Sunday, July 29, 2007

Biking To Chautauqua


When I was on our Mediterranean Cruise I had a dream that instead of just riding my bike from Cleveland to Chautauqua I could ride from Chicago to Chautauqua! What a great idea.

So as soon as I got home from RAAM I began setting in motion all the little and big details of a solo, self-contained 500+ mile bike ride.

With my trusty Garmin I created a wonderful route that would land me in:
  • La Porte, IN at the end of Day 1, about 90 miles
  • Auburn, IN at the end of Day 2, about 100 miles
  • Fremont, OH at the end of Day 3, about 130 miles
  • Cleveland, OH at the end of Day 4, about 100 miles
  • Chautauqua, NY at the end of Day 5 about 120 miles
The next challenge was to find a buddy to ride with. Not an easy task. "Hey, wanna ride 500 miles with me to NY?" Even if they wanted to, to pull that off in a blink of an eye...well, now that's pretty tough.

But, I had the good fortune of spending the weekend in Muskegon, MI the end of June with my Desert Camp, recumbent friend, Denise. Her long-faithful riding buddy, Ken, another bent rider, was up for at least part of the ride. He would ride down from Muskeon, MI and meet me in La Porte and ride Days 2 and 3 with me.

Walt, a Transcon rider and one of the racers on Team 60 Going Hard, lives in Cleveland, OH. He and I began talking on RAAM about how to make it happen for us to ride some of my route together. What could work was he would ride west from Cleveland and I rode east toward Cleveland and we would meet on the road. We did just that, had lunch together, rode to my hotel and then he rode on home in Cleveland Heights. We met up on the road again on the following morning, Day 5, and rode about 50 miles together before he turned around and rode home again.

All five days were amazingly pleasant--good weather, good comaraderie, no mechanical problems, and courteous drivers. It was so pleasant that I have been smitten by the touring bug and am now questing after a long wheel based recumbent (maybe a Gold Rush??) that can better accommodate the weight of loaded touring while also increasing the stability. I'm fantasizing about an 850 mile ride to Columbus, GA to see Kirk's Mom, and a 950 mile ride to Keene, NH to see my friend, Barb. At least it's something to dream about.

A couple of funny sights along the way:
  • A sign which read: "Wigs and Food"
  • There was a hitching post outside the local grocery store, not for bikes, but for horses, you guessed it we were in Amish Country
  • Bowling Transportation (I thought this community had such avid bowlers they even provided transportaion to the local alleys. But Ken convinced me it was the name of a transportation company since they were recruiting, drivers, owners, and operators).
Probably the most amazing thing of all was that Daniel from Arizona, Katie, Aaron, and Mya from Chicago, Kirk, from Wilmette, and G'ma Mary and her three septa/octogenarian friends from Georgia, and I all arrived at Chautauqua for our family reunion within 5 minutes of one another. This will be the re-write of the classic, Planes, Bikes, and Automobiles. :))

Oh, while I was in Cleveland, I GPS'd the "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out" Christmas Story Museum. Hopped on my bike and rode the 12+ miles from my hotel. What fun it was. Watching that classic has been part of our family's Christmas Holiday Tradition since the movie was released in 1983.

There are a few pix from biking along the northern tier, including The Christmas Story House/Museum on my shutterfy. www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

Enjoy!

RAAM 2007 Is In The Books


For all the history, stats, and stories about RAAM 2007, check out: www.raceacrossamerica.org.

For a recounting of my experience on this my first Race Across America as a crew member, please follow the 3,043 mile journey on the posts below concluding with Dinner At 11:00 p.m.

Pix of the Race from my shutter can be found at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

Enjoy.


2007 Race Across America, RAAM, as it is known.

How to capture RAAM is something like a single person trying to cover the Olympics or a war. What do these diverse events have in common? For starters, they are multi-day events where the action spans a huge expanse of geography, involving many players, each contributing and experiencing something unique, mundane, or life-changing at any single point in time. So, I will do my best to share RAAM with you, but know that whatever I say is but one tiny speck of the whole.

First, RAAM is a transcontinental, single stage bicycle race, this year from Oceanside, CA to Atlantic City, NJ 3,043 miles. There are solo riders, and teams of 2, 4, and 8 persons, who ride traditional/diamond frame uprights, tandems, or recumbents. Within each of these phylos there can be gender and age divisions. Some of the riders race for charities, but it’s only a philanthropy race if the rider or team chooses to fund-raise on the behalf of some cause. The fastest solo riders will cross in as little as eight (8) days; the fastest teams in less than six (6) days. Many riders who start are unable to finish within the allotted 12 days.

RAAMers race RAAM for the love of riding, the distance and the challenge. There is no money to be made, only money to be spent. The average racer will spend a minimum of $10,000, most of which is out-of-own-pocket, just to cover the minimum basics. That’s why only one Tour de France racer has ever participated in RAAM. TDFers ride with the hope of winning prize cash.

For RAMMers it’s rider against rider, rider against terrain, rider against the elements, and ultimately the rider against him/herself. There are a few winners, a few more survivors; the rest go home.

There is no way to simulate a race like this—riding up to 20 hours a day through rain, hail, heat, 40 mile an hour head winds, 10,000 foot climbs, hairpin descents in the middle of the night, riding sleep deprived with a chase vehicle, whose driver is also sleep deprived, 20 feet behind the rider’s rear wheel throwing light on the road ahead.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

So How Did This RAAM Thing Get Started, Anyway??

The concept of a bicycle race across America can be traced back to newspaperman George Nellis, who in 1887 crossed the United States on a 45-pound iron high-wheel bicycle with no gears and with pedals attached directly to the front wheel. Following the railroad routes across the country, he made the crossing in just under 80 days.

Every ten years or so, the record would be reduced by a few days, but it was not until the 1970s, when John Marino got serious about finding how quickly a bicycle could be ridden across the U.S.A. that the modern movement of trans-national cycling competition began. Other riders began challenging the marks made by Marino, and by 1982 a group of these riders decided they were ready for a head-to-head race. In its first year, the Race Across America (RAAM) was called the Great American Bike Race. Four riders lined up on the pier in Santa Monica and raced to New York. The winner was Lon Haldeman. Since then the race has been run every year, always west to east. In 2007 the race begins in Oceanside, California, and finishes in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

My Connection To RAAM

Lon Haldeman won the Great American Bick Race in 1982, one year after he launched PAC Tour (www.pactour.com) a bike travel company supporting fast bicycle rides (not races) across the country. Somehow I had heard about Lon’s winning the Great American Bike Race and I thought that was way cool and absolutely knew that somehow, sometime I wanted to ride my bike across the country. I knew I was, and never would be good enough to race across the country, but ride, yes, I could do that.

The only problem was our kids were about 4, 6, and 8 years old and Kirk’s ministry as a United Methodist Pastor involved evenings and weekends. The 80’s was not the decade for me to be consider a transcontinental bike ride. The kids were older in the ‘90’s but that was the decade of multiple back surgeries, challenged rehabs after my surgeries, and generally a protracted season of the dark night of the soul. I had even forgotten about transcontinental bike races and rides.

By 2001 I was rehabbed enough to purchase my first recumbent bicycle and figure out how to ride again. Some recumbent buddies threw down the gauntlet challenging me: “If you’re really serious about your riding, you ought to do a PAC Tour Transcontinental.” Twenty years after Lon’s first win, RAAM, and transcontinentals had come full circle for me. I started training in earnest in 2002 and by the time I arrived in San Diego in September, 2006 to ride PAC Tour’s Southern Transcontinental Route, I had logged over 40,000 training miles.

Three of the guys on my Southern Transcon were Walt Chapman, Larry Gitman, and Paul Danhaus. They were some of what I call, “the fast boys”—too fast for me to keep up with on the road, but we did enjoy good camaraderie, shared meals, and a few laundromats together. One thing else Walt, Larry, Paul, and I had in common. We were all at least 60 years old. So, when Paul asked if I wanted to crew for their RAAM team, Team 60 Going Hard, I reflexively said a resounding “yes.” Crewing for RAAM would be the closest I would ever be able to get to RAAM.

And that’s how RAAM came to be for me.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

3,043 miles, 4 riders, 10 crew—The Plan

If the route is divided equally, each rider would ride 750 miles. To break the pre-2007 record by a team of 60 year olds, we will arrive in Atlantic City on June 19th. Since each year’s route is slightly different, the average mph for the crossing is the “true” number to chase, not hours:days:minutes.

Three support vehicles will support Team 60 Going Hard—a 39 foot mobile home, which I unkindly named either The Beached Whale or The Beast, and two mini vans. The mobile home would be “home base” where crew and riders would sleep and eat their meals. There would be four (4) permanent residents in the mobile home—the two drivers, the crew chief, and me—the domestique, a term given to the servants of riders in The Tour De France. As domestique I would be responsible for meal preparation and clean up, rider massages, laundry, and assuring each of the riders had “The Right Stuff” in his bottles before and after each of his rides, or pulls as they are called. Sounds simple enough.

I chose the domestique role because I know painfully well what a hard time I have staying awake on long distance road trips. This was to be a truly long road trip with expected sleep deprivation. Plus, I would be starting RAAM exactly 24 hours after returning from Venice. Just a little jet lag to deal with.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

The Beached Whale

We acquired The Whale through a dealership that leases other people’s MH’s for them, sort of like a time-share I guess. Anyhow, the mobile home would become our albatross.

Before we even left Oceanside we had to replace all four of its batteries to the tune of about $600.00. San Diego-based crew had bought a ton of food-type staples to start us out on our journey. Pre-race I stashed all the goodies and labeled all the drawers and cabinets. Keeping life neat and organized in a 39’ mobile home with 14 people living in it intensely 24/7 would require ever bit of organizational skill I could muster.

When it was time to turn our headlights on our first night out, we had virtually no headlights. So we climbed the mountains of California with our parking lights. YIKES! We got them “sort of” repaired the next day.

We quickly became acquainted with the limits of The Whale’s black and gray water tank capacity. Those were terms I knew nothing about before this, my first MH experience. But let’s just say that what we learned is this. First, only the riders would be able to take showers and only seaman showers at that. You know, where you turn the water on long enough to get your self wet; turn it off while you scrub; and then turn it on again only long enough to rinse. The rest of us would need to use “wet ones” or, at the most, sponge off in the sink. Second, no # 2’s in the MH’s toilet. We learned that the graphic way as raw sewerage was one eye winker from washing down the galley as it rolled up through the shower drain. Yuck!!

This particular MH was selected because it had a washer and dryer in it. That seemed like quit a nice perk as we would have riders needing a lot of clean and dry clothes. Well, it took 3 hours for the washer to finish its cycle and it did not dry the clothes at all. Furthermore, it used up a lot of our fresh water tank. So riding clothes were washed by hand and hung to dry in the MH. The rest of us wore the same clothes all week long.

Our Whale had no shocks. So my job of cooking while standing up in a moving vehicle hurtling up and down mountain passes was a better ride than any at your favorite Theme Park. Many things were hurled down the galley—a jar of olives, the coffee pot (more than once), coffee grounds (only once), the microwave glass turntable, and me.

Our most scary Whale moment came in Yates Center, KS Saturday morning, when out of the clear blue sky we lost our entire hydraulic system. What that means is no power steering and no brakes. With a whale this big, both are essential!! Our good fortune was that we WERE in Kansas. Kansas is flat and we were able to coast to a stop with the help of our Jake brake and the curb. While the mechanical guys on our crew fixed the hydraulic system, I rented a hotel room across the street so our riders who were not on the road could sleep, and our mechanics could have a place to shower after the fixin’ was done. The motel desk clerk drove me in her own car to the town Laundromat so I could do a real load of wash.

It truly was a miracle that we had our mechanical challenge in Kansas and not in the middle of the night screaming down a mountain pass. There would have been 8 of us who didn’t make it.

Only two of our crew knew how to drive the Whale. One had poor night vision so the division of labor was apparent—Wayne by day and Larry by night. Even though each of these guys had a lot of MH experience, driving one of these huge rigs under the influence of sleep deprivation in ever-changing terrain was a challenge none of the rest of us could truly appreciate. So, when the Whale lost two of her under-belly cargo doors because she was pulled in too tightly against the protect-the-pump-defense poles, well, we knew our drivers were doing the very best they could.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

How Hot Is Hot

California and Arizona desert heat in mid-June is hard on all living creatures. But try racing a bike under those conditions 24/7! It’s amazing more racers didn’t have trouble! By the time we reached Missouri the heat had caught up with two of our racers and one of our crew. They were basically out of commission for a day and a half which meant that our whole race strategy had to be rethought. The remaining two riders pulled double duty for the day and a half.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

The Record--Can We Break It?

After everyone got over their heat exhaustion and all our racers were able to ride again, we had lost too much ground to The Hoosiers, the other team of 60 year olds who were our most direct competition. It didn’t look like we would be able to break the record for 60 year olds.

The riders’ spirits were down as heat, fatigue, cramped quarters, and disappointment about the record sank in. Then one of our racers, who’s a numbers wizard, said

“Wait a minute. If we put all 4 of us out on the road at the same time and we work together in a pace line, averaging 23-24 miles per hour for the last 100 miles, we can still break the record.”

Lots of excitement, chaos, and scramble to get all the rides out on the road at the same place at the same time while abiding by the myriad RAAM rules (most all of which are grounded in rider and crew safety). We did it, though, got them all out there, and they rode their hearts out.

They did, indeed, BREAK the old record. But, they did not SET a new record, as The Hoosiers averaged 0.1 of a mph faster than our guys. Not bad at all for a race that’s 3,043 miles long.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

Finishing On The Boardwalk

The finish is on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. It was about 7:30 p.m. when our riders rolled down the Boardwalk escorted by the police on a motorcycle, siren blaring. Family members were there, crew was there cheering them to their victory stand.

The Boardwalk is neonified and garish. But not tonight, our night, June 19, 2007. A surreal fog rolled in, just for us, I’m sure, muting all the ostentatious glare. Even Boardwalk sounds were stilled. Our guys rode in with head lights on for the last time in RAAM 2007.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com

Dinner At 11:00

The riders hosted a dinner for all of us. Only thing was that no one wanted to eat until we had our first shower in a week. Getting 14 people checked into the Trump Plaza Hotel, showered, and back down to dinner was like herding puppies. So, dinner commenced at 11:00 p.m. What’s one more night of short sleep.

What fun it was to swap “Remember when” stories. There were lots of stories others had not heard because we were all spread out in 3 vehicles, 4 mikes, and 3,043 miles.

Would I do it again? Too soon to say. At least now I know what questions to ask to decide if I would.

RAAM Pix at www.bentwanderings.shutterfly.com