Im sitting in Banff, hoping to get my garmin all properly set up at the library. I likely won’t be ...
By Thomas Berube
This is probably well known to lots of you but for the benefit of those who do not know, I need to take a moment to describe the Race Across America (RAAM). First run in 1982, this event is a non-stop bike race from the Pacific coast of the United States to Atlantic coast. Exact routes have changed over the years but the distance covered is generally around 3000 miles. The current course goes from San Diego, CA to Atlantic City, NJ, a distance of 3051.7 miles. Riders have completed RAAM in as little as 7 days although in most years the winner turns in a time of around 9 days. Under current rules riders are allowed 12 days to be considered official finishers. 3051.7 miles in 12 days works out to 254 miles a day or n average speed of 10.58 miles. A social ride! Right?
RAAM has alternately been disparaged as a mere sleep deprivation contest, and lauded as the world’s toughest athletic event. Whether your opinion leans toward one pole or the other you cannot deny that this is one of cycling’s great events. A bunch of amateurs, largely without access to the specialized coaching, team support structure, and the free equipment available to the elite pros, knock themselves out for minimal prize money, a modicum of media attention, a pat on the back from family and friends and a chance to spend weeks recovering from saddle sores and nerve damage. Clearly this triumph of will over common sense is not something for the casual rider.
Back in the early 1990’s, I was inspired to start riding competitively when I became really intrigued with RAAM. The idea of riding a bike non-stop from coast to coast was a big inspiration for me. It showed me that there was something out there that was a little bit more challenging than the century rides I had been doing. I was inspired to try some long-distance cycling myself. Doing endurance competitions like the National 24 Hour Challenge and the now defunct Bike Acrosss Missouri led to doing road races, track races, time trials and years of fun. These things taught me alot about cycling, particularly of the endurance variety, and the more I learned the more it became clear that riding RAAM was something I would never do.
I am too slow over the long haul. I lack the requisite mental and physical toughness and, from a purely practical stand point, where am I going to find a team of trusty volunteers who would be willing and able to be my crew and take three weeks off from their busy lives to follow me across the country in a van at 15 mph? However, I have never lost interest in the race and crewing fro competitor has long been something I have wanted to do.
With this in mind, it is time to introduce another thread to this narrative.
Back in June 2003 I was riding on the scenic roads of southern Wisconsin, working my way through the last of the qualifying brevets fro Paris-Brest-Paris. It was a warm and windy late afternoon. A mixture of convenience store junk food and Hammer Gel had left me extremely nauseated. Just as another rider, whom I has seen at past brevets but never spoken to, came up alongside me I lost it all over the front of the bike. He gave me a quizzical look and asked me if I was all right. I wasn’t sure what to make of him and he definitely wasn’t sure what to make of me but I figured that since he had just seen me at my worst I had nothing to lose by offering the hand of friendship.
Once I stopped retching I struck up a conversation and this how I got to know Bryce Walsh, fast rising endurance cyclist, fellow computer nerd, and cooler than anyone has a right to be musician. Despite a rather inauspicious start, with the passage of a couple of years, the shared misery of long hard bike rides, a few camping trips and the consumption of countless quantities of beer, Bryce and I have managed to become fairly good friends. So this past spring, when Bryce told me about his intention to qualify for RAAM and do the race in 2006 I was quick to volunteer that if he could qualify I would sign on as crew.
July rolled around and Bryce headed off to California to try and qualify for RAAM at the Gold Rush Randonnee. he finsihed in first place and well under the qualifying threshold, despite the searing heat. A post ride congratulatory phone call confirmed our intentions to be in San Diego in June 2006.
This past October, riders and future RAAM support crew members went to the Furnace Creek 508, an endurance cycling race in the deserts east of Los Angeles for a practice run. We had a very successful race and learned alot about what we are going to have to this coming year. During the post race days spent unwinding in San Francisco’s beatnik cafes and hipster bars the enormity of the task ahead really struck me. RAAM isn’t going to be like crewing a 24 hour race where you sit in a lawn chair at the checkpoint listening to music, eating junk food and pitching water bottles at your rider as he goes by.I have seen the logistics of RAAM compared to those of climbing Mt Everest. The details involved in simply getting to the starting line are considerable. A support crew must be organized, transported to the start line and than brought home from the finish. Vehicles must be secured, food for both rider and crew purchased, route maps prepared and studied and communication figured out. And all of this has to take place while the rider is putting 500+ miles per week to build up his endurance and get his body ready for the stress of 12 straight days on a bicycle.
I am going to try and take as much of the organizational details as I can out of Bryce’s hands so that he can be free to focus on getting physically and mentally ready to ride the race. This will be especially important during the critical training months of April and May which is also when we will have to start packing gear and getting ready to transport it to San Diego.
I am very excited about what is going on and want to share my enthusiasm with you. I am also a little intimidated by the road ahead. I am not even the one who is going to be entering a race in which people have died and which had an over 50% DNF rate last year. During the course of the next few months I hope to have some time to write some articles describing what is going on with rider training, expedition organization and finally the race itself; sort of a RAAM diary. I hope this is somewhat interesting and that you will be inspired to beam good thoughts in our direction. We’re going to need them.
Appeared in the December 2005 Derailleur Mailleur – The Newsletter of the Chicago Cycling Club.