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,


(Kelley) Brooke said...

Thank you for sharing your heartfelt words and wonderful affections for team mate and crew.

I have just returned from my own little 2000 mile round trip across the nation, except this one was top to bottom, and by car.

I was happy to bring up the blog and see something new to read. Your adventure and amazing accomplishment will always hold a special place in my memories. Thanks for a chance to be the proverbial fly on the wall.

Richard Waugh said...

I love adventure. I especially love adventure that involves a greater physical challenge than any previously experienced. In those terms, this past year has been the happiest of my life. Charlie Combs is a brilliant organizer and planner. He is also a tough, talented and superb athlete. His personal character is of the highest order one can possibly imagine. I enjoyed every minute of the hundreds of hours we spent preparing for, training for, and racing in RAAM. Team Reaching Heights was and always will be about we. I simply could not have done this with anyone else. During my training and during the race itslef, I kept climbing back on the bike for one reason; I didn't want to disappoint my teammate. It's funny how people come in and out of our lives. As I write, I'm not certain when I will see Charlie again. But I will nevertheless be honored and proud to call him my friend for the rest of my days.