Thursday, June 25, 2009

Can you hear me NOW?

Midnight in Oklahoma

It has been a very interesting experience, especially through the rural parts of the Midwest, dealing with communications issues. The temporary lapse in blogging isn't the half of it. There are nine crew members in three vehicles, and we are never all in the same place at the same time. So the main way we communicate is cell phone. If we get a signal, it's a roaming one and not very reliable. If we actually make voice contact, we have learned to speak really quickly because we know it will die any second now.

"Exchange, mile 27.4, 5 miles away," Eileen might say from the Follow, which means we'll make a racer exchange at mile 27.4 and that the racer is about five miles away from that spot. Then it's up to the navigator in the RV to help figure out how long it will take the rider to get to that spot based on miles per hour on the bike. MPH on the bike can be figured out by consulting the maps and elevations in the route book. One of our crew members, Don Magie, is particularly good at this, and I have learned so much from him in such a short time. More on him later.

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.

The good news is that we are well ahead of our projected goal of fastest average speed for 50-59ers; last time I checked, we were 12 hours ahead of that pace. We also beat the second mandatory cutoff by 29 hours, and we caught up to the Hubsters again, even though another navigational snafu cost us some time again today. But we're slowly sneaking back up, time station by time station.

Charlie mentioned yesterday that this year has been absolutely blessed where weather is concerned - the desert was unseasonably cool, no serious rain or hail so far in the Midwest. "One of these days, Mother Nature is going to show up," he said, and then reconsidered. "May we'll just get a blessed ride all the way through."
Lots of minor snags have popped up for us, but for RAAM, this is totally normal. And that's one of the things I love about this event - weather, road construction, animals crossing the street, detours, accidents - all of these things could happen at any moment to set behind any racer. And the course is the same but different for every racer - depending on what time you come through any given location, something different might be going on than what was happening a few hours ago when someone else went through. You just have to deal with it, whatever it is. There are usually great people in any town along the way who are interested in hearing about what you're doing and oh, by the way, can they help you with anything? Sometimes RAAM fans have already guessed what you might like: a brownie or some lemonade or to stick your feet in this cool dipping pool? (Really.)

For example, a few of our crew members met two such lovely folks, Bob and Ruth, who run the Bicycle Pedaler bike shop in Witchita, KS. We had to replace the taillight on Charlie's bike, so Johanna and Don and John Welch went off in search. When they found the Bicycle Pedaler, they got the taillight and some other supplies our guys needed. Ruth was delighted
that RAAM team members were in the store, so she hooked us up with some free water bottles and insulated bottles.

Great folks, these. Hi to Bob and Ruth. And thanks again.


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