Saturday, 19 June 2010

Raam bam thank you mam

Im sitting on the plane from Annapolis to San diego, a journey of 5 1/2 hours. I spent the previous 5 ½ days doing the same trip on my bike. I didn't expect to have anything like as much fun as I did along the way, it was a great experience and one I would repeat again in a heartbeat (and I will, given the chance next year). I don't think I can really give a holistic view of the whole event very successfully, I'd love to say that it's a great way to see the country but it's not. It's a great way to see the top of an RV, the front wheel of your bike, little stars appearing in your vision, your life flashing before you and occasional snippets of the epic beauty and variety that the US has to offer.

I have memories of the race which will be with me for a long time. Riding wise there were many stand out moments: My first pull of the whole race during which I, predictably, went mental and absolutely cremated myself. My light was rubbing on my thigh and I gave my self the biggest, reddest bruise and a matching saddle sore on the other side which would last the whole week. The climb up to flagstaff in Arizona where I found rhythm which Bob claimed crushed "at least 16" souls. The descent we took before the climb where I was out for 15 miles carving around hairpins, overtaking semis up the inside in the gravel and blasting through groups of disturbed tourists. The climbs up through the Ozarks where the rhythm came back again, at one point I was climbing in 54-11. Sliding my bike through a corner in Trinidad co, the sex change capital of the world, and again in the Gettysburg battlefield with our follow car about 5 inches behind so I could see with the headlights.

Predictably it wasn't just the riding I'll remember but also the people. The application of litocane in place of chamois cream provoked much hilarity amongst the team, as did much of our inane banter across the country, highlights include: the scavenger hunt (swingseats, banjos, mullets, sweet tea, confederate beach towels, an Amish person driving a Honda, an armadillo and some genuine redneckery of the highest order), the aerodynamic benefits of Viagra, the strange and slightly inappropriate toy that turned up in the bus and could be easily manipulated to resemble a waxed guinea pig in some kind of self gratifying pose. Pink socks in Kansas and ripping down the road at 30mph with Bob offering to rub coconut oil into my chest on the tannoy. Adam and I going on ice cream runs which gradually moved from after dinner to breakfast.

Eating with the firemen in Maize Kansas (and the fact that there really is a town called maize Kansas) and meeting with our fans in Ohio was a great experience to. That all these great people took hours out of their day to come and encourage us was really humbling, but they really did make a difference, especially the firemen. That shower and those brownies counted for about 100w up the climbs the next day.

We wouldn't have got halfway across the country without our crew, they were fantastic, they made it possible for us to win RAAM by making it impossible for us to go wrong. We lost minimal time to wrong turns, impressible on a 3019 mile route, when we finished riding we had food ready, massage waiting and dry,clean clothes for the next pull. Our RV was by no means the lap of luxury (it smelt like the lap of something though, quite possibly the lap of one of those beardy-homeless drunk guys who you see in the park) but they made our race a comfortable experience. Individual highlights include: Dr bill appearing concerned as various members of the team staged fantastic hypos, Chef Chris'(@diabeticchef) feeding us with great food throughout the race, and being amazed at our ability to stack huge quantities of healthy food with large amounts of frozen dairy goodness. Leigh's ridiculous guinea pig toy, her little notes on our sandwiches and all our banter. Chris' Amazing massages and his daily changing of my nationality. The guys who drove our support cars were great as well, it was great knowing that Jason and Karl in the car were pulling 100% as hard as we were and doing everything in their power to help us win Jason's on the fly rebuilding of Jeff's bike was a particular highlight. Kyle's hilarious laughter at our silly jokes and constant provision of the "cold snake thing" to help this pale foreigner acclimate to the heat and the banter with Jeff (@jrichardson30) on twitter while we edged closer to RV with our dinner order were other highlights.

Bob's follow car banter provided an entertaining, if at times confusing to those of us who had not been in the same vehicle for 5 days (yep they NEVER left that car for the whole race, bob claims that atrophy is the new diet du hour). There's something about the guy behind you mocking your socks, singing karaoke or making mooing noises with the PA system to scare off dogs which just doesn't seem appropriate out of context. Nate and Monique were pretty good too, choice inspirational lines and our ability to scare the living daylights out of each other by demanding they followed 5 inches from my rear wheel when I was descending at night, and then double wheel sliding in gravel as nate, after 4 days living in a box of a size that I'm pretty sure you couldn't transport sheep in managed to swerve past my rapidly incoming back tyre.

I'll reflect on this more later. But I had a fantastic time, made great friends and rode my bike a lot. That race doesn't get anything approaching the respect it deserves, maybe some people ride it like a tour but I used all the cycling skills I have, more than once I had to use my 'cross knowledge to save a bungled transition with a 'cross mount on my tt bike, a car in west Virginia witnessed the ferocity of my armsling off its rear view mirror when it came across the lane, occasional forays into the gravel pushed the limits of my (limited) mountainbike experience. We climbed steep hills, descended on an epic scale, crossed whole states in the time trial position and did all of this in the dark. The officials conducted their job with an air of friendliness as well as professionality, throughout the course of the whole race not once was I forced to ride around an office park and we had one crash in 3019 miles, all in all this was a refreshing change to the other racing I've done in the US and given the chance, I'll do it again.