Stage Nine – Effingham, IL to Bloomington, IN
Mentally, this was our toughest stage. We were starting at dusk, and with about 140 miles to ride, this was going to be be an all nighter. Being the sixth night of the race, Tina and I were already pretty tired, so already we were at a deficit before we started, and the amount of rest we had between our last stage and this was shorter than usual.
We began in the humorously-named town of Effingham, and rode east into the night over rolling farmland. There isn’t much to say about riding such terrain at night, other than it’s very peaceful, apart from the sound system on the van blasting out music to keep us motivated. With fewer cars and cooler temperatures, it was a pleasant evening to be riding. On the downside, there was a constant stench throughout the early part of the stage from the refinery that we eventually passed in Robinson, IL
One thing we did to help with the fatigue was to ride longer pulls. We went from 30 minutes to about 40-45 minutes, and the additional time on the bike compensated for the idle time in the van, when it was easier to get drowsy and distracted. Another thing that wakes you up is being chased by dogs in the middle of the night.
Sometime after midnight, I passed over the Wabash River, and entered Indiana. After my slight obsession at wanting to cross into Missouri, I was more blasé this time at our first state border crossing, probably due to fact that it in the middle of the night, and that I had kind of forgotten that we would actually be crossing into Indiana on this stage.
Sometime after passing the timestation in Sullivan, I was in the van and noticed that Tina was looking annoyed on the bike after having to stop at a light that was controlling a one-lane section of the road. I asked David and Brandon how she was managing her refueling while in the van, and they said they keep an eye on it. We ended up stopping for a discussion about this the next time we switched from me to Tina, and after talking for a short bit, I could see she was just tired and her nutrition was fine. But the discussion definitely lit a fire under her and not only did she look determined on the bike, but refused to get off after 30 minutes and ended up doing an hour. That was a joy to watch, at least until I fell asleep in the van, taking a quick cat nap before I got to enjoy my own hour out on the road.
Dawn broke as we approached Bloomington, and I took us through town and to the timestation. A highlight of the entire race was passing Indiana University in Bloomington, the site of the Little 500 bike race and the setting of probably the best cycling movie ever made, Breaking Away.
Stage Ten – After Oxford, OH to Athens, OH
After a good rest break, I felt energized and ready to tackle our next stage. We started out about 30 miles past the timestation in Oxford, which immediately took me through the cute town of Lebanon. After that, I enjoyed a series of short rollers before settling down into more gently rolling terrain. On my first pull, I caught and passed the two-man team, Crank Addicts, who were stealing our idea of using “crank” in their name. The nerve! As a two-person team, they were doing great, and we would see more of them on this stage.
The big highlight of this stage was reaching Chillicothe and meeting Bruce Smith, Tina’s friend who she met on RAAM 2011. The short version of the story is that the RV ended up stuck in his yard while trying to make a u-turn due to missing an earlier turn. With great grace and generosity that is quite common with the people that we meet during RAAM, while the RV was being extricated from his yard, he shuttled Tina and Michele Santilhano to the bike shop in Athens where they needed to go to get much needed bike parts and repairs.
Since then, Bruce has become a big fan of RAAM, and as we reached the outskirts of Chillicothe, he pulled up next to Tina on his motorbike. When we reached the timestation, he gave us some great gifts to keep us amused; silly string, paddle balls, and glow sticks. We chatted some before sadly leaving to continue our journey. His final gift was marking the turn that was missed in 2011 with a group of mylar balloons. There was no missing the turn this year!
Darkness fell as we entered hillier countryside on our way to Athens. We were passed by a couple of teams, including the Crank Addicts, but on my last pull into the timestation, I passed them again on the slight rise into town. Athens saw my only real goof of the race, where, due to my glasses fogging up in the high humidity and the brick road surface bouncing me around a bit, I was a little distracted and got halfway through an intersection in downtown Athens before I realized that it was against a red light. I was a little embarrassed about that, and happy that no race official was around to penalize us. The light turned green, and we soon reached the timestation, and our shift was done.
Stage Eleven – Grafton, WV to after Cumberland, MD
This part of the race that I was anticipating from the start, one with real meat on the bones, so to speak. We were entering the heart of the Appalachians, with its seemingly endless miles of long steep climbs. It was time to break out my faithful climbing bike, the Titus, which had been unused since the Rockies of Colorado. After enjoying the short climb up Thorton Hill, I switched with Tina, and while waiting in the van we were passed by a solo rider, Chris “Hoppo” Hopkinson, a well-known RAAM rider who was featured in the movie “Bicycle Dreams.” We pulled out and passed him and his support van, cheering him on and taking some pictures. He was not far behind Tina as she tackled the next 5-mile climb of the day, but she stayed out in front until our next exchange.
He passed me as I was getting up to speed after the switch. I respectfully paced myself behind him for a short while, and once the road kicked up again, I took the opportunity to pass him. I said a hello and said he looked great, and soon I was at the bottom of a nice 3 mile climb up “Cheat Mountain.” I never saw him again after that, but it was a treat to ride briefly with a legendary RAAM rider. The solo riders are the real deal, and for a team rider like me, the Appalachians are no big deal, but for the solo riders, every hill is almost like torture with 2,500 miles in the legs. I could only wish to do as good as Chris was doing if I was in his shoes.
After reaching the top of my climb, the road was a constant series of short climbs as we traveled along a high ridge for over 20 miles. At some point I started the climb of Difficult Hill. Yes, it’s really called that. While on the climb, I passed another solo rider, Arvid Loewen, who is also from Canada. He’s actually the real Canadian, since he still lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I said hi and introduced myself as a fellow Canadian, and we exchanged a few quick words before I moved on.
Soon enough, I was enjoying the fun and fast five-mile descent into Keyser. Before reaching the descent, a race official had passed me and I saw him at the side of the road, chatting with our crew. I didn’t think I’d see him again, but he caught me on the descent, which I thought was quite the thing, considering that I was really flying down the mountain.
We got through Keyser and on the way to Cumberland, we noticed that the microphone to the P.A. wasn’t working. It had been a problem for the crew on the previous shift, but I thought I had it working again at the start of the stage. It’s important to have a working P.A. to communicate upcoming turns to the rider, especially if they close to each other, or in more populated areas.
While on my pull, I suggested that the van go on ahead to try to find a replacement microphone, since there weren’t a lot of turns to the timestation in Cumberland, and I had studied the route, and had it in my Garmin cycling computer as well.
I passed the timestation and texted my arrival time to the crew, and kept going on my own. Soon enough, I was passed by the van, and made a switch with Tina. The crew wasn’t able to find a working microphone, despite a huge effort on their part, so I set to work on trying to fix ours. I broke out the tools, and clipped away the section of the wire that seemed to be the problem. I figured that since the microphone was working or not working depending on how the wire was positioned, there was probably a problem with either the wire being broken somewhere inside the insulation, or that it was pulled away from a contact point at the switch inside the microphone itself. I spliced the part of the wire that was working directly to the microphone itself, bypassing the bad switch and/or the faulty wiring. Sure enough, it started working again, and thus we were able to use the P.A. for the rest of the race.
Stage Twelve – Hanover, PA to the Finish
Tina and I had the honor of taking the team to the finish line, and I don’t think I got much sleep before this stage, my head filled with thoughts and feelings about the race, and things that we would need to do once we were done. First though, there were about 85 miles to race, and it was nice to get on the road knowing that this was our final stage.
We started just after 1am, and the route was through the countryside, over rolling terrain, where the rollers seem to be short and sometimes steep, making it difficult to get into a rhythm. However, the legs started to cooperate, and we made good time into Mt. Airy, which was the last cutoff and where we would have to serve any penalties. The officials at the timestation were huddled around an inviting fire they were using to keep warm, and we were told that we didn’t have any penalties and we were good to go to the finish!
At around this point, I told David and Brandon that they needed to arrange the pulls so that Tina would cross the finish line. So for my very last segment of RAAM, I got to do 18.3 miles in just under an hour at an average speed of 19.5mph. That got us to the timestation in Odenton, where Tina got on her bike for the final 9.5 miles to the finish.
I got to play DJ for this last part, as Tina had asked Brandon to play Bob Schneider’s “The Other Side,” from the movie “Bicycle Dreams” and “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III, and I took control of the iPod so Brandon could concentrate on his driving duties. I slipped in a little Lady Gaga after those two songs, to keep the energy high.
That got us to the finish line very quickly, and soon enough Rams Head Roadhouse came into view, and Tina took the honor of crossing the finish line. Lonni and Doug were waiting for us in the parking lot, and we soon organized ourselves to do the parade into the finish. It was a real mix of emotions as we approached the dock and the finishing banner. I was very happy and not a little bit tired, but I really enjoyed the medal presentations, and just being able to take in the very last moments of my RAAM experience.
My RAAM ride surprised me in a number of ways.
First, I didn’t expect to get stronger as the ride went on. It wasn’t that I felt bad or anything at the start, but after two days or so, I got some great form that I carried all the way to the finish.
Secondly, I didn’t expect things to go so smoothly, with the bikes and within the team itself. David and Brandon were great support in the van, and they always looked out for our safety and comfort. I couldn’t have done it without them. Our crew chief Sara kept things running so smoothly in the RV that I didn’t have to worry about anything during my rest time. I wouldn’t have been so strong on the bike without being able to get such good rest during my down time. Dan and Jordan kept the RV itself so well maintained, with good grace and humor, even when us riders were making demands of their time and resources. We truly couldn’t have done it without them.
Finally, I was surprised at how well my food and hydration worked during the ride. I ate all sorts of stuff in the van to keep me fueled: sandwiches, yogurt and fruit, potato chips, Chef Boyaredee ravioli, various food bars, Snickers bars and Mountain Dew, and my favorite breakfast, Nutella and banana wrapped in a tortilla. And ingesting all that never ever gave my stomach any problems, and I always had enough food to allow me to ride my best on the road.
Once again, I want to thank our crew for their tireless efforts on our behalf. I want to Doug and Lonni for being such good teammates and with whom we never actually rode with for almost all of the race. They got the work done when we were resting, and we were happy to do the same. I also want to thank Doug for having the dream of doing RAAM, which became our dream as well.
Lastly, I want to thank Tina, for having such a passion for this race that I couldn’t help but be passionate about it myself. It’s such a beautiful race that deserves that passion.
Looking back at RAAM now, my thinking is that this was one of the best experiences of my life. Before the race, I was pretty certain that this would be my one and only RAAM, due to the costs and the amount of effort required to prepare. However, all thoughts of that were forgotten after almost eight days of simply riding my bike, and now I’m just as certain that this is just my first RAAM. I don’t know with whom, how, or when, but I do know simply that I must return.