Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ride, Drive, Sleep?, Repeat - 24 Hours from Oceanside to Arizona

Ride, Drive, Sleep?, Repeat.  Emphasis on the question mark after "Sleep"!  Team Learning4Life and our amazing crew met at 7 a.m. at the parking lot of Arrowhead Christian Academy this past Saturday, packed up two motor homes and two support vehicles and then left for an epic 24 hour training ride that took us from downtown Oceanside, CA all the way across the border of Arizona in preparation for the Race Across America.  It was an exercise in challenging cycling over sometimes difficult terrain, night riding, fast, steep descents, sometimes brutal weather conditions (35-40+ mph wind gusts at night) and sleep deprivation on behalf of us all - THAT'S HOW WE ROLL!!!!!

Our trip was almost cut short due to the gusty winds we experienced starting at the top of the mountain in Ranchita all the way down the 3500 foot descent to the valley floor below that is called the "glass elevator" and then on from Borrego Springs past the Salton Sea to the small town of Palo Verde where we made another rider transition.  Gusts were sometimes over 40 mph at night during the second rider rotation.  The guys experienced the benefit of an awesome tail wind that allowed them to ride at an average of 25 mph for many miles, but when the direction of the road changed, they had to deal with a brutal crosswind that drove sand and debris into them as they tried to cover the last 30 miles of their rotation.  It also made for unsafe driving of the motor homes.  Team Captain Doug Richards and Assistant Crew Chief Randy Sperling and the riders jointly made the decision to keep moving see if the winds would let up, which they eventually did.

Here is how the race process works...or at least is SUPPOSED to work.  5 riders start a 6 hour rotation.  The first rider takes a leg, typically 5 to 10 miles depending on terrain, weather conditions and the rider's present physical/mental condition (which can vary greatly over 7 straight days of RAAM riding).  The rider begins his leg with a support vehicle trailing behind him for safety (and lighting at night).  The other 4 riders go ahead along the route in the "rider" vehicle, driven by one of the team members with another navigating using the RAAM route book.  They travel to the predetermined transition point and prepare the next rider and his bike for the next route.  When the first rider approaches, he must ride his bike so that his front wheel passes the next rider's rear wheel at which point rider number two takes off.  This can be done at a stationary position or both riders can be moving - the method varies based on the safety and conditions of the transition location.  Once the transition is made and the next rider is off, the first rider puts his bike on the rack on the "rider" vehicle, hops in and the process starts over again.

While this is going on, the other 3 riders are in a "rest" cycle, hopefully sleeping in the "sleep" motorhome which is traveling ahead approximately 100 miles to the next major transition point.  When the riders make it to the major transition point, 3 of them go out of the riding rotation and into thier own "sleep" cycle while the hopefully fresh riders come off their sleep cycle and join the "rider" rotation.  This is how we will travel 3000 mile across the country.

While the process sounds good and like it should work smoothly in theory, the REALITIES of this process? 
  • Riders get very little sleep during a sleep cycle as it is extremely difficult to sleep soundly in a moving motorhome that is constantly stopping and starting and turning
  • Riding at night on lonely, dark, isolated roads is challenging and sometimes dangerous.  Even with adequate lighting, it can be difficult to see potholes and debris on the road that can cause an accident
  • In the rider rotation, there is no time for restroom stops, so when nature calls...well, you figure it out.
  • Our 14 person crew (motor home drivers, support vehicle drivers, cook, crew chief, assistant crew chief, communications director) must go through work and rest cycles also - and they don't sleep well either.
  • Showering is difficult in a moving motor home
  • Riding around in an SUV with four other sweaty, stinky, tired, hungry men is sometimes unpleasant.  OK, its MOSTLY unpleasant!  :)
  • Weather is often a factor.  Riders must ride in any temperature or weather situation.  Temperatures from 10 to 110, high humidity, rain, winds - whatever.  About the only thing we will stop for is a tornado or a flood.  And we'll think hard about stopping for either of those.
  • The difficulties involved in these processes grow exponentially greater over the 7 day period it will take to complete the race
These ARE the realities of the Race Across America.  And in spite of them all, we can't wait to start!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The First Training Night Ride

We have 33 days before we head out!  Last night we came together to begin our journey as a team.  What a great night we had!  Good food, laughter, a commitment to a worthy goal and camaraderie always make for a great time!  And of course, having Brenna there giving us her endearing smiles helps us to NEVER forget the reason we are doing this in the first place!

Checking out their sleeping quarters.......Boys will always be boys! Scott Francis and Rick Nichols

Dave Roadruck and Bob Roach

We begin to learn as riders and drivers the importance of safety at the exchanges. Over the 7 days that we are traveling across the United States, we will have hundreds of exchanges. There are strict rules that we must follow to keep both riders and drivers safe (and of course avoid any time penalties).

Craig Roach
Bev Driver, Scott Francis, Rick Nichols and Bob Roach

Doug Richards and Tony Wilcox

When the sun sets, we head up to Oak Glen where riders will practice riding downhill in the dark.  The speed ranges from 30-40 mph.  It was a chilly evening and for the boys, "AN ADRENALINE RUSH."  As drivers we basically were given automatic trust from our team of riders.  They trusted us to provide their light and to keep them safe.  WOW!!!  They were all amazing!  The best part is seeing their smiling faces after they finished the descent!  Each of them were smiling from ear to ear!!!  Driving behind the riders as they increased their speed was a little stressful, it was when we had to follow my husband that I needed to close my eyes........don't worry I wasn't driving at the time!  Seriously, they are traveling at very high speeds and it only takes a small hole in the road or a blow out to take them down.  It is intense and as drivers it is very important that we stay close to them to provide the light, but not too close so that we have some reaction time in case of an unexpected stop.

Also, if you are ever visiting Oak Glen and notice a tree that appears to be well can thank our boys for that!

 The evening was a HUGE success.  We began with asking our Lord
and Savior for protection and we ended with grateful hearts to be a 
part of such a great cause!  Praise God for a safe and successful evening.

Tony Wilcox, Tony Coulson and Randy Sperling

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Getting Stronger...40 Days to Go until the Race Across America

The clock is definitely ticking down with only 40 days left before the start of our epic adventure - 3000 miles as a team across the United States, from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD - which we will accomplish, Lord willing in about 7 days.

Each team member has ramped up the training efforts as the reality of this task comes into focus.  I know for me personally (Tony Wilcox), I've raised my weekly mileage on the bike to 100 - 125 miles which includes time on the stationary bike at the gym during the week, dawn patrol and evening climbs around the Sunset loop and giant 60+ mile rides on the weekends.  This increase in mileage was done mainly out of the FEAR of the RAAM closing in, the reality of having to climb the Rockies and the Appalachian mountains, dealing with sleep deprivation, inclement weather, having to be on the bike for 7 days in a row and KNOWING all of that is going to be BRUTAL.

The good news is that I can tell I'm getting stronger because I used to have to drop into my "granny" gear to complete the climb up Sunset, but recently, I've been able to accomplish the entire 20 mile loop in my middle gear the last several times I've ridden it.  That was a big milestone for me in my personal training.

And I can tell my teammates are getting stronger as well.  Rick and Scott recently pounded out the Sunset loop and then added brutal climbs up Ford street, Wabash, Puesta del Sol and finished off with Rossmont (maybe Redlands steepest hill!) - GREAT JOB!  Dave Roadruck, Bob and Craig Roach and Randy Sperling recently climbed from Loma Linda all the way to the top of Forest Falls - EPIC!  And Carl Gregory joined the guys a couple of weeks back to crest Oak Glen, another formidable climb.  All in all, I can see the team getting to the point the we don't fear the hills any more; we embrace them.  That's a good place for all of us to be just before the gun goes off at the starting line on June 18th!