Sunday, June 22, 2008

My Perspective

Today I drove my car slalom down the highway, because I could. There was a chasm of space between me and the white line to the right and a span from me to the yellow on the left. No eight second mirror checks for me. Thank God for sense or someone may have called me in as a drunk driver. I think I might ask Dylan for her Mini so I can take it out on the Beltway and do donuts in the slow lane. Again, because I can. I am still amazed that a group of bikers was invited to take part in a cycling event as drivers of large vehicles no less. I'm not done. We, the bikers/volunteer drivers, commute by bike, play on bike, shop by bike, some of us don't even own a car! Then they take us and throw us in vehicles we are unaccustomed to to preform an act we as a whole cannot swear to doing on a regular basis and expect miracles. Hours and hours staring at a long straight unchanging road, little talking, no radio (shh people are sleeping), temperature controlled by someone other than the driver, no sweets...are you freaking kidding me? How bout the night the crew leader had me four wheeling the RV. Although fun and exciting for us the passengers had no clue except that it was difficult to sleep with their feet above their heads. Then to top it all off you switch up our vehicles and the terrain finally changes. YippeeKiYea...I'm flying like a kid on a roller coaster. THEN, you ground me for sleep deprivation based on my driving skills?!?!?! Are you joking? Ever consider this biker just has bad driving skillz? I'm just sayin'

Friday, June 20, 2008

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Caroline van den Bulk crosses the finish line in Annapolis four and half hours after the cut off. The Gray Turtle rolled in with her tired crew in tow after 13 days on the road. Team CYCLE SMART see sawed with her support vehicle for many miles; we even passed her more than once. By the time she reached Montogomery county and found out she was awarded DNF due to time her spirits plummetted and she questioned why she was even trying to finish. She was rewarded at the finish line with a huge crowd of supporters. Many teams were still hanging around along with locals who heard rumors of a woman soloist biking 3014 miles just to get there. She may not have finished in the eyes of RAAM, but to everyone standing on the docks of Annapolis she was a hero. I asked her if she'd do it again and with a wry smile she said she couldn't say no.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

7D 15H 12M

0 bike flats. 1 official time penalty. 2 vehicle flats. And I lost count on how many self induced time penalties (don't ask). BUT mission accomplished! It doesn't quite make sense but our 9th day really is our 7th. There's the late start, early finish, east coast race time, I'm sure it has something to do with the military time everyone was so militant against. But there you have it. Oceanside to Annapolis in 7 days, 15 hours, and 12 minutes. Wanna go again?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Our Final Night: Last Call 4 No Alcohol

Rouzerville was definitely my favorite Time Station; what's not to love, it was at a bar! That seems almost wrong. Not nearly as wrong as the Time Station in Bloomington that had a mini keg under the tent. And despite the offer of free beer I took iced tea instead. Sylvia and I split games of pool, but I'm certain I would have been better under the influence (or at least I would have thought so). Fun all the same. The owner was super sweet, The Duke cute as they come, and I got some time to chill with the official that's been stalking us from the start. But the truth is I was ready for home. It doesn't really feel like we've been across the country in eight days, however. Running on east coast time and never really stopping made it just feel like a really long ass day. But I miss my furry feline. I want to stretch out on my bed and sleep longer than ninety minutes at a time. I wanted to hear some live tunes. I'd love a cold beer. I wanted sushi and tofu; NO MORE BARS OR NUTS! I need to ride my bike. But I did not want to leave my transient family. Despite our struggles and conflicts I had the time of my life. I saw the country in a way I had always dreamed of. I met towns you never stop in but always say you will. I watched 15 people work together and connect in ways I never expected. I lived the next best network reality show and we never voted one single person off (you know I tried). Who knew I wouldn't hate living in a sardine can on wheels?

Day Eight: Sat-Tire

Taking a serious situation and making fun of it. From lost to tossed. We put Ohio behind us and took the RV out joyriding. Really we were looking for a dump station. Actually we made a wrong turn and went four wheelin'. At 7mph we were bumping over some serious pot holes and climbing hills I could barely manage in first. When I saw two driveways across from each other I whined that I didn't want to go any further despite the alternative 18-point turn in the middle of the black forest. I also suggested just dropping our load right there. We found our way back and found the dump station and got back on our merry way. Just me, mom, and Jim this leg and we were rewarded at Time Station 45 with a delightful diner breakfast. Funny later that day when we ended up with a second flat tire it was not one of the vehicles we had out off roadin'. For those keeping track: that's TWO Saturn flats and ZERO bicycle flats. Lucky us, I did hear a rumor about another team's RV flat.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Seventh Night: Sleepigators

"ooh Dream Weaver
I believe you can get me through the ni-ight
ooh Dream Weaver
I believe we can reach the morning li-ight."

If only I could successfully get you into West Virginia. It began hours before on US RT 50. I awoke to find the RV travelling as if it were fleeing a crime scene. I poked my head into the cockpit to find my Mother strewn with maps and cue sheets mumbling something about crossing a bridge four times. After confirming the only law broken was speed, I hopped down and relieved my mom of duties she wasn't responsible for when I went to sleep. Seems her navigator fell asleep and they wound up lost. And so did H2. Lost that is not fell asleep, despite the Navigator's name. But let's not blame the Sleepigator. We consulted maps, cue sheets, even GPS; clearly Farson St was right there off Route 50 and yet it clearly wasn't. Brenda never saw it and kept asking what to do. I was at a loss; Sit tight. But what should we do she repeated? SIT TIGHT. Leave it to Sylvia to employ a 'local' to the rescue. She and this New York native 'local' found them on 50 and directed them to 7. It seems a brand new road opened just last week. Bugger. They successfully escorted our weary crew home.

Day 7: Brace Yourself

Nine days ago various teams huddled underneath digital pictures beamed from this exact point on RAAM. While we were pouring over strategies to reign supreme, supersized rains were pouring over the region we now traversed. Even as we rolled by under perfectly sunny skies, the past week's weather was never far from our minds. Mere inches from our rims the swollen rivers lapped the edge of the road, painting visions of a submerged route only days before. Also sprinkled along the way was another phenomenom that began nine days ago: our soloists. Tired and chugging along, some cramping, others relying on tubes to hold up their heads, our fearless flyers were crossing off time stations like the rest of us. While driving the RV, I found myself directly behind a struggling soloist, his follow vehicle five cars further back. As he gingerly coasted along, I watched with a tear of fear in the corner of my eye as he weaved from fog line to center line back and forth. Later I proclaimed to Brenda that I would NOT be supporting any soloist I personally knew flirting with the pavement, precariously lodging myself between a Stone and a hard place. In other words I lied.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Six Plus One Half More: F-ingham

Was it sleep deprived memory lapse, dreams of a shower, a religious experience, or sheer excitement of seeing our first soloist? Whichever we accrued our first effing-penalty for not calling in our time within thirty minutes. As if it really effing-matters anymore

Day Six: Welcome To Misery

Just after morning we had rolled passed 2,ooo miles in mid Missouri. Time Station #32 was at the foot of the Jefferson City Capitol Dome. With an impressive thunderstorm looming it was and eerie backdrop worthy of a photographic session. I was the only one awake at this point and there was no room at the inn as usual. When you are exhausted, you are particularly less picky about where you lay your head. I spent many fast sleeps curled in the bench on the RV with my legs propped up on a crate and my head teetering on a see-saw pillow with gravity. This unmanned time station had a tent with dry ground. As I watched the piercing bolts of lightning out of one eye, a nap beneath a tree won out over safety. Still trying to follow that posted rotation schedule, both Jim and I were overdue for sleep, but the night nappers were unyielding. Mike called for two of our RVers to crew on the road throughout the day and that threw everything into a Midwest funnel cloud. When we arrived in Marthasville the tornado touched down, figuratively of course. Mike mandated a SIX hour rest period putting an end to our struggle to remain in the RACE that we signed up for. I thought this 'ain't no bike tour'? Forget a silent tantrum when I heard the word laundry mentioned AGAIN, I walked out on the field and kicked dirt on the umpire for such a ridiculous call. I took one look at Robin's face and saw a dream swiped by a grinch. By now most of our RV crew had good sleep throughout the night. Calling it quits to competitiveness was uncalled for and I said so. Jim Drumm was my only back up and Mike squashed him like a bug. The riders continued on throughout the day separated from us grounded group of RVers. We held a meeting, discussed our options, and decided on mutiny. We came up with a new plan (my rotation schedule from the start) and decided it wasn't Mike's decision to make. Our crew chief was finally on board for a half second. Later he came to me and said it wouldn't work after it just had; I didn't bother to engage this further. I became known as the Sleep Nazi and I was able to use our strengths to our advantage finally.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Day Five: Crash and Burn

We started the day in Pratt, Kansas, by far the best Time Station. It was at the McDs where we got free food and the inside was adorned with various RAAM t-shirts. It was the first time on the course where we were welcomed into the town for what we were doing. But the fuzzy feeling was short lived. Mike showed up, his pocketful of opinions overfloweth. His limited knowledge of situations coupled with his irrational solutions picked on my sleepy last half nerve. I was sick of him wasting valuable sleep time analyzing why things were done they way they were. He was about to lecture poor Mark for the 1,504th time, which was amazingly the same distance we had just travelled, when I put my foot down. I finally raised my voice and said no; Mark was going to sleep. Mike agreed but still handed out ridiculous tasks. Again we had to take a time out to do laundry. At this point we had three functioning crew members and he wanted to take one with him. He gave Matt the Mechanic the incomplete grocery list. I was biting my lip in half at this ineffective chore list as I stewed in my silent tantrum. I gathered my maturity after discussing plans of hijacking another team to get the hell home with my mom who agreed ten fold. I approached Mike with a better scenerio and he went for it. We completed our tasks, skipped a time station, and met up with everyone in El Dorado (long a). We moved onto Yates Center, Kansas where I thought I would dehydrate. I should have been sleeping, but I couldn't even sit in the sweltering RV. I had ice dripping down my neck sitting in the shade of the Phillips 66. We were awaiting the arrival of Robin, who crashed when she pulled on her cleats and they gave way. She popped back on the bike and rolled into the gas station bloody and bruised, quite the trooper. In Fort Scott she whispered that she was done with Kansas.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

4.5: Airing Dirty Laundry

By early the next morning we will be at our half way point. At the stop in Elkhart I had hoped for RV rejuvenation. Instead the team positioned itself to do battle. There was no resting in Elkhart like I felt was necessary. Fortunately I was on the road when we stopped because I'm sure I would have lost it when we decided to do laundry. This preoccupied the RVers with work when they should have been resting. By the time I arrived it was nearing chaotic. Barb's clothes never got washed and she wasn't happy. Some clothes got washed and never dried. Jerseys were missing and Jim had his hands on Brenda's undermentionables again. On a positive note, someone finally claimed the black thong. This would be the first of three incidents involving washing clothes that became flared.

Day Four: Running On Empty

By George in H1 I think we found it....the middle of NOWHERE. I would have suspected it was in Kansas, but who knew it was New Mexico. Time station #20 in Abbott New Mexico we actually parked in someone's driveway. For the next 200 miles I joked about going out for a bike ride and never getting lost. Actually never getting anywhere. This was Denise's playground; put your head down and ride there ain't no stinkin turns! There ain't no stinking anything. The girls ended up with an eighty mile pull skimming across three states like a Stone across a mirage of water. Sorry Robin, there really wasn't a pool on the other side of that hill. Even the birds skimmed across the landscape inches from the ground, no need to go higher up because there was nothing for them to land on except an occasional blade of grass. Meanwhile back at Home Base Mobile our propeller was slowing. The food supply was dwindling, we were rationing water and rider fuel, the RV was dry and needed dumped. Everyone had fallen off task. We needed to regroup fast. By the time we hit Kansas there was hope in the form of a motel stop with showers, but even this proved to be problematic.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Version 3.5: Hauling Ass

After a day of staring down the Rockies we finally hit them at nightfall. Suprise, suprise, it fell on Denise again; she's turning into our designated climber. Jim and I were navigating H1 and I was peering out a pitch black window. He asked what it looked like down there. I said, dunno, but I feel like it's beautiful. Straining to make out the light patches, I said, that looks like snow or something. I rolled down the window felt the crisp air and realized we were now cruising the caps we saw all day. Just about that time a creature crawled from beneath the midnight presenting itself like a possum. It crossed in front of us, stopped on the center line, did the hokey pokey, turned itself around, and that's about all it had. He plopped and watched us and the RV pass inches from its grey nappy head o hair. I'm gonna have to call it a porcupine, but I've never seen one before. Meanwhile the girls were struggling with the cold, the climb, the darkness, and the super thin air. They zoomed across the mountain pass at a scary 40mph by the light of the moon. They then took us to the highest point on RAAM at over 10,000 feet. Somewhere that night I must have fallen asleep for my usual 10 minutes because I remember waking up looking for a bathroom. We were parked at a dark gas station and I saw employees inside milling about. I thought, cool, they are about to open I hope soon. I totally thought it was about 5 am and so did a couple other people. I overheard someone saying eleven and wondered what that pertained to. Yep, it was ONLY 23:00. Weird. The girls called us asking for backup after a job well done. They knocked down the San Juan Mountain range and handed the boys a killer descent.

Day Three: One Tired Puppy

We started the day coming through Monument Valley at dawn. This was a freebie thanks to that flat tire; we should have hit it at the dead of night. Robin confirmed it was a beautiful day to ride. She spoke of the solitude and a quiet so peaceful you could appreciate the lift of a bird's wings. Coming across Colorado was complete de ja view for me. It was the exact route I took last fall on my way to Telluride with all the same sights. The bright sunlight fell across the snow capped mountains in the distance reminding us of what was yet in store. On a technical note it feels like the RV crew is suffering. I haven't spent enough time in there yet to feel the groove, but something feels off. I feel a little tension, I've heard some snappy comments, and everyone looks wiped out. I tried more than once to steer the RV away from the RAAM route unsuccessfully. What we trained for is NOT happening and we NEED to adjust. Mark seems unyielding to veer from the printed schedule. Unfortunately, as Brenda pointed out repeatedly by stopping at every time station and doing a complete rotation, the crew was not getting enough time in their sleep shift. We were also constantly chasing time stations by getting a late start and having them be so short a distance. I wanted to use the maps to find the quickest route on the smoothest surface for the optimal in-transit sleep for the RV. I wanted to deviate from the preconceived non-functional, I wanted to obliterate it with an M16. I wanted to use our strengths and work as a team helping each other out. I wanted to double shifts to allow for a longer sleep cycle. I wanted the crew chief's cooperation. Most of all I wanted Mike to shut up and ride.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Later That Night: TIRED

Second, Third, and Fourth in the mixed four person division was still a nail biter. We were finding ourselves flying along in a swarm and circling each time station with the same group of vehicles. 422, 421, and 414 were Gettin' It On! UNTIL...speaking of NAIL biters....Hummingbird Two came up with low air pressure in the middle of Indian Territory. Same tire bitten in Oceanside (did we ever check that?) Apparently we had begun to stock our own personal hardware store right there in our rear passenger tire. Some small businesses are just destined to fall flat. Funny, when I hear about this incident after the fact it always carries a descriptor insinuating the middle of the night when in actuality it began unfolding at 19:24 exaclty. So we had oozing air from a tire, a bike rack blocking our entry to the car, a cyclist alone with night time riding restrictions looming, and nothing on either side of us for twenty miles. The three girls silently sprung into action and simultaneously attacked every obstacle in front of us efficiently. I'd like to add a side note cursing the lug wrench personally. I'd also like to note the patience of my crew as I obsessively searched for the exact placement of the jack based on some old tire changing baggage. Yes, I believe the huge arrows both on the side and underneath the carriage should have alerted us much sooner, but in our defense it wasn't neon red flashing HERE STUPID!! Oddly enough what felt like forever, like black in a broadcast day, was really only a little over thirty minutes. Fair enough, we are not yet ready for a NASCAR pit crew, however. Back on course by 20:10, we left the lame bald spare in the hands of the Hummingbird One boys. We left them arguing over whether to head backwards or forwards and meanwhile called ahead to the RV and got Sylvia on the job. When we called 10 miles later we had word the flat was fixed. I thought for sure it was a joke knowing everything was closed until morning. Somehow, someway Sylvia found a local to come out on the spot and plug our tire. We got nailed and screwed and surprise, surprise it didn't take long.

Day Two: Pick Your Battles

So far navigation has been a snap; a simple exchange of Route 78 for Route 60 and we are spinning right along. Things have spread out and calmed down quite a bit finally. Not only is California now behind us we are also Beyond Hope at this point. And what is beyond Hope you ask? Congress of course! Time Station 5 and operation 'Pick Up Feather' (which I've been told is often as easy as it sounds). The team is now complete. After Prescott I rejoined the RV crew and watched as our inadequately labeled 'flexible' schedule struggled to touch its toes. I recognized these limitations early in the planning phase, voiced my opinion, argued the blood out of my face, and sat back and watched it unravel over the next 24 hours. I learned the value of a strong team, cooperation, and trust in capable team members. Sadly this learning curve was often at the expense and shortcomings of a stubbornly flawed plan and politically motivated people. I retired to the RV and wisely bit my tongue.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The First Night

The race was on, no joke. The congestion seemed to get worse as night fell even though by now we had gotten far from the unsupported race route. It became a cutthroat competition with 2,710 miles to go! On the sweltering pitch black desert floor, teams jockeyed for position for the legal five foot pull off. The long, straight road offered few pull offs and was tightly sandwiched between deep loose sand. The battling teams ate up the possibilities and created a chaotic scene. Many teams were executing dangerous transitions as bikers and cars tangoed along the shoulder of Highway 78. Teams were now closely followed by their support vehicles and were riding up on top of each other rather than allowing the 100 meters required by race rules. It seemed like everyone except us was doing rolling exchanges although not very well. I think they meant to be legal, but needed more practice or didn't anticipate the chaos of other riders. I for one did not expect it to be this tight this far into the race. It was pretty exciting, but I'm not sure if I could have handled the intensity for seven straight days. If everyone continues to use two vehicles eliminating the need to stop to do a transition we could end up dropping more than 30 minutes every single night. We'll see how it plays out, but I'm afraid our strategy might be too conservative in this tight a race.

Race Day

Slamming success. The route restrictions can be challenging but we strategized, practiced, and executed. No stress; no penalties. It didn't seem all that difficult really. Just get out of town early and don't worry about your riders. The unsupported parade route went off without a hitch with Mike leading the way. Denise, Brenda, and I left the start line and headed for our first legal exchange point to wait. Hummingbird One picked up the other team of Bob and Robin after the ceremonial ride out of town and zipped to Time Station #1 to also wait. The RV skipped the gnarly glass elevator and went all the way to Time Station #2 per Bob to...of course wait. The mood of the entire race would be, you guessed it, HURRY UP AND WAIT.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Pre Race Activites

Four days in Oceanside without organization or a clear agenda. I was very jealous of the riders who just got to hop on their bikes and enjoy the sea air. I constantly felt like there was a ton to do but very little was getting done. First of all it was overwhelming to have a bucketful of things left to do that should have been done at home. Tasks became more challenging with limited time, supplies, and space. This was most often due to a control issue and it's just something we had to deal with. Things within our control, however, were also just left hanging. There was no formal agenda, no start time, no scheduled meetings. Even when there were, they were often overrided. Within our team there were three separate entities operating around our own central hub, creating conflicts and future confusions. Decisions were made separately, times decided independently and no concise way to communicate between the groups. Our ideas were constantly overlapping and conflicting. We were subconsciously outlining our destiny to fail, or at the very least building up the wall in which we would eventually need to climb over. Sheer grit, determination, and a dedication to our goal would be our only hopes to pull us through.

Team Cycle Smart in Oceanside

Today we passed one of our biggest tests, inspection. Even though all our gear was properly displayed and functioning, we almost put ourselves at a huge disadvantage. And in the process learned a valuable lesson. One of our rider's bicycle wheels was wedged in the wheel well of our support vehicle for inspection. When the SUV was put into reverse to check our lights the car drifted backwards damn near cracking the bike wheel. I grabbed the bike, started yelling, the driver responded quickly, and the mechanic came running. Somehow it seems nothing was damaged. We are already down one wheel thanks to bunny hopping Bob; I don't think anyone wanted to be down one whole bike!
Just a side note, this isn't just a bike race across the United States. I am never far in thought from my personal mission on this trip and that is to raise money and awareness for the DC Firefighter's Burn Foundation back in DC. Please take time if you are following our progress to remember those local heroes. Thanks!
Let's Get It ON!

Monday, June 9, 2008

YEAH Team Cycle Smart

Robin, Bob, Denise, and Mike on the pier in Oceanside California

Sunday, June 8, 2008

2 More Days

Watched the men's solo start today. I believe I heard a rumor that the top men might sleep a maximum of 10 hours for the duration of their race. Is that not totally insane? I was hoping for about 24 hours for our 7 day stint. But 10 hours for 10 days straight AND ride 3,000 miles!?! Wow.
Team Cycle Smart is now complete (minus Feather, who will be joining us day 2). We had a productive day, stickering the vehicles, discussing the first couple days' strategy, and even getting a tiny mechanical lesson from Matt. It's a lot smoother than I thought, but it's still a bit hectic. There's a ton of things that need to happen in the next couple days that are fairly critical to our success.
So far the team is great, but we'll see how we do on zero sleep. The best advice I got for this thing from someone who's been there, done that is "always say please and thank you, even when you are too tired to do anything else"

Saturday, June 7, 2008

We're Here!

Well we made it across the United States. Four people, three vehicles, five days. How many people can really say they drove all the way across the US solo? Well Mom and MtB did. Q and I manned the RV, which was no easy feat. I said I wasn't driving it through a tunnel, a toll both, or a dangerous switchback when I took my first spin Sunday night. Bob gave me a quick lesson on the way to his house and then handed over the wheel at a rest stop. We were on the road a hot second when we came around the bend and Bob said the word tunnel. My eyes got big and my head shot around at him like WHAT?!? And before I knew it I was driving through my first of several tunnels. Then came the toll booths, cement barriers, construction cones, border patrols, and yes, BEYOND dangerous scenic route. At one point I was driving through this adorable town on the side of a mountain with teeny weeny streets and pedestrians everywhere. At the top of the town was a hairpin turn and around the corner was a wide pickup and illegally parked car. Sure enough we were stuck with no where to go. Piece of cake. Who knew I'd totally dig driving an RV?! Who knew it would become the travel of rich people?!? $5.00 gas and rising? Are you kidding?!? Maybe if these Californians would park their Hummers....