Where to begin. As I sit here trying to process RAAM 2014 and figure out how to put it into words, I’m surprised at how difficult the looming task seems. Normally I don’t have trouble writing, and the words just spill forth. But this is different for some reason. RAAM wasn’t a new experience for me in 2014, so simply documenting what happened as was the case in 2012 doesn’t feel right. It seems like I need to tell the story from a different perspective – yet I’m struggling to find that perspective.
RAAM 2014 was about “doing it right”. The goal in 2012 was to finish, and that we did, but the experience left me unsatisfied and confused – I “lost” myself out there during that intense and scary 12+ day journey. I was disappointed in how I’d handled myself and how I’d let my emotions get the best of me on more than one occasion. I felt shame rather than accomplishment. It felt like a blemish rather than a defining moment. RAAM had exposed my weaknesses, and I didn’t like what I saw. I did a lot of “processing” post RAAM in 2012 and into 2013, and ultimately I kept feeling the tug to return to RAAM to try and “right the wrongs”. I felt a need to come “full circle” and see if I could go out there with my new understanding of myself and all the learnings from 2012 and see if I could have a better race – one that I could be proud of. And so became the goal of “doing it right”.
Almost everything about RAAM in 2014 was different than in 2012. I’d completely changed the way I was riding (I’d started working with a coach in 2013 – Thomas Chapple), I was on completely new bikes and equipment (even venturing as far as getting a TT bike for some of the flatter sections), I had an almost completely new crew (Mike, my husband, was the only carry over from 2012), the logistics/organization of the crew was completely different, I had a new nutrition plan, I had a new sleep plan, I was leaner and lighter, I was fitter, I was healthier, etc., etc. But most importantly, I had an understanding of what to expect. I had lived and breathed solo RAAM – I had faced this beast before, so I knew what to expect as I headed once again into the dragon’s lair. You can’t buy experience – you earn it, you fight for it, you live it. I’d paid my dues in 2012. While I had come out with a “victory” in terms of finishing, it hadn’t felt like a victory – I had unfinished business with RAAM, and now I was back for round 2.
I knew that the biggest factor that would run contrary to my goal would be the sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation to the extreme that you experience during RAAM changes you as a person. We joked as a group before the race that I would become Benjamin Button – regressing from a mature, self composed adult to a whiny, out of control baby who required constant care and attention and could do nothing on their own. My goal was to be a “well behaved” baby, but I tried to prepare the crew for the worst. Knowing though that the sleep deprivation was a large culprit with regard to my problems in 2012, I made it very clear that we were to have a much better planned sleep strategy. Unlike in 2012 when we often pushed through the night and didn’t stop to sleep until the sun had already come up, we were instead going to take regular sleep breaks starting around 1-2am local time such that I would be starting up again when the sun was coming up. I also hoped that we would be able to take some longer sleep breaks, especially earlier in the race so as to delay the extreme sleep deprivation symptoms.
Additionally, nutrition was going to be key, because emotion often follows calorie intake – if your calorie intake drops, your mood and energy drop too, and it’s a vicious cycle. The goal was to stay on top of calories to keep the mental, emotional, and physical engines stoked and primed. I had a liquid nutrition plan that I hoped to use as much as possible, but I fully intended to supplement it with real food as we went. Food is not only fuel, but it also has a mental/emotional effect on you – so having that tasty treat that sounds really good when you’re miserable and suffering can really boost your state of mind and kick start you back into action. So yes, there were some KFC moments out there!
The most important thing to me about doing RAAM this time around though was for my crew and I to make it to Annapolis all on speaking terms with each other, and as friends. In fact I went as far as to tell my crew before the race that I would rather DNF and walk away from RAAM friends with everyone on my crew than finish and have even 1 crew member wish that they’d never been part of the experience. I still knew that RAAM was going to be brutally tough, and that I would have my “moments”, and I warned my crew about this and asked for forgiveness in advance. But my goal was to try and be able to handle myself better, be stronger, and minimize those moments. Bonding with your RAAM crew is a very special and unique thing – you literally go from being strangers with someone to trusting them with your life and “baring all” (emotionally, mentally, physically) to them in a very short period of time. RAAM makes you vulnerable, and life happens when you’re vulnerable. It’s an intense and powerful experience for crew and rider alike, and one from which lifelong friendships can develop. I had 9 crew, and I wanted 9 lifelong friends when/if we reached Annapolis.
So let me introduce you to my amazing, super star crew who made this entire journey possible! They were the enablers, the ones behind the spotlight that made it all happen, and I’m incredibly fortunate to have had each and every one of them share in this amazing adventure!
Mike is my husband and has crewed for me at all but one of my ultra races. He was the crew chief at RAAM this year, and he worked tirelessly before the race to get the follow vehicle setup and ready to go. He’s also an ultra endurance athlete himself, having completed the Furnace Creek 508 and Hoodoo 500, as well as Ultraman Canada and Ultraman Hawaii. Mike had to deal with the extra stress of being the crew chief, but that didn’t prevent him from busting out his coconut shell bra, kilt, and various other costumes along the course!
Dex and Joni Tooke are so well known in the ultra cycling community that they need no introduction. Dex completed solo RAAM in 2011 after a failed attempt in 2010, and wrote a book about his experience titled “Unfinished Business” (which was required reading for all of my crew). Hanging out with Dex before the start of RAAM was like hanging out with RAAM royalty – everyone knows and respects him, so it’s like hanging out with a celebrity – everyone wants a piece of him! Dex will be fondly remembered for his blue surf shoes which he wore for the duration of the trip (although we did buy him some red ruby slippers in Annapolis!), and his amazing sprinting ability when he managed to scare everyone in the follow vehicle when he came out of nowhere and was running alongside the van going up Wolf Creek Pass! Joni, his wife, was his crew chief and has crewed several RAAMs. Joni just retired from teaching elementary school art in their hometown of Del Rio, Texas. What probably surprised me the most about Joni though was her amazing assortment of dance moves – going up Wolf Creek Pass she donned the chicken costume and was seriously busting out the moves!!! Whether it was busting out dance moves, climbing on top of the van to help get the bikes up and down, or tackling the less glamorous tasks on RAAM – she was high energy all the way, and always willing to lend a helping hand!
Jeff is a paramedic and also has advanced bike mechanic skills – talk about valuable double duty for something like RAAM! He came to us by way of a referral from my 2012 RAAM mechanic Doug. Jeff grew up in Southern California, and used to go out and watch the RAAM racers in the early days of RAAM, so it was a dream come true for him to participate in RAAM. Jeff is pretty quiet and reserved, but during RAAM he was swept up in the energy of the “party van” (he was on the graveyard shift with Lindsay and Sonya), and as a result we were treated to Jeff’s vocal prowess as he did a “Doh Re Mi” solo over the PA somewhere in eastern Colorado!
Ingrid is an accomplished ultra triathlete from Texas who we met at UltraMan when both her and Mike were competing in 2011. In 2013 her and Mike competed at the Furnace Creek 508 on a 2 person team, Unicornfish. She has her own ultra cycling ambitions, and hopefully RAAM has further inspired her to pursue those goals! We also discovered during RAAM that Ingrid would make a great mascot – especially if the mascot were a chicken!! She busted out the chicken costume in multiple states, and had myself and the follow crew in stitches with her crazy antics! Ingrid was a very devoted and diligent crew member, and we were incredibly fortunate to have her along!
Kati, Tam, and Lindsay all joined the team by way of my involvement with the Vanderkitten VIP program – these incredible women cyclists all volunteered when I put out the word on Facebook that I was looking for crew. I had met none of them prior to this year, but I knew that anyone in the Vanderkitten VIP program is a force to be reckoned with, so I knew I was in good hands bringing them onboard the crew!
Kati is from Iowa and only recently got into cycling. She’s lead an exciting and varied life, including serving in the Air National Guard for 23 years. Currently she’s a reading and special education teacher for kindergarten through 2nd grade – so she was well equipped to deal with my Benjamin Button regression during the race! She seemed to have a tendency to want to hang out the back window of the van a lot though, and unfortunately sustained a bit of a black eye on one occasion! Kati, like Dex, has some speed in her legs, as she challenged me to a sprint going up Wolf Creek Pass as well, and I had to work darned hard to drop her! Kati was excellent at staying on top of my nutrition, and would gently “suggest” that I should eat or drink when I neglected to.
Tam is from just outside of Boston, and it was her friend Tim Brown of the Wounded EOD Warriors who completed RAAM on a Walter Reed team who inspired her and encouraged her to become involved in RAAM (thanks Tim!). Tam is a professional artist and designer, and also teaches LEGO Engineering and art to kindergarten through 3rd grade students (again – another one equipped for Benjamin Button Joan!). Tam did an amazing job taking photos during the race, but alas since she was the one taking photos, we have very few photos with her in them! Tam has a fun going personality, so she fit right in and was a pleasure to be around!
Lindsay was the token Canadian on the crew, eh! She’s from Ontario where she works as a recreation and development planner. In addition to cycling, she enjoys soccer, hiking, and weaving. Lindsay claims to be an introvert, but as a member of the all night long party van (i.e. the graveyard shift), it’s hard to believe that! She was a master at talking to me during the night and keeping me entertained with her funny accents and expressions. She was also the genius creator of the ‘Merica game – as a Canadian she noted that there seemed to be an abundance of American flags all around, much more so than you see flags in other countries, and so the game of ‘Merica was born. This game kept me entertained and alert for hours – scanning the horizon for ‘Merica flags and calling them before my crew did! We kept a tally, and let’s just say that I did rather well at this game! If you find me randomly blurting out “‘Merica!” when I see an American flag, you can blame Lindsay!
And the final addition to our crew (a last minute addition I might add, as another crew member had to withdraw fairly close to the race) was Sonya, a massage therapist from Hawaii who was referred to me by yet another Vanderkitten VIP (thanks Debby!). In addition to being a massage therapist, Sonya has a degree in psychology – so she was well equipped to deal with the psychological escapades of RAAM! Sonya was also a member of the all night long party van (i.e. the graveyard shift), and she took turns with Lindsay keeping me going at night. Sonya and Lindsay were the dynamic duo, and I honestly don’t know how they kept their energy levels so high throughout the race! Being stuck in the back of the follow van though (she called it her “cave”), Sonya was at a noticeable disadvantage in the ‘Merica game, but she tried to make up for it when she was off shift by calling to tell me that she was snagging all the ‘Mericas along the route in front of where I was – ‘Merica, ‘Merica’, ‘Merica!!
A few short months ago most of these folks had not even met me much less met each other, so the fact that they were able to come together and form such a cohesive and supportive team was something really special to witness!! Everyone brought something different and unique to the table, and each and every crew member leveraged their strengths and stepped outside of their comfort zones to enable me to cycle across the country. I can’t thank each of them enough for all that they did for me – I’ve made lifelong friends with each of them! So as you can see, my crew and my interaction with my crew were super important to me during RAAM. These folks were giving up 2+ weeks of their lives and giving it to ME – I did not want to disappoint them!
Another important part of RAAM for me was being able to raise money for the Canary Foundation – a research organization based out of Stanford University that is trying to develop early cancer detection tests. Everyone who donated got to choose a time station to “sponsor” – I listed time station sponsors on my website, plus we tried to recognize donors as we passed through the time station that they had sponsored. Additionally, I’m going to call them out in my race report as we progress through the race, so look for each time station to be listed with the sponsor(s) listed next to it.
The pre-race activities included crew bonding, vehicle setup, crew training/orientation, and socializing with other racers and crew.
June 10th arrived quickly, and strangely that morning in the couple hours before the start I was probably the most relaxed I’d been in several weeks. Perhaps it was the realization that at this point everything that could be done was done, and that there was nothing left to do. Surely it had something to do with the fact that I knew I was in good hands for the journey to come. In the moments before I started I spent a few minutes with Mike. As he put his arms around me I was hit by the significance of the 2 year journey that had brought us back to this pier in Oceanside after our first visit in 2012. I thought back to the struggles of 2012 and the aftermath that had left me dazed and confused. It was a solemn and emotional moment as we reassured each other that we were going to get through this together.
And just like that I was in the start chute and beginning another RAAM adventure. I’d warned my crew up front to not be surprised if I was bringing up the rear at the beginning, as my plan was to pace myself and keep my power down. It’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement and energy of the start, especially having a lot of riders around you – many riders end up going out too hard as a result and then pay for it later, typically once they drop down into the California desert. So I reminded myself of this each time someone passed me in those first 50 miles (and a LOT of riders passed me!!). This was essentially my 4th time riding the start of RAAM (having done it in RAW in 2011, RAAM in 2012, and the SoCal RAAM Challenge earlier this year), and I noted that it seemed “easier” than it had those earlier times. I figured this was a good sign – it meant I wasn’t over exerting myself. What surprised me though was when I started passing people after reaching the top of the climb up the side of Palomar before the first time station at Lake Henshaw. Here the terrain flattened, and there were some downhills, and I found myself catching up to and passing riders who had passed me on the climb. I was trying to ride at a fairly steady power output, whereas clearly they had been doing much higher power on the climb and had backed off significantly on the flats/downhills. Again, I took this as a good sign, and was encouraged by it. I was sticking to my game plan!
There was a tailwind on much of the first section of the race, which was great, but the fact that it was windy meant that the descent down the Glass Elevator (a drop of almost 4,000ft down into the California desert town of Borrego Springs) was likely going to be “interesting”. The descent is a very technical one, and it weaves in and out of the cliff bands, so as you come around a corner and a rock formation the wind will change direction and be VERY strong. Every time I’ve done this descent it has been challenging due to the wind, but this time was perhaps one of the worst. On several occasions I was nearly blown into the opposing lane the wind was so fierce, and I was quite tentative going into each corner not knowing whether the wind was going to blast me as I rounded the rock. But I made it down safely thankfully.
Lake Henshaw, CA: Kyle Welch, Alan Bell
I was surprised to see 2 of the solo women shortly after I completed the descent – Jacquie Schlitter and Shu Pillinger. I hadn’t expected to see any of the women for quite some time, so it was encouraging that I was still in the midst of things. A little ways after Borrego Springs I switched from my road bike to my time trial bike, and so began my journey across the California desert. The wind continued to blow, first as a cross wind, and then as more of a tailwind, and there was a lot of blowing sand on the road, but I was just glad it wasn’t a headwind! Over the course of the night I actually managed to pass 4 of the women, and moved into 2nd place – wow! I was happy with our pace, as we were well ahead of my 2012 pace, and I was glad that we’d pushed through more of the desert in the cooler night temperatures – although I knew there would be plenty of heat to follow during the day!
Brawley, CA: Jeannine Giem, Scott Bolter
Blythe, CA: Ildiko Papp
Parker, AZ: David To
Heading out of Parker, AZ the conditions were more like in 2011 than in 2012 – a stronger head wind, which made the long, gradual climb up towards Salome slower – in fact a full 2mph slower on this stretch this year compared to 2012. But the temperature wasn’t as hot as in 2011 or 2012, so I tried to be thankful for that. Along this stretch my crew told me that Janice, the lead woman, was only 4 or 5 miles in front of me, which was a real shocker! When they told me this, I was going through a bit of a lull where I was feeling sleepy and having a hard time focusing, but this news woke me up instantly – the thought that I was doing this well (even though it was very early in the race) was enough to give me some new focus. We passed through Hope (and got beyond Hope!), and then through Salome. The next stop was Congress, which I knew had a nice cold swimming pool waiting for me, but between me and this oasis in the desert lay roughly 60 more miles, the last 24 of which were on a rough chipseal surface. This final stretch into Congress really drained me – it was nearing the hottest part of the day, and the rough road was really doing a number on my sore and swollen feet. I did get to chat briefly with Keith Wolcott on this section though – he told me that he had read my 2012 race report and had learned a lot from it, so that was cool to hear. It was also along this section that we passed the 24hr mark of the race, and I realized I’d set a new PR, having covered 367 miles in 24hrs.
Salome, AZ: Heather Savage and Vince Doromal
Congress, AZ: Karen Thompson
When I did finally arrive in Congress I eagerly jumped in the swimming pool – but alas I forgot that my Tractalis GPS tracker was in my jersey pocket – doh!!! And so began the next 1400 miles of “stealth mode” riding with no one knowing exactly where I was except for when I checked into time stations. My dip in the pool was quick, and then I did a quick clothing change while eating some cold cup-o-noodle soup and ate an ice cream bar before hitting the road again. Because my feet were so sore and swollen at this point, I switched into my one size larger cycling shoes that I’d gotten just for this purpose. This was one of the best decisions I made in the preparation for RAAM, as I ended up wearing those shoes for the next 2600+ miles all the way to the finish! Big thanks to Rachel and Eric for hooking me up with the shoes – they definitely made my RAAM journey more comfortable!
Leaving Congress is Yarnell Grade – a long and pretty sustained climb made more difficult by the heat and the fact that the climb is completely exposed. I wasn’t moving very fast, but I got myself up and over the climb and to the town of Yarnell. Yarnell is where 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters lost their lives in June of 2013 while trying to protect the town of Yarnell from a wild fire, so it was a moment for somber reflection passing through the town and seeing the nearby fire damage as well as the memorials and references to the fallen fire fighters. After descending out of Yarnell there is another sequence of climbing before dropping down into Prescott. This was the first time that I’d done this section in the daylight, so it was kind of cool to get to see the area.
The sun set as I headed out of Prescott and began the climb up Mingus Mountain. This was a critical section in the race for me, as it was the 2nd night of the race and I had not yet slept – the goal was to push on until about 1am local time before taking my first sleep break of the race. At the bottom of the climb Seana Hogan interviewed me which helped to kick me back into alert mode, and after that the all night party crew kept me awake as Sonya chatted with me and we rocked out to my high energy playlist. We stopped at the top of the climb for a quick bathroom break and I was surprised to see RAW racer Dave Preston – again, I was surpassing all my expectations and seeing folks who I would have expected to have been far out in front of me, so it was another boost to my confidence. The descent down through Jerome and into Cottonwood is a fun descent – even in the dark. The road is smooth (for the most part), and there are some pretty cool views of the lights of Jerome as well as below in the valley. It’s a technical descent though, with some hair pin turns through Jerome, so I didn’t get too aggressive.
Prescott, AZ: Dennis Feick, Kara Woolgar
Cottonwood, AZ: Brenna Broadnax
We proceeded a bit beyond Cottonwood before we finally stopped for my first sleep break. This was just shy of 500 miles into the race (497.7), and was the longest that I’ve gone without sleep during an ultra race, so I was really happy that we’d been able to do this. During RAW in 2011 and RAAM in 2012 I’d slept in Congress, however on both occasions I’d had to stop again in Cottonwood for another sleep because I was too tired, so this year I decided to try and push through after Congress and just take one longer sleep break in the middle of the night and get onto my planned sleep schedule right away rather than have to take multiple sleep breaks so close together. Not only was this the longest I’d gone without sleep while racing, it was also essentially my fastest 500 miles (35hrs elapsed time) – my previous best was my first ultra when I did the Furnace Creek 508 in 36:20. As I drifted off to sleep I couldn’t help but feel really positive about how the race was unfolding thus far!
After a 2.5hr sleep, I hit the road again just as the first signs of light were starting to appear in the sky. The route was different from past years in that we had to take the interstate into Flagstaff due to road construction on Oak Creek Canyon out of Sedona. Riding on the interstate wasn’t particularly fun as there was lots and lots of debris on the shoulder, and we weren’t allowed to stop for any reason. We got on the first section of the interstate and suddenly my digestive system was very unhappy – this made for some unpleasantness given that we couldn’t stop, and the next exit was several miles away which all happened to be uphill… But we made it to the exit and took care of “business” as quickly as possible and then jetted back onto the interstate. This time though we failed to fill my water and nutrition prior to getting back on the interstate, and since we couldn’t do handoffs on the interstate it meant that I was starting to get a bit low on caloric and fluid intake. Did I mention I don’t like riding on the interstate and the modified rules that go with it??? Eventually we left the interstate behind us for good though as we entered Flagstaff.
Flagstaff, AZ: Dan Sauers
I swapped to the TT bike after the last little climb out of Flagstaff, but almost as soon as I headed out again I realized I’d made a big mistake. There was a strong and somewhat gusty cross wind, plus the road had a lot of very large traffic that was moving really, really fast such that as they passed me it would cause a lot of turbulence in the air. I found myself somewhat terrified as I white knuckled it down the descent, and I decided pretty quickly that this was not the most efficient way to ride this stretch – I would be better off on my road bike which I was more comfortable on and thus would actually be able to ride faster in these conditions. So as soon as I saw the follow vehicle go by and pull over I stopped and switched bikes again. I was angry at myself for having wasted the time switching bikes twice, and for not being able to ride the TT bike, but I tried to not let it get to me too much. Back on my road bike I proceeded into the heat and the wind towards Tuba City.
This section of road is perhaps my LEAST favorite section of road on all of RAAM – and it was made worse this year by the road construction that was going on. It’s a busy highway with lots of large and fast traffic, with little or no shoulder to ride on, and huge/deep rumble strips. The follow crew of Dex, Joni, and Kati helped to try and guide me through the mess – they would communicate with me over the Cardo trying to warn me about the traffic that was coming up behind me so that I knew when it was safe to cross back and forth over the bone jarring rumble strips as the shoulder would appear and disappear. At one point I actually had to stop when the shoulder ran out because there was large traffic bearing down on me so it wasn’t safe to move into the lane. I really, really, REALLY hate this section of road, and the heat and wind did not help.
Finally we got to the turn off to Tuba City, and I was feeling pretty demoralized. My feet were killing me again after all the horrible rumble strips and road construction. While I didn’t want to take an extended stop and waste precious time, I also really felt like I “needed” a break right then, so I proposed to the crew that we stop in Tuba City at the time station and quickly try to address my worsening feet, get out of the heat for a few moments, and get some serious calories into me (since it had been hard to eat/drink on the previous section of road given how much focus and energy it took just to try and stay alive!). So I put in my first order for KFC – I’m sure there was probably a pool as to how long it would take for this moment to come given my fixation with KFC during RAAM in 2012! So there in Tuba City unfolded a typical only-on-RAAM scene – me sitting inside the women’s bathroom with my feet in a tupperware container with ice water, chowing down on KFC like I hadn’t eaten in days, with 2-3 crew members adorned in reflective gear fluttering about me tending to my needs (putting sunscreen on me, changing some of my clothes, massaging me, etc.). More than one person entered the bathroom and did a double take!
Tuba City: Maria Parker, Brian Feinberg
We left Tuba City, and I started to feel a bit better. The cooling gel that we’d put on my feet made them feel a bit better, and I was feeling a bit rejuvenated from the food and time spent out of the heat. So while we had lost some time being stopped, I left the time station in a better state to be able to try and make some of it up. Plus now the wind was a tail wind instead of a cross wind, so we were moving right along! A ways outside of Tuba City it was time for a shift change on the crew, and I saw them lined up on the side of the road doing “the wave” and other funny antics which brought a smile to my face – I really did have the BEST crew!
As we headed towards Kayenta, I was faced with the next challenge – my eyes had taken a beating during the day with all the wind – because it was a cross wind my sunglasses had provided little protection, and now I found my eyes were watering, and constantly blinking, to the point that I was having trouble seeing the road. I had to ask my crew to provide extra guidance and be “my eyes”. I eventually tried wearing some goggles, but even that didn’t seem to help – in fact it seemed to make things a bit worse as my eyes then seemed to overheat in the goggles. This made for the section between Kayenta and Bluff (where we eventually stopped for my 2nd sleep break) all the more challenging, but we got through it – such is RAAM!
Kayenta, AZ: Pat Grant
We reached Kayenta just as the sun had set. I’d hoped to get to Monument Valley in the daylight when I’d started that morning, but with the longer route into Flagstaff via the interstate, and then some of the challenges of the afternoon it just hadn’t been possible. But we did get to see Monument Valley under the light of an almost full moon! Going into Monument Valley my feet and eyes were really bothering me though, and pretty quickly I got into a funk where I just started to feel sorry for myself and threw myself a “pity party”. To make matters worse, we couldn’t have external music in this area because it was Navajo land. I don’t even remember why, but I think I started giving the follow crew my “silent treatment” – which made me mad at myself – after all, my crew was there to help me – it wasn’t their fault that my feet and eyes hurt! The follow crew needed to take a bio break, so errand vehicle took over direct follow, and I chatted with Joni over the Cardo. She reminded me that it was my choice to be out here, and that not many people could say they’d done this. This helped me get my head back on straight somewhat, although then there just seemed to be mile after mile of horribly rough road, and I felt like my body was just taking a constant beating.
Mexican Hat, UT: Lindsay King
We went through Mexican Hat, and proceeded to what the route book calls “rollers” – which I knew damn well are NOT rollers! I was still in a funk, and having trouble staying awake, but I asked that the follow vehicle play my morning play list – a collection of songs that I’d put together that were a combination of some high energy songs as well as songs that had some meaning to me and expressed various parts of what RAAM is all about. Eminem’s “Lose Yourself”, The Black Eyed Peas “Let’s Get It Started”, Katy Perry’s “Roar”, Dierks Bentley’s “Home”, Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried”, Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”, Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb”, Imagine Dragons’ “Demons”, Rodney Atkins “If You’re Going Through Hell”, and Bob Schneider’s “The Other Side”. Music is a powerful thing – especially when you feel a connection between it and what you’re doing, and suddenly I felt myself come alive and my determination and ambition return. I would stand out of the saddle during the chorus of the songs, and suddenly I was wide awake and moving steadily forward again with purpose and intent rather than inching forward in the midst of my own self pity party! When the crew asked about stopping for my sleep break, I almost didn’t want to – I almost wanted to just keep going! What a complete turn around! But I knew we needed to stick to our schedule and strategy, so we stopped in Bluff, Utah for my second sleep break.
We left Bluff with the sun already up, so we got to enjoy the beauty of the cliffs that we’d stopped beneath during my sleep break. I knew from 2012 that this section of the course would heat up quickly and become rather miserable, so I really wanted to get out of there ASAP and get up to Colorado where the scenery would improve and the temps would drop. I got into a bit of a bad mood shortly after starting riding though when we were having some problems with the Cardo units and so I lost my communication with my crew. At one point the errand vehicle came up beside me though, and I turned and glanced at them (with a scowl on my face) and the rear window was down and there were a bunch of finger puppets of all things! That totally made me crack a smile and really helped to turn my mood around! It’s the little things like that on RAAM that make such a huge difference, and it’s why I love sharing RAAM with a crew!
Soon enough we passed through Montezuma Creek and then were headed towards Colorado. The road out of Utah has perhaps one of the most littered ditches that I’ve ever seen! It was unbelievable the amount of trash that was strewn all over the side of the road – mostly beer/alcohol bottles (but other stuff too – Lindsay spotted a muffin tin of all things!), making you wonder what goes on in that part of the country! What was strange too was that there were “trash circles” – there were plenty of randomly strewn bottles, but there were also neat collections of bottles organized in circles fairly evenly distributed along the side of the road. Lindsay commented and asked about whether they were created by “conscientious litterers”!
Montezuma Creek, UT: The Cronin Family (Tam, Mike, Will, and Chip)
We continued out of Utah and into Colorado, and were soon making our way out of Cortez and towards Durango. There’s some really pretty scenery in this area, and I was glad to be leaving the CA/AZ/UT deserts behind! We passed through Durango mid afternoon, and then it was on towards Pagosa Springs and Wolf Creek Pass. What caught me off guard though was how busy the road out of Durango was! There was a steady stream of traffic, and the shoulder was somewhat unreliable (rumble strips, gravel, etc.). In 2012 we’d done this section at night with direct follow, so this was a bit of a shocker for me having to do it without direct follow. Where were all these people going? Although I guess it was a Friday afternoon. At one point I had to pull over and just take a short break to try and regain my composure, as I was feeling so stressed out trying to ride safely on this stretch of road. Eventually the traffic died down though, and then we were in the peace and serenity of the Colorado countryside. We even saw some cowboys on horses herding cattle on the side of the road – now this was the Colorado I was expecting!
Cortez, CO: Mike D’s Garage (eBay Store)
Durango, CO: Jeff Radick, Don King
On the way to Pagosa Springs we made the strategic decision to push up and over Wolf Creek Pass that night and get to South Fork before sleeping. This would likely delay my planned sleep break a bit, but we didn’t want to be taking a sleep break up at altitude (Wolf Creek Pass tops out at about 10,800 feet), and Pagosa Springs was going to come too early to sleep there. Because we’d had reports of the temps getting down in the 30s and 40s on Wolf Creek Pass and even down lower, we decided that we’d get a hotel in South Fork rather than take my sleep in the errand vehicle as we’d been doing. This yielded some other advantages too – it would allow Sonya to work on me a bit more and do some more massage, and it would allow me to take an ice bath which would hopefully help my body with the aches and pains it was experiencing. Sonya dubbed it our “spa day” – a reward for all the hard work up until this point! So I was now on a mission to get up and over the Continental Divide – so that I could enjoy an ice bath….and one that I had suggested???? Tracey would have been proud!
Pagosa Springs, CO: Chris Hoeber
Climbing Wolf Creek Pass at night seemed much tougher than doing it during the day like I’d done in 2012. Mind you in 2012 I’d slept in Pagosa Springs, so I was coming off of a break, whereas this year we’d started the day in Utah and had already climbed some high passes in Colorado before reaching Wolf Creek Pass. The errand crew did an amazing job of keeping me entertained on the climb though – they were dancing on the side of the road, and doing other antics. At one point Dex literally scared the crap out of the follow vehicle occupants when he sneakily came up behind the vehicle and started running alongside it on the drivers side, and no one knew he was there until he knocked on the driver’s window! Can you imagine if you were driving along and suddenly there was someone knocking on your window?? It totally freaked everyone out inside the vehicle! Then Kati challenged me to a “sprint” which certainly got my blood flowing!!! Then low and behold Joni donned the chicken costume and proceeded to bust out dance moves that one did not expect to see coming from her! I was in stitches, as was the follow vehicle!
As the climb progressed though, I definitely started to feel the effects of the altitude and the 900+ miles that were already on my legs. Being dark out, it also impacted my sense of balance, and since I was riding so slowly I found myself swerving several times as I started to lose balance. The last few miles seemed to drag on FOREVER, and I was getting pretty disheartened. Why was it so hard??? It wasn’t this hard in 2012!!! I started entertaining thoughts that I couldn’t make it, and a few tears were shed. But Lindsay was an absolute trooper as she kept talking me through the climb and telling me that I could do it! When we finally DID make it to the top it was such a relief! As I stopped at the top of the pass and collapsed over my handle bars, my crew embraced me and Joni reminded me of my Dad, who passed away in January, and said that I’d done it for him. I’d dedicated the South Fork time station to my Dad because I’m sure that he would have loved to have seen that area around Wolf Creek Pass, so this reminder made me all the more emotional.
After warming up in the follow vehicle for a bit and getting some food into me and warmer clothes on, we headed down to South Fork. It was really cold at first and I was shaking and shivering, but soon enough the descent ended and then I was overheating in my multiple layers. The final few miles into South Fork the crew and I did some singing – they were trying to keep me engaged and awake, as often times descents can be the most dangerous times in terms of when you’re most likely to fall asleep. First we sang the “Doh Re Mi” song (this was prompted by seeing a deer on the side of the road) – even Jeff was singing along in the vehicle, and apparently Sonya was making up her own lyrics as we went along! Then Lindsay and I sang “Oh Canada!”. After what seemed to be forever, we pulled into South Fork, and so began my “Spa Day” – an ice bath, some extra massage, a backpacker meal, and then 2.5hrs of sleep!
South Fork, CO: In memory of Hamish Grant (my Dad)
In the morning leaving South Fork I was shocked when Mike told me that Janice (the women’s leader) was just a little ways up the road, stopped, and hadn’t moved in a long time – WHAT?? When I’d been watching the GPS tracking the day before I’d seen her steadily pulling away from me, so I figured she’d be well on her way to Kansas by now! Why had she been stopped for so long? Was her strategy to take a really long sleep break at this point? Little did I know that she had developed breathing problems on Wolf Creek Pass and had gone to the hospital overnight. Then just as I hit the road I saw Shu go by – she had stopped earlier to sleep and had gone over Wolf Creek Pass in the early morning hours while I was sleeping. Suddenly there was the excitement of being in the midst of the “race” aspect of RAAM (something which I’ve never really focused on before).
I saw Shu pull off the road – probably to take off the layers of clothes that she had on for the descent – and so I motored on down the road. I was feeling MUCH better after my “spa day” (I think the ice bath really helped!), and soon I was flying down the road with a partial tail wind. I quickly asked to switch to the TT bike, and then I was on a mission to get to Alamosa ASAP! Along this stretch of road we passed the 1000 mile mark in the race, and Ingrid, Tam, and Mike marked the spot with a strip of duct tape on the pavement and much celebrating on the side of the road! But I continued and pressed onwards. Not knowing why Janice had stopped or when she’d be returning to the road, I set out to beat her to one time station (and stay in front of Shu) so that I could get a screen shot of the leaderboard with me at the top of it – after all, how many people can say that they lead Race Across America even for a short period of time!! And I did just that – arriving in Alamosa first among the women and officially leading the women’s race – WOW!
Alamosa, CO: Peter Lehman
As we headed towards La Veta Pass the wind funneled through the valley and seemed to get stronger and stronger – but unlike in 2012 when it was a headwind, it was a tailwind this year – woohoo!! I swapped back to the road bike near the bottom of the climb, and then literally let the wind push me up the climb! I’ve never felt such a “push” up a climb before – wow! But then as I began descending and the road curved to go in a different direction, alas that tail wind became a brutal cross wind. I was VERY happy that it wasn’t a head wind, but even as a cross wind it made the trek into La Veta challenging – I was getting blown all over the road, and it made holding any kind of line nearly impossible with the gusts. Add to the mix some big semi trucks that were passing me, and it was a recipe for disaster! The crew would warn me over the Cardo when big traffic was approaching since they weren’t allowed to do direct follow, and when a couple of the big trucks approached me I actually came to a near stop to make sure that I didn’t get blown off the road.
La Veta, CO: Sylvie Louise Hunter
We finally pulled into La Veta, and I needed a quick break to regain my composure and to eat and drink something since I’d been unable to take my hands off the handlebars in the hellacious winds coming down the pass. I also wanted to put on some goggles because my eyes were really suffering in the wind. I headed back out, but now the wind was a head wind…. I slogged along barely going 8mph on the flats wondering at this rate how many DAYS it was going to take me to get to the top of Cuchara Pass!! The wind was discouraging me, plus I was quite sleepy, so I decided to call my brother Carson, as we’d been playing phone tag for a couple of days. Amazingly I had cell reception, so we chatted for a bit, and that helped. As I neared the top of the pass I thought I might get rained on, as there were dark clouds and it was clear that there was a storm cell moving over. Luckily I didn’t get rained on, but I did continue to get battered by the wind. Near the top of the pass the errand vehicle came by and started cheering me on – Mike had a colorful wig on, and Ingrid was in the chicken costume!
The first part of the descent off of Cuchara was pretty brutal – the road would dip and curve and I’d get slammed by a wall of wind that nearly stopped me in my tracks when it was a headwind, or nearly blew me off the road when it was a cross wind. As I got lower though the road straightened out, and then I had a tailwind all the way to Trinidad so I started to fly again. Out of Trinidad are some rollers and then flatter terrain on the way to Kim, Colorado. We’d hoped to get to Walsh, Colorado that night for my sleep break, but the wind on Cuchara had slowed me, and then the wind had shifted out of Trinidad and slowly became a bit of a headwind, so we settled on making Kim our goal for the night. I went through another funk those last couple of hours, but Lindsay came through again and really talked me through it.
Trinidad, CO: Debbie Cain and Sandy Lombardi
Kim, CO: Hakan Ceylan, Johnna Andrews
While I was glad for a break from the high altitude and climbing, I knew that “flat” didn’t equate to “easy” – the wind can make a flat ride harder than a hilly ride, so I was apprehensive about heading into Kansas and the great plains the next morning. I remembered the vicious cross winds that I’d encountered when I entered Kansas in 2012, and the weather forecasts seemed to indicate that we were in for more of the same this year. As I started riding again in the morning, the wind was mostly calm, and so I quickly switched to the TT bike. The road surface in eastern Colorado was pretty rough though, so I was getting jostled and jarred. Imagine my relief when we passed into Kansas and there was brand new glassy smooth pavement – suddenly Kansas was looking more appealing! Shortly after entering Kansas a bunch of my crew had done a bunch of chalk art on the road as well, which was pretty cool! There was even a Wizard of Oz theme with some instructions to follow the yellow brick road!
As I worked my way across Kansas the wind progressively picked up, but it stayed steady and predictable, so I was able to stay on the TT bike all day. It was probably about a 15-20mph cross wind at its worst. It made eating and drinking on the bike quite difficult though, so I had to do a couple of quick stops to quickly gobble down a bunch of food and fluid. The wind died down later in the day as we headed towards Greensburg, but then heading out of Greensburg it picked up again and seemed to be a headwind as we headed towards Pratt. There was apparently a large storm cell just off course, so while we got spit on a bit with a tiny bit of rain, we were lucky to escape from worse. Pratt was where we stopped for my next sleep break – just shy of the half way mark in the race (1494 miles).
Walsh, CO: Chris O’Keefe
Ulysses, KS: Erin Beresini and Jimmy Wills
Montezuma, KS: Gary Aochi
Greensburg, KS: Katie Grant
Pratt, KS: Sheila Romane
Leaving Pratt in the morning I was in another bit of a funk. It was already humid, and I just felt sticky and icky having spent my sleep break in the errand vehicle in a tractor shop parking lot! I was near tears when Lindsay came over and just gave me a hug – I’ve never been a particularly touchy/feely person, but boy oh boy did that hug really help at that moment! If not before, I’m now a believer in the power of the hug! I thought I’d recomposed myself, but then as I got on my bike and started to ride I noticed that my power seemed high but my speed seemed low. We were in Kansas, so while there are some rollers, there aren’t any real “hills”, and while it looked like there was maybe a tiny uphill gradient, it wasn’t significant. It was windy already, but seemed to mostly be a cross wind, not a head wind. I asked the follow vehicle, and they said I was on a bit of a climb, and to not worry about it. Forty minutes later though I still felt like I was not making forward progress, so I got a bit suspicious. I reached down and released the quick release on my front brake, and suddenly my speed shot from 10mph to 18mph! Sh*t!!! In my sleep deprived, already grumpy state, I got even grumpier, especially as I calculated how many miles of my lead I’d just lost (I was still leading the race at this point). After realizing that I was actually able to go at more than 10mph, I decided that it would be worthwhile to get on the TT bike again, so we did. Unfortunately though the wind was picking up much earlier than it had the previous day, and it was stronger and gustier. After battling a section where I was nearly blown into the oncoming lane of traffic, I switched back to the road bike.
It was on the run in to Maize that I got an unexpected call from Carolyn at Bicycle Brüstop. Bicycle Brüstop is one of my sponsors, and they helped me out with regard to getting me onto the Liv Avail bike and helping me out with the many equipment needs that I had for RAAM. Carolyn wanted to do something nice for the crew, so she was calling to see about ordering sandwiches for the crew from a deli in Maize – how nice was that! She totally wasn’t expecting me to answer my own phone though, so that took her by surprise! Chatting with Carolyn was a welcome distraction from the wind though, so I’m really glad she called!
Maize, KS: Tracey McQuair (in memory of Haley)
El Dorado, KS: Pamela Goodley, Anna Luo
The theme of this 2nd day in Kansas continued to be wind… Leaving El Dorado in particular the wind seemed to pick up even more. I believe it was a 25-30mph sustained cross wind with gusts that were significantly higher. I was having a difficult time keeping the bike upright, and several of the gusts swung me out close to the center line of the lane. Again, eating and drinking on the bike became pretty much impossible, so I had to take quick breaks to get in food and fluids. At least the entertainment was good though! Ingrid was dressed up in the chicken costume again, and was doing all kinds of antics on the side of the road. Perhaps my favorite was when she was holding onto a sign post pretending like she was being blown away! This was also the stretch of road where I first remember seeing turtles! I’d remembered them in Missouri in 2012, but hadn’t remembered seeing them in Kansas, but we saw a lot of (unfortunately) smashed turtles on the road between El Dorado and Yates Center. My crew did rescue at least one turtle though – hopefully the little fella survived and didn’t head back out onto the highway!
Yates Center, KS: Dave Verrecchia and Vanderkitten
As the evening approached, thankfully the wind started to die down. We passed through Yates Center and then headed for Ft Scott where we intended to take my next sleep break. As darkness enveloped me, the cumulative fatigue and sleep deprivation coupled with probably having fallen a bit behind on calories and fluid due to the wind caught up to me, and I experienced my first serious mental “disconnect” of the race. In 2012 I had first experienced this going into Trinidad, Colorado, so we had managed to delay the onset of this by 2 days this year. Basically my brain shuts off at a conscious level, and I’m kind of a zombie out there – I’m not really aware of what I’m doing, and I’m not really capable of rational thought – but I am able to respond to verbal instructions. It’s hard to explain, as I’m “there”, but I’m “not there”. This would probably freak a lot of folks out, but I was amazed at how easily my crew seemed to adapt to this new challenge, and how amazingly well they handled it! Lindsay and Sonya took turns on the Cardo, and they talked me through this disconnect as if they were old pros at this kind of thing! At one point I kind of snapped out of it, so in doing so I recognized that it was happening (I even told them “I’m back”), but then I slipped back into it. Things didn’t get as bad as they got in 2012 going into Greensburg, Kansas when I actually have huge chunks of missing time – at least this time I was somewhat aware of what was happening, and only have a few smaller chunks of time that I think I lost completely – but I was just not in a “normal” conscious state.
At some point on this stretch of road there were some locals out on the side of the road, and one of them started running along beside me – and he was running FAST! I had to really sprint pretty hard to drop him. I think it was this incident that lead Lindsay and Sonya to start instructing me to do little sprint sessions (similar to what Doug had done in 2012). I remember doing them, and I remember being rather amazed at what I was able to do – both power wise and cadence wise (I had some 30s intervals where I was averaging well over 300w and upper nineties cadence wise out of the saddle). Jeff, Lindsay, and Sonya were also apparently impressed with what they saw, and I remember overhearing them talk amongst themselves as to how amazed they were at what they were witnessing – so even though I wasn’t really fully conscious, at some primal level I took it to heart and it served to make me try even harder, and to give it my all!
Ft Scott, KS: Scott Morgan, Susan Wollen
Eventually we made it to Ft Scott where I took my next sleep break. In the morning I was surprised to hear that Janice had caught up to me – last I remember checking (Yates Center) she had been about 3hrs behind me, so I was surprised that she had made all that time up in one night. I knew that she was sleeping less than I was, so I’d expected her to eventually catch up and pass me, but it seemed to happen very suddenly after several days of status quo. I guess she was finally starting to recover from her asthma incident in Colorado. I left Ft Scott, and ended up passing Janice while she was stopped on the side of the road, so I ended up in front again. We quickly left Kansas behind and entered Missouri – the crew all celebrated wildly!
The rolling hills of Missouri didn’t feel as bad as I’d remembered them in 2012, and we moved right along. At one point the Danish rider Morten Kjaersgaard came up beside me and presented me with some daisies that he’d found on the side of the ride – how sweet was that! We rode together and chatted for several minutes. Morten had also raced RAAM in 2012, but had DNFd much earlier in the race (near Durango I believe), so it was great to see that he was still riding strong in Missouri! Eventually he dropped back, but I kept leap frogging his crew, and they were all very supportive and did some dances and whatnot on the side of the road for me, so that was pretty fun to see!
Weaubleau, MO: Karen Thompson, Lisa Hern
In Weaubleau at the next time station I stopped quickly for a bathroom break and to change shorts, and while I was stopped Janice pulled into the time station as well. I headed out from the time station just in front of her, but this caused some confusion, as when my follow vehicle came to catch up to me and follow me, they mistakenly started following Janice! We were both wearing the same color kit, and Janice had a red camelbak on just like what I’d been wearing on previous days. I was confused when my crew was talking to me asking about the rider in front of me given that there was no rider in front of me! Then they got confused when Janice’s crew cut in front of them to follow Janice. Finally they figured out they had the wrong rider and quickly corrected things and moved forward to follow me. I gave Dex a hard time about it though saying that he’d been staring at my butt for several days now, so I was offended that he mistook someone else’s butt as mine!
On this stretch of road Janice caught up to me and we rode together briefly and chatted a bit. She was riding faster on the uphills, and then I was going faster on the downhills (gravity is my friend on downhills – not so much on uphills!). She eventually dropped back a bit, and I proceeded to ride in front through to the next time station in Camdenton. It was also along this section of road that we were finally given a new Tractalis GPS tracking unit by the head RAAM race official, so finally we were back online with regard to live tracking – it had only taken 1400 miles of stealth mode to make it happen unfortunately. Seana Hogan once again caught up to us just before Camdenton and did another on the bike interview.
Camdenton was a very special time station for me. In 2012 it was in Camdenton that I met 11 year old Lauryn, and we’d struck up a conversation and inspired each other. I’d stayed in touch with Lauryn and her family after RAAM, and in fact had met up with her later in 2012 when she was in California for her uncle’s wedding, so I was really looking forward to seeing her again in Camdenton! I’d told my crew from the start that regardless of what was going on in the race at the time, we were going to stop in Camdenton and visit with Lauryn! I’d brought along a Vanderkiten T-shirt for her, which I presented to her when we arrived at the time station. Then we got to do something really special – Lauryn joined my crew for the next several hours and rode in the follow vehicle in the navigator’s position. She wore the Cardo communication system and we were able to chat, which was really special for both of us. She was looking up jokes on her phone and sharing them with me, and then she was going through my playlists and picking music to play for me. Of course she did make me feel old though when she came across some Black Eyed Peas music and excitedly proclaimed that it was “throw back” music! I guess she can be excused since she’s only 13 after all!! Lauryn’s mom came and picked her up just outside of Jefferson City, but it was so amazing to be able to have her be a part of our journey, and I hope it was as special for her as it was for me!
Camdenton, MO: La Dolce Velo
Jefferson City, MO: Chainspirations (Paula MacMann)
Riding through the night towards Washington, MO I got to chat to several people. First I chatted with Tracey when she called me (she was the physical therapist on my 2012 RAAM crew). Then I chatted with Cindi Staiger (a fellow RAAM finisher) when she called. Then I was interviewed by Seana Hogan again. Then I chatted with my brother, Carson, and my mom when they called. I joked with my crew that I needed one of those number dispensers I was in such high demand! My brother told me about some old photos that he’d just found, and then he texted them to me. One was of him on a bike with me standing behind him when we were kids, and the other was of my Dad riding that same bike in the yard of our farm. Seeing the picture of my Dad brought tears to my eyes, as I’d not remembered him ever riding a bike, so I suddenly felt closer to him.
Washington, MO: Debby Vandersande
During my stop in Camdenton, Janice had also pulled into the time station, and then she had left in front of me, but apparently we caught and passed her again later when she was stopped, as I had arrived in Jefferson City just before her. We bounced back and forth a few more times that evening as one or the other of us was stopped, but she had finally pulled ahead for good when I stopped for my sleep break in Washington, Missouri. It was an honor to lead the race for as long as I did (almost 4 days), and something that I had never expected would happen, but my primary goal this year was not to “race” – rather it was to “do it right”, and to have a positive experience. So I didn’t allow myself to get sucked into changing my strategy to try and race Janice. She’s a very talented and strong rider, so to even be able to hold her pace for that day while riding was pretty cool, but ultimately she was sleeping less than I was, and I wasn’t willing to go down the path of increasing my sleep deprivation and jeopardize the goals that I’d come to RAAM with this year. I do liken RAAM to Russian Roulette in a sense – it’s a risky event, and it only takes one split second of falling asleep in the wrong place at the wrong time for things to end horribly, or even permanently, so I stuck to my sleep schedule of getting 2.5+ hours of sleep each night.
After a sleep break in Washington, we hit the road towards the Mississippi river. It was on this stretch of road that the ‘Merica game was born! Lindsay, my Canadian crew member, was noting that there was an abundance of flags – much more so than any other country that she’d visited – so she was teasing her American crew mates about it by pointing them out and proclaiming “‘Merica!” when she saw them. Pretty soon this turned into a friendly competition between rider and crew to see who could spot the most flags, and I must say that this was an extremely effective way to keep me awake, alert, and engaged! I was scanning the horizon like a hawk (or bald eagle? that’s more ‘Merican, right!), and I would bang out the ‘Mericas before the crew behind me even had a chance! It became a fun theme to the remaining third of our journey, and I’ll never be able to look at an American flag again without thinking ‘Merica! Interestingly, in 2012 it was very close to the same point in the race that the red truck spotting game was born, so there must be something about Washington, Missouri that brings out counting games!
Countless ‘Mericas later, we pulled into the Mississippi River time station, two thirds of the way through the race. Here I had 2 neat encounters. One was with a little boy and his dad – at first I thought they just happened to be at the gas station, but we found out later that they’d been following the race and had come to see us go through. The little boy was really shy, but we did eventually get a photo with his dad and me and the bike. The 2nd encounter was with a local reporter. She just happened to be there, and hadn’t known that there was a race going on, but she did a quick interview and snapped my picture with the Clark Bridge over the Mississippi in the background. Meeting locals along the route is one of the most rewarding and unique aspects of RAAM!
Mississippi River: Carolyn Lehman, Bill and Marion Lytle
As we crossed the Mississippi and headed into Illinois, I felt like the humidity just shot through the roof, and I became very miserable very quickly. Add to it the fact that it was mid day and there was pretty heavy traffic on the road as we headed out of Alton and towards Greenville, and I was pretty miserable. My ‘Merica crew got a smile out of me though when they passed me in the other van and I saw that they’d gotten some ‘Merica bling – glasses and hats or something, which made me smile! We passed through Greenville, but I was getting more and more sleepy. After Greenville I was drifting off to sleep, so I stopped for my first nap of the race. Just getting out of the heat and closing my eyes for 20min or so helped, but then it was back into the oppressive humidity. We continued on through Effingham and then on to Sullivan, Indiana before I took my next sleep break.
Greenville, IL: Chuck Gray
Effingham, IL: Betty Buhr, Carol Ashburner
Sullivan, IN: Matt Malone
Heading towards Bloomington I had my scariest moment in the race up to this point. The follow vehicle had pulled off to let some traffic by, so I was riding without them behind me. All of a sudden I woke up a foot or two from the center line with oncoming traffic in the other lane. This really scared me, and as soon as the follow vehicle caught back up to me I told them what happened and we stopped so that I could take a 15min nap. It was during my nap that the 8 person team with Pippa Middleton (sister of Kate Middleton – wife of the heir to the British throne) passed us. Pippa garnered a lot of media attention during and after the race – hopefully some of which will positively impact the race in the future by raising awareness of it.
The nap helped with the sleepiness, but the heat and humidity were already starting to take a toll on me, and it was still early in the morning. Heading into Bloomington I chatted with my brother, Peter, on the phone, then in Bloomington we saw Jill Marks who was crewing for a team that her husband was riding on (I’d met her at the 508 last year). Heading out of Bloomington I chatted with Janet Christiansen on the phone for a few minutes, which helped keep me alert. Then I called and chatted with my coach a bit later when I was once again having a hard time keeping my eyes open. Talking to folks helps a lot when I’m battling sleepiness.
Bloomington, IN: Jerry Cottingham
Greensburg, IN: In memory of Lee “Fuzzy” Mitchell
As we approached Batesville, IN I learned that there was a very large thunderstorm in the area, so Mike was working to figure out what our strategy should be. We had crew already in a hotel sleeping in Batesville, so we stopped there and I went down for an early sleep break (it was only about 4pm local time I believe). This allowed us to miss the storm, plus the next day had a similar forecast in terms of a late afternoon storm, so our plan was to stick to the late afternoon sleep break through the next day as well.
As we left Batesville and headed towards Oxford in the fog/mist in the evening light, I was reminded of how pretty this area was in 2012 as well. This time it was evening instead of early morning though, so we were treated to a display by the fireflies! I’d been so “out of it” by this point in 2012 that I don’t actually remember seeing the fireflies. They were everywhere the last couple of days of the race, and it truly is pretty amazing to see them, so I’m glad that I was with it enough to appreciate them this year!
We passed through Oxford, OH late at night, but there were still some exuberant RAAM fans out to cheer us on! Ohio has some hard core RAAM fans – both the Oxford and Blanchester time stations are staffed around the clock, the course is marked with lots of signs (which is very reassuring to whomever is navigating, as it provides reassurance that you’re still on course), and there’s the Ohio RAAM Show hosted by Lee Kreider that does weekly (or thereabouts) interviews with various folks involved with RAAM. We headed out of Oxford and continued on into the night towards Blanchester, during which time the crew read me a lot of the comments that had been flowing in from Facebook. It was interesting that they did this here, as in 2012 it was this same stretch of road that Tracey had done the same. About an hour out from Blanchester the rain arrived, but I opted to keep going as I wanted to get to the time station before taking my next nap. We pulled into Blanchester at 4am, but were still greeted by some fans, including Lee Kreider.
Oxford, OH: Lee Kreider, Alison Ashburner
Blanchester, OH: Lori Cherry
After my nap I headed out again, but almost immediately it started raining on us again, and a pretty heavy rain. I was still half asleep, and we hadn’t put my shoe covers on, or fender on my bike, so we stopped to do that. Once I got going I was really struggling though. The rain splashing on my face was making me close my eyes, and then they wanted to stay shut due to sleepiness. We stopped at a gas station and I tried to compose myself. I knew I needed to suck it up and get moving, but I was in a funk. Eventually I got moving again, but it was slow going. We were approaching the 10 day mark, which was when things started to go downhill fast in 2012, and that was certainly in the back of my mind.
Later that morning I had my first off-roading experience – I dozed off and rode off the road. This was really frustrating and scary for me, so I stopped for a nap. A while after my nap I got some company on the bike – Cassie Schumacher joined me for a while and we chatted. She was a fellow competitor in 2012. She’d DNFd that year, but she’d come back and finished in 2013. It was nice to have a bit of company, and it woke me up for a bit. Heading into Chillicothe though my eyes were once again closing against my will. After I started drifting towards oncoming traffic or the ditch a few times, Tam, Ingrid, and Mike got the hang of noticing when I was starting to drift, and would get on the Cardo and PA and warn me. They did a great job of trying to keep me safe out there. We continued past Chillicothe towards Athens, and I couldn’t help but think back to 2012 and how I’d had some of my meltdowns on this stretch of road. This year that was not to be the case though, and we continued without incident.
Chillicothe, OH: Tina Waitzman
Athens, OH: Dana Meske, Deanne Copeland
We arrived in Athens just after 4pm in the afternoon, and I took my next sleep break. This was perfect timing, as a large thunderstorm swept through the area just after I got off my bike. After my sleep break we headed out of Athens, and passed the spot where I’d staged my “sit in” in 2012 – the point where I’d gotten off of my bike and refused to continue until fellow racer Janet Christiansen had happened along and stopped and talked to me. It felt good to slay another dragon and continue past this point without incident. Then it was on to the next dragon – the point just outside of West Virginia where I’d fallen asleep and crashed into the concrete barrier. I was on the look out for that concrete barrier as we passed by this year, and I rode past it strongly and defyingly!
Just like that we were in West Virginia, and the relentless up and down and up and down and up and down began. I’d done this stretch in the day time last time, but it was the middle of the night this time. There was fog and mist out there at the tops of the hills that added to the ambience of feeling like you were in the middle of nowhere and not making much progress. We took one nap during the night, and then another just after dawn. I was once again battling the sleep monster, and I was getting grumpy too.
West Union, WV: Rachel Grossman
Grafton, WV: Amy Rubin
We continued through West Union and on into Grafton. The temperature was cooler, as it was threatening rain, but the humidity was still high, so it still felt sticky out. When the rain did finally come just outside of Grafton, it was almost refreshing. There were 2 biggish climbs outside of Grafton, and it rained on me as I was climbing the first. The climbs were probably 6-8%, so they were certainly challenging, but I got into a groove and actually felt pretty decent on them with my high energy playlist blaring behind me. In between the climbs I had a sleepy period though, and at one point I crossed the yellow line. My crew suggested it was time for a nap, but I really wanted to get to the next climb and get it over with before stopping and napping, especially since I was already soaking wet and it was still raining. So this goal focused me and kept me alert as I continued on towards and then up and over the next climb.
What was about to transpire was my one semi-major “breakdown” of the race. The rain seemed to have stopped, so when I stopped to use the bathroom I changed into dry clothes. A little while after this I got a blowout on my rear tire (and we’re talking full on gunshot volume blowout!). We swapped wheels quickly, and were back on the road, but I found myself drifting off to sleep, so I decided it was time to cash in on that nap that I’d declined earlier. I got on the Cardo and told my crew that I needed a nap at the next opportunity. Now somehow I’d gotten it in my head that I was going to take my naps in the errand vehicle this day (even though I’d been taking them in the follow vehicle previous days) – I’m not sure if someone had told me this, or whether my exhausted brain had come to this conclusion based on the fact that my early morning nap had happened in the errand vehicle. Regardless, it wasn’t the case – I wasn’t supposed to nap in the errand van. When I saw the errand vehicle pulled over on the side of the road though, I thought “great – there’s my nap”, so I stopped, got off my bike, hopped in the van, and proceeded to fall asleep almost instantly. Little did I know that the errand vehicle was stopped there because the follow vehicle had requested some help from them with regard to changing the tire on my latest blowout (I had a lot of problems with blowouts the last couple of days of the race), and they were not prepared for me to be taking a nap (they weren’t really in a good spot to be pulled off the road for an extended period of time). So when Mike woke me up and told me that I couldn’t take my nap in the vehicle, I became really angry. I stormed out of the vehicle, got back on my bike, and rode away very angry.
Of course wouldn’t you know it, the skies decided to open up right at this time, and I found myself in the most torrential downpour that I was in all race…. This didn’t serve to ease my mood – I was livid that I’d been “kicked out of” my nap and into this downpour – after all, my nap timing had been perfect if only I’d been allowed to take it! The dry clothes that I’d put on probably less than an hour earlier became absolutely and completely drenched. I could barely see the road it was raining so hard, and some parts of the road were flooded. At least my anger had woken me up though! Apparently my Cardo microphone was malfunctioning, so while I could hear my crew, they could not hear me. They had not heard my request for a nap, and they weren’t able to hear anything I said now (perhaps a good things, as I’m guessing I wasn’t saying anything very nice!). They told me to ride further to the right, but I was scared to ride too far right because I’d got in my head that they were doing better at warning me when I drifted left than when I drifted right, so I was compensating for this perception by riding further left – but this only scared my crew further (I was still riding on the shoulder, but hugging the white line rather than moving further to the right). Eventually even my anger couldn’t keep me awake, and I started to drift off again, so I facilitated my own nap – the next time I saw a gas station I quickly pulled in, got off my bike, proceeded to lay down on the pavement under the awning to the store, set my watch timer for 15min, and went to sleep! It may not have been the most comfortable nap that I’d had (I woke up cramping at one point), but it was still a nap.
When I woke and got up, various crew came over to talk to me. I was still angry though, and I wouldn’t listen to them. I still felt betrayed over having not been allowed to take my nap earlier, so I proceeded to demand my credit card and proclaimed that I was going to self support the rest of the race (another 265 miles!). I then set about trying to open the route book on my phone. Eventually it was the combination of Kati, Mike, and Tam who settled me down and helped me to see what had happened – we figured out that my Cardo wasn’t working and that this had all been one big miscommunication (or non-communication I guess). I suggested that we get my backup helmet out since it had a dry Cardo mount and microphone on it, and sure enough it worked just fine.
I got back on the bike, this time with Mike, Tam, and Ingrid in the follow vehicle (presumably Dex, Joni, and Kati needed a “break” from me at that point – and me from them – a cooling off period so to speak). Soon enough I started to feel pretty stupid and bad about my little tantrum, but I also recognized that this was the result of extreme sleep deprivation – not that it fully excused it, but it helped explain it. This was the difference between 2012 and 2014 – in 2012 when these moments happened I just kept digging in my heels harder and harder, not recognizing what was happening to me, whereas this year I was able to recognize that I was out of control and reel myself back in. I still wish that this moment hadn’t happened at all, but I was able to put it behind us, get back on the bike, and apologize to my crew.
McHenry, MD: Ingrid Hillhouse
We proceeded on towards Cumberland, but the section between McHenry and Cumberland seemed harder than the old route (this was the first time RAAM had come through McHenry). It seemed to be climb after climb, and relatively steep climbing at that! As the sun was going down Cindi Staiger called me again, and it was good to chat with her. After the sun set there was a long descent into Cumberland, but I was really struggling to stay awake. We were planning to take another nap at the Cumberland time station, but I started to doubt whether we could make it that far. I had several scary moments where I veered towards the center line after dozing off. We proceeded to the time station though where I finally got my nap.
Cumberland, MD: Terri Boykins
The next section to Hancock is the hardest section of the race with regard to feet climbed per mile. There are 5 big climbs over the 38 mile section, some of which are sustained 8% gradients – not particularly steep when you’re fresh, but certainly challenging when you’ve already got 2800 miles on your legs, are sleep deprived, and it’s the middle of the night! I knew I was going to get a proper sleep break in Hancock, so I tried to use this to motivate myself to get there as expediently as possible. The first several climbs came and went without difficulty, but then we hit the final climb. I was getting really sleepy again, plus this was the steepest climb. I discovered on RAAM this year that I have trouble with my balance on the steeper climbs when doing them at night – I’d first noticed it on Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado, how off balance I felt, and how I almost went down a few times, and now I was noticing it here in Maryland as well. I guess it is because I didn’t have the visual feedback to keep me oriented given how slowly I was climbing. I’d stormed up this climb with a vengence in 2012 in the daylight (well maybe “stormed” is an overstatement, but comparatively speaking I’d not struggled too much), but I was weaving up it like a drunk this year! In fact I had to unclip a couple of times because I lost my balance and thought I was going to fall over. Due to the steepness, it made it hard to get going again too, so I did end up walking a couple of short sections, something that I’d not done in 2012. I felt embarrassed, but the important thing was to keep making forward progress. I believe it was also on this final climb that I managed to drift off and then ride off the road again – the 2nd (and thankfully last) time this happened (the 1st was in Ohio). Finally we got to the top of the climb – yay! But this meant a descent, and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I had to stop several times on the descent and regain my composure as I kept drifting off and swerving violently across the road. Such a difference from 2012 when I’d bombed down this descent!
Hancock, MD: Barbara MacRae (in honor of Holmes F. Crouch)
In Hancock we took our last sleep break of the race. We were a mere 180 miles from the finish – so close, yet so far! Sunday morning we hit the road one last time and soon entered Pennsylvania. The non-follow crew leap frogged us for a while and provided antics on the side of the road as Sonya was dressed up in a red body suit and would run along beside me. This is a very picturesque part of the course, so I tried to soak it in and enjoy it. As the day progressed though, I became sleepy once more. This was where I had my most vivid hallucination – I thought I saw Mike on the side of the road doing a handoff, when in fact he was in the follow vehicle behind me! It was so vivid that I was slowing down and everything to take the handoff, then I realized that he wasn’t there. As we approached Rouzerville, my crew mentioned that there was someone – John – at the time station who wanted to ride out of town with me. It turned out that he was the nephew of a guy I’d ridden a couple of double century rides with in California. I was amazed how he’d found this out given that I hadn’t seen his uncle Roy in several years! (Apparently John had been riding with other RAAM riders and had posted it on Strava, and his uncle had seen it and had told him that I was racing and that he knew me.) I of course agreed eagerly to accept his company on the climb! It was really nice to be able to ride with someone for a while and chat with them. We parted ways at the top of the climb, and I thanked him for taking the time to be out there and ride with me.
Rouzerville, PA: Robert Brunner, Kati Bak
Next up was a section of the race I was really looking forward to seeing in the daylight – Gettysburg. We’d passed through here during the night in 2012, so I really wanted to see it in daylight. It was a beautiful sunny day, and even though I’m not American, riding through Gettysburg was a special moment of the race.
Hanover, PA: Stacy Washington
The last part of the course seemed to drag on forever, but I was kept entertained by “Safety Chicken” on the side of the road – Ingrid was back to her antics in the chicken suit!! At one point she was trying to hitchhike, and had a cardboard sign that read “Annapolis” – this made me burst out laughing! Then a while later we came upon a large, metal rooster statue, which made all of us laugh hysterically, because there Ingrid was jumping up and down under the rooster in her chicken costume, finally having found a mate!
Mt Airy, MD: Brian and Kris Moriarty
The last 50 miles of the race seemed to be a series of relentless little climbs. I kept joking with my crew about this, as the route book had claimed that the climbing was done quite some time ago, so I joked about how I better slow down on these “downhills” as I inched my way up another climb! This was the section of road that in 2012 I was so out of it that I thought I was dreaming, and I don’t remember much about the road. This time I’m happy to report that I was fully functional mentally – or at least as much as is “fully functional” at the completion of riding your bike 3000 miles!! Since we were coming through late on a Sunday night, the traffic was also MUCH better than what it had been during Monday morning rush hour traffic in 2012!
Odenton, MD: Jamie Hull
Annapolis, MD: Joan Marshall, Margaret Lum
Finish, City Dock, Annapolis, MD: Dawn and Marty Chuck, Diana Garbarino
Eventually we reached the final time station, and our official escort to the finish line. When we got to the finish area I waited for all of my crew to gather, as I wanted them to accompany me down the finishing chute to signify that this had been a team effort. We then all embraced in a big group hug, which was so very satisfying for me! We’d made it – we’d traveled 3020 miles in 12 days, 8 hours, and 27 minutes, and we were still all friends! Mission accomplished, goal achieved!
Of course then there was all the aftermath – the post race pushups (11, one more than I’d done in 2012), pictures, an interview with George Thomas, and receiving my finisher’s medal. Everything just felt so much better than it had in 2012 – 2012 had been gutted out down to the wire, and had been a battle of survival and I’d arrived at the finish line dazed and confused. 2014 was a concerted team effort – and while things didn’t always go perfectly, we stayed on track and continued to work as a team, and had arrived at the finish tired, but in good spirits. RAAM was still brutally tough, but things remained in control, and rather than feeling “lost” at the finish, I felt “found”, and thus I had come full circle as I set out to do.
If 2012 was a year to “survive”, 2014 was a year to “thrive”! And that would not have been possible without my AMAZING crew! Like I mentioned at the start of this report – they came together, a group of individuals from across the continent, most of whom had never met each other (or me) before, and they focused all of their energy on helping me pedal my bike across this nation in just over 12 days! Their selflessness and teamwork was a sight to behold, and I’m humbled and deeply grateful to each and every one of them! So THANK YOU (in alphabetical order) Dex, Ingrid, Jeff, Joni, Kati, Lindsay, Mike, Sonya, and Tam! You are ALL incredible individuals, and I’m honored to now call you friends. We’ll always share the bond of RAAM, and I hope the experience was even a tenth as rewarding to you as it was to me!
Special thanks to my husband and crew chief Mike. For putting up with my obsession with RAAM. For accepting that many weekends he barely saw me because I was on my bike all weekend. For allowing me to buy all the new bike “toys” that I did for RAAM. For rescuing me when I had mechanical issues or physical issues that forced me to abandon rides. For sharing in this 2014 RAAM journey – together we did it!
Thanks also to my coach – Thomas Chapple. I read his book “Base Building for Cyclists” in early 2013, then hired him as a coach, and haven’t looked back since! If you want to change your cycling for the better, read his book, and then consider hiring him as a coach. He totally changed the way that I ride, and he was instrumental in my success at RAAM this year!
Thanks to everyone who donated to the Canary Foundation. It means a lot to me to be able to raise money for such a good cause in association with doing a race like RAAM. Including company matches, I was able to raise over $6,000 for the Canary Foundation – money that will go towards research for early cancer detection. It’s not too late to donate – visit my website for more details: http://joandeitchman.com/cause.php
Thanks to Lane Parker, who posted countless updates on my Facebook athlete page, including lots of interesting trivia and history about the places we were passing through. It was great to have someone outside of the race posting updates so that when we didn’t have data coverage or my crew were simply too tired or otherwise occupied to post updates, fans following along online got updates.
Thanks also to my sponsors!
Bicycle Brüstop provided so much assistance with my bikes and equipment, investing countless hours working on my bikes and answering my questions. If you’re anywhere near Novato, CA, stop in and say hello and enjoy a beer or other beverage while checking out their great bike shop and friendly and knowledgable staff!
Thanks to Liv Cycling for being a brand committed to women’s cycling needs and recognizing that women are NOT small men! I absolutely love my Liv bikes (the Liv Avail Advanced SL road bikes) – they are highly performant while also being super comfortable, so check out their line of products if you are a female cyclist!
Revolutions in Fitness continued to support me by providing exceptional bike fits on all of my bikes as well as amazing physical therapy services. Definitely check them out for your bike fit and PT needs!
SpiderTech provided many of the pre-cut tape kits that I used extensively during RAAM and other races. I used the pre-cut knee kits during all of RAAM, as well as the lower back, neck, postural, wrist, and elbow kits. If you’re having any nagging issues while being active, definitely check out their products!
David Ledesma provided sports massage to me, which aided in my recovery during my training and racing. He’s worked with endurance athletes for decades, so he knows what we put ourselves through and how to help us.
Thanks also to Vanderkitten for supporting and promoting women’s cycling – being part of the Vanderkitten VIP program has provided daily inspiration as I’ve followed the athletic endeavors of VIPs around the globe!
So the next logical question is “what’s next?”. Mike and I are doing a 3 week PAC Tour through the Rockies in September (Ridge of the Rockies), then the Silver State 508 in October (on a 4x team). Then I had originally planned to retire from ultra cycling. But RAAM is a “disease” – it gets in your blood, and as much as you hate it at times when you’re out there battling the elements and yourself, when you cross that finish line that hate seems to evaporate so quickly. I got a taste of what “racing” RAAM would be like this year. I’ve never really “raced” an ultra before – sure, I’ve done my best, but it has always been about personal accomplishment and pushing my limits. I’ve never focused on the race against other racers – just the race against myself and the elements. I’ve changed so much in my cycling the past year and a half, and I saw the fruits of that labor during RAAM when I surprised everyone, most of all myself, and was in 2nd or 1st place for most of the race in what was considered to be a pretty competitive women’s field going into the race. Now that I’ve had a taste of that competition, and seen that perhaps I could have a shot at doing well competitively speaking if I focused on that, there’s a bit of a tug to return one more time and find out. Perhaps take that progression from survive (2012), to thrive (2014), to STRIVE (2015)! I haven’t made any firm decision either way yet, but rest assured that it’s a notion that’s rumbling around in the back of my mind – even as I sit here unable to properly ride my bike yet because of the effects of a pressure ulcer that I developed somewhere in Kansas and had to ride on for another 1600+ miles! Part of me wants to beat myself over the head with a baseball bat for even considering going back, but part of me is swept up in the allure of living the RAAM dream one more time with a new goal. 2011′s RAW was going to be my “last” race, then 2012′s RAAM, then 2014′s RAAM….. Perhaps a written contract will need to be written up should I decide to make 2015 the “last” RAAM! Anyway, time will tell whether I toe the start line of another RAAM, but in the meantime, 2014 was an incredible experience, and if I never return to RAAM then I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out!