Growing up in Lilburn, Thomas Odom had four life goals he wanted to accomplish.
The first goal was to advance to the rank of Eagle Scout, the requirements for which he completed early in the new century.
Then he wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail, which he covered in 2005 while a student at North Georgia College in Dahlonega, where he now resides.
Then he wanted to compete in the Ironman World Championships, which he was able to do in 2016 in Hawaii.
And the final item on Odom’s punch list was to ride his bicycle across the country, a sojourn he completed on June 22 in the annual Race Across America event, pedaling 3,069-plus miles from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland, in 10 days, 21 hours and 10 minutes.
Riding solo — but with an eight-person crew along for the journey — and raising $75,000 for the Kyle Pease Foundation and Connectability (organizations that arrange for disabled athletes to compete in road races and other events), Odom finished fifth overall in the Solo Male Under-50 division and was the division’s top American finisher.
“You have 12 days and 288 hours to make it, and there’s a very specific route and the clock never stops,” said Odom, 33. “They say go and you go.”
Odom said his original plan to ride across the country was considerably more laid back, but with professional and familial responsibilities, he figured the Ride Across America was his best bet.
“My original thought was I’d take a few months and do it like I did the Appalachian Trail — bike some, camp and do a tour across the country on my bicycle,” said Odom, a 2004 graduate of Parkview High School, where he competed on the swim team.
“Well, I’ve got a wife and a 3-year-old and a career, so that wasn’t an option. I knew about this race from a distance and heard about people who had done it. I’ve always been pretty good on a bike and I thought I’d see if I could cross the United States this way.”
Planning for the trip took all of two years and Odom has been training specifically for the event for the last 14 months. During his training, he found time to run in the Cruel Jewel, a 106-mile run in the North Georgia Mountains, and to ride his bike from Dahlonega to Washington, DC, on the Blue Ridge Parkway (some 780 miles) and on a 600-mile trek from the North Georgia Mountains to Middle Georgia.
“A typical week was I’d go to the gym twice a week for strength training then I would bike seven days a week as well,” he said. “It varied on weekends. I’d have 15- to-18-hour rides on Saturday to five or six hours on Sunday, or sometimes two 15-hour days back to back. There were also five or six 24-hour rides in there, too.”
As difficult as the training was, the logistical puzzle of riding a bike across a prescribed path across the country in a certain number of days was even harder to solve. Odom said even the idea of such a ride was impossible without his team, including crew chief Jesse Turk.
“Jesse basically ran the show and did all the hard work — I just pedaled,” said Odom, who with Mallory, his wife of 10 years, has a son, Samuel. “He had to manage a van breaking down in the middle of the desert and I never missed a beat and an RV breaking down and I never missed a beat. Multiple things happened and he managed it and kept the crew moving.
“I would typically be on my bike from 21- to 30-plus hours at a time, then I would take about a two-hour nap and then I’d be back on my bike. There was very little stoppage — I was either sleeping or biking. The minutes before and after were very quick and everyone had a plan. It was like a NASCAR pit crew.”
At the conclusion of the race, which began on June 11, Odom said he was able to sleep for a couple of hours before a team dinner and sendoff and then slept heavily afterwards. He said he’s still catching up on his rest — and his work.
Now that he’s scratched everything off his personal to-do list, what’s next for Odom?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I will do more (events) for the fun of it. I want to do more with the (Pease) Foundation people but I think what I want to do next is learn to play the piano. I want to do something a little different.
My son is 3 and my wife has given up just about all her weekends since 2007 so I’m going to take it down a notch and spend some time with her, learn the piano and bike with my kid behind in a trailer. … I’ll mix it up a little bit. I’m sure I’ll get into some new adventures in a few years but I’m going to take four or five years and just kind of cool it.