RAAM part 4 - nights, and closing in on Annapolis
by tiggaAug 15th 2011
Night riding proved to be my favourite part of the whole RAAM race challenge. I'm not sure if it's because there was no traffic, or that it was cooler or maybe it was the fact that I had a direct follow vehicle all the time¬... Actually, top of the list is probably just complete sereness of riding into what feels like the abyss. I distinctly remember riding through the mist one night with the headlights behind me and casting two of my own shadows in the whiteness ahead of me¬... extremely surreal place, as that was day 5 and I was so exhausted I actually thought I was halucinating.
In places the USA is sparsely populated and when riding at 2am through the 'countryside' all I can see is as far as the cars headlights will let me. If you look to your left, it's just blackness. If you look right, it's just blackness. Climbing hills it was eerily quiet unless the roof top speakers were working. Riding with Andy and Bainsy in the car behind can more often than not be quite entertaining often bleeting funny one liners down the radio into my ear piece. They have to keep themselves awake after all, and the 2nd vehicle is on the move with the cyclist doing the leapfrog move some of the banter between those guys had me laughing, even when I was riding! Thanks guys, you four sure came up with some funny sh!t. Seven hours in the dark was what faced us the shift after Kansas¬... Into Ohio, still heading Eastward and avoiding the dreaded missed turns and getting lost.
This particular shift was probably my best one. I started out feeling a little jaded and heavy legged, but after a little leg rub from Will and a few minutes on the bike I warmed up nicely. Going through Jefferson City, Andy somehow guided me into an underground carpark??? and not long after that Jacks and Will filled up with fuel and when they were playing catch up, missed a turn off and ended up taking 45mins to 'find' us. That left me out on the road for a bit longer than I expected and although I was 'pinging' along at 42-43km/hr, I didn't really have the fuel for that kind of stint and I was running low. It's funny how I was more acutely aware of what my body was needing when I ride that much at such a high intensity. I could pick up the signs of low blood sugar much earlier on and with being off the bike every 20mins I could just eat more. I was consuming 300calories every time I got back in the car after the ride. Sometimes I'd take on board a lot more if I was actually feeling hungry. In my box of goodies I had peanuts, pretzels, crisps, jelly babies, red bull, coke, loads of water and some sandwiches. Along with my water bottles filled with Electrolyte mix and Hornet Juice (http://www.hornet-juice.com ). I personally think this stuff works. I often look at the stats of my rides and just think that should not really have been possible, a lot of factors contributed to a good performance for 5 days and this was one of them!
I ate loads, I drank loads but 4 or 5 hours into a 7 hour shift 45+mins of riding that fast chews through calories. Even though I was feeling strong, riding strong just means you burn through more calories. Eventually they found us on the road to Washington (Ohio) and Ian hopped on the bike and he was off. Both of us had awesome rides that night, feeding off each other perhaps? We were pretty much the fastest team on the road that night and quickly closed on the 8 man team 4mil, and passed them with 50km of rolling road to go until we swapped teams. We put 12mins into them in that 50km, and I got a tad bit excited when we caught them as I blasted passed them in the 'big blade' up a hill like they were standing still. You get well excited when you see a flashing orange light up the road at night¬... it only means one thing! Another team:-)
Finishing that shift like I could have taken on almost anyone on the bike was such a buzz. That timing station was busy with helpers for 5am! The American folk at these time stations are all voluteers and all just amazing, friendly people that loved doing what they were doing. In the car park of a cycle shop, even the cycle shop was open! I looked at my watch at 5:36am after 'calming' down eating a couple of bagels and drinking a couple of them delicious For Goodness Shakes recovery drinks I saw 22 June and remembered¬... It's my Mom's birthday back in South Africa. Not just any birthday, but the big Six-0. Ooops, sorry mom I gave away your age. I wasn't sure what time it was in SA or even if my phone would work, but I had to try call her at least. Technology is amazing. There I sat two thirds across the USA chatting to my mom at her 'local' ( I think ). All she could say was how well we were doing? I thought it should be her big day, eventually she got round to telling what she'd done, what they planned to celebrate. After that call it really started to sink in just how many people were following our progress. Four days in and were still within smelling distance of those Americans. Take a deep enough wiff, 4 days of riding and you can imagine the smell right. Actually, it was that bad. We had a shower in the RV which could use so long as the water tank was fill and the waste tank was empty. On a couple of occasions we managed to get a room from a motel and everyone could get a decent wash down and feel like new.
After that night shift though, things get a bit hazy. Everyone is getting so tired, every ride shift hurts and I honestly can't remember everything in the right chronological order they happened. I remember things, but just not sure when it happened are exactly in the USA we were. And the worst was still to come¬... the Appalacians. A series of hills, which on fresh legs are testing, but on fried four day tired race legs with a crew who'd been sleeping 1-2 hours a night these are very big hills.
These were our last massive challenge (physical and mental) and as we got closer, all the riders had their say about how to tackle them. Since it's twisty, turny, bumpy, windy little roads it's difficult for the RV to get to logical exchange points. So to avoid getting the RV lost we decided on a strategy that would hopefully get us there without the need of the RV.
Load each car with what each crew and riders needed, put some mattresses down in the back and pull out a 24 hour shift with just the two cars, with two riders and two crew in each car. Four days of racing, and now we were going to really rough it. Not to mention two of our already exhausted crew were going to have to pull off a 24 hour shift of potentially no sleep!
In hindsight, I'm not sure it was the best plan. I think a much better and closer look at the maps and planning a rendevouz point with the RV could have been done. But weren't to know the RV was like a bouncy castle on wheels. So the pre-planning hadn't been done.
I got quite tough in those 24 hours, keeping shifts a bit shorter and closing in the finish line¬... but loosing time to the Americans had our 'fight' gone and with 2nd place secure and to get some shut eye we decided that the night shifts were done with only one car. since you have to have a direct follow vehicle all the time,it meant that the car had to stop, pull one bike off and put another bike on before the rider could carry on riding. Lots of lost time, but by now the crew were dead on their feet and could not drive at cycle speeds. I remember driivng to the last TS in the rain (poor James and Nick were riding though it!) and we literally got there turned the engine off and all of us just passed out. Within seconds. Bainsy in particular was starved of sleep. He'd been hopping in and out the car to swap the bikes, but with the flashing orange light on the roof right near the bike rack, I think it was slowly driving hime bonkers, by the time we got to the final TS before I last 40mile push he was slurring his words like he was drunk. Scary stuff, he'd not slept in 30 hours! All this for us¬... most people think it's about the riders, but it really is so, so much more than just the four riders.
45mins was all we got but it was blissfull shut eye and we knew we only had 40 or miles to go and our racing mileage was done!