I’ve started this 4 times and still don’t think that whatever I will write here can give the adventure of RAAM it’s full justice. I think I could go back and crew for RAAM 10 more times and nothing would come close to the experience of last week. Part of that is due to it being the first time, and the rest may be attributed to naivete or just plain stupidity.
In December of last year I reached out to a friend, Robb Finegan, who had taken some time off from work. I was curious as to how he was doing and really just checking in with him. Over a quick message session on FB he told me he had been riding a lot and was training for RAAM-Race Across America, a 3000 mile team bike ride from San Diego-Annapolis. I was intrigued and almost nonchalantly offered to go crew for them if he needed help. 2-3 months before the event, I enlisted my partner in crime Juba, and after not replying to about 600 emails, we were set to fly to San Diego on June, 16th.
Over Thursday and Friday we met up with the folks who would become fast friends over the next 7 days. I knew 3 of them better than others, but realized quickly we had a team of talented athletes.
COLIN INGRAM-My old Mizuno co worker. Colin was a fantastic collegiate runner and owner of a luxurious pooper. His Dartmouth profile says he loves donuts, bleu chees dressing and ran a 3:56.9 1500m
KEITH KELLY-The Irishman. 2000 Cross Country National Champion and 2009 Irish National Champion. KELROCK was the hammer on this trip. Super competitive and equally supportive. Also credited with realizing we’d lost a team member.
KRIS HARTNER-Owner of 2009, 2013 running store of the year, Naperville Running Co. Ran a 3:08 in Boston at 42, and has successfully hidden the rest of his running career online. He was one of the masterminds of the planning of this trip.
MATT HELBIG-Big River Running and Big River Running Events. 15:33 5k. This whole thing was Matt’s good (bad) idea. Following a ride in Boulder with Kris Hartner, Matt decided it would be awesome to ride across the country together. This turned into racing it, which turned into living in a van for a week.
DANIEL GREEHALGH-President, Skinny Raven, Anchorage Alaska. Skinny Raven Events. Best hair in the crew, Ironman, lover, fighter, and voice of reason throughout the week. Brought his twin brother along to crew.
BRIAN LAIDERMAN-Owner Optimal Performance Center. Chiropractor. Former collegiate cyclist at Indiana University (Possibly won a bunch of stuff), Ironman. Convinced 3 young ladies to join 11 men on a cross country trek. Eternal flame of positivity on trip. Descends mountains with fearlessness that borders stupidity.
JIM KWASNICKI-Canadian Gentle Giant. The “KWAZ” just did work. He wouldn’t tell us much, because the KWAZ just delivers. Quiet, positive, fun, and mysterious. He’s like the James Bond of London Ontario. New Balance bigwig.
ROBB FINEGAN-The HAMMER. Robb is a forme 2:17 marathoner who spent 18 months training for this race. He rode every single mile at an all out sprint. In day 2, he dropped the eventual 4th placed team on a mountain climb and they’d never recover. Robb is the reason I was here. He, Juba and I shared many beers at the Running Event over the years.
DAVID GREENHALGH-CREW CHEIF-Daniel’s brother and train man extraordinaire. He was responsible for putting together the vans, hot wiring shit, and keeping me awake for the next week. The Great Alaskan Moose.
TRACY GRICE-Architect, Fitness Advocate, Social Media Powerhouse, possible rally car driver. One of Laiderman’s additions to the crew. Kept Juba sane and took 1034 pics and videos, chronicling our adventure.
AMANDA KENNY-Triathlete, former gymnast, doer of handstands at every turn. Had the opportunity to be stuck with 6 guys for a week and never cracked. Professional Ice chest sleeper. Van mom to Van 1.
ERIN KALKBRENNER-Multiple National Champion Water skier and professional ski coach. Triathlete and navigator extraordinaire. Poor thing had to try and eat vegetarian across the country. Hot tamales count right?
Jonathan “Juba” Dziuba-Multiple IM finisher, coach, IPA inhaler, RD extraordinaire and partner in crime/shenanigans. We are always up for an adventure and JUBA told his wife Lindsey, “I think this is something I can’t not do.” I volunteered him to be co-chief, as is customary in our relationship.
PF-Me. Dr. Phil in a minivan. Former running shoe rep, doer and sayer of things, prolific noticer. Also up for shenanigans at any moment.
Upon arrival, we got in a van with two of the riders, Jim Kwasnicki and Matt Helbig, and headed to meet up with the rest of the team at one of my best buds, Jason Lewis’ house. He and his wife Kelly went up an beyond to let the team use their house as both the planning location as well as the receiving hub for the tons of equipment that the team would need to outfit the vans. No bullshit. Multiple trailer hitches, 4 bike racks, shoes, food, and everything else you can imagine, rained down upon the Lewis household in the weeks leading up to the event. They handled it with style and entertained the crew for the two nights leading up to our start time. This was an especially tall order as once the team and crew found out that we couldn’t drink for the duration of our trip, an exhaustive IPA carbo load ensued.
On Thursday we figured out that we were painfully low on crew. We had David Greenhalgh as Crew Cheif, Juba, myself and three lovely ladies that rider Brian Laiderman tricked into coming to help. Erin Kalkbrenner, Tracy Grice and Amanda Kenney were thrown to the wolves first thing Friday morning.
After a quick run to the beach and a dip in the Pacific, Friday was filled with finishing gearing up the vans, racer check in, a 3 hour crew chief meeting for David and our newly appointed second crew chief, Juba. He loves this shit so I volunteered him. We made it through the exhaustive check in process without any issues packed up and went back to JLew’s to drink more beer and get ready for our adventure.
PRE RACE SELFIE OF A SELFIE OF A SELFIE in OCEANSIDE
Juba and I got up early Saturday morning and hit one more quick run and a dip in the ocean as we knew we’d be living in a van for the week and we’d probably be eating hot tamales and beef jerky. We hit up that plush ass Sheraton Carlsbad breakfast buffet one last time and headed to Oceanside for the start. This early rise was something I’d pay dearly for on Sunday.
We should have known that the week would be a challenge when we fucked up both where we were supposed to park as well as something else in the first 15 minutes we were there. The head official was as pleasant as jock itch and jumped our shit for being in the wrong parking lot. RAAM is the real deal and there are a ton of rules (needed) and penalties are given for all sorts of things. We almost get one 1 hour before the race starts. Awesome.
RAAM uses a time trial start with each team going off about a minute or so behind each other. At 12:37 it was our time to roll. Van 1 consisting of riders Kris Hartner, Keith Kelly, Colin Ingram, Daniel Greenhalgh and crew Amanda Kenney pulled in behind Dave G and I in the Kia Sedona that would be our home for the next week and we rolled to the start.
The riders took a left at the top of a hill and we were now in full on RAAM navigation mode. Dave and I had the first 12 hour shift which consisted of leapfrogging the support van every 10 miles or so. We initially got lost on the first leg, but recovered quickly. Add to this that RAAM forgot to give our rider the GPS tracker that was to be used for the next 7 days and the first 90 mins was a near cluster fuck. We got to rider switch one ahead of schedule and things started clicking.
Colin went next and in his first leg he got a flat. I mentioned already that RAAM was full of rules. One of these was that if you pulled off the road, your left wheel had to be 5 ft from the outside line. This means you need 5 ft of shoulder. Colin got a flat where there wasn’t much of a shoulder and a ton of traffic. In our haste to get him up and running I pulled about 3ft off the road. It was like the rules police were following us and the head official stopped to jump our shit less than 2 hours into the event. Awesome.
1 hour penalties are given for any of a number of infractions. No warnings must be given, and you call in 2 days later to see if you received any. We wouldn’t know for 2 days if this little hiccup would cost us an hour so we had to put it out of our head and keep moving onward.
The first van switch was scheduled for Blythe, CA, where the temperature was supposed to be 110 degrees. Things fell into a rhythm and the directions got easier as we left the San Diego area.
As we approached the first hotel (I think, as I can’t remember), a decision was made in the follow vehicle for me to ride with Juba and Erin for their first shift. I figured sleeping 3-4 hours in a bed was the same as doing the same in a van. FALSE.
Van 2’s first shift started out with a bang, when a rider who will go unmentioned about got the three of us whacked by an oncoming vehicle. During the hours of 7 p.m. until 9 a.m. all teams had to be on Direct Follow. This means within 50 ft of the rider at all times, aka “in the headlights”. This was to be one of the most nerve wracking things I’ve ever done. Some of the descents were at 40+ mph , in the dark. I felt we were a pothole away from crushing a rider during all of the Direct Follow periods, which for our van was 10 hours a night at least.
Upon Van 2’s 12-ish hours, I jumped back in with David and following the crew I’d be with for almost the rest. We headed towards Flagstaff across some hot ass pavement (135 deg readings in the van, and made our way through Flagstaff, AZ threough the Navajo reservation. This was some sketchy ass riding and roads and we did our damndest to keep the riders safe with drunks everywhere, short shoulders and crazy ass drivers. I was stoked when we ended up at the hotel for what would be my first sleeping of the trip in Tuba City, AZ (I beleive). By this time I had been up for roughly 42 hours with a couple or three hours of napping in the mini van, and I was cooked.
I slept 4 or 5 hours and woke up on Monday I think. Either way, I was amazed that I felt as well as I did. We immediately got in the van and headed to Colorado to meet up with Van 2 somewhere near Pagosa Springs. On the way we stopped at 4 Corners Monument which is where Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona all share a corner. Obligatory selfie of a selfie of a selfies were taken and Kelrock and I ran around all 4 states and we jumped back in the van to meet the other van.
We ended up trading off in Pagosa Springs and van 1 would have the honor of climbing the Rockies…in the dark. We started out with a climb to the Continental Divide and both vans stopped for a pic at Wolf Creek Pass. Colorado seemed to fly by as we ascended and descended all night. This proved to also be some of the scariest shit I saw, and got me close to one of my only “losing my shit on someone” moments of the night.
Following a bike at 45 mph downhill is not an easy thing to do during the day. At night, it is a flipping nightmare. As an athlete, I know that when you are in the moment of riding or racing, you can’t see much further outside of what I call the “visor”. This is the area that falls under the bill of a trucker hat and the athletic/racing mind can’t see any further than what’s outside of it. After a particular dicey descent, an already frazzled crew may have jumped the shit of a rider who was to be fair, concentrating on the road and not his speed when his headlight fell off…going almost 50. All parties kissed and made up and continued on into the Colorado night….
To be continued….