was 14 or 15.”
It came natural to Oracion, when he started college and got a summer job, to ride his bike back and forth to work. “From there on out, I always liked riding a bike and took it up as a sport, doing some road racing,” he said. This was a challenge with the rough weather-beaten roads in and around the town. “Every now and then, you’d hit a pothole,” Oracion said. “On the road, race bikes you run a lot higher pressure — 100 pounds — they are stiff frames; they are made for efficiency as far as racing goes. You feel every little pebble that you hit. These roads can be a little teeth-jarring.”
Oracion said that while others don’t like sports, needing often a workout buddy to keep going, it came naturally for him. “I do like exercise and I get kind of cranky if I don’t,” he said. “I always liked to be active and move around and do something every day. I feel blessed that way, but I also feel that God has blessed me because you don’t know what tomorrow holds.”
Asked if bicycling is his only sport, Oracion said, “I do about everything when it comes to sports — I would say I am a true cross-trainer. I mean, I do bicycling — I don’t only do roads — I mountain bike. That’s probably turned into my first love, it’s mountain biking: Being on single track out on the wilderness and the mountains. I still do a lot of road riding and mountain biking.
“I get up at 6 every morning, I swim for an hour every weekday morning. The reason that I started doing that is when I competed in triathlons, I would go to the pool to swim so I wouldn’t drown — about two weeks before the triathlon,” Oracion said and chuckled.
“Seven years ago, I decided, let’s do this on a continuous basis. Swimming is really a good sport, low impact, and it works more muscles. You would have thought that I discovered sliced bread after I did that for a while. I enjoy that and I run, I hike, I water ski, snow ski, snowboard. My family says sometimes they think I am a bit odd because I am addicted to exercise. I enjoy it. God has given me health and I am thanking Him every day,” Oracion said.
Exercising like Oracion does brings some risks. After all, he is not indoors at a gym, but on adventures outdoors. “I broke my ankle about 20 years ago mountain biking in Ruidoso,” he said. “I’ve still got a 5-inch plate and seven screws on the outside. A small bone, I think it’s the fibular — I broke that. Fortunately, after going through the rehab and all that, it hasn’t affected me. I am able to run long distances. What they call extreme long endurance stuff, and I feel fortunate because the ‘hardware’ never got in the way; never slowed me down. People have asked me, when they see me out doing something, ‘What are you training for?’ And my response is always, ‘I am training for life.’ Fortunately, I don’t have to necessarily go out to do training because I am ready to go.”
Conquering the roads of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail is not Oracion’s first long trip. Three years ago, he did the Pacific Trail.
Asked what triggered that decision, Oracion said, “I was probably on my bike somewhere riding when I thought, I always liked to travel and always liked to see new places, so what better way to travel and spend time in the U.S. and spend time in states I haven’t been to.
“When you race through in a car, you don’t really take it all in, the experience,” Oracion said. “It got me started, so then I thought — what kind of route? It was almost a no-brainer: I did the Pacific coast three years ago, from Vancouver, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico, all along through Washington, Oregon, California. It was absolutely gorgeous. It was everything I hoped for.”
With this being his first long tour, Oracion started training differently. “I did ride around town a few days for a couple of weeks,” he said. “I would load the bike down — though I didn’t put my gear in — I had gallon jugs of water in there and went out to Comanche Hill and rode around Bottomless Lakes, so I could get accustomed to the balance. I was smart to do that, so I didn’t start off the first day and wobble across Vancouver, Canada.
“The trip went very, very well. That route was a little bit easier to follow than this route (TransAmerica Trail) that I just finished and completed because, as I tell people, I just needed to keep the ocean on the right-hand side. When it was on the right-hand side, I knew I was on the right path. When I went far enough that I didn’t see the ocean, I knew I was not on the right path,” Oracion said.
With this positive experience, Oracion looked forward to his next goal, mostly because he wanted to see more of the U.S. “I hadn’t been to the northern states,” he said. “I knew I hadn’t been to certain northern states like Minnesota, Wisconsin; I couldn’t remember if I ever had been to the Dakotas, at least not enough to remember, so that was something where I thought, I could get out, see some beautiful country. Why not across the U.S.? Not only that, but the TransAmerica (Trail) — as far as cycling goes — if you are in the United States, that’s something to do if you want to get out and spend a couple or three months on a bike. Traditionally, that is what people will set themselves up for.”
With this second tour, and having had three years since the first, Oracion prepared himself more thoroughly. “There is a nonprofit organization called Adventure Cycling (Association), they are out of Missoula (Montana), and they have maps of over 40,000 miles all over the world. They are really nice. They give a specific route based on traffic, so you are avoiding a lot of busier highways and roads and then they tell you where lodging is, where services are,” Oracion said.
The association was established in 1973 as Bikecentennial. According to its website, it started with Dan Burden, Lys Burden, Greg Siple and June Siple, who accomplished their first bicycle tour from Anchorage, Alaska to southern Mexico, which was featured in National Geographic Magazine’s edition of May 1973. The association has 52,000 members and incorporates today in its route network 48,608 miles of bicycle routes across the U.S. The association is in the midst of working with the government to create an official national cycling route network.
With all these preparations, Oracion was ready to start his endeavor, but no matter how much one prepares, there will always be unexpected challenges. Asked what his biggest challenges were for the TransAmerican Trail, he said, “I was self-contained so I had a tent — I have no problems tent camping — I like tents, but there are times when you like a nice warm bed and a shower, get some laundry done, things like that. What sticks in my mind, every morning: It was not preplanned where I was going to be. I didn’t know where I was going to be every night; didn’t know how many miles I was going to do. Even if you planned from day one, if you had weather, mechanicals (problems), everything is thrown out of the window. So I thought, no, don’t plan on it. It worked well for the Pacific coast as well.
“In the morning — whether I was breaking tent from my camp or leaving a host family that put me up or leaving a motel — I already had to start planning where I am going. Am I going to tent camp tonight? How far am I going to make it? If I am staying with a host, I need to start contacting someone who can host me. The towns I am going to — will there be lodging or motels? That really sticks out in my mind. That was my biggest concern every morning,” Oracion said.
Fortunately, and due to the routes he chose, Oracion had no accidents with cars or problems with traffic. However, when nature is involved, every turn of a curve can bring new challenges.
“I went through a couple of areas in Montana and South Dakota — they had an infestation of white-tailed deer. There were times — especially at dusk — when I was riding that these deer would run out in front of me, but nothing that was hair raising. I had to be on the lookout for deer and then there were the occasional little snakes that were on the trail. I didn’t know if they were venomous. I had one little one, he was really mad. When I went by, he was striking at me. I gave him a little bit of space,” Oracion said and laughed.
Oracion saw nature in its purest form, but because he traveled alone with a tent, there were some obstacles that hadn’t occurred to him during the planning phase.
“I left Yellowstone (National Park) through the northeast entrance. I came into a little town called Cooke City (population 75). I had ridden through that park during the day and had enjoyed it. It was later that day — it was starting to get dark at 6:30 p.m. — I had an hour of daylight left and I really wanted to figure out where I would camp that night.
“I was checking out some campsites and found out that they had only hard-sided campsites, meaning no tents. That was because it was grizzly bear country. The general store owner said, ‘Yeah, 10 years ago, a grizzly pulled some guy out of a tent and killed him.’ So, they were not allowing that,” Oracion said.
Hearing that, Oracion asked other locals who told him that the nearest campsite where he could tent was 50 miles further east. “I spoke to a waiter at one of the restaurants there,” Oracion said. “He said, ‘Go down to the baseball fields, you can camp there. We had a big cyclist group a few weeks ago, they all camped in there. You won’t have any problems.’ So that’s exactly what I did.
“I went and put my tent up in the field. At least I would hear the grizzly climbing over the fence and give me the chance to run across the field,” Oracion said.
According to the National Park Service, a grizzly bear can reach top speeds of up to 35 miles per hour, faster than any horse, for 50- or 100-yard sprints. This means 50 yards are covered in only three seconds.
To be continued.