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Written by Lauren Schrichten
Tuesday, 23 February 2010 06:15
Lauren Schrichten Race Across America
"The Race Across America is one of the most respected and longest running annual endurance events holding legendary stature the world over. It is one of the pinnacles of sporting accomplishment, globally seen as the highest rung of the endurance sports ladder. Since 1982, RAAM has a rich and storied history standing as a monument to human endeavors.
The Race Across America is an event so staggering that merely to finish is, for most, the accomplishment of a lifetime. RAAM inspires everyone that it touches. A monumental race contested with the utmost of sportsmanship and zeal. Truly, RAAM is larger than life. A breeding ground for champions, a testing ground for elite riders and a shining example of the strength of human spirit.
This is a Race. Unlike other famous races, like the Tour de France, RAAM is not a stage race. The race is one stage, live to the very end. In RAAM, once the clock starts on the west coast, the clock doesn't stop until each racer reaches the finish line on the east coast. RAAM is 30% longer than the Tour de France and solo racers finish in half the time with no rest days. The race format is essentially a time trial, commonly called racing against the clock or the race of truth. Unlike the Tour de France, there is no drafting or taking shelter from the wind. It's an all out solo challenge."
I was first introduced to Race Across America in 2007 when I was asked to crew for a 2 man team. I didn't know much about the event but with a bit of nervous excitement, I agreed. Unfortunately I had to leave halfway through the race and was not able to see my team cross the finish line. I was left with an empty feeling but a strong to desire to one day cross the finish line as a rider. At the time this mad thought came into my head I didn't own a road bike, let alone ever ridden one. A few months later I tried clip-in pedals for the first time. I fell once, in the driveway, before the ride even started. But I was hooked and convinced that one day, maybe 10 years down the line, I would ride in the Race Across America.
10 years came 10 months later. In April 2008 I was asked to be a rider on a 4-woman team riding as part of Team Inspiration. It took me less than a day to make the phone call to confirm my place as a rider. It took me just as long to wonder what I had just agreed to. It was one thing to be tired as a crew-member but how would it feel to be that tired as a rider? There was no turning back. I had a team that was counting on me to help them cross the finish line in Annapolis, MD.
Let me give you a little bit of history on the race. It costs about $25,000 just to compete. The cost includes: rv rental, 2 mini-van rentals, food, gas, travel, and race entry. This is in addition to all of the money aimed to raise for a team's chosen cause. These costs can be off-set from sponsors or people donating their rv or vehicle. The rules of RAAM are extremely strict. It is to ensure the safety of the riders as well as the fairness of the race. There are certain actions that incur a penalty. You are allowed 5 penalties. On the 6th penality you are disqualified from the race.
I met my teammates and crew-members 2 days before the race started. It was a whirlwind of nervous excitement. There were strict guidelines that had to be followed when putting together the vehicles and setting up our bikes. If we didn't pass inspection by the allotted deadline then we were out of the race. There was a lot of stress leading up to that moment & once it passed we were all able to breath a huge sigh of relief. We had rider meetings and team meetings to discuss our strategies for making it to the finish line. I was so excited but also very nervous. I was going to trust my life in the hands of strangers, people I had only known for a few short hours. The riders had a hard job planning and getting ready for the race. But once the gun went off we only had to ride and didn't have to worry about anything else.
The biggest thing in RAAM is to plan and to plan to change. Two of my teammates came with serious health issues that needed to be carefully watched so as to ensure the safety of the riders and crew. We all had to be prepared for a drastic game plan change if anything happened. Kerry White, a very accomplished rider, has Type 1 diabetes. She had completed RAAM twice before, once on a 2-person team and in 2007 as a solo rider. I was humbled in her presence. Kerry's good friend Kelli Rohrig was an accomplished rider, both on the road and on the dirt. After hearing her laugh when something broke during set up, I knew that she would be able to help me laugh our way out of any situation. I originally agreed to ride on a 4-woman team and when we started the race we were a 4 person team. The 4th member signed up for RAAM really having no clue what it entailed. She lacked in basic riding ability and it immediately became apparent that Kerry, Kelli, and I would be riding as a 3-woman team.
For the first 40 miles a rider has to ride unsupported. This is because there are so many riders and vehicles on a steep, narrow, mountain road. There is nowhere to assist a rider without putting the other racers in danger. On my first shift I was introduced to the lovely Palomar mountain. If you're ever in the San Diego area and want some serious training, that mountain will kick your backside into serious shape. I had finally made it to the top of the mountain and was flying on a big downhill, my reward for that brutal climb. No sooner did I get my speed up than I heard a big pop from my rear wheel. I had flatted. I had no support and I had only been shown how to change a flat, never actually done it. It took me about 10 minutes to finish my first tire change. As soon as I jumped back on the bike the tire blew again. I had pinched the tube in my attempt to fix the first flat. Luckily a police officer had pulled up behind me and drove ahead to find my team van. Our team mechanic came to my rescue at the same time his eyes rolled to the back of his head when I told him that I really had no idea how to change a tire.
The road into Borrego Springs is one of the most intense winding roads I will ever encounter in my life. We dropped nearly 4000 feet in less than 10 miles. Thank goodness for the bike-handling skills of Kerry White. She was flying on the bike faster than the car could keep up. Just a few hours into the race we received our 1st penalty. It is one thing to mess up with no one around but plain foolish to do it in front of the judges. A few years ago a rider was run over by a truck when he rode backwards on the course. It is for this reason that, if caught doing so, it is an automatic penalty. My memory from this point on comes and goes.
I immediately recognized that there was a part of my brain that I would have to shut off in order to survive the race. I had never rode at night but knew that I would have to. It would be an interesting experience for me because even as an adult, I am petrified of the dark. I hate it. But RAAM has the remarkable ability to bring out of you what you never thought you had in you. The first time my heart was beating so hard I really it was going to break my ribcage. Between the hours of 6pm and 6am a rider is required to have a headlight on their bike but also required to ride in the headlights of a follow vehicle
The first 2 days my body had a hard time adjusting to the routine. I was really nauseous and couldn't eat much. Extreme sleep deprivation set in soon thereafter. Because of this my memories are scattered but Ive tried to piece them together as best as I can. From my experience as a crew-member, I knew that a very steep 11,500 foot climb in Colorado was close. I had really hoped that we would attack this climb under the light of the sun but the light came and went and we made this climb in the middle of the night. Kerry & Kelli took the hardest part of the climb. They both reside in Vail, CO and had climbing skills far superior to mine. My partner & I started our portion of the climb. 2 miles into our shift my partner, who suffered from epilepsy, had a seizure. That took her out of the mix for the next few days, which later led into the rest of the race. There were only 2 times during the race when I was riding and was so scared that I didn't want to ride. This Colorado climb was one of them. It was pitch black on a slow mountain road. The feeling was so eerie that the crew wouldn't even get out of the car to help us with our bikes. As I was riding I could see glowing dots in every direction that I looked. Many of those dots were accompanied by rustling of the bushes around them and sometimes low growls from the same spot. I had to ditch my heart rate monitor because my heart rate was reading off the charts. Don't forget, I am extremely scared of the dark.
I had also been grossly under-prepared for the freezing temperatures. I had no idea that it could get so cold ever, let alone in the middle of summer. Coming from southern California, we don't even get temperatures that cold in the winter. I had to borrow some of my teammates gear. I was wearing: bike shorts, 2 sets of leg warmers, 3 pairs of socks, 2 sets of snowboarding gloves, 3 sets of long-sleeve jerseys, 2 jackets, and I was still freezing. My last shift on this climb came during the descent, as sunrise was approaching. I was
so happy to be out of the dark and what an amazing experience. It was an easy ride in terms of effort, but all the cold felt earlier in the climb was quadrupled by the wind chill on the way down. At one point my feet were so cold that we took bread out of the bags and tied the bags around my feet. I wish we were in the proper mindset to take a picture of me at this moment because as ridiculous as I felt I must have looked equally as so. I really had no idea that the cold could take so much energy out of a person. At one point the driver of my follow van pulled up next to me and told me that I was going too slow, that I needed to ride faster. I was giving 150% of what I had. I was working so hard that I couldn't see straight and he had the nerve to tell me to ride faster. I believe in respecting your elders but I flipped out. Even 9 miles an hour felt fast at that point. I was so beat from the mountains in CO that the world was spinning when I collapsed in the car after my shift was done.
I have had the experience of being on both sides of the race. As a crew member I thought that some of the demands on the crew from the rider were ridiculous. The rider that I was crewing for asked me to take off his shoes, to hold the cup so he could drink water, to helping him get off the bike. After this night I fully understood every demand that had been made. If someone hadn't been there to catch me at the switch I would have fallen off my bike. I almost ran into our other van stopped in front of me because I couldn't apply enough pressure to the brakes.
New Mexico was a stunning state and much warmer than Colorado. Taos was a quaint little town. We ended up getting lost en route to our switch off point and I was hardly disappointed. If you're ever looking for a great vacation spot Taos is a place to go.
I truly am sorry to anyone who lives in Kansas. It was the most brutal 36 hours of the entire race and most of it felt like pure hell. Any direction you turn you're riding into a massive headwind or a swift side-wind. It's a wonder that no one fell off their bike in these conditions. At one point one of the crew suggested that I switch to a lower gear as I might have an easier time spinning my wheels. He was in disbelief when I told him that I was in the lowest gear possible. I had heard that Kansas was the land of cornfields but the only thing that I remember were miles upon miles of wheat fields, being pelted by massive bugs, and blistering heat.
There is one other thing that Kansas is quite famous for. We had reports from up ahead that there was a tornado warning and that teams were being held up at a time station due to the storm. I was quite relieved to hear that the storm was ahead of us. But we caught up to it. Somehow we ended up riding against the storm front. Once again we had to brave the conditions at night. We could hear the growl of the funnel but we couldn't see it. It felt like something out of a movie. It was the 2nd and only other time during the race when I was beyond my limits of fear. I couldn't even cry. I did not want to be on the bike. As a result I probably rode faster than I ever will in my life. I was determined to outride the tornado.
Kansas was the most adventurous state on the race. There were crazy winds, gigantic bugs, tornadoes, sleep issues, and a fall on the bike. At one point, the crew had to wake me up for one of my night shifts. I was so done in that it took 2 of them to hold me up, hold my mouth open, put caffeine pills in my mouth, and to help me chew. I spent the entire shift begging myself to not fall asleep on the bike. It was a true testament of mind over matter, as I really had not felt so out of control of my own body.
Our team worked out a system, 2 honks meant a right turn and one honk meant a left turn. I had come up to a stop sign and saw my other team vehicles to my right. I heard one honk to turn left and quickly 2 honks to turn right. I was in motion to the right when I heard one honk to correctly go left. My mind went one way and my body went to the pavement. I was so fatigued that I wasn't even able to process that I had fallen. So I lay there stuck to my bike, crying because I was laughing so hard. Everyone in my follow vehicle was sitting in the car laughing. I could hear them as I was still laying in the middle of the road unable to remove myself from the pavement. I also think it was in Kansas that Kelli also beheaded a rabbit that ran across the rode in front of her and got caught in her spokes. In the midst of all this madness I was still convinced that we had yet to climb the 11,500 feet through the Rockies. We were in Kansas and I still couldn't comprehend that we had already passed through Colorado.
On RAAM the adventure never stops. I thought that I had seen a few lightning storms in my life but really the ride into Missouri proved me wrong. It started with a light sprinkle that quickly turned into a downpour. I didn't want to stop our progress so I hastily threw on my rain gear and kept on. A few times I almost crashed because I was so taken by the lightning storm right above me that I forgot to pay attention to the road in front of me. If it wasn't for the smart thinking of our crew chief I would have kept on riding. It proved to be a blessing in disguise as we were all able to grab an hour of sleep. It is surprising how refreshing an hour of sleep can make you feel. Despite the storm, I remember Missouri to be a rather appealing state.
It was time for some much needed zzzz's on my sleep shift. I was rudely awakened from my slumber by one of the crew. They said, "Wake up. We left your bike at the gas station and have to get it before your next shift." We were over an hour away when they realized that my bike was missing. It was a rule that before any vehicle took off from a stop to walk once around the vehicle to make sure that we had everything inside. Well, the one time that the crew didn't do that was the one time my bike was leaning against the rv as it pulled out of the gas station. I got on the bike again as the sun was rising and I got to ride right in front of the capital building. I was so overcome with emotion at that point that I started crying. It was the first time that I felt like I was part of something greater than myself.
We had a great scare heading into Illinois when Kerry got off the bike and quickly started to fade. It felt like my heart had stopped when I heard she had collapsed on the side of the road. Her emergency diabetic medicine was in the rv, a few miles from where she was at. Kelli's husband, a paramedic, quickly put the situation under control. It later turned out to be an allergic reaction but it rendered Kerry out of commission for the greater part of the day. Kelli and I had a wonderful tour of Illinois to ourselves. I remember the last time station in Illinois had a massive amount of junk food. Those guys were my heroes of the day. I think I had 3 Diet Cokes, 6 donuts, probably some chocolate, and definitely a handful of various candies. Sadly, if my crew didn't pull the sugar away from me I would have kept on eating. RAAM makes you crave things that normally would gross you out.
I have to say that there is not much I remember about Indiana. Well I have some memories that I think might be from Indiana but I could be very wrong. I'm not sure if it could be called a swamp or just low land. But we rode on a 2-lane highway that cut right through a big body of water. I can imagine that this road gets flooded a lot because the water came right to the edge of the road. Somewhere in the crew camera's archives is a picture of all the riders in front of the Indiana/Ohio state line.
Ohio was the state of dogs. I was chased by dogs 3 different times while on my bike. So many neighborhoods are built right into the forests with the road only a few feet away. During the day I bet it's the most beautiful thing to be surrounded by trees but at night it is pretty nerve-racking. We were never quite sure what was going to run out from the trees. There were so many deer. Sometimes they would run alongside us, sometimes they would run at us, sometimes they would stare, and mostly they ran away.
It was about Ohio that one deer had a different fate. I was cruising along on the bike just minding my own business. It was at night so the follow vehicle was just a few feet from my back tire. We were driving on the shoulder of the highway that was surrounded on both sides by a forest. I heard some rustling in the trees as I passed and thought it was just the wind. Then I heard the pounding of an animal running in my direction. I started screaming because I couldn't see but could hear it running right next to me. Talk about a deer in headlights. The thing ran onto the road and stopped right in front of me. I thought that by screaming louder it would move but it only mesmerized the animal more. I was going downhill and riding pretty fast. The deer didn't move and I hit the back end of it. I was so scared, shocked, and sleep deprived that I just started laughing uncontrollably. Too bad the film crew didn't have their camera on for that.
We traveled through West Virginia, to Maryland, to Pennsylvania, and back into Maryland.
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a place we all know. On one of my shifts I was lucky enough to ride through the battlefields where so much of America's history has come from. Sometimes its hard to fathom the great things that happen during RAAM because there are sooooo many. But riding through Gettysburg is one of the more amazing things. It may not sound like much to anyone reading this but at that moment I was in awe because a few short days before I was on my bike leaving CA and there I was in Pennsylvania at a historic site.
We live in a world of technology and its hard to imagine ever going back to a time where there was no electricity or cars and if you had to use the bathroom you had to walk outside to an outhouse. Well somewhere in Pennsylvania is the real Omish Country. People were out cruising in their horse drawn carriages as we passed by on our bikes and in our cars.
Two time stations from the finish is a bicycle shop where penalties have to be served if any were received during the race. The other all women team that we had been battling with the entire race had no penalties and we had one. That meant that we had to hit that time station 15 minutes ahead of them so that we could leave for a true race to the finish. Kelli, Kerry and I spent the next hour leapfrogging with each other, in 1 mile sprints. We rode like bats out of hell to beat those ladies to the time station. After riding nonstop for 7 days our bodies were extremely fine-tuned to do exactly what was needed. I was so strong and had become so fast on the bike during that time that I was able to hit 27 mph in a matter of seconds. Kerry would have the last sprint to the time station. We were well ahead of the rival women's team and stoked that all of that hard riding had paid off. Kelli and I pulled into the time station in one of the vehicles expecting Kerry to be seconds behind. But our rival team beat Kerry to the station because the crew had made a wrong turn, which allowed for enough time for the other team to pass.
You would think at that point that we all would be happy that we were so close to the finish. After serving our penalties, we left the bike shop with a bit of a buzz kill. We all wanted to get to the finish but none of us wanted to ride the last 40 miles to the finish line. So we decided to all ride together. We were on a back-country road and hadn't seen any cars for miles. A race official pulled up next to us and told us that all of the riders couldn't be on the road at the same time. Kerry said she would ride to the next exchange point so both of the vehicles took off and left her to ride ahead and get ready for the exchange. The only problem is that the sun was going down and race rules clearly state that you have to be in the headlights of a follow vehicle when the sun begins to set. So after serving our penalties at the bike shop we received another one for leaving Kerry with no support.
We had to stop and serve that penalty at the next time station, which was a ghost time station. (A time station where there is no tent or race official but rather a designated place to call in and reset the odometers.) Because it was our 2nd penalty we had 30 minutes to kill in the parking lot of a grocery store. Thank goodness it was a store that had cars attached to the front of the carts for kids to ride in. We had a race. After the race was over we decided to get some coffee in the supermarket. We all took off but one of our crew was stuck in one of the cars and started rolling down the hill. We were all laughing so hard that we weren't even able to stop his runaway car. It took a few seconds for someone to spring into action.
About 3 miles from the finish, we met with a police escort to parade us through Annapolis to the finish. As Kelli, Kerry and I were waiting to be announced to cross the finish line so many emotions came over me. I was in a place I had never been but a place that I knew I wanted to be again. I just rode my bike 3052 miles from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD in 8 days! I always knew that I would make it to the finish. I wasn't sure what kind of shape I would be in when I got there but I always knew I would get there. I never imagined the transformation that would take place inside of me just from riding my bike. At that moment I vowed to return to Race Across America once again.
Please click below to watch the trailer from my 2008 experience.
I missed the opportunity to race again in 2009 and I do not want to miss the opportunity to race again in 2010. I am looking for teammates to race on a 3 or 4 person team in 2010. The team race starts June 12. My goal this year is to finish in 7 days or under. I want to set a new race record.
If you are interested in riding or helping to raise money for the event please contact me ASAP!
It is something that changed my life and I can't wait to have that experience again.
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