Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The 2014 Race Across the West

The "Race Across the West" is the Desert Southwest portion of the most difficult sporting event in the world, The Race Across America.

Here is the explanation from the RAW website:

"The Race Across the West is one of the most challenging bicycle races in the United States.  Started in 2008 the race has pushed many racers to their limits, both physically and mentally.  Created to provide that next step in endurance cycling challenges, RAW presents the ultimate challenge for some and for others it is a testing ground for racing RAAM.  This is a Race. Unlike other well-known road races, like the Tour de France, RAW is not a stage race. RAW is a single stage. Once the clock starts in Oceanside, it doesn't stop until the racer reaches the finish line in Durango. RAW is the second longest endurance cycling race in the United States. The race is essentially a time trial - a race against the clock, sometimes referred to as the race of truth. Unlike the Tour de France, solo racers are not allowed to draft or take shelter from the wind.  Teams may have as many team members on the road as they wish. 
The route is about 860 miles, passing through 4 states and climbing over 40,000 feet. Teams typically cover the distance in 2+ days, averaging 350 to over 500 miles per day. Solo racers finish in 3 to 4 days, averaging 250 to 350 miles per day. Teams generally use a relay format and race 24 hours a day. Solo racers have the challenge of balancing a few hours of sleep each night against race deadlines."

This years course was 878 miles since we had a re-route which changed the course slightly

This whole adventure started for us long before the actual RAW start on June 10th.

Our experience was really expressed perfectly by my friend and team mate John who put it this way..... 

"This was simultaneously one of the best cycling experiences of my life and  at the same time the absolute worst ."

My friend Debbie asked my friend Victor and I if we would like to be a part of a team an acquaintance of hers, Carlo, was starting for The Race Across the West. He was funding the effort and wanted to develop a team for "Ultra" races such as RAAM, The 508, Hoodoo.....etc by putting together a team of veteran ultra riders to help him. He was to be the fourth member of our team and team leader.

Carlo is a triathlete who proclaimed to have many successes in his sport. 
We were all happy to help him out and get a chance to do one of the toughest sporting events in the world. The team was to be called Adrenalin Enduro Racing and the team was to have many other members also and would do all types of other events as well. 

Vic and I both agreed. We were going to be a 4-man team in the event. 

A couple of weeks out we had our first team meeting in Long Beach where Debbie informed us that she had another commitment. Debbie owns a company called "Paws for Effect",  dealing with the entertainment industry and had a movie shoot come up for her and her dogs back in the Midwest. She had a tougher journey than us. She had to drive back east with a vehicle full of dogs.

Debbie is the owner of an amazing charity called "Dream Fetchers".
This was one of the charities we were riding for.       Debbie's interview here.


She asked me to find a fourth member to take her place.
I asked around and my friend John Clare did not hesitate for a second to accept and we had the team which did the race. 
I was very sad that Debbie could not do the race. I am sure she felt even worse.

After the first meeting, Debbie, Victor, John and I all agreed that we would need a very experienced crew to be successful in finishing this event.
 This was really necessary as Adrenaline Enduro Racing had no experience whatsoever in this type of event.
Judging from what we picked up from talking to Carlo's friend, who was organizer, they had a real wake-up call coming that was not going to be pretty.

I sent out a message on Facebook for a crew chief. 

After a short time we had our crew. My cycling friends Margaret and Tony. Two absolutely awesome people!!

Tony is a good cycling friend and is very experienced at crewing and has it down pat. We were blessed to have him and Margaret. 
Margaret, an experienced ultra-cyclist in her own right, wanted to gain more experience in this type of racing/crewing. She was excited about it.

That is the back story in a nut-shell so.... on to the event.

 Time got to about a week out from the race when I contacted the team because we had not heard a thing from Carlo. We all assumed that he and his friend Jad, as team organizers/leaders, would have all the logistics in order by one week out!!
We had a meeting to discuss things and they did not have anything done yet other than all the info which needed to be sent to the race organizers on the team members. We did not even know when our inspection date was because they never checked. Carlo was not at this meeting and only was at the first meeting for a very short time.  If they needed help on all this, they should have asked and not waited until the last minute.
For someone who professed to be trying to put a successful team together, he was not showing it.

We were all a little troubled after this meeting but stayed positive.

To make a long story short: The weekend that festivities opened at the RAW/RAAM start in Oceanside, Ca., we still did not have rental vans, racks for the vans, uniforms or supplies.

Sunday 6-8-14:
We picked up our vehicles on Sunday morning, and went down without the racks but with the bicycles to get the inspection and drove home that night. We were already burnt out and we had not even started the race yet.
Inspection went smooth
Bike/vehicle inspection

Bike/vehicle inspection

Bike/vehicle inspection

Monday 6-9-14:
I got up at 4am so I could get ready and meet our friend Rick at Hollywood Racks by around 6am in Los Angeles. He loaned us the racks for the two vehicles. Big Kudos go out to Rick and Hollywood Racks for their help!!
I picked them up and got to Victors house around 7:30. Tony, OUR crew chief and Victor were getting the van ready when I arrived. It was pretty comical watching us figure out how to install the rear hatch racks.
Tony, Vic and I hit the road and headed to Oceanside. 
We had the crew chief meeting at 1pm and the racer meeting at 5pm. The racer meeting was for all the RAW entrants including solos and teams. The RAAM solo entrants were leaving with us on Tuesday so this was a mandatoy meeting for them too.
We were all in unbielivalble comany at the meeting . All the teams and solos were introduced.
John and I with 6 time RAAM winner Seana Hogan
John and I with Kevin Walsh and Lori Cherry.

A lot of entrants and crew

After another busy day we went out for dinner and supplies.

At dinner Vic and Tony worked on strategy for the team rider transition scenario.

Tuesday 6-10-14: Race Day one

When Vic and I arose, Tony was already down at the van setting all the coolers up on the roof.
We grabbed a quick bite and went to pick up ice and water. We loaded the coolers with ice and water and hit the road for the start area to finish set up. We barely got it all together before it was time to stage the vehicle down in Betty's lot for the start. When the others arrived we rushed for pictures, (we were the last entrants who needed pictures). Talk about cutting everything close......holy cow!!!
The steed is ready

Our rolling home for the next few days is ready

"Over the Top Radio's" George Thomas. George was inducted into the Race Across America Hall of Fame during the pre-race meeting on the Monday before the race. He did RAW on a two person team and set a record. Great job George. He then drove across the country and was the master of ceremonies at the RAAM finish in Annapolis Maryland.

Racer/team car staging area....Betty's Lot

Oceanside Pier....Racer introduction and start

Oceanside pier

If not for Tony, we would have not made it to the start.....first of many Kudos going Tony's way!

Race Across the West teams, solos and Race Across America Solo starts:

 We were one of the first teams to start. The Solo racers for the RAW and RAAM started with us on day one. The RAAM teams would start at the end of the week.

We rolled out all together at about 12:09 pm.
Here we go!!

Here we go!! Left to right:  Carlo, Victor, Me and John
We would ride in the parade zone for 7.8 miles up the San Luis Ray bike trail. I had been on this many times on the Camino Real Double and the Borrego Double.

Jad’s great driving skills were brought to light here. He almost went roaring through the starting gate ahead of us. Then he missed the first turn and the race officials were yelling at him. Then he got lost and called Carlo on his cell phone. He was riding with us on the bike path when he got the call. They blamed Tony for getting Jad lost on purpose. John told Carlo how to fix it and he would not listen.......The drama begins.

The race started when we exited the bike path on College Blvd.

The next section, where the race actually started, is unsupported and we are not allowed to have our support vehicles with us. We all agreed to ride as a team in this section in case someone had a mechanical problem. We carried tubes and pumps which we would discard later.
This is where we got our first hint that maybe Carlo our team leader was not who he proclaimed to be. 
None of us proclaim to be strong climbers but we can handle climbs fine for long distances. The first climbs in this section were not too bad and we found ourselves dropping Carlo and waiting constantly for him. We were stopping to the point we had to get off our bikes and wait for him.
 ( I don't say this to be mean or anything but we were racing. They both seemed to have this strange attitude about the race that I couldn't figure out at the time)

I figured that our team would be a work in progress and that these guys would learn along the way. Getting to know everyone's strengths along the way and working on transition placement based on the terrain. We were already planning for Carlo to take the flatter sections if we were to have a good race finish time. It is what it is!

While we were waiting for Carlo at a stop sign where there were race officials Carlo shot around the outside and was going to run the stop sign when we yelled at him to stop.
He seemed kind of reckless and again I was getting worried. Not sure if it was just nerves or he really was that way. We would have answers in a while.

Vic heading to the meet up point with Carlo behind.

We got to the Bonsall area near Old 395 where all racers met their support.
 When our crew got their, a race official said we got a major penalty. Tony argued with them that  "No way these guys would get this penalty. They are so familiar with the area it could not happen." Plus this part of the course was fully marked!!  Turns out they put down the wrong race number!

Onward to Time Station One, Lake Henshaw:

 There were some supporters along the course. Not sure who the ginger bread man was supporting but we got a kick out of it!!

John took the first single rotation from Old Castle Road to Harrah's casino at the foot of Mount Palomar. Everything went smooth through this heavy traffic zone and John smoked it in the heat for 16 hard miles before handing off to Vic at the Casino.
Vic now had a hard climb. He climbed about 2/3 of the climb out of the Pauma Valley and it was hot. The most difficult part up the foot of Mount Palomar. 
I took over for him with about 1/3 of the climb left and finished the rotation to Lake Henshaw on the rolley section along the foot of the mountain. Everyone who has done the Borrego Double knows this section.
I pushed very hard on that hill and in the approach to "time station one" knowing that the transition would be ready to go with Carlo waiting. 
Cruising toward Lake Henshaw

This is when we had the first transition problem. I hammered into the time station and guess what......no Carlo.....I have no clue where he was and it didn't seem that his friend who was driving the other car did either.

John told me later that after waiting for 15 minutes Carlo decided he had to go to the bathroom. After John told them to get ready they both disappeared and did not get his bike ready. John was on the street waiting to take a picture of me as I came in. He did not notice that the two of them were being useless.

Lake Henshaw to time station 2,  Brawley, Ca.

I kept going because we were on the clock. I would ride until they caught up with Carlo. I was almost to the turn on Hwy 79 when they came up from behind. 
Jad parked the support vehicle right on the white line in front of me.
 Wouldn't you know it.....a race official came up right behind him and told him he was not complying with the rule of 5' off the road.

 John apologized to the race officials as he was yelling at Jad to do as they said. He just wanted to argue because “they had no right to talk to him like that”. All they said was that we were not 5 feet from the road as described in the rules.
  You don't argue with the officials especially nice ones who are just doing there job and trying to keep everyone safe. We thought we had a penalty for sure right out of the box. Oh boy this trip was going to be interesting, I was thinking.

I stayed on the bike because our smaller support vehicle did not have room for me and the other one was behind. I soft pedaled to San Felipe Road where I met the van while Carlo did the easy climb to Ranchita with the other vehicle leap frogging him.

John took the next rotation and got to descend "The Glass Elevator" into Borrego Springs, Ca. 
He took to the bike and we all took a bathroom break with a meeting of the Ranchita Yeti.
John with Yeti in the background

The Glass Elevator drops from 4,224 feet to about 1,100 feet. What a ride. I wished I wasn't in a car for it. I think we almost melted the brake pads.

Here is a long video of the entire descent from Ranchita. It is not for the squeamish.......especially the lower section. John you were a lucky man to get this descent and I wish I was there to witness it!!!


John looking good in the Borrego Springs wind-fest

John hammered on through Borrego Springs for a total of about 23 miles before handing off to Victor.

Here is a video of Margaret doing a water hand off to John......except John didn't want it and kept rolling. Perfect attempt though done my Margaret!


We had a nice clean transition and Vic was off with a crossing tail wind for about 23 miles.
Victor looking great in the desert
Margaret having a little Borrego Springs fun.

I took to the bike next, at about 120 miles into the race, just before 7pm so we put the lights on the bike. I rolled into Brawley just after sunset.

Time station 2 to time station 3, Blythe,Ca:

Since 7pm we were required to do direct follow with the support vehicle behind the rider. Carlo's turn and onward he went up the road. We took 30 minute pulls through the night depending on the terrain. John went next, then Vic and I finished up the cruise through the low desert to Time Station 2 in Blythe, Ca.
One of the reasons I like riding at night out in the middle of nowhere.

Another note about the kid/rookie crew mate on the ride from John while I was riding and he was in the car with him:

“Jad almost rear-ended at least 3 other support vehicles through this section at high speed because he was texting as he drove. He also drove on the wrong side of the road several times. He refused to stop texting or looking at his phone’s GPS.”

I hope you feel our pain while you read this. It seemed never ending!!

Here is a video of Victor flying by another team in the night.

 He was flying through the desert night!!

Things were going pretty smooth through the night thus far with the exception of the other vehicle issues.
 I love riding through the desert at night!
I got to ride through border patrol station before heading into Blythe.
Moving on up the road heading for Blythe, Ca

Going through the border station

Time station 3 to time station 4, Parker, AZ:

The course follows the Colorado River northward until the first bridge where we crossed into Arizona. While on the Arizona side we were on the Colorado Indian Reservation.

We went through the same rotation scenario for the night and pulled into Parker. 
Everything was pretty smooth during this section except for some slow transitions.
We saw an awesome sunrise which really was great. Did I say I loved cycling in the desert? 

Photo by Victor Cooper

286 miles down.....592 to go.

Time station 4 to time station 5, Salome, AZ

In this 56 mile section we left the Colorado River valley and slowly climbed up the lower desert of Arizona. It was beautiful. We went through the town of Hope, AZ.
This was a really interesting area!


Everything was pretty smooth thus far and we were averaging over 18 mph overall to this point. Not bad even considering the poor transitions at times and the other issues.

I was riding in the car with Jad while Carlo was riding and there were a few issues especially with his equipment. His tail light fell off so we had to stop and tape it on. It was never ending with the issues with these two. It took Carlo a very very long time to get to Salome, AZ. The other vehicle up ahead was wondering if they should come back to us and check on us. It took that long!

The climbing was not far off though.
 We rolled into Salome, AZ all feeling good at about 7:10am local time.
 342 miles down and 536 to go.

Time station 5 to time station 6, Congress, AZ:

The climbing begins! The race now continued on an upward trend. It entailed gradual climbing in beautiful desert scenery. We went over Merrit Pass. With about 4 miles to go you could see Yarnell grade in the distance. 
Vic climbing a steep one!

I have heard from many people about this grade. It is a brutal climb, usually due to the heat.
We rolled into Congress and it was my turn to take the bike.......wooohoooo....I got to do Yarnell or part of it. I was feeling great about it.
Welcome to Congress, AZ!

From the last time station we had climbed from 1,864 ft to a little over 3,000 feet in elevation.

Time station 6 to time station 7, Prescott, AZ:

Two major climbs take us now out of the lower desert. Yarnell grade climbs 1,800 feet in 7 miles. The other climb before reaching Prescott is about 1,100 feet in 6 miles.

I jumped right on the bike when we got there. I didn't even get a chance to soak my feet in the famous little rubber swimming pool with the rubber ducky.

Margaret and John taking a break while I forged ahead up the grade. Time Station 6 is run by "The Bullshifters" club from Arizona. We see many of them on the double century circuit every year. A large contingent always comes out to the Grand Tour every year. Bullshifter Mike Sturgill will be inducted into the 100 double century club this year.
Yarnell about half way up.

Yarnell Grade with Congress, AZ way down below. Picture by Victor Cooper

Many people remember Yarnell because it is the area where 19 brave firefighters lost their lives in the Arizona wild fires.
In the town of Yarnell the number 19 is displayed everywhere. The Yarnell Hill fire was ignited by lightning on June 28, 2013. On June 30th it overran and killed 19 City of Prescott firefighters known as the "Granite Mountain Hotshots". A fast moving thunderstorm caused wind shifts that trapped the firefighters. There was little they could do.

I just wanted to attack that climb. It was one of the highlights of the ride for me, especially after all the flat desert riding since Borrego.  I had heard so much about it and I was so lucky to be in the rotation to do it. 
The climb starts off with a slight downhill leading into a scary looking, steep section before a stair stepping, zig-zagging climb up the mountain.
I started off thinking I was going to do a small portion then transition to one of the guys when they came up behind. I just cranked into a good rhythm riding out of the saddle the entire first section before the turn. I was really feeling great!!  I sat down and spun at a high cadence for a little bit then got out of the saddle again, this time in a much bigger gear. I kept doing this until I noticed on my Garmin that according to the miles, I was not far from the top.

Yarnell Grade. Picture by Victor Cooper

The car caught up to me a little bit from the top where it was leveling and there was a nice turn out. 
John took up the gauntlet now and finished it off.
When we got to the top in the car we stopped for a break at a neat little trading post type building and had a little fun while John forged ahead.

Oh...that soda tasted so good after that!! Having some fun at the top.

John hammered his rotation in this tough section of rolling hills into the Peoples Valley before turning it over to Carlo. Carlo had his friend Jad leapfrogging him in that support vehicle. They were 1/2 mile ahead of us when we noticed that they passed the turn and went off course. Good thing we saw it or we would be in trouble. Tony floored the van and chased them down as we were trying to get Jad on the radio. We caught them, put Carlo back in the van, and brought him back to the course. We then had a traffic hold up due to chip sealing on the Hwy. They let Carlo through but we had to wait. They had no idea that RAAM and RAW were going through. Carlo was not too happy with the new chip seal.

John took over from Carlo in the Skull Valley for a short time then transitioned to Vic to bring us into the town of Prescott. 
Vic doing a nice rotation before Prescott

This was the most traffic we had seen since the start. 
We pulled into the check point at the Walmart where I took a bathroom break before my rotation. 
It was kind of weird walking into a Walmart in my cycling shoes and kit. I got some good looks!!
It was Walmart after all and people are used to strange fashion statements after all......right?

445 miles down, 433 to go.

 Time station 7 to time station 8, Cottonwood, AZ:

After leaving Prescott Valley the route winds and climbs to 7,000 feet only to descend to 5,000 feet passing through the historic mountainside town of Jerome.

Leaving Walmart and getting back on the course there was a lot of traffic. This was not my favorite part of the ride. Leaving Prescott in the busy traffic sucked!! I had to get on the parkway before my turn toward Jerome. There was a lot of traffic and I had to deal with on ramps and off ramps with merging traffic. Not fun!!! I thought I was off course for a little bit until I saw Seana Hogan’s van pass and honk at me. I came up to the turn toward Jerome and the crew thought we were off course because I was on what seemed like a freeway.
About a half mile up the road I saw Seana and her husband Pat. I asked them and they said we were fine. We were now on the road to Jerome and Seana was getting on her bike for a little spin.

Seana is a 6 time winner of the RAAM and the trans-continental record holder. She was driving all the way across the country shooting video of the race and riding when she got a chance. She was riding the awesome road to Jerome. 
Seana climbing to Jerome, AZ

She was coming up behind me when I rotated to Vic and he got to do the climb to the top where Carlo would take over for the descent to Jerome. 
Vic cranked on that climb and made up some good time. It was a spectacular climb!!
Taking a break at the summit

Looking down the road toward Jerome, Sedona and the mountains of Flagstaff in the distance

We gave Carlo the descent that was arguably the most beautiful of the race. This was an amazing pass with views of Cottonwood and the Sedona area in the distance.
When we transitioned to Carlo at the top, he was not ready again and we lost about 30 minutes. 

 John was in the car with Jad following Carlo down the hill and he commented on the descent:

Carlo descended at approximately 25 MPH on a nice descent and stopped in the middle to take a selfie. On the descent Jad was texting as he drove and went all the way on the wrong side of the road twice. When opposing drivers honked he yelled at them. Talk about arrogance and stupidity.

The town of Jerome Arizona is amazing. It is built on the side of the mountain with homes built on the side of the mountain also. Right in the middle of the descent into Cottonwood. 
We flew into the Time Station in Cottonwood with Carlo exceeding the speed limit through town and bragging about it! 

Time Station 8 to Time Station 9, Flagstaff Arizona:

From the race book: "Averaging more than 128 feet of climbing per mile, this is the toughest section of the race."
Due to the fires in Oak Creek Canyon, the race was re-routed up Hwy 17 to Flagstaff. We were not allowed to pass another team on the interstate and could only pass on the off/on-ramps. Direct follow by our support vehicle was mandatory in this section, even in daylight.

John took the gauntlet from Carlo in the heat right out of Cottonwood toward our turn on Hwy 17.

John flew through this section and then I took over just before we got on to Hwy 17.

It was really hot at the bottom of this climb. The average temp on my section was about 70 degrees but it was in the upper 90's at the bottom. 
I got in a nice rhythm at the bottom and just started to spin like I did on the Yarnell Grade. I was feeling great and I had a carrot up ahead.
First rotation on Hwy 17....I see a carrot up ahead!

Up ahead I could see another teams follow car so I decided to slowly increase my pace to catch them.
I caught them after a little while but I forgot we were not allowed to pass on the interstate. Tony honked at me. Sorry Tony......I forgot in my haste to catch that guy.
I backed it off a bit and then resumed to a position not far off the back. We came to the first off-ramp and we did not stop since I was feeling so good. I think we passed two teams at that off-ramp. I kept going and was feeling even better. It was like a cat and mouse game with these teams on this climb.
When I got to the first false summit after about 13 miles, it leveled some and I got into my aero bars. The sun was setting and now I was flying into the sunset. It was so beautiful. 
Flying into the sunset: Photo by Victor Cooper

After cruising at a good clip through this rolling section and when it stated to kick up again, I transitioned to Victor.
Vic raced really strong through this section and had many more off/on ramps to deal with as we approached Flagstaff. Some on-ramps were steep too. We passed more teams. I never kept count on how many, but we passed quite a few on this climb and were racing strong and making up a lot of time.
During this whole time there was no sign of Carlo and Jad in the other support vehicle. Apparently they got lost again and couldn’t find us on the Interstate?? I think they must have been on a different road altogether.
Anyway.....Tony told them to meet us in Flagstaff since it was a very long climb and it could take us a few hours. 
John took the pull next for the roll into Flagstaff. We kept Jad and Carlo updated on our ETA all along so Carlo would be ready to roll next. Tony told them to get some rest.

John on Hwy 17. Nice for the Hwy dept to recognize us on the Interstate. Rolling into Flagstaff

John rolled into Flagstaff, rode through the university then into town. When we reached the train station there was a passenger train at the station blocking the road. We sat there for 15 minutes and then a freight train came through. Tony called and texted Jad while we waited for the train to tell them to be ready when we got there. After that the passenger train left and we got through.
Big John stopped by a train. About the only thing that could stop him!!

John hammered down the Hwy now heading east toward the time station. 

Arrival time I think around 9:38 pm.

556 miles complete.  322 to go.

When we reached the time station, guess what.....The Guys were asleep in the car and Carlo was not even dressed and ready to race.

We had just buried ourselves on the toughest section of the race to help Adrenaline Enduro Racing make up time!!!!
Tony went ballistic!!!! 
It was only a matter of time we were figuring due to everything that had transpired since our very first meeting with them. Our crew chief and good friend just couldn't take it anymore.
I won’t go into specifics, but it wasn't pretty.
We sat down at McDonald's after all the commotion in the parking lot and discussed our options.
We were over half way through the race. What would we do?
After a long discussion, we decided to finish the race for us. We had all worked too hard to this point and we were going to suck it up, be positive, have fun and push on.
I think we must have lost over 45 minutes at that stop and all the teams we passed moved on ahead.

While the discussion was taking place John went and ordered food and went to the bathroom. Carlo was arguing with Tony. John came out and yelled for Carlo to get his ass on the bike and ride. He said he did not know where to go.
John told him where to go. 
He continued to argue with Tony and John was ready to physically put him on the bike.
He finally got him riding. Jad stated that they did not get anything to eat. He told him too bad, you have been sitting there for hours. He also said he did not know where to go. John told him straight ahead until he is relieved.   Ohhhhh.....boy

Vic rode in the car with Jad to have a talk with them and find out what their expectations were. They sure were not acting like people who wanted to race and have a good finish result for the team.

Time Station 9 to Time Station 10, Tuba City, AZ

We made our way north once again and headed toward our next time station in Tuba City. Carlo had a slight ascent to the summit where we had 11,200 Reese Peak to our West and Sunset Crater National Monument to the East side of the road. It was the middle of the night so we could not see either but I have great memories of those areas when I lived in Flagstaff in 1974.

Carlo made the summit and now it was a descent toward our turn on US 160….”The Navajo Trail”.
John descended now into the Wupatki National Monument area. 
We had terrible cross winds in the darkness starting now coming from our left which was the west.
I took the rotation around this area from John.
 That descent was a gas!!!.....But pretty scary with the cross winds. My maximum speed in that section was around 38mph with an average speed of 23mph and I was on the brakes most of the time. It was a crossing tail wind with more cross that tail wind.  It was pretty scary in the dark and I was glad I had good lights plus the lights of the follow car. The crew behind in the follow car was more stressed than I was I think watching me get blown all over the road.
About half way down I had a gust blow me completely off the road and into the dirt. Luckily it was hard dirt and I just reacted properly by not turning too hard and circled back on to the road. It could have been pretty ugly though if it had been soft sand.

I went a total of 13 miles in this mess and then transitioned to John again.

Little did we know that drama was going on behind in the other car with Vic and the boys. Vic was in the front seat while Jad was driving and Jad fell asleep at the wheel. He had to grab the wheel and barely saved them from crashing. Thank God that Vic was awake to catch it.
When we reached the turn on the Navajo Trail and Hwy 160, Tony called a sleep break for the entire team and crew.
Normally on a team race, you do not stop to sleep. The team keeps going and sleep is taken care of in intervals amongst the drivers and riders. Because of everything that was going on, it threw a monkey wrench in the whole sleep rotation.
We parked the cars off the road and took a 2 hour sleep break while team after team passed us. Arrrghhh……we didn’t care that much at that point anyway. We also missed a 30mph tail wind that was blowing for the entire time we were sleeping.

Tony woke us up a few hours later and asked John and I who would ride into Tuba City. Johns bike was already off the rack so he said he would take it. It was a tough climb because
he was not at all warmed up yet. 

628 miles. 250 to go.

Time Station 10 to Time Station 11, Kayenta, AZ.

After the time station I took the next rotation for about 8.2 miles until I got a flat tire. John and I got to experience a beautiful sunrise in the Navajo Nation on the bike. It was beautiful.

John climbing at day break with the follow vehicle in tow.

Vic on the roll
We got Vic and the boy wonder back on the bike again after some good rest at about 10 miles out from the time station. Carlo a couple 3 mile pulls up to the summit in this section. Vic, John and I each took about 10-12 mile rotations until the summit. The climb on the reservation from the time station goes from about 4,700 feet elevation to about 6,700 feet before descending into Kayenta and time station 11. 
Margaret taking the helm for a while

John waiting for Carlo.

Carlo heading up the hill for his transition
John took the descent into Kayenta with Carlo joining in at times.

We rolled into Time Station 11 at about 8:57am and had another loooooooonnnnnngggg transition.
Direct follow during daylight hours is mandatory on the reservation so our rider couldn’t start until one vehicle was ready to go with him.

700 miles complete, 179 miles to go. A walk in the park now!!

Time Station 12 to Time Station 13, Mexican Hat, Utah.
This section was one of the highlights of the race for all of us.

Oljato-Monument Valley. One moderate climb, but descents…one very steep…dominate this section. We leave the Navajo Nation and enter Ute country when we get to Utah.”

134 miles to go and now the beautiful part of the ride. Monument Valley.
Victor took the first rotation out of Kayenta into this very beautiful area. It was spectacular!!!

Vic heading toward Monument Valley out of Kayenta,AZ
Vic took it for about 10 miles until we were close to Monument Valley. I took the rotation into Monument Valley up until the final climb over the pass.
Heading through Monument Valley
Heading through Monument Valley sporting the Over the Top Radio cycling kit I won in the photo contest. Thanks George Thomas!!
 Carlo took the final small climb to the top of the pass from the foot.
I can’t express how spectacular it was riding through Monument Valley!! I was feeling great and just taking in the view. There is nothing like seeing scenery like this from a bike. You really have time to take it all in when you are moving at a relatively slow speed compared to a car of motorcycle. 

I climbed to the base of the pass where we stopped and took pictures. It was great and we wasted a lot of time but we did not care at this point. It was so nice.
Vic and I just over Monument Pass

 Carlo and John started off with a short climb before the descent to Mexican Hat and he dropped Carlo without even trying. He backed it off about 7 MPH so Carlo could catch up. Carlo passed John while he was texting on his bike. This irritated John and he dropped the hammer on him.  

  John showed him how its done!!!!
Our Clydesdale, John, gave the kid a lesson.
Here is a video of Johns descent to Mexican Hat at almost 60mph:

We got to Mexican Hat with 744 miles down and 134 to go at about 12 pm local time.
Mexican Hat

Time Station 12 to Time Station 13 Montezuma Creek, UT
John took it a little past Mexican Hat where I took the rotation for another spectacular section.
I really smelled the barn at this point and was actually loving the heat and feeling great in this desert area. (What was wrong with me!! Maybe I just wanted all the drama to be over and ride my bike. I had a lot of anxiety over all the issues and I think I was taking it out on the bike.)

In this 11 mile section I had another amazingly beautiful climb followed by an amazing descent.
Here are a few pics taken by my crew and fellow team mates in this area. 


I didn’t want to stop after that descent…where I transitioned to Vic. I just wanted to keep going all the way to Durango. I was feeling absolutely great at this point.
Vic took it for an awesome climb. By the time we transitioned into the car he was already at the top and we didn’t get any pictures. Here is a picture of the climb. Vic is up there somewhere. Maybe a speck on the picture.
Vic is just about to make the turn.

We got a little off course with Victor in this section by missing the turn to Montezuma Creek. Vic got a real nice climb out of it though. Glad we caught it this time.
Sorry for getting you off course Buddy!! Nice climb though huh?

The kid took it into Montezuma Creek after transitioning from Vic. He did pretty well but was pretty cooked when he got there. 

Miles down: 782. Mile to go: 94.5……Yeeee haaaa…..we were getting real close.

Time Station 13 to Time Station 14, Cortez, Colorado

John, Vic and I took about 10 mile rotaions through this section with Carlo taking a little shorter one. The rotation was John for 12 miles, me for 12 miles, Vic for about the same, Carlo for about 8 then John took the final 4 miles into the final time station before the finish. It was really beautiful going into Colorado. The mountains were looming in the distance as we cruised through ranch/farmland. We came across wild horses, sheep and other animals just walking on the road.
While I was riding, the crew stopped to check out the horses. Margaret kept trying to feed a horse an apple but it wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

I almost hit this horse!


How can any creature be afraid of Margaret. The horse wouldn't have a thing to do with it!

John rolled into Corez, CO at about 6:40pm and just kept rolling past the time station while we checked in.

834 miles complete, 44 miles to the finish!!!

Time Station 14 to Time Station 15, Durango, Co……RAW Finish:  878.66 miles

John rolling out of Cortez, Co. toward the finish

Leaving Cortez, the course heads into the heart of the Colorado Rockies, the San Juan Skyway, with two warm-up climbs then the final climb before a 12 mile descent to the finish.
We climb from about 6,000 feet to 8,400 feet on this final ascent. It was much easier than I expected. It kind of reminded me of riding up Hwy 395 near Dead man summit and the June Lake area. (That type of road and grade.)
The climb was spectacular and we had a full moon rising as it got dark.


I took the gauntlet from John for the first warm-up climb, then Victor took the next for a beautiful moonlit climb.
Hitting it hard before rotating to Victor

Here is the beautiful video Margaret took of Victor climbing to Durango under a spectacular moon: (best watched in full screen)

 We let the kid do the final climb to the summit. After all, Adrenalin Enduro Racing did fund our effort to do RAW and we were all very appreciative of that. He actually did very well on the final climb. I think he was riding on Adrenalin knowing we just had a descent to the finish.
When he reached the summit we stopped and all got on our bikes. 

Cruising to the finish together.
We rode the final 12 mile descent together to the finish. The temperature went from a comfortable 66 degrees on my part of the climb up, to just over 40 degrees on the descent. We had to brake and pedal at the same time slowing down because we were shivering. We didn’t really want to stop and put all our winter clothes on because we were almost finished. We just had wind breakers on.

We rolled into the finish at about 10pm local time. We were tired and excited at the same time.

Finish time: 2 days,  9hrs, 33minutes
Average overall speed: 15.27mph

We were put in the wrong age category. They put us in the 18-49 division when we should have been in the 50-59 division where we would have had the fastest time. (Considering all we had been through, not too bad.) 
Not sure when or if they will change it . All in all....we were just happy to finish well within the cut-off time.

Thanks to my teammates, John and Vic. As always you guys are a pleasure to ride with! I feel blessed to have friends like you.

A big thanks to our friend Debbie Pearl!!  Without Debbie, we would not have had a chance to be part of this epic event

 Carlo was not a team player. He was too into himself to be a team player and never worked as a team player during the entire course of the race. It was always about him.

 We had some very tough times and situations. We could not have finished this event without working together.

Last but not least, a huge thanks goes out to our crew Tony Musorafite and Margaret Howell Benson. You guys were just amazing. 

Tony, the way you handled all the issues that threatened our finish was nothing but awe inspiring. So sorry you had to go through that incident in Flagstaff. Putting yourself out there for us like that will never be forgotten!!

Margaret, your navigation skills were awesome and you did an amazing job keeping us fed and hydrated during the course of the race, not to mention putting up with 4 smelly, sweaty men for over 2 days in a crowded, cramped van. You were such a pleasure to have as part of our team!

 Although we all appreciate AER for funding the race I think all my teammates would echo my sentiments that I will not do another event with these two people. 

 We all felt like throwing in the towel after the first day of the event. Too much drama and stupidity from a couple of very smart and educated young men. (Whats with that anyway?)

The thing that kept us going was not wanting to let each other down. The experience with John, Vic, Tony and Margaret was awesome!! There were two sides to this epic adventure. All the drama and junk that came along with those two so-called educated kids and all the fun and fellowship that came along with John, Vic, Tony and Margaret. They are really the team.
 The two kids were not at all team players and I feel like they used our experience to advance their goals of getting sponsorship for AER. These guys should not be allowed in our small community!!
I know this sounds drastic but I do not want to ever go through anything like that again. Life is too short. 

John put it best:  “I choose to remember the good of this event. The bonding that occurred between good friends”.

 Pictures of the event can be viewed at the following link:

1 comment:

  1. Oh God Steve, what an ordeal. I don't know how you guys remained positive through all that. What a reflection of your true character. If there ever was a case for justified homicide that was it.No jury in the land would convict you. Great job by the three of you riders and the two support crew. As for the two other a-holes. Better left unsaid. VB.