RAAM 2012 Race Report – Part IV: Angels and Demons, the Run-In to Annapolis

In case you missed the first installments of this race report:
Part I: Tapering, More Dangerous than Training!
Part II: RAW Revisited
Part III: Mississippi Ho!

And now for Part IV….

We were just over 8 days into the race, and I’d just crossed the mighty Mississippi River. We’d traversed 6 states in the first 2000 miles (California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri), and had 6 states left to go (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland), all of which were to be first time visits to these states for me. We had a little under 5 days left to cover this last 1000 miles, so just over a double century a day – it seemed doable.

As we crossed the Mississippi River and entered Illinois, I was feeling a lot better than I had a few hours earlier – the longer break on the other side of the river at the time station had really rejuvenated me. Katie, Doug, and Dawn were in the follow vehicle, and we proceeded to make our way towards Greenville, only about 45 miles up the road. Along here Doug was Skyping with his wife, Allyn, and so I got to say hello to her. I also got another Dairy Queen strawberry milkshake on this section which tasted pretty good. On this section we were caught by several teams as well, so it was nice to see some other riders and crews on the road. I think one of the teams was a Canadian team. I was surprised that I didn’t get sleepy at all on this section – I just kept plugging away and riding to the music that was playing over the external speakers. In Greenville we stopped quickly and I ate while I got a foot massage from Dawn and Donna (Donna and Mike were in the errand vehicle).

Foot massage

Getting a foot massage from Dawn in Greenville, Illinois

Next up we had a 50 mile stretch to Effingham – the location of my next sleep break. It started out fine, but pretty soon I couldn’t keep my eyes open. So was to begin another night battling the sleep and self-awareness demons. This night wasn’t quite as bad as the first night in Kansas, but I was definitely clueing out for sections, and my memories are a bit jumbled. I do remember Doug getting me to do little sprints to help keep me awake, and him telling me what good form I had (thanks Inetgrate Performance Fitness!). I remember really battling to stay awake. I also remember becoming at least partially disconnected mentally in that there are some blocks of missing time. I also remember when we got to a town before Effingham and I thought we were almost there and then was disappointed to find out we still had about 20 miles (or something fairly significant) to go. I remember seeing a rider in front of me who didn’t seem to have a follow vehicle (even though it was dark) – although I’m not sure if this is a “real” memory or a figment of my imagination. In the final run-up to Effingham I fell asleep on the bike and rode off the road – I woke up on the gravel on the side of the road, but somehow managed to stay upright and get back on the road – this “off-roading” was becoming a concern…. There were a couple of rollers going into Effingham, and I seem to recall seeing a train as we entered the city, although maybe it was just a highway, I can’t recall for certain. When we got to the time station I was loaded into the vehicle and ferried to the hotel, where you guessed it, an ice bath was waiting for me!

The next morning was one of the more difficult mornings (to date) for me to get going – I was really sleepy and really low for some reason. I wasn’t moving very fast, and I was half asleep on my bike. I remember a couple more teams passed me on this section. I don’t remember when things turned around, but perhaps it was after our first bathroom stop that I finally “woke up”. I then remember a good chunk of time where I was moving really well – the music that was playing really got me going – I think it was more of what we’d played the previous morning (Ke$ha, Katy Perry, etc.) plus some of Tracey’s music. This was when we passed into Indiana by crossing the Wabash River. I remember asking Mike to take a picture of the “Entering Indiana” sign and post it on Jerry Cottingham’s Facebook wall. He’s from Indiana and his brother, Brad, had tragically passed away a few months earlier, and I remember Jerry had said that Brad would be with me in Indiana. I’d gotten rather emotional thinking about this earlier in the day when I’d asked how long until we passed into Indiana, and this was another special moment on the race. Later in the day I definitely think I had a guardian angel with me, so I can only assume it was Brad.

Indiana!

Crossing into Indiana


Wabash River, Indiana

Crossing the Wabash River into Indiana

We soon passed through Sullivan, IN, the next time station, and after that we stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break. The follow vehicle needed to get gas and take a break, so the errand vehicle followed me for a while. With no music or 2-way communication I quickly became very sleepy again. Then when the follow vehicle caught back up we were apparently in a more built up area and they didn’t want to play external music (or perhaps it was an area it was banned in, I’m not certain), so my doldrums continued. I’d now had 2 wild swings for the day – I’d started off half asleep, then come to life, and now I was back asleep. I recall that we were going over some rollers, and on one of the descents I nodded off and was somehow jerked awake when my arms started to collapse. This sensation was starting to get distorted though – it had happened several times that morning, and when it happened I remember it feeling like there was something wrong with my bike and the cog or chain was slipping. At some point I know I’d told my crew this, and said that I assumed it was related to me just nodding off, but that I wasn’t completely sure. Anyway, after this latest nod-off incident on the downhill, I stopped on the next crest of the hill because I was concerned about safety. This is when Jason “The Hammer” Lane, also from Canada, passed me. I didn’t know at the time that he’d actually been hit by a vehicle back in Arizona, and the vehicle had driven over his arm and shoulder, yet here he was still riding strong – wow!

What follows is a blur – this was the beginning of my first “mind losing” experience during daylight hours (and probably the “scariest day” for me at RAAM). I’m missing some time here, and then I remember being in a town and the crew possibly asking me to pull over at one point because we needed to let cars pass that were backed up behind us. As happened so often, I had a tremendous sense of deja vu, and felt like I’d just ridden through this town on a different ride (even though I’d never been to Indiana before!) and very recently (even though obviously I was no where near Indiana until today!). I remember being confused, and not sure what was happening since I couldn’t remember the stretch leading up to this. Then at one point a truck pulled out immediately in front of me and I had to slam on the brakes and stop to avoid hitting it. I was rather shaken up and we pulled off onto a side street as I tried to regain my wits. My brain was slowly shutting down, and my senses were becoming distorted. I remember feeling like there was something wrong with my bike – I kept thinking the brakes were rubbing or something because I was slowing down on what I perceived to be a downhill (since it turned out that there was nothing wrong with the bike, I can only presume that what I perceived to be a downhill was in fact an uphill), and I felt like there were some horizontal forces on the bike that were “pulling” it. I’d ridden this bike for a year and a half and suddenly it felt foreign and unresponsive to me. I expressed to the crew what I was feeling, and even admitted that there was a possibility that it was all in my head, but that I wanted Doug to take a look to be sure. We were approaching a crew shift change, so the crew assured me that they’d get Doug to take a look when he came on shift. I assumed that this meant he’d look at the bike while I was stopped, so I was confused when I rode past him on the side of the road and supposedly that was the visual inspection required to say that the bike was fine. I was open to the possibility that it was all in my head (after all, there wasn’t much else up there right now anyway!), but I wanted someone to look at this seriously to be sure. I was conceding that I was probably losing it mentally, but I still wanted to be taken seriously, just in case there was an issue.

As the crew shift change occurred, the crew chief who was in errand vehicle ended up following me, and I remember her talking over the PA to me, which immediately set me off emotionally. At one point she said something accidentally over the PA that was clearly intended to be said over the radio to the other vehicle instead, and the contents of that communication made me livid. I think this further sent me into the downward spiral that I was on. The follow vehicle with Doug, Katie, and Dawn took over shortly thereafter, and I felt like we were going in circles. I kept thinking we were passing the same house over and over again. I was also still upset that no one had looked at my bike (although for all I know we had stopped and they had looked at it, because it became clear pretty soon that I was missing chunks of time). I’d been wanting to stop for a while but wasn’t being allowed to, so finally I stopped anyway even though my crew was telling me not to. I don’t think I’d been eating/drinking enough, which wasn’t helping. They gave me a corn dog that they’d picked up for me (I’d asked for one many hours earlier when we’d had our last bathroom stop, but there weren’t any there), and I wanted to eat it while I was stopped, but they kept trying to push me back on the bike to eat it. I got mad and threw what was left of the corn dog on the ground. Yes, RAAM diminishes you to acting like a 2 year old…. I got back on the bike, and to show my anger I started riding as slow as I possibly could – because of course this is absolutely what a stubborn 2 year old would do – forget that the race is for them and that this behavior is hurting no one but themselves!!

I was in a really messed up state mentally – I felt like we were going in circles, I had no idea how far we’d gone (my cyclometer batteries had died earlier in the day so I had nothing to reference what progress I was making or how fast I was riding), my bike felt strange and foreign, and I didn’t know where we were going (I felt like the crew shift had happened haphazardly and no one had bothered to tell me what the plan was – it really helps in these situations to know what the plan/goal is – it gives you something concrete to focus on and something to try and hold onto to keep yourself in reality). I finally stopped and tried to express this to the crew. We had a very productive pow-wow (at least from my perspective – it calmed me down and got me back on track). I told them I felt like we were going in circles, and that I needed them to help me by talking me through this. We set out again, and I felt somewhat calmed down, but then I started falling asleep again. I had my scariest fall-asleep moment on the bike up to this point – it was descending a hill in an area with trees on the side of the road, and I remember waking up on the lip of the pavement on a curve going very fast. To this day I don’t know how I didn’t go down – somehow I managed to hold that lip and stay on the road. I really do think that I had a guardian angel at that point who woke me up just in time, and I’ll always assume that was Brad Cottingham, Jerry’s brother – he was my Indiana angel.

At this moment I knew we had to take drastic measures if I was going to be able to keep riding to the next time station and get there in one piece. I immediately asked for caffeine, and lots of it. The crew started mixing caffeine tablets into my drinks, but it took a while for them to start to kick in. I went through another phase where I don’t remember anything. I know that to be the case because I’d looked at my watch when we’d stopped for our earlier pow-wow, and when I looked at my watch now it was an hour later, but when I was talking with Doug on the radio he said we’d stopped and talked 15 minutes earlier but I had zero recollection of this stop. He had however gotten new batteries into my cyclometer, plus Justin in the errand vehicle was doing a good job of telling me from the side of the road how far I’d gone and how far I had left to go to the time station – this gave me something to focus on. Perhaps the caffeine took effect finally, but I stayed fairly lucid from this point, although I was still battling sleepiness. I remember seeing Justin donning the infamous grass skirt and coconut bra somewhere along this stretch!! Apparently several people stopped and had pictures taken with him while he was on the side of the road marking a turn for me dressed this way! Unfortunately I don’t think we got a picture.

We seemed to be making our way over some pesky rollers in the countryside, and then suddenly we were in a built up area again. We were making our way to the next time station, Bloomington, Indiana, which is a fairly major city. As we got closer to the time station, I remember several more teams passing me, including a recumbent team, who’s rider said “see you in Annapolis!”. I was getting sleepy again though, and rode off the road at least one more time on this stretch. There was quite a bit of road construction on the lead up to the time station, which added to the stress. Finally we got to the time station and then pulled in to the Wendy’s parking lot nearby to do a bathroom break and shorts change. I knew that if we were going to keep going we needed to up the anti with the caffeine, so I took a couple more caffeine tablets. The original goal had been to get to Oxford, Ohio tonight, but that was 110 miles away, whereas Greensburg, IN (the next time station) was only 60 miles away. We figured we’d at least try to get to Greensburg, and re-evaluate as we went.

I left Bloomington feeling much more awake than I had in a while. The road we were on was pretty busy though, so we had to pull over several times to let traffic past. Along this stretch my friend Bob Corman called and they put him on the external speakers. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it was still nice to hear his voice. At one point on this stretch I thought I had a flat tire and stopped – it wasn’t completely flat, but appeared that it might have a slow leak, so we changed wheels just to be safe (or perhaps the crew was just playing along with me at this point?). Since I was amped up on caffeine pills, I was wide awake, and riding pretty strong. We were on the look-out for the caffeine “crash” though, and had figured I’d probably have to take more caffeine pills in about 2hrs. I needed a bathroom break, so the errand vehicle scouted out a location. Sure enough, just before we got to the bathroom break, about 2 hours from when I took the caffeine pills in Bloomington, I started coming down from the caffeine – the crew commented that it was pretty visible when it started to happen. The bathroom break was in a CVS, so Katie and Dawn accompanied me on this trip – what do you know, CVS actually has nice bathrooms! Caffeine pills also have a tendency to mess with your stomach, and I could definitely feel these effects – my stomach was churning and I felt a tad nauseous. I needed to make sure that I was still eating though, so along with 2 more caffeine pills I had some banana pudding and some cherry cobbler that the crew had picked up sometime before Bloomington – yum! The comic relief at this stop came when the 3 of us were temporarily locked in the CVS (the store had closed after we went in, so the doors were locked when we emerged from the bathroom). It only took a minute for the clerk to come and let us out, but we still got a good laugh at it and a picture of our predicament.

CVS Lockdown

Locked in the CVS in Indiana

We continued out of the CVS and were in a more built up area. I believe this is when we entered Columbus, IN, another fairly major city. It was late enough in the evening that traffic wasn’t too terrible, but it was still pretty busy. The errand vehicle, driven by Justin and Donna, did a great job of navigating us through the city. They ended up following me shortly thereafter as a crew shift change happened, and I told them my thoughts on what our strategy should be that night. I didn’t think we should plow on to Oxford, Ohio – it had been a stressful day (mind you what day at RAAM isn’t stressful?), and I knew that the only way to continue to Oxford would be to continue to pump myself full of caffeine, and I was concerned about the effects that further large doses would have on my body, especially my ability to keep food down (already I’d been feeling somewhat nauseous). Additionally, the stretch immediately out of Oxford was fairly hilly, but the stretch out of Greensburg was flatter, so I felt that starting up on a flatter section after my sleep break was a better idea. I also didn’t see much value in delaying my sleep break – if I was going to take a sleep break, why not stop earlier for it rather than continuing to dig ourselves a hole with regard to the problems I was having – maybe a slightly earlier sleep break might help get me back on track. Just before Greensburg, the follow vehicle caught back up after performing the crew shift change, and back in follow were Wayne, Katie, and Tracey. I reiterated my thoughts to Tracey, who I believe was also talking with Sandy. They decided on a compromise – we’d continue past Greensburg to Batesville. This would allow the caffeine to hopefully get out of my system before my sleep break, but would be an earlier stop than Oxford. I agreed, and we continued on. I also let Tracey know what a great job I felt the previous shift (Doug, Dawn, Katie, Justin, and Donna) had done – they’d stepped into a situation right where I was falling apart and was very unsafe, but we’d been able to work together to come up with a means of keeping me moving safely up the course.

Right around Greensburg, and right about 2hrs after my last caffeine pills, on cue I started coming down from the caffeine. Batesville was about 15 miles up the road, and on this section I started getting sleepy again now that the caffeine had worn off. It also started to sprinkle rain. The final run-in to Batesville seemed to take forever – talk about a spread out town! We finally got to the hotel though, and apparently as if on cue the rain got much worse as soon as I was off my bike and into the hotel – so our timing was impeccable, and the decision to stop here was a good one. Here we went through the typical routine – ice bath, food, and then sleep. On the run-in to Batesville I’d been asked what I wanted to eat when we stopped, and I’d told them that I’d like some “real” food if possible – I wanted a break from fast food, so I asked if possibly they could find some pasta or something. Of course it was late at night and nothing was open, but Dawn and the other crew who went ahead were able to find a frozen pasta dish at a grocery store, some mashed potatoes and gravy and biscuits, some chicken, and a microwave to heat it up – it really tasted good! I remember that this night though my sleep was very different – for the first time I was having vivid dreams/nightmares. I’m not sure if this was related to the caffeine or not.

After a couple of hours I was woken and the task to try and get me back on my bike ASAP began. As was becoming the pattern, I felt like I was being rushed. By this point in the race, what was probably happening was that time was slowing down for me and I was moving very slowly. Plus due to the extreme sleep deprivation that I was going through, I was more and more groggy every time I was woken up. So what I thought was taking a few minutes might have been taking 20 minutes. The crew’s job is to try and keep me moving as efficiently as possible, however once the rider reaches this slowed-down state there isn’t really anything that you can do to speed them up – you just have to deal with it because they’re just not capable of moving faster. I felt like I was being shoved and tugged out the door, so when I got outside and the follow vehicle wasn’t even ready to go I was pissed off to say the least! Why were people yelling at me to hurry up (ok, not yelling, but forcefully trying to rush me outside) when the vehicle wasn’t even ready to go and now I had to stand around and wait!!! At this point my “verbal filter” was long gone, and I let them know how mad I was. Finally the follow vehicle was ready to go, but we went to leave the parking lot and they didn’t know which way to go. Again, I got angry about having been rushed only to have to sit there and wait, so I arbitrarily picked a direction and made the turn. Well I guess I picked the wrong direction, so then we had to walk my bike back across the street and get moving in the other direction. Not exactly the best start to the morning!!

Once we got going I settled into a rhythm though, and actually rode relatively decently through to Oxford, Ohio. We were now in a new state – woohoo! I believe Mike, Tracey, and Charlie were in the follow vehicle, and I’m pretty sure I had another Nutella/banana/pita-bread sandwich made by Charlie. The day before Mike had made one for me while we were in Indiana and I’d commented that he wasn’t anywhere near as good a sandwich maker as Charlie was, so I once again got an expertly made sandwich from Charlie! :) I also ate a lot of Gogurt on this section – I think they even handed me 2 at once a couple times – nothing like a double fisted Gogurt to start your morning! The ride between Batesville and Oxford was actually fairly picturesque. In Oxford we stopped at the McDonalds at the time station for a bathroom break, and then continued on our way.

Leaving Oxford I remember Tracey reading me some of the comments/messages that had been coming onto my Facebook page, and this was pretty inspiring. Tracey was also talking me through the terrain, insisting that I power to the top of the rollers and keep pedaling beyond them too. This dialogue really helped. Somewhere along here I passed Hans Georg Haus (we’d been going back and forth for a few days now, and I’d seen his RV on the road a lot – his crew always cheered me on). We really got into a groove with Tracey talking me through the terrain, and it ended up being my 3rd fastest segment of the race. My mind was mostly there, but there were still a few “moments” – I remember at least once I made a turn when the crew had not instructed me to do so.

We got to the time station in Blanchester and took another bathroom break at the McDonalds. This was another of the rare manned time stations, and the volunteers even had homemade “Buckeyes” to give us (a peanut butter/chocolate treat). It was here that I started to realize that something was beginning to go wrong with my sense of taste. Since the previous evening in Indiana I’d started to notice that plain water was tasting funny to me. At first I thought the water bottles weren’t getting cleaned out properly after having juice/soda/etc in them, but here I had some water that was pre-bottled, and it too tasted awful. Earlier in the race I’d noticed that my mouth was becoming more “sensitive”, but this was the first sign of things not tasting right.

McDonalds, Blanchester

In the McDonalds in Blanchester, Ohio

As we headed out from Blanchester around mid-day I really started to feel the heat. I just seemed drained of energy, and the crew in the follow vehicle seemed to recognize that I’d pushed pretty hard on the previous segment so they allowed me to ease up on this section. I remember Tracey had me do some drills on this section – we did some high cadence work between power poles, and a couple of sprints as well. Not only was I feeling a bit weary, but my knees were a bit achy too. Just before the crew shift change was about to happen, Tracey came up with her “Let’s Make A Deal” game. I don’t remember what my part of the “deal” was, but we got to pull over in the shade for a couple of minutes and she did some acupuncture on my knees to try and help them feel better before she went off-shift. We hit the road again and came into a town – I remember seeing the Sprinter and the crew from both Errand and Sprinter. Tracey was continuing with her “high energy narration” of our cross country adventure, and I remember her dialogue through here including talk of the “paparazzi” (the crew) who were waiting for us to pass through town. She always seemed to be able to get me to smile and laugh out there. The crew shift change happened, and Doug, Katie, and Dawn were back in Follow, and Mike and Donna were back in Errand I believe. The terrain had been fairly mellow up to this point, but soon enough we found ourselves going through some bigger rollers. The heat continued to bother me, and eventually I needed another bathroom break. We stopped at a market and it was nice to get out of the heat for a few (ok, more than a few) minutes. I ate some cheesecake that Mike bought here, plus an ice cream sandwich. I also found a new hat that felt good – a ziploc bag full of ice!!

Ice hat

Cooling off somewhere between Blanchester and Chillicothe, Ohio

We continued down the road, and encountered even more of the big rollers. I once again caught up to Hans Georg Haus (he must have passed me while I was stopped somewhere), and this time I rode with him and chatted for a while.

Hans Georg Haus

Chatting with Hans Georg Haus

He told me how he’d attempted RAAM before but DNFd back in the 90s, and talked about his crew which included at least one of his children. He was wearing a neck brace already, and it looked rather uncomfortable – I was fortunate to have no neck issues throughout the race. It was nice to chat with another racer, and it further re-energized me to continue onwards. I proceeded past him and rode stronger all the way to the next time station in Chillicothe.
Riding with Hans Georg Haus

Riding with Hans Georg Haus between Blanchester and Chillicothe, Ohio

In Chillicothe there were 2 things of note – a Tim Hortons (which Mike and Donna were quick to visit!), and another RAAM fan who had been following my progress, Bruce Smith. Bruce knew our friends Tina and Michele, and apparently had helped the crew that Tina was on last year when they had some issues with their RV. Additionally, his wife was a Lymphoma survivor, so he had donated to my Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraising efforts. He was really excited to meet me, and likewise I was excited to meet someone who’d taken such a keen interest in the race. We chatted and took some pictures before heading out again. It was here that Doug showed us a video that he’d taken of Dawn dancing in the market that we’d stopped at earlier – they had really loud southern rock music playing, and I guess Dawn had felt the urge to dance – it was quite an entertaining video and was good for a laugh.

Dawn dance video

Watching a video of Dawn dancing, photo courtesy of Bruce Smith


Joan and Mike

Mike in Chillicothe showing me the upcoming route, photo courtesy of Bruce Smith

We headed out from Chillicothe with the goal of getting to Parkersburg, West Virginia before stopping for a sleep break. This was between time stations, but that’s because there were no hotels in Ellenboro, the time station beyond the next time station (Athens, OH). Little did we know that “the sh*t was about to hit the fan”…. Leaving Chillicothe I was tired but not overly so. We meandered through some corn fields, and I remember a house that we passed where everyone was outside waiting to cheer us on as we went by, including a little boy. A little bit after that Jason “The Hammer” Lane caught up to me again (he’d passed me the previous day back in Indiana just before my mental hiatus of the day, but somehow I’d ended up in front of him again). We rode together for a few minutes and chatted before I let him go on ahead. I think it was also along this section that Mike and Donna were keeping me entertained on the side of the road – Mike was dressing up in the cow costume and doing plank on the side of the road, and pushups off the bumper of the van, and Donna was wrapping herself in the Canada flag we had and pretending to flash people as they went by. It was certainly good for a laugh or two!

Donna flashing

Donna entertaining me on the side of the road by "flashing" me with the Canadian flag

We continued on through the Ohio countryside, and just before dusk the crew got Al Painter of Integrate Performance Fitness on the phone to talk to me over the external speakers. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear everything that he was saying, but it was still nice to hear someone’s voice from outside the race. While he was still talking I pulled over to put a vest on I believe because I was getting a bit chilled as the sun set, so I actually talked to him on the phone for a few minutes before we hit the road again. He told me how everyone back home was cheering me on and following my progress.

We were riding through some rolling hills, and as the sun set I really started to get sleepy. The crew had been giving me caffeine pills throughout the day – about 1 per hour I believe – but I just couldn’t keep my eyes open. Given the terrain, I didn’t feel all that safe (a few times I started to nod off on the downhills), so I decided to ask to take a power nap. From my training, I knew that power naps weren’t terribly effective for me – they’d wake me up for a couple hours, but wouldn’t really sustain me, but I knew that we were only a couple hours away from Parkersburg, so I was hoping a power nap would give me the kick start that I needed to make it to Parkersburg for a proper sleep break. The crew agreed, and soon enough I was napping on the ground.

Obi-wan-Tracey

"Obi-wan-Tracey" works on me while I nap

What happened next is a blur, and it wasn’t pretty….. I think what happened was that a shift change happened just before they woke me up (or maybe it was even happening as they were waking me up). When you wake up from a power nap, especially 10 days into RAAM, you’re extremely groggy, and it takes a few minutes to get your bearings. I remember feeling like I was woken up and suddenly I had a bunch of people all around me trying to put me immediately back onto the bike. I was groggy and still half asleep, so I became combative and resistive. This could just be my perception of what happened – again, I’d lost sense of time, so things were probably moving a lot slower than I felt they were, but I suddenly felt like chaos had broken out around me and I was being pulled from all directions. I think that if I’d been woken up by just one person, and given a chance to just come to my senses and get over the grogginess, eat some food, and then get put on the bike, things might have turned out better – but hindsight is 20/20, and it’s hard to know what would have happened given the state that I was in at that point. Instead, I was put on the bike half asleep and extremely combative/resistive. I’m not sure if it was at this point or a little bit later, but I think I ripped off the radio headset that was attached to my helmet and threw it and the radio to the ground before getting on the bike. I didn’t feel safe, I didn’t feel in control, and being reduced to the emotional state of a toddler the only thing within my control and my only way to “rebel” or express my displeasure was what I did on the bike. In order to try and demonstrate that I wasn’t safe, I started doing really stupid things on my bike – like riding close to the center line, and veering all over the road. The crew was yelling at me to stay to the right, so I veered off to the shoulder and onto the ditch partially and came to a stop. I got off my bike and threw it into the guardrail. In hindsight I’m certainly appalled and ashamed of my behavior, but that’s the mental and emotional limits that you take yourself to on something like RAAM – you become someone else out there and are reduced to an extremely primal being (or at least clearly I was – I can’t speak for every RAAM rider).

I was now off my bike and the crew set about trying to figure out how to get me back on the bike. At some point they got Sandy on the phone, and they had her talk to me. I fully expected her to give me a scolding and tell me to get the hell back on my bike and behave! I told her I felt unsafe, and I was somewhat surprised when she said that according to the rules if I felt unsafe then I had to take a sleep break, and then she instructed the crew to put me down to sleep. I guess she recognized that at this point arguing and fighting was a waste of energy, and that time would be better spent sleeping (we’d already wasted a lot of time at this point and only gone a couple of miles from where I’d taken my power nap). They put me in the back of the errand vehicle to sleep, and I remember laying there, ironically unable to sleep for quite a while, but finally I did drift off to sleep.

I don’t remember exactly what happened when I was awoken again, but I was still in a combative state. I do remember though that my knees were definitely achy, and I still felt terrible. My mouth felt awful at this point too – it had a salty taste that just wouldn’t go away. The crew somehow got me back on the bike, but I was barely moving. Every pedal stroke seemed to be a struggle, and I just didn’t feel right. Then I had to go to the bathroom. I was stopped again for quite a while. I can’t recall exactly when/where this happened, but somewhere along here I was trying to express the fact that I felt unsafe and that I didn’t feel that the crew understood how bad things were for me (how I was literally falling asleep mid-thought). I remember Tracey emphatically insisting that she “had my back” and was there for me, and that she’d be devastated if anything happened to me, so she (and everyone else on the crew) was doing everything she could to keep me safe. I remember Doug also playing a pivotal role on this stretch in terms of getting me calmed down. He showed me a picture of his friend who had battled cancer and said he hoped I got to meet her one day, and he reminded me of all the people all over the world who were cheering me on. Wayne also showed me a video that he’d taken of Lauryn, the 11 year old girl that I’d met back in Missouri. Finally just at dawn I was back on the bike and riding, somewhat calmed down. Somewhere along here the crew had addressed the fact that I’d wrecked the headpiece for the radios, and Doug had Macguyvered the radio so that it was zip-tied to my stem.

Macguyvered Radio

The radio "Macguyvered" to my stem with zip-ties thanks to Doug

I was riding along, and then suddenly the next thing I know I’m woken up by the fact that I’d ridden off the road onto the grassy shoulder – I’d fallen asleep yet again… I remember getting momentarily angry/upset and saying something over the radio like “I thought you had my back! What’s going on!”. Tracey came on the radio and I could tell that she was distressed. She told me that there was no advance warning that I was falling asleep – I was upright and riding, and then suddenly I was off the road. I could tell that she was crying, and this immediately calmed me down as I caught a glimpse of just how emotionally invested she was in my success AND my safety. I got back on the radio and tried to express that yes, I knew she did have my back. It was a very sobering moment, and it snapped me out of the funk I was in. Suddenly I found myself refocused and trying to do everything that I could to get back on track – I owed it to Tracey and the rest of the crew. My pace picked up, and I set about getting to the next time station in Athens. I even tried to lighten the mood by cracking a couple jokes about some of the town names on the road signs and alike.

We came through Athens in the early morning hours, and had to ride over some nasty cobblestones for a while. We got to the time station at the Walmart and stopped for a bathroom/breakfast break. I felt back on track, but then little things started happening that started freaking me out again. After being on my bike for over 10 days, all I wanted to do was sit and eat my breakfast off the bike. The crew wanted me back on the bike though, and I started to feel like I was being pulled at from all directions again and was being rushed and had no control. My sense of time was severely impacted by this point – I was probably moving in slow motion even though I felt like I was moving normally. When a rider gets into this state though, you can’t do much about it – trying to rush them and make them move faster is probably not going to work, and with me at least, it just caused me to dig my heels in even further. You do want the rider to try and be more efficient and multi-task, so trying to get me to eat while I was on the bike was the right thing to do, but how you go about trying to communicate this to the rider is key. I felt like I was being “lectured” and bossed around and had no control. Given that I had only just recently gotten back on track after the last blow-up, I was like the embers in a fire pit that weren’t quite out – it just took a little bit of fuel to reignite the fire, and unfortunately this was the fuel that set me off again. I threw the rest of my breakfast sandwich on the ground and had a few choice words with the crew as I angrily got back on my bike. I’d gone from calm, refocused rider, to angry, irrational rider again, all in the course of a few minutes.

Before going on to describe what happened next, let me take this opportunity to try and further explain the crew-rider dynamic and how different riders need different things. First off, I think it’s pretty safe to say that all ultra endurance athletes are very independent, self motivated people – you can’t train for and do ultra endurance events successfully without these characteristics. Many of us are even what you might call “control freaks”. This is probably a somewhat accurate description of my personality – very independent, and always wanting to be fully in control of the situation. Now look at something like RAAM where as the rider you basically have to turn over all control to the crew – this can be a very difficult, and in fact even a scary situation for the rider to be in – they’re used to being in control. Now you’ve got people dictating your every move – what/when you eat/drink, what you’re wearing, when you stop, when you sleep, how long you sleep, etc. There are different ways for the crew to orchestrate this with the rider though – you can just tell the rider what to do in a militaristic style, or you can present things in a way that gives the rider the illusion/perception that they’re still at least somewhat in control and that they’re being “heard”. Giving the rider the perception that they’re still somewhat in control is a tricky skill to master, but the crew who I’ve got along best with seem to be masters of this. One extreme example is what happened with me at Race Across the West last year on the last night. As we’d come into Montezuma Creek, Utah in the middle of the night, the follow vehicle had gone ahead to set up for me to take a sleep break. I got there, and with only about 100 miles left to go at that point I told the crew chief (Sandy) that I was wide awake and didn’t need a sleep break and we should keep going. I didn’t find out until 6 months later while visiting with Sandy that she’d fully expected this to happen (she didn’t expect that I would want to sleep), but by giving me that option she knew it gave me the perception that I was in control of my race. Sneaky, eh!

Another thing I learned from Sandy has to do with what a rider needs from their crew chief. I remember the first time she was crew chief for me at Race Across Oregon in 2010, I went into the race a bit scared of her – I knew she had a reputation for being “tough” – but she also had a perfect track record in terms of getting riders to the finish line, and I needed to get the “RAO monkey off my back” (I’d DNFd the previous year – my only DNF in an ultra). When we got out on the course I was surprised that rather than being like a drill sergeant she was much more “mothering” than I’d expected. I asked her about it afterwards, and her response was that with regard to what was needed out of the crew-chief, there were 2 types of riders – riders who needed a dominatrix, and riders who needed a mid-wife, and she figured out early on that I was the latter type, so that’s the role/personality she took on (she’s crewed for both types of riders, and gotten them all successfully to the finish line).

So I’m a rider who needs a “mid-wife” crew chief (or go-to person), and who needs at least the illusion that I’m somewhat in control. We’d discovered early on that my crew chief and I were incompatible, but Tracey had stepped in and was doing a great job being the “mid-wife” and my go-to person. She, like Sandy, also had a way of always making it seem like I was still being heard and that I was still somewhat in control. But some of the crew were interacting with me in a way that made me feel like I had absolutely no control over my race, and I kept trying to express this to them by telling them that I wanted to race “under my own terms”. They were just doing what they felt needed to be done, and I certainly can’t/won’t fault them for that. Throughout the race they were all selflessly giving their hearts and souls to the one single goal of getting me safely across the country, and obviously they were under a lot of stress and were somewhat sleep deprived as well. It was just a fact that at this point in time I was extremely emotionally/mentally unstable, and they didn’t realize that the way they were communicating with me was just causing me to dig my heels in even further. With other riders, a swift kick in the pants may have done the trick – but with me and my stubborn streak it wasn’t working and was having the opposite effect. So even though the crew was doing what they were doing because they were concerned about us losing time, my knee jerk reaction to the way they were communicating this with me was in fact causing me to lose even more time. Another description that comes to mind in terms of explaining this is that I didn’t want to be “lectured” on my race. I was the one who signed up for RAAM, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and I didn’t want to be lectured on it. Additionally, know that caffeine, sugar, and sleep deprivation are a potent combination, and they really do impact the rider and turn them into loose canons. I wasn’t the first RAAM rider to turn into an angry temper tantrum throwing beast out there – and I’m sure I won’t be the last!

So, with all of this in mind, and knowing what had already happened the night before, as we rolled out of Athens I was a land mine just waiting to go off. I felt I’d been rushed back onto the bike (for good reason of course), I felt like no one was listening to or understanding me (paranoia setting in), and I felt like I had no control over the situation and this wasn’t “my race” anymore. I started riding slowly to express my displeasure, and every subsequent instruction over the PA telling me to pedal faster made me pedal slower just to spite them. Again, what I did on the bike was the only thing I had control of, and even though this was clearly not helping me and my cause, it’s what toddler-Joan had been reduced to doing. Then Mike, who was driving Follow, started honking the horn at me (he’s explained since then that he actually thought I was falling asleep because I was riding so slow). Well that was the final spark that set off the explosion (I thought they were honking at me to go faster). I stopped, got off my bike, threw it to the ground, proclaimed that I was done, and went and sat on the sidewalk next to the road. I wasn’t physically spent, I wasn’t falling asleep (at that moment at least), I certainly didn’t “want” to quit, but I didn’t want to go on when I felt I was no longer racing under my terms and had no control or input regarding what was happening. Several different crew members tried to talk to me, but I wasn’t listening to them. My stubbornness had taken hold, and I was “too proud” to budge.

Sit-in in Ohio

"I'm Done!" moment in Ohio

Then something really special happened. Janet Christiansen came along. This was her 4th solo RAAM, and she’d DNFd 2 out of her previous 3 attempts. She said that when she saw me sitting there she knew what I was going through, because she’d been there herself. She stopped her race, got off her bike, and came over to me. She put her hand on my shoulder (up to that point I hadn’t even known she was in the vicinity), and I think the first words out of her mouth were something to the effect of “I’ve been there, I know what you’re going through”. She sat down next to me and we chatted. I expressed my frustration with how my crew was interacting with me and how I didn’t feel I was able to race my own race anymore. She told me that at this point in the race you as a rider start to get paranoid, and she shared some of the things that were going on in her race. I told her how I didn’t really want to quit, but how I also didn’t feel that I could go on like this. I think at some point it was Janet who noted that under the rules we were permitted to ride together for 15 minutes a day (or maybe it was one of our crew members), and suggested that we ride together and continue our discussion. This gave me the “out” I’d been looking for and an excuse to get back on my bike. We mounted our bikes together and rode off with her follow vehicle behind us as we chatted some more. Janet’s true and selfless sportsmanship in this situation was remarkable, and she was definitely one of my RAAM angels. If she hadn’t come along, I’m not sure whether I would have ever gotten back on my bike – my stubbornness and demons might have won out instead. Thank you Janet!

Janet approaches

Janet stops racing and comes over to me


Janet gestures

Janet shortly after approaching me


Janet talks to me

Talking with Janet on the sidewalk


Ohio circus

The "circus" in Ohio - Janet, me, and both our crews


More talking

Janet continues to talk with me


Getting up again

Getting up again to get back on the bike


Janet and I head out again

Janet and I mount our bikes to ride together for 15 minutes


Solo riding

Back on the bike riding after talking with Janet

After our 15 minutes together, I rode on ahead, and my crew vehicles started leap frogging me (I think they recognized that I needed some space). I actually felt pretty good physically, and felt like I was riding pretty well. Then I started getting sleepy again though. The highway had a large grassy shoulder along this stretch, and it was fairly flat – just a couple of very minor rollers. Suddenly I woke up riding through the grass on the shoulder – I’d drifted off again. The Errand vehicle with Justin and Tracey had passed me just before this happened, and I guess they saw that I’d veered off the road. They stopped further up the road and when I got to them I stopped, still a little shaken by my latest off-roading. Tracey gave me her coffee to drink. Knowing how easy it was to set me off, I was avoiding the Follow vehicle and was stopping at the Errand vehicle more because I knew that both Justin’s and Tracey’s communication styles were less likely to set me off. I continued on, and I remember stopping to take my knee warmers off, and to put sunscreen on. I remember continuing to battle sleepiness, and finding myself nodding off on several occasions.

Then all of a sudden I woke up as I was bouncing off of a concrete barrier to the right of me – we were going over a bridge, so there was no grassy shoulder to drift off onto this time, instead I scraped up against the concrete barrier, bounced off of it a few times as I tried desperately to regain control, and then BAM, I was down on the pavement. I just lay there for a second trying to process what had happened – the first thought through my head was “well, I guess I’m done RAAM”. The Follow vehicle (with Wayne, Charlie, and Donna) had caught up to me just before the crash, and they were behind me when it happened. Almost immediately Charlie was at my side asking if I was ok. My shorts were shredded, as was my jersey sleeve, my right glove was shredded on the top and I was bleeding from my knuckles, and my right arm was covered in road rash. The ironic thing about all of this was that I think this was the first day that I was riding without arm coolers on – most of the rest of the race up until this point I’d had some kind of arm covers on. If I’d had my arm coolers on when I crashed, I probably would have walked away with barely a scratch…. I was still a bit dazed, but we needed to get off the road, so we walked up the road to where there was a side-road and a place that the vehicle could get safely off the road.

The errand vehicle came back down the road, and Tracey and Charlie got in the follow vehicle with me and set about trying to clean and dress my wounds. The follow vehicle was pretty crammed for space, and was only intended to have 1 person in the back, so with 3 of us back there it was pretty interesting! They cut my shorts off me (they were toast anyway) – and I only had one tiny scrape on my leg. Then they set about to clean the road rash on my arm. It hurt like heck, but I knew it had to be done. Tracey was trying to keep the situation light hearted (which I absolutely appreciated), and was cracking jokes. I had kinesio tape on my IT band and knees and she commented that I did an excellent job of protecting the kinesio tape during the crash and thanking me since this meant she didn’t have to redo it! It helped to be able to laugh at the situation. At one point Charlie dropped the scissors because of the tight confines she was working in, and they landed point down on her foot and impaled her – ouch!!

Road rash upper arm

Road rash on my upper arm from the crash (picture taken 4 days later)


Lower arm road rash

Road rash on my lower arm from the crash (picture taken 4 days later)

Tracey told me that she didn’t want to rush me back onto the bike, rather she wanted to give me a chance to collect my thoughts. She did say though that there was nothing about my injuries that should prevent me from continuing, and she told me about races where she’d crashed and then regretted quitting. She handled this situation perfectly – she didn’t tell me what to do, and didn’t try to rush me into anything, she just planted the seed that continuing was an option, but that it was my decision. I believe she then said they were going to leave me alone in the van for 15min and let me think about things and collect my thoughts. She did say that she hoped I’d at least get out there and at least try riding for 10min though to see how it went before I considered quitting, because she didn’t want me to regret not having tried. I asked for my phone and the iPad before they got out, as I figured that perhaps looking at some of the comments and such on Facebook might help me. I also decided to call a friend and solo RAAM finisher (not to mention she has close to 20 years of crewing and officiating experience), Cindi Staiger. I called Cindi, and fortunately she answered right away – I told her I’d just crashed, and that I didn’t know what to do. She asked about my injuries, and asked what caused the crash. She was very calm and she told me that I needed to take a 90min sleep break, and that then I needed to get back on the bike and ride 10min and then re-evaluate (exactly what Tracey had just told me I needed to do). Talking to her really calmed me down, and I agreed that what she said made sense. Cindi was my next RAAM angel. The crew moved me to the Errand vehicle to let me sleep. Before going to sleep I also posted on my Facebook page that I’d had a little crash, and that I was trying to decide what to do. Almost immediately responses started pouring in – several people mentioned they’d crashed in a race, quit, and regretted it later. Another friend, Tina Svihura, posted my cell number on Facebook and asked that folks send me encouragement, so then my text messages started going crazy too. Wow – up to this point I don’t think I realized just how many people were paying such close attention to my race!

Pizza!

A kind local delivers pizza to my crew while I'm sleeping after my crash

I took my 90min sleep break, and then Katie came and woke me up. I was groggy, and my arm hurt. It took me a while to get me dressed and ready to go, and I still didn’t know whether I was going to keep racing, but I at least was going to give it a shot. My arm was bandaged, but the sun beating down on it hurt even more. I got on the bike and proceeded down the road. I really needed to use a bathroom, and just beyond the top of the hill that I started on we came into a town, and there was a gas station, so I stopped. I think the crew was upset that I stopped, but I really needed a bathroom. When I came out, I also asked for my arm coolers – I thought that putting them on would help because I’d be able to wet them to cool my arms and then maybe the sun beating down wouldn’t hurt as much. The crew obliged, and then we were on our way again. The arm coolers made a world of difference, and suddenly I didn’t feel so bad – in fact I started to feel pretty good. The one thing I did notice though was that the left side of my saddle suddenly seemed to feel uncomfortable. At one point I asked Doug if they’d done anything with my saddle, or whether it had been damaged in the crash, and he said no. I still don’t know why my saddle felt uncomfortable on that side – maybe I had a bruise from the crash or something.

Pretty soon we crossed the state line and left Ohio behind us and entered West Virginia and passed through Parkersburg, the location we were supposed to have gotten to the night before, about 10hrs earlier…. After getting warmed up again, I was actually feeling pretty good, and the endless series of rolling hills on this section were much easier than I’d anticipated (none of the climbs were all that steep). I figured there would be worse to come later (everyone I’d spoken to said that West Virgina was one of the toughest sections of RAAM), and I kept wondering how much longer until we hit those worse sections. Katie, Dawn, and Doug were in the follow vehicle, and did a great job of keeping me motivated and moving along this section. Just before dark though we hit a LONG patch of road construction and the entire road surface had been “grooved”, so I had to ride over the grooved pavement for several miles. Grooved pavement isn’t fun to ride on in the best of times let alone over 2500 miles into a race when your butt, hands, and feet all hurt, and you’ve just recently crashed and have a sore arm!! Finally the grooved pavement ended, and shortly after that we turned off that highway and onto a narrower road – we were definitely into the steeper rollers now.

The sun set over the West Virginia hills, and we continued on. I felt ok for a couple more hours, but then I started getting really sleepy again… I battled it for a while, and then I finally pulled over and asked for my phone. I called Cindi again and told her I was having trouble staying awake, and that I was scared of riding on these twisty/windy West Virginia hills in the state that I was in. She gave me a couple suggestions to try, but said that I would probably have to go down for another sleep break eventually. She told me to hold my hands over my eyes for 2 minutes to warm them up – this definitely helped for a bit, but soon enough I noticed myself nodding off both on the uphills and downhills. I was less concerned about nodding off on an uphill – I was terrified of nodding off on a downhill. Cindi had also said to have the errand vehicle leap frog in front of me and stay in my line of sight to help guide me and provide visual cues/hints as to what was coming up – the errand vehicle tried to do this, but they weren’t staying in my sight – they’d just come into view and then they’d tear off up the road and I’d immediately lose sight of them again, which was very frustrating. Katie was trying to talk me through the course, which was a big help, but still not enough to keep me awake. On this stretch I also had the feeling again that we were going in circles, or that I had deja vu. I felt like we kept coming past the same gas station over and over again. At one point I pulled over again and asked what the terrain was like to the next time station. I was told it was mainly uphill, with only one or two shorter downhill sections. I decided to try and make it to the next time station and then take a sleep break there.

We pulled into Grafton, WV a little before 1am and proceeded to setup for a sleep break. I remember a crew member asking “are you sure you need this break”, which upset me again. My response was something like “I crashed into a friggin’ concrete barrier earlier today, and now we’re in a twisty technical section with a lot of hills and I can’t keep my eyes open, so YES I need this break!”. Another oversight here was that I didn’t eat before I went to sleep – you always want to eat right before you go to sleep on RAAM. I slept, and then was woken and given some macaroni and cheese to eat. I was groggy, but was trying to eat and wake myself up. I felt like I was doing a good job of getting myself going, but I guess I appeared to the crew to be moving in slow motion again, and “diddling” away time. The comments started to come again about hurrying up, and I felt my anger bubbling to the surface again. I felt like I was doing the best that I could, but that it wasn’t good enough for anyone. I was being told I wouldn’t make the cutoff if I didn’t stop wasting time and get moving, so I said “Fine, I’m done!”. I was once again ready to throw in the towel, not because I couldn’t continue on physically, but because everything had become a chore and I was tired of being told what to do and that what I was doing was wrong. Tracey came over and tried to talk some sense into me, and then she left me alone for a while.

I sat there for a while really struggling with what to do. Of course I didn’t want to quit, but I didn’t want to keep going either. Finally I decided to call Michele Santilhano, another friend who’d finished solo RAAM. At this point I didn’t even know if it was possible to make the cutoff, but I knew that she had finished very close to the cutoff, so I figured talking to her might help. Plus she’s always so positive and energetic and supportive that I just wanted to hear her voice. I called her (this was around 4am EST, so 1am her time), and thankfully she answered. I told her the predicament I was in, and she told me I was doing fine and that yes, I could make the cutoff, and started outlining what I needed to do. I immediately felt better talking to her, and decided to keep going, and I handed the phone over to Tracey so that the 2 of them could talk. Michele was yet another of my RAAM angels over this last section – she got me going again, but she was also instrumental in helping to guide Tracey and the rest of the crew through those next 30hrs. At this point I knew I couldn’t afford another “break-down” on my part, and wanted to surround myself with the folks who I felt were least likely to cause such a break down, so I told Tracey I didn’t want certain crew members who’d just upset me in the follow vehicle. Tracey told me that she was there for me those next 30+ hours all the way to the finish, but that she needed alert drivers, and she also needed the errand vehicle to be involved to help mark turns. I agreed, and asked for Katie and Dawn in the follow vehicle, and also said that I had no problem with Justin being in follow. Dawn, Katie, and Tracey piled into Follow, and then we were on our way again.

I definitely felt more alert than I had when we’d stopped, and things seemed to be going pretty good. Soon enough the sun was rising, and we were climbing a longish climb. Maybe a mile or so from the top I caught up to Janet again (she’d probably passed me back when I’d crashed and then gone down for a sleep break). I rode with her again and we chatted some more. I told her about my crash, and she shared with me that she didn’t think she was going to make the cutoff. I tried to assure her that YES, she WAS going to make the cutoff! She was a strong rider with a lot of experience, and she was going to make it!! I found out later that apparently my chatting with her did in fact help to lift her spirits, so I was happy to have been able to help given how she’d literally saved my race the day before. We got to the top of the hill and then I went on ahead.

With Janet in West Virginia

Riding with Janet just after sunrise in West Virginia

The next stretch through the countryside of West Virginia was really pretty, especially in the early morning light! It wasn’t easy – there seemed to be one climb after another, and some steeper climbs too – but I actually enjoyed this section. I started cracking jokes with the follow vehicle, and I was in good spirits. Shortly after the climb up Cheat Mountain we did a shift change, and after a bit of confusion that temporarily had Tracey out of the follow vehicle, things were cleared up and I had Charlie, Donna, and Tracey behind me, while Mike, Wayne, and Justin were in Errand. At one point we passed the errand vehicle on the side of the road and Wayne was crouched down doing video. I had a banana peel from a banana I’d just eaten, so I decided to toss it to the ground so that they could pick it up – well wouldn’t you know it, I tossed it and it hit Wayne! I swear this wasn’t on purpose, and I probably couldn’t have hit him if I’d been trying to!! Somewhere along here I also dropped a water bottle, so the errand vehicle had to retrieve it for me – this was only the 2nd time I’d dropped a water bottle – the only other time was in Ohio between Blanchester and Chillicothe where I’d dropped a bottle as we passed through a town, and another motorist had been nice enough to stop and pick it up and bring it up to where we’d stopped. We continued through the roller coaster countryside of West Virginia, and then crossed into Maryland for a brief period of time before once again crossing back into West Virginia.

Maryland

Entering Maryland for the first time!

It wasn’t until closer to mid day that I noticed myself start to get sleepy again. I had to stop a couple of times to try and wake myself up. I knew we had a fairly long descent into the next time station coming up, and I was concerned about staying awake on it. Somehow I made it to that next time station, although I remember on the final run-in that my mind was struggling to process things – I was nodding off, plus I had this sense of deja vu again that I had just come by here the previous day going in the other direction. I also remember thinking at one point that I was just off the California coast, which was very bizarre!

We stopped at the time station in Keyser for a bathroom break, and then were back on the road to Cumberland. On this stretch it started to heat up, plus my arm really started to hurt again. Around Cumberland the traffic seemed to get a bit heavier, and we were in a more built up urban area. Wayne, Justin, and Mike were attempting to keep us girls entertained by showing plenty of skin on the side of the road – lord knows what the general public thought of this display (although apparently Wayne had a couple local fans who were asking for more skin!)!!

Justin and Wayne show some skin

Justin and Wayne show some skin

Shortly after Cumberland we accidentally started to get onto a freeway that we shouldn’t have – it wasn’t a huge deal, I walked back down the freeway onramp with Charlie and then rode up to the Errand vehicle and they took over direct follow while the follow vehicle got back on course (they had to continue on the freeway and then double back, which apparently required going quite a bit out of their way). This was the only time we took a wrong turn (as far as I know), which is really quite amazing given how far we traveled and the complexity of some of the navigation! Plus we caught the mistake immediately, so it didn’t cost us hardly any time. This is a testament to what a great job the crew did with navigating!

With the errand vehicle behind me now, I lost the external music and 2-way radio communication, so I started getting super sleepy again. I remember we were on a road that was winding along beside a river, and I was nodding off, so I finally pulled into a gas station on the right to try and wake myself up. Unfortunately the gas station had no beverages or anything in the store (and the errand vehicle had minimal supplies), but Justin did manage to rustle up a can of Coke from somewhere, which I drank eagerly. We headed out on the road again and had a bit of urban riding before we ended up on a road that was paralleling the freeway.

I knew that this section was, on paper, the most difficult section of RAAM in terms of feet climbed per mile. There were basically 4 big climbs between Cumberland and Hancock, and we were now on the first.

First MD climb

The first of the 4 difficult climbs between Cumberland and Hancock, MD

We were also in the hottest part of the day, and I was feeling the heat, and was still battling sleepiness. The errand vehicle didn’t have any 5hr energy shots (we’d switched from caffeine pills to these after the crash I believe it was, or perhaps it was after talking to Michele earlier that morning, and I was downing them on the rate of about 1 every 3hrs since the crew noted that that’s about how long they seemed to last), but the Sprinter van did have some, so at one point we passed the Sprinter and got a 5hr energy from them (I remember Alan handing it off while he pretended to do the hula dance!). Soon after the follow vehicle finally caught back up, and they were able to put music on again, and that really “revived” me and got me moving better again. I got into some good rhythms going up the climbs to the beat of the music. This is also where I started noticing chalk art on the road – the crew in Sprinter were going along in front of us and writing all kinds of cool and inspiring stuff on the road – awesome!! This really helped to motivate me, and brought a smile to my face, and I continued powering through the climbs.
Chalk art

Chalk art done by the crew to cheer me on

On one of the descents I had to contend with more grooved pavement for a decently long stretch again – ugghh! The first couple of climbs weren’t quite as steep as the last few (if I recall correctly), but they were all decently long and difficult, especially in the heat. While descending the 3rd climb I passed one of the solo male riders who had a neck brace on – boy oh boy was I glad that I didn’t have any neck issues!! The last climb definitely felt to be the steepest I think, but I got over it and enjoyed the descent and then the rollers into Hancock. Believe it or not, this was once again one of my faster segments of RAAM, despite it being the hardest!
Get 'er done!

Climbing a hill with chalk art as motivation


Sideling Hill

Sideling Hill, the last of the 4 big climbs between Cumberland and Hancock, Maryland

I was hoping for a bit of a break from the hills, but we continued through some fairly rolling terrain, including at least one hill that I didn’t know if I was going to make it up and over it without stopping (my cyclometer was reading about 15% as the gradient I believe) – thankfully it wasn’t too long though and I finally ground to the top (where I quickly stopped and collapsed over my handlebars trying to catch my breath and replenish my fluids!!). Somewhere along here we passed into Pennsylvania, and the endless rollers seemed to continue.

Pennsylvania

Somewhere in Pennsylvania

I needed a bathroom break, so we finally found a town with a gas station (Charlestown, PA I think it was) and we stopped. A guy was standing outside when we pulled in, and he said something along the lines of being a long way from California and funny running into me out here. I didn’t recognize him, and said “I’m sorry, but do I know you?”. Well it turned out it was Tom Barry!!! I’d ridden with Tom several times over the past couple of years, but he’d moved to West Virginia last fall. He looked different than I remembered him though (probably because I think I’d only ever seen him in bike gear!!). I was so embarrassed for not recognizing him, but he laughed it off. He’d driven about 4hrs or more to come and see me, and I was extremely touched by this! I wanted to chat with him and Susie (and Henry – their gorgeous dog!!), but my crew was of course trying to get me on down the road. Tom said he understood, and off we went. They leap frogged us for a while and took several great pictures (Tom is an awesome photographer!).
Chatting with Tom

Chatting with Tom Barry in Pennsylvania


Pennsylvania, photo by Tom

Photo that Tom took of me in Pennsylvania


Evening Pennsylvania

Cresting a hill somewhere in Pennsylvania

The terrain was fairly mellow all the way from here to the next time station in Rouzerville, PA.

Sunset in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania just before sunset

Right out of Rouzerville though there was a pesky little climb that seemed to feel much harder than it should have, and beyond that there were some rollers towards Gettysburg. It was dark now, and I could see storm activity off in the distance, including a bit of lightening I think. Despite it being dark, going through Gettysburg was still pretty cool – I could see the old canons and some monuments and alike in the glow of the moon. Through here though I once again started to feel like we were going in circles though – I could have sworn we kept returning to the same intersection over and over again!

We continued on to Hanover, PA, the next time station, arriving just before midnight. I was still lucid, but apparently moving in slow motion. By this point my mouth was a real mess – when I had nothing in my mouth it tasted incredibly salty, which was an awful sensation. I’ve since found out that what happens is that the taste buds get messed up, and the ones that taste salt are the last to be effected, so everything starts to taste like salt. Things that help with this are chewing gum (I wish we’d figured this out earlier!), Biotene mouthwash, and oddly enough eating cantaloupe. Also avoiding sweet foods (since they won’t taste good), and eating relatively “bland” or “plain” carbs (mashed potatoes are a good example). Starting earlier that morning in West Virginia I’d been eating instant mashed potatoes with cheese that seemed to go down really well, and I’d also had some macaroni and cheese that tasted really good. Now I was in the gas station in Hanover eyeing the sandwiches, but unfortunately the one I chose didn’t agree with my mouth. Tracey had also started to give me Ensure a couple days earlier to help get additional calories into me, and although I didn’t like the “vitaminy” flavor, I was downing them as instructed.

We headed out of Hanover with the intention to stop for a short 45min or so nap within the next couple of hours. I don’t remember being super sleepy on this stretch, but I also don’t remember much about it, so perhaps I was. When we stopped for the sleep break I think they put me in a seat in the errand vehicle (not laying down), and I think they cranked the heat up. I don’t remember being woken up, but I remember suddenly being aware that I was sitting there being fed some lasagna. I felt completely overheated and uncomfortable, and my mouth felt absolutely horrible like there was salt pouring out of it, and the lasagna was just not tasting good at all! I was disoriented, and not all that with it. The crew got me back on the bike, and again, I don’t remember much. I think I forgot to keep pedaling up a hill at one point or something, and had to clip out, and then I started walking up the rest of the hill. I don’t remember if it was a steep hill that I couldn’t get going on, or what was going on, but for whatever reason I remember walking. I think Tracey got out of the follow vehicle and came up to me to ask what was going on – I don’t think I knew what was going on, but I knew my mouth tasted awful, and I asked for some gum. Apparently there was gum on my bike in my aeronet, but I hadn’t known it was there. I started chewing it and that helped my mouth. I got back on the bike and started riding. The stretch between Hanover and Mt Airy (the next time station, which had a cutoff of 7am EDT) was only 36 miles, but it seemed to be taking forever. I remember Katie started calling out over the PA how many miles we had left to the time station, but because I’d lost all sense of time it seemed like huge chunks of time were passing and we had only gone a half mile or a mile. I started panicking – I felt like there was no way we were going to make the cutoff – I started to think there were 80 or 90 miles after Mt Airy to the finish, and that we were barely going to make the Mt Airy cutoff which would only leave 5hrs to do 80 or 90 miles, which in my state I knew wasn’t possible. I had the numbers wrong in my head – it was only 55 miles from Mt Airy to the finish, but I didn’t realize this at the time. I was yelling out that we weren’t going to make the cutoff (although the crew wouldn’t have heard me because I wasn’t using the radio), and I was crying and extremely upset. I was trying to ride fast, but it seemed like no matter how fast I tried to ride we weren’t making any progress. I was an emotional mess at this point, and in my anger and frustration I started riding out in the lane instead of on the shoulder. It’s almost like a part of me wanted something catastrophic to happen to just put an end to this since I felt like a failure and was so distressed.

Then somehow we ended up at a gas station – I’m not sure if I took a wrong turn, or if I veered off course, but there we were. I think I was standing there dazed and then someone told me to go use the bathroom (I’d mentioned wanting a bathroom break earlier I think). I was still really upset thinking I wasn’t going to finish, so I stormed off to the bathroom and didn’t wait for the crew to accompany me. When I emerged, I think I tried to tell them that it wasn’t possible to finish so why were we bothering to continue. Tracey took me and shook me and tried to talk some sense into me – she insisted that I absolutely could still finish.

Once again the crew got me back on my bike and we worked our way to the time station at Mt Airy (I have no recollection of how far away it was from where we’d stopped). I do remember that we rode past the time station, but then we had to stop and walk backwards on the course because apparently we were required to stop at the time station or something (or perhaps there had been some kind of route change or something – I’m not sure exactly). It was still dark at this point (it was 5am), and then I remember we seemed to be on some steeper rollers as the sun came up. I recall some other riders around us, and I recall being very much out of it, and nodding off, and the crew honking to try and keep me awake and telling me to follow the white line. I remember still being in panic mode and feeling like I needed to rush in order to try and finish. Then I remember waking up as I was once again riding through the grass on the shoulder of the road…. I stopped, completely frustrated and upset. Tracey got out of the follow vehicle and came over to me. I sat on the side of the road to try and collect myself, and she had the route book with her and tried to explain to me what we had left. She went over each remaining section briefly, and told me that even if I only went 10mph we still had a 2hr cushion to finish, so we were going to finish this – I just had to stay calm, listen to her and Katie, and do my best to stay right on the white line. I think Katie and Dawn might have gotten out of the vehicle as well and participated in this “pow-wow”. This calmed me down and I got up feeling less panicked. They put 2 bottles of Mountain Dew on my bike (hoping for a sugar/caffeine hit), and we continued down the road.

I was refocused and calmer and doing my best to stay awake (even though I wasn’t always successful at this – I do remember weaving a few times and Dawn having to honk the horn at me and Katie/Tracey having to yell at me to get back over to the white line). Then I have a gap in my memories. Next thing I remember is that I felt we were doing some kind of “practice” loop where I was riding and follow was giving me step-by-step instructions on what to do. Pedal here, stay on the white line there, catch up to errand vehicle and pull in where they were pulled in here, keep pedaling on the white line so traffic can pass us there, power up this hill here, turn there, pedal faster so that we catch this traffic light here, etc. I really did feel like we were doing a practice loop where we kept coming back to the same hill and the same traffic light. Then I remember at one point I guess I got my wires crossed and I think I turned off the road where I wasn’t supposed to – I remember them trying to say “no Joan no”, but it was too late. We pulled over and Tracey possibly got out of the vehicle again to talk to me. Between me thinking this was a “practice session”, and the way that I was perceiving things, I started to wonder if I was dreaming, but I decided to at least play along with the dream for a bit longer – after all, if it was a dream, then no harm could come of it, right!

Almost immediately I have another gap in my memories. Next thing I remember is suddenly being on busy highways with a lot of traffic, and our “practice session” had just become more stressful. Now I was having to deal with crossing entrance/exit lanes in the busy traffic, making traffic lights that the Errand vehicle was going through up in front of us (because we didn’t want to get separated from them – they were helping to guide us), going through traffic circles, and in general dealing with a lot of traffic all around me. At one point there was an accident off to my left (a car rear ended another car – perhaps because they were looking at the spectacle of me going by), and although the sound of the crash was pretty pervasive, I still had this sensation that I was dreaming. I looked down at my watch and saw that the date was June 25th – I remembered that the last day of RAAM was in fact the 25th, so was this real? Then I started looking around at the signs to try and figure out where I was – I saw signs that said Maryland, which I knew was where the race finished, but could my brain just be planting these facts into my dream?? Somewhere along here we were stopped at a traffic light waiting to make a turn, and some guy came up to me and fist-bumped me and congratulated me (he’d apparently stopped his car, gotten out, and come over to do this while we were stopped at the light). This all just seemed so bizarre and unreal!! I then decided to think really hard and try to recall a non-RAAM memory – surely I’d been at work yesterday, or at home watching TV – if I thought hard enough surely I’d think of one of these memories and it would confirm that I was in fact dreaming. Well try as I might, I couldn’t think of a non-RAAM memory. I looked at my watch again – still June 25th….I looked around again….still Maryland….back to my watch again…..still June 25th. I felt this sense of panic returning – was this real????

Finally I saw a parking lot and motioned that I wanted to pull over. I pulled over in the parking lot, dazed, confused, and panicked. Tracey got out of the follow vehicle and came over to me. I expressed that I didn’t know if this was reality – surely this was a dream. She took me by my shoulders and got her face within an inch of mine and told me to look into her eyes – “this IS real, you’re doing RAAM, we’re almost at the finish!!” she said. Then she pinched my wrist really hard, and told me to squeeze her hand as hard as I could. I was still panicky, thinking my mind was continuing to form an elaborate dream, but not as sure anymore. Then she pointed at someone and said “who’s that?”. I responded and said “Dawn”. Then she pointed at someone else and said “who’s that?”. I responded and said “Katie”. Then she pointed at the errand vehicle and said “who’s that in there?”. I said “Doug”. She pointed at Mike and asked the same, but I don’t think I verbally responded this time – my mind was slowly processing this, and I think I was starting to realize that maybe this was real. She told me it was Mike. Then Justin appeared and she asked who he was, and I said “Justin”. Then she took me by the shoulders again and looked right at me and asked if I trusted her. What follows is my favorite quote of all of RAAM – I looked at her and said “Yes, I trust you, but I don’t know if you’re real!!”. She got the route book and started to show me what we had left. I was looking for mistakes in what I was perceiving – anything that would indicate that this was just a dream. I remember her mentioning the Rams Head which was just before the end of the timed section of the race, and I remember knowing that this was correct. I couldn’t pick out any flaws in the situation around me, so perhaps it was real. I decided to at least do what I was told and get back on the bike – after all, if it was a dream then no harm would come of it, and if it was real, then I had a race to finish!

As I continued, I saw that we were coming into Odenton. I remembered who was the time station sponsor for this time station for my Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraising (my cousin Alison from the UK), so I tried to quiz my crew to see if they got it right (again, looking for mistakes that might indicate this wasn’t real). They said they didn’t have it right in front of them at the moment, but that they would find out. They didn’t exactly pass the test, but they didn’t fail it either….hmmmm…. We continued on, and Tracey kept talking me through each and every moment. The radio was still zip-tied to the stem on my bike, and there was a non-stop chatter coming from it – just how obnoxious the radio itself was sort of made me think that maybe this was real – I didn’t think I could dream such a vivid and obnoxious thing as the radio and it’s constant never-ending stream of guidance! I was getting a crack out of it when Tracey or Katie would say “follow the natural curve in the road”, as if roads have “natural” curves!

After Odenton it was about 10 miles to the end of the timed portion of RAAM. We were off the really busy roads, but there was still a decent amount of traffic, and we were still following the errand vehicle. I remember at one point seeing a sign for “Bacon Ridge Natural Area”, and thought that was funny – how does a natural area get a name like that! I pointed it out to the crew just for kicks – they were probably scared that I was going to head off in that direction instead of to the finish or something! After a while we passed the Rams Head, the location that any sprint finishes were to be settled at. There was an empty table/chair outside, but no one in sight – this certainly didn’t feel like the end of a race, maybe I was dreaming? Then from here we seemed to keep going and going and going. I started looking around a bit more panicked again – it just didn’t “feel right”, and I started questioning reality again. Then we finally got to the gas station in Annapolis, the final time station before the finish, and the end of the timed portion of the race. The errand vehicle was there waiting for me, and it was a very surreal moment – I was done, I’d made it! I’d ridden my bike from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland, about 3000 miles, in 12 days, 18 hours, and 46 minutes!

Everyone got out of the vehicles and there were congratulations and hugs. I think I was so emotionally spent by this time though that it didn’t really sink in (in fact I don’t even know if it’s sunk in now as I write this 2 weeks later!). I believe I spoke to Michele on the phone briefly because Tracey had her on the phone – Michele had been a godsend for Tracey those last 30 hours in terms of guiding her through what to do every step of the way! From here, it was a 5 mile escorted parade in to the official finish line at the Annapolis City Dock. While we waited for the escort, I changed into some clean shorts and put on the Canada jersey that I’d worn at the start as well – I was the first woman representing Canada, and only the 31st woman ever in the 31 year history of the race to finish solo RAAM!

For the escort to the finish line the follow vehicle got to follow me, and Mike, Katie, and Tracey were in the vehicle. Right before the finish chute I had to ride through a ginormous pool of water (and almost wiped out in the process since I hit some bump under the water that I couldn’t see!). Then I got to the finishing chute and got to cross the official finish line. There was only a smattering of people at the finish, but my crew were all there, and that’s the only thing that mattered! I also saw Lori and Jeanine, a couple of extremely talented cyclists from Fresno who I know who’d volunteered to help me out by driving the Sprinter van back across the country after the race. Trix, the women’s winner of RAAM, was also there to congratulate me. After crossing the finish line I was interviewed by George Thomas, the race director, and he mentioned something about me looking fresh enough to do 10 pushups, so I obliged and dropped to the ground and cranked out 10 pushups – I figured it was good for a laugh if nothing else! Then we took pictures under the finish banner, and I got my finishers medal.

Finish chute

Crossing the finish line in Annapolis, Maryland in a time of 12 days, 18 hours, and 46 minutes


Pushups!

Still fresh enough to do pushups at the finish!


Bike hoist

Hoisting my bike overhead at the finish


On the stage at the finish

On the stage at the finish


Finish line with crew

At the finish line with my crew

I was a bit dazed and knew we had a lot to do that day in terms of getting ready for everyone’s departures and such, plus the sun was beating down on me and my arm was really feeling sore again and I wanted to make sure I got it checked out before the banquet that night. In my daze I forgot about Janet still being on the course. In hindsight I would have loved to have stayed and seen her finish given how instrumental she’d been in getting me to the finish, but I certainly wasn’t thinking straight at this point, and didn’t think of it, so we loaded up into the vehicles and headed for the hotel. So, given all the drama and intensity and emotion that happened during the race, the finish line itself was rather anticlimactic. I guess that kind of aligns with the sentiment that “the journey is the reward”.

Plaque

Finisher plaque

I can’t thank my entire crew enough for everything that they did out there – I definitely could not have made it to Annapolis without each and every one of them giving 110% every step of the way. Being a crew member for a solo RAAM rider is a very selfless task, and they had to put up with a LOT out there! I maintain that crewing for an ultra is in some ways harder than racing – the rider just has to pedal their bike, the crew has to do everything else, and make all those critical, strategic, and potentially life and death decisions all the way across. They have to put up with the elements – being out there in the same triple digit heat that I was in day after day. They don’t get luxurious hotels to stay in – they’re sleeping in bunks in the back of a moving (and often hot) Sprinter van much of the time. They’re not getting enough sleep along the way and are slowly becoming sleep deprived themselves. They don’t get casual sit down meals – they’re living off of take-out from whatever places they happen to find along the way. They’re spending way too much time having to hang out in Walmart parking lots! They have to deal with irate drivers who have no respect for a cross country bicycle race and just view the racer and crew vehicles as annoyances who are in between them and their destination. They have to deal with navigating a complex course through heavy traffic on busy roads during rush hour commute hours knowing that their rider has lost their marbles and is somewhat of a loose canon. They have to put up with emotional outbursts and temper tantrums from a tired and cranky rider who’s basically been reduced to the emotions/mentality/irrationality of a toddler. They have to find ways to motivate and get said rider moving even when the rider doesn’t want to move. They have to witness and deal with the stress of seeing what RAAM does to the rider, including things like them losing their mind, enduring physical pain, falling asleep on their bike and riding off the road, crashing, etc. And they do all this as volunteers, and give up 2 weeks of their own time away from their families to come and support a rider who in some cases they haven’t even met before, or hardly even know! I.e. these people are AMAZING!!!

Not a single one of my crew members had experience crewing for a solo RAAM athlete, yet they came together as a team and tackled problem after problem and solved them all in order to get me successfully to the finish – this is an incredible achievement, and one that each and every crew member should be extremely proud of! Much of what happened went on behind the scenes, and I, the rider, didn’t get to see what was happening, so I can’t fully thank everyone for everything that they did because I don’t even know the full extent of what everyone did. Certain roles had higher visibility to me, the rider, such as the role that Tracey played, so I’ve shared a lot of those experiences and praised her for the tremendous job that she did. But I know that each and every crew member was working hard behind the scenes completing the tasks assigned to them and making sure that everything that needed to be done to get me to Annapolis was being done, so thank you to everyone!!

Let me try to take a stab at thanking each of my crew and recognizing them for their contributions. Again, I don’t know everything that happened out there, so by no means is this a complete portrayal of their roles!

Wayne was a superb videographer, follow driver, and motivator (both to other crew, as well as to me at various points). He also made homemade macaroons that were oh so tasty (plus he made awesome blueberry pancakes before the race!)! In general he was a jack of all trades with clear leadership and mentoring skills.

Charlie was an expert follow driver and was great at managing nutrition (need I say more than Nutella/banana/pita-bread sandwiches!!). She was also great at first aid (even though I wished we hadn’t had to find that out!), and always calm and level headed throughout.

Donna was full of spunk and energy throughout and provided lots of entertainment on the side of the road (think Canada flag flashing!), was always on top of getting my bike replenished when I was stopped for a break, and shared various other duties including driving and navigating.

Isabelle, despite having to adapt her role on the fly, was still kept busy behind the scenes and helped to keep things moving. She was also great at keeping on top of rider nutrition through the first part of the race. She also provided a lot of the inspiration before the race to do the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society fundraising, which definitely made RAAM more special and meaningful (thanks to Isabelle really helping to spread the word, we raised about $13,500 for LLS, and I consider that to be a team effort that she was instrumental in!).

Alan was instrumental before the race in getting all the electronics and navigation systems figured out, and during the race he was our electronics troubleshooting expert, plus he did a lot of the driving of the Sprinter. He also dealt with unloading/returning the Sprinter when it got back to California, and somehow managed to get the 200lb bunk bed out of the back of the Sprinter singlehandedly! His attention to detail and organization were obvious throughout.

Willy, although only along until Durango, still had a significant impact – he was a good strategizer, always calm and level headed, an expert follow driver, and displayed his Macguyver like skills with regard to things like installing a fan in the Sprinter to try and keep it cooler for the sleeping crew. As the only crew member with RAAM crewing experience (even though it wasn’t for a solo rider), he was also able to provide guidance and leadership to other crew members.

Doug was an amazing bike mechanic, and did an excellent job at keeping my bike in meticulous shape after he joined in Durango. He was also great with regard to guiding me through the course and giving me run downs of what to expect terrain wise, as well as talking me through sections when I was struggling to hold onto reality (such as in Indiana). He was always calm and level headed under pressure, and was a good motivator. Not to mention he had the awesomest frog hat ever!

Justin also joined in Durango, and was another great entertainer on the side of the road – from coconut bra and grass skirt, to cow costume, to superman costume! He was also a great follow driver at night, and great at communicating with and encouraging me. He also spent a lot of time in errand helping to navigate and mark the course, making things much easier for the follow vehicle. He also had a knack for communicating with the locals along the way as well apparently!

Dawn had a calming influence on the crew and on me, was able to rise to the occasion of driving some of the most stressful segments of RAAM (the final couple of days when I’d lost it and when we had to deal with some stressful traffic situations). She was also great with managing nutrition through much of the race. Her mothering/nurturing nature was also apparent throughout.

Katie, my sister, was a master multi-tasker and had a knack at recognizing what needed to be done and getting it done. She talked me through many stretches when I’d either lost my mind or was falling asleep, most notably the night in Kansas and several stretches through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland the final few days. She also helped orchestrate many of my sleep breaks, drove follow and kept me safe on one of the more difficult sections early on in the race (between Flagstaff and Tuba City), and was helping out wherever she was needed.

Mike, my husband, was apparently the “glue” behind the scenes providing direction and guidance to other crew members, as well as helping to mediate situations where conflict arose and help to calm/settle folks down when emotions ran high. And of course just him being there and supporting me was emotionally reassuring and extremely important to me. He was also a great follow driver through one of the most dangerous and stressful sections of the course as we passed through eastern Missouri, and was also involved in the roadside antics that went on!

Sandy, although not physically present, was a great resource for the crew in terms of helping to provide a non-sleep-deprived perspective on things, and sharing her wealth of knowledge and experience having both crewed and raced RAAM several times. She helped to guide the race strategy and talk the crew through situations that they were unsure of.

Tracey was the crew member who I interacted the most with, so there’s already been greater visibility into what she did and the role she played. I can’t emphasize enough though how vital her role was. She entered the race as a physiotherapist (who I had never met before) with her responsibility being to help look after my body through massage, ART, acupuncture, etc., but she exited the race as so much more. From day 1 she had to troubleshoot and solve problems that I was having physically, not to mention help to calm me down when I started to panic about these issues. Through her handling of these situations, we formed a close bond, and this bond only strengthened and grew throughout the race. She had boundless energy, and was a master at keeping me engaged and motivated – I’m amazed that she didn’t lose her voice out there on several occasions! We just seemed to be extremely compatible from a crew/rider perspective, and she always seemed to know exactly what to say and how to say it to keep me motivated, calm, and moving forward, which is a very special talent. As I was slowly reduced to the mentality/emotions/irrationality of a toddler on the last few days of RAAM, the connection that I had with her became even more important. I’ve heard it explained that this kind of bond that forms is akin to the bond that forms between a parent and a child, and I know that I’m not the only RAAM rider to form this kind of bond with a “go-to” person on their crew. I certainly had no idea going into the race that my “go-to” person was going to be Tracey, as I’m sure she had no idea she’d end up in that role either. But that’s what happened, and I can’t thank her enough for stepping up to the plate and accepting that role and all of the pressure and responsibility that went along with it! She (like the other crew) gave her heart and soul out there, and became about as emotionally invested in the race as is possible. I know for a fact that I couldn’t have finished RAAM without her – she too was one of my RAAM angels!

It was a team effort on the part of the entire crew to get me to the finish line though, and I couldn’t have made it to Annapolis without the entire team, so in that regard I had a whole flock of RAAM angels with me every step of the way! Every crew member’s role was extremely important and key in achieving that goal, so thank you to the ENTIRE crew! I can’t thank everyone enough, and I know I couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you! You were a rock star crew, and you all deserve a medal for what you put yourselves through out there! I’m forever in your debt!

While giving thanks, I also have to thank my sponsors. Integrate Performance Fitness was an extremely important part of my training (spin classes, strength training, and cycling workouts), David Ledesma kept me going through all my training with sports massage, Revolutions in Fitness kept my bike fits comfortable and suited to my body, La Dolce Velo kept my bikes in working order before RAAM, Bob Corman of Infinity Press was a constant source of encouragement and support, and Bertoni Eyewear provided sun glasses and goggles that were instrumental in protecting my eyes during RAAM. Thank you to all of my sponsors!

So, a question that I get asked frequently now is “will you do RAAM again?”. RAAM was supposed to be my last big race before Mike and I tried to start a family, however now I’m reevaluating and deciding whether maybe there’s one more year of racing left in me… Despite how brutally hard RAAM was, as someone once told me, “it gets in your blood”. Another quote that comes to mind is a quote from the movie “Bicycle Dreams” from the Italian rider Fabio Biasiolo – I don’t have the exact phrasing, but basically he said that as a rider “you love the RAAM and you hate the RAAM, but after you cross the finish line all that’s left is love for this race”. I now understand what he meant. Additionally, I look at all the things that went wrong for me during RAAM, and I can’t help but analyze and try to figure out what I and the crew could have done differently to prevent them. Part of me wants to go back and try to “do it right”. I can’t do RAAM next year because my brother is getting married at the end of June, however there’s a new ultra cycling race in Canada in August that I’m quite intrigued by – the Tour de BC. Maybe I’ll be on the Tour de BC start line next August, maybe I won’t. What’s unquestionable though is that I want to remain a part of the ultra cycling community, whether it’s racing or crewing. It’s just such a wonderfully supportive and unique community, and I’m honored to be a part of it! So many people have given me so much support and encouragement along the way and helped me to achieve my dreams, and I really want to be able to return the favor, as well as “pay it forward”.

Additional Links:
Motivation for something like RAAM
The Numbers of RAAM: Training, Stats, Nutrition, Costs

The VeloReviews.com podcast interview that I did about RAAM:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Also Available to Download via iTunes Here:
3 Parts, episodes ‘VR 030 – Joan Deitchman Interview’, ‘VR 031′, and ‘VR 032′

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12 Responses to RAAM 2012 Race Report – Part IV: Angels and Demons, the Run-In to Annapolis

  1. Pingback: RAAM Race Report – Part III: Mississippi Ho! | Joan's Blog

  2. Alberto Blanco says:

    Wow! what a roller coaster ride for you, congratulations on your race way to keep it together to the finish .
    great job

  3. GeorgeM says:

    Wow! An unvarnished account of your RAAM experience. Thank you for sharing the good, the bad, and the bizarreness that is truly the worlds toughest race. Congrats on your accomplishment. Now I think someone on your crew should step forward and give their side of the story… ;-)

  4. Dave Marsh (Doug's dad) says:

    Amazing! I followed most of the race and stayed up all night for the finish. Your first-hand account provided here was equally riveting. Thank you for sharing your inner thoughts. I am surprised you remember all the details. Congratulations to you and the entire crew.

  5. Erica Baylor says:

    WOW is right! Joan, your account of your journey across America is riveting! The fear factor of falling asleep at any moment on your bike would have been enough of a deterrent for me! The fact that you overcame so many other challenges is truly amazing. I found the description of the crew/rider dynamics very interesting. I had no idea what a crucial role every team member plays. I send to you and your crew my heartiest congratulations on your 3000 mile journey! What an inspiring accomplishment!

  6. Hi Joan,

    That was me on the recumbent who said hello as we went by. I must say, I commented to my crew at the end of my pull how impressed I was with your climbing that late in the race. Kudos on a great race!

  7. Kitty Goursolle says:

    Joan, every new RAAM rider should read your story. You captured the real and essence of RAAM. I’ve crewed it in ’84 and we had to do everything your crew did to keep our rider moving. Nothing much has changed about RAAM over the years! Your very moving account of your ride brought me to tears. I know how much you suffered to earn this RAAM finish! Would you like to go kayaking with me sometime? You need a complete change of scene, now that you’re finished. Lots of hugs to you!!

  8. Al says:

    Thank you for sharing your incredible experience. It is an honor to train you!!!!

  9. Hi Joan.
    Fantastic story. I’ve been sittiting here on my veranda in Sweden reading and thinking back to my own RAAM-experience.
    In Kaiser WV. I was going to use the restroom but the guy behind the counter told me there were four ladys in there, and they had been there for along time. Now I know what was going on. Lycky for me that Walmart was close by. :-)
    / #458 ‘Team Ultra-cycling Viking’.

  10. Steve says:

    I agree with others about your RAAM. I’m never gonna try this but I could not stop reading about your experience. Talking to you and Mike last September after White Mtn Double I thought you were planning the impossible but I was wrong.

  11. John Tolhurst says:

    What just happened to my morning? Started reading and just couldn’t stop, a breathtaking read. Audacious!

  12. Keith Wolcott says:

    Joan, you are amazing! I just read through everything on your site and found it inspiring and amazing. I have been mulling over the idea of making an attempt at RAAM so I find all of the detailed information very valuable. Thank you for posting so many details about both the race and your training leading up to the race.

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