Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Richard and I did not even know about the 8-day, 23-minute record for two-man teams over 50 years of age until nearly two months after we began planning for RAAM. But once we found out about it we began to think that maybe, just maybe, we could beat that record. Although it seemed like it might be possible to break the record, we were also well aware that two-man teams in our age division often DNFd (Did Not Finish) before completing the first 1000 miles of the race.
We developed our own unique racing strategy, which entailed starting at a slower pace than most of the other teams (but focusing on consistency), while keeping our shift times on the bike relatively short. It was a bit of a gamble, as our strategy was contrary to the one used by most of the other two-man teams, but we felt that our unique strategy would offer us the best chance of success.
We may never know whether it was our unique racing strategy, the ability of our racers, the outstanding support from our crew, or just good fortune, but the ultimate results exceeded our expectations. Only 7 days, 10 hours and 36 minutes had passed when we crossed the finish line in Annapolis, which was nearly 14 hours faster than the old record. Will our new record stand for long? Maybe . . . or maybe not. But whatever the future brings, we will always know that Richard and I (along with our crew) were once RAAM record holders.
Richard and I have attempted to tell each of our crew members how much we appreciate the sacrifices they have made and how great a part the crew played in making our race a success. However, I always feel that our words are insufficient to express our sincere gratitude for what they have done.
How many people can you think of who would give up nearly two weeks of their lives to help someone else achieve their dreams? Our crew worked in difficult conditions (e.g., tight quarters, very little sleep, long hours) without complaint and with no reward other than the knowledge that they were helping Richard and I achieve our dreams. I was continually amazed by their selflessness.
When we first arrived at the finish line, Richard and I were brought up on stage to receive our finishers' medallions. Now don't get me wrong, it felt really good to receive those medallions, but I just kind of felt like something was missing. And then it became clear, what was missing was our crew. It was the crew who gotten us safely across the country, and it was the crew that had earned a spot on the stage. Once the crew had joined us on the stage, everything seemed to make a bit more sense. We had made it across the country by bike ... we had set a new record ... and we had done it as a team . . . not a two-man team, but an eleven-person team. I will be forever grateful to each of the crew. In case the readers of this Blog do not already know who each of our crew members are, their names are as follows (in alphabetical order):
It is tempting to assume that Richard and I began our RAAM journey when we left the starting line in Oceanside on June 20. But in reality, we began our journey nearly a year earlier. Late last June, after crewing with Richard for Mark Pattinson (on his way to a spectacular second place finish) in 2008 solo RAAM, I sent Richard an e-mail. The main purpose of my e-mail was to tell Richard that I would be delighted to crew for him should he ever decide to enter the Race Across the West (the first 1044 miles of the RAAM course). However, I also included the following comment in that email:
If you have any interest in doing a two-man relay team for the entire RAAM, keep me in mind as a possible candidate. We might not make the fastest two-man team, but I think we could finish within the official time limits ... yes, it's an odd idea, but it is interesting to think about nonetheless.
At the time, the idea of doing two-man RAAM with Richard was little more than a pipe dream, but that dream quickly turned into reality when I received a follow-up e-mail from Richard the next morning which included the following comment:
I'd do 2-man RAAM with you anytime. I barely slept last night thinking about it. You are both humble and generous. While no, we probably wouldn't set any records, you are a very strong rider and I'd have to train hard again not to let you down.
That e-mail response was typical Richard. Richard is a strong, powerful, consistent rider and he is definitely the kind of guy you want backing you up. Other riders with his ability might boast about how strong they were, but not Richard. He is humble to a fault. Those two e-mail exchanges set Richard and I on the road to one of the best adventures of our lives.
Richard and I spent the next 11 months planning, organizing and preparing for the race. As time went on I became more and more impressed with Richard as a human being. He approached everything with a positive "can do" attitude, and the closer we got to the start date, the more I began to believe that we might actually be able to pull it off. The journey to the starting line was an adventure in itself, but the real journey was just about to begin.
I have heard more than a few horror stories about RAAM teammates yelling at each other and accusing each other of not pulling their weight. Knowing how strong Richard was, I began the race with more than a little apprehension about whether I would be able to hold up my end of the team. Thankfully, my concerns were unfounded, as Richard is one of the most gracious and complimentary riders I have ever met. At every racer exchange, Richard had a good word to say and he always made me feel confident. It may be a small thing, but when your teammate tells you that "you're looking strong," you start to believe it ... and you ride like you believe it.
I could tell you a hundred stories about Richard, all of them good, but this is probably not the forum for that. How can I sum it up? Richard is a loving husband to his wife Rachel, a loving dad to his daughter Lily, and a great human being. Oh, and did I mention . . . I can not imagine having a better teammate.
Friday, July 3, 2009
I realize that I could speak to and write to you privately, but because your work touched so many lives during our race, I'm hoping that you might not object to a personal message also being a public one.
We spoke openly about RAAM for the first time almost a year ago, remember? It somehow seems like only yesterday. You had said that if I ever raced in RAAM, you'd like to be on the crew. And so there we were in my backyard having a beer last July and I was asking you to accept a crew position. I sensed that you had some concerns about not knowing very much about bicycle maintenance, but I assured you that as long as we secured a couple of good mechanics, being a good crew member didn't have all that much to do with that. I said it had so much more to do with letting go of ego, working well with others who you may not know well at first, and while never getting enough sleep, selflessly doing whatever it takes to help the racers succeed. After I explained all that, thankfully, you still wanted to do it.
During RAAM, you had two big jobs. One was to take care of Charlie and me as we entered the RV for our nighttime sleep breaks. You were incredible at your work. As soon as I entered the RV, you immediately attended to my nutritional needs and your calm, confident manner always put me at ease. You gently woke me in the perfect amount of time to get ready for my next riding shift. I know that you were at times exhausted from lack of sleep, but not only did you never complain, you always kept a smile on your face. Your attitude was contagious. It became clear to me throughout the race that if you were willing to work so hard to help me accomplish my RAAM goals, I somehow owed it to you to go out each and every time and ride to the very best of my ability. From speaking to Charlie, I know he feels exactly the same.
As wonderful as you were at your RV work, your work on this blog leaves me nearly speechless. Several times during the race I heard murmurs from other crew members about how great the blog was. Toward the end of the race I found myself looking forward to getting home and sitting at a computer in a quiet room and reading it, along with all the comments. You touched many, many lives with your incredible talent. Charlie and I had so many family members and friends who were able to experience this race through your amazing efforts. Your work on this blog has been a wonderful gift to all who followed Team Reaching Heights and the blog itself will be something that Charlie and I will treasure for the rest of our lives. I simply don't know how to thank you enough.
No Jeannie, you don't know as much about bike maintenance as some, but you were the perfect RAAM crew member.
With the deepest appreciation and affection,
Monday, June 29, 2009
It was amazing to be at the finish line. The Hubsters, who crossed about an hour and a half before us, were waiting for us and the guys rode in to a rousing Slovenian welcome.
We're happy. Oh my. It's so nice to revel in the accomplishment. We set every single team goal.
We all got across safely.
We smashed the age group record by 14 hours.
We ran a completely penalty free race.
We were very competitive with the younger teams in our division, and we even crossed before some four-man teams.
It's nice to let all this sink in and settle over us. This really is a gigantic acconmplisment and it couldn't have happened to two nicer guys.
At the banquet last night, the guys were recognized for being first in their age group and for setting the age group record. Richard shared a nice moment with Tomaz Percic, one of the E-Hub racers. Using Johanna, who speaks Slovenian, as a translater, the guys had a great conversation and sealed their membership in the mutual admiration society. "I just really, really like that guy," Richard said. "Just a damned nice guy."
So nice, in fact, that when Tomaz suggested the guys switch jerseys, Richard took the shirt off his back and they did it right then and there. These two guys are probably not finished with each other.
And we're not finished with you. Hang in there with me and if you want to keep reading, I'll keep writing. There's so much more to say about this, and it's been a blast to share my thoughts with you for 3,000 miles.
Today, we finished cleaning out the vehicles. Richard and Jim will start the drive back to Cleveland with one of the vans. The crew will be flying out sporadically, and those of us sticking around will do a little sightseeing here in the Annapolis area. Tomorrow, Johanna and I will drive the RV to New York and then head back to Cleveland. It's been a wonderful trip.
And it's not over yet.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Before he went out on this last pull, I did a lengthy on-the-body Reiki session with Richard, concentrating on his ailing left knee. You don't really have to know anything about Reiki, but I am convinced it has had a lot to do with Richard's resurgence. Here's why: an indicator of how much Reiki energy someone draws is how warm or tingly the healer's hands get during a session. When I was working on Richard, sweat was literally rolling off my hands. So he took in a lot of Reiki.
When he came in this time, he said: "Wow! I'll have some pasta, then some ice, then some more Reiki. This is great!"
He knows we're close to the finish line; we all know it. I have replaced my T-shirt with my Team Reaching Heights jersey, and just putting it on makes me so proud. The guys have worked so hard, and I am so proud of them. My tears are forming already, and I won't give anybody the excuse that I'm tired. These tears are not about being tired; they are about being this intimately involved in watching someone reach a very large goal and achieve a dream. We are still 12 hours ahead of the age group record. In about four hours, it will be ours.
Earlier, we were given a warning by a race official because when the Follow gassed up, they turned the lights off but forgot to turn them back on when leaving the gas station. RAAM rules say the Follow vehicle lights have to be on at all times. Race officials are out and watching and we are more than happy to follow the rules. As it stands now, we will set a new age-group record with a completely clean race. That's an enormous accomplishment. I am so proud of us all.
67 miles and counting ... stay tuned.
It's nutrition science and bike mechanics. It's math (egads!) and psychology. It's comedy and drama.
I did not sign up for this kind of math!
Middle row: Ken Runyan (Boise, ID); Jonathan Jahant (San Antonio, TX); John Welch (Poolesville, MD); Don Magie (Toronto, Canada); Jeannie Roberts (Cleveland Hts., OH)
Right: Eileen Hardy (Phoenix, AZ)
Thanks, guys. All of you. We couldn’t have done it without each other.
The Big Unit, The Bigger Unit: 200 miles to go
The piece was located on the top of the Follow, creeping its way to the end, ready to fall off. "We hadn't gone far enough for it to make it all the way, but it was close," Charlie said. "We were lucky."
Charlie, who still manages to be considerably upbeat at this stage of the game, told me that story while we were waiting for Richard to arrive for an exchange. As we were driving along beautiful Pennsylvania countryside, Charlie mused about whatever came into his mind:
“We’ve got one more brutal climb coming up,” he said. “This course is really, really tough over here.”
“I really appreciate all you guys have done for us. You guys have done a great job.”
“About 200 miles to go. When you start this race, there’s 3,000 miles – three sections of 1,000. Then at some point, you can be happy when you get to under 1,000 miles to go. At this point of the race, we can count the number of pulls we have left each.”
“Thanks for your glasses, I don’t think I even asked, I just grabbed them. Sorry about that, but thanks.” (One night when Richard accidentally sat on Charlie’s glasses and broke them, I was furiously trying to repair them even though Charlie was getting on the bike. He looked into the RV, saw my glasses lying on the counter, grabbed them, put them on and then declared, “These will do.” After I got Charlie’s glasses snapped back into place, we did an exchange on the side of the road. Problem was, I gave Charlie’s back, but didn’t get mine back right away. I was, as they say, navigating blind that night.)
I know I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating: I’m thrilled and honored to be along.
These guys are champions through and through.
I hopped a ride with the Chase last night and slept like the dead for six hours in a hotel in West Virginia. Essentially, that got me back to zero, and now I'm good to go. Lots to do in this last 200 or so miles. There's a lot of climbing, and the exchanges today will be critical. Everyone, especially the racers, is fatigued, and we just want to take extra care with our exchanges and not make any careless mistakes.
About 240 miles from the finish line, Team Reaching Heights is still riding penalty free. We are quite proud of that. Even with "just" 240 miles to go, it's a brutal 240 miles and will be slow-going. It is a highly inexact science, but we are projected to cross the finish line in Annapolis about 3 a.m.
Our strategy remains to break the 50-59 age group record, and that is very likely to happen. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we will not beat the Hubsters, but we have achieved a major feat there in even staying close and being competitive with them for 3,000 miles. Plus, we made some nice new friends from Slovenia. While we were waiting to make our exchange this morning, the Hubsters came by and we all got out of our vehicles to come to the side of the road and cheer them on.
"Zivijo! Zivijo!" we all yelled, because this is a Slovenian word for "hello" which, literally translated, means "To Life."
Friday, June 26, 2009
Somebody is out on the roads of Ohio right this second wearing a Team Reaching Heights jersey. I'm not sure which one of our guys it is right now, but that doesn't matter. The point is, no matter what has happened in the last 90 minutes, our guys have not missed a turn of the wheel. We are on the way to Annapolis.
So, ok, here's what happened ...
(I just love telling you guys these stories. Makes me happy.)
This is Friday, we've been on RAAM for six full days. This was just another "normal" day - our guys are taking their shifts, the Chase is in Athens grabbing a few hours before tonight, and the RV was in charge of laundry. (You'll be proud to know that I successfully did five loads of laundry without losing a single sock or headband or glove and I didn't have to accost anybody on the street to do it. I took Lary along as protective support this time, just in case, and he's happy to report that "no further incidents were reported.")
Anyhow, we are heading toward the Follow with clean laundry so we can sub out particular riding shorts for Charlie. All routine so far. At some point along the ride, I began, as they say, "feeling my tired." I told the RV guys I absolutely must retire at this moment. I crawled up on the top bunk and set about relaxing. Actually, I'm kind of punchy, so I was laughing for no reason at stuff that was not even funny. (I suddenly thought "Pepsi" was the funniest word ever invented.)
Within five minutes, I could hear Jim, who was driving the RV, say to Lary, "Is the Follow supposed to be tilted like that? Does it look like that right rear tire might be flat?"
Hmm. Even in my delirium, my ears pricked up a bit. Probably not, I thought. It's cool. Closed my eyes.
Four minutes later - I didn't really look, I just made that part up - the RV was parked and Eileen Hardy from the Follow crew blew in our door. (Eileen is one of those women who always manages to look put together, even while crewing RAAM.) Anyway, she had a headset on and was talking to Charlie, who was on the bike. Richard left the flat-tired Follow and came into the RV.
About 15 seconds before he walked into the RV, it occurred to me that the racers' bed was not made because I had just done laundry. I jumped down from the loft and started putting sheets on the bed. Richard sat on the couch and waited patiently (really, these two guys are the most polite racers out here; we should win the Mr. Congeniality award.) I made the bed and grabbed Richard a drink. Eileen and Jim and Lary pow-wowed in the front of the RV about the section of route that was coming up - remember, Charlie was still out on the course, riding alone as he is allowed to do under daylight rules.
But lots of mistakes are beginning to happen to several teams due to fatigue this late in the race, and we want to be sure that we double-check all of our navigation, because we have not been immune to the errors, either and we don't want any more if we can help it. Charlie would have four or five quick turns coming up on the route, and he'd have to make them on his own. In an emergency, the RV could turn into a direct support vehicle, per RAAM rules, but the six crew members in these two vehicles had collectively decided to use the RV to take the flat to be fixed while the Follow used the donut tire to continue direct support to Charlie until we retuned to them with their repaired tire.
Am I making sense?
The point is, Charlie would have to navigate several turns on his own without someone from the Follow telling him where to go. But we were aware that his mental faculties may have suffered a bit after riding round the clock for six days, so we didn't want to take chances. (It's not like he's slurring his words or anything, but wow, the man must be seriously fatigued.)Quickly, a plan was formulated - Charlie needed fluids and help navigating, so Lary and I each took a bottle of fluid to transfer to Charlie using that jogging beside the racer technique I told you about earlier. And we would do it on two different blocks, so that Lary could direct Charlie the right way on the first turn and then, around the corner, I would be there with another bottle and directions for another turn. Seemed foolproof.
And it was, but not without some adventure. The moment I saw bicycle wheels turning my corner, I turned my back to the rider (re: section 6010.11 of the Team Reaching Heights Crew Manual) and started jogging, holding the bottle by the top just like the manual says.
Then I heard a foreign-accented voice say, "Well, thanks, but I think you're mistaken. I'm a solo." It wasn't Charlie.
So ok, I didn't actually give his Gatorade away, but I tried, and I'm sorry about that, I really am. I'm deeply grateful that the guy didn't just take it and move on. (And I probably would have cheered, "Looking good, Charlie," or somesuch and looked like a real fool.)
So I still have the Gatorade bottle in my hand and I am jogging back to the corner where I will first identify the rider, then start jogging and holding out the bottle. On the way there, a giant dog came bolting out from behind a tree, flying at me, teeth bared. Suddenly, he jerked back violently, all four legs off the ground, thanks to the chain around his neck.
Anyway, Charlie came by and I gave him the bottle and while jogging, told him to turn left, which he did. Later, he would tell, "you guys did that just like you were supposed to, good job. Thanks for helping me out there." (I mean, really, these guys might be the nicest guys on earth, especially in this position.)
The end of the story is this: The Follow crew put on the spare, put the bum tire in the RV and went off in search of Charlie, hoping he was still on-course. The RV crew went off to find a tire shop to get the tire repaired, after which we would deliver it to the Follow so that everything would be fine and dandy. As it turns out, there was a tire repair joint directly on the course and at 3:30 in the afternoon on a Friday, they had nothing better to do than repair our tire right away. By the time Charlie made it to that point of the course on his bike, the RV crew had Richard up and ready for the racer exchange. The guys patted each other on the back and Richard took off. By that time, the tire was repaired and the Follow drove right on in and the tire shop did all the work this time, putting the original tire back on.
Crew member Ken Runyan assists with freeing the spare tire from its hiding place
It's all good. The RAAM Gods are with us.
There is a lot of riding left, though, and our guys will do some serious riding in the next 24 hours. Charlie might be hearing " Bad to the Bone" (his favorite climbing song) more times than he wants to. But Team Reaching Heights will carry on, turning the wheels, mixing up the fluids, navigating the route and reading the blog to the guys on the bike at night. We have a mission and it's in Annapolis.
And even though I have not gotten that restorative REM cycle yet - coming soon, though, after I post this - I have come to see one thing very clearly. It does take a whole team, and a crew can make or break you in a venture like this. Richard and Charlie are riding the miles, but they can't do it without support and they have entrusted us to give it to them. What we're doing, especially in an emergency situation like this, requires flexibility and creative thinking, patience and a sense of humor. Mostly what it takes is the recognition of our common goal.
I'm proud to crew for these two guys. So are Lary, Don, Johanna, Eileen, Jonathan, Ken, John and Jim. We're going to make it to Annapolis, and I will probably cry like a baby when we get there, not just because I'm tired but because we will have accomplished what we set out to do.
And it will have been hard. But so worth it.
As I write, 604 miles to go.
We're looking at what is probably our last full overnight. My eyes are welling up at the thought that we are actually going to finish this thing. But the thing is, so many things can happen and there is a long night and day tomorrow of tough climbing in the Appalachian Mountains. It's going to take a lot from the Units, and the Units have given so much already.
I am asking you to make a concerted effort to send notes of encouragement to them because they will be reading and/or being read to tonight as they ride. I will print as many of your comments as possible to transfer to the Follow vehicle during their long pulls tonight.
You have no idea how important your love and support and encouragement are to them (or maybe you do.)
Let's pull them through this!
From here on out, though, the one thing that I will always love about RVs is that they are an essential element in the RAAM process. That right there, in my estimation, is enough to make them very special machines.
A: I won't give you a complete list right this second because, one, I'm not in the Follow van, which is where the music is being broadcast to the guys, and two, that would take way more mental energy than I currently have. But generally speaking, I can tell you this: Richard says he digs listening to Tom Petty when he's on the bike, and I know he's got some Sting on there because Eileen was loading that up for him last time I was on the phone with her.
Among Charlie's faves are George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" when he's climbing a mountin, and the Allman Bros' "Whipping Post." His all-time favorite is Tina Turner's "We Don't Need Another Hero," mainly because he agrees with that sentiment and because, as they used to say on American Bandstand, "it's got a good beat." Charlie says the song reminds him not to try to be a "first-day hero" and that it's all about showing up for work every day and getting things done.
Q: What is a day's food list look like? Same every day or do you change it up? How many calories in a day's intake?
A: On the bikes, the racers take in liquid nutrition in the form of Perpetuem, a product of Hammer Nutrition, a RAAM sponsor. Along with Gatorade, there's always a bottle of Perpetuem on the bike. In between rides, the guys eat a variety of things, mostly things from the snack family - salty things like chips and pretzels, candy bars (Richard is a Payday fanatic), bananas, bagels, sometimes oatmeal, sometimes a simple turkey and cheese sandwich (no condiments, because, as Charlie says, this is about calories, not flavor.) Both like a cup of coffee after their "long" sleep.
Incidentally, for that purpose, they purchased the coolest machine: it's a Keurig coffeemaker, into which you insert a little pod-like thing of coffee, make sure there's water in the maker and close the machine. It's idiot-proof, it brews one cup at a time and then you just toss the little pod thing out. No grounds to deal with - it's the best!
Charlie needs about 8,000 or 9,000 calories a day; Richard can blow through 10-12,000. The guys monitor their weight and body fat index carefully and when one of them is down a pound or two, we take steps to get some solid food into them. Charlie tossed back a cheeseburger the other day, even though I don't think he really wanted it. He realized he was down a few pounds and did what was necessary.
Yesterday, he and Richard were both down a few pounds and Crew member Don Magie, a cyclist himself, talked the guys into some pasta. The RV crew used GPS to locate a Pizza Hut and scored some pasta with marinara (no vegetables - too hard to digest.) Both of the guys ate it, loved it and have requested more for tonight. Two family sized orders are already waiting for them in the RV after their night rides. We're delighted to see them eating it with such gusto - obviously they need the calories and long-chain carbs to keep up their strength.
Both guys also drink lots of Ensure. Immediately after he gets off the bike, Richard throws down a bottle of Ensure Plus - takes about 5 seconds, honestly!
Q: What would you have done if (suspected laundry thief) had tried to fight you for those clothes?
A: Are you kidding? Nobody's getting in the way of these guys getting to Annapolis. Besides, she was a scrawny little thing; she was toast.
Q: What does Chase and Follow mean?
A: The Chase and Follow are support vehicles for RAAM riders. Generally speaking, the RV is used to house the racers for their "long" sleeps during the night, for racer shower and bathroom needs and for storage of gear, all those bottles of liquids and food. The Follow is the van that accompanies the racer, riding 30 or so feet behind him. It is equipped with generally the same things as the RV, but in smaller quantities because of limited space. Three crew members are in the Follow - the driver, the navigator and the "third seat," who makes mandatory calls from the time stations to RAAM officials and takes care of the racer's needs. During the day, the racers exchange in and out of the Follow; at night they do it out of the RV. The Chase vehicle is used primarily to shuttle crew back and forth to motels along the route. Usually traveling about 200 miles or so ahead of the racer and other vehicles, the Chase crew gets motel rooms until a designated crew shift time, at which time the now-rested Chase crew becomes the Follow crew. The former Follow crew takes over the hotel rooms for a few hours and then meets back up with the racers later on, after some rest.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Midnight in Oklahoma
Communications issues might force us to figure out a night's worth of exchanges all at once, which is extremely tricky, considering all the variables. If you're in the RV and you're trying to figure out when and where to meet for the exchange, the racer is not with you - he's with the Follow, so you have to call someone in the Follow to see how Charlie is doing and if he's on approximate schedule. But if you can't get a signal, you try texting. Often that doesn't work and the next day, in another state, you finally receive a text that Don sent last night.
It's a challenge and an adventure, like all the rest of this.
It's a race!!
We beat the second mandatory cutoff by more than a full day.
Back soon .
We are still going strong.
The last thing either of our guys wants is to get into a back-and-forth trash talk sort of experience with anybody. Not their style at all. But there is a definite interest on the part of both these teams in competing to the best of their abilities, and having a challenging, if unexpected, opponent stokes those fires.
No one saw this kind of battle shaping up. These two teams really are racing one another across America.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
He's fine now. We all know that the ups and downs are part of RAAM, and that no matter how you're doing at any given moment, you can always know that this, too, will pass. Richard's experience with the heat proved that to be true. After Richard's brief dance with overheating, he got back on the bike and rode very strong. He came back in and said, "Man, this morning I felt like a donkey, and now I feel like a king."
Then he asked for the video camera. "I have something I want to say," he said.
Thanks, Big Guy.
And thanks to all of you for being on our team, too. Keep those comments to the guys coming. It's very important to them and to the crew as well to know that friends and family are watching us.
Last night was somewhat intense. A slight navigational snafu put us back a while, but it also showed us a great display of sportsmanship from our E-Hub friends. The route in Plains, KS is very tricky, there's a sneaky turn in there and in the dark, it eluded us for a second. The RV had successfully navigated it (albeit with some difficulty) and was waiting a few miles down the road to make an exchange with Charlie and the Follow vehicle. We passed the E-Hubbers' RV when we went past the time station, so we knew they were in the neighborhood, too.
We saw a racer and vehicle behind us take a wrong turn, but because it's impossible to make out clearly who is who in the middle of a dark night in Kansas, we weren't sure if it was our Follow. From our exchange point on the side of the road, I made phone contact with our Follow and was trying to establish if they and Charlie were off-course. During that phone conversation, the E-Hub racer and Follow approached us.
As they got closer, an E-Hub crew member rolled down the window of their van and yelled, "Are you 205? Are you 205?" (that's our team number), and they pulled off the road. (Remember that during nighttime hours, the racer cannot move ahead unaccompanied, so this required their racer to actually stop for this conversation.)
"You're off course!" she said, genuinely concerned. "Your Follow went the wrong way!" This confirmed my suspicions, and since I was on the phone with our Follow at the time, I was able to help relay the information that they were indeed off course and that they needed to backtrack, find the correct course and have Charlie start from there. When I hung up, I thanked the E-Hub crew. This is definitely something they did not have to do. They could have driven right on by, secretly delighting that we were off-course. But I think they are enjoying the great race that has shaped up between us as much as we are.
"Hvala lepa," I said, throwing out some of the little Slovenian I know. "Screcno pot." (Thank you very much. Good luck/safe trip.) She looked startled to hear her own language, but her "Oh!" and big smile showed she was clearly delighted. "Prosim," she said, smiling. (You're welcome.)
Their racer got back in the saddle and they drove away. As they did, we could hear her say over the loudspeaker to her racer: "They are really nice people, ne?"
This is what RAAM is all about. Everybody out here understands that, even though there are some intense rivalries happening, we really are all in this together. We are hoping that everyone out here makes it to Annapolis. Personally, I think the E-Hubbers are such great sportsmen (& women) that they want the rivalry to be as fair as possible. Both teams are enjoying the sport of this.
The end result of the night is that the RV crew put Richard and his bike into the RV and we drove back on the course to find Charlie and the Follow. We did, and we put Richard on the bike at the point of the course where Charlie left it, and our race resumed. The Follow crew re-reported our time station information and called race officials to report that we had left the course but had backtracked and re-resumed at that point.
Race officials reported, "all good," and we were back on our way.
This sort of thing (going off course) happens frequently during RAAM, and with the complexity of the course, it's truly a miracle that it doesn't happen more. The bottom line is, it's just a hiccup and we're done with it now. We're still riding our own race, we're still about eight hours ahead of the record we're trying to set, and this morning, just after Pratt, we crossed the halfway point in the race, knowing that despite our little snag, we are slowly gaining on the E-hubbers again.
This is awesome!!
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
2. Pretty sure I could have taken out the potential laundry thief, if necessary. Glad it wasn't, though.
3. For the first time in the race, we saw daylight with fewer miles to go (1,403) than we have already covered (1614.) We're going to do this thing!
4. An indispensable crew aid - cargo shorts. Very functional at an event like this.
5. No matter how you personally feel about Wal-Mart, those suckers are everywhere. You've gotta give them that.
6. Race officials have informed us that the Kansas Highway Patrol has been out and around and is very active in handing out tickets for race vehicles not pulling far enough off the road during exchanges. We are forewarned, thus forearmed.
7. Thanks for the questions and comments to the racers. At this point in the race, it is so important, and will be more every day until we finish. The guys are tired and the goal is definitely in sight - to know that you guys are cheering them on goes such a long way. Charlie has specifically asked that we print out the blog today - yes, we brought a portable printer for this purpose - so they can have it read to them during the long, hot, nighttime pulls tonight. Your good wishes will be so important and appreciated. Keep them coming!
8. Speaking of the blog, I ask in advance for your forgiveness for typos, etc., which will undoubtedly increase as my fatigue does. I'm not incoherent yet, but by the end of this thing, I could be slurring my words in print. Thanks for understanding.
Springer Laundry (Note the bars on the window next door)
This really happened ...
Every crew member lives in abject fear of doing something that will cost the team a time penalty (usually handed out in 15 minute increments.) After what nearly happened today, I am convinced that I have some seriously good karma loaded up with the cycling buddha.
Talk about the Mother of all Penalties. This would not be a penalty exactly, but first, before I tell you my tale, let me say again: this really happened.
I. Am. Not. Making. This. Up.The day started normally enough, with the RV crew staying behind in Springer, NM to do racer and crew laundry. I volunteered to do the laundry while Lary got some needed shut-eye in the motor home and Jim actually took advantage of the opportunity to take a little jog around the neighborhood. (Show off.)
Anyhow, I hauled two garbage bags of laundry from the RV across the street to the laundromat. I heaved the bags, which were crammed and literally bursting at the seams, onto the counter. Silly me, I starting looking around for a change machine and those tiny boxes of laundry soap in a vending machine. Apparently, Springer does not know about vending machines yet, so I walked right around the corner (a mere 30 steps away) to the supermarket to get soap and change.
Not even two minutes later, I returned to the laundromat. Minding my own business, just walking down the sidewalk, I noticed that a diminuitive woman was hauling two suspiciously familiar garbage bags herself ... heading OUT of the laundromat. Heading, in fact, straight to her car. The car door was already open - any court in the land would agree this was obviously premeditated.
A quick panicked glance through the front glass confirmed that aforementioned counter was now bare. I raced over to her, screaming, "Yo! Where you going with those clothes?"
She, now looking quite panicked herself, stammered in broken English, "I think are free. Clothes in bag. Free clothes. In bag."
Stupidly, all I could think of to say was, "That's my basket."
"Oh, I sorry. Sorry. I think free."
"NOT free," I said, quite close now to realizing what had almost happened. "SO NOT free."
She gave them back, or more accurately, I took them out of her arms and walked back into the laundromat. Once I got the loads going, I thought, "Oh my God, nobody will ever believe this happened."
My RV mates believed me, though, because, for quite a while, all I could do was mutter repeatedly: "I can't believe that woman tried to steal my clothes."
Charlie's clothes. Richard's clothes. The numerous jerseys and cycling shorts they go through every day. The Team Reaching Heights jersey that I vomited all over the other night.
"Man, that would've sucked a lot," our crew chief said.
Just another day at RAAM. Day Four.If all goes well, only three-and-a-half to go.
I'm having the time of my life.
Big Unit, Bigger Unit
Richard was fairly glassy eyed there for a minute yesterday, but while Charlie was on the bike tonight, Richard actually slept for a good hour and rested well for another. Heading out into his three-hour ride this morning, Richard was relaxed and reported feeling pretty good. “I feel like a guy who has ridden 500 miles on a bike,” he said. “But that’s a pretty good thing.” His aches and pains, he said, were not specific, also a good sign. “All in all, pretty good.”
“Pretty good” also works for Charlie. “Sometimes when I start to feel a little sluggish out there or something, the guys in the Follow crank up the music for me, and that helps a lot in those moments, gets me pumped up. Physically, I’m fine and mentally, I’m fine. We’re riding strong.”
So, let’s see. In summary, we’ve got two racers, both feeling fine, nine crew members who know what to do, 1,000 miles behind us and 2,000 miles in front of us. It’s all good.
It’s so good, in fact, that we beat the mandatory 72-hour cutoff time by 11.5 hours. This allows us to officially stay in the race. Racers who don’t make the mandatory cutoff times - there’s another one at the Mississippi River at approximately 2,000 miles, and then there’s Annapolis – can continue riding but will not be counted as official RAAM finishers.
And we’ve got a couple of guys here who want to wear that official RAAM finisher’s jersey. They don’t just give those things away, you can’t buy them, and only a select few ever earn them. Those suckers are like gold (or I suppose green, for those of you who prefer golf analogies.) Anyway, that’s a fashion show all of us would kill to see - Charlie and Richard wearing that jersey.
We’re on our way.
Approaching Taos, we crossed over Amanga Pass, which, at 10,250 is the highest point on the RAAM course. Our mountain strategy worked very efficiently for us there. In one-hour shifts, Richard began the climb, then Charlie, the better climber of the two, took over and rode to the summit, where we performed a racer exchange so that Richard, the more confident descender, could come down.
An interesting note here: Even though Richard handles himself confidently on 50-mph descents, he was held to 30 mph on this particular one because of the RAAM rules. A note in the official Route Book warns: “The road surface is generally good for the posted four mile 7% downgrade. Bikes faster than posted 30 MPH speed limits at night will force follow vehicles to violate RAAM rules.” (Ital theirs.) RAAM rules state that "racers must obey all traffic laws and ... violation of any traffic laws by racers or crew may result in a penalty."
Seems pretty cut-and-dried. We reminded Richard of that situation, we followed the rules, and we are still penalty free.
Of course we would follow the rules on our own, but we can’t help but be constantly reminded of them because of the RAAM official who is out and around, policing our section of the course. We keep seeing his parked on the side of the road, he inside watching, sometimes with official in tow. Usually, we just give him a friendly wave or a thumbs up and keep on cruising down the road. So far, we’re racing clean, that is, with no time penalties.
Also, if you’re following the race because you’re a cyclist or a RAAM fan (and not just reading this because someone on the crew is your mom or dad or old best friend from high school) you will have noticed that we’ve got an interesting sub-plot shaping up. We have been pretty consistently closing the gap on the E-Hub team, a young strong team from Slovenia. While our racers have been cognizant of riding their own race and chasing the age group record - which
are still comfortably ahead of at this point – the E-Hub team poses an interesting challenge.
Back at the start line three days ago, Richard mused a couple of times, “Wow, those guys are strong. Wouldn’t it be nice to hang with them?”
Nothing again the E-Hubbers, but they have dangled the carrot, so to speak, and still riding within themselves, Richard and Charlie have cut what was once a two-hour E-Hub lead to 50 minutes, then to less than half an hour. Might want to keep an eye on that. We’re also still out in front of several of the four-man teams, which logic would dictate should be in front of us now. We all started at the same time from the same place, and with four racers instead of two, they should be fresher, stronger and faster.
The guys are riding impressively. We’re not surprised. At 6-8 and 5-8, they might look like Mutt & Jeff, but these guys are monsters on a bike.
"The Big Unit and the Little Unit," Charlie quipped, when I commented on their size difference. Crew member Eileen challenged him, saying, "No, Charlie, you're a Big Unit," she said.
We collectively decided on "Big Unit and Bigger Unit."
That's appropriate because in that 5-8 body there beats a gigantic heart. Nothing little about Charlie Combs.
Oh and by the way … Richard passed E-Hub at 5:54 local time this morning. As we drove through Red River, he was about two minutes ahead. But after an E-Hub exchange, the stronger of the E-Hub racers caught and passed us again. "Couldn't hold that big guy off," Richard said.
Both of our racers are of the same mind - we don't want to get caught up in a back-and-forth passing game with anybody, because we'd rather not distract from our own strategy of staying steady and strong. But 1,000 miles into the race, passing a team you’d merely hoped to hang with is a huge thrill. Still a long way to go, but this is a great boost for us.
Also, just got word that Slovenian ultra athlete Jure Robic rolled into Time Station 36 this morning and is still on pace to set a new solo men’s record. Mark Pattinson, who finished second to Robic last year (which, in solo RAAM, is pretty much like winning) and for whom Charlie and Richard crewed, says Robic looks tired. I know absolutely nothing about being on my bike for more than say, 30 minutes or so, but I figure you ought to look tired after riding 2,155 miles in roughly six days. But Mark knows what he’s talking about, so we’re trusting him on that.
Best of luck to Robic, and all the solo men. For all Robic has given to the sport and to RAAM, he deserves a new record. Plus, he seems like a pretty good dude. We’re all wishing him the best.
Monday, June 22, 2009
So here's a quick lesson:
Below each entry is a "posted by" followed by a comments link. (Go ahead, look, I'll wait - it looks like this: Posted by Jeannie Roberts at 11:08 AM 3 comments.) If you want to read or post comments, click on the comments link after the section of the blog you have a comment or question about, such as: "It's Monday in Utah" or "Racer Exchange 101."
After you click on comments, a new window will pop up (make sure your pop-up blocker is off or allows pop-ups from the blog site). The new window will show comments, if any, that have been made in this section. You can read those to see what other people think about that same entry. I find that, often, great minds think alike, so you might find yourself with a new friend. At the end of the existing comments, there is a text box where you can enter your own comment or question. After you've done that, you'll get a word verification box. You must enter the word that is shown on your screen into the box - this is a security measure. If you do not see a word (it usually appears in color) and a box that follows, you probably won't be able to post.
Apparently, here is where some of you are getting confused: You do NOT have to have a Google/Blogger account to leave your comment. If you have one, feel free to use it. (Although, if you have a Google/Blogger account, you have no need to be reading this post.) If you don't wish to sign in, you may select "anonymous" to publish your post but please make sure your list your name in the text box, otherwise we won't know who you are!
Or maybe you don't want us to know who you are. That's ok, too - the guys love the messages and I'd love it if you kept them coming. We're all in this together and there is only one goal - Annapolis, as quickly and safely as possible. Thanks for your help.
This has been an incredible experience already (and wow, we're not even a third of the way through yet.) I'm sure that I speak on behalf of the entire crew when I say to the guys: "Thank you so much for this opportunity. It's a real honor to help you achieve your dream. And we're having a blast doing it."
It was unfortunate that some of us went through Monument Valley at night when we couldn't see much (in order to be waiting ahead of the racer for an exchange), but it sure was a beautiful morning when light began breaking. The Follow crew got to go through with Charlie when it was already light. Eileen checked in with Charlie just before he entered Monument Valley.
Richard was struggling a bit before he got on the bike earlier this morning, but riding through this area appeared to be somewhat healing for him. I spoke to him just after he got off the bike and he was much more upbeat than when he got on it.
All in all, two-man RAAM is a productive and successful effort so far. Our guys have traveled approximately 813 miles, and they have about 2,204 to go. We are on pace to easily manage the mandatory three-day cutoff to officially stay in the race, so that's no problem. We are still ahead of record pace for our age group, and while that is a team goal as well, the guys are focusing on staying strong and steady, staying healthy and controlling the things they can control. If all that happens, the record will take care of itself.
Onward and upward. It's all good.
Here's what a smooth, legal exchange looks like.
It looks simple, which is good. But there's a lot that goes into a seamless racer exchange: In a nighttime exchange, the sleeping racer is awakened about 10-15 minutes before the scheduled exchange will take place. He is given food and/or liquid and suits up ... jersey and jacket, shorts, socks, shoes, gloves, scullcap, helmet, headset. The RV driver, meanwhile, is looking for a suitable place to pull over and make the exchange (again, abiding by numerous RAAM rules, of course.) The navigator makes contact with the Follow, which is with the racing rider, to coordinate the time and place of the exchange. Follow crew relays this information to the racer via radio headset.
Another crew member is preparing water, Gatorade and Perpetuem for the beginning racer's bike, while yet another crew member is taking his bike off the rack on the back of the RV. The bike is prepared with the required headlights and taillights and checked for potential mechanical issues. The idea is that, by the time the retiring racer rides up, the beginning racer is ready to roll once they cross wheels to make it a legal exchange.
The retiring racer gives up his bike, which is stripped of empty fluid bottles, visually inspected for potential mechanical issues and racked on the vehicle. Once inside, he eats and/or drinks, changes out of his wet clothing and into dry, loose cotton clothes and gets down to resting. While he's doing that, the crew starts all over - preparing his fluid bottles, charging light and headset batteries, figuring out where the next exchange will take place, depending on how long this riding segment will last. Daytime exchanges are similar, except that the racer is resting in the Follow and that crew takes care of his needs. Once wheels are crossed, the beginning racer can ride ahead until the Follow catches up. It's a crowded house in the Follow, because the resting racer is laying on the floor, surrounded by food, drink, supplies and crew.
Charlie rests in the FollowSometimes a racer wants replacement fluids before his segment is finished. In that case, so that he doesn't have to get off his bike, crew members implement a handoff system in which the racer tosses off his empty bottles and accepts handoffs from crew members jogging alongside him. This sounds simple, but it's tricky. The crew member has to jog forward with his back to the racer and with his eyes in front of him, not on the racer, so that he doesn't fall. He holds the bottle of fluids by the top, and the racer rides alongside to grab it and stash it in the bike's bottle cage; this sytstem repeats with another crew member who is 50 or so yards ahead with another bottle waiting to be handed off.
Here, Jonathan watches for Richard's approach and gets ready to time his jogging for the handoff.
Of course, when the whole exchange is over the crew goes back to pick up the bottles the racer has tossed off.
It's very cool stuff if it's done right - a successful exchange leaves the racer relaxed on his bike and the crew satisfied with another smooth exchange. A RAAM racer could lose time on a botched exchange, and RAAM officials are potentially always watching to make sure things are done correctly.
We're happy to report that Team Reaching Heights is running a perfectly clean race with no time penalties assessed against us. This is one of our team goals, and we're happy to be on target.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
You'd think these guys would like a nice rest after all that, huh? But someone's wheels will keep turning all night long, which, of course, is what makes RAAM RAAM. As the back of our T-shirts say, "This ain't no tour." Fortunately, now that we're out of the first night special rules, our racers will likely switch to a longer ride/sleep cycle tonight. Charlie is planning to sleep approximately three or four hours while Richard rides and then they will reverse positions. They hope to keep this 3-or-4-hour nighttime cycle for the remainder of the race.
Tonight, crew member Jonathan Jahant will be front and center doing his thing. He's a massage therapist from San Antonio, brought along not only for his wonderful hands but for all his cycling knowledge and cross-country experience - this is his eighth time across the country on some sort of cycling event. Jon will be part of the RV crew tonight, giving massages when the guys come off the bike. I'm sure the guys are looking forward to the relief of that and a real sleep break - each guy should get a good three hours of sleep, we hope.
Meanwhile, the crew wants to give a shout out to Mark from Team Save Buzzards Bay from Massachusetts for giving the RV a jump when it died - ok, when we let it die after we forgot to turn off the lights when sitting around for a while at Time Station 6. That's not as bone-headed as it sounds ... when the rules dictate that you must cross the country with your headlights on, it's sometimes easy to forget to turn them off.
So thanks, Mark, and best to your team.
RAAM is all about helping others achieve their goals too.
Our first 24 hours saw logistical problems, mechanical problems, very little cell phone reception, computer connectivity problems and some seriously wicked motion sickness. And that's just the crew. Woo hoo, we're having some fun now!
Luckily, our racers, Richard and Charlie (the reason we're all out here in the first place) have been able to rise above all that, stay relatively calm and keep getting on and off the bike, over and over. Miraculously, thanks to Crew Chief Jim Karlovec and the experienced crew members among us, we have managed to have a vehicle and a bike there every time the guys needed an exchange. And the rookies among us are gaining valuable experience every minute, so as the guys get more exhausted, hopefully, we'll know more how to take care of them.
The racers were delighted with a favorable tailwind on their first day of riding, and another miracle, the desert heat was about 30-degrees cooler than it was when the solo men came through a couple of days ago. (So instead of riding, say, straight through hell, it was more like getting blown out of the barrel of a giant blow dryer.)
The guys are averaging 18.94 mph through five time stations, which is faster than anticipated and, even though it's still very early, ahead of record pace. They are riding steady and strong, despite all the crew worked through during the first full day.
Our adventures started when we discovered almost right away that our RV had limited electricity. The outlets, for which we have innumerable needs, (just a few of those needs - really, this is just a few - are shown here ...)
did not work. No amount of fiddling with the fuses or GFI helped. In turn, our RV water is on that same system, so that did not work either. No showers for the guys last night. (Seriously, you have no idea how important water and electricity are in an RV, even if you think you do.) The computer wasn't able to connect. Cell phones were rendered useless by the incredibly spotty coverage - can you hear me NOW? - and coordinating nighttime racer exchanges were difficult at best. Before the nighttime exchanges even got rolling good, Jim had to make a major crew change decision when a variety of factors conspired to strike me down with a truly wicked case of motion sickness. (Being a fair and objective scribe, I feel I must reveal all.)
This particular event last night, precipitated by riding sideways in a moving vehicle while reading, was bad for a number of reasons:
1. We could not stop, as our earlier mechanical issues had already put us behind schedule to meeet the racers and we had to make it there before nighttime hours took effect.
2. These back roads in the middle of Nowhere, CA are surely the long and winding kind, and gaining elevation while in a hurry in a motor home on that sort of road just doesn't make for good soup.
3. It's difficult to throw up repeatedly in a garbage can when holding said garbage can while sliding around on the floor of a motor home while ... well, see #2.
Anyway, the point is, as crew chief, Jim had to figure out what to do, pronto. The problem is that I was nowhere near his first priority, because he had to make it to the exchange in time for the guys to keep riding, we had to get there safely but quickly, and the racer's night needs had to be met by someone other than me, because I was clearly unable to even wipe my own face. (I have to say, though, that I'm proud to have taken one for the team by not only trying to hit a moving target while throwing up, but also while gamely managing to clean up vomit from a motor home with no running water (I will forevermore have a horrible association with Clorox Disinfecting Wipes) all while still sliding around the floor dry heaving, holding my trash can and grabbing anything available with my free hand while Jim roared around those curves.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, I think I remembered that I was, um, on vacation.
To make an already too long story somewhat shorter, I'll move on. Jim orchestrated a crew change so that I could clean up a tad in a motel room while he and Lary Stokes (my RV crewmates) worked with Ken Runyan, who moved from the Follow vehicle to take my place. The guys originally in the Chase vehicle (and who thought they might be getting some sleep) got in the Follow instead while the Follow crew and I took the motel beds for a couple of hours before the former Chase crew (now the Follow) came back for some shut-eye. If it all sounds complicated and horribly hard to follow, that's because I've simplified it for you here. It's not simple at all, even when all goes right, as I guess it almost never does at RAAM. That's why people do it - you really never have an idea what might happen on your way across.
Speaking of taking one for the team, Lary hasn't slept in 32 hours and counting at this point. The rest of us have either had a few hours' motel time or at least a short nap in the RV. But Lary, what a dude. He's getting a motel tonight.
That is ... if all goes as planned.
Lary Stokes ... what a guy