The Official Word

by Rich Savitt

 


 

* The Free Lap Rule

* Race Numbers 101

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raam2 2010 

The Race Across America has been organized and run for 28 years.  There are numerousrace categories.  Individual Men and Women racers start a few days prior to the teams to accomplish the goal of all racers finishing within a few days.  This year’s entrants represented approximately 15 different countries.  The RAAM always begins somewhere on the West Coast on the Pacific and ends somewhere on the water on the East Coast. 

For the past few years it has started in Oceanside, California.  Recent destinations have been Savannah/Georgia, Atlantic City/New Jersey and now Annapolis/Maryland.   The actual course changes somewhat almost yearly and this year was one of the most difficult in recent years, involved major climbs in the Rockies, and was 3005 miles in length.  Our team goal was to “smash” the existing 4 mixed tandem transcontinental record that was set on the somewhat shorter and less hilly Savannah, Georgia course in 1997.  


The 2010 RAAM Team JDRF (Junior Diabetes Research Foundation) was comprised of the “racers” and the “crew.”  The “racers” consisted of four mixed tandem teams, competed in the 50+ age group, and included: Tim Skipper/Linda Bott,   Joe Peterson/Brenda Barnell,   Bernie Barge/Angie Orellano-Fisher,   Carl Moler/Robin Phelps.   There were two “Racer Vans” which required two Navigator/Driver teams for each.  These teams worked approximately twelve hour shifts.  There was also a “Chase Van” that followed the tandem that was on the road at all times.  Our team had a policy of following the racers day and night while RAAM rules only require this at night.  This van generally had a driver, navigator, mechanic, and often the Crew Chief on board.  They also worked twelve hour shifts.  In addition we had a “RV” that served as sleeping quarters for crew members as well as a storage and supply vehicle.   An old RAAM adage is that “The crew can’t win RAAM for you but they can lose it for you.”   Never were truer words spoken.  While riding RAAM was a challenge, the real pressure and challenge was keeping the racers on course and calculating/orchestrating the numerous relay changes that were made daily.  The relay strategy involved each team making an all out effort for 30 minutes (45 minutes at night) and then overlapping the wheel of the next tandem team in the rotation.  The Navigators had to figure out how fast the racing tandem was traveling, calculate how many miles they would cover, and then find a suitable “transition” location.  A suitable “transition point” had to allow both “Racer Vans” room to park a minimum of 5 ft. off of the road and provide suitable terrain for the transition.  Doing all of this while managing to get both vans in position with enough time to get the next tandem off the van and the racers out and ready to ride in 30 minutes, may not sound difficult but it was at times an incredible challenge.   Many times the roads were very narrow and it was almost impossible to accomplish this within the time and distance variables that were required.   The vans all had radio communication and it was imperative that the “Chase Van” update the “Racer Vans” continuously of speed and location so that the “Racer Van” Navigators and Drivers could “monitor and adjust” the location of the transition point accordingly.  When you are giving an all out effort and gauging that effort on the expectation of doing so for 30 or 45 minutes it can be demoralizing when your  time is extended  by as little as 5 to 10 minutes.   Also the “accumulative physical attrition” of such miscalculations can have an extremely detrimental effect on a racer’s ability to maintain that effort over 6+ days.   Accomplishing these duties, while dealing with the realities of sleep deprivation and physical fatigue, was an incredible challenge for crew members.  Yes we racers had our challenges too, but ours were much more simplistic in many ways.  Our challenge was to maintain the physical and mental ability to go out and give 10-14 all out riding efforts each day.   Quite frankly most of our “pressure” came during the training stage for the RAAM.   Once the race started we were either ready to ride at the necessary level or not.  But regardless of the “quality” of our pull, once our effort was done, we were able to immediately go into a “no pressure” mode and eat and sleep.  The “crew members” were under pressure for their entire 12 hour shift.  If they were inattentive or lost focus bad things could happen.  If a driver lost focus people could die.  If a navigator was unable to concentrate, a missed turn could cost the team minutes or even hours.  And without effective and efficient coordination between the “Racer “ and “Chase” vans time would be lost on transitions and the “racers” would suffer  unnecessary  additional mental and physical  stress and fatigue.   While the “racers” get a lot of the “credit” for the success of our venture none of it would have been possible without the crew’s incredible commitment and successful execution of the “game plan.”   Certainly that reality reflects well on the efforts of our Team Crew Chief, George Phinney, and his fellow crew members Matt Skipper, Alex Castillo, Bailey Castillo, Mike Crago-Schneider, Suzanne Crago-Schneider, Jim Watson, Mike Caldwell, Mike Roddy, and Tom Lamay.   I personally can attest to the how incredibly important Van 2 crew members were to me.  I truly believe I couldn’t have successfully completed this ride without the patient and skillful efforts of our day team of Jamie Lindgren and Marvin Fisher (Marvin was also the Assistant Crew Chief) and the night team of Josh Olson and Nadine Howard.  Josh and Nadine did a tremendous job of keeping us on course, managing the tricky job of timing and locating transitions in the dark,  and staying awake and alert, all while keeping their sense of humor.  Due to the efforts of all of these team members Team JDRF was the 12th overall finisher out of 51 total.(This included three individual racers who left three days before the teams)  We were the  9th team to finish overall.  Team JDRF was the 5th out of 23 four bike teams, and the 1st Team out of 8 four bike teams in the 50+ Category  to the finish line.  We also finished ahead of 7 eight bike teams, all the 2 bike teams, and all but three of the individual racers.    Team JDRF set a new four mixed tandem team transcontinental record (6 days 14 hrs 55 min  vs  6 days 21 hrs 13 min) on a tougher course.   Our average speed was 18.91 MPH for 3005.1 miles.  I suspect that if you dissected the races of a number of the other competitors who were not as successful as Team JDRF you would find that they suffered from “crew generated missteps” that demoralized team members and cost them significant time.  Our team had no penalties assessed during the race.   Quite frankly, in my opinion, our crew was the difference between the mediocre/average results for a number of teams and the exceptional results for Team JDRF.      

                                                                                                                                             
More  RAAM Details


There were “roaming race officials” on course.  Violations of rules resulted in time penalties or disqualification.
There were 55 time stations, including the finish line, that required a “team check-in” when passed.  Most often this was the responsibility of the “Crew Chief” or his designee.  A few required a “physical presence” while most accepted a “telephone call.”
Daytime transition rules allowed the transitions to be done at speed.  The finishing tandem had to overlap the rear wheel of the relay tandem.   The goal was to accomplish this at as close to maximum speed as possible to minimize the loss of time.  Remember there were 40+ transitions every 24 hrs.  Lost seconds become minutes, then hours!


Night time transition rules required the relay tandem to remain at a dead stop until passed by the finishing tandem.  Both tandems had to always remain in the headlights of a van.


Day time pulls were generally 30 minutes long.   Exceptions were on long steep climbs such as Wolf Creek Pass.  Then the pulls were generally shorter and a couple of times were kept to about one mile in length.  


Night time pulls were extended to 45 minutes to give the “racers” additional time to rest.  Exceptions were when long steep climbs were taken at night; then “Pulls” were shorter and once were kept to approximately one mile in length.


Racer Van # 1 was the home to the Tim Skipper/Linda Bott and Bernie Barge/Angie Orellano-Fisher Tandem Teams.  Racer Van # 2 was home to Joe Peterson/Brenda Barnell and Carl Moler/Robin Phelps.  There were two bucket seats for the Driver and Navigator up front.  There was a short bench seat behind the bucket seats.  There was a longer bench seat at the back of the van.  The floor in between was covered with indoor/outdoor carpet.  Depending on where we were in the rotation, the vans had 2 to 4 racers sleeping/eating /resting on the seats and/or floor.  Managing to keep the van orderly and find helmets, shoes, etc …, often in the dark was a challenge.  Keeping hydrated and eating enough under these circumstances while trying not to disturb the sleep of other racers was also challenging.  


The rotation of tandems was Peterson, Skipper, Moler, Barge.  I think this changed once for a reason that escapes me.


Each tandem was required to have a headlight, tail light, and reflective tape on wheels and frames.  These headlights were largely ineffective at lighting the road at night.  It was critical for the “Chase Van” to maintain close contact with the tandem on the road since the van headlights were crucial to illuminating and exposing any hazards on the road.  This was especially true on the night time high speed descents.   Obviously this made for a “nervous” though hopefully “attentive” driver.  On steep, fast, technical, night time descents a “Racer Van” would often stay a few hundred yards ahead so that the Tandem Captain could anticipate upcoming curves and terrain by watching the “flow” of the tail lights.


When the “Chase Van” had to get gas or stop for a “Nature Break” one of the “Racer Vans” took over “Chase Van” duties until the “Chase Van” returned.
Vans could not be in a “caravan.”  They had to remain a few hundred yards apart except when passing during a “Leap Frog” moment.  The RV could not be a racer support vehicle.  It was required to go from point to point and park.  When convenient the RV and “Racer Vans” would rendezvous at one of these points to exchange people or supplies.


Speaking of “Nature Breaks,” when transitions could be made at Gas Stations team members had the luxury of using “porcelain” fixtures.  Otherwise in remote and even not so remote areas at times “Nature Breaks” were taken as necessary and the old Texas saying of “Distance is Decency” was invoked.
Nutrition was an ongoing challenge.  Subsisting on a diet of Gatorade, nutrition bars, water, and Boost at the beginning eventually evolved into also eating anything and everything that came along.  I remember laughing at the sight of Joe and Brenda sitting on the floor of the van eating messy bar-be-que ribs one evening.   I even ate cold cheese burgers.  Eating sufficient calories was more important than what they were.  Maintaining adequate hydration was critical.


Personal Hygiene was difficult to address.  Finding the time and the opportunity to use a spray bottle and paper towels or the ever popular “handy wipe” approach was also a challenge.   And as Robin, Joe, and Brenda can attest to, a challenge I probably failed to address adequately.  I brought seven uniforms along and ended up using only three.  And yeah, it was hot and humid a lot of the time.  Sorry!  Also “LANACANE” was a crucial painkiller that kept us guys going.          

                                                                                                                                          
RAAM SNAPSHOTS   

                                                                                                                                                            Oceanside/Start
Thanks to Jason Moler we had great rooms at a great venue in Oceanside (and Annapolis.)
This was the 1st time the entire team was together and the “complexity” of the ”production” really sank in.  The Official RAAM team meeting was a dramatic display of the size of the RAAM.  Hundreds of racers/crew attended.


Dipping the tires in the Pacific was a nice touch.  The start line “gala” was also nice.  The presence of family, friends, and teammates was especially nice.   Thanks to those who came to support and see us off on race day.


The “neutral start” was not nice.  Being required to ride for seven miles at 18 mph or slower and not being allowed to pass and being stuck behind two Australians who did not know the course and kept making wrong turns was not fun nor did it make sense for this “time” to count against a team’s  race finish time.   


Two tandems (Peterson/Moler) raced the first 29 miles together since rules banned support vehicles or transitions on this stretch of road.  If a tandem broke the other would be able to continue on.  It was fun!


The Blur /First 24 hours/Brawley, Blythe,Ca,  Needles, Parker, Salome, Congress, Prescott, Cottonwood,AZ


The hectic nature of the first afternoon and evening, as we operated in a comparative “traffic jam” of other race teams, and “figured it out,” was intense.

Staying up all night and sleeping one hour in the first 48 was different.


Getting into the “routine” of living in a van with three other people and two crew members and stepping on Joe

Peterson’s bare foot, in the dark, in my cycling shoes, and hoping he wouldn’t hurt me was a “learning moment.”   

Being “terrified” that my legs, that were sore to the touch everywhere, and constantly on the verge of cramping, would “seize up” and end the adventure with failure and ,worse yet, result in letting down teammates and supporters.   Then finally having enough courage to say something about the legs and having Joe Peterson nonchalantly explain that it was like that the first day or so and then the pain would go away.  


“Blur” Moments/  Flagstaff, Tuba City, Kayenta, Az. Mexican Hat,Montezuma Creek,UT. Cortez,Durango, CO.+


As Joe had predicted, my legs soon began to “re-group” and I felt stronger with each pull.  Robin is incredibly strong and sustained our efforts while I fought through the “leg thing.”


The team had a memorable night somewhere in here.  Robin and I were riding strongly at this point and began to pass other RAAM single and team riders.  At night you could often see the “rabbit” out there marked by the flashing lights of that rider’s “Chase Van.”  This particular night we had just passed a bike and could see another set of flashing lights off in the distance.  A crew member, my buddy Mike Crago-Schneider, who was marking a corner (standing there to make sure we knew to turn) yelled as we passed that the bike ahead was a member of an 8 bike team.  He “encouraged” us to “catch him.”  Robin made a comment about “catching her rabbit” or something and then she “put the hammer down.”  The guy was definitely strong but after a chase we caught and passed him on a hill just before the end of our pull.   My understanding is that the next tandem of Tim Skipper and Linda Bott slugged it out with this team over the course of their pull, exchanging the lead a number of times.  The crew members in all the vans of both teams were evidently really entertained.  Tim transitioned to Joe Peterson and Brenda Barnell.  They finished it by finally dropping the team.  I, of course, slept through it all.
The climbs just kept coming as we moved across Arizona ( Flagstaff and Tuba City,) touched a bit of                 Utah ( Mexican Hat, Montezuma Creek,)  and moved into Colorado.


Finally sleep began to come regularly.  Though it was a bit weird waking from a deep sleep 10-14 times a day and initially feeling like you had been asleep for numerous hours instead of around one.  


One night Robin and I drew a major descent (somewhere in Arizona or Utah I think) and set what would stand as the “Land Speed Record” for the trip.  We hit 60 MPH in the dark.  I believe that is the “top end speed” for all of the RAAM teams this year since we were the only tandem team and would therefore have the fastest speed on descents due to the weight factor.  As a side note, while I suspected Robin would have welcomed lower speeds at times on our descents (especially the numerous night time versions) she never complained once as we hammered our way down the mountains at “warp speed.”  She is an incredible “motor” and I was flattered by her confidence in me as a Tandem Captain, especially since we had only met two days prior to the start.
Meeting my son Jason Moler in Durango was special.  He and his company CEO, Mike McMaude, (who lives in Durango) followed us for 100 miles before heading back at the top of the Wolf Creek Pass climb (Elevation 10,857 ft.)  That climb, Jason’s presence, and the beautiful countryside made this a trip highlight for me.


Somewhere around this time (Pagosa Springs, South Fork, Alamosa ,or La Veta, CO.)we had the only cold weather of the trip on a night time climb and descent.  I had on numerous layers, knee warmers, and gloves during our night pulls.  By the way, we were fortunate in the weather department all trip.  Individual and team riders ahead and behind us had to deal with snow, wind, and torrential rain issues.  We likewise dodged much of the severe heat due to cloud cover in Arizona.  As a side note we were also very lucky from the perspective of “mechanicals.”   Mike Roddy had little to do.  Our backup tandems never left the rack on the “Chase Van.”


After the beauty of the Rockies the flatlands of Colorado and Kansas were rather monotonous.  Fortunately the fact that the “Dreaded Kansas Winds” were absent made this a fast trip.  During this stretch we “ate up” a number of other teams.   Pratt, Kansas marked about 3 days on the road and the halfway point in the race.


Routine is how I would describe much of the next couple of days.  After the flatlands more hills, more miles, more “Americana” as we pedaled across parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.   


One highlight was meeting  Robin’s mom and a number of family and friends one morning around 2 AM somewhere out in the middle of nowhere near her hometown of Hamel, Illinois.   Oh yeah, just prior to that Robin had finally been “moved” to suggest that it was time for me to change the bike clothes I had worn since day 1 (around 4 days.)   Think she said something like “you stink but I can’t smell it too much while we are moving.”  After I changed clothes, someone, who will remain unnamed, kicked over about six chocolate milkshakes brought to the team by Robin’s family and covered me from thigh to shoes with sticky goop about    5 minutes before Robin and I  had to take our pull.  Still, “sticking” was better than “stinking” I guess.
Appalachian Snapshots ( West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and then Maryland Again)


Getting harassed by a “redneck” in a pickup somewhere;  Getting chased by a dog somewhere;  Riding on the rough surface of a road that had the top layer of asphalt removed for what seemed like days but was only about 5 miles;  Being interviewed and photographed  by a RAAM Media Team while climbing out of the saddle somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains and feeling obligated to smile;  Climbing what seemed like forever one night and then being treated to the reward of miles of fast descending;  Realizing that the RAAM veterans were right when they said the climbing in the Appalachian Mountains was the toughest part of the ride.  Being 300 miles from the finish seemed so close but when a major portion of the 300 miles involves steep climbing, and you are “ready for this ride to be over,” it really is challenging from a mental perspective.  


And Then It Was Over


Though the last 300 miles was probably the toughest from a mental standpoint, they also marked a bittersweet time for me.   I began to realize that the end of this adventure, that I so wanted to be over,  would also result in an end to the relationships developed over the last 6+ days and in some cases months.  We had grown into an efficient “team” and overcome a lot of adversity together.   The team had had some “issues” but persevered.
As we approached the final 21 miles it was decided to finish the RAAM the way we started it, with the Peterson/Moler tandems working together to maximize our speed over the final 21 miles and minimize the possibility of another team catching us at the end.  We “pace lined” to the Shell Station in Annapolis which marked the official end of the timed race.   Team JDRF then re-formed as all four tandems and vans were escorted the final 3.8 miles to the finish line at the water in Annapolis.


My last snapshot was of my lovely bride of 41 years, Nancy Moler, who surprised me at the finish line.  I was overwhelmed with emotion not only by her unexpected presence but also by the satisfaction I felt at being a part of the adventure and the success of Team JDRF.   Annapolis highlights include: The finish line “gala”; Sleeping for a full night;  Riding the tandem with Mike Crago-Schneider  to the finish line twice and seeing other racers finish; and Attending the awards dinner as a team.  Saying goodbye to all the team members was the hard part; Or, on second thought, driving “Racer Van #2” back from Annapolis to Yorba Linda with Mike and Suzanne Crago-Schneider in 42.5 hours might qualify as the toughest part of the adventure.  The End (for now.)

story by Carl Moler

 

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