TandemHearts

Race Across America – 2009 Part II

July 1st, 2009

RAAM wasn’t all bad, really. We developed some great camaraderie with some of the riders and crew, especially in our van. We did get to see some interesting parts of the country and have some great experiences.

We drove through Monument Valley, one of the most iconic roads in the country. It was about midnight, so all we saw was strip of road in the tunnel of the headlights. I didn’t even realized that we had gone through it until a few hours later.

Coming into Prescott, AZ on a Sunday morning, we discovered a gash in the front tire of the van. We considered changing it to the spare tire, but decided to limp into town and see if we could get it replaced. On a Sunday morning, in Prescott, AZ, there was only one place to get a new tire – Walmart. We don’t usually shop at Walmart because we disagree with their corporate practices, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. So, reluctantly, we went to Walmart. The guys at Walmart were great. They had a tire that fit and it was on sale. (Hey, it’s Walmart!) So we wondered around the store to pick up a few supplies, while the tire guys put on a new tire and windshield wipers.

In Colorado we climbed La Manga Pass. At 10,230 feet, this was the high point of the race. We did the climb as a 2 van rotation, because the other 2 vans were down for repairs and sleep. The climb was beautiful and the wide shoulders made it easy to find a safe place to pull over and do rider transitions. Just below the summit we found one of the members of team Bike M.A.D. running along the road side. He just wanted to go for a short 2 mile  run while waiting for his turn on the bike. That’s cool.

Kansas wasn’t much fun. It was 100F and humid. The scenery was, as expected, not that exciting. Even so, it did have some interesting moments.  At one point, we were sitting by the side of the road, waiting for a rider transition, with corn on one side and wheat on the other. Brenda was a farm girl, so she ran over to the field, grabbed a stalk of wheat and sat in the van and explained the parts of the stalk to us city folks. We also drove through the town of Greenberg, a town nearly whipped out by a tornado in 2007. The town is rebuilding and the whole place was a construction zone, but that was OK. Finally, the course only had a couple turns in Kansas, and the team still missed one. Missing a turn in Kansas is a testament to just how tired some crew members were.

The road into Effingham, IL was a strange choice. This road was a poorly paved, rutted, goat path. Of course we went over it in the middle of the night. The road was so bad, the riders really thought we were on the wrong road, with the comment, “RAAM wouldn’t run the course over a road this bad.” This road was a course change for this year’s route because of road closures elsewhere.  Effingham was funny because the time station was oddly hard to find. We almost drove by it because the time station was a high school, but it was so large we thought it was shopping center. A couple of U turns later and we were back on course. Since we were doing questionably legal U Turns right in front of a manned time station, Thom took a few minutes to stop and schmooze with the staff at the station, just to be sure we didn’t get any penalties.

In Ohio, Thom woke up from a nap to find the team in the middle of a pounding, epic rain. Sean, the crew chief, was on the radio saying, “Get on the computer and find out how big this storm is.” So, going down the road in rain storm so bad we could barely see the riders in front of us, Thom fired up the computer and the cell phone and called up a weather radar image. We were sitting right under a severe cell that looked like it was no more than 10 miles across. Joe and Brenda stayed out through the whole thing, since there was no point in anyone else getting wet. The skies cleared, eventually, and it was a great break in the heat.

At one point of the race, Thom’s Dad called to ask a question about the route. The team used a SPOT tracker to automatically show our position a web site, and Dad was tracking us pretty closely. When he called, he started the conversation with, “Are you busy?” Everyone laughed at that. We were so busy that Thom and Veronica both lost weight because there wasn’t time to eat.

Approaching the bridge into West Virginia, near Parkersburg, the riders missed a turn while most of the support vehicles went across the bridge.  Unfortunately, the pace vehicle didn’t have room inside for the bike and the other vehicles could not easily turn around to go back and pick up the riders.  This led to the riders crowding into the minivan and holding the tandem against the outside of the vehicle through the open side door as they looped back to get on course.  It is a good thing it was around midnight, so there were no witnesses.

RAAM is all about hurry up and wait.  Standing by the side of the road on some dark byway, we got to enjoy the most vivid stars either of us had seen in years. In West Virginia, we stood outside the van and listed to the bull frogs.

RAAM is astoundingly intense. You rush across the country at 20 mph. When its all done, you jump on a plane and get back to where you started after just a brief nap.  The race messsed up our sleep cycles so badly that days later we were still waking up in the middle of the night trying to figure out where we have to drive to next.

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