Through his two-year career, Nebraskan Ashton Lambie has held the individual pursuit world record, set the record for fastest ride across Kansas, and blazed a trail across the gravel scene.
In 2019, the 29-year-old rode on the track with British team HUUB-Wattbike, and was part of the American team pursuit squad as they chased qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The Olympic dream all came to a close in the Glasgow World Cup last month where the national team failed to better Switzerland in the Olympic points ranking, meaning they failed to qualify for the 2020 Games.
To search his soul and process the disappointment, Lambie does what he knows best and got back on the bike, riding from the World Cup in Glasgow through Scotland and northern England to the HUUB-Wattbike team base in Derby – or as they have fondly named it, ‘Derbedos.’
What follows is the first of a two-part diary that Lambie wrote to document the adventure.
The road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
I’ve never been a fan of the term ‘Olympic hopeful.’
After winning my first track cycling national title in the fall of 2017 and joining the USA Cycling national team, I felt like the Olympics were more than a hope; I had a real shot. At the same time, it’s also been frustrating to have people assume I would get to go when I knew the qualifications were unforgivingly tight. At the end of the qualification period, we will finish around 10th or so, and only the top eight countries get selected for Tokyo. The Minsk and Glasgow World Cups were our last shot at getting enough points to stay in the running for eighth place.
I’ve spent every day over the last three years with the US National team pursuit squad to come up desperately short of my Olympic dream for 2020. I cannot continue without my teammates, and as I realized this after our results in Glasgow, I decided to get back to my natural habitat – long, solitary hours on the bike.
The terrain meant a more leisurely 15-17mph instead of the screaming 40mph we had ridden on the track for the previous three weeks, and the change of pace, I knew, would be welcome.
Day zero: Trail trial to Edinburgh
I spent Saturday night planning a route and getting the bags set up on my Lauf adventure bike for a test run with my closest friend and teammate, Dr. Christina Birch. Our search for adventure quickly culminated in a crazy plan to ride across Scotland from Glasgow to Edinburgh and take a train back after dark.
After a hearty English breakfast, we set out from the hotel; at a balmy 28 degrees F, we were wearing nearly all the clothing we brought. As we ran toward the outskirts of town, the trail was marked with occasional trash fires and hovering boatmen, interrupting the pleasant monotony of the frozen countryside. Miles continued to tick by until we succumbed to frozen hands with a much-needed coffee and cake break before continuing to the engineering marvel that is the Falkirk wheel.
The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s largest boat loch, a behemoth wheel that counterbalances tubs of water to raise a swimming pool’s volume of water over 100feet with just the power required to run eight kettles at the same time. It’s wild, and totally worth the visit!
We had expected the Falkirk stop to be the wildest sight on our journey, but hadn’t expected the remainder of the route to be filled with equally awe-inspiring hand-carved tunnels and bone-jarring cobbled bridges, all before plunging into the Edinburgh traffic that flows beneath the humbling spires and gothic architecture of the city.
If you’ve never ridden a bike through a large European city with a friend, I’d strongly recommend it. As much as I love shutting my brain off during a good turbo session, dancing around double-decker busses and hopping train tracks was thrilling, stimulating, and breathtaking, all at the same time.
Navigating the train system back to Glasgow was easier than trying to order drive-thru at McDonald’s. Enjoying hot chocolate, Indian food, and whiskey from a cozy pub in deep leather chairs back in Glasgow was a perfect way to recharge in preparation for my epic commute to Derbados to begin a few short hours later.
Roads go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet feet that wandering have gone,
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen,
And horror in the halls of stone.
Look at last on meadows green,
And trees and hills they long have known.
Day one: Glasgow to Carlisle
I had the kit trialed and all laid out. The hotel concierge noticed me getting ready to head out and cautioned me about the heavy winds. “Aye, it’s about 10 knots from the west, and should be 20-25 knots in a wee bit.”
The route out of town was a familiar one, as it took me right past the track. It seemed fitting to ride past the end of an adventure as I went off to start a new one. Marcel Proust said, “We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.”
I still hadn’t processed the end of three years of working towards a singular goal every day. I was not-so-secretly hoping the 310-mile journey across the UK would give me some time to experience this suffering to the absolute fullest, and to heal.
I settled in quickly to the grim weather, as I started rolling across windmill-covered moors with stinging rain and whipping wind. The winding roads were a blessing, as the headwind came in bursts instead of the familiar slog into a headwind on a never-ending straight Nebraska road. I stopped to swap wool gloves for neoprene ones, tucking the damp gloves into my jersey to at least warm up, if not dry out.
The route was fairly utilitarian, traversing open bike paths and frontage roads along the main highway. Even when the rain stopped, the roads were still wet enough to keep my feet damp, but thankfully there was enough neoprene and wool to keep the chill bearable. It was a tough game of passing pie shops and wanting to eat every sausage roll in sight, but it doesn’t take long to catch a chill when you stop riding in 33 degrees F and rain.
At about the halfway point, the road turned upwards, and the trees disappeared. I fell into a rhythm as the elevation climbed and the temperature dropped.
What exactly is it about suffering on the bike that soothes any other suffering? The pain of the numbing cold is easy to handle relative to the finality of not achieving the biggest goal imaginable. If I could find enjoyment in the scenery and isolation of four days on the road, surely there must be some positive in my new freedom of not being tied to a major goal? Although the Olympics have been something I have wanted to do ever since I started cycling, it somehow seems even farther away after having been so close to it.
I could feel myself embracing the cold, relishing the fresh air on my face and the crisp snap of the air. Perhaps I could embrace a new goal, and fresh ideas and objectives? I came to my senses and stop in the village of Annan for a hot pie before continuing to finding a homely Bed and Breakfast to end the day.
Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree.
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea.
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June.
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
Day Two: Lake District
One of the keys to travel that I’ve found is having a few aspects to keep myself centered in a foreign place. For me, this is a portable coffee setup (an accurate stereotype for many pros), and my favorite meal: yogurt and granola with berries. After the heavy day on the road yesterday, these familiar rituals were a nice way to start the day.
In addition to a better breakfast, I had a better plan and goal for the day, including cafes and a pre-sorted overnight in Morcambe. Instead of a leisurely warmup, I was greeted by 30-minutes of climbing straight into the Lake District.
This area is the largest national park in England, and an incredible mix of windy roads, sprawling landscapes, and quaint mountain towns with more mouthwatering pies. It’s also the beginning of a pastoral region with sheep farms, dry stone walls, and unsurprisingly, lakes. I’m never opposed to riding next to a large body of water, and the lakes here didn’t disappoint.
Even though the weather for most of this ride was about as grim as I could imagine, I managed to dial in my clothing selections pretty well. I had three pairs of gloves, some mid-weight knit wool gloves, neoprene fly fishing gloves, and a heavy pair of leather chore gloves (affectionately known as the tractor mitts).
The second day started off dry with the wool gloves, which worked well even down to freezing temperatures. The advancing rain proved a good reason for the first pie stop of the day in the village of Ambleside, in addition to a glove swap and a coffee.
After that pit stop, the miles ticked by smoothly: climb, descend, climb, descend, cobbled town streets, bike path, climb back out of town. After a few days on the bike, I had settled into a similar rhythm: pack, kit up, get out on the bike, warm up, adventure, and relax at the end of the day. Knowing there is a warm meal and a shower makes cold hours in the saddle pass by a lot quicker.
There’s also the mental rhythm of the ride itself, the highs and lows that come along each ride, whether it’s four minutes or four hours. The only constant is the focus forward, and trusting that the highs are a good time for progress, but they only exist because of the equal lows on the bike. It’s pushing through those muddy slogs on the trail that make the descents fun.
The last push of the day ended in the beachside town of Morcambe. The neon funhouse signs and kitschy shops remind me of Venice Beach, but the full English breakfast I ate for lunch is anything but Californian. I don’t know about the nutritional value of baked beans, toast, potatoes (‘tattys!’), sausage, bacon (‘rashers!’), mushrooms, tomatoes, and eggs all in one meal, but it definitely was something to look forward to on the ride.
After a much-needed bath, I fell asleep to the smell of British roads with my clothes drying out on the radiator in our tiny room, and seniors singing Christmas carols in the event room below us.
The road goes ever on and on,
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the road has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with weary feet,
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.”
The second part of Lambie’s diary will be posted on VeloNews.com in the coming days.