as reported on the Shawnee Trail Cycling Club forum,
My post RAAM report. It’s long, & I only managed to touch on just a fragment of Race Across America-2012. The highs & lows of crossing the country on a bike in under 7 days. The sights, sounds, & memories will last forever.
Peggy, Linda Metcalfe (family friend) & myself left Dallas on June 13th & flew to San Diego, CA where we would meet up with some of teammates. The group of “strangers” we were ready to meet would soon become close personal friends that we would share a bond with. The experiences, memories, & friendships would last a lifetime. I was an alternate rider for Team Sarcoma, but due to an unfortunate injury to a rider a few weeks before RAAM, I now found myself in position of a rider. I had trained for RAAM & had the mindset that I would be riding. When I received the call to ride, I was ready.
Team Sarcoma powered by Bacchetta bikes (4 person team) & 14 crew would gather at the Motel 6 in Oceanside,CA to ready 3 mini-vans & RV. The crew would take care of vehicle storage, logistics, & bike maintenance. So the Wednesday, Thursday, & Friday before RAAM (RAAM starts for teams on Saturday, June 16th-12:00pm PST, which is really 3:00pm EST-RAAM time from here on out). It’s amazing how quickly the days would disappear , so many items to complete, so little time. The team took 1/2 day to travel north of Oceanside to a state park to practice both rolling exchanges (daytime,while moving, both rider, the incoming rider passes the rear wheel of the outgoing rider ) & night (cold swap- the outgoing rider must position his bike in the follow vehicle lights, wait on the incoming rider to pass them & come to a complete stop before taking off with his follow vehicle in tow) exchanges.
The team received a surprise on Sat. morning while heading off to team breakfast. Brenda Barnell showed up & brought rice krispy treats with her for crew & racers. Brenda was such a joy to have around before the start. She was like a kid in a candy store. A multiple RAAM rider, so has the RAAM bug in a big way & wanted to join our team in the worst way.
Our team was set up with 4 riders. The riders were broken into 2 groups, 2 riders would ride 4 hours (each rider would ride for 3o mins, then swap with the other rider). Then after 4 hours, the next set of riders would take their 4 hr rotation (each racer riding for 30 mins). The first group would return to the RV to eat & sleep.
My first rotation came after the “glass elevator”, a fast tricky descent (8 miles long, do to windy conditions). Just to give you an idea of what that descent is like, watch the video below made by the team LIV4LIFE on their way down – wow! Borrego Springs in the middle of desert was my 1st pull. After waiting 4+ hrs, I made the exchange with the incoming rider. I was amped up, I could feel the adrenaline flowing. I just rode with it, this is RAAM!
After a couple of rotations, I finally settled into a rhythm. I remember vividly riding through the Imperial Sand Dunes (at night, I would soon learn that I would lose track of all time,not knowing what day it was) & rolling along at 20mph+ & seeing off road vehicles playing in the dunes with bright lights on the vehicles. That looked like so much fun! I wanted to play too.
Our team rolled on to AZ. I remember the Congress AZ, time station. Along the route, the follow vehicle would call our team name/# into assigned time stations along the route (54 total time stations on RAAM), the beginning of the Yarnell Grade (I call the Brenda Barnell grade), an 8 mile climb up to Prescott,AZ. The climbs to Prescott seem endless. The RAAM route book (aka the bible) states the Yarnell Grade climbs 1,800 ft in 7 miles. After the Yarnell Grade, the route averages more than 130 ft of climbing per mile. The most difficult section of climbing west of Maryland.
My race partner & I made short work of this section (it’s all relative on a bike, in the heat). We traversed this section 46+ miles in 3 hrs. The other teammates were expecting it to take 5 hrs.
We rode on (of course, this RAAM, what else are we going to do!). I recall riding through Flagstaff,AZ, but nothing too memorable here. I do remember riding from Tuba City, AZ to Kayenta, AZ through the Navajo Indian reservation. The crosswinds were tricky on the descents. We were heading to Monument Valley, UT. Unfortunately, we arrived early in the morning. in 2010, Peggy & I crewed for Mark Metcalfe during RAW (race across the west which follows the same route as RAAM form Oceanside, CA but stops in Durango,CO. Mark arrived in Monument Valley early evening, so we were able to take the beauty of this area).
I did get the fast descent into Mexican Hat, UT. The road was rough & I was getting thrown out out of my seat from the bumps in the road. The next section I remember was the another fast descent into Durango, CO. 8+ miles & the crosswinds were really strong, blowing me into the lane of traffic. The shoulder was full of debris & loose sand/gravel. The next memorable sections were the climbs into the Rockies. Pagosa Springs, Wolf Creek Pass (highest point on RAAM-11,000″ elevation-the Continental divide). We threw all 4 racers onto this climb. Short pulls 1/2 to 3/4 mile. One teammate got the fast descent from Wolf Creek through 2 mountain tunnels reaching speeds close to 60 mph.
Onto Alamosa CO, I could see what I thought was rain cloud on the mountain peaks. Not rain, but smoke from the CO wildfires. The next climb was Cuchara Pass. Another mountain pass. The descent was the most harrowing for me. It’s a 20 mile, fast descent. The winds were howling (50+ mph). I had 3 or 4 times were the wind literally ripped the handlebars front wheel from me. The follow van had a difficult time staying on the road, getting blown from side to side. Imagine how I a 160 lb rider felt on a 20lb bike!
Finally, we were off the Rockies (they always add a touch of anxiety for me because due to the elevation, the weather is so changeable/variable-rain,sleet, snow, wind). Now onto the flatlands of eastern CO & Kansas. Our team set the fastest avg speed from time station to time station during RAAM. Trinidad, CO to Kim, CO-just a tick under 30 mph avg! Too cool!
Kansas! The winds started out in the morning as a quartering crosswinds, but as the sun rose, the winds became stronger & stronger & now a crosswind. 40-50+ mph crosswinds. Visibility was a couple hundred yards (blowing sand/dirt). I remember passing a team from England (Beefeaters) & turned to the rider & joked “wait to the wind really starts blowing!”. The rider just dropped his head.
The wind was so strong that I broke a bike on another teams carrier. A roof rack on one of follow vans was damaged. This is crazy! Nope, it’s RAAM. Anything can go wrong & does. It just did. My next rotation saw a teammate slowly, painfully make to the exchange. He literally fell off the bike after the exchange. He could not walk to the RV by himself. Three crew members physically carried him outside of the RV. He had collapsed. That really bothered me. he was in bad shape. The crew made the decision, he would be admitted to a hospital. Luckily, Greensburg, KS had a nice,modern hospital. 2 crew members drove him to the hospital & spent the night with him. He was severely dehydrated. He weight about 155lbs, but had lost 10 lbs & received 5 liters of IV fluid.
We were now a 3 person team. Our rotation was 2 hr solo pulls, then that rider would rotate with another rider for 2 hrs-sharing 30 min pulls. We hit MO & rode across Ozarks. These suckers are short, steep climbs. Somewhere in MO, a teammate had a friend who was a pilot. The pilot was flying a bi-plane. The Bi-plane spotted us on the road & was buzzing me with low level flying. I was locked in a zone, I didn’t know anything about the bi-plane until after my pull (at the RV), the pilot was there & the crew clued me in on who he was & what had happened. I began passing solo RAAM riders in MO. Some looked like death on a bicycle, & they have another 1,000+ miles to go!
At this spot (somewhere in MO), I decided to take a nature break in the woods. I mention this because this is where I received encountered my first ever tick. I didn’t notice it until the following day when I was putting on clean riding clothes. Thankfully a crew member calmly pulled off the parasite. Nasty little bugers!
One of my high points was riding into Jefferson City, MO. This is where the crew (God bless them) were like a security blanket. Navigating ,telling me turn by turn via PA system. We were on a busy , busy Hwy (Hwy 54). I hate riding in traffic, let alone a busy highway. The navigator (Kevin Kaiser-a multipe RAAM solo rider) calmly talked me through this (I called it “talking me off the ledge”). Riding past the MO capital at night was really cool. The capital is a beautiful old building, brilliantly lit, with roundabouts.
We head off, my teammate was suppose to take this section, but the follow van had taken a wrong exit prior to the Jefferson City & then that follow van would have a flat. SO my 30 min pull turned into a long 2+hr pull. I was rolling, easily at 20+ mph into steep climbs that parallel the Katy Trail in MO. I was suppose to ride for 4 hrs, but like I said before, this RAAM & sh*t happens. I was out for a 5+ hrs. But having fun!
The next morning saw the return of stricken teammate. What a huge boost to out team morale just knowing he was OK, & back to riding. We rolled through Illinois & Indiana. I had made a request to ride through TS#39. Bloomington, IN. I, a native Hoosier & went to school at I.U. We rode past Memorial Stadium. All those foggy memories of college. The roads around Bloomington were busy with traffic & road construction. I did get to say hi (& a wave) to our friend Tom Robertshaw (who was manning the time station. Tom is the race director for Heart of the South 200/500 mile ultra distance bike race). Good to see Tom, but gotta go.
Heading east toward OH, Oxford is a cool college town (Miami of Ohio), lots of rolling hills. Then continuing on to the Appalachians in Eastern OH, West Virginia. I rode through Athens, OH (another college town-University of Ohio) on brick paved roads. Luckily , is was not raining. That would have been tricky.
Another busy road section in West Virginia (Hwy 50E). Are you kidding me. Time for the follow van to talk me off the ledge again. Some of the roads (highways) we had no business riding a bike on. This is stupid!(I said that to myself on more than one occasion). Get me off this road. When is this going to end?!
Now we are firmly in the Appalachians. A slight rain shower jacked up the humidity, there was a fog hanging on the mountains. Gorgeous scenery, but really tough, steep climbs. The RAAM route book says parkesburg,WV has some of the most difficult climbs in RAAM. There is more elevation gained in this section than any other section of RAAM. At the end of one of my pulls into Grafton, WV, my follow vehicle encounters another flat tire. Since it’s daylight, I can ride ahead with no follow vehicle. At the exchange with my teammate, I head 6 miles up steep mountain climbs. Really steep! They hurt the legs. 8-10% for 2-3 miles at a time. At the end of rotation, a rain shower managed to cool me off for the last minute of my climb. I crested the climb & see the RV. Thank God. Time to let others have fun with these climbs.
After a quick rest/food, I woke up in the RV. Today was Peggy’s birthday & our 27th wedding anniversary. Surprisingly,the crew bought us a cake & we all sang Happy Birthday to Peggy in the RV. Those are type of memories that I will never forget.
We’re heading to Maryland. I had no idea what was in store. 4 major climbs between Cumberland, MD & Hancock, MD. The RAAM route book says this is the most difficult section of RAAM measure in feet per climbing per mile. No joke! My teammate & I rode this section, it was 37 miles, but took us most of a rotation.
During this entire time across the country, we were passing other teams (team 402 Herbert Schwarts from Germany),our team was flip flopping with them. At night, they passed us on a climb. The next day was to be the highlight of RAAM for me.
I was resigned to the fact that I would not get to ride through Gettysburg (Gettysburg National Park. The Battlefields). My teammates knew I wanted to ride through & very gracious enough to let me have this section. How cool was this! We arrived early morning at the battlefied, sun was just cresting the hills, a fog laid across the valley. This is a sacred placed & I could feel how special of a place this is. At the same time, we see the RV for the German team. They’re close. I’m riding through the battlefield site with my head on a swivel (looking left/right) flying along at 20-25 mph trying to take in sights/history & trying to run this team down.
Outside out Gettysburg, on a sweeping right hand, downhill curve, I see the German team.
I screamed “I got you!”. I’m flying at 35 mph & I’m closing fast on the guy. I fly by him & smugly say “good morning!”. The rider says nothing, but I see his head drop. I continue on up the road a mile or so & make an exchange with my teammate. I yell as we make the exchange “we got ’em. Don’t let them pass you!”. He didn’t – we never saw that team again.
Prior to that pass, the last 100 miles was pins & needles. We had come 2,800 miles & the teams were so close to one another. How cool! How much fun! We’re heading to Annapolis!
We are required to stop at time station # 54 Rams head (Shell gas station) where RAAM officials will escort our team into the city docks of Annapolis. The race is officially over. What a thrill!
We made it. 2,995 miles in 6 days, 21 hrs, 29 mins.
The riders had the easy job. We pedaled the bike & steered. The crew was amazing. 14 strangers came together just over a week ago & formed a cohesive unit that safely & successfully got us riders across the country. There is no RAAM without crew. I will forever grateful to the crew for sacrificing their time/efforts for this event. Thank you. The friendships & memories will last a lifetime. AND NO PENALTIES for our team. Amazing, because RAAM has rules, upon rules, upon rules.
Among the 4 person teams, Team Sarcoma (T#427) won our age group, our category & managed to set the fastest average time from TS to TS during RAAM 2012. Take 14 crew & 4 riders & place them in a stressful environment for 7 days. But to the credit of our team, everyone is still friendly & speaking at the finish. There were RAAM teams that couldn’t say this.
Great job everyone, what a ride! We finished 7th out of 15 4 person teams. The op 5 teams were comprised of professional racers.
Special thanks to Peggy, my beloved wife who made endless sacrifices prior to,during & post RAAM. Without you RAAM 2012 would not have been possible. And to Kellie Moylan (coach Kellie) had me mentally/physically ready for RAAM. I felt stronger the 2nd half of RAAM than I did the 1st half.
Thanks to Joel for maintaining the blog for my RAAM team crossing & all the support that Shawnee Trail Cycling Club members provided me pre, during & post RAAM.
P.S. here’s the URL to some pictures for our team.
So now we know why the team was quiet yesterday. They had their hands full, not only with the weather, but with the health of one of the racers. Chris Kaiser spent some time in the hospital ER on Wednesday, but is now back on the road. While Chris was out, the team kept plowing towards the finish and then he was transported in the RV back to the race.
6/21 @ 5:59 am “It’s been a crazy 24 hours. One of our racers ended up in the ER, he was here for about 18 hours, very dehydrated. That left us with just 3 racers. The 3 remaining racers raced 2 hours on, 1 hour off ( sort of). Steve , Dana and Alex have been racing great, Chris our dehydrated racers will rejoin the racers in the AM.”
6/21 @ 6:16 am “We just crossed the Mississippi river. The sun is coming up , it’s going to be a great day. We have all 4 racers back to racing!!!”
We gone 2076 miles we only have 917 to go!!!!!
“4 racers, 14 crew members, 2 support vans, 1 RV, 1 Gofer van, 8 bicycles, multiple spare wheels, tires, and tubes, bike racks, flashing lights and slow moving vehicle triangles, two way radios, PA systems, iPods and mp3 players, ice chest and turkey sandwiches, sunscreen, Dr. Pepper, fresh socks and team shirts.” from the Team RAAM Sarcoma crew guide book.
As you can see from the list above, this is no small undertaking. The support crew behind the cyclists is extensive and must be well organized with coordination being the key.
On the 16th, Steve will begin his trek across the country. He and Peggy left early (very early) this morning to fly to the start point where bikes and gear already await the team. Steve gets to spend the day relaxing and “chilling out”, riding the parade route preparing himself both mentally and physically for the coming ordeal.
Peggy, on the other hand has an extremely busy day planned. She, as part of the crew, will help verify all the equipment, supplies and bikes are ready for the race. This includes readying the vans for RAAM inspection (RAAM requirement for all teams).
Some say the job of the crew is as arduous as that of the cyclists. The crew chief for Team RAAM Sarcoma has the organization down to a science, having crewed 10 of these races in his career. He has put together a very extensive guide with specific duties for each area of responsibility for the crew and has graciously allowed me to reprint some excerpts here. Post any questions you might have and I’ll do my best to get answers.
Crew Chief. As the name would imply this guy is in charge of the team. He is the main contact to the RAAM organization. It is his responsibility to make sure the crew has done what they need to do to prepare the equipment to meet RAAM standards and organize the team and gear so that it all is in place to aid the team in racing. If problems occur during the race the crew chief is usually the one who decides how to deal with it.
Assistant Crew Chief(s). One or more crew members may have the job of assistant crew chief. This person’s fills in for the crew chief when he is on his sleep shift or otherwise away from where a decision needs to be made.
RV Captain. This is one of the hardest jobs on the team. This crew member is in charge of the RV and all of it’s logistics. In the RV his word is law. It is his duty to insure that the RV gets to where it needs to be when it needs to be there. The RV must be refueled, holding tanks emptied, trash emptied, generators used correctly, climate controlled, quiet and behavior enforced at all times. The RV captain will spend all of his shifts in the RV making sure it is a fit place for crew and racers to sleep and making sure the RV is able to supply the race vans with what they need to do their jobs.
Race Van Driver: This person will pilot one of the two race vans during the race. The van driver coordinates with the van navigator to insure that they and the racer stay on the EXACT RAAM course as defined on the RAAM Route Book and on the GPS navigation unit. At night the race van’s driver will provide light to the racer with the van’s headlights.
The van driver’s job is also to protect the racer from traffic and other obstacles as much as possible and as safely as possible. In high traffic areas the driver will actually use the van to shield the racer from fast moving traffic. The driver is always on the lookout for loose dogs, cars pulling out of driveway, and well intentioned local cyclist who may interfere with our racer. He should be prepared to try and put the van between the dog and the racer if it is practical and warranted, honk at drivers, us the PA to warn off the Sunday cyclist etc. The driver’s job is to keep the racer safe. In the event of a mechanical issue, flat tire or worse, the van driver and navigation will swap out the effected equipment as needed to keep the racer moving down the road. This might be as simple as swapping a wheel or may require using the racer’s back up bike. The goal is to keep the racer moving.
Race Van Navigation: This person has the route book in his lap almost all the time. It is his job to make sure that the van and racer are on course. He reads ahead in the route book for turns that need to be made.
RV Driver: Drives the RV to rendezvous with the race vans at designated times so that racers and or crew may be exchanged at the end of each shift. It is often a challenging job to maneuver a vehicle that large through mountains and traffic and not bounce the team members around.
RV Navigator. The RV Navigator has the job of using the route book and the GPS to get the RV where it needs to be. Unlike the race vans the RV does not need to stay on the race course and at times it required to take a different route than the racers. The RV still needs to meet with the race vans every 4 hours and so will stay as close to the race course is practical and permitted. The navigator coordinates with the van crew to find those meeting places.
RV Prep team. The RV prep duties basically involve helping the racers when they retire from a 4 hour shift to get the things they need as quickly and quietly as possible. The racer will want to eat and shower and deal with body functions and hygiene. The RV prep team makes sure food is available for both racer and crew at shift changes.
The RV prep team helps gather supplies to go out the the race van at shift changes. Food, drink, ice, and anything else needed by racers and crew in the vans. The RV prep team takes inventory of supplies and updates the shopping list for the Gofer van crew. At appropriate times the RV Prep team gathers the teams laundry bags to pass to the Gofer crew.
The RV Prep team helps the RV Captain ENFORCE THE QUIET OF THE RV. During the crews off shift sleeping is not an option. It is a job. This means there is almost always someone is trying to sleep in the RV. Quiet will be the rule. An important job of the prep team is to wake the racers before the start of their next shift. The exact time will need to be determined by the individual racers as to how much time they need. They must be ready to go when the other racers arrive at the RV, but the racers should sleep as long as possible. Most racers will ask for 15 to 20 minutes.
Gofer Team and Van: The Gofer team operates differently than does the rest of the team. These two people do not take shifts and rotate between vehicles and jobs. Their job is to do the daily shopping, run errands, do laundry a couple of times. And sometimes the Gofer van role is critical as in a case where a team member needs to be taken for medical treatment and then caught back up into the race, or a critical bike part is needed from a bike store but there are none on the route for many miles. The Gofer van will be set up as a RAAM legal follow van. In a pinch like a mechanical problem with a race van the Gofer van can be called in to take over while the problem is being fixed.
Team Organization: The team works in shifts. Crew members each have two 8 hour work shifts and one 8 hour sleep shift.
The sleep shift is just that, sleep. Yes you have time to grab some food, use the gas station bathroom if available, send the spouse a fast text saying you are still alive and having the time of your life. But don’t bring a book to read. Don’t plan on updating a long journal or playing Farmville on facebook. For everyone’s safety we want everyone to get as much sleep as possible during their sleep shift. If you can’t sleep than fake it. That will provide some rest and prevent you from keeping others awake. The racers working in pairs in 4 hours shifts. Two racers will be out with the vans trading pulls of 20 to 30 minutes each (normally). The other two racers are in the RV getting clean, and food, and sleep. Every four hours they swap.
Fatigue and sleep deprivation will hurt and slow the team much more that flat tires, headwinds and mountains.
So, after all that if you think it’s only the cyclists doing the work – you are sentenced to loop back and re-read this post until YOU GET IT! It’s a TEAM.
This has been focused on the individual crew members. I’ll post later about the responsibilities of each of the vehicles.
Until next time…