RAAM 2015 Race Report

Customized license plate with my RAAM number, 441

Another year, another RAAM, but 2015 was a very different RAAM from 2012 or 2014. I knew that this was going to be my last RAAM for the foreseeable future, and I wanted to make sure it was one that I could be 100% satisfied with. The time, energy, money, and risk that go into a RAAM effort make it such that it isn’t something I’d consider doing year after year simply with the same goals or objectives. I tend to tire of races rather quickly – for me the allure of endurance races has been new challenges and new experiences. I don’t think there is any race or event that I’ve done more than 3 times (at least not in the same division), so for me to return to RAAM there needed to be a new purpose beyond just showing up again. One of the most common questions I’m asked about RAAM is “why do you do it?”, so let me spend some time trying to explain more about what RAAM has become to me, which might help to answer that question. There were many reasons for returning to RAAM – some quite obviously related to the sporting aspect of RAAM, and some quite complex and subtle having little to do with bike racing.

In 2012 the goal was to finish RAAM, in 2014 the goal was to “do it right”, and in 2015 the goal was to try and actually race it. Even trying to acknowledge this goal of being competitive though was difficult for me. I have felt tremendous pressure to excel at everything that I have done my entire life, and have become my own worst critic in the process. I’ve spent more time feeling like a failure than I have feeling like a success, and have felt the tremendous disappointment of feeling like I could never live up to the expectations of people who were extremely important to me. Cycling was different though – it was an activity that I found on my own as an adult, and one where I didn’t feel the same degree of expectations or pressure to excel like I had in other areas of my life. I was just an average athlete at best, and no one saw me as a threat at races (in fact I was the only solo female racer who wasn’t profiled by RAAM media in the lead up to 2015’s race). Cycling was my outlet, my escape, my medicine, my church. So for me to take cycling and try to change the focus to be about results and competing was something that I found to be very difficult to reconcile in my head and my heart. Even though part of me really wanted to leave my mark on the sport and try to win, I was scared that in trying to do so I risked losing the underlying intrinsic value of what cycling was to me. I was afraid of turning it into yet another area where I would feel the pressure to succeed and thus feel like a failure if I didn’t meet my goals, not to mention having that failure play out in a very public arena.

I did ultimately decide to return to RAAM and to try and compete, but there were many stages along the way when I felt doubt and fear, and things happened that impacted my ability to execute on this goal. I got sick in mid December and fell victim to the nagging dry cough that has plagued me ever winter for over 5 years now. Every time I’ve gotten sick I’ve had a cough develop that doesn’t go away for months, despite various medications and treatments. As the weeks and months went by and I watched my fitness evaporate due to not being able to train fully because of the cough it was extremely frustrating and disheartening. I watched as my fellow RAAM entrants were racking up double, triple, and even quadruple the mileage I was doing.

It wasn’t until mid February when I finally seemed to have mostly shaken the cough and could again return to training. That only left 4 months to train for RAAM and basically build back up from minimal fitness. While my goal remained to race, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to be where I’d originally hoped to be physically with only 4 months of serious training remaining. Then I got sick again in mid May following a training camp that I did in Bishop with several of my crew. I was terrified that I was going to get the dreaded cough again, and I didn’t have 2 months to let it take its typical course before RAAM! Thankfully by attacking the cough with a slew of medications early and shutting down my training completely it miraculously didn’t evolve into the usual nagging cough, but it was another 2 weeks where I essentially had to put my training on hold.

Factoring all of this in, we ultimately decided on a time goal of 11.5 days since this seemed very doable based on my ride time from last year even if I didn’t ride any faster but we were just able to better manage off the bike time. It was also a finishing time that in most recent years would have been in the ballpark to win the women’s division, so while we couldn’t control what other competitors would bring to the table, it was a goal that seemed to at least have the potential to yield a good result.

Speaking of past results, some people ask why the women’s times at RAAM have been so much slower in recent years compared to in the 80s and 90s despite all of the advances in technology. One argument is that the course is more difficult today than it was back in the day when the course followed mostly interstates with less climbing than some of the back roads traversed in today’s rendition of the race. Even Pete Penseyres’ men’s record from 1986 stood until 2013 when Christophe Strasser finally bettered it. But as for the women’s race, I honestly believe that it is largely because women are doing RAAM once and then walking away from it. They don’t take those learnings and then come back to try and improve. Seana Hogan didn’t set the transcontinental record on her first RAAM – she returned year after year and honed her skills. Many of the other faster times from the 80s and 90s were also from riders who competed multiple years – Susan Notorangelo, Muffy Ritz, Elaine Mariolle. RAAM is such an immense undertaking and is so logistically complex and intricate that experience becomes perhaps the biggest advantage that you can have. It is ridiculously easy to lose hours and days of time on the road without even realizing it, regardless of how fast of a rider you are.

I also had other reasons to doubt and question my decision to return to RAAM. In the fall of last year after doing the PAC Tour Ridge of the Rockies cycling tour, Mike and I decided that we wanted to relocate from California to Colorado for the next stage of our lives. By deciding to do RAAM again I was delaying facilitating this move. Not only was I delaying our move, but I was also delaying our plans to try and start a family. Race Across the West back in 2011 was supposed to be my last ultra, yet here I was 4 years later considering toeing the RAAM start line for the 3rd time in 4 years. This decision weighed heavily on my mind at various stages in the lead up to RAAM. Was I making the right decision? Would I live to regret my decision to return to RAAM a third time?

In order to help try and address some of my conflicting emotions around returning to RAAM, as well as to develop mental strategies that would help improve my performance, I started working with a sports psychologist, Julie Emmerman. This was a tremendously valuable investment, both for me and for my crew (we did a couple of group sessions that helped to prepare the crew for what they were about to experience also). Julie helped me to interpret and understand my reactions to and feelings from past RAAMs, and thus prepared me to better handle myself and perform in 2015. She also helped the crew to understand the stresses and situations that they would face during RAAM as I regressed from a high functioning adult to a temper tantrum prone toddler-like version of myself. It was extremely important for me to not have to worry about my crew judging me for those inevitable moments during RAAM when I would reach my lowest of lows – I needed to be able to instead focus my attention and energy on moving forward as efficiently as possible. Similarly the crew needed to know that they shouldn’t take these outbursts personally – that they were part of the extreme stress and sleep deprivation that I’d be experiencing, and not a true reflection of who I was as a person. We also worked on developing coping strategies for those moments when I would struggle to find motivation. The mental challenges of RAAM are huge, and I highly recommend working with someone like Julie to help prepare – you train and prepare your body, why wouldn’t you also train and prepare your mind?

Underneath the goal of trying to compete in RAAM this year, there were also deeper more subtle threads that were tugging me back, and Julie has helped me to understand these characteristics of RAAM as well. For most people something like RAAM or ultra cycling would be considered outside of their “comfort zones”, but for me it had become my comfort zone. I’ve been living and breathing ultras since 2008 when I did my first 500 mile race, so the thought of walking away from RAAM and not having those experiences again was a very scary and depressing proposition. RAAM had gotten into my blood and become part of my identity, so while there was definitely a part of me that wanted to return to race and see if I could be competitive, there were also other needs that RAAM was filling for me.

RAAM had become a place where I could escape the emotional baggage I’d been accumulating and walls that I’d been fortifying my entire life – RAAM was where I could truly feel “alive” emotionally and feel connected to and loved and respected by others. Through experiencing and processing various RAAM experiences, I have begun to find and unlock my own humanity. Experiences growing up moulded me into a very emotionally guarded individual – someone who avoided expressing and acknowledging emotion. I had put up walls that prevented me from emotionally connecting with others, and which in fact made doing so intimidating and even terrifying. I’d also built an outward facing persona of self reliance and independence, even though underneath it all I was rife with self doubt and low self esteem. These personality traits in fact drew me to RAAM and ultra cycling – the nature of the sport at first seems to reflect those same characteristics – very isolationist being a solo sport, and requiring great determination, independence, and stalwartness. So it is ironic that it was RAAM that actually allowed me to begin to break down those walls, and allowed me to be vulnerable and begin to connect with people emotionally.

The nature of RAAM is that it strips you down to your most primal self and leaves you in a very vulnerable state where you have to rely on those around you for even the most basic things, and in the process any walls that you may have erected in your day to day life quickly get torn down. I had not received a lot of emotional nurturing or empathy growing up, so it was a very foreign yet strangely wonderful experience to be reduced to such a vulnerable state during RAAM and have people around me who I could rely on and who were nurturing and comforting me, all the while accepting me and not judging me. People whom I could trust, and to whom I could bare the depths of my soul to. This was incredibly freeing and gratifying, and was a large part of what drew me back to the race. RAAM forced me into a state of being that I guarded myself from in regular everyday life.

Sure, I love riding my bike, but I have very little interest in riding across the country on my own, or doing other self supported ultras such as PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris – a 1200km brevet). For me what made RAAM special was sharing it with my crew – getting to forge those deeper emotional connections, allowing myself to step beyond the walls that I’d spent my entire life building and fortifying, experiencing and expressing raw emotion without fear of judgment or shame, and allowing myself to be vulnerable and rely on others. In a way I was recreating my childhood via RAAM in terms of surrounding myself with people who were like family, and experiencing the nurturing and acceptance that had been somewhat lacking from my actual childhood. My RAAM crew were like a self selected family – a family who would take care of me as I regressed to the state of a child during the course of the race. RAAM has been very therapeutic for me, and while the process of self discovery has been terrifying and traumatic at times, I’m so thankful that RAAM has unlocked this opportunity to begin to work on redefining myself and stepping out from the shadows of the walls that I’ve lived behind most of my life.

So yes, the “why?” question about RAAM does not have a simple or short answer! Hopefully I’ve shed a bit of light on at least what it has meant to me though. But enough deep philosophical thoughts…..back to the race itself!

Let me introduce you to my fabulous 2015 RAAM crew since they’re the ones who made all of this possible! This year I had 13 crew members – 9 who crewed for the full duration, and 4 who swapped out part way across the country. My crew were a geographically diverse group from across the continent and around the world. They also were a mix of seasoned RAAM veterans and complete rookies. It takes a very special kind of person to crew solo RAAM, and without them I could have never achieved my goals and done so well, so my utmost respect and heartfelt thanks goes out to each and every one of them!

Crew posing in front of a John Wayne statue

Veronica Beagan from Alaska was crew chief and lead the day shift. I met Veronica during the 2014 PAC Tour Ridge of the Rockies cycling tour where she was crewing. She had crewed RAAM on 2 previous occasions, and I was extremely fortunate that she agreed to take on the difficult and stressful role of crew chief! As retired air force, and an ultra athlete herself (she’s done various ultra running events), she brought to the table a great mix of leadership and insight/understanding into racing.

Veronica

Jamaica Lambie, from California, was assistant crew chief leading the night shift in addition to being bike mechanic. Jamaica had crewed RAAM last year for a 2x team, and has wrenched for various multi day cycling events, so his experience and leadership were also greatly appreciated!

Jamaica

Sonya Weiser Souza, from Hawaii, was massage therapist and was on the night shift. Her major role was orchestrating my sleep breaks and using her magical hands on me as I slept! She crewed for me last year on RAAM, so I was incredibly fortunate and excited to have her agree to return again this year!

Sonya

Carson Grant, my youngest brother, from Alberta, Canada, was in charge of “medical” being that he’s a veterinarian – he’s not used to his patients talking back to him though! ;) He also quickly became the Cardo master on the day shift, and spent almost the entirety of his on duty time in the follow vehicle gabbing at me to help me stay awake. I was blown away and greatly impressed at how much random sh*t he knows! ;) He had crewed for me at my very first ultra, the Furnace Creek 508 in 2008, so had some experience crewing despite being a rookie to RAAM.

Carson

Mike Deitchman, my husband, was back for his 3rd RAAM crewing adventure, and as always, I’m incredibly thankful for his continued love and support! He mostly lead the errand vehicle on the day shift, but also had some stints in the follow vehicle during the last third of the race, helping me deal with a couple of my emotional breakdowns.

Mike

María Del Pilar Vázquez, who lives in Florida but is originally from Puerto Rico, joined the nightshift and became known as “Mamma Maria”. She was mostly in charge of nutrition and cleaning and reorganizing the van after “the boys from the day shift” had been in it! ;) Maria had crewed RAAM last year for a 4x team, and has raced ultras such as the 508 and PBP, so also brought experience and wisdom to the table. She’s one of the toughest, most hard working women I know!

Maria

Chai Velhal joined the day shift all the way from India. He is qualified for RAAM, having won the Deccan Cliffhanger ultra race in India last year, and is hoping to take on RAAM himself in a few years and try to become the first Indian to finish solo RAAM. He had boundless energy and was often seen sprinting along the road beside me!

Chai

Rohitash Jamwal, or “Roh” as he came to be called, is also from India, but is currently working on his PhD in Rhode Island. He too joined the day shift, and took a variety of roles between the follow and errand vehicles. Somewhere along the way he decided to start an attempt to do 3000 pushups during the course of RAAM, and had some of the others on the day shift joining him. I’m not sure how many pushups he did, but I remember seeing him do a LOT! He’s also a cyclist, and hopes to do RAW or RAAM one day.

Rohitash

Steve Browne was the final member of the day shift. He’s been a friend of Carson’s for many years, and is also from Alberta, Canada. Steve, although a fairly quiet guy, quickly showed his witty humor, great work ethic, and knowledge of the lyrics of far too many country songs on my playlist! ;) In particular I remember him, Carson, and Mike loudly singing “Beer for my horses” over the PA somewhere in eastern Ohio as we approached West Virginia! I also found out after the race that Steve was our “bridge” to the locals, especially in places like Appalachia. He had a camouflage ball cap that he wore, and the locals felt comfortable approaching him and asking what was going on, so thank you Steve for garnering us safe passage through the back roads of America! :)

Steve

Joining us from the start until Durango, CO on the night shift was Melissa Rosen, from Virginia. Although I didn’t get to know Melissa as well as the others since she was with us for the shortest period of time, I know that she was a hard worker, and I appreciated that she gave up her time to join our band of misfits and support me!

Melissa

Replacing Melissa in Durango was Lindsay King, from Ontario, Canada. Lindsay was on my 2014 RAAM crew where she was Cardo master of the night shift and talked me through many of my lowest moments of the race, so I was ecstatic to have her rejoin the crew in 2015! She picked back up with the Cardo as if a year hadn’t passed, and was up to her usual antics keeping me alert and awake during those tough night hours!

Lindsay

Joining us from the start until Wichita, Kansas on the night shift was Rob DeCou, from California. I met Rob during the 2014 RAAM Challenge Oregon race where he qualified for RAAM. Rob was a hard worker and could always be counted on. As an ultra runner, he also has some insights into what it is like to race ultras. Rob has signed up for solo RAAM in 2016, so I wish him all the best with his own RAAM journey!

Rob

Rounding out the crew and replacing Rob in Wichita was Jim Kern from California. Jim is an accomplished ultra athlete himself having completed races such as the Furnace Creek 508 and the Badwater Ultramarathon. He’s also raced RAAM on a relay in the past, so his experience was a great asset to the crew. If you ever run into Jim, ask him about the “ditch weed” in Kansas! ;)

Maria and Jim

While not a physical member of the crew, one other person needs to be called out as having been an extremely important member of the team, and that is Sandy Earl. She was heavily involved in preparing the crew prior to the race by participating in email discussions and providing race scenarios for crew to think about and work through. She was also an available remote resource during the race whom crew could call upon if they had questions, etc. Sandy’s input and assistance were greatly appreciated, and were a huge contributing factor as to why my crew were so prepared and executed so well, so thank you Sandy!

Sandy

Another individual who was involved remotely was Lane Parker. He manned my Facebook athlete page during the race and provided updates to everyone following the race. A big thanks to Lane!

Lane

Charlie was the final addition to the crew – he was an inflatable purple unicorn that Sonya brought from Hawaii, and he made for a great entertaining prop along the route!

Charlie

Charlie and Carson

I was incredibly fortunate that each and every one of these individuals gave their time and energy to help me finish RAAM a third time – they were all incredibly hard working, and their selflessness, dedication, sense of humor, teamwork, patience, and tolerance were greatly appreciated! RAAM isn’t possible without a stellar crew, and I had about as stellar of a crew as one could ever hope for!

Group shot at the start

As with each of my RAAMs, I decided to associate my racing efforts with a charity. RAAM is a very expensive endeavor, but I’ve never been comfortable asking individuals to give me money – that feels selfish to me since this is a personal goal and endeavor. So instead I’ve asked that first they consider donating to a charity. In each of the years that I’ve fundraised, 100% of the benefits have gone to the charity, none to me, and thanks to the generosity of others I’ve raised over $25,000 for charity. Each year I let donors choose a time station to “sponsor”, so throughout this report I will recognize the donors for each time station. This year, as like last year, I partnered with the Canary Foundation which does research into early cancer detection.

As everything came together in Oceanside, CA for the start of the race, I felt all kinds of emotions – anxiety, fear, trepidation, excitement, anticipation, nervousness, etc. But mostly I was just happy to get underway and put all of the countless hours that had gone into planning and training behind me. Logistics and leadership had been handed over to the extremely capable hands of my crew, and now I just had to focus on one thing – riding my bike as quickly and efficiently as possible to the other side of the country.

The first 8 miles of the race are a parade zone on a bike path where riders are escorted by a local rider, are required to stay below a certain speed, and are required to maintain their start order (i.e. no passing is allowed). Riders start in reverse numerical order one minute apart, so rookies go first, and then veterans with lower numbers go last (the race number that you’re assigned for RAAM then becomes yours for life, so I’ve been #441 for each of my RAAMs, and no one else will ever have that number). This put me smack dab in the middle of the women’s field – after Isabelle and Shu, and before Kathy and Seana.

With Mike just prior to the start

With Shu just before the start

At the start line

And we're off!

Despite trying to follow the speed rules, I soon had riders immediately behind me. What was really a distraction for me though was the fact that apparently I had done far too good a job of hydrating that morning, and I found myself desperately having to go to the bathroom only a few miles into the race! I knew there weren’t really going to be any good places to stop on the side of the road for quite some time, and I couldn’t stop on the bike path due to having to maintain start order, so I decided to stop at the little park where we exited the bike path. This meant having to go off course a little bit and wait for a pedestrian signal to cross the street, but riding with a full bladder this early in the race was not appealing, so I decided to bite the bullet and stop. This dropped me into last place, but that would have happened anyway since I wasn’t trying to go out super hard, and was trying to moderate my pace. I’d planned to go out stronger than in past years, but still had a power range that I was trying to stick to.

After my nature stop at the park, I rejoined the course. One by one the male riders who’d started after the women began to catch up to and pass me. I’d expected this, so it didn’t bother me – I just stuck to my game plan and continued to try and ride at a steady power output. It became frustrating a few times on the flatter sections though where I caught up to riders who had just passed me on the hills. It wasn’t like I was trying to chase them or anything – I was just trying to ride at constant power whereas clearly they weren’t. What did surprise me though were 2 things – first, that Christophe Strasser didn’t pass me until the base of the climb up Palomar and that he said hello as he passed (last year he blew by me much earlier without so much as an acknowledgement), and second, that I actually passed a couple of riders on the climb up Palomar! It was already pretty hot (about 90degF), and I was pushing a bit harder than last year, but I was still well within my game plan, so I felt pretty good about this!

Somewhere along the way I must have passed Kathy, but I didn’t see her, so I’m not sure where she was when I passed her (presumably she was stopped on the side of the road for something). Then just before the first time station, I caught up to and passed Shu – this was another surprise as I hadn’t passed her until after Borrego Springs last year. This moved me back into 3rd place, and was to be the last time I would actually see any of the solo women racers (I would eventually pass Seana, but when she was stopped) – so just over 11 days of racing without ever seeing your competitors – kinda crazy!

Receiving a water bottle handoff from Carson

Canary Foundation Donors: Lake Henshaw, CA: Minel Diaz

Descending the glass elevator to Borrego Springs is always a bit nerve wracking for me. It can be quite gusty, making navigating the hairpin turns a bit scary since you don’t always know what will greet you as you make the turns windwise, and I’ve experienced some pummeling gusts going in and out of turns in the past. There have also been some crashes on the descent during RAAM/RAW, and I certainly didn’t want to be overly aggressive and jeopardize the entire race for a few seconds of saved time on the descent. I was pleasantly surprised though that windwise it was actually about the most favorable conditions under which I had ever descended the glass elevator! It also surprised me that I passed several riders on the descent – the most surprising perhaps was Chris O’Keefe, who was racing RAW this year (he raced RAAM in 2014 but unfortunately DNFd – he’ll be returning to RAAM in 2016). Chris is a very strong rider, much faster than me, so I was surprised to be passing him so early in the race, especially given that he’d had quite a large head start (the RAW riders started at least a half hour before the RAAM riders). I later found out that he was racing with an injury, but he persevered and finished RAW.

California Desert

After descending to Borrego Springs the trek across the California desert began. The wind conditions were quite favorable, so I was able to zip along at a steady clip. It wasn’t very long until I started passing more of the RAW riders. I passed Karen Armstrong shortly after Borrego Springs – I’ve raced against her at Race Across Oregon in 2009 and 2010 and had never seen her after the start of a race, so it was another surprise to be passing her at all let alone this early in the race! I also went back and forth a few times with Carol Pope, a teammate of mine on the Panache Endurance Elite Team.

Chai running alongside Joan at dusk in the California desert

The trip through the desert continued mostly uneventful, although what was a bit unusual was that the heat didn’t seem to dissipate as much as it usually does as the sun set – the temperature continued to be above 80degF for much of the night. I think the heat started to catch up with me and I started to feel a bit nauseated, and I also struggled with sleepiness more than I expected to at this point in the race. Both of these developments were concerning and frustrating given how early it was in the race. Eventually the sun began to rise which helped with the sleepiness, but it was the beginning of a brutally hot day.

Riding toward the Arizona border at sunrise

Heading into Arizona on day 2

Canary Foundation Donors: Brawley, CA: Scott Bolter
Canary Foundation Donors: Blythe, CA: Jeff Radick, Kelly Cochran

Typically the temps in the Arizona desert are above 100degF, but this year temps were 5-10deg hotter than I’d experienced in past years, reaching temps in the 115-120degF range – a truly hellish temperature! Not too long after Parker in the early morning hours the temps hit triple digits, and continued to rise from there. By the time I reached Salome my Garmin was reading about 110degF, and it stayed above that temp for quite some time. I did a pretty good job of staying on top of my hydration though, consuming over 50oz of water and Skratch per hour, and going through countless ice socks (tube socks filled with ice that I wrapped around my neck to try and combat the heat). Many riders stopped and took breaks due to the heat, but my strategy was to keep going and push on to the higher elevation where temperatures would drop a bit – staying low the temps were just going to be even worse, so I might as well get through it as quickly as possible. It was my 2011 RAW crew chief, Sandy Earl, who had imparted on me this piece of wisdom when all I’d wanted to do during RAW was to stop and take a break from the heat, but she insisted that moving forward was the best strategy. That’s been my strategy in all 3 RAAMs, and it has served me well.

Riding the TT bike in the Arizona heat

Riding through the Arizona desert

Desert Landscape

Arizona Cactus

Arizona Cacti

Receiving an ice sock handoff from Chai

Chai Chasing me in the Arizona Desert

Canary Foundation Donors: Parker, AZ: Jeff and Lisa Faillers
Canary Foundation Donors: Salome, AZ: Michelle West and Josh Talley

Not too long before Aguila and the turnoff towards Congress we encountered a brush fire on the side of the road. Apparently it may have been caused by another racer’s crew vehicle being stopped along the side of the road, and initially there was a lone highway patrol officer fighting the fire with a single fire extinguisher. Just before I got there reinforcements had arrived but the road was closed while the firefighters worked to put out the fire. This gave me an opportunity to get out of the heat and into the van for a quick nap, but it was also frustrating since I knew that the 2 women in front of me were able to continue unaffected by this delay, and that the 2 women behind me would be rapidly closing in. I had no plan to take a break this early in the race, so being forced to stop when I really just wanted to keep pushing on was frustrating. I’d presumed that there would at least be a time credit granted by race headquarters since it was a delay imposed on us by law enforcement, but alas no time credit was given for the 40min that we were stopped…..

Lone Highway Patrolman Fighting the Fire

Approaching the brush fire

Napping while stopped for the brush fire

After being allowed to proceed past the brush fire when they reopened the road, I continued on to Congress, the oasis time station in the desert run by the Bullshifters bike club from Phoenix. I arrived in Congress about 1hr 10min slower than 2014, and while 40min of that was due to the forced stoppage for the brush fire, the heat had clearly taken a toll on me. I was eager to stop for a quick dip in the pool that they have set up at the time station before tackling the climb up Yarnell Grade. Leaving Congress the temp was about 97degF, but it felt downright cool compared to the temps from a few hours earlier. I distinctly remember being amused by the fact that 97degF had never felt so cool before, and that I was so happy that it was “only” 97degF!

Canary Foundation Donors: Congress, AZ: Russ and Sheila Stevens

Base of Yarnell Grade just outside of Congress

Base of Yarnell Grade

Climbing Yarnell Grade

Climbing Yarnell Grade with an ice sock

Shortly after Yarnell my crew had an interesting encounter with a local. They were pulled over on the side of the road when a vehicle coming from the other direction did a u turn to come and talk to them. Rather than chew them out or anything, the woman blessed them and gave them a bible of all things! I continued on through Skull Valley – a town with a welcome sign that always cracks me up since it says “Skull Valley – Watch for Children”, which sounds horribly sinister to me! Then it was the long relentless climb towards Prescott. The stage from Congress to Prescott has the most feet of elevation gain per mile of any stage west of the Mississippi I believe, so it isn’t an easy stage.

Sinister Welcome Sign

Dusk climbing towards Prescott, AZ

Sunset before Prescott, Arizona

Arizona Sunset

Mike sporting some Canadian shorts!

Canary Foundation Donors: Prescott, AZ: Yvonne Linton
Canary Foundation Donors: Cottonwood, AZ: Jerry Hitchcock and Silvana Torik

We decided to push on to just past Cottonwood, AZ for my first sleep break. I passed through Cottonwood just over an hour and a half slower than last year – a bit disheartening, but still well within our targeted range for our goal time of 11.5 days. At this point I’d been racing for just shy of 500 miles, which had taken me just over 36hrs. After a quick rinse off and meal I was able to close my eyes for about 90min of sleep.

Back on the road again, my stomach continued to be a bit bothersome, and I had to move away from my planned main nutrition of a liquid diet of maltodextrin mix. This was frustrating since I had used it without problems in all of my training, including my 5 back to back days of 12 hour rides a couple of weeks earlier. I had gone into the race knowing I wouldn’t do only liquid nutrition, but I had wanted to try and do a larger portion of liquid and just supplement with real food. I think the combination of the extreme heat as well as trying to use it continuously (as opposed to having 10hrs between uses in my training camp) was what doomed the plan to failure. But that’s RAAM – you can have the best plans in the world, but at some point things will change and you’ll have to improvise and come up with a new plan.

Climbing Oak Creek Canyon Towards Flagstaff

Nearing the top of Oak Creek Canyon

I passed through Sedona in the early morning light, and then proceeded up the climb towards Flagstaff. As I entered Flagstaff I was joined by PJ Lingley, another teammate on the Panache Elite Endurance Team. PJ is a firefighter who lives in the area and who attempted RAAM last year making it over 2200 miles before an injury forced him to withdraw. It was great to have a bit of company on the road and get escorted through Flagstaff by another cyclist. I hope to see PJ return to RAAM in the coming years and get that well deserved finish!

Canary Foundation Donors: Flagstaff, AZ: Sean and Valerie Munday

Leaving Flagstaff I entered a section of the course that I perhaps dreaded the most. The road between Flagstaff and Tuba City is a major highway with heavy traffic moving at high speeds, including a lot of big rigs. The shoulder also comes and goes, and there are pretty nasty rumble strips along large sections of the road. Add to that the fact that the wind can be a pretty strong cross wind, and it makes for a bit of a scary passage, not to mention that it is also typically very hot. This year the winds were mostly favorable though, and I was even comfortable enough to switch to my TT bike (last year I’d switched to the TT bike just outside of Flagstaff after the last little climb, but had been being buffeted around by the wind and passing traffic and had been terrified, so had switched back to my road bike in short order). The temps continued to rise though, and soon enough we were back to triple digit heat after we passed through Tuba City, with my Garmin topping out at 106degF.

Canary Foundation Donors: Tuba City, AZ: Natasha Lee

Chai running alongside me between Flagstaff and Tuba City

On the road between Flagstaff and Tuba City

Steve, Chai, and "Charlie" the inflatable unicorn providing roadside entertainment outside of Tuba City, AZ

The section after Tuba City was a struggle – the heat was sapping my energy and my spirit, and I was feeling somewhat demoralized about not being ahead of my pace from last year – I was actually through Tuba City an hour earlier, but last year the course had been 16 miles longer due to a reroute before Flagstaff (we had bypassed Oak Creek Canyon due to construction), so my average speed was the same. In all reality I was doing fine given that the conditions had been tougher, but I still felt disappointed in my performance, especially given that I was over 4.5hrs behind the leaders, Isabelle and Seana. I was also disappointed as it became clear that I would yet again pass through Monument Valley in the dark. Ever since I’d done RAW and passed through Monument Valley just after sunset I’d been hoping to try and get through in the daylight so that I could see one of the most beautiful sections of the course, but each RAAM I ended up going through in the dark.

Adding to my frustration, just before Kayenta I got my first flat tire, but the crew was quick to change it out and I was soon back on the road. As I headed towards Monument Valley the last dusk light drained from the sky, and the brilliance of the night sky appeared. Carson was on the Cardo talking to me, and I got some astronomy lessons. I also got treated to some KFC that I’d requested be picked up back in Tuba City. Yes, KFC tastes really, really, really good when you’ve been on your bike riding through the heat for several days! Sonic burgers are also really good I discovered this year, and they soon became a fairly common meal also.

Canary Foundation Donors: Kayenta, AZ: Michael and Tina Svihura
Canary Foundation Donors: Mexican Hat, UT: Justin Burstein

Heading towards Monument Valley after sunset

We made it to Bluff, Utah for my next 90min sleep break. When I hit the road again I was still feeling pretty low, and the sleepiness wasn’t helping. I was ready to leave the desert behind me, and should have been looking forward to Colorado, but soon my mind started to try and self sabotage. In every RAAM I’ve done, the section between Bluff and Cortez has been a struggle for one reason or another, and this year was no different. It was along this section that I started having serious thoughts of quitting. I was a bit caught off guard by these thoughts, because in all reality things were actually going pretty well – nothing physically was bothering me severely, but rather the cumulative effects of riding for 3 days were starting to pull on my psyche. My butt was starting to bother me a bit, and the fatigue and sleepiness were also setting in. The fact that I was back in 3rd place and continuing to lose ground to Isabelle and Seana made my goal of competing seem like it had already failed, so my mind started to try and pull the escape cord.

The mind’s job is to protect the body, so it kicks in and tries to find ways to stop the suffering – it is a kind of defense mechanism, and something like RAAM can turbo charge this response. My thought process was something along the lines of I knew what lay ahead, and thus I knew that things were just going to get worse from here on out, so why bother? I’d already finished RAAM twice before, so I had nothing to prove to myself or to anyone else. I felt that I wasn’t in a position to try and win, which had been a large goal coming in, and I didn’t know if I wanted to put myself through all the pain and suffering again just to achieve another finish. In fact I started to justify my thoughts by rationalizing that by DNFing I would actually be proving more than by continuing – by DNFing I’d be showing RAAM that I was the boss, the one in control, and that RAAM didn’t own me and couldn’t control me! I started believing that perhaps quitting was what I needed to do in order to “cure myself” of the RAAM disease. But at the same time I recognized that I was not in a normal mental state, and that I shouldn’t make a rash decision. As these thoughts were rushing through my head we came on a stretch of road construction that meant riding on a gravel road for many miles, and this just seemed to further add insult to injury!

Canary Foundation Donors: Montezuma Creek, UT: Thierry Masciarelli
Canary Foundation Donors: Cortez, CO: Dennis Feick

Riding between Montezuma Creek, Utah and Cortez, CO

Heading towards Colorado from Utah

Tarantula Wasp that Jamaica found being posed with the lego man

As we came into Cortez I got on the Cardo and told the crew that I needed to stop there for a bit to regroup, and that I wanted to talk to Sonya alone. I knew that I would be able to confide in her and share what was going through my head, and that she would provide a good sounding board and understand what I was talking about since she had gone through RAAM with me last year. I tried to assure her that I wasn’t going to quit right there and then, but explained all the thoughts that were rushing through my head. She did a great job of playing devil’s advocate, and it just helped to be able to talk to someone about it. Her and the rest of the night shift worked hard to try and refocus me and help me to refind my motivation, as did the day shift when they came on duty a few hours later.

As in each of my RAAMs, one of the big motivators that I was able to turn to was the notion of not letting down my crew – many of them had not had the opportunity to crew RAAM and experience the sense of accomplishment of helping someone achieve something so extraordinary, and I didn’t want to let them down. While my brain was still yelling “red alert” and trying to get me to stop, I knew that I had to put off any final decision until at least the next day – hopefully by then the thoughts would have passed, and this moment of weakness would be nothing but a blip in the rearview mirror.

The crew were obviously legitimately concerned about my mental state though, and they called and let Julie know what was going on so that she too could help me, and so later that night I chatted with her on the phone as I climbed Wolf Creek Pass. She helped remind me to “be here now”, and to not dwell on the past or on the future. We weren’t even a third of the way through the race, and a lot could still happen. I needed to focus on my race and what I was doing now, and not worry about the others or jump to conclusions about what the outcome was going to be. Having crew who were so focused on the goals, and outside resources such as Julie who could be called on to help when I was struggling mentally really made a huge difference in my race this year!

When the day shift had come on duty I shared the fact that my butt was starting to bother me a bit – which was feeding into my desire to quit because I’d “been there, done that” with regard to painful butt issues having ridden half of the race last year with what turned out to be a pressure ulcer. We decided to have Carson take a look and provide his medical opinion when we stopped in Durango. Nothing like having your little brother inspecting your butt, but there’s no room for modesty on RAAM!

This was a pivotal moment of the race, as he was able to recommend a strategy that would ultimately lead to the least amount of butt pain that I’d had during any of my RAAMs! He had us move away from the thicker chamois cream that I’d been using and move back to the lighter, more water soluble one. This would mean having to stop and reapply much more frequently, and also change shorts more frequently, but in the end it really worked! In my training I use a thick chamois cream (Morgan Blue Solid Chamois Cream) because it has staying power and I don’t have to stop and reapply very frequently, but the result is that the skin doesn’t get to breathe as much, and while this is ok for a day or two of continuous use, or back to back days where you have a good chunk of time in between training blocks where the skin gets to breathe (such as was the case during my training camps), it wasn’t working after 3 days of continuous riding in the extreme heat and I had the beginnings of dermatitis. The crew agreed that they could handle doing laundry every day if necessary so that I could change shorts as frequently as every couple of hours if necessary, and so began “Laundromat Across America” for the errand vehicle! I’m so thankful for Carson’s input on this, and hope that he isn’t scarred for life having had to inspect his sister’s butt!

One of many laundromats visited by the crew - looks like Rohitash almost picked up a new crew member at this one!

As I approached Durango at least the scenery improved, but the temps yet again hit triple digits despite being at almost 8,000ft elevation. This was definitely the hottest sustained conditions that I’d faced on RAAM or RAW, and it continued to sap my energy. Climbing out of Durango my Garmin read a sustained 106degF – wtf!!

Canary Foundation Donors: Durango, CO: Don King, Peter and Carolyn Lehman

We continued on towards Pagosa Springs and then up and over Wolf Creek Pass in the dark. Wolf Creek Pass is where we crossed the Continental Divide, and the elevation at the summit is about 10,600ft. In Durango Melissa had departed and Lindsay had joined the crew, so when the night shift came back on duty I was happy to hear an all too familiar voice on the Cardo! Just in time too, because I was about to have my first mental “check out” of the race. Last year Lindsay had helped me to stay awake on the descent off of Wolf Creek Pass by prompting me and the crew to sing Do-Re-Mi and Oh Canada. This year not only was I sleepy descending the pass, but I also had a mental disconnect. I remember starting the descent while talking to her, and then I don’t remember anything for a while. Then I remember “coming to” mid sentence while blabbing about something over the Cardo to Lindsay, but not sure exactly what I was talking about or how much time had passed. It’s a pretty disconcerting feeling when something like this happens! But Lindsay is a pro, and she got me through it. My eyes were also playing tricks on me during this stretch, as I would look at the cliffs and think I saw statues carved into them – my own personally imagined Mount Rushmore so to speak! We eventually made it to South Fork where I took my next sleep break – another 90min sleep.

Canary Foundation Donors: Pagosa Springs, CO: In memory of Hamish Grant
Canary Foundation Donors: South Fork, CO: Kerin Huber, Charles Gray

Summit of Wolf Creek Pass

Heading out of South Fork I started on the TT bike since there was a fairly flat and fast section through Alamosa and to the base of La Veta Pass. Luckily my crew were very disciplined and I didn’t lose any of them to the “Rails & Ales” festival that was going on in Alamosa! ;) I believe it was somewhere along this section that I came upon Franz Preihs with a flat tire on the side of the road. I’d gone back and forth with Franz a few times during the race, and was surprised to be anywhere near him given that he’s an experienced and talented RAAM rider. Neither of us had tools for changing his flat, but my crew quickly caught up to us and were able to start helping him (I think his crew arrived shortly thereafter as well).

Canary Foundation Donors: Alamosa, CO: Pam Goodley, Francien and Tijn Dechesne

Riding towards Alamosa from South Fork

Cowboy Cross

Things were going fine for me at first on the TT bike, but soon I started to notice that I was struggling to hold my head up. Uh-oh – was I finally about to fall victim to the dreaded Shermer’s Neck??? This is an affliction that happens when the neck muscles become so fatigued that they lose the ability to hold one’s head up. Every year you see pictures of riders who suffer from this, and the various contraptions that their crews construct to try and hold their heads up so that they can keep riding. I wasn’t in this extreme state yet, but alarm bells were going off in my head. I’d never had issues with my neck in my past RAAMs, but I had sustained a whiplash injury 8 months earlier when I’d been hit head on by a pickup truck while riding my bike. Back when I sustained the injury I had certainly worried about whether there would be any long term effects and whether it would make me more prone to Shermer’s Neck – well I guess I finally had my answer unfortunately!

I continued to ride with my head hanging low, just looking up every now and then to try and make sure there weren’t any big obstacles coming up in my path. Murphy’s Law though, shortly after this began a RAAM media car appeared and was driving next to me asking questions and taking pictures. I didn’t want it to get out that I had neck issues, so I did my best to keep my head up and act as if everything was normal, but boy oh boy was I happy when they finally continued on their way and I could resume the ragdoll position! Maria informed me shortly thereafter that I was closing in on Seana, and that she was only about 3 miles in front of me, but my mind was too focused on my neck and the potential ramifications to hone in on this fact and properly process it.

In Fort Garland we stopped and I switched back to my road bike and Sonya worked on my neck and shoulders for several minutes to try and help with the Shermer’s Neck. Being back on the road bike helped, and soon I was climbing La Veta Pass. Last year this pass had flown by as I’d had a killer tail wind – this year it was much calmer, so I had to work harder to get up the pass. My spirits were already low due to the neck issues, but then the temps started to soar yet again… Temps climbed from 90degF in Fort Garland at 7900ft elevation to a sustained 104degF at 8900ft elevation just before the summit of La Veta Pass. What happened to the theory that things would get cooler in Colorado at the higher altitudes – geesh!!!!

Heading towards the base of La Veta Pass

Climbing La Veta Pass

Bottle handoff at the base of La Veta Pass

La Veta Summit

At the summit of La Veta pass we stopped for my first 20min nap of the race. Then it was onwards towards the town of La Veta. Temps remained in the upper 90s through La Veta and again reached 100degF as I began the climb up Cuchara Pass. Finally when we got back up to about 8000ft the temps dropped into the upper 80s, and then eventually into the 70s for the remainder of the climb. This is a beautiful part of the course, but it was hard to appreciate the beauty given that I felt like I’d been being slow cooked for the past 4 days!

Canary Foundation Donors: La Veta, CO: Alan Bell

Charlie and crew stand guard at my nap on La Veta Pass

A typical bathroom stop, this one on Cuchara Pass

Chai dons the grass skirt and coconut bra on Cuchara Pass!

Mike posing on a National Forest Service sign

Chai blows bubbles to entertain me

Riding between La Veta and Cuchara Passes

Approaching La Veta

Heading towards La Veta

Scenery at the base of Cuchara Pass

Climbing Cuchara Pass

Climbing Cuchara Pass

Roadside signs

Lake just after Cuchara Pass Summit

Stream on Cuchara Pass

Stream on Cuchara Pass

Cuchara pass, which tops out just shy of 10,000ft elevation was the last of the big Colorado passes, and then it was a fast descent into Trinidad and then the long, gradual downhill towards and through the plains of Kansas. Shortly after dark I found myself once again dozing off, so I had to stop and take another nap between Trinidad and Kim, Colorado. This was my second nap of the day, so it was decided that starting that night we would double my sleep break from 90min to 3hrs (2 REM cycles). We eventually got to Kim, Colorado where I took that sleep break in the church nursery, the same place where I had slept the previous year. The highlight in Kim despite what you might think was NOT the vast array of gigantic and plentiful bug life in the church! Rather it was a small grey kitten that tried to adopt my crew! She was a real sweetie!

Canary Foundation Donors: Trinidad, CO: Rachel Grossman
Canary Foundation Donors: Kim, CO: Dan Sauers and Anna Luo

Kitty in Kim, Colorado

I was a couple of minutes ahead of my time from last year when I arrived in Kim, but the course was shorter so my average speed was actually still a bit lower than a year earlier. I had however closed the gap quite a bit to 2nd place, and was less than 2hrs behind Seana at this point. Isabelle was still well out in front though, almost 8hrs ahead. Of course taking the longer sleep break quickly dropped me further behind again and allowed other riders to catch up to me. When I started up again Jose Bermudez was just in front of me, and Shu was only 7 miles behind me. The extra sleep had helped though, and I was able to ride decently that morning and quickly pass Jose and put additional distance between myself and Shu, bringing the gap back up to 3hrs by the time I reached Ulysses, Kansas. Seana had gained quite a bit on me though, and was once again over 5hrs in front of me at this point.

Canary Foundation Donors: Walsh, CO: Tom Davis
Canary Foundation Donors: Ulysses, KS: Tamarise Cronin

Roadside Umbrella Ballet in Eastern Colorado or Western Kansas

Kansas Graineries

Riding the TT Bike Past the Fields of Kansas

Kansas morning direct follow

Kansas Grainery

Chai hanging out the follow vehicle in Kansas

To help me stay awake Lindsay started a drawing game where she would draw things based on what I told her. She would ask what kind of eyes, what kind of mouth, etc., and I would respond. One of the creations was “Hal”, who was noticeably Kansas themed and heavily influenced by the massive grain elevators and irrigation systems that we were passing in eastern Colorado and western Kansas!

Art inspired by my answers to questions

Hal!

The slow cooker trend continued as the temps once again reached and hovered around 100degF for much of the day. The wind started as a tail wind, but in typical Kansas fashion it soon turned into a fairly strong cross wind. I was able to stay on the TT bike for most of the day, but late in the evening I switched back to the road bike as the winds became gustier and stronger in the early evening hours. In the evening I was surprised by a call from friend Sheila Stevens – I believe she was in Iowa visiting family, and had called expecting to get one of my crew, so she was quite surprised when I answered the phone. It was nice to chat with her as I approached Pratt, Kansas. We made it past Pratt to Kingman that night for my sleep break, unknowingly passing Seana in Pratt where she was stopped. I had also managed to finally start improving on my time from last year – by Pratt I was over 3hrs ahead of my 2014 pace. Finally things were starting to look up a bit!

Canary Foundation Donors: Montezuma, KS: Ingrid Hillhouse
Canary Foundation Donors: Greensburg, KS: Katie Grant
Canary Foundation Donors: Pratt, KS: Johnna Andrews

Kansas Sunset

Kansas sunset

Sunset in Kansas

I started out the next day on the TT bike, but it quickly became apparent that this was not going to work. My neck had become much worse again, and I was struggling to hold my head up. I resorted to propping my left elbow on my aerobar armrest and cupping my chin in my left hand to hold my head up, but riding one-handed as the winds started to pick up again was not going to be a good idea. We decided to move my Hed trispoke wheels to my road bike and get me off the TT bike. The more upright position on the road bike was much better for my neck, and so I said goodbye to the TT bike for the remainder of the race.

These early morning hours in Kansas also yielded sightings of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz! Lindsay had brought along a Dorothy outfit, and was out on the side of the road cheering for me in it!

Jim and Lindsay (aka Dorothy) in Kansas

Dorothy!

Riding into the sunrise in Kansas between Kingman and Maize

I’d been surprised when I’d been informed that I was in front of Seana at this point, and it did give me some extra motivation to try and ride harder. Through Maize I had about a 1hr 15min lead on her, and through El Dorado I had extended the gap to about an hour and a half. Throughout the day I kept asking my crew where Seana and the other riders were. Isabelle was over 13hrs in front of me though, so it seemed like the race was for 2nd place at this point.

Canary Foundation Donors: Maize, KS: Ed Parish

Maize is where Rob departed and Jim joined the crew. Maize was also the location of one of those funny moments that sticks with you. I was in a gas station bathroom with Sonya and Maria when the door started to open. Without even blinking, Maria, who was standing with her back to the door, drop kicked the door with lightening speed! Poor Lindsay who’d been on the other side of the door was nearly knocked into next week! We all got a good laugh about it though – joking about how you didn’t want to mess with “Mamma Maria”! It also set the tone for some fun discussions while on the road to El Dorado. Maria, Sonya, and Lindsay were in the follow vehicle, and we began the task of trying to assign all of the crew a spirit animal. We’d done something similar last year, so this was a fun and distracting exercise. The spirit animals that we came up with were:

Chai – Kangaroo
Rohitash – Llama
Carson – Orangutang
Mike – Slow Loris
Veronica – Matriarch Elephant
Steve – Bear
Jamaica – Honey Badger
Maria – Goose
Sonya – Quokka
Lindsay – Wombat
Jim – Lemur
Rob – Clydesdale Horse

It was also near El Dorado that we saw a school being demolished by a wrecking ball – quite the ominous sight! The stretch from El Dorado to Yates Center was where the cross wind last year had been so strong that I had had trouble maintaining control of the bike, and had nearly been blown across the yellow line several times. This year the wind was similar in strength (perhaps not quite as strong, but still a force to be reckoned with), but was less of a direct cross wind, and instead actually had a partial tail wind component. This made for a much easier and faster ride to Yates Center than last year, and also yielded some laughs with the “flying squirrel” pose. I basically tried to extend my arms and knees as wide as possible in order to try and catch the wind and have it push me forward.

Canary Foundation Donors: El Dorado, KS: Barbara MacRae
Canary Foundation Donors: Yates Center, KS: Sue Kelso

Passing through El Dorado, photo courtesy of Jill Marks

School demolition near El Dorado, Kansas

Grasslands of Kansas

Flying Squirrel Pose!

Kansas Grasslands

The temps continued to be in the mid to upper 90s, but the wind at least helped to make it feel a bit cooler. Out of Yates Center there was a couple mile detour on gravel roads due to road construction. This was somewhat miserable since this also corresponded with the hottest part of the day when temps rose to a high of 99degF. This was the first day of the race that the temperature hadn’t reached triple digits, and it was only shy by 1degF! So we’d essentially just been through 6 consecutive days of triple digit heat – no wonder I felt cooked!

Gravel detour in Kansas

This second day in Kansas also highlighted the issues that had been developing in my mouth starting 2 days earlier in Colorado. In each RAAM that I’ve done, my mouth has gotten into a state where it is extra sensitive and my sense of taste gets completely out of whack. Plain water tastes disgusting, and it often tastes like there is salt or something nasty permeating out of the pores in my mouth. I’ve discovered that using Biotene mouth spray helps, as does chewing gum, but this year it severely impacted my ability to take in electrolytes. I’d been using Skratch for the first third of the race, and it had been working wonderfully. I’d gone through so much of it that when we’d gotten to Durango I had advised the crew to check our supply and possibly try to stock up since we might not find it further east and I didn’t want to run out. So the crew cleaned out a Durango store’s supply to fortify our stock. Of course wouldn’t you know it, the next day Skratch started to taste nasty, and I could no longer drink it! We were able to switch to using Nuun tablets for a while, and trying to “hide” them by dissolving them in Sprite and other sodas (since soda was the one thing that tasted good to me), but by the 2nd day in Kansas I was really having trouble taking in any kind of electrolyte. I suggested getting some Gatorade to see if that was tolerable, but even it wasn’t agreeable to my taste buds. I knew that I needed to get electrolytes in, but they all just tasted so disgusting that I was really having a hard time trying to force myself to drink them, so an ongoing struggle to get electrolytes into me began.

Canary Foundation Donors: Fort Scott, KS: Dawn and Marty Chuck
Canary Foundation Donors: Weaubleau, MO: Brian Feinberg

In the early evening hours we reached the Kansas/Missouri border and said goodbye to Kansas for good – yay! The western part of Missouri is actually quite scenic – there are gentle rollers through picturesque farmland that remind me a lot of the area that I grew up in in Alberta, Canada. My spirits rose, especially knowing that I would soon get to see Lauryn. I met Lauryn at the Camdenton time station in 2012 when she was 11 years old, and I’d stayed in touch with her ever since. Last year she’d joined my crew between Camdenton and Jefferson City, and we had plans to get her in the follow vehicle again this year. By this point I was quite a bit ahead of my pace from last year, passing through the first Missouri time station about 13 hours faster (so I had made up about 10hrs in the second half of Kansas thanks largely due to the more favorable winds!!). Veronica and Mike coordinated with Lauryn’s mom Kim to bring Lauryn into the follow vehicle for the section prior to my sleep break which was planned for Hermitage. It was great to have a chance to talk to her for an hour or two, and to have watched her growing up to be a fine young woman over the past several years!

Night riding in Missouri

Lauryn got to witness some of the chaos of RAAM first hand though when we discovered that the hotel we were planning for me to take my sleep break in was several miles off the course. There weren’t any other options closeby, so I was loaded into the follow van and shuttled to the hotel for my sleep break. Also complicating the situation was the fact that the night shift had taken a wrong turn when they got on the road in Fort Scott, KS after their sleep break, and had been heading back into Kansas rather than into Missouri! They finally realized something was amiss when they continued to see “Keep Kansas Clean” signs along the road and thought it was strange that Missouri was advertising to keep Kansas clean! They therefore didn’t catch up to us before we got to Hermitage, so the day shift had to begin orchestrating my sleep break.

Starting up from Hermitage I really struggled. Even though the temps were only in the 70s, the humidity was through the roof, and it felt like I was in a swimming pool! The terrain was also a relentless series of ups and downs through the Ozarks. I was almost wishing for the hotter, drier temps again rather than this, or for it to just go ahead and rain so that it wasn’t so muggy. The conditions put me in a pretty sour mood, which wasn’t made better when I got a flat tire. This was only my 2nd flat though, so I really couldn’t complain.

Roadside trash turned into art

It was also on this morning that I learned that Seana had dropped out of the race, so the women’s field was down to 4. At this point I had extended my lead over Shu to about 8 hours, but I was happy to see that she was still making good progress. Her DNF last year after crashing and breaking her collarbone had been very disappointing, and I was really rooting for her to make it this year!

Canary Foundation Donors: Camdenton, MO: Jill and Tim Marks
Canary Foundation Donors: Jefferson City, MO: Bill and Marion Lytle

The sun eventually emerged from the cloud/haze, and the humidity seemed to dissipate a little bit, but the temps stayed in the mid 80s so it was still fairly oppressive. There were some major reroutes on this section due to flooding. My aversion to electrolytes continued, and I started feeling some paranoia about some crew interactions which certainly didn’t help things. I recognized that I shouldn’t feel this way, but the feelings were pretty intense, and my extremely sleep deprived and fatigued brain had found something to lock onto and stew about. This escalated into a series of outbursts just past Washington, MO. I hated how I was acting, but I also felt helpless to control it. This was exactly the kind of scenario that Julie had worked with the crew to prepare them for, and they handled it extremely well. I tried not to dwell on it, trying to trust that no one would judge me for these outbursts that my extremely primal and regressed self was having.

Canary Foundation Donors: Washington, MO: Terri Boykins

The signs you see in Missouri...

Lewis and Clark Trail sign in Missouri

We proceeded towards the Mississippi River, skirting the edge of some storm activity. There was a stretch along here where a guy in a car kept leap frogging in front of me and stopping on the side of the road and wildly cheering for me, saying things like “Go, Baby, Go!”. There were also some other folks in houses along the route who came out and cheered me on. These displays of support were greatly appreciated and motivating!

Due to flooding, there was a major reroute across the Mississippi River, and in fact I was to be put in the follow vehicle and shuttled across. We orchestrated this so that I could sleep in the back of the follow van for the 30-40min that it would take to get to the drop off point, but what we didn’t consider was that this was a bit too long to be asleep. Sleeping much longer than 20min you go into a deeper sleep that is difficult to wake up from unless you then complete a full REM cycle. The result was that I awoke extremely groggy, and just couldn’t seem to get my brain out of the fog that it was in. I briefly got to see Paula MacMann of Chainspirations and her family on the Illinois side of the Mississippi where the shuttle segment ended, but everything was a bit of a haze. The next couple of hours to Greenville, IL were a real struggle.

Canary Foundation Donors: Mississippi River: Chainspirations (Paula MacMann)
Canary Foundation Donors: Greenville, IL: David To

I was treated to a gourmet meal when I arrived at my sleep break in Greenville though – a friend of Maria’s who lives in Missouri, Cristel Santiago, had delivered some pasta and tiramisu for me, and boy oh boy was it tasty! After a 3hr sleep I was back on the road, and as with the previous morning, I was in a pretty foul mood (just ask Jamaica what my response was to the waffle he offered me that morning just before I started!!). My neck was pretty stiff and sore, and I was struggling a bit to hold my head up again even though I was on the road bike. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, and was whining and complaining and throwing a pity party for myself basically. I knew that I was pulling the spirit of the team down, so at a stop in Effingham (nothing good ever happens in a place called “Effingham”!), I tried to apologize to my crew for being such a downer, and they were very forgiving and understanding, which was such a comfort.

Canary Foundation Donors: Effingham, IL: Lan Tran, Keith and Ellen Wolcott

Cloudy skies

Riding in Illinois near Effingham

Shortly before crossing into Indiana the day shift took over again, and Carson was in fine form. He’d now decided to impersonate a drill sergeant, and he had me in stitches with his tirades over the Cardo calling me a maggot and telling me to “pedal soldier pedal!!”. Talk about just what I needed right about then, resulting in a complete mood reversal from earlier in the morning!

Canary Foundation Donors: Sullivan, IN: Bashar Aziz

Passing through Bloomfield I saw Caleb Derouin and his mom, Tressie, out in front of their house. They decorate their lawn with signs for the RAAM racers each year, and this was the first year I’d actually seen (or at least remembered seeing) them. I don’t remember much about this section in 2012, as I was out of it mentally and have missing chunks of time, and in 2014 I remember passing the house and seeing the signs, but due to family illness Caleb and his mom had not been physically present to greet the riders. The support from people like Caleb and Tressie is one of the things that makes RAAM special – seeing how a bike race inspires everyday people to be involved and how excited they are about having the race pass by them is very humbling!

Caleb and Tressie in Indiana

Passing Caleb in Indiana

Rolling hills in Indiana

Just before I arrived at the Bloomington time station, the first relay team passed me (relay teams start 4 days after the solos). I felt pretty good that it had taken them this long to catch me, as in past years I’d been passed several states earlier. I was also feeling pretty good about the fact that I was now over 14hrs ahead of my time from last year, and still on pace for the 11.5 day finish that I was gunning for, despite the brutally hot first half of the race.

Canary Foundation Donors: Bloomington, IN: Jerry Cottingham (In memory of Brad)

Leaving Bloomington I got treated to a light show by the fireflies, one of the special sights and experiences of RAAM. My first RAAM I didn’t even notice the fireflies I was so out of it by the time I got this far east, but last year and this year I really did enjoy watching them in the fields and ditches along the side of the road – there is definitely something magical and whimsical about them dancing through the blades of grass in the evening hours.

As we approached Nashville, Indiana I wondered whether I would get to see Steve Marshall. I met Steve on the PAC Tour Ridge of the Rockies last year, and he mentioned that he lived near the course, and said that he would come out and see me if I decided to do RAAM again. Sure enough, there he was as I made the turn. It was great to see a familiar face as I went by!

We continued on through Columbus and Greensburg towards our sleep break destination in Batesville, IN. The final 30 miles or so were another struggle, as was the recurring theme during the final few hours before my sleep break. Making things worse was the fact that my mouth had gotten worse, to the point that it was so sensitive that I was having trouble finding anything that I could eat. Even yogurt and bananas felt like they were burning my mouth. Of the few things that I seemed able to continue to eat were rice pudding and tapioca pudding, but they didn’t come in containers that I could easily eat from while riding, so my crew was trying to coax me into eating other things, knowing that I needed calories.

Canary Foundation Donors: Greensburg, IN: Veronica Beagan, Maria Parker

My sleep in Batesville was anything but restful. I had vivid dreams where for some reason I thought I was being pushed along the route on my bed! I woke feverishly a couple of times completely disoriented and asked Sonya what I was supposed to be doing. I also felt like I was overheating when I slept, and would wake up feeling like I was burning up. Sonya was covering me up with blankets when I went to sleep because I was shivering, but all the inflammation and tissue damage that my body was trying to deal with was causing my body to generate a lot of heat, making me feel hot even though I was shivering, so managing my temperature was becoming a challenge. This restless sleep and feeling like I was burning up made for another “explosive” start to the day with several more expletives involved! It didn’t help that the initial part of the route this day was difficult to navigate and we made some wrong turns. I wasn’t shy about expressing how pissed off I was! This was the stress and sleep deprivation speaking though.

I noticed that the crew had put a fender on my bike that morning, and they told me that a storm was moving in and we were trying to stay out in front of it as long as possible. Sure enough, barely an hour into riding the rain started to fall, and proceeded to get worse. I stopped to put on some rain gear and go to the bathroom, and while I was stopped the skies literally just opened up and sheets of rain began to fall. We decided to stay stopped for a few minutes to see if the worst of the rain would pass. The temps were only in the 50s though, and being stopped I suddenly got really really cold. And also really really hungry, and started eating everything in sight! There were some comical maneuvers by the crew as they tried to shield me from the rain and get me bundled up for the road again – I think at one point the rain was running off an umbrella and directly down the back of Lindsay’s shirt as she tried to create a canopy for me, and she was getting an upper body workout trying to hold both umbrellas against the wind and rain and not get swept away and blown back into Kansas!

Beginning of the Indiana/Ohio downpour

A little bit wet...

Riding in the Indiana/Ohio Rain

Rainy Ohio Countryside

Sonya providing roadside entertainment mummified in toilet paper in Ohio

Roadside entertainment in wet Ohio

Lindsay and Sonya having fun with toilet paper in the rain

The rain continued to fall fairly heavily, and as we crossed into Ohio we were treated to some thunder and lightening. I asked that the crew play the song “Rain is a Good Thing” by Luke Bryan, as I figured it was a pretty fitting song for what I was riding through! We passed through Oxford and the rain continued as we headed towards Blanchester, but slowly it gave way to overcast skies. I went through another tough patch mentally. I felt like the folks who I wanted in the follow van weren’t there, but then when I found out that they’d needed some time to recharge I felt bad for having been so “demanding” of them. I tried to fix this by trying to find other sources of engagement and self motivation. I started calling folks on the phone and chatting with them as I rode. I called my brother Peter and spoke to him, then I called my friend Bob Corman back in California and spoke to him for a while. Then I spoke to my sister in law for a while, as well as my sister at some point. When we finally arrived in Blanchester and were preparing for a crew change, I still felt something wasn’t right between me and the crew from the night shift though. I didn’t know what to do, but finally I just went up to them and one by one gave everyone a hug and apologized for anything I might have said earlier. It was a very cathartic experience, and their understanding and forgiveness really made me feel a lot better about the situation. A hug is truly a powerful gesture – whether you’re the one giving or receiving!

Canary Foundation Donors: Oxford, OH: Carol Ashburner, Brook Henderson
Canary Foundation Donors: Blanchester, OH: Bob Bihler

As we headed out of Blanchester the sun finally started to come out, and with the sun and heat I started to feel extremely sleepy again. Even though it was only about 75-80degF, the sun felt really intense for some reason – I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that I’d been riding for 9 days straight! ;) We finally stopped for a nap in Leesburg before continuing on towards Chillicothe. While not unique to this stretch in particular, I noticed that there were a lot of folks out on ride on lawn mowers. Starting in Missouri my crew and I had been commenting on how many huge yards there were, and how many people we saw out on ride on lawn mowers – political billboards even showed candidates on their ride on lawn mowers! We joked about setting up a new race called “Mow Across America”!

In Chillicothe I got to say hello to Bruce Smith, who I’d first met at the time station there in 2012. He’s a long distance truck driver, and was very supportive of the race and of my fundraising for cancer charities (the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in 2012, and the Canary Foundation in 2014 and 2015). The other highlight in Chillicothe is a Tim Hortons! The Canadians all put in our orders with the errand vehicle for a little taste of home!

Canary Foundation Donors: Chillicothe, OH: Lisa Lawin

From Chillicothe it was on towards Athens, OH, the last time station before entering West Virginia. As we passed through the rolling countryside abundant with corn fields the corn took on a life of its own thanks to Carson’s running commentary! He started pointing out the corn as if it were waiting to ambush us, and saying things like “don’t be alarmed, but there’s corn to your left”, and “confirmed, we have corn”. This became a running joke for the remainder of the race, and beyond.

Corn is a dangerous thing!

Approaching Allensville, OH

More corn in eastern Ohio

Highway 50 in eastern Ohio

Ominous looking sky in eastern Ohio

Corn fields in Ohio

We passed through Athens, OH after dark, and being a college town there seemed to be a lot of seemingly drunk students out on the streets as we passed through. They were pretty funny as they cheered me on. Outside of Athens there was a road construction area that resulted in another shuttle section where I had to get into the van and get driven down the course. This was a good opportunity to eat the goodies from Tim Hortons that the crew had picked up for me back in Chillicothe – nothing like a bit of Canadian comfort food to raise your spirits! I dipped the Timbits in tapioca pudding and they were very tasty!

Canary Foundation Donors: Athens, OH: Chetan Raina

My next sleep break was to be in Parkersburg just after crossing into West Virginia, but alas there was a miscommunication and it turned out that the hotel was actually something like 20 miles past where I’d originally been told it would be. Being the witching hours immediately before my sleep break, this didn’t go over well with me when I was told the bad news…. I griped and moaned about it, and threw myself another pity party, but eventually we made it there where I was quickly shuttled to the hotel by a superhero (Chai was wearing an Ironman costume!).

Rohitash and Chai dressed as superheroes

When woken from my sleep in Parkersburg I was informed that I’d been given a shorter sleep break because we wanted to get on the road and avoid some of the heavier traffic on Highway 50. You guessed it – grumpy pants wasn’t thrilled about not getting her beauty sleep! I got out on the bike and initially really struggled to get going. My joints just didn’t seem to want to work, and I felt quite chilled. Lindsay started talking me through a series of exercises though to keep me moving and focused – pedal to that sign, now pedal to that tree, etc.

Then something really special happened. A four woman team, The Veloroos from Australia, passed me. These were the first women riders I’d seen since back in California, and I think that sparked something in me. I picked up my pace a bit as they slowly started to pull away. Then the next thing I know I was reeling them back in. I was about to let them go when the crew got into it as well and started encouraging me and cheering me on over the Cardo, and this sparked me to try and stay with them longer. It was still before 7am, so they had to do stationary rider exchanges, so when they exchanged riders I would pass them. Then I would slow down to let them back in front and take a short breather before chasing after them again. This went on for over 45min and about 3 or 4 of their rider exchanges. I was working way harder than what was sustainable for an extended period of time, but it was really fun and invigorating to actually have a carrot to chase! At one point I dropped my chain so they pulled away a bit as I stopped to get it back on. Initially I was going to let them go, but then I decided to sprint to catch back up, so there I was doing over 200w flying down a hill to try and bridge the gap! I hadn’t felt this focused on anything the whole race! Shortly after that though I got a front flat, and that was the end of my little chase game, but it was fun while it lasted! Here’s a video of me chasing the Veloroos: https://youtu.be/IVUonoKE9Hk

Chasing The Veloroos in West Virginia

As the adrenaline rush of chasing the Veloroos wore off I found myself incredibly sleepy again. We’d taken a shorter sleep break the previous night, so we stopped and took a nap in Clarksburg before proceeding to the bigger climbs in West Virginia. I was still pretty sleepy, and the climbs seemed relentless, never ending, and steep! I felt completely out of breath and was gasping for air on the climbs. My mouth wasn’t helping matters, as I now had some full blown sores that were extremely painful! The crew found some ambesol swabs that we used to try and numb my mouth, and that helped a bit.

Canary Foundation Donors: West Union, WV: Nelson Hom
Canary Foundation Donors: Grafton, WV: Ildiko Papp

Deerwood Market in Aurora, West Virginia

Deerwood Market in Aurora, West Virginia

Climbing one of the many West Virginia mountains

There was a bit of a reprieve terrain wise around McHenry before more climbs leading to Cumberland. The descents weren’t enjoyable because all I could think about was how I was going to have to immediately go back up the other side when I got to the bottom! As we came into Grantsville though all the traffic was stopped. It turned out that there was a parade going on in town and the road was closed to through traffic. So I got a little bit of an unplanned break as we waited for the parade to finish. Chai gave me a really great massage as we waited for the road to reopen. Unlike the brush fire back in Arizona, we did at least get a time credit for this forced delay.

Canary Foundation Donors: Oakland, MD: Brenna Broadnax

Old fashioned fire engine in Grantsville parade

Grantsville Parade

Grantsville Parade

Grantsville

Veronica hands off a flower to French rider Arnaud

The seemingly endless climbing/descending then continued until the longer descent into Cumberland, MD. The next stage was the hardest stage in the race in terms of feet of climbing per mile with 5 fairly major climbs back to back, and it had already been a really long and hard day of riding. A storm system was starting to build, and our strategy was to get to Hancock before taking a sleep break. I had some scary moments early in this stage when I nodded off and started swerving across the road, but Carson did a great job of jumping in and starting to ask me a tonne of questions about random stuff to try and keep my mind engaged. It started to rain as I did the final climbs, and in the dark I was having trouble seeing the road, so I was looking forward to getting to Hancock and getting my sleep break.

Canary Foundation Donors: Cumberland, MD: Rosalie, Peter, and Louise Grant
Canary Foundation Donors: Hancock, MD: Kelli King

While I knew that we were trying to beat some rain, I didn’t know the extent of the storm system that was moving in, so I was confused and angry when it seemed that my sleep break wasn’t actually a proper sleep break. I’d had a shortened sleep break the night before, and now I was getting cheated out of sleep again??? When I was woken from my short sleep break, I was pretty angry. I didn’t want to ride in the rain in the dark because I was having trouble seeing, so I insisted that I would have rather had more sleep and ridden in the rain in the daylight. My paranoid sleep deprived self felt like I was being kept out of the loop, and that my safety wasn’t being considered, so I got pretty angry. I eventually grabbed my bike and stormed out of the parking lot without putting on any rain gear or getting a water bottle.

At this point with less than 200 miles to go, it had been decided that Carson, Sonya, and Lindsay would “bring it home” in terms of staying in the follow vehicle to get me to the finish. I doubt that this situation is what they’d envisioned when they’d been thrust into the follow vehicle together – following a maniac with an apparent death wish! On or around day 10 on each of my RAAMs I’ve had a spectacular emotional meltdown, and 2015’s meltdown was now unfolding and they had front row seats to the “Hulk Joan” show! I turned off the Cardo, refused to turn it on, and pretty much did the exact opposite of what my crew instructed me to do over the PA system. Stay off the white line because it was wet? Ok, let me ride directly on the white line. Stay to the right? Ok, I”ll ride pretty much in the ditch. Stay to the left? Here, let me ride near the center line! You should put a jacket on. Hell no!

Carson, Sonya, and Lindsay were tasked with "bringing me home" for the final 24hrs

Hulk Joan as depicted by Lindsay!

The rain soon started to get much worse, and soon it was coming down in buckets and getting colder. Carson and Lindsay tried to convince me to stop, but I was having none of it. They wanted me out here riding in the rain damnit, so ride in the rain as unsafely as I could was what I was going to do! I’m actually pretty fortunate that I stayed upright given how I attacked some of the short descents on the twisty roads in the rain! When I finally did turn the Cardo back on and they were trying to get me to stop I told them that Christophe Strasser wouldn’t stop if it were raining like this, so why should I! Their response was that sure, that worked great for him as he’d DNFd due to a lung infection this year! Well played crew, well played!

Shortly after leaving the parking lot though I had at least partially acknowledged to myself that what the crew was doing in terms of trying to get me on the bike was the right thing for them to do, but I was still somewhat determined to make my point and express my displeasure. I was actually riding pretty hard (it’s amazing what a bit of anger does to your power output!), so was getting thirsty since I had no water bottles and had been on the road for about an hour, but I was too proud to ask for a water bottle, so I tried squeezing water out of my gloves to drink! Eventually I started to calm down, and was able to begin communicating with Lindsay. I accepted responsibility for the fact that I shouldn’t have done some of the things that I’d done (eg. run a couple of stop signs – which for anyone who rides with me knows is a big deal since I always stop at stop signs and it is one of my pet peeves when cyclists don’t stop!), but tried to assure her that I honestly wasn’t cold and really didn’t need a rain jacket, and that I wanted to continue. I conceded though that I’d stop and put a jacket on when we got to the turn where we’d start going downhill, which we did.

The visibility was pretty bad on the descent as it was extremely foggy, and at the bottom the wind really seemed to pick up, and I did begin to feel really cold. I told them that I was now cold and ready to stop for a bit. We stopped on the edge of a cemetery, and I crawled into the back of the follow van like a drowned rat. I was hungry and thirsty and tired and cold. Sonya was in the back, and she massaged my neck and shoulders as I cowered there. She told me that it was ok for me to lean back and take a nap, so I did. That was a powerful moment, as I was ashamed of my actions and worried what the crew was thinking, but she showed acceptance and forgiveness, as did the rest of the crew, which was incredibly reassuring and comforting. We had weathered “Hulk Joan”, and could now proceed onwards toward Annapolis.

After a short nap I was back on the bike riding in the rain and wind. It was pretty cold, and I was now very subdued and sleepy. At one point I turned onto a side road – I’m not even sure why I did, but for some reason I did, and then in the process of trying to get turned back around I nearly rode off the road because my brakes weren’t working well in the wet conditions.

Rainy last morning

We eventually made it to Rouzerville, PA and the wind was still howling and it was still raining quite heavily, so the crew decided to give me another short sleep break while seeing if the weather would let up at all. I think I slept for about 90min, and then after getting changed was back on the road. John Benton, the son of Roy Benton, who I’d ridden some double centuries with back in California several years ago, rode with me on the climb out of Rouzerville. He lives nearby and had also ridden the climb with me last year. It was nice to have some company, especially given the conditions, so thank you John! The wind was still howling, and it was still raining, but at least I was making forward progress.

Canary Foundation Donors: Rouzerville, PA: Lisa Hern, Tracey McQuair

Riding out of Rouzerville, PA with John Benton

Blurry, rainy, green descent

Blurry Wet Descent

Riding in the rain

The horrendous weather continued as we made our way towards Gettysburg. Apparently there were some reroutes that went into effect shortly after we passed through due to localized flooding! There were a couple brief respites where the rain died down, but there were also some more heavy downpours as well. On several downhill sections where I picked up some speed I told the crew that they had to be my eyes and tell me if there were any obstacles in the road, as I was getting pelted by so much rain that I really couldn’t look forward, so was essentially riding blind. We passed through more areas where the road was flooded, and I honestly started to laugh at how ridiculous this was! I don’t think I’d ever ridden in such heavy rain for such a prolonged period of time! There was one traffic light that I came up on as the light turned red, and as I tried to brake it literally was as if I didn’t have any brakes, so I ended up having to go partially around the corner before I could come to a stop!

Canary Foundation Donors: Hanover, PA: Julia Book, Neil Schmerling

Maryland Rain

Rohitash tries to entertain me in the rain by doing pushups on the roof of the van

Carson chasing the follow van

Carson chasing the follow van

At one point in the afternoon the sun did actually make a brief appearance. We stopped on the side of the road around this time because I had to go to the bathroom, and so that I could change into dry clothes. This was one of my favorite stops because everyone was laughing and joking about how ridiculous the rain had been, and probably since everyone was sleep deprived we were all pretty punch drunk. Carson wandered out into the corn, which was pretty funny as we all begged him not to surrender to the corn! And then at one point I looked over at him and he was in front of the follow van with my fold-up toilet sitting squarely on the center of the hood like a hood ornament, and he was wiping it down with wet wipes as if it were a piece of fine china or something – I just couldn’t stop laughing! What a difference from how the morning started out! That’s one of the special things about RAAM – how things can change on a dime, and you can go from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs all within a relatively short period of time.

Canary Foundation Donors: Mt Airy, MD: Gary Aochi and Family

It stayed dry for a while, but the clouds moved back in as we approached evening. The rolling terrain was causing me problems due to the fact that I was having trouble shifting gears. I thought there was something wrong with the bike, but in hindsight it was actually my hands that were the problem. Between the nerve damage that I’d been slowly sustaining, and the cold/wet conditions, I didn’t have the strength to shift anymore, even though I have electronic shifters that require very little strength. I actually ended up with pretty bad nerve damage in my hands this year – I lost the ability to control the muscles in my right hand and ended up with severe muscle atrophy that took about 3 months to start to reverse. Even as I write this report 4 months after finishing RAAM the fingers on my left hand are still numb and I don’t have full strength back in my right hand. I hadn’t had this bad of nerve damage in 2012 or 2014 after RAAM, but we figure that it was actually related to the neck issues – because of the fatigued neck muscles I wasn’t able to support my upper body as well with my core, so more weight went into my hands, causing more severe nerve damage.  One thing I will say though is that all the work I did with Jeanette at Revolutions In Fitness in the months following the neck injury and continuing through the months leading up to the race most certainly helped!  Doing a repetitive activity like ultra cycling can expose you to various injuries due to muscle imbalances and alike, and Jeanette was able to help me focus on all aspects of my body from my neck to my core to my legs to my feet and ensure that the entire chain of movement was working as efficiently as possible. I also had all my bikes fit at Revolutions in Fitness, so thank you Jeanette and Revolutions in Fitness!

With Jeanette at Revolutions in Fitness

Pictures illustrating the nerve damage in my right hand - I'm trying to do the same on the right as on the left

We stopped at a gas station just before we left a more residential area and headed into the more built up commercial areas leading into Annapolis. At this point we were probably less than 25 miles from the finish, so there was more joking around. Someone had a packet of pancake syrup (I’d been eating a lot of McDonalds pancakes and scrambled eggs the last couple of days – the crew rolled them up like a tortilla so that I could eat them on the bike – some of them even had bacon in them – mmmm, bacon!), and joked that as a Canadian I should do a syrup shot, so of course I did! What we didn’t really think about though was the sugar crash that would soon follow…oops!

Syrup Shot!

As I left the gas station, it started to rain again, and soon it was raining pretty hard. It rained all the way to the final time station, where it briefly let up before the skies yet again started dumping spectacularly. Tim Copeland was at the final time station to escort me to the finish line, so after quickly changing clothes I got back on the bike for my final couple of miles of RAAM. Even those final miles weren’t to be without incident though! It was still very wet, and I was following immediately behind Tim’s car when he stopped suddenly for a yellow light. I hadn’t been paying close attention and was following pretty close to him, so my delayed reaction time due to being sleep deprived combined with the wet conditions meant that I couldn’t stop behind him. I narrowly averted crashing into the back of his car by instead swinging quickly to the left and going up beside him! Nothing like one last dose of adrenaline before the finish line!

Canary Foundation Donors: Odenton, MD: Amy Friel, Vidya Devarasetty
Canary Foundation Donors: Annapolis, MD: Ali Ashburner

The rain continues even in the final miles approaching Annapolis

Pulling into the final time station in the rain

Group shot at the final time station before the finish

At the final time station - happy to be almost done!

Eventually we made it to the finish in one piece, and I got to cross the finish line with my entire crew. I couldn’t have done what I’d done without them, and I wanted to recognize them for all that they’d done. In the end we finished in a time of 11 days, 5 hours, and 9 minutes, almost 27 hours faster than my time from last year, and a new Canadian women’s record (I’m still the only Canadian woman to have finished RAAM, so I’ve actually set the record each year – I’ve also finished solo RAAM more times than any Canadian irrespective of gender at this point too). I believe my pace makes me the 10th fastest woman to have finished solo RAAM having an average speed of 11.16mph. I was 2nd place woman for the third time, although this was somewhat bittersweet given that I had hoped to win my division. My time would have won the women’s race 12 out of the last 14 years though, so I have to be pretty satisfied with my performance, especially given that the conditions were anything but ideal, and were the toughest conditions I’d faced out of all of my RAAM experiences. I’d bettered my goal of 11.5 days, and in fact come pretty close to about what I’d thought I could do if everything went really well and the conditions were really good (which they weren’t!) – I’d pegged 11 days as about the fastest I’d be capable of. By finishing a third time I also joined an elite group of women who have completed solo RAAM 3 or more times – the others are Susan Notorangelo, Elaine Mariolle, Seana Hogan, and Muffy Ritz. It’s an honor to be part of this group of exceptionally talented women athletes!

At the finish line

At the finish

At the finish, photo courtesy of RAAM Media

A nice thing about finishing a day earlier than in past years was that most of my crew and I got to spend the next day hanging out and sightseeing in Washington, DC. It was fun to get to spend some time with them outside of the race, and I hope we have more opportunities for that in the future! We also got a private tour of the Pentagon from race volunteer Tim Copeland who works there which was pretty cool, so thank you Tim!

Visiting the Pentagon with Tim Copeland

Boys will be boys...

In front of the Lincoln Memorial

Vietnam Memorial

Washington Memorial

In front of the White House

Lincoln Memorial

Another highlight was getting to go back to the finish line and see Shu finish and become the first British woman to officially finish solo RAAM. At the awards banquet the next day Shu and I had a bit of fun with Isabelle after she collected all of the awards – Shu wrote out on paper the fact that she was first Brit, I was first Canadian, but Isabelle was second Swiss! This was good for a laugh! Unfortunately both Seana and Kathy ended up DNFing, a reminder of what an accomplishment it is to just finish solo RAAM, regardless of what place you finish in!

Greeting Shu at the finish

All 3 women finishers with Fred Boethling, owner of RAAM

First Canadian, Second Swiss!

Shu, First Brit!

At the awards banquet with another plaque to add to the collection

Finisher plaques and medals from all 3 RAAMs

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how indebted I am to each and every one of my crew members – they were an incredible team, and I will cherish their friendships for a lifetime! I’m happy to report that I feel I’ve had my fill of RAAM for the time being, and am looking forward to moving on to other life adventures. Within a month of returning from RAAM I was able to find a software engineering job in Boulder, Colorado with MakeMusic, and we moved here at the end of August. I’m enjoying exploring new roads by bike, but mostly enjoying just riding for fun without any particular objectives or training goals. I’m even bike commuting to work! There are certainly aspects of RAAM that I will miss, but I’m ready to move on. I’m extremely grateful for each of my RAAM experiences and for all that RAAM has given me – both in terms of self discovery and personal growth opportunities, as well as lifelong friendships and memories. It’s been a wild ride, that’s for sure!

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11 Responses to RAAM 2015 Race Report

  1. Joan, great writing about your super effort. Three RAAMs, solo, you are really a member of a very select group.
    You certainly recognized the support of those around you on how much of a role they had in this success.
    Jerry

  2. Jeanette Krogstad says:

    What a wonderful memoir and account of your journey! It was a privilege helping you prepare and celebrating the amazing adventures our bodies allow us to take when we choose to push ourselves. Your story is an inspiration to many, Joan!

  3. Rohitash Jamwal says:

    Awesome read “Jo”, feels like this happened yesterday only. Thanks for bringing back all the memories of the epic adventure.
    Cheers!
    Roh

    • joan says:

      Lol! Thanks Rohitash! I hope to see you out there racing one day! Oh, and how many pushups did you do in the end???? Thanks again for being part of the crew! Come visit us in Colorado some time!

  4. Michael says:

    Brilliant read. Well done from Team Generali Race Around Ireland…

    Funny story to about the Grantsville parade you mention…. I was on the bike for our team entering the town, we weren’t stopped for the parade but as I entered the main street it was line with spectators which for a brief moment I thought it was for the RAAM competitors…had no idea about any parade and when no one stood up or cheered I quickly gathered I was just another cyclist and kept head down to hide the disappointment!

    • joan says:

      Too funny Michael! I remember your team passing me just before McHenry, so you must have passed through Grantsville just prior to the parade starting. It was interesting going through town following the parade with all the people on the streets and whatnot!

  5. Tony O'Keeffe says:

    Joan, I enjoyed reading this report and you brought back to life many similar memories.
    Congratulations to you and your team, thank you for sharing your experiences. I am impressed.

    Tony

    • joan says:

      Thanks Tony! I’ve followed your athletic endeavors with awe, and enjoyed watching you compete at UltraMan World Championships in 2012 when Mike was racing! Always great to cheer on another Canuck! :)

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