Don't panic. We're fine.
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.