I have been off the bike for MUCH longer than I would want to be, but I have been working as finish line staff for The Race Across America. If you are not familiar with RAAM you can read all about it at www.raceacrossamerica.org In a nutshell, it is a bicycle race from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD.
Although I did not actually "ride" in the Race Across America, I did experience it differently than I had in the past. I worked as one of the vehicle drivers that had the privilege of meeting the riders at the final time station on Bestgate Rd, and parading them from there to the finish line at City Dock. I got so much more out of that experience than I bargained for, and I have already signed up again for next year.
A few months ago, I saw the email about an organizational/informational meeting at Capital Bicycle in regards to RAAM 2010. I somehow mis-read that email and showed up at 6:30 pm Wednesday for the meeting that happened 6:30 pm the night before. I was pretty bummed. So when another email was sent out looking for finish line staff, I replied immediately with a few questions. Once I worked out the logistics at work and at home, I signed up. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that my motivation was the money that I would make working the 5 days at the finish line. For those of you who are not aware, I am doing a charity ride to benefit The American Diabetes Association July 10 - 16 http://main.diabetes.org/goto/cslane (shameless plug) and I am donating all of the money that I made working at RAAM 2010 towards my fund raising efforts. Little did I know that I would get SO much more from the experience.
I was scheduled for the 2 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift and was fortunate to work with a group of great people on that shift. It was group of quality people who knew what needed to be done, and did it, or got word to the person that needed to do it. We spent some moments at the wee hours of the morning sitting around talking about cycling, professional badminton, mucking horse stalls and just about anything else that came to our minds at the time.
When the riders leave the time station in Odenton the escort drivers are sent out to meet them and their support crews at the final time station on Bestgate Rd. In regards to the racers time, this is the end of the race. It is here, I think, that you get to see the true raw emotion and excitement of finishing the Race Across America. On Friday morning when Team Type I arrived they had just ridden their bikes across the country in 5 and a half days and they still seemed fresh, and ready to ride the race in reverse. On Saturday morning the second place solo RAAM finisher, Gerhard Gulewicz, rode in with a blank stare on his face and mumbled "I am very very tired.". A little more than 2 hours later, the 3rd place solo RAAM finisher, Matthew Warner-Smith arrived and was nearly tackled by his crew as they were SO jubilant that he had finished. His crew then ran into the bathroom, leaving him laying on the asphalt at the Shell Station. He said that it felt good to lay down, and I am quite certain he dozed until the crew returned from the bathroom. On Sunday Team Type II (which our own Bob C rode RAAM with last year) and The Friars Club, both competing in the 8 person team division, were basically in a sprint to the finish. Team Type II finished 3 minutes ahead of The Friars Club, and were very excited about it. There are so many more great stories like those that I saw play out as more finishers came in.
Being able to interact with the racers directly was a source of inspiration to me. I was able to see the pride on 13 year old Connor's face explaining that he did normal pulls just like everyone else on Team Donate Life did, even in the mountains. I was able to see Sabrina Bianci break down to tears as she entered the Shell station, over come with the emotion of finishing 2nd place in the woman's solo division. I was able to look at Michele Santilahno's bicycle while she was preparing for the ride to the finish line. Last year Michele attempted RAAM, but was not able to finish. As I looked at the top tube of the bike I saw a piece of paper laminated to it. As I looked more closely, it listed all 55 time stations, distances between each, what time the station closed and what her average speed needed to be to reach each time station on time.
There were also some people who not only overcame the 3,005 mile course, but they also had to deal with what some people would consider obstacles. I am not sure that these people see them that way, and they certainly do not allow them to stand in their way. I did not do the escort for Operation Progress, but on that team was a former LA police officer that was shot in the line of duty and paralyzed from the chest down that completed the race. She was part of a 4 person team, using her arms to turn the crank. There was also team FARA (Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance) a 4 person team that included 2 members that suffer from Friedreich's Ataxia, that completed the race. Kyle Bryant had a very emotional and inspiration message for everybody at the banquet Monday evening.
Each night of the race, there is a banquet for the riders and crews to be recognized and some serious as well as rather humorous awards are given out. I attended the banquet last night and it is here that you really understand the quality of people that are involved in this race, as well as the passion that they posses for cycling.
Fred and Rick, the father and son team that put this event on every year are doing a great job at building the race and making it bigger and better each year.
As with ALL ride reports, there are lessons learned. Here are mine.
#1 - Sunscreen is your friend! I failed to apply any while I was down at the dock, and my face has just begun peeling.
#2 - The theme to Rocky sounds really really good when you are driving down Duke of Gloucester St at 4:00 a.m. at 15 mph.
#3 - I think that "Brazilian" is loosely translate as "moving party". They bring the party with them.
#4 - There are still a lot of people (drunks mostly) at City Dock at 2 a.m.
If you didn't follow RAAM this year, you can still go to the website and check out the video's and the web sites of some of the participants.
Back on the bike tomorrow. I am hoping that still remember how to ride.