Founder & Rider, RAAM Roses
The cycling world tends to keep Race Across America at arms length, simply because it is a bit too much for most people. Outside of the Tour de France it’s probably the most intimidating race on the planet. I needed a new challenge, and having researched RAAM I realised that it was probably the biggest challenge I could be involved in. So I went about building the team and finding three other riders who were equally up for it.
In January 2010 we aimed to go for the 2010 race but suddenly realised the preparations were so vast that we were never going to get ready in five months. Instead we decided to suspend it until this year and it’s been all guns blazing ever since.
We’re planning the strategy of the whole race, because our objective is to win the mixed four. That was the outline of our objective since day dot really: to turn up and try to win our category. We didn’t just want to be taking part. We needed a goal, because when the four of us are in the saddle we need the motivation of winning.
For us, the film is going to be a documentation of our personal journeys from amateur cyclists to elite cyclists, and then testing that ability on the biggest amateur stage possible. So we’ll get to see how we react, how we adjust to the pressures and how the team and the crew pull together, not just as friends but as team mates.
It’s going to be a no-holds barred thing. We knew what we were signing up for when we invited a camera crew along. There have already been dramas before we get out there. We had to let two of the crew go because they didn’t quite fit in with the group, and there have been some strains amongst the group. But that is inevitable with such a big task at hand.
When we are out there under pressure of fatigue, heat, hunger and the pressure of the race, I think there will be many teary moments. The rolling fatigue is keeping me awake at night, because the rolling shifts means three hours in, three hours off, and that means night and day is going to morph into one. It’s going to be great…
The dust has settled and normal life has resumed. And boy, do I miss RAAM! A lot of people have been asking us how it went so in this blog I’ll try to give you an idea. It will be only my memories and thoughts though as each of us will have experienced different things with a different mindset and perspective. I, like you, look forward to reading their blogs so we can share other’s experiences and take a peek into their RAAM 2011.
RAAM life started with a minor inconvenience when BA failed to load my bike onto the plane in London. I’ve experienced lost/stranded baggage before and it’s always caught up with me pretty quickly so when BA assured me it would arrive in time for the race, I was relatively relaxed about the whole thing. Until it arrived, getting the idea of using my reserve bike was a difficult one to digest. A cyclist is at one with their bike and it would have been heartache had I not seen TK wheeling a lime green bike box across the parking lot late on Thursday night with a big grin on his face.
The vibe in the camp was great, if tinged with a touch of anxiety. The agenda was packed every day pre-race and everyone had a job to do which meant there was little time to stop and think about RAAM in too much detail. The 4 of us were preoccupied with consuming gallons of water and 1000’s of calories throughout the days which got very boring and played havoc with our blood sugar levels. Seriously, loading up for RAAM is a bizarre challenge. The team and crew attended the pre-race meeting in a town hall on the beach of Oceanside. This was an opportunity for us to realise what a big race we were part of. Steeped in tradition, history, sadness and glory, we were well and truly caught up in the RAAM scene and it pulled us together as a team, solidifying our bond that was developing nicely.
Day one didn’t exactly go to plan and I hold myself fully responsible! The first 25 miles are unsupported, meaning for the only time over 3000 miles you can’t have any of your support crew with you. This avoids traffic congestion out of Oceanside. So, George our amazing mechanic, set me up with a spare tyre and instructions for several eventualities. Just as well because as I was enjoying the rewards of a leg sapping climb I enter a hairpin corner too quickly and couldn’t recover. I locked up both wheels and skidded to a halt via some undergrowth and with the help of rock face. Continuing on with nothing but my pride damaged, I thought I’d got away with it until half a mile down the road my tyre blew out. Due to the skid, I’d worn through the fibres in the tyre and the result was a painstaking 30 minute pit stop on the side of the road, frantically changing my tyre. Seeing all the competition whizz by was soul destroying and the 30 minutes we lost were not made up for several days at least.
As a result of my skid addiction, Woodsy took over slightly earlier than planned and it was evident from that moment that each rider would have to carry the other at some point during the week. Team work is the only way to successfully complete RAAM and that goes for crew and riders. You have to learn very quickly that the plan may change and everyone has to be flexible. Injuries, mechanical failure, navigation errors etc will alter the strategy instantly and adapting to those changes can be very challenging. Talking of strategy, we found a groove after about a day. Each pair (Woodsy/myself, TK/Buzza) had experienced a rotation (period of time when a pair is riding) and we decided, along with crew chief Doi, that 5 mile pulls where the best way to go. A pull is a riding session of which we did between 10-12 per rotation, on average.
After the first 24-36 hours I just couldn’t see us completing the race. I was exhausted and was seeing fatigue in the crew also. Their endurance for the first couple of days was ridiculous. The adrenalin in the crew must have outweighed the riders as it seemed like none of the crew slept until a few days in. After I got through the mental battle of day 2, day 3 kind of signalled half way for me. Even though it wasn’t really half way, that thought provided a great boost and made completion seem realistic. Also, after day 2 we started to gain on our competition. There were times when it seemed like it was just us and them in the middle of nowhere at the dead of night, slowing creeping up on them like animals hunting their prey. It was exhilarating stuff and we had to remind ourselves to look around and take it all in because it was easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the race and take for granted the scale of what is happening and the scene you’re part of. One highlight for me was cycling through Kansas with no other person, team or vehicle in sight other than my support team of Anth, Dom and George behind me, lighting up my pitch black road with their headlights on full beam. It was flat, no trees, no wind, no clouds; the perfect still night. Out of nowhere a huge white owl flew up from beside the road and accompanied me for a few seconds down the straight deserted road.
The team had found a groove. Days 3,4 & 5 were awesome as I felt everyone was in their zone, doing what they do best. We had a few physical niggles that super Garns helped manage, the odd navigational error and a serious lack of comfort in the RV but all in all our pace was good, the bikes were rolling like a dream, we were well fed and RAAM was fun. We saw some phenomenal places and met some inspirational people. One of those was a chap RUNNING across the USA. Dom and Emily pulled over and ran with him for a few minutes and gave him some of the RAAM Roses love that was very much available in abundance at this stage. The most special memories for me are of the crew and their support of the riders. You wouldn’t believe or understand the energy our crew had. Cheering us on at every change over, crest of a hill, turn in the road, base of a descent. It was seriously motivating seeing our crew, our biggest fans, shouting and cheerleading us for the entirety of the race. That got me across, no doubt. They are responsible for getting maximum performance from me too. Ploughing up the Rockies in relay with Anna, I came round a corner only too see ALL our crew standing on the roof of our Union Jack clad RV that was pulled over in a lay by with house music pumping out. This wasn’t just for me, it was for every cyclist going past. Our crew were the most supportive crew on RAAM 2011, bar none. Our friends from Team Laughing Dog will support that theory, right Mike?!
It was heart warming to go from either camp (riding or resting) and seeing how people had gelled and had their own banter. Stepping of the bike and into the RV or vise versa was always quite exciting as you’d look forward to hanging out with crew members we’d not seen for a while. However, going from RV to bike was a killer. Dragging yourself out of bed or off the sofa, pulling on a sweat stained kit and heading out into heat, cold, wind, darkness or blistering sun never ever got easier. Wow it was tough.
One of the highlights of coming into transition from bike to RV was the massive emotional boost we’d get from catching up with the trail of love and support via social media. Our crew wrote out comments from our facebook and twitter pages on cards and stuck them to the walls of the RV. It evoked emotions in us all and made us feel closer to our friends and family.We were blissfully unaware of the mini community that had formed on our facebook page and were utterly overwhelmed when we heard of the loyal following of our supporters.When you’re mentally hanging by a thread, reading some kind words of support can easily tip you over the edge! Thank you to everyone who added a comment. Believe me, it was massive for us.
Day 6 and 7 were poorly managed by us really. We felt the finish line getting closer and decided to try a different strategy that would have been best left until much nearer the end. The Germans had pulled away from us by this stage and were trying to fight off Swift & Bold who were hot on their heels, heading for Oceanside. Our race format changed slightly and it kind of backfired. I think we craved variation if anything and perhaps underestimated how demanding a change of rotations would be. I was still determined to cycle as fast as I could on each pull and for me, as long as could finish the race knowing that that had been what I’d done, I’d be satisfied. Record or no record I felt like I’d given my all.
The last few stages of the race seemed to last forever! You think that after 2920 miles, the final two stages across 80 miles will be over in a tick but they weren’t. Every mile felt like 2 and it just dragged on and on. Eventually we rode into Oceanside together at about 2am and it was nothing but surreal. I can’t really describe the moment and do it justice. I was really proud of everyone and didn’t really want to part with their company. It was impossible to comprehend how much we had done over the past 6 days, 10 hours, not to mention the 2 years it took to get to where we were standing, with a Corona in our hands and a big fat silver medal round our necks. Only since the race, after we’ve taken a step back has that been possible. Bonds had been formed that will never be broken and I have no doubt that RAAM Roses will live on and take on more challenges as one. RAAM 2011 was probably the most extraordinary week of my life and one of the finest too. Thanks to my team mates and crew for sharing it with me and to everyone who supported us so generously, both morally and financially.