Tuesday, August 14, 2018

2018 Race Across America

A few notes about the race:

The 2018 Race Across America starts in Oceanside California on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The race finishes in Annapolis Maryland on Chesapeake Bay.
This race is done in a "Time Trial" fashion, which means once the clock starts in Oceanside, it doesn't stop until you reach the race finish in Annapolis. It is a true race of truth, just you against the clock.

The race usually has a cool start but then the weather changes quickly as you climb over the coastal mountains into Anza Borrego Desert and Borrego Springs and the first time station. 

Then it is all about the wind and the heat as you go around the Salton Sea, through Brawley and Blythe, crossing the Colorado River until you reach the high plains and mountains of Northern Arizona.

Some amazing places along the way: Congress Arizona, Yarnell Grade, Jerome and the Verde River Valley to name a few before the tough 102 mile climb to Flagstaff.

From there it is through Indian lands which include Monument Valley and Mexican Hat.

Its then into Colorado and over the Continental Divide and into the great plains of our country. The Great Plains is generally a 700 mile stretch which can involve some pretty violent weather changes.

After leaving Kansas the route takes you through Missouri, southern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia before heading to the finish along the Pennsylvania / Maryland border where we were able to ride right through Gettysburg, before dropping down to Chesapeake Bay and City Dock Maryland.

This is an amazing course and what a better way to see it than on a bicycle!!

So.....Here is the back story. 

I got a wonderful email from my friend Steven and here is what he wrote.

"I turn 60 in March and the way I want to celebrate my 60th year is by doing a 4-person team for RAAM. It’s been on my mind for a few years and it seems to make sense to do this in 2018.
When thinking about RAAM, I thought of 3 people: Victor Cooper, Teresa Beck and you. 
Victor is really the person responsible for getting me involved with this crazy sport and has been a good mentor in the early days. He even introduced me to the two of you (Grand Tour 2013). 
Teresa is the one who always makes me smile and laugh and taught me how to turn a tough day into something great and know that after each climb is a kick-ass descent to enjoy.
And you have always been one of the most generous people both on and off the bike that I’ve had the pleasure to know. I can’t imagine a greater experience than being to take all 4 of us across the country on this epic race.
There is no financial requirements from my team members. My company and I will take care of the costs. It’s my birthday gift to myself. I’ve also taken care of registering the team a couple weeks ago. The only thing I need to know from you is if you’re game to join us. 

 I cannot believe the generosity of this man!!!!

This race has been a dream of mine since I saw the first one on Wide World of Sports way back in 1982 where 4 people did the first Great American Bike Race.
To this day.....after finishing the race.....I still cant believe we did this!! 
It is like a dream and as I write this all the memories are starting to come back of those tough days and nights doing something that was very new to all of us.

Ok....lets get to the race. 

There are a couple things I have to mention first. 

First of all, our cause/charity.

We rode for World Bicycle Relief, an amazing organization. Please read their story and donate if you can. Hearing and seeing the story of what this organization does around the world with the power of the bicycle just brings tears to my eyes. 
If you feel so inclined to help out, even in the smallest way, please donate Here. 
Thank you.

This kind of race cannot be done without the help of a good crew of people to take care of the racers. It has to be a well oiled machine and ours turned out very well indeed.

Through the help of my friend Kevin Walsh, we enlisted the help of a legendary Crew chief. 
We got very lucky. We realized we did not have a large enough crew for this endeavor so Kevin gave him a call. 
His name is William A. Medina.
 William is from Puerto Rico and has quite a history with RAAM and Race Across the West (RAW).  

He is the founder and executive director of La Vuelta Puerto Rico, a 3 day, 375 mile event in Puerto Rico rated one of the top 75 cycling events in the world. 

Race Across America:
 Crew Chief, Navigator, 3 World Records 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015 solo Seana Hogan, 2018 BQE Core: World Bicycle Relief.
He was also crew chief on a number of the RAW races as well as many Silver State 508's.

(The list of his accolades is too long to list in this blog but if anyone is interested in seeing this mans resume, send me a message.)
 Kevin was our assistant crew chief and William was in along with 5 of his trained crew from the great Island of Puerto Rico. They were all experienced.

Pedro A Santos was a great driver and mechanic.
Vickthor Vega did a great job of driving and navigating.
Ismael (Babi) Velez was our RV driver. What a great truck driver.
Frances Hernandez took great care of us in the RV as our chef and house mother.
Jose M Valiente. A great driver of the RV and crew vehicles. A great young kid with lots of cycling experience.

We also had some ultra friends who said they would like to crew for us as drivers, navigators, mechanics, etc. 

My fellow Adobo Velo club-mate Ron Iseri was great to have along and did an amazing job.
A very new ultra-rider who is just attacking the ultra circuit and doing very well, Ray Zambroski. 
Ray picked navigating up real well and did an awesome job.
Jade Jourdan, who is one of our cycling friends and new to crewing did a great job navigating in the RV and in the SAG vehicles. Jade was really fun to have along.
Steven's daughter Sophie Burns also was part of our crew. She was such a pleasure to have along as the night-time house mommy. She also helped with the media tasks with Taylor who was in charge of media.

Our full team with Crew

With Crew Chief William and assistant Chief Kevin.

After much logistical preparation prior to leaving for the race, we all met down at Steven's office in Torrance, Ca to prep the cars and RV for the race. It really took a large effort to get everything ready. William wanted to have everything ready prior to going down to Oceanside which made everything prior to the race much faster and easier. 

The vans and RV getting prepped in Torrance

We had team/crew meetings at the office the day before we left.

Team meeting

We all traveled down to Oceanside the Friday before. We had to be there early for breakfast and then we all went with the vehicles and bikes for vehicle/bike inspection and our race photos. 

Vehicle inspection. Van 1 and 2
Bike inspection
Bike inspection and RV inspection 

We then had a little time to relax down by the beach and in the hotel. After taking a break for a while we all went down to get measured for our finishers jerseys and the pre-race meeting.
Our friend John Hopkins and his awesome wife hosted us for a great pre-race dinner at his house which was in the area. A big thanks goes out. It was so good.

Our Puerto Rico crew at the beach having fun before all the work starts

Dinner at the Hopkins residence

Saturday June 16  2018: Race Day

Oceanside, CA to Arizona

I know there are many experiences as a team that I have missed in this blog post, so I hope my writing will give somewhat of an idea of our experience as a whole. Keep in mind that I am writing this based on the experience I remember and what I have heard or have seen of my team mates experiences. I was racing and in a 4 hour interval block where I had no idea what was going on with Victor and Steven other than things I heard or saw first hand. Teresa and I hardly got to see those guys until the end of the race.
  Pictures of my team mates are from my team mates or the crew. 

Our start time was a little after noon. Our race number was T402. We were one of the first 4 person teams to start so we were glad we would not have to wait too long. 
The crew vehicle which was going out first was staged in a parking lot just down the strand at Oceanside Beach. We were all gathered at the start and waiting for the race start. It is amazing how many of our friends were there to see us off. It was a party. 
My daughter Nicole and son in law Matt, also came down to see us off. 

Here are a couple videos of us starting: 

Our introduction

Race Start

Heading up the hill at the start of the race in Oceanside

We all started together. Then all of us but Steven headed back to the hotel where the vehicles were. Teresa and I were in the second rotation so we were to get in the RV and head with them to Time Station one in Borrego Springs where we would take over for 4 hours. 
Steven was going to ride the neutral section of the course to the Bonsall area where the support vehicles would be waiting. Then Victor and Steven would be riding the course to the first time station doing 30 minute intervals.

This is a breakdown of our race plan for the entire race: (We will use my nick-name white owl for me so the two Steve's are not mixed up.)

1. Two team-mates (riders 1 and 2) would ride 30 minute intervals for 4 hours then go to the RV to rest/sleep for 4 hours.
2. Riders 3 and 4 are in the RV resting. The RV would be in communication with the support vehicles at all times and would position near the area on course where the 4 hour transition would take place. They would be notified 45 minutes out to get the resting racers (3 and 4) up and ready to race. 

Steven and myself (White owl) were using Van 1. (The grey van)
Teresa and Victor were using Van 2.                        (The blue van)

Each racer had all their supplies, helmets, lights, food, etc. set up in their own drawer bins in the van they were using. Bikes were set up on the rack accordingly depending on who would be riding next. The vans were always in motion either leap frogging or doing direct follow depending on the situation/rules and time of day/night.
When Steven was on his interval, he would have van 1 with him and vice-versa for Vic. Then during the switch to Vic, Vic and his van would be up ahead. The racers would cross wheels and Vic would go. Steven would get into van 1, leap frogging up ahead and rest for 30 minutes while Vic and van 2 were racing. This is repeated for 4 hours while the other two racers, Teresa and White Owl are resting in the RV.

When the 4 hour transition is to be made and the rider and van are nearing the RV, the racer in the RV who is going out next is notified to be ready. Usually the van with the rider who is NOT riding will be the one who gets to the RV first ahead of the racer.  
The racer who belongs to this van must get his gear on and be ready to roll when the racer on the road gets there. That way there is no lag in time. 

For example: Victor and van 2 are racing. The racers are ending their 4 hour intervals.
White Owl would be notified he is going first and should be completely ready and waiting outside for his van (van 1) to get there. When the van gets there, Steven exits and retreats for his 4 hour rest in the RV. White Owl's bike is removed and made ready. When the racer is spotted, Owl is out on the road ready to go, they cross wheels and Owl is off along with Van 1. Victor retreats for rest in the RV. Teresa gets in Van 2 and starts leap frogging ahead to start the 4 hour intervals with Owl. (And over and over and over, this was repeated like clockwork across America. It became stressful the first few days but once we all got in the rhythm of the race we started doing it almost flawlessly. There was still room for much improvement for sure!)

Hope that all makes sense. It was a little sloppy for the first day or so but into the second day we really started getting better on the transitions. 

These relays were done over 400 times across the country, only stopping for about a 2.5 hour period for dangerous weather in the plains.

Jade and Vickthor in Van one . The racer would be sitting in the rear seat so his/her legs can be stretched out. Notice all the bins and the bungee cord with toilet paper and paper towels. We would also hang our helmets there and our clothes sometimes when it was raining and the outer wear would be wet.

It took Victor and Steven longer than the 4 hours to get to Time Station 1 in Borrego but that was the first place the transition could be made because the RV had to move directly there according to the rules. 
They had some pretty good climbing to get over the coastal mountains. 

RAAM has 175,000 feet of elevation gain on the entire course coast to coast. After the low desert, the course starts climbing in earnest into Northern Arizona while heading to the Rocky Mountains and the Continental Divide. 

Here is the elevation profile for the entire 3,000 mile course.

Can you tell where we go over the Continental Divide?

We arrived in the RV at the Borrego Springs time station not long before they got there. 

Steven had a real white knuckle ride down the infamous Glass Elevator, the nickname given to the Montezuma Grade which descends about 4,000 feet from Ranchita, Ca down to the desert floor in Borrego Springs. The winds are really bad in the afternoon on that grade and Steven said he got buffeted pretty bad on the way down. That can be a scary descent even without wind!!

Steven descending down Montezuma Grade with our Media vehicle in tow.

Borrego Springs

This transition was probably our worst of the race. 
We miss interpreted the message from our crew chief on who was coming down Montezuma Grade into Borrego.

 I was ready to put all my stuff on waiting for my van to show up so I could get ready.

 We all thought that Victor was the one coming down the hill so I was ready to meet my van and get my gear on. Steven all of a sudden went flying by and we were not ready. ( All my gear was in the van Steven and I shared and that van was with him).

Steven just kept going until we would catch up with him. Then Teresa started our intervals heading toward Brawley. I got in the correct van and we started leap frogging Teresa until my turn.

Teresa and I had a great tail wind going through the desert on this section until well after dark. 
In fact, there was so much wind that we had a terrible dust storm to contend with. It was blowing so much dust that it was like white out conditions at some spots. 
We came prepared. We both wore dampened bandannas over our faces. 
At one point I was completely spinning so fast that I had no more gears. The tail wind was so strong that I was coasting at 37 miles per hour!!!!
Needless to say, we made it to Brawley very fast.

 My average speed on my first 10 mile interval to Ocatillo Mills was almost 30 mph with a max speed of 41 mph!!
Heading into the dust storm. It got way worse than this.
This section was really easy other than the dust. It got really nice riding through the desert at night. This is always such a nice time to ride a bike through the desert. There were hardly any cars on the road and it was beautiful. The temperatures were just perfect. 

We cruised at a really steady pace toward the California/Arizona border. We transitioned near Brawley and then took up the chase again just before midnight before rolling through Blythe. I crossed the Colorado River somewhere near Parker Arizona in the middle of the night before transitioning to Victor and Steven. The weather was just perfect through this section.

Arizona, Utah and Colorado

We then got in the RV. Steven and Vic were on their way for their 4 hour intervals.

I have to say.......Trying to rest/sleep in a moving RV, especially where we were, over the rear axle, was one of the biggest, most stressful, things for this older guy to endure. It was like trying to sleep on a trampoline while someone was jumping on it. Growing up flying in private planes with my dad, I was always able to sleep with the bumps and noise. This was a whole different animal!!
I could not sleep for the first 3 days and it wasn't until I was so tired that I became almost comatose and could sleep through almost anything, that I started to get some rest. It really took a toll on me and this was the toughest thing for me about the race. The racing was the easy part. It was trying to get some recovery rest that was so hard for me. I was tired to begin with before the race. Physically ready but just really tired. Not a good way to start a race.
This took a toll on my performance and really messed up my metabolism. Nothing much usually keeps me from sleeping when tired. This type of stress though was different.
Ron and Ray in LaLa land. There were two crew members sleeping above the cab too. There were crew and racers sleeping in the RV at all times.
Ahh.....where the racers rest. This is the trampoline bounce bed or better known as the bouncy house bed!!

The boys got a really nice section to ride in the wee hours of the morning. They rode the section through Hope Arizona and toward Salome.

I was pretty discombobulated after this first rest break and felt very strange getting back on the bike. My equilibrium was all messed up.

 Some of you know that I have a unique problem caused by my acoustic tumor removal some years back. My body has to compensate for the lack of one of my balance nerves so I really feel off sometimes when tired and in weird movement situations. Trying to eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, change clothes, etc., in the RV was really messing with my equilibrium.
 I really felt terrible the first 3 days. Teresa can attest to my grumpiness during these first few days. I was not in a good state. I think I kind of hid it from everyone but Teresa. She knows me better than most since we have been a team on the bike so many years riding tandem in ultra events

I was able to push the pace pretty good and rode tempo and sub threshold heart rates in this next section toward Congress Arizona. We had a pretty good headwind in some parts of this section but mainly a crossing head wind.
Teresa hammering into the wind heading toward Congress, AZ.
Teresa took the last interval going into Congress and finally had a little tail wind. William, Pedro and I in Van one drove up to the time station in Congress. I was so happy to see the "Bullshifter" time station. The Bullshifters are a great Arizona Club. They frequent many of the double centuries that we ride. Our friend Jim Pettett is the lead guy at the time station. I jumped out of the car and went over to say hi. A really great guy!!

Jim Pettett and I in Congress Arizona

I hung out with Jim for a while until Teresa arrived. 
I then took over and started climbing the infamous Yarnell Grade. 

Here is a video from a motorcycle showing the entire climb. A beautiful desert climb that can be absolutely horrible in the heat. It was nice when I did it though!

Two major climbs take you out of the low desert. Yarnell Grade climbs 1,800 feet in about 7 miles. The second is in the Prescott National Forest and climbs to Iron Springs. This is a tough section according to the route book and has some of the steepest climbing west of the Appalachians. 

We transitioned to Vic and Steven after the top of Yarnell Grade. Teresa went bombing down the other side before the transition. 

They took the next section to the Prescott area. From Prescott, we transitioned for the next section to the Cottonwood area and the Verde Valley. This is a beautiful area.

Teresa took the first section out of Prescott to start the climb up over 7,000 feet into the beautiful and cool town of Jerome Arizona. 

Mingus Mountain is its name and it was a pretty tough little climb. We switched off a few times on the climb and then we gave the long descent to Teresa who is an incredible descender. 

I told William when we were in the car after switching to Teresa, that they better race down the hill as fast as they can or else she would catch and pass us before the town of Jerome.

Teresa coming around a corner heading to Jerome
After going through this historic town and finishing the descent, we stopped for gas at the bottom of the hill. Right after we stopped......Teresa passed us and headed into the Verde Valley. 

From the next time station in Camp Verde, we had a very difficult section of the race to do.
This is a beautiful valley and a place I would really consider living in retirement. It is really close to the mountains. A really nice Northern Arizona area.

This next section to the time station in Flagstaff Arizona is 103 miles long with over 10,000 feet of elevation gain.
RV's and unnecessary support vehicles are not allowed on this section. This section would not allow us to use our 4 hour on 4 hour off to the RV rest rotation. All of us had to use the vans and sleep in the vans when on this section. This meant two riders and two crew in each van during rest periods. It was a little cramped.

The first part of this section from the Verde River at about 3,300 feet was the hardest climbing. In the first 37 miles we climbed to 7,400 feet. It was steady climbing too. 
I loved this section. It got cold but the stars were amazing doing this at night. I actually finally got some good REM sleep in the van just sitting in the seat instead of on the trampoline bed in the RV. LOL!!

I started the climb from the time station in Camp Verde. Teresa and I did most of that initial climb before transitioning to Vic and Steven when it got dark up in the cold mountains. We switched again when we got near Mormon Lake. Teresa and I took it into Flagstaff and to the summit on Hwy 89 leaving Flagstaff.

Teresa climbing out of the Verde Valley. Kevin and Victhor routing her on.

Switching with Teresa on the climb.

It was pretty cold rolling into Flagstaff. I got a low temp of about 41 degrees on my Garmin. It felt good while climbing though.

I love Flagstaff Arizona! I worked an entire summer in town in 1974 working on the Community Cultural Center that my dad was building. Love the town and the entire area.
Teresa took over again from me at the time station and rode up old Route 66 for a while until we got near Hwy 89. I then took the climb to the summit where we transitioned and got in the RV.
Steven and Victor now headed for about 60 miles down to Tuba City and the Navajo Nation.
Steven took the descent off the mountain. We rolled in the RV now toward Kayenta which is the gateway to Monument Valley.

While racing through Indian Reservation land, the race rules state that we must have a direct follow vehicle at all times, day or night.
Vic and Steven had about 71 miles to ride in order to get to Kayenta.
We ended up driving back quite a few miles from Kayenta to make the transition.

This was a great section with rolling hills and a crossing tailwind the whole way. At this point I think we were one of the final 3 teams on the road. While we were climbing toward Flagstaff in the night, we got passed by a team of German doctors call "The German Docs". They were in a younger age group than us. We slowly started to creep up on them during this section on the rolling hills.

I was really feeling pretty good at this time after coming down from high altitude. We ended up passing them not long before we reached Kayenta.

Chasing the German Docs
Passing The German Docs                                                                                                                 Photo: William Medina
We rolled up into Monument Valley before transitioning again to Vic and Steven. They got to ride through most of the valley while we rested. We did stop to take a few pictures though. It was beautiful!!

Ray and Kevin in Monument Valley

Vic rolling strong

Toward Colorado we went. Sorry that we didnt get to see the Mexican Hat area. I remember some awesome cycling through that area when I did Race Across the West in 2014. Victor and Steven got to do this section.

We transitioned not long before the Colorado border and I was lucky enough to be the one crossing it.
Getting close to Colorado

I rolled into Colorado through a very nice canyon before handing off to Teresa. She took the final leg to the time station in Cortez. 
Judging from the car drive, it was a pretty tough section with some tough climbs. Then there was an awesome descent at the end before town with a beautiful view of the Rocky Mountains where we were heading.

We waited at the time station for quite some time then I took the next leg toward Durango and started climbing out of Cortez on the main Hwy  .
Heading out of Cortez toward Durango
Teresa climbing toward Mancos
This was a wonderful section of the race heading into the Rockies. I gradually climbed then did one good climb before handing off to Teresa one more time before we transitioned to the RV near Mancos, Colorado.
I remember this area being really beautiful from our Race Across the West a few years back. Rode it in the dark both years but that year we got to drive back in daylight and see the town.

It was now getting dark. The sun had just set.

 I couldn't help but think about one amazing fact. 
When I did RAW on the 4 person team back in 2014, we reached this area a little later than we had this year. The amazing fact is this. 2014 had us riding the 860 mile course which didn't include the Arizona Century before Flagstaff. This years course was around 930 miles!! We were ahead of that year and had done 70 more miles and more climbing. 
This was a direct reflection of all the problems we had on the 2014 race due to our race leader and his friend who would not listen to the veteran racers they had enlisted to help them with the race.
(Please read that blog if you want to hear a real nightmare story about what not to do on a race like this)

It was now dark and onward to Durango we went. Victor and Steven did a great job on the final climb and descent to Durango. We made the time cut with flying colors and plenty of time to spare. Now it was onward to Wolf Creek Pass.

Vic and Steven continued on crossing the Animas River before climbing Baldy Mountain at just under 8,000 feet in elevation.

After getting a little rest, we were up again and ready to go. The crew told us that Victor was just crushing the climbs through the mountains. We were so glad to here this because we had all been concerned about his recovery from the broken leg while skiing a few months before the race.

We took over and on we went toward Wolf Creek Pass, the highest point on RAAM at 10,856 feet.

We rolled at and about 7,000 foot elevation through some beautiful towns while approaching the pass in the wee hours of the morning. It was a little chilly but not too bad. Arm warmers, vest and knee warmers was all that was required.

Onward past the time station at Pagosa Springs we went toward the big monster pass still rolling at around 7,000 foot elevation.
After a short while we came to the sign that said 8 miles to the summit. We had already been climbing quite a bit to this point but it wasn't too bad. It was at this point that it got challenging with the elevation. The climb averages around 8% I believe and it feels much worse at altitude, not to mention the lack of sleep plus the time in the morning we were riding. A normal person would be cozy and sleeping in a bed at this time of day!!

The crew decided that we should do one mile intervals while climbing the pass.
Our transitions had become very good so this was great. We could push hard for one mile then take a break. We did this all the way to the summit where the RV was waiting for the transition. It was tough at that altitude but we got her done.
Ron and Jade at the summit waiting for us.

We arrived at the summit of Wolf Creek Pass just as it was getting light for a much needed rest.

Victor took the descent off the pass. Teresa was really disappointed I think, that she didn't get to do it. She would have crushed that down hill.
Vic descending off Wolk Creek Pass

Down they went while we tried to rest in the bouncy house again.
 They descended about 2,700 feet to the next time station.

The course now slightly descends across the San Luis Valley, but never gets below an elevation of 7500 feet. The Rio Grande River is just slightly to the left of the course through most of this section. The headwaters of the Rio Grande are here.

It is kind of a shame that during some of these sections while resting, we were not able to see the sights outside. I feel like we missed half the country but we really needed the rest to get ready for racing to come. We had a long way to go!!

This section leads into the second of the high Colorado Rockies passes, La Veta Pass. (If you click on the hyperlink, you will see web cams of the pass. A really beautiful pass)

We made the transition not long after the guys crossed the Rio Grande just east of Alamosa.
You could see Blanca Peak just off to the left as I was taking the interval to the town of Blanca, while we were rolling toward this section of the Rockies. We were still above 7,000 feet elevation in a big valley.
Teresa now took over and hammered toward the town of Fort Garland. From this point we started ascending in jest again for the next pass, La Veta pass, 9,413 feet elevation.

I took over just past Fort Garland. I got to do the entire 14+ mile ascent to the summit of La Veta Pass. Then Teresa got the descent to and through the town of La Veta before starting some of the next climb.
What a load of fun this climb was. I had a tail wind and the gradient was very gradual as you will see from the picture below. I think the top gradient on this climb was about 11% shown on my Garmin but the average had to be in the vacinity of 3-4%. At least that is how it felt. This was one of the most beautiful parts of the race for me. The temps were perfect and the views amazing. I just wish we had more pictures of this area.

Near the summit of La Veta Pass                                                                             Photo: William A Medina

Teresa waiting for me at the summit and ready to bomb down the descent!!

We handed off and rolled in the support vehicle past Teresa who was just bombing down the highway toward town. This girl is just amazing on descents. I dont think I have ridden with anyone who has such good descending skills. My team mate is just an amazing cyclist and has no fear!!

We all had a little trouble finding the turn in town but eventually found it. There was some construction going on and Teresa had to do a gravel section of road. Her bike handling skills were really tested as she made the turn on to the gravel from the paved road. Her rear wheel slid out and it looked like she was going down. She recovered very easily and never looked back.

William, our crew chief and our driver, Pedro, in our van moved up ahead to scout out a spot to make the hand off from Teresa. 
We were now starting another big pass, this one much tougher than La Veta Pass, Cuchara Pass. 

This is arguably the prettiest of the major Colorado passes and I agree. It was so beautiful!!

We had trouble finding a legal spot to park and make the rider transition. The further we went meant Teresa would have to ride longer and there were some pretty tough kickers leading to the start of the pass.

We finally found a good spot and waited for Teresa and her vehicle. There had to be room for her vehicle to pull over too.
William in Cuchara Pass waiting for Teresa

Such an amazing crew we had. Lt. to Rt. Crew Chief William, myself and Pedro. We had a blast in that van on this day!

From this point I climbed for about 7 miles and 1,550 feet in elevation gain. 
I was just above 8,000 foot elevation where I started and when I transitioned near the top, I was above 9,700 feet in elevation. That climb was a grunt. 

I couldn't help but think about training at home. 
We all go out and ride up to points in our local mountains like Cloudburst Summit, Dawson Saddle and Onyx Summit. We are so proud of ourselves when we accomplish these things in training. 
These are great training rides but I really felt accomplished on this day. I got to climb two passes in a row, as hard as I could go, already at elevation. On both I got to start at 8,000 feet and climb to almost 10,000 feet. 
I was toast after getting within one mile of the summit of Cuchara Pass. I was so glad to see the support vehicle coming back down the hill. I was really pushing for the summit but I was really relieved to see that William had brought Vic down the hill to make the transition with me there. 
It was better for the team because this old guy was really slowing down at that altitude. Vic just hammered to the summit at 9,939 feet, about 200 feet left from where he took it from me!!!

Vic on Cuchara Pass near the summit

As we transitioned now to the RV, the boys had a 4,000 foot descent in around 48 miles to the town of Trinidad, CO at about 6,000 feet.

The next thing in the route book.
"Severe weather-Tornado Information".
3 pages on how to be safe in thunderstorms, hail, rain and tornadoes!
We were not in the mountain south-west any more and were in the high plains and entering part of tornado alley. 
We took over not too far from Trinidad, CO. We had a crossing tail wind and it was rather pleasant for this section with flat sections and a few rolling kicker hills that were not bad.
This was a tough section due to the lack of sights. It was about just racing. There was nothing to take your mind off the open road. Thank God we did not have any bad head winds through this section or it would have been really tough.

You could see that the weather was changing gradually during our intervals through this section. There were giant cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds appearing ahead of us, to the left and to the right. 

As the day was getting longer and the sun was getting low in the sky, things looked to be going down hill. We could see a big storm off to the north and Kevin was telling us there was a tornado warning over in that area. To the east it didn't look too bad but we could see some iffy weather forming off to our right which would most likely be moving in our direction. 

Teresa hammering through Eastern Colorado with the weather going down hill ahead. That is our media vehicle with Taylor most likely launching one of his many drone shots. We heard it flying over our heads a number of times.

Starting to look a little nasty up ahead while waiting for Teresa. The picture doesn't do it justice. There were some strange looking cloud formations in that storm as it moved to our left.

I took the final interval from Kim to the transition near Utleyville, CO and the winds were at my back. They were picking up though with the gusts getting more blustery as the sun went down.
Teresa rolling toward Kim, CO.
That was not a good sign. 
We made the transition to Steven and Victor. They were on the road about the time it got dark. 
Sunset looking west as the RV waited for us.                                                           Photo: Jade Jourdan

Sunset looking west as the RV waited for us.                                                           Photo: Jade Jourdan

Things were looking a little nasty our there                                                                          Photo: Jade Jourdan

This section is where the race got really interesting and a little scary!

We were resting in the RV and I was sleeping for a change. We had all the windows in the back open because of the humidity and the air conditioning was not reaching the back too well. 
I was in a deep sleep for a change and all of a sudden I was getting wet and hearing this sound which sounded like someone throwing large rocks on the roof of the RV. At the same time I was rousted by constant white light in my eyes. 
We were driving through a major thunder storm. Teresa and I both said the same thing about the same time. This is scary and the boys are out riding in this. 
Luckily, they pulled the plug before the cloud to ground lightning got too close. 
They were behind us and we were driving ahead to the next transition point so we were driving right into what they were about to hit. 

When we stopped in a truck stop it started pouring like crazy along with the hail. I have never seen lightning like this in my lifetime. It was constant with hardly any break between the flashes. It was like the entire atmosphere was electrified!!

A little later, the vans rolled up with Vic and Steven and we hunkered down for almost 3 hours waiting for it to pass. Kevin was on top of the radar so he could see where it was going. 
They pulled the plug out by Springfield Colorado which is about 18 miles or so from where we were. They drove ahead on the course to us. 
Teresa and I would be next to go when the storm was over and we would be driven out to the point on the race course where they left off.

Below is a video compilation I made of the one taken from the RV as we were rolling into it and the one taken from one of the support vans while the rider was rolling toward it. I am not sure how far they were behind us but they were still a little away from it at that point.

Teresa and I got back in the game about 18 miles or so before the next time station at Walsh, CO. 


This was one of my favorite sections of the race. Kansas!!
We got back on our bikes a little after One in the morning. The roads were wet and there was a very very light rain at times but it was not cold. It was actually refreshing with a slight tail wind to boot. We had a light show to our east as the storm that had just pass moved on. It was a spectacular section to ride on our bikes. The only cars we saw were our support vehicles. We averaged about 20 mph as a team, from where we started after the storm, through Kansas doing our intervals. I even saw red lightning. Not sure what causes that but it was spectacular.

We rolled over the border into Kansas during the dark and hardly noticed it. 
We continued through this flat state with pretty good weather conditions. Everything pretty much looked the same but there was some really interesting things to look at.

Kansas looked all like this

Our team leader getting ready to change with Vic

Steven taking over from Vic

 We had time stations in Ulysses, Montezuma, Greensburg, Pratt, Maize, El Dorado, Yates Center and Fort Scott, before rolling into Missouri.

We passed the halfway point on RAAM while crossing Kansas. I was doing my interval at the time. 
I did not know that we were at the halfway point. I saw the crew standing along the side of the road up ahead and I though it was time to switch off with Teresa. She was not on her bike so I kept hammering. As I approached, they were all jumping up and down and cheering.

 It was a great moment. William, Pedro, Ray, Jade and Teresa were all out there cheering. 

Rolling across the half-way point of RAAM                                                               Photo: William A Medina

William did a great job of capturing a very special moment for all of us on the team. Thanks William!! Teresa, Ray, Jade and Pedro are all having too much fun!!

After we passed the Wichita outskirts area, everything was rolling croplands.

Leaving Kansas and into Missouri

You really know that you are not in Kansas any more. 

Teresa leaving Kansas in some blustery conditions

Teresa not far from the Ozarks heading toward Collin Missouri.

We rode through the dark morning hours through the beginning of Missouri so we could not see anything. We were rousted for our interval, after our sleep break, just as we were leaving The Osarks.

What I remember the most of Missouri is the rolling hills. It was really beautiful. 

We seemed to really be covering ground fast since we left the rocky mountains. We were distancing ourselves from the teams we were ahead of and slowly catching others. We came so close to catching Team Sea to See, the 4 tandem team that had blind stokers. Once we reached the rolling hill terrain of Missouri, they seemed to start to pull away and we never got close again. I think we were really in tandem county.
I think all the racing was getting Steven a little. Poor kid. 

We took over from Vic and Steven again, after they did another daylight interval stint, not far before the capitol of Missouri, Jefferson. 
We rolled along the highway at a good pace on the rolling hills leading to Jefferson and then we went right through the center of the capitol during my interval. This was the first big city that Teresa and I rode through.
The Missouri State Capitol

I got to ride right past the capitol building and then cross the Missouri River. We paralleled the river for quite some time and then ended up between the two rivers just before crossing the Mississippi River. 
Teresa and I switching off not far from the Mississippi.
I was so lucky to be on the bike to cross the Mississippi in West Alton Missouri just before heading into Illinois.
Another epic moment for Teresa and I during our intervals. 

Crossing the Great Mississippi River

Crossing the Great Mississippi River

Illinois into Indiana

It was just before 10 pm when I took my last interval in Illinois not far from the town of Carpenter. Time to rest for 4 hours.

2:15 am now and out Teresa and I went, taking over for Vic and Steven. We were now still in Illinois between Effingham and Newton. Again it was all about persevering through the wee hours.

We rolled into Indiana just east of Hutsonville, Illinois at about 6:15 am. We transitioned to the Vic and Steven shortly after.

We were back on at about 10:30 am. During this section of Indiana, we went through the city of Columbus. My van, with me in it, got a little lost in this city but luckily Teresa was on the bike and her support vehicle had her on track. We just couldn't find the course which was kind of confusing in the route book. There was a lot of traffic and it was difficult to get back on the course to catch up with them for the transition to the RV. We had some pretty good rain in parts of this section when we were on the bikes, especially in the area leaving Columbus if my memory serves me right. It was pouring for a while.
Time station 39 was in Bloomington which is where Indiana Univercity is. Steven and Victor got to do this section and went through the famous location of one of the best cycling films ever made, "Breaking Away". This movie was about The Little 500 bike race which has been held annually in April since 1951.

Indiana into Ohio

The team entered Ohio between Dayton and Cincinnati. Teresa and I took over again at around 7 pm. Another epic night of riding with good conditions. 

Riding through the night we did another transition break in the RV before starting up again in the early morning dark hours. 
I remember Ohio being so beautiful. The rolling hills were really beautiful. There were some tough climbs. Much of the state of Ohio was really into RAAM. There were RAAM signs posted along the course put out by the local time stations I believe to help the riders see the course.
 We went through a great town called Chillicothe. One of the solo RAAM riders, Joe Lawhorn is from this town. This guy is an amazing cyclist. He is a disabled veteran and doing solo RAAM. Just amazing.
There were some areas that were tough to navigate in the hills and we got side tracked a few times on turns that were easy to miss.
Vic looking happy although a little wet.
 I remember much of Ohio looked like this. Green lawns everywhere and beautiful properties. 
 Our friend Ken Mathis came all the way down from Michigan to surprise us on course as we went through the state. Ken is one of our riding buddies from Southern California. He works in the auto industry and got transferred to Michigan a few years back. We see him at home once in a while. 
It was a great surprise!!

Thanks for the surprise Ken!!

I took my last pull in Ohio as it was dawn and the sun coming up not far out of Athens Ohio.
This next section was another beautiful one which really stuck in my mind. I was on the bike at sunrise through a gorgeous area of eastern Ohio just before transitioning to team 2 for the cruise into West Virginia. 
Eastern Ohio at sunrise                                                                                                       Photo: Kevin Walsh

West Virginia to the finish.

Teresa and I took over a little after 10 am in West Virginia. What a beautiful state. We had some pretty good rain going through the rolling and steep hills of this state. 
One of the downpours I went through was similar to the one below. I think we all got hit by many like this once in the area.

Go Tiger!!

Video of Teresa descending a little while after one of the downpours.

The 85 mile section of the race from Athens, Ohio to West Union, West Virginia is the most difficult climbing in RAAM. 11,000 feet of elevation gain in this section and all the climbs are steep short kickers. 

Here is what the route book says about it:
 "The terrain moderates for the rest of Ohio but once into West Virginia and past Parkersburg the most difficult climbing in RAAM begins. The altitude doesn't approach that of the Rocky Mountains but the climbs are relentless. There is more elevation gained in this section than any other time station segment anywhere from coast to coast but the most difficult measured in feet of climbing per mile ridden is still ahead between Cumberland and Hancock in Maryland."

I remember one of my intervals encompassed 6-7 hills of less than a mile, all around 11%. It was a tough section on a team. I can only imagine how the solo's felt when they did this area.
It was just endless rollers into Maryland and then came the final really tough climbs before rolling toward the coast.

Video of Teresa passing one of the solo riders: 
You can hear William explaining the proper way to pass another rider and support vehicle. 
If Teresa was to chat with the rider, our follow vehicle would wait until she carries on.

We also had a lot of rain in this area. We had some down-right down pours. I actually enjoyed my riding in the rain as it was kind of warm an humid. It was rather refreshing.

We rolled into Maryland in the afternoon of the 23rd. Teresa and I took our last intervals in Maryland in the late evening finishing around 10 pm. We got in on a few of the climbs after Cumberland but Steven and Victor did the real steep ones during the night. 

Here is a picture from the route book of the profile for the section from Cumberland to Hancock.

We woke up and took over from Steven and Vic just inside of Pennsylvania near Blue Ridge Summit. We had a nice ride through the Carroll Valley heading toward Gettysburg. 

Teresa and I both got to ride through the Gettysburg National Monument area. It was sunrise and with a foggy mist.  I couldn't help but think of all the lives that were lost here. It was a surreal moment for both of us on the bike.

Assistant crew chief, Kevin Walsh, in my van, talking on the radio to van 2, following Teresa on a pretty good grade.

Climbing a grade on the way to Gettysburg.

Rolling through Gettysburg.

We transitioned to Steven and Vic near Westminster, MD. They now would do the final stretch to RAAM finish in Annapolis. 
Steven Hammering toward the finish

Vic climbing a kicker

Great shot William!!

One of Vic and Steven's final transitions going toward the finish.
The actual race finish is about 5.8 miles from the actual finish line. The racers stop here and then have a vehicle escort to the finish line at City Dock. The entire team re-grouped here, listened to the race official as far as the escort procedures and such, then we all rode together with our two support vehicles behind us to the actual finish line. 
The RV had to head to another location where there was parking so much of our crew who were in the RV, piled into the vans so they could see the finish.

The escorted section had a lot of traffic so it was good we had an escort. Our crew vans behind us were honking their horns to announce our arrival. It was great as we rolled into the City Dock area.
We were all so excited.   

Here is the link to the live video of our finish at City Dock and the medal ceremony. We come in at time stamp 15:00


We did it!!!

Really happy and all feeling accomplished. We beat our best projected time goal.

With most of our awesome crew. Left to right: Frances, Victhor, Jose, Kevin, Teresa, Victor, me, Steven, Steven's daughter Sophie, Ron, Pedro and Ismael (Babi). Missing are Jade, Ray and Taylor our media crew.

Here is video taken by Ron from the crew vehicle as we rolled into the finish.

Here are the links to all the pictures:


First and foremost I want to thank Steven for allowing us to do this dream race. What great memories we had thanks to you Steven.

A big shout out and thanks go out to all our supporters. Thank you everyone for all your donations toward our cause. It is very well appreciated.

A big thanks goes out to William our crew chief and Kevin our assistant chief and our amazing crew. We could not have done this with out you. You are all awesome!!!

Thanks to my team mates, Teresa, Victor and Steven. You guys were just fantastic on this whole race. I dont think we could have had a better team of friends. I loved every minute of riding this race with you all.

Last but not least......thanks to my wife Ginny and my family for your support during some trying times in our lives. You may not have been with me but you were with me in heart and mind the entire time.