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Tom Napa’s Transcontinental Cycling Tour

17 days into a cycling tour across the United States, Tom Napa was pedalling through the longest, most hypnotizing sections of America’s interior. He was only halfway to his final destination, but keeping him on track were daily and hourly mental landmarks. 3,848 miles (6,193 kilometres), chipped away a little bit at a time.

Tom Napa nearing the end of the Northern Transcontinental 2021 PAC Tour

He had started in Everett, Washington and was going all the way to the pocket of New Hampshire’s Atlantic coast, in the town of Rye.

He hadn’t always been a long-distance cyclist, though. Napa was born in Toronto and grew up in an Estonian household that moved across Canada, until 1964, when his family emigrated to Seattle. After studying at the University of Washington, he worked as a Senior Accountant for Deloitte and, at the end of his career, as CFO of Precor, the company that invented the elliptical trainer.

Though this invention catapulted the company into around 160 million USD of revenue, Precor was eventually sold by their parent company, which led to Napa retiring 21 years ago. At this time, he was already a fitness enthusiast. However, cycling hobbyists at work convinced him that the sport was something social and well-paired with his love of travelling.

After finding out about the Pacific-Atlantic Cycling Tour (PAC), Napa and his friend, Mike, signed up for their first Northern Transcontinental tour in 2010. 11 years later, they were on their third PAC Tour (and the organization’s “100th crossing”). It was arguably the most brutal one yet.

Tom with his friend and tour roommate Mike
Tom with his friend and tour roommate Mike

Napa recounts, “It was unbelievably hot, especially in the first part of the trip… Who knew that Washington state, which is known for rain and clouds, would be the hottest?” On the third day, Napa and his fellow cyclists noted temperature readings of 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius). To Napa’s surprise, there wasn’t a single drop of rain during the entire tour.

Drinking lots of water was a remedy to this, as was a trick that Napa learned during a serious instance of heat exhaustion four years prior: fill a tube sock with ice and wrap it around your neck. The combo of melted ice and salty sweat makes a ghastly mess of your clothes; but it kept riders cool while they grew accustomed to the heat through Montana, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

They also narrowly avoided being affected by forest fires, moving just ahead of the smokiest areas. On one section of the North Cascades Highway in Washington, the highway was completely closed off just four hours after they passed through. Tack on the headwinds and steep inclines and you have what Bicycling Magazine has declared to be “the toughest tour in the world.”

How can anyone do this?” you might ask. One motivating factor is the friendly competition between cyclists. Then there is the hunger to exceed or maintain personal speed records. Finally, there is the mutual commitment and physical strain experienced by everyone on the tour.

Tom and Mike have cycled together for a long time and, along with all of the other like-minded people cycling with them, could encourage each other to keep going. Despite an uncomfortable case of saddle sore. Despite eight riders being forced to drop out under different devastating circumstances. Despite one cyclist getting hit by a car in a roundabout. No matter what, Napa was determined to propel himself the entire way without rides on the crew trailer or days off. To cycle every last inch.

Fortunately, Napa is able to replicate the intensity of these rides when he trains around his home in Edmonds, WA. “I can’t go out into the mountains exactly, but I can [ascend] 3,000 or 4,000 feet in a 50 mile ride.” This would be difficult to practice if you lived somewhere flat like Illinois or Florida; but the bottom line for building endurance is getting six to ten hours of “saddle time” on a regular basis, regardless of rain, cloud cover, or the inertia of personal motivation.
Cycling has brought Napa to Australia, Chilean Patagonia, Slovenia, the Swiss Alps, the Dolomites, and through Estonia on a very rainy ride from Tallinn to Tartu in the summer of 2019. It’s also been a means to support causes he cares about. With Napa’s friends donating for every mile cycled on his first PAC tour in2010, Napa raised thousands of dollars for the Baltic Studies program at the University of Washington, his alma mater. Founded by Dr. Guntis Šmidchens, Napa has a fondness for the program’s array of courses on language, literature, folklore, and history. Within the global Estonian community, Tom has also devoted his abilities in the past as Treasurer and President of the Lääneranniku Eesti Päevad in Seattle.

Tom finishing the 2021 PAC Tour in Rye New Hampshire
Tom finishing the 2021 PAC Tour in Rye, New Hampshire

After 35 days in the saddle, the 2021 PAC Tour came to an end on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Friends, family, and the tour crew greeted the riders as bemused sunbathers looked on. Napa splashed into the frigid waves with his road bike above his head, victorious once again. And by the following afternoon, all those cyclists who had endured and seen America up-close together, went their separate ways.

Back at home, he declares that this is the last time he’ll ever go on a transcontinental tour. He’s grateful for the encouragement from his friends to continue, but shorter tours in Europe are more alluring now. Tours where one can “start at nine o’clock, have a cappuccino whenever you feel like it, have a nice meal, enjoy the vistas, and take pictures.” Though, he wouldn’t have quite as many exciting stories to tell if it weren’t for all of that starting at 7:00 AM and eating sandwiches on the side of the road!


You can see Tom and Mike’s past blog entries at:

Here’s a montage of one day in the 2021 tour that’s among Tom’s top 10 rides in the last 23 years.

And here’s the data from his Garmin bike computer for that same day, to give a numerical glimpse into a day on tour.

This article was written by Vincent Teetsov as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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