Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Epilogue: What Can I Say?

Somewhere along the way, not too far in, maybe Flagstaff or so, I began to realize that this Race Across America was not just about Charlie's dream, or Richard's. It was about mine, too, and my crewmates'. Somehow it had morphed from a thought in my mind that I was helping a friend realize a dream to a feeling in my heart that I wanted this dream, too, and badly.

I wanted to do everything possible to come out of this experience being able to say: I was a part of Team Reaching Heights, a team that did remarkable things, broke the record by 14 hours and did it right, riding a clean race and acting with the highest character and sportsmanship. This will last for the rest of my life, and I am damned proud of it.

This last week has been an interesting one. The team spent a couple of days together in Annapolis ... yes, living that rock star life, but also cleaning out the vans, trading photographs and saying our goodbyes. And now, back home in Cleveland, I've spent the last couple of days telling anyone who will listen that we won our age group, we set the record, we rode clean, we had a blast, man we're tired! (I'm pretty sure that some of them are tired, too - of hearing me talk about it, but I figure they can humor me for another minute or two.) I've traded e-mails and phone calls with my crewmates and had front-yard conversations with Richard.

I've laughed and cried and tried to sleep. I've awakened about every hour-and-a-half wondering why the RV isn't moving, who's on the bike, who's in the back and needs to get up and ready to ride. I am not especially bothered by this weird sleep pattern because now it seems so normal, and also, I'm pretty sure it won't last forever. But one thing will - this experience we've all shared is something no one can take away from us. It belongs to Richard and Charlie ... and Eileen and Jonathan and Don and Johanna and Ken and John and Jim and Lary and me.

And you.

I am heartened by the community we created here on the blog, and I say thank you to each one of you who participated by reading and/or commenting. I began to wonder and look forward to what Charlie's mom would say or Richard's sister or Jonathan's dad ... or any number of other people I haven't met but feel like I came to know a little bit along the way.

The blog also enabled me to bring my family and friends along on the adventure of a lifetime. For that, I will always be grateful to Richard for believing that I could do this and to Charlie for going along on faith. Thanks also to my crewmates who tolerated my attempts to stay even-keeled and good-humored, even when those were the last possible landing places for my psyche. Thanks for understanding that I didn't mean everything I said but that I was always sincere in my attempt to bleed every moment out of this shared experience that I could.

I think I succeeded there. I loved many, many moments of RAAM 2009, and I hated a couple, too, but I was present for them all. I had my low pretty early on (first night, in fact) but my highs far outweighed that and will remain in my heart forever.

Thank you to all of you - Team Reaching Heights, friends and family of us all, blog readers and armchair adventurers. We did it, and we did it together.

Here's to us.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Words from Charlie


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.

The Crew

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):

Johanna Bajc
Eileen Hardy
Jonathan Jahant
Jim Karlovec
Don Magie
Jeannie Roberts
Ken Runyan
Lary Stokes
John Welch


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.

Most sincerely,

Friday, July 3, 2009

To Jeannie: from Richard

Hi Jeannie:

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,