RAAM 2012 Report Long Version
What: 3000 mile bike race from Oceanside CA to Annapolis MD Utilizing 4 riders, 12crew, 3 minivans and 34 ft RV.
When: June 16th til you finish – We did in 5 days, 21 Hours.
Why: Too many reasons to mention but we raised money for TEAM DONATE LIFE—a charity focused on raising awareness for organ transplant and donation. Total Raised: 42000 dollars
RAAM 2012 “from my eyes”
The white line is a constant in the corner of my right eye and that is a good thing. If it ever made its way to my left eye or became a steady “Morse code” of dashes that meant I wasn’t going to be ok. I am staring at legs that do not appear to be mine and they seem to be moving faster than what I am thinking I am asking of them. Sweat is pouring down onto my clear lense glasses blurring my vision for moments in time. It is 3:45 in the morning and this is the 14th time I have been on my bike since about 9pm. It is pitch black and completely silent. It is in these moments that I am so thankful to be alive and to be able to be there and to feel what I am feeling. This is where I truly live.
Occasionally I will glance ahead and be reminded of why the white line is just as safe, since the van following me and my bike light can only illuminate 50 feet or so in front of me. So I go back to the white line for a while longer. Soon I will be in that van, eating something, drinking something and watching my partner take his turn in (my) heaven and I wait, impatiently to get back out there.
RAAM 2012 with my partners Alec Petro, Kevin Hines and Geoff Macintosh was an adventure to say the least. We had a crew of 12 highlighted by my dad, Roger and uncle, Larry coming along to watch over me and no doubt relay to a sick mom at home, that her boy is ok. Final preparations in Oceanside CA were complete and we headed out to accomplish something that we all felt prepared and excited to do.
The crew was a mix of family and friends that offered up time out of their lives to participate and support us in this journey and our PROFOUND gratitude will never fully be realized by them, unless they were to see the eyes of our loved ones as we made it home alive. Our crew was our lifeline and they worked harder than I am sure they even thought they would.
Their world revolved around 3 minivans and an RV that all needed to be driven, fueled, filled w food and protecting us riders from everyone else behind the wheel. And they didn’t get ANY exercise. All they ever heard was my unrelenting complaining about one thing or another. And I pray they quickly learned that I just have to vent a bit then I am fine… if they didn’t, well, sorry.
Our basic strategy was to split our four riders into two groups of two and share the workload over 5 to 6 hour stretches at a time. Each group of two riders would then be allowed to determine the best way to tackle our terrain. I rode with Kevin Hines, a 52 year old National Cyclocross and Mountain Bike Champion and who rode motocross type-BAHA races in a previous life. If you ever want to see someone who knows how to ride a bike, Kevin would be one to watch. He is super strong both mentally and physically and I knew, going in, that riding with him was a super motivator to perform. Thank you Kevin.
Kevin started the race in Oceanside alone. I followed in a van because I would be giving him a break after the first 17miles (longest he ever rode!). The rules and the roads simply do not allow any team to transition until that 17mile mark. We waved goodbye to Kevin after 600 meters and stopped at a gas station… because the van needed gas. How does that happen 600 meters into a 3000mile race? The answer is, I don’t know. But that’s how it went until we got to Annapolis, MD.
We decided to work as a 4man team, in the beginning, to keep our average speed up and to get out of sight of all the other 4man teams. Our thought was, out of sight, out of mind. So we went hard. All of us. From the start.
Under clear blue skies I noted that even before my first pedal stroke, I was soaked in sweat. My entire kit was drenched and the sun was very heavy on my skin. I knew at this moment that I had to drink as much as I could everyday and replace all I would be losing during my riding. This was a conscious decision and so the salt tabs and the Gatorade and the water started right away.
One of the highlights for me on this trip was to ride the “glass elevator” down to the desert floor. I had done it in our previous RAAM effort in 2007 and I LOVE TO GO DOWNHILL fast. I don’t know where that came from or why… but I do. So we made sure to get me on the bike for this descent. It was a 4400 foot drop down into the desert punctuated by sharp “S” curves and steep sections where I hit 58MPH. You can see the video of this on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnD8MBwUEHo
At sundown, we were split up and Kevin and I attacked the desert as we rode with the leading 8 man relay. Each effort seemed too hard. Each effort seemed too long. And yet, each time I got on the bike I wanted and needed to go faster and harder.
The sunsets and sunrises of RAAM are something to behold. As the sun makes its way towards the horizon and the coolness of the evenings sets in, there is a sense of adventure… like heading into a dark cave and you gain energy from that. The sun rising however, is even more amazing and provides you the boost that you survived the night and another day and another opportunity is right in front of you. The sunlight also does allow you take in the amazing views that our country provides. We do live in a beautiful place. And having just ridden the entirety of it I am almost speechless with ways to describe what I saw.
And so it began, our journey across the country. Starting out as a team and then dividing and conquering. That was our plan. Until, at least, the race really began.
In a race of this magnitude and having done it previously we were very aware that any plan we had set in place, would be shattered to bits instantly. So instead of wasting time trying to plan each pull and each nugget of food and each HR and each watt… we took the approach to, after our initial attack, let the race come to us. We felt everyone would “fall into” their roles on the crew. And that as riders we would settle down and find rhythms. What actually happened was about 96 hours of complete (yet somewhat) controlled chaos.
Riding directly into the desert heat, Kevin and I settled quickly into 15 minute pulls or efforts. It was long enough to get into a rhythm and short enough that we were not completely shelled at the end. Our focus was just as intense on our recovery in the vans as it was putting pressure into the pedals while riding. Gallons of water flowed both into and onto me before and after each pull. Often times I would use up to 3 gallons of water over 6 hour effort with just splashes of it to rinse off after efforts. Even I was shocked at how much fluid I was taking in.
As we rode into the first night and into Monument Valley, Kevin and I took our first real break. Our “group pulls” had been shorter up to this point, closer to 4 hours than 6 and this would be our first time knowing we had closer to 6 to recover. The sun set over Monument Valley was just breathtaking, as I handed off to a fired up teammate in Alec Petro. He often gets teased as being the “terrier” in the group… the guy always hurrying everyone up to get going. And I could tell he was ready to go. Maybe… too ready.
Our longer rest was punctuated by an RV U-Turn in the desert and some conversation heard from a sleepy distance that a van was stuck in the sand. Knowing this wasn’t good, I had to rely on my team to get the problem solved and keep moving forward. At this point I had no choice but ignore the issue and try to rest.
Finally arriving at a Dennys at 3 am, I ordered up pancakes and eggs and hashbrowns with cheese, OJ and extra bacon (well done). After inhaling the food we went to lay down for a whole 75minutes. Of course, this meant we were riding again in 75min. So we had to wake up, kit up and be ready at that point. That is a night at RAAM.
Our next 6 hours of riding consisted of the approach to Wolf Creek pass in Colorado. The road climbs to 10,800 feet and having already climbed from the floor of the desert, that is a long way. As Kevin and I approach the base of the climb it was our intention to hand off to Alec and Geoff and take a van, thankfully, over the top and down.
Arriving at the RV there was a definitive sense of panic and dread from the crew as they fell out of the RV and vans to greet us. Our crew chief John approached and said, “Alec cant go right now he is not feeling well”. Disbelief filled me as I have ridden all over the world with Alec and for him to not be waiting to attack that climb meant something was really wrong.
Seeing him laying there in the RV my initial thought was that this was over. That he was going to have to go to a hospital and we would all call it quits. Standing over him as he slowly did two double-takes to recognize me, he said the only thing that anyone of us ever would say if in his shoes, “sorry”. I could tell from his apology and his attempts to get up even, that the fire was still there and that if we could give him some time, he would rebound. The eye contact was all I needed. I told him to not apologize. To focus on getting his “stuff” together and that we would handle this.
My partner Kevin was still ascending the base of the climb and 5 incredibly steep miles lay ahead. He pulled in and handed off to Geoff (always a bike moving forward) and I filled Kevin in. Telling your teammate who just rode 6 hours as hard as possible that he wasn’t done and there was more, is not a task to wish on anyone. I told Kevin very simply. Alec can’t go. We have to. Fuel up and dig deep bc there is no time to even question it. In his typical Kevin Hines way, he absorbed the information and we gathered ourselves and took off to relieve a climbing Geoff.
Over the top of Wolf Creek there was a very long 11mile descent and I, of course, am the one to tackle it. Passing cars is fun. Passing trucks is an absolute blast! The course headed downhill and I was please to be the one to give my teammates some time to rest and for me to go really fast again. Beautiful weather followed us throughout the race and this day was no exception. Dry roads, clear sun and very little wind is to be cherished. If I had only known that the gentle wind it would last such a short time, I would have soaked it up more.
Racing across Colorado and Kansas was a 36 hour odyssey into the most persistent 30-35MPH cross wind that I think, has ever blown. Dorothy would even have given up and gone inside!
Leaning 10 degrees to my right consistently so that the wind would not blow me into oncoming traffic Kevin and I exchanged 6.5 hour shifts with a resurgent Alec and a careful Geoff. He had just ridden with Kevin and I in a 3-man rotation for over 4 hours. This type of wind is really hard to describe because it wasn’t exactly a direct cross wind nor a head wind and even with the road curving from time to time, it was always hitting us hard. Keeping the bike upright was just as much a challenge as it was to move it forward. My only reward for going as hard as possible through this, was that I knew it was keeping the second place team in second place, if for just a while longer.
The battle began once the wind finally died down. There were a young group of German riders from a team named “Team 26”. This represented their average age. Our average was 45. They were a well oiled machine and once they caught us it was tough to keep them close.
For what amounted to 36 hours, if not the rest of the race, we battled with them, as they slowly prized out more time. Nearing St. Louis we were joined by Dave Nerrow and his brother Steve. Dave rode with us in 2007 and Steve was a critical part of the crew. They provided some needed guidance and inspiration to keep battling with the younger team. Dave also provided much needed help in the way of a bike for Geoff Macintosh.
RAAM is about overcoming adversity and finding ways both within yourself individually and as a crew to complete this event. Geoff lost both of his bikes to an unfortunate RV incident in which both of his trusty machines were crumpled to bits under the large rig. In true warrior fashion Geoff calmly mounted a bike that didn’t exactly fit him and without losing any time at all got back into the race. This could have been seen as devastating but in the end, it cost us very little.
As we neared the Appalachian mountains there was a growing sense of optimism. We seemed to have more a rhythm and we knew that the last 500 miles are the hardest of the race. More vertical feet are climbed in these last miles than anywhere else, including Wolf Creek pass.
Passing though endless five minute leg searing climbs only to descend quickly to the base of another, we found that Team 26 just wasn’t losing any ground. But they had stopped gaining. And knowing that anything can and usually does happen, we proceeded to attack as hard as we could.
I cannot remember more than 2 fifteen minute efforts of mine that I was not going 100%. Each ride was as focused as day one for me. I felt strong throughout the race and I consider that very lucky.
We finished up in Annapolis after serving one 15minute penalty for a missed time station call in. The escort to the finish line was fun and the german team stuck around to congratulate us on a great week of racing and memories that will last a life time.
There are too many stories of laughter and anger and peace and joy to possibly share in one race report. The emotional challenge of this race is as great as the physical one. We are lucky to have finished. We are thrilled to have raced. We are grateful to our crew. And we are ever mindful of our incredible gifts that allow us to event get to that start line.
Thank you to my teammates Alec and Geoff and Kevin. This was the best week of my life. Too our crew, thank you for dealing with me. And especially to 17 year old Grace Petro (Alec’s daughter) who was, BY FAR, the most amazing crew person! And to my dad, with whom I got to spend fathers day with this year, thank you for coming. It meant more to me than you know.
And lastly to everyone who was cheering us on and sending messages of encouragement and sometimes not so gentle prodding. Even though we were alone out there riding, we knew we really weren’t.
Thanks for reading.