Photo: Brooke Barney

How To Push Outside Your Comfort Zone

In less than a year, Ohio native Brooke Barney went from amateur cyclist to cross-country race finisher. Here’s how she pedaled 4,200 miles in 30 days.

Brook Barney had barely ridden her bike farther than 30 miles in a stretch when she decided to race across the country. “I hadn’t done much more than casual rides,” she says with a laugh. Racing coast to coast, she says, “was the hardest thing I’d ever done—and hopefully ever will do!” 

Now a 28-year-old financial analyst based in Columbus, Ohio, Barney was the only woman to finish the 2021 Trans Am Bike Race, which follows a 4,200-mile course from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia. It’s a long and grueling route, and there are no aid stations or organized support. Of course, that never daunted Barney.

“My friend Kara and I were looking for a longer adventure to train for. We first looked at the Ohio to Erie Trail, which is 360 miles.” Then the two stumbled upon Inspired to Ride, a film that documents the inaugural year of the Trans Am race in 2014. “It just seemed magical,” Barney adds. “There were all these scenes of bikers camping out under the stars. It looked so cool.” 

After the film, Kara turned to Brooke and said, “Why bike across Ohio when you could bike across the country?” Soon, the two were training for the 2021 Trans Am. While an injury forced Kara to drop out on Day 5 of the race, Barney went on to finish, taking just 30 days to do so. Here’s how she pushed outside her comfort zone to make it happen. 

Photo: Brooke Barney

PUBLIC LANDS: You worked full-time up until the day you left Columbus. How did you make time to train? 

BROOKE BARNEY: For Kara and I, the goal was to just get out and ride as much as we could. We’d try to ride an hour in the morning, or an hour after work together. If I was working from home, I would hop on the bike at lunch. Then we would try to get a 50- to 100-mile ride in on the weekends. Sometimes we’d pick a route to a fun city nearby or to an ice cream shop that was a little ways out. We always tried to make it feel like an adventure. 

Did you feel like you were ready by race day? 

It definitely didn't feel like we’d done enough! But the reality is that you can’t fully train for a race this big. There’s no way to be fully prepared for everything. Other racers sometimes say the first week of the race is your training. So I would remind myself of that—we were just going to do what we could with what we had. 

What were your expectations going into the race? 

Our goal was just to finish. Of course, I also wanted to finish in 30 days because that’s all the time I had off work. I had to use all my PTO. In fact, I finished on a Tuesday, drove home on a Wednesday, and had to be at work on Thursday! But our main goal was just to finish.

What was the hardest part of the race? 

Honestly, the first day was the hardest day for me. It poured rain, and we were biking in the rain the entire day. I had my head down the whole time. I fell twice. I split a tire. We rode until 1 a.m. and did about 166 miles, which at that point was the farthest Kara or I had ever ridden. That night we were trying to dry everything in a hotel room and looked at each other and had this moment—like, ‘Oh no, what are we getting ourselves into?’ 

What about the race pushed you most out of your comfort zone? 

I was fully prepared to camp the whole time, but once Kara dropped out, I didn’t feel quite as comfortable camping by myself on the side of a road. So sometimes I would cut my miles short if it meant I could stay in a town. It wasn’t ideal, but it made me feel better. Some of these towns were so small that the only buildings were a restaurant, a gas station and a post office. So I stayed four or five nights in post offices.

Thirty days is a long time! Was it hard to stay motivated? 

I struggled every morning. I’d just wake up and think, ‘OK I’ve got to get back on this bike for 12 to 16 hours,’ and I’d have to convince myself. I always knew I was going to do it, but it was definitely a challenge. One thing that helped was meeting different people along the route. I would see quite a few racers every day, and we’d stop to eat lunch together—they were good motivation to keep going. 

How did it feel to finally finish?  

A mile or two before the finish, I actually stopped and got off the bike. I had to take a couple of deep breaths to take it in, it felt so surreal. I shed a few tears. Then, at the finish line, Kara and a few other friends were there waiting for me. She’d been so supportive the whole time, so seeing her was really emotional, too.

You finished wearing a shirt that said ‘Representing Women.’ How did it feel to be the only woman to finish? 

When I was younger, I definitely saw biking as a man’s sport. The more I’ve watched this race, the Race Across America, and other cycling events, the more women I’ve seen participating, but it’s still mostly male-dominated. 

Obviously I wish all the other 2021 women racers were able to finish the Trans Am with me. But being able to represent women by finishing was definitely a good feeling. I hope more women get into cycling. We can compete just as well as men, we just need to give ourselves the chance! 

What advice would you give to women who might not consider themselves competitive athletes or cyclists—but still want to try something that’s out of their comfort zone? 

I would say that I’ve been there, too. I wouldn’t have called myself a cyclist before this race. Racing the Trans Am was always about the adventure and the experience. Don’t think of things as a competition; find ways to make it fun. At the end of the day, it’s just a matter of being out there and doing it, taking a leap of faith, and trusting in yourself.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

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