In case you missed these:
RAAM Race Report – Part I: Tapering, More Dangerous than Training!
RAAM Race Report – Part II: RAW Revisited
And now for Part III….
After Durango, the RAAM course continues in Colorado for a while up and over the Continental Divide via Wolf Creek Pass and then drops down to the plains of Kansas and Missouri and to the Mississippi River, the location of the next time cutoff. I was looking forward to going places I’d never been before – this was all going to be new territory for me, and I’d get to check off a couple of new states (Kansas and Missouri). Durango was also where we did a crew swap – Willy left the crew and Justin and Doug joined. Willy did a great job and was a valuable addition to the crew, so I can’t thank him enough for joining us through to Durango!
We reached Durango just after sunset, and decided to push on through to Pagosa Springs before stopping to rest. The crew chief told me that this was an “easy” section, so easy in fact that we didn’t even need to worry about doing a crew shift change for it. Thankfully I asked another crew member to show me the route profile, so I had a heads up that this was NOT an easy section, and in fact had more climbing than the section we’d just done into Durango. As a rider I want to know what to expect while I’m riding – don’t try to sugarcoat it, just tell me the truth.
We left Durango and I was feeling pretty good. Doug joined the follow vehicle just outside of town, and Justin was in the errand vehicle, so I got to say hello to both of them and welcome them to this crazy adventure called RAAM! Little did they/I know that they’d joined just in time for the true craziness to begin!! The first several climbs went well and I powered through them, but I started to get pretty sleepy on the descents. Then the last climb came – it was about 17 miles long I believe, just continuing to gradually (and sometimes not so gradually) go up and up and up. I was starting to feel the butt issues return, and wanted to stop and address it so that I didn’t set myself back any further, but when I stopped I was told by the crew chief that I needed to keep moving. I know that the crew chief’s job is to keep me moving, but I also know that there are certain things that I need to take care of if I’m going to have any hope of riding another 2000 miles – if I ignore problems that my body is having and let tissues deteriorate and break down, then I’m setting myself up to lose much more time going forward, so it’s better to take the time now to address/prevent it. It’s a calculated tradeoff – in shorter races it’s ok to just push through those issues because you’ll be done within a day or so and then your body will be able to heal – when you need to be able to keep going for another 9 days, you can’t just ignore these issues and try to cover them up with pain medication – you need to listen to your body, figure out what’s causing the problem, and try to solve the root cause. I didn’t feel that my crew chief understood this – I wasn’t trying to be lazy and squander time, I was trying to do what needed to be done to ensure that I could still be riding a week from now. Trust me, I’d much rather have not had the pain and just been able to keep riding without stopping!! Anyway, I quickly slapped some chamois cream on hoping that would at least minimize the damage, and continued on to Pagosa Springs.
We finally got to Pagosa Springs in the wee hours of the morning (4:45 EDT), and I was pretty mad with my crew chief for both not telling me the truth about the difficulty of the stage, and for not allowing me to take care of the butt issues I was having. Honesty is one of the most important things to me, and if someone lies to me (or even if I perceive that they’ve lied to me), it’s very difficult for me to get past that – I take it extremely personally, and I lose the ability to trust that person. This was the point in the race where I lost trust in my crew chief, and that’s about the worst thing that can happen between a rider and crew chief – the rider needs to be able to trust the crew chief and not question the decisions that they’re making – I could no longer do that, plus I felt negative energy in the presence of my crew chief because of the feelings of betrayal that I had due to believing I’d been lied to. In hindsight, what happened wasn’t a “huge” deal, however keep in mind that this is happening several days into RAAM when emotions and stress levels are running pretty high, and I’m not necessarily thinking clearly.
I was the one who signed up for RAAM, I knew it was going to be difficult, I just wanted my crew to tell me the truth and be honest and forthright with me, but without “lecturing” me on it. It’s a difficult balance to find, but fortunately one crew member in particular had been a shining light in this regard – Tracey. From day 1 I’d felt that she understood me and what motivated me, and my interactions with her were always positive. She always seemed to know exactly what to say and how to say it to get me moving again – even when what she had to say maybe wasn’t what I wanted to hear. This is a special kind of connection/bond, as there are many different ways to say the same thing, but certain ways may have the opposite effect intended (even though you’re trying to convey the exact same message), especially in a stressful environment like RAAM where everyone is on-edge and sleep deprived. I had no idea going into RAAM that Tracey would end up playing such a pivotal role, especially since I’d not met her before, but it was here in Pagosa Springs that in my mind it became solidified that she was the one I would trust and turn to for guidance for the remainder of the race. She was now my “go-to” person on the crew. This was a lot of pressure to put on her, and I’m forever grateful that she was able/willing to take on this role – it’s not an easy role for a seasoned veteran crew member to tackle let alone a rookie. Plus she still had all the responsibilities of being the physio person looking after my body, so she was truly being slammed with double-duty responsibility.
And again, I can’t emphasize enough that I bear no hard feelings towards my crew chief – I understand and know that she was doing what she felt was best and doing it in her own way, it just so happened that it wasn’t an approach that was working for me, and as selfish as it sounds, this was my RAAM and the goal was to get ME to Annapolis, so we needed to do whatever was needed to achieve that goal, and right now what was needed was for my point of contact to be Tracey and not Isabelle. Personal egos had to be set aside, and I thank Isabelle for giving me the space that I needed.
After a sleep break in Pagosa Springs, we headed out just after it got light out. This next stage was one that I’d most been looking forward to, even though it wasn’t going to be easy. The next stage included Wolf Creek Pass, an 8 mile 8% climb to the Continental Divide at 10,800ft elevation. I love riding in the mountains, and this was going to be the highest elevation that I’d ridden to. The countryside leading up to the pass was absolutely beautiful, and I really enjoyed the ride despite the emotions that I was still feeling from the previous night.
For this stage I wore a jersey that my close friend Deb had given me – the artwork on it was created by a friend of hers, Terri Hill, who has terminal brain cancer, and Deb had told me how excited Terri was that I might be wearing one of her jerseys during RAAM. Wearing this jersey on this stage was very meaningful, and provided some extra inspiration/motivation to get ‘er done. Here is some of Terri’s work: http://www.DesignerHill.com/Biking.html
The climb up Wolf Creek Pass certainly wasn’t easy, but I got into a fairly decent rhythm and just plugged away at it. The spectacular scenery around me definitely helped – for whatever reason I love riding in the mountains!
A couple miles from the top a local Pagosa Springs resident caught up to me and slowed to chat with me. He said he rides the pass 6 days a week. His company was a welcome relief and chatting with him gave me a distraction to make the climb go by faster. He left me with about a mile to go, and shortly after I caught up to Dave Elsberry – a solo rider in the 60+ division who’d started when I started. His crew were very supportive along this section of road and I appreciated their encouragement!
I stopped at the top of the pass for a photo-op at the Continental Divide sign, then it was quickly off down the other side.
The descent was fast and I was really enjoying it until partway down when there began to be expansion joints…. I didn’t even see them at first, but I sure as heck felt them!!! Trying to figure out how to minimize the pressure on my feet, butt, and hands was a futile exercise. At one point I tried to put weight onto the top-tube through my legs/knees to take some of the force, but that wasn’t very successful. After the main descent it was a fairly fast gradual down hill all the way into South Fork. The road followed a river, and it was absolutely gorgeous! It’s moments like this that I ride my bike for!
As we passed through South Fork, I stopped at a gas station for a bathroom break and to down some food (I hadn’t eaten much on the climb itself because it was fairly steep and I was focused on pedaling). I asked for a vanilla cappuccino and an apple fritter, and I ate those as Tracey worked on massaging my lower back (it had tightened up a bit again on the climb). The RAAM media folks stopped by right about this time, and took some pictures/videos and asked some questions. I remember Vic asking where he could sign up to get a massage from Tracey, and my response was that “she’s all mine!”!
From South Fork we headed out of the mountains and into more of a plains/plateau area. It was windy, and there was a lot of traffic. I could see storm clouds off in the distance on both sides of the plains, and I remember at one point asking Doug in the follow vehicle whether we should be concerned about tornadoes or anything. It was also along this stretch that we passed the 1000 mile mark – woohoo – we were into quadruple digits finally! One third of the way there…..gulp!! I also continued to have butt issues along this stretch, which was frustrating since it was a flat, fast section and I wanted to be in my aerobars cranking away to make up some time (especially since my legs felt pretty good). It was still going to be another day and a half before we found our “system” for dealing with these butt problems, so until then it was more trial and error and discomfort….
As we came into Alamosa (the next time station), I made my next food request – curly fries from Arby’s! And of course some more KFC (boy oh boy was KFC tasting good out there!!). I was feeling a bit down and tired from the events of the last few days, and earlier in the day I’d been told that today would be a “shorter” day in the saddle, and that we were going to stop earlier to rest and try to get into a better sleep schedule (up to this point I’d essentially been riding until very close to or after dawn before stopping), so I was looking forward to stopping earlier. Unfortunately there was a miscommunication though, and the time station that we were to stop at was miscommunicated to me – I thought we were stopping at La Veta, when in fact the goal was to get to Trinidad. I wasn’t too upset – I figured there was good reason for this strategy, and I was just happy that the crew informed me of it as soon as they’d realized the mistake and didn’t withhold it from me – I would have been pissed if we’d gotten to La Veta and then they’d told me!
Throughout the race Sandy was providing “Remote Overlord” assistance – she was my crew chief at Race Across Oregon in 2010, and at Race Across the West in 2011, and I absolutely trust her judgement and race strategy. And as a solo ultra-racer herself, I know that she understands the rider perspective as well and can put things into terms that the rider can understand. Unfortunately Sandy wasn’t able to be physically present on RAAM, but knowing that she was helping guide the crew through this journey was comforting. If Sandy said we needed to get to Trinidad tonight, then that’s what we needed to do. Doing the number crunching in my head it seemed like we should in fact get there not too late, so I was looking forward to an earlier sleep break. Well that notion quickly went out the window when we got onto a stretch of road with a vicious headwind….. It was a downward grade and I was barely moving at 8-10mph. This stretch went on for a couple of hours, and it quickly became apparent that tonight was not going to be an early night if we were still going to try and get to Trinidad. Again, “C’est la RAAM!”. Finally as I began the climb towards La Veta pass, the wind died down a bit – and was replaced with some rain instead – gee thanks weather gods!! Fortunately the rain wasn’t that heavy, and didn’t actually last very long (we missed the brunt of the storm system I think). The roads did remain wet though, and at least we were rewarded with a spectacular double rainbow!!
The descent into La Veta had a spectacular backdrop of the mountains behind it, but unfortunately I was getting sleepy. I remember nodding off at one point on the descent and being jerked awake as my arms started to collapse on the bike – it was a very scary moment!! I’d hoped to change into dry shorts/clothes in La Veta for the night time climb up Cuchura Pass, but the crew wanted me to keep going. I certainly wasn’t happy about this, and just hoped it wouldn’t come back to bite me in the butt – literally (riding in wet shorts isn’t the best way to prevent chaffing). We headed up the climb and I remember Doug and Alan in the errand vehicle chatting with me for a bit while the shift change was unfolding back in La Veta. They both expressed their gratitude for me inviting them on this journey – their words touched me and made me feel better – I certainly hope that by the time the race ended they still felt the same way! The follow vehicle soon took over with Justin, Isabelle, and Dawn. I remember Justin cracking some jokes about Erin Beresini, our mutual friend (who’d seen me off at the start). This was Justin’s first night driving follow, and he did a great job! I didn’t really feel like eating on the climb, which in hindsight was a dumb move on my part, and probably contributed to what was to become the first night of “losing my mind”. For this stretch of road I requested my “Folk” playlist, and rocked out to tunes by Great Big Sea, The Waifs, The Wailin’ Jennys, and alike. The climb however did seem to drag on FOREVER! And it seemed to get pretty steep at the top.
Finally we got to the top, and I was cold, tired, hungry, and grumpy. I insisted on stopping and putting warm clothes on – lots of warm clothes in fact. I put on a jacket, leg warmers, shoe covers, long fingered gloves, and a headband. I think this was the only time during the race that I wore shoe covers, a head band, and long fingered gloves. I remember Fred Boethling made an appearance at the top (at least I think he did!). Fred and his son Rick own RAAM. Soon enough I was on my way down – I think it was 40 or 50 miles to Trinidad from here – which seemed an eternity away. The top of the descent was fast and steep, and at least once I overreacted with my brakes and was lucky not to send myself over the handlebars. I also started getting really sleepy on the descent. I stopped at one point to try and wake myself up, and I remember Dawn getting out of the Follow vehicle and coming to talk to me. I remember Justin suggesting that I stand out of the saddle and sprint a bit to help wake myself up – I did this and it seemed to help. We continued down the main part of the descent, and then we hit the flatter rollers at the bottom.
It’s along here that I started “losing my mind”. I felt a tremendous sense of deja vu – like I’d ridden this road before under the same circumstances. I also didn’t understand why we had to go to Trinidad, and why I had to keep riding. I’d lost touch with reality and the fact that I was racing RAAM. I continued with the short sprints that Justin had originally proposed, and I was literally giving it all I had for short bursts. Then I remember Justin saying something like “great job, at this rate you’ll be in Trinidad in a couple of hours”. Couple of hours???? Wtf!! We still had HOURS left to go? This really demoralized me, especially given that I’d lost touch with the fact that we were doing RAAM – I didn’t understand why I had to keep riding in the middle of the night for HOURS! I started to become angry, and channeled that anger into my sprints. Then things got interesting at one point when a dog came out from a yard and started chasing me – that got the adrenaline going! The last 15 or so miles into Trinidad I really started to get angry. I remember purposefully riding on the rumble strips, and weaving back and forth across them. I don’t know what got into me, but I certainly wasn’t myself. Finally when we pulled into Trinidad and the Sprinter van was there to ferry me to the hotel, that’s when I realized again that I was doing RAAM. It was a disconcerting feeling to realize that I’d at least partially lost my marbles. As I went into the hotel with Katie and Tracey I shared with them what I’d experienced. Little did I know that this was only the beginning of the “Joan-mental-check-out” saga….
After a shower, food, and sleep, it was back on the bike to head out of Trinidad. The Sprinter van ferried me to the time station where I’d stopped riding a few hours earlier. The wind was howling, but fortunately it was a favorable tail wind!! I was cold and a bit disoriented at first, but once I got riding I warmed up and started to feel better. There were a couple of rollers, but it was mainly a gradual downhill towards the plains. With the tailwind I was moving along really well, and made pretty good time to Kim, Colorado. Early on I was treated to a herd of horses running across the field to greet me – I think that they thought I was bringing them breakfast! We also saw a lot of cattle, and at one point I think it was Donna who asked me to point out the cows that made chocolate milk! A couple times the road turned and I had a cross wind, but for the most part there was a steady tailwind. The temperature started to rise, but initially I didn’t really notice it because I was moving along at such a good clip. Things really started to heat up as we approached Walsh, CO though – I think the temperature was “only” in the upper 90s, but with the humidity it felt stifling. I started using ice socks again – but this time Charlie came up with a system to wrap the ends in plastic bags to try and prevent too much water from dripping into my shorts (since butt issues were still an ongoing concern).
In Walsh we stopped at a gas station to take a brief (ok, probably not so brief) respite out of the stifling heat. I ate part of a sub, as well as an ice cream sandwich. I headed out from Walsh feeling pretty miserable in the heat. My butt issues took a turn for the worse as well – it was taking me a long time to find and settle into a comfortable position after I stood up out of the saddle (which I did on a regular basis to give my butt a break from the pressure) – I would coast as I sat back down and shifted around until I found a position that I could tolerate. We passed into Kansas, and shortly after that a crew shift change happened. The wind also picked up and seemed to be whipping around from various directions as the road curved.
I continued having butt issues, and Isabelle tried to insist that I take a prescription anti-inflammatory for it. I was NOT going to just start throwing drugs at this problem to mask it – we were still potentially over a week from the finish, and masking pain and ignoring the source was not what I wanted to do – it sounded like a recipe for disaster in terms of causing further damage, and potentially long term damage. It wasn’t too late to properly identify what was going on and find a treatment that didn’t involve heavy duty prescription drugs. If there was any doubt before as to whether my crew chief and I had different philosophies on how to approach an ultra race, this incident removed that doubt and solidified our incompatibility. I definitely didn’t feel that I could trust someone who was trying to push drugs on me without even first trying to understand what was causing the problem and deal with the root cause. I refused to take the drugs, and an exchange of heated words followed, including some words from her to the effect that there was no way that I could finish if I didn’t take the drugs, and that I had to pedal faster through Kansas because these were “good conditions for Kansas”. Since I couldn’t find a comfortable seated position (at least not without taking a few moments to experiment and try different positions), I started just riding standing out of the saddle again. I was angry and upset and didn’t want any further interaction with my crew chief.
I think this had been the errand vehicle that was following me while the crew shift change happened, and after a while the follow vehicle was back behind me with Doug, Mike, and Tracey. I told Tracey what had happened and made it clear that while I wasn’t completely ruling out taking the drugs, I wanted it to be an educated last resort decision and that first I wanted us to try and find the root cause of the problem and find a solution that was more sustainable through the remaining 7-8 days. The presence of Doug, Mike, and Tracey calmed me down, and I set about the task in front of me – get through Kansas as quickly as possible! There was a really strong cross wind coming out of the south, and I really had to lean into it to stay upright. I certainly wasn’t flying along, but I was at least able to sit and get into my aerobars and make forward progress. We pulled into Ulysses, Kansas and took a break to try and address the butt issues as well as to eat – this time chicken nuggets from McDonalds.
Our goal for the night was to get to Greensburg, Kansas, which was still 2 time stations away. As we headed out of Ulysses, the errand vehicle kept us entertained – Dawn, Katie, and Alan would go in front of us, pull over, and then entertain us with costumes and dance skits as we passed by. It really was quite entertaining to see what they’d come up with next. This was also when Alan made an appearance in the grass skirt and coconut bra. I think he also appeared topless at one point with just his reflective vest on! Apparently when he was in the grass skirt he got some honks from some of the truckers going by, so that became the running joke of the evening. I even got my own external cheering as a pickup truck complete with gun rack and filled with young men drove by and were yelling “go Joan go!”. The rest of the section to Montezuma was fairly uneventful, but it was along here that our butt solution idea began to formalize. I felt like my skin was “sticking” to the chamois which was causing a lot of the discomfort, so I told Tracey that we needed to figure out how to get rid of that stick/friction – I said that I basically wanted to create a “slip-n-slide” between my skin and the chamois. She set about brainstorming how we could achieve this, and consulted some of her medical friends back in BC. By the next day we would have “Tracey’s Crotch Concoction” which would be used for the rest of the race. Until then though, I was still left dealing with a great deal of discomfort. My feet were also getting quite sore from doing a lot of standing to give relief to my butt. In Montezuma I was turned over to the next crew shift. I believe I’d asked if Tracey could quickly work on my feet to get them ready to handle the next section, but for whatever reason the crew wanted to keep me moving so Tracey said she’d tell Katie what to do. I had some extra motivation too in that I’d been told that back when I refused to take the prescription meds my crew chief had told the rest of the crew that by doing so I wouldn’t even make it to Greensburg. Well I was going to get to Greensburg, and then Pratt, and then Maize, and eventually Annapolis damn it!!
I continued through Montezuma knowing there were about 65 more miles to Greensburg. It was supposed to be a fairly easy section, and I think everyone anticipated that we should complete it fairly quickly. I remember starting to get really sleepy as we left Montezuma, and I remember that my feet and butt were in a competition to see who could recruit the most pain receptors. A couple times I remember thinking someone was directing me to turn off the road that we were on, so I would slow and stop, when in fact no one was directing me to do so, and we were supposed to keep going straight. I remember stopping a couple of times, and I remember Wayne talking to me. After then there’s a giant blank in my mind, dotted with a couple of random memories of what I thought at the time was all a dream, and even so felt like deja vu. This was my first complete mental disconnect (the night before enroute to Trinidad I had only had a partial disconnect – I’d stayed lucid and remembered pretty much everything – I’d just forgotten about the race and why we were riding). I was completely out of it tonight though. I remember little things, like the fact that Doug was dressed up in a cow costume on the side of the road with grass in his mouth at one point, and that Wayne gave me more of his macaroons to eat. Then I have a vague recollection of us suddenly doing these 1 mile sections where I had to follow the errand vehicle to get to the next mile marker, and people were telling me to chase Doug and Justin and “go get those boys!”. And that we were going over lots of rollers that felt like they were the same roller over and over again and Wayne was telling me to power over them.
Basically what the crew had had to do was to break the section down into 1 mile sections with about 50 miles left to go, and coax me through each and every mile – that’s how messed up I was! Apart from a couple of disjoint memories during this time, I have no consistent memories until we reached about 18 miles to go (so for 32 miles I was a zombie – I don’t remember what I did, said, or felt). At that point I had this sensation that was extremely weird and disconcerting – it felt like the special effects that you see in the movies where they patch together a bunch of scenes very rapidly like they’re fast forwarding through time and you’re traveling through a vortex or something before suddenly being popped out the other side and suddenly being in normal time again. I felt this vortex of patched together images, and then BAM, suddenly I was there on the road riding my bike and things felt “real” again. It was such a bizarre feeling that I didn’t know if what was happening was real or whether it was still all part of an elaborate dream. I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t really know what was going on, but I heard a steady dialogue coming from behind me over the PA system – Katie was literally talking me through every pedal stroke. Any time I stopped pedaling she’d call out to me “no – pedal, pedal, pedal!”. My senses weren’t really all there yet either, so I couldn’t really seem to see what was going on behind me – it didn’t even really feel like there was a vehicle behind me – more like Wayne and Katie were somehow floating along behind me. Katie was telling me all kinds of things – she was mentioning people on Facebook who were cheering me on (I remember she mentioned Becky Berka), she mentioned Jim Swarzman, my friend who was killed while riding his bike last year, she mentioned the race and how I needed to make the cutoff and how I could only do that if I kept pedaling. At this point I wasn’t even sure where we were – I thought perhaps we were in Maryland already since there was talk of a cutoff?? Although it didn’t seem to make sense that I would have forgotten everything from Kansas to Maryland! She told me I had 18 miles to go to the hotel, and that Mike and Tracey were waiting for me at the hotel – hearing this helped to motivate me to get there – I just wanted to see their faces.
Even though I still wasn’t really sure whether this was reality or not. I remained a bit more “conscious” during these last 18 miles, although there was still plenty of weird stuff going on in my head. I remember at one point I thought we were riding over something where I could see through the pavement and underneath there were bunch of big trucks and stuff, perhaps even a mine or some construction or something. It was a very disconcerting feeling riding over these “things” – it reminded me of nightmares that I used to have as a kid where I was precariously walking over huge open spaces below me – only this time I was riding over them. I have no idea what prompted those visions – perhaps we were on a bridge or something, I’m really not sure. I believe I also rode off the road at one point as I drifted off to sleep. All in all, this was perhaps one of the most scariest nights of RAAM for me – I really didn’t think anything was real, and I didn’t know what was happening. It wasn’t until we pulled into the hotel just after sunrise and I got off the bike and was greeted by Tracey that I think my brain snapped back and I realized what was happening. Throughout the race when I had these moments of confusion/delirium, it was often the sight of Tracey that brought me back to reality – I think she must have done more than acupuncture on me with those needles – perhaps she hypnotized me and made me her puppet as well!
Tracey hustled me into the hotel where I was greeted with an ice bath – oh boy! I got into it and started shaking uncontrollably. She wrapped a towel around my upper body to try to help keep me warm. I knew that this was probably really helping my legs, but boy oh boy was it uncomfortable at the time – and it certainly snapped me back to reality! Soon enough I was down for my sleep break though, still feeling very freaked out about what had happened.
The next morning I felt a bit groggier than I’d remembered feeling after my previous sleep breaks – perhaps the cumulative sleep deprivation and fatigue were catching up with me. It took me a while to get going, but soon enough the crew had me out the door and back on the bike (I think they drove me to the time station since the hotel had been a little bit off course). I don’t remember much about the beginning of the ride, but I remember more as we got going. Alan, Doug, and Tracey were in follow (I think), and we were on a fairly major road (perhaps an interstate?). I was groggy and half asleep, and my legs were barely turning over. The wind wasn’t too bad, and I should have been trying to take advantage of the conditions before it heated up, but I just couldn’t seem to get going – mentally or physically. At one point I pulled over for no good reason where a side-road came onto the highway, and the crew was trying to get me moving again – at that point I happened to look down and noticed that I had a front flat tire. So we took the opportunity for me to hop off the bike and Tracey quickly worked on me (I think she might have done some acupuncture on my knees which were kind of achy). When we started up again I finally started to feel better. They gave me some fruit to eat (blueberries, watermelon, and strawberries), and it tasted really good! As the morning wore on I needed to take a bathroom break, but we weren’t anywhere near a town, so finally I pulled over on the side of the road where there was some kind of road-side sign. Doug and Alan held up a sheet while Tracey and I attended to matters “down below”.
By this point the “crotch stops” were well beyond being comic relief for the women – we had to laugh at them, what else could we do? I started calling the female crew members that accompanied me on all bathroom breaks the “Crotch Brigade” – I always had at least 2 women helping me in this regard (all the female crew except Donna ended up in on the act – somehow she escaped “crotch duty”). I believe this was the first day of “Tracey’s Crotch Concoction” – a mixture of vaseline, oragel, and polysporin I believe. We put tegaderm on the chamois of the shorts, and then applied the concoction to my crotch so as to lubricate the area and prevent/minimize chaffing. Before doing this though, every time I peed there was a routine – peeing was excruciatingly painful, so I had to have water on the ready to rinse as I peed (we tried various spray bottles and alike before settling on the NeilMed Sinus Rinse bottle – my female crew members will never look upon one of these bottles the same again!!), then I soaped and rinsed the area to get rid of salt, sweat, etc., then I patted dry with paper towel, then we applied “Tracey’s Crotch Concoction”, then we applied some cortisone cream on my upper inner thighs where there was some redness/irritation, then we applied Assos chamois cream on my backside. This was the routine that we had to go through every time I had to go to the bathroom. As you can imagine, it sucked up a lot of time, however it was something that had to be done in order to be able to keep my crotch somewhat happy so that I could keep riding. Each bathroom stop ended up taking about 20-40min (we often combined clothes changes and foot work as well since we were stopped), and you figure that with at least 4 stops per day, that adds up to 2-3hrs per day spent dealing with butt issues. That means that during my almost 13 days on RAAM, probably a full day was spent in the bathroom (or on the side of the road) dealing with this issue – time I certainly wish I could take back, as I’m sure my female crew members wish they could have back as well! But the important thing to note is that we made it through all of RAAM without ever having any open sores or any broken skin (just redness and irritation) – this was a big accomplishment! Some of these stops happened in tiny bathrooms, so it became quite comical with 3 of us jammed into the stall – again, there was nothing to do but laugh at the situation – either that or cry, and you lose electrolytes and fluid crying, so better to laugh!
Anyway, as I hit the road again after this pit stop, I felt MUCH better – YAY! It’s amazing what a difference it makes to be “comfortable” on the bike – when you feel good you’re able to pedal harder and go much faster, and I always felt MUCH better after a “crotch stop”. So even though they took time, they allowed me to move down the course faster afterwards.As we kept going and I perked up we caught up to Dave Elsberry again – I hadn’t seen him since Wolf Creek Pass, but clearly he’d gotten in front of me at some point. I rode up to him and we chatted for a while. He’d done RAAM last year, so I asked him what part still to come was the toughest, and his answer didn’t surprise me – West Virginia. I’d heard that West Virginia was pretty brutal in terms of the short, steep, and relentless climbs. Oh well, I’d deal with that when we came to it – for now we were in Kansas where it was relatively flat, so I might as well take advantage of it and keep on moving. I continued on past Dave, and really got a good rhythm going. The wind hadn’t felt as strong yet today, although that would soon change. We turned off the interstate and onto a road where suddenly BAM, I had a screaming tailwind! Unfortunately the road was pretty rough though, so it made the stretch slightly less enjoyable. The stretch didn’t last too long though until we turned right and then the wind was a fierce cross wind – it would stay like this the rest of the day. Along this section I got a treat from the follow vehicle – a giant ice cream sandwich! I ate it on the bike, and got it all over my face and hand in the process, but it was oh so tasty in the hot Kansas sun! We were now off the main interstate and on some back roads which was nice. The errand vehicle consisted of Dawn, Charlie, and Donna, and they were doing their best to entertain me along the side of the road with various skits/costumes. Even though the crew had told me they wanted me to get out of Kansas as quickly as possible, I actually kind of enjoyed this section of Kansas, despite the cross wind and heat. It was more rolling farm land with trees here and there, so a bit more interesting than the completely open plains of a day earlier.
We had another bathroom stop just before Wichita, and at this point my eyes were bothering me quite a bit from being in the wind all day. Throughout RAAM I used a pair of Bertoni Eyewear goggles at night which did a MARVELOUS job of protecting my eyes and letting them recover from the assault of wind and dust during the day. Without these goggles my eyes would have been in much worse shape. I put the goggles on just before sunset, and we continued through Kansas. We got on the interstate just past Wichita shortly before dark, and on this stretch the crew put on some of my heavier music and I really got into a groove and was powering along at a good clip (at least a good clip for this point in RAAM – probably a snails pace to an outside observer!). We got off the interstate around dark and were pretty close to the next time station, El Dorado. My back had tightened up a bit, so we stopped so that Tracey could work on it quickly before she went off-shift in El Dorado. The goal was to get to Ft Scott that night, although Yates Center, one time station earlier was said to be an ok stopping point as well – we’d play it by ear.
There was a bit of a climb out of El Dorado, and I started getting really sleepy. I pulled over to collect myself and get a caffeinated beverage. I remained pretty sleepy on this whole next section, and we deemed that it was best to stop in Yates Center rather than push on to Ft Scott. On the run in to Yates Center I chatted with the crew to help stay awake, and we talked about RAAM and what they had been most surprised about, etc. We pulled into Yates Center – the “Hay Capital” – in the middle of the night. The hotel here was about the worst hotel I’d ever been in, but I still had an ice bath and got a couple hours of sleep.
The next morning the first order of business was to “get the F out of Kansas”! The entire crew wanted out of Kansas, and ASAP, so it had become a running joke. I started out the morning listening to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” – I listened to this song quite a bit during RAAM, as the lyrics are really applicable to what I was doing/feeling. Lyrics include: “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment would you capture it or just let it slip?”, and “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go, you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime”.
Shortly after Ft Scott we finally found what we’d been looking for – the Kansas/Missouri border – woohoo!! There was a big celebration by the crew as we left Kansas behind us!Just after entering Missouri I had a pita bread filled with Nutella and banana – I forget when I’d had the first of these, but I think Donna had planted the seed in my head for the idea, and at one point a day or two earlier I’d asked for one and Charlie had made one for me. Charlie became the expert pita-bread/Nutella/banana sandwich maker!! Missouri quickly became a never ending series of roller coaster rollers – really long ups and downs through farmland. The landscape actually reminded me of my home province of Alberta a bit. Missouri also quickly became known for it’s horrifying roadkill! Not only was there LOTS of it, it seemed that every one was posed in just about the most horrifying way possible! Lots of skunks, turtles, armadillos, and URKs (unidentified road kill)! Mid-day we stopped in Collins at Peggy’s Restaurant for a bathroom break and shorts change, not to mention an awesome refueling stop – Mike bought me some coconut cream pie with ice cream, and Doug got a chocolate malt for me which we put in my aeronet on the bike and it kept me fueled the next several miles – boy oh boy were these good!!! Of course all that pie and malt necessitated another bathroom break not too far down the road, but it was totally worth it!!
The heat was pretty oppressive in the afternoon – perhaps a bit more humidity than we’d had up to this point. We pressed on towards Camdenton through the late afternoon and evening. Highlights included a sign to “share the road” complete with a picture of a horse and buggy, and yielding to a turtle that was crossing the road (at least that was one turtle that didn’t turn into road kill – at least not right then).
Going into Camdenton we were on a pretty busy road, and there was a lot of debris on the shoulder. I got 2 more flat tires on this section – both a front and a rear flat. I was feeling pretty tired and low as we pulled into Camdenton, especially knowing I still had to get to Jefferson City that night. As we pulled into a gas station in Camdenton, I was surprised to see the rest of my crew – I thought they were going to go on ahead to Jefferson City, so it was a pleasant surprise to see them. Justin was out marking the turn in a superman costume – at least I think that’s what he was wearing, I don’t think I was hallucinating! Then perhaps the coolest experience of RAAM happened – I met an 11 year old girl, Lauryn, who was hanging out with her family at the time station. I shook her hand, had pictures taken with her, and got to chat with her. It was a really special moment to see the enthusiasm and excitement in her eyes when she met me. I’d come into this time station feeling weary and low, but interacting with Lauryn totally raised my spirits! It’s moments like this that make RAAM special and worthwhile! Since then I’ve become Facebook friends with Lauryn, and it looks like I’ll have the opportunity to meet her again in the fall when she visits California – I’m really looking forward to that!! Her Mom says that meeting me sparked a fire in Lauryn, so if that’s true, it totally makes RAAM worth all the pain and suffering! I may have inspired Lauryn, but she also inspired me!
We pulled out of Camdenton in the dark, and were on really busy roads/highways – it was rather stressful, especially since it was dark, with cars whizzing by and us having to deal with on/off ramps and a lot of bridges. After we got past the really busy part of the road, my mind didn’t shut off completely, but it did “slow down” and get a bit confused. I remember being on the highway riding/coasting, but not really sure what was going on. Why was it taking so long to get to to our destination – I kept thinking it should be just around the corner, but we were still over 20 miles away. Then as we got to Jefferson City we hit some road construction and possibly a detour – I don’t remember exactly what was happening, but I remember there being some confusion about where we were going, and I remember feeling really really angry again. I remember “sprinting” (I’m sure it didn’t look like that) as hard as I could just because I wanted to be done. I had a lot of “anger” moments during RAAM, I guess the stress, fatigue, and sleep deprivation made all those raw emotions bubble to the surface and I had less control over them. It’s an eyeopening and humbling experience to find yourself falling apart like this day after day. In Jefferson City we stayed at the Motel 6 for our sleep break (I think). I’m pretty sure there was another ice bath too – Tracey was evil putting ice baths as the final obstacle between me and the pillow!!
The next day the big highlight was going to be to get through Missouri and get to the Mississippi River – the next cutoff in the race. We started out of Jefferson City and immediately there were a bunch of short hills which my legs/feet/knees didn’t appreciate. We passed by the capitol building though which was cool (Jefferson City is the capitol of Missouri). Then we crossed a bridge and were on a more rural road, although there was still a fair amount of traffic on it. I was once again battling sleepiness, so I asked Tracey to DJ and find certain music that I thought would kick start my morning – of course the staple of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” kicked things off, then some Black Eyed Peas, Ke$ha, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, and Nicki Minaj. This helped quite a bit, and I was awake again at least for the meantime. There was then a series of about 8 significant roller coaster climbs – steep descents and steep ascents – several of which had me in my easiest gear out of the saddle. Ugghh!
After that there was a flatter section, and I started drifting off again. It was a HUGE struggle to stay awake. After a few hours of this things got to the point where I pulled over and got Tracey to do her “wake-up acupuncture” on me – basically shoving a needle in my upper lip right under my nose – it hurt like hell, but certainly woke me up! I also asked that she keep talking to me over the radio. Tracey came through yet again (seriously, she’s a rock star crew member!!), and invented a “spot the red truck” game. The crew had noticed a lot of red trucks in Missouri, so she created a contest to see who could spot the most – me or the crew in the follow vehicle. This absolutely worked in terms of keeping me mentally engaged. I had the upper hand on the uphills because I’d crest the hills first and see what was beyond the top of the hill. We were having a good old time out there looking for red trucks – the things that keep you entertained on RAAM!!
After we passed the time station at Washington, Missouri, things got pretty sketchy on the road – Mike was driving the follow vehicle, and he stated afterwards that driving that section was the most stressful thing he’d ever done!! The traffic was absolutely crazy (fast, passing where it wasn’t safe, unfriendly, etc.), and apparently these were some very anti-bike counties/communities that we were passing through. In fact one county had tried to ban cyclists all together – sheesh!! The mandate the day before had been to get out of Kansas, well now we wanted the hell out of Missouri! It was hot out, I was tired, and we didn’t want to stop anywhere in this area. We would pull off in driveways here and there to let the traffic past us, but other than that we tried to get through here as quickly as possible. To make matters worse there was some difficult navigation through this section as well. The errand vehicle was a big help in terms of helping to mark turns. I probably wasn’t drinking/eating enough on this section because there weren’t opportunities to do handoffs due to the traffic, so when we finally got off the busy roads and into some quiet roads that meandered through the corn fields along the Mississippi river, I wasn’t feeling all that great. It felt like I’d stopped sweating, and I was starting to get a salty taste in my mouth after taking some salt pills, and I was feeling the heat. It seemed to take forever to get to the Mississippi River. One cool thing along this section though was that there were some local Missourians who’d looked me up online and came out with signs to cheer me on – wow! Then we pulled into the gas station just before the Mississippi River and there were some more cheering fans – a couple from St. Louis who’d come to see me go through – again, very cool! Paula makes jewelry out of recycled bicycle chains (http://www.chainspirations.com/), and she also donated to my Leukemia & Lymphoma Society fundraising. Meeting people out on the course is a pretty cool part of RAAM!
The Mississippi River was the 2nd of 3 cutoffs during the race, and was at just over 2/3rds of the total distance. I’d now been racing for just over 8 days, and I’d reached the time station 11 hours before the cutoff. Although this was a pretty decent cushion, I was still pretty hard on myself and I kept thinking of all the places where I’d lost time along the way and how I should have gotten here much sooner. My crew did a great job of getting me to focus on the positive though. I stopped for a fairly long time at this time station just to cool off and recharge after the stressful day going through Missouri. We headed out from the gas station and I got to ride across the Mississippi River and enter Illinois – a pretty cool experience. I still had almost 1000 miles to go, and part of me didn’t know how that was going to be possible, while another part of me just accepted that it needed to be done and that it would be done. I was tired and sleepy, but I was far from feeling unable to keep riding. In hindsight, I’m actually quite amazed at how I’d held up physically to this point (apart from the problems we’d faced the first couple of days related to the saddle problems). I think it’s a testament to several things. First, to the strength training that I did at Integrate Performance Fitness the past 2 years – the work I did at the studio really worked on getting my muscular skeletal system balanced and strong and ready to stand up to the rigors and stress of being on my bike day after day at RAAM. And second, to the work that Tracey was doing on me during the race – I don’t know exactly what she did to me while I slept, but I know she was a busy worker bee working on my feet, legs, neck, back, shoulders, and hands.
So, we’d made it to the Mississippi River – one more cutoff left – the big one, Annapolis, Maryland and the finish line! We had just under 5 days to go just under 1000 miles. I’d done the first 1000 miles in just over 4 days, and had done the next 1000 miles in roughly the same amount of time (at least I was consistent!), so if I held the same pace I had just under a day of cushion – things were looking doable, although it certainly wasn’t going to get any easier – some of the toughest climbing of RAAM was still to come, and the sleep deprivation monster was already devouring me. I’d already been losing my mind and/or falling asleep on the bike for several days now. Little did I know just how difficult things would get in that last 1000 miles, but for now the only thing to do was to keep moving forward, one pedal stroke at a time.
Continue reading about RAAM in the next installment:
RAAM Race Report – Part IV: Angels and Demons, the Run-In to Annapolis