RAAM is huge. The logistical preparations begin almost a year in advance – this preparation is a complete story by itself! This narration is going to focus on the race itself, walking through different sections of the race. I’m also going to be pretty honest, without getting personal, about the highlights and low moments of the race. I hope you find it worthwhile!
To start, I think I ran the most conservative race of the team members. While we all trained hard and came into the race well prepared, I definitely felt a bit like the slow guy, and wanted to make sure that I had the energy to get through the race successfully without any issues. There were too many other issues to deal with, nutrition, lights, unfamiliar roads, 3000 MILES!!!, I didn’t want bonking to be one of them.
I took the first pull of the race out of Oceanside. This first 20 miles is completely unsupported, so you bring everything you need for an hour of riding and tools for an emergency. They launched us at one-minute intervals, and this time would then be subtracted from our final total. The only rule was that on the first 7 miles on the bike path, you were not allowed to pass anyone. Given this, I was hoping to be the last person out…instead I was about the sixth. Needless to say, we bottle-necked on the bike path and I lost a fair amount of time there (hey 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there starts to add up).
Once we got out onto the open road, I could finally open it up to 190w and cruise through the flat to slightly rolling terrain. I started passing other teams, all the while staying well within my limits, but then would get caught at another traffic light! Yep, the race was starting a bit on the frustrating side for me! After the 20 miles, I had effectively increased my lead by one spot, and the climbing was about to begin!
JV got the first real climb, and we continued taking 20-30 minute pulls up the first half of the climb to Mt. Palomar. We were passed by many teams…they all seemed to be in a rush to get to the top and were working quite hard to get there. JV and I just stuck to our game plan, keeping it smooth and consistent, regardless of the grade (this was a basic theme with us throughout the whole race – stick to the plan…). Racing across the plateau after Lake Henshaw was breath-taking, and I ended my shift just prior to the descent down the glass elevator (a steep, very technical, windy descent from 4K ft. to sea level). We re-grouped with the RV at Christmas Circle and Willie and Kent were off to race! At the top of the plateau it was about 75 degrees, in the valley it was close to 100!
On a side note…I’ve heard from numerous sources that the first night of team RAAM is rather…uh…challenging. The teams are very close to each other so there is a lot of excitement. That, coupled with the fact that crew are still getting the hang of exchanges and other things, can make it a bit…uh…challenging. Knowing this, I really tried to keep my cool and be mellow. No point in getting upset about anything this early in the game.
For some reason, Willie and Kent were pulled from their shift a bit early. We were about 30 miles outside of TS2. I remember this pull out because it was dark and we were parked about 100 yards from a RR crossing. Of course, as soon as I took off, I had to stop for a train! Okay…patience Grasshopper…back on the road, it’s nighttime, it’s warm, the road is smooth and traffic-free and there are a number of teams ahead of us! If you look at the profile, you can see that my pull started with the climb up 900 feet over the first 10 miles. JV got the rollers at the top, and then most of the descent down the other side. That’s a long pull, you might think…we had a very difficult time catching JV, who was passing teams left and right! We finally made an exchange and then I got an extra long pull into TS3 in Blythe. I found out later that our radios weren’t working…thus the extra long pull… Remember the word challenging? You will notice that by TS2, we were up to 15th place amongst all of the teams (as opposed to 2nd to last at Lake Henshaw). By TS3, we were in 7th place.
Another note about the first night… I’ve been quite spoiled over the years by the likes of Robert Johnson of Terracycle who is an amazing night driver. He understands that he needs to be 20 feet behind me, regardless of the speed, so that I have lights for the road. It’s imperative that the driver not rely on “brights” as a rider can go from light to darkness very quickly if the driver has to dim the brights for an oncoming car. We had fantastic lights from Surefire that had a remote handlebar switch, so we could instantly fire up the uber-bright lights, as needed. However, knowing that we were going to be in the Rockies at night, I needed to be completely confident in my driver’s ability to stay with me.
The biggest concern that new drivers have is “well, if you go down, I will run you over.” Nonsense. If I am traveling at 40mph and go down, I will continue sliding on the road for quite a distance before coming to a stop…you will have plenty of time to stop. The bigger concern is if the rider does something unexpected, like hard braking, then the rider could be hit. We riders know this (or should know this) and try to ride as consistently as possible while in front of a car.
So, after my first night shift, I requested a new driver. Nothing personal…but I needed to be confident. My crew chief obliged and I didn’t have any more issues with this the entire race.