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Steve’s Post RAAM Reflections

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.

Brenda Barnell at the RAAM Finish 2006

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.

-Steve Petty

P.S. here’s the URL to some pictures for our team.



Down, out and now back in the game

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.

From Peggy:

6/21 @ 5:59 amIt’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 amWe 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!!!!!