Cake
  • Log In
  • Sign Up
    • Ridge

      If you were a gambling type, and unfamiliar with bicycle racing; you'd most likely look at me like I was dumb and/or speaking in tongues... It's a very real and repeatable feat though. Year after year, individual riders, teams, and their roughshod crews tackle this unbelievable journey in the great bicycle Race Across AMerica (hereafter referred to as RAAM). Officially in its 36th running iteration, RAAM is a true cross country race that begins in Oceanside, CA, traverses the entire country, and ends at the historic City Dock in Annapolis, MD.

      The foreboding challenge seems unreal... insurmountable even; 3,000 (+/-) miles in about a week, via bicycle, with a ragtag team and crew in tow, and all the logistical hurdles therein. Well, I'm here to share my personal Sisyphus-esque struggle of being the night crew chief on a 4 man team in 2017.

      It started innocently enough... don't these kind of things always do? Hearken back to late September of 2016 where I had just completed the final stage of a three day gravel stage race in Charleston, SC and was finally enjoying the cold, crisp wash of a local IPA across my parched palate. My friends and fellow masochists that organize the stage race were just laying out the initial plans to enter a 4 person coed team for RAAM 2017 and I piped up that I'd love to help support them any way I could. Little did I know that would mean being asked to actually help crew the team across the country, but we'll get to that a bit later.

      I guess it's one of those situations you might find yourself in where you feel something epic, tangible, and unforgettable is taking place right in front of you and that same imp that feeds on self-torture pops up with raised eyebrows and a toothy grin from ear to pointed ear, urging your very willpower down to the depths of forgotten pain and suffering... he takes over the rational part of your brain that should factor in how much vacation will be consumed, what else in your life will you have to forego to commit to such an endeavor? All sorts of logical and rational questions any sane person should be asking themselves and considering, but then... we endurance bicycle racers have never been accused of being completely rational, have we? No, our appetite for gratuitous self-inflicted torture is intertwined with our very being. We don't know how to say no to tests of our endurance and tolerance for physical exhaustion. We somehow find strength in that adversity.

      This is my introduction, and the story will play out as I get time and motivation to write another entry, so stay tuned if you're interested, and I'll do my best to keep up with it...

    • yaypie

      This sounds incredible! I just planned a road trip from Oregon to Texas and it's going to take me 4 days of driving each way (on the road for roughly 10 hours a day). I can't even imagine making it across the whole country in just 7 days on a bike! 😵

    • VilTri

      This paragraph sounds like a beginning of something truly Epic:

      I had just completed the final stage of a three day gravel stage race in Charleston, SC and was finally enjoying the cold, crisp wash of a local IPA across my parched palate. My friends and fellow masochists that organize the stage race were just laying out the initial plans to enter a 4 person coed team for RAAM 2017 and I piped up that I'd love to help support them any way I could.

      A casual offer to help will probably turn into a big adventure... Can't wait to hear the rest!

      P.S. Love your writing style

      👍

    • fi

      An on-line aquantance from several years ago rode it once. He was an ultra-cycling type who put more miles on his bike in a year than most folks put on their cars, by two or three times.

      Eagerly awaiting more of the saga.

    • Ridge

      Thanks all for hanging on and endorsing my random acts of keyboard fury...

      Part II - You must first go back before you can go forward.

      Everyone cheers and celebrates the triumph of the actual event but there is so much more in preparation that goes unnoticed. A bridge over a river is a feat of modern engineering, but the neverending siege of water flowing in the river never stops and is often forgotten by those crossing the bridge. Just as the persistence of that water will eventually overcome the bridge; the riders and teams of an event such as RAAM must persist in exhaustive training sessions, teamwork skill building, timing of team handoffs, and the rule details of everything.

      If RAAM is anything, it is as much a practical test of organizational skills by the crew chief and his/her crew as it is a feat of physical endurance for the actual riders. The RAAM rule book is 61 pages and every racer/crew member is expected to know it inside and out. Every rule violation pointed out by a race official after the race start is assessed a time penalty and that time penalty is then cumulative to the entire team. There are two penalty stations on the route where the total time must be served until the team is released to continue racing. Avoiding time penalties is of paramount concern and priority to everyone on the team. Everything from what size placards must be displayed on every team vehicle to how each set of riders within a team can officially change shifts. It is VERY detailed after 36 years of amendments that adjust for teams exploiting the gray areas and loopholes...

      Then there's the RAAM Gear book which outlines all the minimum standards, best practices, and logistics of preparing for the race prior to arrival in Oceanside. It's... extensive, and not exactly light reading for a quiet beachfront session.

      While the crew chief's head is exploding from packing in all that newly needed information, the riders should be busily pummeling their legs, lungs, and hearts into submission while also working on how to do so for a week with limited sleep, constant moving in an RV, eating when time allows, and the nuances of how to urinate without being seen from the road by a passing vehicle so as not to assume a time penalty when reported by said passing vehicle after they call it in to race support (seen it happen folks).

      Now, unbeknownst to me, the team had honed their plan, registered, and already started training. You see, they are all primarily in South Carolina while I'm just bumbling about on mostly solo rides up in North Carolina and don't have any social media profiles like FB, IG, etc... So when I get a random text one day in saying "Hey, we're planning a team skills weekend on Memorial Day, we need you down here." I'm all like, uh... okay? Yeah, I just looked down the rabbit hole and am now falling/tumbling to the bottom.

      Okay, fast-forward to Memorial Day weekend of 2017; the team of 3 men and 1 woman have been training furiously for about 6 months now and are honing their fitness to a razor's edge. They've all been racking up podiums and PRs in local endurance races and practicing all-nighters in a riding "gym" on Computrainer setups. The rest of the crew has been assembled from friends, family members, and even putting one of the racer's kids on duty for his summer break. We have a nurse, a nutritionist, two mechanics, a corporate tax lawyer, retiree, student, professional project manager, hydraulics engineer, emotional health executive, and me. What a fine bunch of misfits we are...

    • Ridge

      Part III – Bodies… just bodies flying everywhere.

      So, it’s still Memorial Day weekend, 2017, and the team is gathered in historic
      Charleston, SC to familiarize everyone with the plans, strategy, and to
      continue working on skill building for the drivers of the follow vehicles and
      the riders.

      A decision is made that, since we're all cyclists, of course we should go for a
      bicycle tour of Charleston breweries. Now, before I delve into the details of
      this ride, I must preface that absolutely no one in our group was allowed to
      ride while drunk/inebriated; in point of fact, we took great care to limit how
      many beers were consumed and making certain everyone was sufficiently hydrated
      with water due to the unusual heat of the day for that time of year. Cycling
      and beer go hand in hand but must be done responsibly.

      For those unfamiliar with Charleston, SC; the city is divided between Charleston
      proper on one side and Mt. Pleasant on the other side of the Cooper and Wando
      rivers. This chasm of water is conquered by crossing the magnificent
      engineering structure called the Arthur J. Ravenel Bridge.
      The bridge is outfitted with a Multi-Use Path on one side for use by bicycles
      and pedestrians. It has drastically opened access to downtown Charleston and
      Mt. Pleasant for thousands of people, and now allows cyclists additional route
      options.

      Now, Charleston is a coastal city and,
      as such, has near zero elevation change for hundreds of square miles in any
      direction so, when a massive bridge like the AJR is built; it becomes the
      defacto location for anyone needing "hill" training. The bridge spans
      a total of 2.1 miles and climbing from the Charleston side takes up 1.4 miles
      of that at an easily paced average grade of 2%, however; climbing from the Mt.
      Pleasant side is a more grueling 0.7 miles at an average grade of nearly 5%...
      remember this for later, as it will be essential to the unbridled chaos that
      developed.

      Our tour group was augmented by some local friends of
      one of the racers and another couple in from somewhere else was loaned a tandem,
      owned by one of the racers. These two were proficient solo cyclists but didn’t
      have much in the way of experience on a tandem. Our merry band of misfits had successfully
      navigated to four breweries in three hours and we were heading back to Mt.
      Pleasant when Murphy decided to intervene and threw a grenade into the fray.

      I’m feeling froggy, so I jumped on the wheel of one
      of the racers and we hustled each other across the span of the bridge in record
      time. As we neared the end of the span, there’s about 60 meters of path before
      you have to make a u-turn to continue under the bridge to get to the other
      side. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, this will sneak up on you and many
      accidents have happened there due to cyclists underestimating their speed and
      stopping distances.

      Our group was not immune, as we would soon learn…
      Our female racer was third off the bridge and slowed to make the turn while me
      and the other guy were chatting and trying to catch photos of everyone. The
      couple on the tandem were really hauling down the path off the bridge and were
      not slowing nearly enough to make the turn… on top of that, their speed and
      course were not adjusting to avoid collision. Before anyone’s brain could
      connect what was about to occur, the tandem collided with our female racer and
      literally punted her and her bike another 20 meters to the grass at the end of
      the path. It was one of those moments that crystallize in one’s memory, seared
      in as only a tragedy of such magnitude can. As the rest of our group filtered
      in from the bridge, I was running toward the tandem while the other racer ran
      toward the female that was hit.

      I wish I could articulate what the body and mind
      goes through in the next few moments after witnessing such an event. It’s as if
      time itself slows, the center of the scene becomes clearer as the fringes of
      the periphery go out of focus and your mind’s eye prioritizes your next move before
      you even realize it. If you’re trained in First Aid/First Response, what
      happens next is almost reactionary from muscle memory. You instinctively move
      toward the chaos to assess the damage and begin the process of damage control.
      Basically, with bodily injury; don’t allow the injured person worsen their
      situation. Their body is filled with adrenaline and endorphins that are
      responding to numb any pain, and they are fully in fight or flight mode.
      Injured humans will do stupid things that would not make rational sense to
      anyone else.

      The stoker (rear rider) from the tandem took the
      brunt of the hit as she was thrown forward in the collision and made direct
      contact with the female racer. The stoker’s elbow was shattered, she had a mild
      concussion, and labored breathing, but coherent and aware of the situation. We
      got her stabilized and her arm immobilized when I checked on the female racer.
      This is where the situation settled like a pit in my stomach. As soon as I saw
      her sitting on the grass, holding her left arm up along her chest like it was
      immobile, I knew there was no way she would be capable of holding up her weight
      on a bicycle across the country in just a few weeks. Call it luck, divine
      intervention, whatever… she did not sustain a concussion, but had fractured the
      ball of her shoulder socket and would require extensive surgery to install some
      titanium hardware before she’d be allowed to use it again.

      With local Fire and Police now on scene, our group
      was disbanding and trying to get the logistics in order to follow up with the
      next steps. The husband of the racer wanted to hightail it back to their
      vehicle to meet her at the hospital… an obvious and expected decision.

      I did not want him riding through Mt. Pleasant
      traffic alone in a state of emotional distress and distraction from motorists,
      so I decided to ride with him. Now, I did not drive myself to the point where
      we started and was, instead, riding with another of the crew. She was not a
      local, nor was she a skilled and fast rider, so I spent the next 6 miles
      playing leap frog to not only make certain he was safe but also waiting at key
      intersections so that she saw the direction to turn, then sprinting back up to
      him. It was exhausting, to be sure, but I felt better knowing he made it back
      to his vehicle.

      As we settled on the last section of road before the
      parking area, I was slow pedaling on the sidewalk (4 lane, busy connector to my
      right). All I really recall was turning my head to see how far behind she was
      and if she was catching up when all went completely black. My next memory is
      lying on my back staring at a metal gray ceiling with floodlights in it and
      asking what happened? The EMT responded that I’d sustained a serious concussion
      from impacting my helmet on the concrete sidewalk and that I was being
      transported to the hospital. I just sort of went numb inside and tried my
      damndest to recall the previous 30 minutes… it didn’t work, and to this day, I
      have zero recall of the moments that occurred after crashing.

      From her perspective behind me, all she could tell
      me was looking up to see my body flying over the handlebars and my left temple
      making first contact with the sidewalk. My ride log says I was traveling around
      17mph when I crashed and went from 147bpm to 92 in less than a minute. I was in
      and out of consciousness as we made the trip to the ER, moved to a gurney,
      rolled into a C-Scan, placed in a neck collar, and finally rolled into a triage
      room of the ER to be monitored for the next four hours. I was evaluated by a neurosurgeon
      and cleared to leave on my own two feet. Luckily my friend stayed with me the
      entire time and forbade the EMTs to cut my jersey off while they were
      evaluating.

      My entire left side was a bloody mess of  road rash on knee, left and right knuckles,
      left shoulder, and the left side of my face/ear. I was very, very appreciative
      of the EMTs, my friend looking after me, and the stranger that stopped to help
      after I biffed it.

    You've been invited!