The Race Across America

The Race Across America

When the cycling bug bit me back in the 1980s, I began, like all of you, I suspect, to digest all the bike magazines out there. In that era Bicycling had a real thing for the Race Across America. Some of you may recall that in the mid-90s the magazine went as far as to field their own four-man team at the event.

The appeal of RAAM is pretty simple. It’s the world’s most basic race—here to there—writ in letters big enough to be seen from space. The sleepless part mystified me. Honestly, it still does.

Professional associations being what they are, I’ve got a fair number of friends who have worked in the media, left, come back, done another tour elsewhere, rinse and repeat. Back in January I heard from my friend Vic Armijo, who was at Bicycle Guide during a previous era, prior to my arrival. From the first time I met him I appreciated the depth of his knowledge and his quick, irreverent wit. Vic runs the media for RAAM and wanted to know if I’d be willing to be an at-home correspondent.

Now, before I can describe my reaction to the question, I have to tell you a story.

In 1996, when I was a newbie at Bicycle Guide my boss, Garrett Lai, managed to get me placed in Seana Hogan’s team. I was to be her mechanic, which was totally legit given that my last full-time stint in a bike shop had only ended 18 months or so prior.

What ensued was day upon day of working the day crew and not being permitted to sleep for more than an hour or two at night. Our crew chief had this belief that no one else could sleep when Seana was sleeping. Come Saturday, three or so days into the race and we were in East Nowheresville, Colorado, and I called Garrett from a payphone with my company calling card. Srsly; 1996 folks.

Now, I was so sleep deprived and disoriented that I was completely unaware that it was Saturday and that my ultra-hardworking boss might actually vacate the premises.

Which is to say, I got his voicemail.

My disappointment was visceral. I waited for the beep. I didn’t have much to say, honestly.

“Dude. You owe me big time.”

Fast foward 23 years and I’m losing no sleep, covering Seana Hogan—who is a truly lovely brainiac of a fearsome competitor—and watching the most remarkable race unfold across the U.S. Most of the women are in Missouri as I write this. The top five are within 200 miles of each other, which is a lot closer than it sounds. Their order has swapped multiple times in the last 48 hours, and I expect it to stay fluid at least for the next day, if not through the end of the race.

Hogan took a whopping 24 hours off the bike to heal some saddle sores and she clawing back some of that time it seems. This is a race where almost anything could happen (other than Jeannie Longo winning it) and I’m beyond excited to have such a comfortable ringside seat to it.

Check it out at the official RAAM site.

 

Image courtesy of Tara Roberts / RAAM Media

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19 comments

  1. MattC

    First, I really enjoyed your writeup on the Dirty Kanza Padraig…that is just nuts IMO (as a purely recreational rider). Finishing that is really something. Then there is SERIOUS. RAAM is a SERIOUS race to be sure, and as a solo race it’s just plain insane (my brother crewed for a solo rider from the start in Long Beach all the way to Kansas City a few years back, said it was the most amazing and hardest thing he’s ever seen someone do). And just FYI, there is another bike race also going on right now that is as hard (or harder): the annual Tour Divide….2745 miles of SELF SUPPORTED riding, following the Continental Divide from Banff Alberta to Mexico at Antelope Wells New Mexico. It has nearly 200,000′ of climbing. Most riders that finish do over 3000 miles (due to the “self supported” thing)…you need food you ride to it, same w/ water. Your bike breaks, you fix it w/ what you’ve got, or somehow get it to a shop. Rain, snow, mud, fires, bears, you deal with it and keep riding. The mens record is under 15 DAYS, and the ladies under 16 DAYS! It started last Friday the 14th of June…the leaders are already over 1000 miles in, doing over 200 miles a day on LOADED mt bikes! Here is a link where you can read about it and follow the riders via their SPOT devices:
    https://bikepacking.com/event/tour-divide-2019/

    1. Mike

      I feel like both RAAM and the Tour Divide/Trans Am/Transcontinental/etc. are trying to answer the same very basic question – “What am I capable of?”

      RAAM = “What am I capable of if I don’t have to think about anything except riding?”

      Tour Divide = “What am I capable of when I have to think about pedaling and food and navigation and shelter and…”

      There is a purity to both pursuits which I find very appealing. One is not better than the other; just different.


    2. Author
      Padraig

      Yeah, the Tour Divide is just nutso. Amazing. I’ve had a couple of friends do it and they both intimidate the hell out of me.

  2. Quentin

    I, too, remember reading about RAAM in Bicycling in the late 1980s. A couple of years ago I happened to be passing through northern Arizona on a road trip right as RAAM was going on, and passed 3-4 RAAM riders while driving one stretch of highway. It was super cool to see the race in the flesh, yet so strange given that it could so easily go completely unnoticed by someone who doesn’t understand what is happening. It’s not the circus coming to town in the way the Tour de France is. I think my family was confused and amused by my excitement over it.

  3. Neil Winkelmann

    They nearly go through Emporia, KS. But don’t. That’s a pity. Now there’s a town that would “get it”.

  4. Mike Matheny

    I was a crew member of the Bicycling team you mentioned. They had all just turned 50 and still hold the RAAM 50+ 4 person relay record. The crew for a relay team is sleep deprived but the riders aren’t and so they can go pretty fast the whole way. Our team went from Irvine, CA to Savannah, GA (2905 miles) in 5 days, 11 hours and 21 minutes. Lon Haldeman was our crew chief and we had 4 talented riders and a great crew. Two memories jump out for me: one was going through some little town in Oklahoma in the middle of the night, following our rider, and seeing a guy out mowing his lawn by the glow from the streetlights. I’m sure his neighbors must have hated him! My second memory is of seeing the solo RAAM finishers at the hotel in Savannah, GA afterwards. Many of them suffered from “Shermer’s Neck” and couldn’t lift their heads, so stumbled around the hotel looking like zombies, unable to look at anything but the floor.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Brother of Fred? I remember trying to follow how they did and was pretty blown away, especially because I couldn’t do it and I was in my 30s.

  5. David Harman

    My wife just finished crewing for HTXVeloFemme, a 4 woman RAW team that set a new course record for an all female team. Her experience was exhausting, but also absolutely amazing. I don’t know if I would ever take it as far as RAAM, but RAW (Which does not need a qualifier) sounds freaking awesome. 930 miles, 2 deserts, the rockies, 60 some odd hours solo. Thinking about it in a couple years for sure.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      If you lose your mind, er, if you decide to try, please let us know. I think our audience would dig something on the experience.

    1. Andrew

      What the heck did I do with auto entry?

      Anyway- I was trying to say that the whole “Shermer’s neck thing” was what got me morbidly fascinated with RAAM. Bicycling used to love to dwell on this aspect, with stores of heads taped into place so people could ride. It’s definitely the aspect of RAAM where my (sensible) wife goes “they’re nuts”.

  6. Tom Moore

    My favorite photo,, maybe from RAAM, maybe from an earlier race is Jonathan Boyer eating a plate of Pasta while on his bike

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