Thursday, June 9, 2011


Three Down and Four to Go

So ends the climbing fireworks until our coda in West Virginia.  The middle is a battle of attrition fought on multiple fronts.  I trained this year to manage the grueling miles that must be dispatched in the dark, with weary legs, insufficient sleep, mounting battle damage and the finish line an abstract prospect sitting on the far side of some real night terrors.

After Kansas, looming in front of us were the dark rides in Ohio and Missouri, two nights of rollers and the possibility of total physical collapse. 

Our race bell rings four hours earlier for each shift and for this ride in Kansas we'd start before daybreak and burn our last shift of riding mostly in the light.  Kansas is all TT bike, 6 to 7 miles each turn, no hills: Ground and Pound.  Toro called this "a recovery day" which seemed like saying we should recover from battle by jumping on a sword.  He was right, we needed to take a day off from climbing and TT intervals require a different kind of riding.  Again, the race played to our strengths because another day of climbing from me would have been pathetic.  Time trial riding would recruit any remaining muscles that had not been shredded in the first three days.  One day with no hills, I needed it.

Race Update
Drive: Alamosa Colorado to Ulysses, Kansas
Ride: Just east of Ulysses, KS to just east of Pratt, KS
Rotating Crew: Izzy
Team ViaSat a solid second place.

Looking West at Sunset: Kevin and Larry were on course out there somewhere

Drive to Ulysses

We left off last time at the end of our third shift of racing having traversed the Continental Divide.

With the Rockies behind us we hit the plains.  Kansas is visually distinct.  Its just green and flat with grain elevators and small towns spaced at somewhat regular intervals.  We became as Kansas, no undulations, turns in the road or any secrets to hold.  The narrow spectrum of scenery takes on a dreamlike quality which is double trippy when you are weary from days of racing and a lack of sleep.  As the race progresses, we talk less and spend more time in a vegetative state just this side of consciousness.  We drove past Kim, Colorado which for some reason always looks like a place I would never want to ride.

Just into Kansas

Eastern Colorado is home to corn fields and feedlots, not much else in sight.  Kevin and Larry got the honor.  We pulled off to switch drivers and let Izzy drive for a while, once outside we confirmed a hefty head wind from the east.  It was a mighty quiet ride to Ulysses and the straight open roads meant we would arrive in time to get some extra sleep.

That's a Pass on hpsetup

Ulysses Kansas: A Travelers Guide

Part of the fun in RAAM is going places you would never intentionally visit. Its the vacation itinerary nobody would punch into Expedia but the experience is singular.  You hit odd places at all hours in that post-race stupor that hangs over the second half of the race.  Ulysses is all of about a mile and a half long but locals were thoughtful enough to decorate a VW Bug like a pink pig to welcome RAAM to town.  I'm still not certain what to make of that honor.

Let's Take a Virtual Tour of Ulysses

According to census data there are nine black people among the 5,515 who call Ulysses home.  It is also the number of pillows I had to toss on the floor to expose my hotel bed that night.  I'm not saying I had one pillow for each black person in town just pointing out relevant pillow/demographic facts.  As a statistician, I raised one eyebrow like Spock and deployed my brain to make a mental visual spread sheet with two cells.  This was way better than the pie chart which was mostly a circle with a line down the middle.

Mattress excavation required, if Ed was any good he would have cleared out this mess

Aside from cultural monoversity and wildly outlying pillow stats, local laws suggest a history of problems with kooky animal collectors and the super-nosey neighbors they roused to pass strange laws.

"It shall be unlawful to keep:
(a) Any warm-blooded, carnivorous or imnivorous, wild or exotic animal (including but not limited to non-human primates, raccoons, skunks, foxes and exotic cats).
(c) Any pit bull dog"

While Toro is an animal he's likely not a non-human primate, so we'd steer clear of any trouble with the local Roscoe P. Coltrane.

My money is on the Stick Car in the middle

Hotel Drill

During the drive I had booked us a couple rooms at the Single Tree Inn with spotty cell coverage.  We all saw photos of the building on the internet and arrived in great time.  The Hotel Deploy fire drill started meaning two luggage carts were bag-sorted per room and reverse loaded to come off in the right order (not kidding, we were getting THAT efficient).  Then we learned this was the wrong hotel.  What?  There were like three cars in the lot so we said, OK fine can we have two rooms?  Nope, all booked.  It took a few minutes to cipher but we were booked at another hotel 1.5 miles to the east.  Pack it back up, ugh.

This is the wrong hotel...bummer

The main road that runs the length of Ulysses had a RAAM race detour in the center of town.  As we moved to our hotel on the far east side of town we drove the detour (really simple diversion around a few blocks of road construction) and took notes in case we'd have to race it in the dark later.

Our actual hotel was far better than the first one that rejected us.  We packed in quick, negotiated food from the hotel staff during hours none was generally available.  Packing in required a LONG walk down a ground floor hallway, kinda like The Shining, but this was a one-time trek as somebody smartly suggested we park METAL1 right outside the fire exit on the east side.  I never saw the front entrance again.

The hotel was clearly the nicest one in town and far better than the cozy family-run 1950's place we stayed in last year.  Although, I did enjoy my little chat with the lamb and duck that lived in the little paddock situated in front of that Motel.

This phase of the race was really tranquil.  We had arrived with time for plenty of sleep, food was dialed in and Kansas navigation requires little to no preparation.  Just point the bike down course and light it up.  We got a break from climbing and concerns about navigation.  The only requirement was to burn TT intervals as hard as possible without blowing up.  Simple but painful.  Kansas is perfectly placed as the middle of seven shifts, just pound it out.

Izzy is Easy Like Sunday Morning but you don't feel gay listening to him

Early Risers

We woke up in the dark, two hours before shift.  We were perfectly placed to watch our team race by, do a short chase down and start our fourth of seven shifts.

While loading up METAL1 in the dark of early morning, we knew our mates would come race by, directly in front of our hotel.  Its really nice to actually see them go by, you just see what time it is plug in 25MPH into the equation and you can nail the shift change.  In the pitch black silence we spot our team flying east through Ulysses.  Let's switch that calculation to 28MPH.  I lost my mind and yelled as loud as I could at Brad.  Many roosters and dogs accepted and bested my rejoinder, oops.  I might grouse about stupid birds but I was the one who felt like a dumb cock.  The RAAM organizers encourage us to be good ambassadors of the race, waking up a loaded hotel and surrounding county is not what they had in mind.  What's worse, I'm not even sure Brad heard me.

Ed-ometer: really?

Navigating for Ed is much easier when he zeroes his odometer at each time station (TS).  Executed properly, the truck odometer will match the route book, meaning that tricky corner behind the trees in the dark at 6.4 miles after the TS will actually show up at 6.4 miles.  Failure to zero means constantly dealing with offsets, estimates and thumbnail calculations made by a weary brain.  While we helped Ed navigate, its basically his responsibility and his problem to deal with.  In the chaos and complexity of racing in the dark with tortuous rapid fire turns, Ed values a properly zeroed odometer highly as a way to remove a variable and avoid the panic of potentially driving off course.

Our hotel was just east of the TS and Ed decided to backtrack a few miles to get his zero.  Unfortunately, that took way longer than expected (due to the construction detour).  Secondly, there was exactly one turn, a left at a T intersection, between time stations.  While this maneuver was not wildly popular among the riders Ed felt better doing this and while we had to gear up a little for a chase-down we set up to race in plenty of time.  I mention this episode because it shows the unique pressure the navigator bears and that erring on the side of caution is GENERALLY the best choice especially when there is a route detour.  Later that day, a perfect storm of over-cautiousness backfired and cost us some serious sleep loss.

Ready to Race

It was still very dark when we took over from Brad and John.  Evidence of a recent rain was all around, soaked fields, puddles but nothing fell directly during our shift.  It seems we missed a deluge by only a few hours, this was a pattern during RAAM.  We would examine Doppler maps only to learn that rain was all around but not upon us.  Luck.

Not even a bad picture, that's about what a night shift change looks like.

Last year, Tobias and I rode with a massive tailwind and temperatures that topped out at 108 degrees.  METAL heaven.  We began this year in the high 50's and it never got higher than 75 degrees.  The last thing I expected was to be chilly in Kansas.  This was a major difference in 2010, I wore arm warmers for 15 minutes in the mountains of West Virginia in 2009.  That's it.  It was warm to hot all the time.  While we had decent weather in 2010, I was never hot and often chilled.  I suppose the biggest bummer was putting arm warmers on my right arm which meant each day the wound was set back to day one.  After each shift I'd peel off the warmer, bandages and xeroform (sterile medicated wound dressing) which revealed what Toro called my crème brûlée.

Finding Inspiration in Strange Places

I have an unfortunate but well-deserved reputation for making "bike faces."  Denner has even mentioned my lamentable theatrics have gotten him fired up.  As we began each shift in 2010, Tyner and Brad would show up looking like death.  While I made a concerted effort to avoid their smell of death the very fact of total commitment to the race compelled me to match the effort.

Tyner's corpse two weeks after being thrown off a cliff
 It was my turn to take the first pull of the day so it was off to the races.

A few pulls in: the sun rose in the east, that's the normal direction

It was pretty clear we were having a good day.  With wide open roads you actually see your partner racing more in Kansas and Toro was killing it.

Eye of the Tiger and BikeFace
We did ride some roads with a crappy surface which was a little frustrating because bouncing around really robs speed.  Overall it was very fast.  High effort but very routine, no hills and almost no turns.

Light traffic meant we could exchange left of the rumble strip, always faster and less chance of a pinch flat.

 I love Kansas because its quite and fast.  You feel like you are reeling in Annapolis in one shift.

No too many times in RAAM you find a perfect exchange point and realize you'll see the other guy more than a mile before he arrives.

 My increased performance in Kansas is directly rooted in doing TT interval training camps with Toro this year.  The benefit was unfiltered and direct: I literally put myself on the limit I had come to know in training.  Since you never know when or even if you'll ever get this chance again, I felt great during the shift feeling the extra power.  It was nice to look back at cold, dark, excruciating mornings doing intervals and realize it was time well spent.  I had a couple power lapses in '09 and much of my training was geared to kick ass from coast to coast.  I got Tyner looking like a corpse, Toro stomping out his mathematical metronome destruction and I feel strong from head to toe on the course.  This is the adventure and essence of the race.

We don't like to exchange on a decline but the road situation dictated this rare downhill exchange

A Farewell to Kansas

We were racing totally under control.  In fact, at the end of the shift Toro had Ed stop halfway through his pull so he'd have visual marker to meter his efforts.  I was done racing so I had time to grab cameras and capture a rare bird: actual race photos other than an exchange.
30 something MPH, last pull
So I took a bunch of useless photos due to lack of talent but one photo caught my eye.  As you may know, Toro is precise on the bike, rarely comes out of the saddle and (while it pains me to admit this) is clearly the less dramatic and flamboyant rider among us.  That's an understatement bordering on the absurd.

Imagine my glee when I found a photo that SEEMED to show Toro suffering.  Was he trying to act like me and do a bike face?  What next, jump outta the saddle and start dancing like Contador?  I present the following photo as Exhibit A:

Riding Thesbian?
So later that day I confronted Toro with the physical evidence that he just might have been a little dramatic on course today.

METAL: dude, look at this photo.  What the hell is that?
Toro: Increased air intake.

Foiled.  Not giving up.


Our fourth shift ended and we had ridden strong.  The next two shifts would be tackled in the dark, we were the last of the four trucks to deal with this.  Shifts five and six are the sag in the board.  Without a doubt the hardest part of the race.  The lack of sleep and daily leg-ripping starts adding up.

Wei would be joining us for this off shift.  The drive to our hotel in the Ozark Lakes section of Missouri was hands down the longest and most frustrating transition of the entire race.  It took us nearly seven hours to get to the hotel.  Why, you say?

Unlike the previous transition which was fast and straight this edition featured jogging around side roads and one huge waste of time.

DeTour De Kansas 

We were done riding but the guys behind us were facing some sort of course detour some place before Maize, Kansas.  Its was decided that we would drive the course to the next time station to pre-scout it out.  It was something like 75 miles of two lane community road rather than us skipping out to a faster expressway.

The problem with this idea is that it was help they did not need.  They were racing under Daytime rules which meant they did not need direct follow.  That means, if they were worried about the course they had the option of having the follow vehicle move ahead of the racers and check it out.  Instead, we were recruited for this task at the cost of actual and much-needed sleep.  Riders ate and stewed.

The hilarious thing is that the "detour" was so obvious and simple Wei had trouble even explaining it over the phone.  It was something like "proceed .3 miles past the sign which is marked at a turn that you actually cannot turn at and take a right at the T in the road...repeat...proceed .3miles..."  The racers picked up a couple words of that.  Dude.  So Wei keeps paring down the message until it becomes "TAKE A RIGHT AT THE T"  which sounded like "OUR TOP STORY TONIGHT!"  If these guys messed this up in broad daylight, we did not deserve to finish.

Even worse news was much later when we saw the sad TS data they produced.  We surmised Tobias was still sick because they posted a 22.25MPH time.  For reference, we'd topped 27MPH on the previous TS.  Skip it.  Well, everybody was doing their best and nobody wants to have the team ride off course.  Still, our forward scouting was no help to those guys.  You always expect a little RAAM frustration on the road and it was totally appropriate that we'd get robbed of some rest right before the part of the race where you need it most.  Nobody gave the fiasco a second thought.

Let the Nightmares Begin

So we'll leave off here driving to Missouri, the long way.  The true test of RAAM is coming up.  Could I avoid having a bad day and really go hard seven times with no let up?  Will Toro use a women's restroom while a lady holding an infant and her angry husband have to wait?  Did I actually snap a photo of this?  Some of these questions will be obliquely answered in our next episode.

Next time is Missouri or Misery if you like.  Rolling hills, massive road kill, fog, fatigue and the mental battle of fighting in demise.  In other words, good times.

I'll try to actually read this thing to check for egregious errors and omissions.  Sorry if you beat me to it.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Legend of Wolf Creek

The Cameron Trading Post  
Having just completed our second shift, we pulled into the Cameron Trading Post on the banks of the Little Colorado River just this side of Tuba City, Arizona.  Time to eat, shower and begin the drive to Pagosa Springs, Colorado for the next day's battle up Wolf Creek and the Continental Divide.


As you read, your mind's voice speaks electronically generated words via dozens of (or up to twenty) neurons that make up your entire brain.  Kindly overclock your Texas Instrument and read the next paragraph as if it were narrated by Wilford Brimly (Yes, the overweight diabetic who shilled carb-loaded oatmeal to unsuspecting old people who trusted him just because he talked all folksy-syle) or Gabby Hays (I'm not explaining this kook).  You pick the voice, totally democratic.

"In Nineteen Hunderd and Eleven, the Cameron Trading Post opened its doors at the foot of the historic suspension bridge which spans the nearby gorge of the Little Colorado River.  Today, travelers can stay at the rustic lodge, buy authentic-ish Navajo rugs or simply navigate through the quaint gift shop in a filthy racing kit straight to the water closet and drop a deuce...without buying anything."

Since we DID actually buy gas, Wilford (you're not still doing it are you?), we availed ourselves to the rights and privileges which accrue to the class of paying customers.  Step aside,  you sea of window shoppers, browsers, and looky-loos what, with your opened mouths and closed wallets.

Outdoor Showers

As a member of the tiny subset of people who actually spent money at this place by buying fuel,  Toro felt justifiably entitled to fire up the METAL1 portable shower because there's nothing like public showers in the middle of a big parking lot.  Our "shower" is essentially a bag with a hose which we place on the roof of METAL1 while we race.  It is designed to capture solar energy and yield hot showers immediately after our shift.

Solar Bag?  Hmmm.  Due to a serious design defect, our shower only gathered the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation which spans the cosmos as faint echos from the Big Bang.  Note: while this did accomplish the laudable task of creating all METAL13.8 billion years ago it is wholly worthless for heating water today.  We again need some sciencific facts, so we'll take a MET-angent to explore the nerd-crafted wonder of a Dickie Radiometer.

Why the Big Bang Fails to Heat Water Good Enough: Four Nerd's and a Dickie Radiometer

In the 1950's some eggheads hanging around Johns Hopkins built these giant "antennas" that look like mechanical ears from Wallace and Gromit.  Naturally, the guy named Dickie decided to name it after himself when another guy (whose name did not evoke genitalia) named Peter Roll was standing right there.  Whatever.  So these lonely clowns are working like 80 hours a week, to the consternation of their imaginary wives and girlfriends, when they get scooped by Penzias and Wilson.

Even though Penzias and Wilson sounds like a fancy Broadway songwriting duo, its actually a separate pair of nerds who worked for Bell Labs and nabbed the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physics because (get this):

1. they found what the other guys were looking for;
2. which was something they were not looking for, and;
3. did even realize what it was when they found it.

No matter what direction they pointed their monster giant Dickie Radiometer they picked up noise.

This background noise was a bigger mystery to these isolated clipboards than talking to girls.  Totally stumped, they actually climbed inside the Dickie and cleaned off bird shit just to make sure avian fecal attenuation was not 'fowling' the signal (three separate laughs in that sentence, underlined to account for inattentive readers).

Turns out that "noise" is uniform throughout the entire universe and this marks the discovery of what is now known as Cosmic Background Radiation, the major direct evidence cited as proof of the Big Bang Theory.  As before, this CBR is the only energy which our misnamed "solar" shower collected.

You might mutter under your breath, 'that is a long, convoluted and fruitless road to travel for me, as a careful reader, to discover your shower was cold.'  Incorrect.  Keep in mind what the Chinese never said: a pointless journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single misstep.

Zack jumps into METAL1

Toro took his zero Kelvin shower in the Parking Lot which produced an unceremonious puddle of Superfund Water to contaminate local aquifers and burden future generations.  Dinner was served from tailgate of METAL1, which continued to earn Michelin Stars from riders and crew. The drive to Pagosa Springs was on the dessert menu.  Then we'd face our third consecutive day of climbing and cross the Continental Divide over Wolf Creek Pass.

Joining us for this leg of our journey was Zack who is, hands down, the most intentionally hilarious guy on the team.  Zack was all for the team, he is a young gregarious, avuncular guy, full of energy, bullcrap stories and endurance.  He is unflappable, doggedly determined and committed to having fun during the race.

As we buzzed around the Trading Post eating, being disgusting and getting ready to scramble off to Colorado, Zack asked if he could do anything to help.  I promptly handed him a clump of wet race ejecta to ferry 25 feet to the trash can.  We simultaneously realized how uncool that was and shared an incredulous laugh.  Let's hit the road.

Pagosa Bound

Ed is awesome in the details.  He studies maps, sequences, contingencies and does anything he can put METAL1 in the right place, on time, every time.   We were immensely proud to have him wearing the Captain's Hat and infinitely gratefully he respectfully declined the matching Captain's Speedo.  In the process of being dead on, Ed does this elaborate thinking that exhaustively considers all conceivable possibilities, out loud, like a homeless guy keeping it real with his shopping cart.  Its both remarkably thorough and extraordinarily funny listening to this meandering dither when you are punch drunk from racing and happily digesting a few thousand calories.  I came to call this his "Piglet Routine" where the guy worries himself to death even though for two years all he did was nail it.  Its like Jordan staying up all night wondering if he could dunk.

Zack jumped into the copilots' seat, closed the door on the rational world and the hilarity began.  Ed immediately launched into a rocking Piglet soliloquy about all things which might, but surely would not, happen.  Among, the first words Zack ever spoke to Ed were: "Does someone need a hug?"  Perfectly timing, off the wall and deadpan.  After a nice little pause, the car erupted into laughter and Zack was immediately in the wolf pack.

Our drive to Pagosa Springs was easily a highlight of RAAM 2010.  We'd sunk our teeth into the race with two solid days of racing and it was now apparent METAL1 was riding faster than TT1, every time.  Wow. The post-ride atmosphere was different that evening, more euphoria, more of a sense that we were doing this thing and each rider and crew was ready to throw down.  The sun was setting as we drove past the silent rock sentinels of Monument Valley.  For us, it was radical liberation to be warm, dry, full of food and not presently at war.

Intermittent rain fell with the last rays of light, DH1 was sticking it to 4Mil and adding to our lead.  We drove past 4Mil and started a stopwatch to measure the time gap up to DH1 so we could give those guys some real time intel.  The gap was about six minutes according to all the math dorks in the car who ciphered the lead accounting for relative speeds of the two cyclists and our truck.  That's one small step for geeky engineers and one giant whoosh for METAL who avoids math.

Here is Ryan sporting tiny woman's socks that appear to have little cotton balls on the back

Zack broke out his bag of riffs and entertained us for hours.  It is not possible to recreate that magic but I am not exaggerating when I assure you everybody shed tears of laughter.  Zack has mini-comedy routines about being a country boy, making his wife do heavy manual labor, how Verizon sucks, and a pleasing mix of canned jokes and improv skits that come flying at you in a peripatetic storm.


The big showstopper though was Stanley, the Team ViaSat 2010 Mascott.  You may recall Ron had regaled us the night before with a seemingly unlimited stream of facts and unique experiences.  Well Ron may be living in it but this is Stanley's world.  Stanley is Ron's pet Macaw but that is a criminal understatement tantamount to saying the Beatles were four guys from Liverpool.  You see Stanley is a superhero walking around in a bird's feather suit.

                         "Bring it!"

I started to lift the veil and get Zack hip to the whole Stanley situation.

Not a lot of people realize that Stanley is 900 grams but don't call him fat...he's just flabby.  Yep, he's just a little off form.  Turns out, this is Ron's fault because, if Stanley just did like 20 minutes of bird flavored pect blasting everyday he'd be ripped and would even regain the ability to fly which he lost 17 years ago in a bloody fight.  17 years ago Ron took on a three year old injured Macaw named Stanley.  In reality, Stanley, the world famous, puzzle solving, chick-magnet, dog-mauling super bird took on a valet named Ron to serve him and record his METAL bird odyssey.  Zack was hitting the roof, more questions than answers, how could any of this be?

Stanley making his head extra fluffy for the ladies and thinking of ways to ditch Ron

So there we were: Ed, Toro, METAL and Zack reviewing the race and marveling at Stanley the BADASS and how on earth I could have possibly obtained this level of detail about a bird I'd never seen.  There is no recreating the uproar but here are a few highlights:


Zack: "He did WHAT?  The bird mauled a dog?  You have to tell me that one."
(its now pitch black outside the truck and I let this one breathe a good 10 seconds before slowing speaking)

METAL: "...there was a trail of blood."
(Insert: four guys in stitches with 30 seconds of incredulous screaming guffaws)

     Stanley: slapping humans around for 17 years

Turns out Stanley is a bird thug.  The trail of blood led to a full-sized dog that required 80 stitches to repair his snout.  The dog wanted a "two pound chicken dinner" and instead got served up a Costco Sized Can of Beak Flavored Whoop Ass.  Stanley ended up with a broken wing and lost the ability to fly, that's how Stanley got his valet, Ron.  Isolated incident?  Nope.  Stanley hangs out in his front yard tree which he does not care to share local felines.  He shells any cat looking for a chicken dinner.  Stanley shears off branches with his beak, then launches them with his bird head.  He nails cats with his vicious avian arboreal assaults.  Sometimes he holds onto the stick, prison-yard style, and fends off attackers with what I call his "bird shiv."

This is just the beginning, Stanley is adored by women and sought out by celebrities.  There is literally too much to say.  After I had Zack in a fevered state of disbelief regarding how much Stanley lore I was sitting on, I dropped the bomb on him.  "Say Zack, here is a photo of Stanley on my laptop."  THAT was a barn burner.  Ron had given me his SD card after day one to grab his race photos which included a Stanley portrait.  Zack was floored.

      "That's two for me and ZERO for Ron!"

Stanley became our mascot and a central conceit of the team.  We discovered him on the road, developed his character and resorted to his tales (both real and embellished) as a refuge from the pain, darkness and isolation that riding RAAM can be.  Best of all it was organic, spontaneous, unexpected and a riotous team-builder for us to share during that brief adventure.

At that point, only Zack and us three were indoctrinated into Stanley folklore.  I had no idea it would ever become anything more than a riot that night.  It did, as in magnitudes more hilarious, when I start getting texts like this from Kevin Hunter during the race:

Kevin:"Give 'em hell tonight.  Do it for Stanley.  He's 900 grams you know"
METAL: "Oh man, that's funny."
Kevin: "Not fat...just flabby"
METAL: "Holy shit you have the whole VH1 Stanley story!"
Kevin: "Zack was killing us last night with Stanley stories"

So obviously, the magic element is the rotating crew that disseminates news and bird legends across the vehicles as they rotate at the end of every shift.  Hard to measure how much this little dynamic added to our fun on the road.  So we laughed like hell and got to our hotel in Pagosa Springs hotel in good repair.

Offload at Pagosa Springs Hotel

Typical METAL1, we grabbed two luggage carts and had both hotel rooms dialed in within 10 minutes.  Try it sometime, it takes practice.  I got some pretty good sleep and headed to breakfast only to find Toro, the Eagle Scout, was already digesting food and data.

He's that guy you go camping with that you unzip your tent flap in the morning to discover he's already made a fire, caught lake trout for breakfast and took photos of bears he chased away during the night a few miles up the road which he sensed because blue spotted tree squirrels only face east when black bears are about to attack.  We had a big satisfying breakfast and learned 4Mil was not reporting any times after Durango.  We found out later they had crashed out because one of their crew fell asleep at the wheel while driving an RV but at that point we did not know this.  Ultimately, 4Mil's disaster just made the entire team appreciate our crew who worked long hours, kicked ass and made us as fast as we could be with no hitches.

Toro Bike Stand

Necessity is the mother of invention...who got knifed by Toro who is now the daddy of Macgyvering Innovation.  Here, he labors in the Room Shop over the now-famous improvised bike stand.  Pretty clever, huh?  Trash cans became ice chests, rags were acquired from hotel staff and our bikes were always race ready when we left the hotel.  Big deal Toro, I know how to whistle.

Third Consecutive Climbing Day

It was a chilly morning and we'd be starting in the morning twilight.  Our parcours this day was pretty exciting and very simple.  Climb from 6300 to 10800 feet elevation.  We'd start in a chilly ravine east of Durango and have the distinct honor of hitting the highest elevation on RAAM as we crossed the Continental Divide at the top of  Wolf Creek Pass.  Jeremy and I were both feeling good and I knew we were going to have a big day.

There would be about 60 miles of mostly up with some drops which inflates the total climbing versus raw elevation gain.  This ride most closely approximates what Jeremy and I do nearly every Saturday.  I was more relaxed for this ride than I ever have been for any RAAM stage, it felt like a home field advantage.  An average Saturday training ride for us is 80 miles with 8000 feet of climbing.  There's a tradition of mauling these rides just after the sun comes up at a pace just shy of death.  In other words, this stage is how we train, why we ride bikes and we take much pride in executing this particular type of riding.  With no disrespect to our competition, there was approximately zero chance anybody in RAAM could climb like us.  Time to cash the lottery ticket we picked up hanging out in the pain cave every week. 

Navigation from Memory

We had to backtrack toward Durango to track down Tynee and the Gorilla.  As we Drove along in the dark, Toro decides we missed a turn.  GPS, map review, driver, crew all bested by Toro's memory as he scanned the terrain and decided this was not the road he had traveled in previous races.  He was right, we fixed it and METAL1's on-time-all-the-record was safe.

The Gorilla, Toro and the introduction of Bike Ninja

Jeremy got the first pull of the day once the Gorilla gnashed his bike to the exchange.

Temps were in the 40's and we'd be climbing out of the gate.  I had to wear cold weather gear, not to avoid pain (impossible in RAAM anyway), but rather to avoid involuntary slowing that travels with being frozen.  Freeze biking is like those Galapagos Iguanas that get all lethargic after dining on seaweed in the frigid equatorial ocean.  No frozen lizards, we got some shredding to do.  Some people call that thing a balaclava.

Au contraire Robespierre, that's my Executioner's Hood.


The sun was warming things up as we gained elevation, this was some brutal and fairly relentless climbing.  We had a healthy warm up heading for Pagosa Springs when Ed decided to get in on the fun.  He backed METAL1 up in some tall grass that was hiding a bent metal snow measuring stick which impaled the rear bumper and then broke off like a bee stinger or something.

No racing allowed until Ed got a photo with his METAL

It was a funny accident but the really hilarious thing was how much Ed was digging getting in on the whole rampage, destruction and brutality vibe.  He wouldn't give up his rusty javelin and was pacing around saying: "this is METAL"  and insists on being photographed with the thing.  Awesome.  Ask me how I would expect him to act and I'd have said he'd fill out insurance forms in triplicate and start getting estimates while we slept that night.  Nope.  He was Ed the Impaler and the mellow, cautious guy that lives in San Diego apparently stayed there.  Ed's enthusiasm was infectious and Chuck (crew chief who was riding along with us for a while) was having a blast too.  Epic Day, under way.

Wolf Creek: Making the Angels Cry

Zack was driving the follow vehicle and that meant Izzy was navigating.  This was their day to shine.  Those guys were right there all day and they accomplished the nearly impossible by causing me to ride even faster than I would have merely driven by my own depravity. Just like Ed had transformed into a brutal minion, Izzy became our Satanic DJ and the soundtrack for METAL1's finest hour.

              You play Highway To Hell while Toro's cranking out 500 watts...the arm's going up

A few hours into our shift the main event was center stage.  Wolf Creek Pass is a fun climb because it glowers and towers above you as you make your puny-human way up the valley leading up to the summit.  As the grade increased the follow car transmuted into METAL2, everybody grew horns and channeled Ronnie James Dio.  Toro and I normally trade 5-7 mile pulls, outside Pagosa, Toro called for decreasing pulls as the road tilted up: 3miles, 2miles, 1mile and for the summit 1/2 mile pulls.
Toro telling me: "that sucked, five miles of climbing. You are taking about 9 miles here, its mostly down then we are switching to three's"

Shorter Pulls based on Hilly Terrain

This is how we became one unit.  Shorter pulls puts more pressure on the drivers and crew but it also gets them all fired up.  You see them more and the bikes are maxing at 15MPH, they have to find places for exchanges, they throw bikes faster, they run to the bike rack and are even more critical to putting time into rivals.  Everybody was on FIRE assuming their assigned job with precision and speed.

Hitting the teeth of the climb, Izzy and Zack start blasting Metal Tunes.  Dark clouds above, temps are in the 30's and there is snow up the to the edge of the roads.  Riders and crew started screaming and hollering because we all sensed this was a once in a lifetime moment.  All seven of us stayed line-of-sight up to the summit.

                  I am actually laughing here from Izzy's METAL narration and song choice

As I rode up toward some dead animal in the road Izzy gets on the METAL2 P.A. and scratches out a sinister "feast on his flesh!"  I nearly fell off my bike laughing and immediately redirected that energy to my pedals.

With the summit in site Toro calls for half mile pulls.  METAL1 and METAL2 are spitting gravel, snow, blood and guts and those guys nailed every exchange.  It was a RAAM clinic, Toro and I were throwing everything we had onto the road.  You ride, jump in, barely pass the other rider, jump out of the truck and onto the bike and hit the gas a few seconds later. 

Above 9000 feet elevation, its real now.  Were getting some wind and then an icy rain starts trying to cool the METAL.  No chance.  Izzy again, "You guys are killing this mountain so bad...its making the Angels cry."  Oh my.  The heat of humor and passion of battle burned my core.  Izzy literally stopped the rain, I did not feel it anymore.  Did he just ad lib that?  Do I need to pull over and shake his hand?  No, he's ViaSat Crew just throwing in his unique contribution.  Each rider and crew brings gives it his all which has the cumulative effect to transform a mere trip into an Epic Journey.

This was our optimized assault, time station data confirmed: Team ViaSat was the fastest team up the mountain.  Our story is more than facts because the experience was transcendent.  The script and cast I can only relate to you here in shadow form.  As such, it will likely fail to convey what we left on that mountain. We improvised, fought like hell and worked together.   There was a powerful willingness to sacrifice the self for the team, the technically perfect execution of rapid rider exchanges at altitude, in weather and under the pressure of high expectations.  All this was done with riotous humor, frequent war cries and METAL music to rouse the dead.  For those there that day, we found our seven individual contributions became one, this is the one Legend of Wolf Creek.

Toro took the summit prize on his roady and I took over shortly thereafter for the long descent down to South Fork Colorado, or as Denner calls it SoFoCo.  We switched to TT bikes for the rest of the day.  Time to tear down this hill and stomp some flat 'ground and pound' before calling it a day.  We were getting calls about Tobias being sick and that DH1 might be late.

Beavers Don't Speak Sign Language

It was pretty odd to switch from 1/2mile pulls uphill to one that was over 15 miles straight down.  I was regularly touching 50MPH coming down the backside of the Continental Divide.  I saw an animal (a Red Beaver, as Zack later clued me in) sort of pacing in the road.  I thought about bunny hopping the beaver at 50MPH on a TT bike but...that's just stupid.  So do I go right? Left? Hit the brakes?  No.  The best way to communicate with a semi-aquatic rodent is to waive your arm around.  Now I'm bike racing AND removing the communication barriers between man and beast.  Well, some beavers aren't cut out to be Koko the Gorilla so I gave up and just dodged his furry meanderings.  Zack was kind enough to narrate the tale by yelling out the window "beavers don't speak sign language."  Texans.

I zipped through the bottom of the climb and saw our media truck in a gas station.  They had stayed the night in South Fork meaning they were only 15 miles from us when we climbed.  While there was no way to know this in advance, ViaSat media should post up on this big climb in the future.  There is plenty to see as the crew is executing frequent exchanges, the bikes are moving slower and the scenery is breathtaking.  I suppose the same thing goes for RAAM media which was also absent.  They missed one hell of a show.

Rain, Heart failure and Heartbreak

We hit some flat terrain with a cross to tail wind, it was raining intermittently but not enough to soak through to the socks (my standard for too wet).  I was suddenly stricken with nausea, cold sweats and chest pressure.  Great, diaphoresis and a heart attack?  I was able to spin up to 32 miles per hour due to the tail wind and then I backed off to ascertain whether I needed to stop racing.  I felt the same resting as working, ignore it.  While this was an alarming experience that has never happened before or since I decided it was merely the result of these three days of violent effort.  I was simply on my limit of exhaustion which is comforting in that I had left nothing on the road.  I could still ride fast, barely.

This episode also represented a fork in the road, RAAM had started taking its toll and the remainder of the race is marked by physical decline.  Hard racing, lack of sleep and rushes of adrenalin corrode your well being and become more disabling as the race progresses.  You never feel great again, its managing the decline which is one definition RAAM success.

Now we start hearing Tobias is sick, dehydrated and DH1 might be late.  While they subjected us to chaos the day before, they actually did take over at the appointed time.  Today that was not going to happen.  Cussing ensued.  Not due to anger at DH1 but more the feeling that we had spilled guts for the team with the assumption we'd let fresher legs take over as planned.  Its RAAM and you deal with it.  DH1 had been hanging out at some hospital and they even had our media with them to cover Tobias' trip to the ER.

So we resigned ourselves to riding until they arrived which was about 15 minutes late.  We had ridden past our planned stop for gas and showers, no chance we would back track.  Tobias was set up to take the first pull.  We found this astounding.  The sick guy is riding first?  Anyway, the awesome part is that our getting off the road got all screwed up and Toro had to ride in DH1 after the exchange with Tobias.  Cussing ensued.  Ryan's got the first-hand dish on this chapter but my understanding is, he gets in the car, blurts out a little explicative-laden tirade and then calmly turns around to Denner and says "Oh, hey Ryan."  Classic.

Just to keep the screwed up theme going, we got Toro back and the follow vehicle had taken off with Izzy (our crew member to pick up) and we ended up waiting, chasing, and finally meeting up to pick up Izzy.  Then, cumulative cussing ensued.

Izzy jumps on and we head to Ulysses Kansas

As ever, we'll leave off in a parking lot.  Our adventure will resume on the Great American Plains as we ride in Kansas. 100% time trial bikes and one of my favorite days of RAAM.  Izzy is the coolest guy out there and brings the super-low-key humor to a new level.

The Legend of Wolf Creek Video

Click here to watch

We were fighting so hard that day I am amazed we took any pictures.   In fact, we have no video.  I slapped this "movie" together from the photos as they appeared, in raw form and in sequence coming off the camera.  Rather than just point you to a gallery with 250 pics, I've tried this approach to make it more interesting and a faster read.  Obviously, we were too busy to contemplate taking the best or most dramatic photos.  We were racing.  Still, I am pleased we have at least some of the last section of the climb.  A big thanks to Chuck for squeezing off a bunch of good shots.  Please enjoy and make allowances for our inability to get better media and my laziness in not making a more polished production.  Think of it as a Backstage RAAM Pass you were unable to scalp for anything of value.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Operation METAL Storm

Followers of this blog, both of you, have lodged complaints that updates are too infrequent. Oh yeah, well there is this TV show called "24" that I've never seen that took like six seasons to cover 24 hours. You know what else? There is some other show, I also never saw, called "Lost" and, apparently, the whole thing happened in purgatory or some crap like that. TV sucks anyway, so just get over it.

Our story resumes in a hotel parking lot and just keeps getting fancier as we follow our intrepid racers to the end of their second day of racing and end up in another, even nicer, parking lot at the Cameron Trading Post.

Note: this tome is peppered with equal parts intentional misspellings, unintentional misspellings and unintelligible prose, please laugh and pity your writer at the appropriate times.

Docking Metal1

Around midnight we arrived at the Comfort Inn at Ponderosa Pines in Prescott, Arizona (pictured below). Captain Ron piloted METAL1 in his inimitable, fully-engaged, driving style: hunched forward, face pressed against the windshield, hands squeezing the sawdust out of the wheel and under diligent observation of the posted speed limit. Man.

In defense of the following section detailing the overly-elaborate task of parking: METAL1 is a long beast at 18.5 feet before you add the enormous Thule 4-banger bike rack. You can't see out the back window past all the baggage and bike wheels. Also, this particular parking lot was, as they say in the real estate euphemism department, "quaint." Non-real estate people, who don't get paid to convince folks that living next to a pig farm produces a "charming bucolic aroma that beckons one back the simpler time of knights and kings," would simply call the lot "tiny." What fun is that?

Below is a secret aerial drone reconnaissance image of the hotel parking lot. The yellow line represents the 2500 centimeter backing up odyssey we completed in far less time than it would have taken to build a truck from the surrounding pine cones and rocks.

We inadvertently sent Ron down that dead end in the hotel parking lot. Obviously, there was no room to attempt a 3-thousand-point turn. Back up alert! All hands on deck. In time, Ron found that stick that causes reverse to happen but was stricken with equivocation and paralyzed in the face of the nefarious forces potentially to be unleashed by moving, uh, not forward. Who are we to judge?

Ron was surely thinking, 'if we were in Europe, with their superior public transportation and lavish social services, none of this would be happening!' It was. In the freezing mountain air, Jeremy and I posted up like those airport flashlight guys behind METAL1. Ed was literally co-piloting, seriously, with actual obligations and responsibilities. As you know, the co-pilot in CARS is a strictly symbolic and ceremonial designation bestowed in a bloodless coup (but much ill-will) upon the first asshole that yells "shotgun" like five hours before a beer run.

So that was the scene, four people fully engaged in...backing a truck up...80 a straight line...with no a well lighted area. Against all odds, drama mounted. Just another classic case of: park, park exceedingly slow or send Ron to find ice while we park. High stakes.

I was on the driver's side, in mirror view, and started flashing the universal signals for "back it up." I tossed in some verbal assurances to prompt Ron, who was now popping his head out. Soon his torso was emerging like some kind of Parking Cobra with no fangs but armed to the teeth with an opinion on everything.


I hear cows can't go down stairs though apparently going up presents no problems, something about their legs. Driving a car in reverse is Ron's Stair Descent or Waterloo, depending on whether you see him as more Bovine or Bonaparte. I moved closer and closer to Ron until the absurdity reached its crescendo.

Ron graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Louis Agassiz School of Glacial Backing Up. No longer off the rear bumper, I ended up standing right next to the driver's door, face to face with Ron...close enough to reach in and grab the steering wheel. "Go, you are not going to hit anything...seriously...step on the gas pedal and release the brake." I walked along side METAL1 relishing my new role as the Tony Robbins of backing up. Jeremy and Ed both cracked weary grins.

Once again, Ron took a routine activity and replaced it with a mysterious ornate rococo performance art masterpiece, paradoxically painted with but a single stroke of genius and eccentricity. Regrettably, while Ron would join us again in Ohio, this little parking Magnum Opus marked the last time he EVER sat in the driver's seat. Sleep well Ron, that was a hell of a show packed into one day.


As you know, the hospitality industry is improbably staffed by the inhospitable. City folk are hardly shocked with indifferent service grudgingly meted out with an eyedropper by put-upon miserble's. I actually anticipate inflexible adherence to rules, "no you cannot check in early, no you can't have food early/late." Small town USA does better.

A polite young man briskly checked us in and invited the preternaturally efficient Toro to grab any of the food he was already foraging from the darkened and quite-closed adjacent dining room. In a flash, Toro snapped up two arms full of sundries and durable foodstuffs to sustain his incessant eating. Basically, just a guy throwing coal into a locomotive furnace.

Each hotel politely bore witness to four bikes, a bunch of baggage and four dirt bags whizzing by in the first 120 seconds. They accommodated our odd requests for rags and food at inconceivable hours. While still made of stone, my jaded heart warmed to all the helpful folks who eased our journey with patience and consideration. Now let's get back to my dissertation exploring petty annoying things normal folks utterly fail to complain excessively about.

A few words about Snoring and why Darwin was a bearded unreliable turd/troll

Our hotel room was neat and decent with a staid ambiance of green accents, flamboyant floral flourishes and tastefully muted cat barf hued carpets. Its that post-rummage-sale decor that defies an accurate description without sounding mean. Shit.

I took a few photos of my road rash and posted them to assure my mates METAL was just getting warmed up. Its not blood...its molten LAVA!!!

As ever, Ed managed to get to sleep before me in order to start his daily Snore Affrontery. SnoreMagnums always doze off before evolved bi-pedal humans. During this trip, I divined Ed is some kind of Mullah or religious leader of the proto-hominid species known as the Head Rumbling Ogres. Once all snugly and asleep (with his head facing East) this Muezzin blasts out the clarion Call to Snore to the diaspora of worldwide HRO's. I declare a Fatwa.

How do HRO's sleep faster? Do they have thicker craniums which shield their tiny brain stems from life's complications? Eventually, Mother Nature should step in any of a thousand ways to rectify this harmonic dissonance. She doesn't.

First, the aggrieved victims of these quasi-anthropomorphic sleep-robbers should eventually become too exhausted and actually sleep FIRST. Never happens. Second, archeologists and science-ific peer-revenued type-written papers have recently unearthed the ancient practice of preventing the "head rumbling ogres of tribal insomnia" from taking wives and making more little offensive baby HRO's.

Though this was Hammurabi's Law carved in cuneiform on ancient Formica tablets, all the Village People (even the cop) were too tired to enforce the edict and the sneaky HRO's, being all fresh as a daisy (from yet another great night's sleep) ended up looking, by contrast, all charming and engaging and, in so doing, easily impressed all the furry exhausted proto-womankind who were wearily smitten (each edition will feature a run on sentence of some magnitude, I'm not always gonna mark it like this). Natural History then records the grave misfortune that HRO's are, in fact, prolific breeders. This all happened before anybody even heard of Bin Laden.

Oh, before you start questioning me by bellyaching and dancing around like a baboon with a new Polly Pockets Easy Bake Oven, as you are so prone to do, you should know that "oven" is just a light-bulb and METAL went to great lengths to fall asleep first.

I always rushed to eat, shower, organize and park it on my 50 thread count sheets before the HRO. I wore seal-out headphones with an audio book playing AND drugged myself with Ambien. Even the exhaustion from the five-hour bike drubbing did not deliver sleep to me in due time as each night Ed (sn)roared across the finish line. This room now had the dubious hotel amenity of "en suite roaring cave bear."

Scholarly Abstract of this Section: snoring beasts rob sleep with blissful impunity and reveal the inherent fallacy of Natural Selection which utterly fails operate when the entire flora and fauna are too tired prevent propagation of the mutantly flawed genomic snoring noise imposition nuisance phenomes.

We Woke up in Third Place!

Ed sets like three staggered alarms to replace his snoring noise with 'wake up now' noise. This sets the room in motion to get online race updates, make phone calls to the follow and team cars. Once you locate the live racers and calculate their distance and pace, you have an idea of how much fur needs to fly. It could be anything ranging from two peaceful hours to that lightning bolt of "uh oh" that an hour ago was too late. This morning, we could easily track the guys down as they crossed Prescott Valley. The hotel location was perfect. We'd have time for a leisurely breakfast on the hotel sun porch and a chance to double check equipment with tranquility BUT our first look at the standings was a shocker.

4Mil had passed ViaSat during the night. What? I turned into George Bush senior, "this aggression shall not stand." Brad and Tynee reported 4mil had some "skinny" climbers who flew up the hills. 4Mil had built a lead of about 8 minutes. The mission was to avenge this offense and vault ViaSat up in the standings. We'd seek our prize under a glorious sunny sky and in the impossibly beautiful environs from Prescott, through Jerome, Sedona and Flagstaff. Game on.

Our shift was to begin at 11AM. Riding first rotation is perfect in its balanced demands. Even though the vast majority of the rough climbing fell on us, we don't race at strange hours the first few days of the race. This is different that any other rotation, I'll give you a few examples.

Second Rotation: Day One, they woke up by mid morning, went to the Oceanside parade start, drove out to Borrego, raced 8PM to 1AM, drove to a hotel and got to sleep around 6AM I'd guess. Welcome to RAAM, you just stayed up nearly 24 hours, now sleep for 5 hours and get back out there.

Forth Rotation: Day One, up in the morning, Time Trial for 11 miles starting around 2PM, drive a million miles into Arizona (sleep?) and race 14 hours later...or something...honestly, I don't even know.

So what did we do? Day One, rode from 3-8PM. Five hour ride on Saturday, yeah that's pretty much what we do. Day Two, get up around 9AM to ride in the sun from 11AM until 4PM. Tough riding, normal time of day. No ride at 3AM with restive sleep at noon, for us, that would come later.

METAL1 transformed like Optimus Prime (if you even know what that is: with this plastic light saber I hereby dub thee, Knight of the Lonely Table) into race mode for our second shift. METAL1 growled East across the wide expanse of the Prescott Valley and the day's first climb was readily apparent as the wall of mountains blocking our path. Yeah!

We wanted to jump on road bikes and steal the climb from Tynee and Brad even if that meant starting a few minutes early. They would not mind. In fact, an in-car interview during this exact time period has Tyner hoping for as much. Hell, we wanted ALL the climbs, everybody wins.

The Four Nations of ViaSat RAAM: Frat House

Each of the four ViaSat race units (two riders and their driver) is a mini nation with its own culture and social mores. That unique culture encompasses the things you'd encounter in any weird foreign nation that was unfortunately compressed into a truck populated by only dudes. By now, you know the bylaws of the METAL1 nation: Max effort, brutality, efficiency, healthy food, high tech gadgets and anything else to ride fastest. The rotating crew validated these tendencies of METAL1 but they also reported to us what was going on in the other cars. The variance between vehicles is hard to over state.

We drove past Brad "throttling" his bike and looking like a raging bear hunting down 4Mil. As planned, we set up a few minutes early so our flatlanders would not have to drag their heavy carcasses up another big hill. I raced at 142 pounds and Jeremy was 172 which means we added up to about 315 pounds, or one super-fat guy. Before we peek inside the bizarre world of Rotation Four, I'll say a word about the Gorilla.

The Gorilla does not really "ride" his bike. It looks more like attempted murder as he strangles and mangles his frame, waiting for it to stop breathing as life slips away. Gorilla kills things, animals, bikes and possibly humans (I don't ask). He's a Marine which, as I understand it, is permanent. Inquire about his knife and this sword looking thing is instantly brandished, blade down, ready to strike (I don't ask, anymore). On a bike, he's so huge his limbs have to angle back in as he kills it, this is quite distinctive, even from a great distance. The choke is delivered by both arms and both legs, either of which is sufficiently fatal as the guy has actually fractured three frames. It was inspiring to see Brad's four-pronged frame-mashing and Tynee's pasty pallor as evidence these guys were throwing down. They rode tough not pretty.

Time to Race

My turn to ride first, Ed pulled my roadie and I monitored race radio for any chatter. I knew Tynee was on the road so I peered around a bend in the road and waited.

"Ed do you hear that?" Over the radio, there was some kind of bizarre, high-pitched screaming and blathering in some unintelligible dialect. Had somebody gotten drunk, forgotten to pass out and instead got on a ham radio? Was this a child calling for help or were we eavesdropping on some nearby trailer and their creepy version of domestic tranquility? "Seriously, Ed, what the hell IS that?" Reality was better than my guesses.

Apparently, Brad jumps off his bike, grabs a radio and taunts, cajoles and screams like a baby at John while he rides. Incredibly, John leaves his radio on. This was my introduction to Rotation Four's truck operations which Michele aptly compared to a rolling "frat house" with incessant verbal abuse, trash talking, flatulence and spontaneous irrational explicative-laden tirades. The fireworks were not just a few moments a day, they blasted all day and all night. Here is a dialogue sample delivered to me from the crew. Note: the actual exchange was far longer.

Brad: John, Fuck you
John: Oh yeah? Fuck you Brad
Brad: Fuck you
John: Fuck you
Brad: Fuck you
John: Fuck you
Brad: Matt, fuck you
Matt: What did I do? ...and fuck you John

These guys ate pizza and yelled at each other for 3000 miles. Shift changes were a hoot. We seemed like silent assassins by comparison taking over from a rumbling hoard of stone tossers. Another persistent source of hollering matches was Brad's constant assertion that he was faster than John despite weighing much more. Interestingly, Tynee conceded the speed and nobody disputed the weight. Gorilla, wins?

Levity before 5-hours of gravity: The Gorilla telling the world why, how and when he is better than Tynee moments before my first pull of our second shift.

So Tynee came roaring up the hill looking all pasty and nauseous. I fired out of the blocks but the first pull is never fun, no warm up and you've got some junk in your legs from the previous day. You also have the sensation of being slow and always, in the back of your mind, there is the notion that you might have a bad day or the body is not going to respond to the brain's demand to floor it. Fortunately, we both ended up having big power that day. We'd need it.

We shredded up the first hill which topped out at about 7000 feet elevation.

First Pull: Heart Rate 180BPM, motivation 200%

Toro got a HUGE descent of about 11 miles which dropped through Jerome and plummeted from 7000 to 3500 feet elevation. Jerome is a tiny city perched on the side of a mountain not unlike the little hamlets the Giro 'd Italia traverses in the Alpine region of the Northern Italy. Toro's breakneck descent stood in sharp relief to the creeping sloth-like gaggles of septuagenarians gathering piles of knickknacks their heirs would have to throw away in like a year. As they say, I'm going to hell but so are you for laughing.

While Jerome and Jeremy hardly noticed each other, I felt fortunate to see and mock America on these terms, racing a bike with a great team, at full throttle. I'd surely never be taking the antique-ing route.

He was flying down the hill and passing cars which raises the real possibility that we would not beat him to the bottom. Jeremy and I make a point of harming ourselves on descents which often surprises folks who seem to assume going downhill is break time, its not. For once, Ed's race radio worked and he successfully requested our ViaSat Media to pull off so we'd have one less vehicle to pass. We got in front and either bravely or foolishly stopped for photos as he whizzed by.

This caused an avoidable adrenalin rush as we piled back in and were forced to overtake the Bull-et a second time but having a few images from our journey is worth the worry. We raced across the valley floor through Cottonwood towards Sedona with a second set of mountains dead in our path.

Arizona Valley between Climbs: Toro's headed this way, generally sooner than you'd think.

Rider Exchange in Sedona: care to guess who has overcooked himself and who is tapping out 500 Watts and making sure his little Garmin705 data is accurate?

With Red Rock cliffs and towering buttes Sedona is surely endowed with natural beauty but in contrast to the sparse moonscape of Monument Valley the place is loaded with Ponderosa Pines and lush vegetation.

You might reasonably expect one or the other, to have both in spades just gave us more inspiration and an embarrassingly gorgeous backdrop for our day at the office. It felt like we were stealing all the RAAM treasure. The next evening we would drive into a headwind across a dreary, flat, nondescript stretch of the earth that leads to Kim, Colorado. While Kevin and Larry soldiered that section we had nabbed yet another day of a scenic, hilly, violent riding with the added charm of hand-to-hand combat with another team, 4Mil.

Like Zoolander, Sedona is ridiculously good looking.

Past Sedona, Jeremy and I were trading off pulls in this rider's paradise of long hills and radical switchbacks.

Oak Creek Canyon: breathtaking, even when Breathkilling in RAAM

I tried to drop this bus just to give Ron a coronary

No way 4Mil's eight minute lead was gonna hold up against a Murder Train hill assault. It was not clear I would hold up against this Murder Train hill assault but that is the reward that accrues from training and racing with Toro. I'm pushed to my limit and by some combination of stubbornness and luck, I soar to new heights. I'm just a renter but I like it up here.

Before passing a team's active rider, you see their crew and support vehicles leapfrogging around. 4Mil had their Randy Macho Man Savage Pickup parked on the climb. Seemed like one of their crew was sleeping in the truck. No idea about their tactics or sleep schedules but this truck passed us a little later and I was certain 4Mil got word: we were hunting them down.

While I ride a bike nearly everyday, I'll truly never forget this ride. Once Jeremy blasted out of Sedona we were treated to stunning vistas across verdant valleys and twisting grades up inspirational switchbacks. We were in a cycling cathedral on a perfect day with a mission: Operation Metal Storm. I've never had more fun mashing up hills. It was transcendent, Toro is an animal, Ed is nails, the crew was dialed in, it just leaves no room for me to tank bike was jumping up hills, not sure I exercised any volition in the process. It was mostly a culmination of forces that were meant to be that day. We were meant to be there, doing exactly that.

We shortened up our pulls through some steeper sections and started seeing 4Mil regularly. Again, Toro was calling the shots and he was right on. One thing I admire about Toro is his realism and fast calculations. He digests road conditions and divides them up instantly for max speed. No ego, no BS, no concern about looking weak. Ed and I leaned on his leadership not just because he's done four RAAM's, not just because he'll rip the legs off almost anybody but because he's smart and proposes, first draft, the fastest way to get from A to B. I never wondered what Toro was thinking, or if I was doing my share, it was all an unspoken agreement: kill yourself, throw in what you can and we'll be the fastest. This gave me legs I may never see again. We tore up those hills, as brothers, with not a care in the world.

4Mil was caught...We had them. Jeremy navigated some funky two-lane slower roads as we entered Flagstaff and I eagerly awaited our chance to decisively dump them.

I should point out that while we were out to obliterate 4Mil and TT1 on the road, this quest was truly done in a sporting fashion. All three teams exchanged shouts of encouragement and there was a sense of a shared experience out on the road. We hunted with the belief no team could ride as fast as our riders and no crew was as precise, meticulous and nails under pressure as ours. Team ViaSat raced with that mindset, ready tip our hats if and when somebody dumped us. We made sure today would not be that day.

I took over in Flagstaff proper which has big, open six lane roads with a generous shoulder. I could see 4Mil just ahead, the kill would be mine. I missed a big stoplight and saw 4Mil take off over a rise in the road, pretty frustrating but missing lights is part of RAAM. In that same section I made a few big lights by nanoseconds resorting to full gas sprints. I laughed knowing the follow vehicle missed the light. Yep, that's Ron driving who had specifically mentioned before the race how the riders should not "gas it" when lights were changing...hehe. Day time rules so I did not actually require a direct follow vehicle.

Making that last big stoplight was my springboard to reel in 4Mil. They missed the next light so I immediately shut down the max-power to begin a mini-recovery. The 4Mil guy was clicked out and I gave a courtesy waive to his follow as I track-standed and got ready to seal the deal.

Light turns green and with the power of our entire ViaSat team and crew I flew off the line. I was sitting between 30 and 35MPH and it was my clear intention to send a message to the 4Mil rider: you are NOT going to hang with ViaSat. Its a mental game both with me managing my impending collapse (which must be hidden from rivals) but also the intent to lower that rival's expectations. I want him to recalibrate his ambitions and realize he cannot hold my pace and must accept some lower sustainable effort.

No idea if my mental daggers found flesh but 4Mil never saw a ViaSat wheel for the rest of RAAM. Jeremy and I broke out the TT bikes and spent the rest of our shift distancing ourselves from 4Mil, highly motivated and dead-set determined to dump them: permanently this time.

San Francisco Peaks Climb

Outside Flagstaff there is a sneaky long hill which traverses a pass near San Fransisco Peaks that I ended up pounding out on a TT bike. It was no joke, 400 feet of climbing in about 1.5 miles, and we were in ground and pound mode so I felt like I was going backwards. This is where a heart rate monitor is priceless. I put my HR up around 180BPM and tried to ignore my frustrating ground speed. Race experience helped here and Toro took over at the top. More good news, DH1 had showed up and started taking photos. We had reached the last hour of riding and our relief was in the area. Now we simply had to keep up the pace and straddle the line between top performance and flaming out. We would mash it out to the end at this pace but not before we weathered a couple surprises.

Violent Cross Wind

Jeremy put the SF Peaks in the mirror and started pounding the rolling flats that would finish our last hour. I got word from Ed that Toro was using his TT bike but switched to a low-profile regular road wheel. He said "Andrew can keep riding his TT wheels if he doesn't mind getting killed." There was a stiff cross wind that was easily gusting over 40MPH. TT bikes are like sails from the side, add that to severe cross winds and 35MPH forward speed and it gets dicey. It is entirely possible to have your wheels swept from beneath you and lighter riders are more susceptible. Toro is neither chatty nor prone to hyperbole so any mention of fatality has my undivided attention.

Note the low profile front wheel which saves lives in 40MPH cross winds

Unfortunately, I did not have time to switch wheels before my next harrowing pull but, as usual, Toro was right. I utilized a wide-grip modified TT position to keep up my speed and avoid diving onto the pavement at speeds that often topped 40MPH. The gusts were grabbing onto to my wheels and frame and pushing the whole rig wildly toward the ditch off the road. It was Mr. Toad's Wild Ride without the assurance of a peaceful ending. After the exchange, I immediately changed front wheels. No way I was gonna repeat that.

4Mil was exacerbating the hazards with some overly obtrusive rider exchanges. Even though the shoulder was huge, they were setting up just inside the white line which meant to go past their stationary rider and team car I had to bunny hop the rumble strip and expose myself to freeway speed traffic. Once past, I was forced to bunny hop a second time to get back onto the shoulder. Just doing bunny hops in a cross wind on a TT bike at 142 pounds for no good reason. 4Mil seemed like good people but their failure to pull over and let us keep rocking on the safe side of the rumble strip exposed our riders to an avoidable risk. As a rookie team, I'm pretty convinced it was unintentional but they might also have wondered what the hell the ViaSat guy was screaming about.

Last Minute Surprise

DH1 reported they would take over a few minutes early so I promptly ignited the remaining fumes in the tank and finished my last pull. Toro got the last pull so I jumped into the front passenger seat to get some rare race footage and yell meaningless stuff out the window. Toro was RIPPING down the road, no need to hold anything back and we wanted to finish strong. Empty the clip, were done!

So I'm recording some video, reviewing the days adventure when I spot DH1...hey that's a little early...uhhhhh...why are they having a yard sale? ...they have a flat...I'm riding again.

I won't recreate the dialogue from the next few minutes because this is a family blog... you know, that's not really true. Anyway, use your imagination. You've been told to give it all you got, you did, and then you are told to give some more. Its typical RAAM but we got faked out by the fact that those guys had been hanging around for more than an hour. Even in the case of a flat we were expecting them to put somebody, anybody, out there and take over at the spot they had called in. They did not, cussing ensued. Oh well, time to dig deeper.

My cold, wet and slimy socks and helmet were grudgingly foisted upon my empty shell. Where would I get the energy to even throw my leg over the frame, much less race? Well, I've had the misfortune to attend a "Spin Class" at the Gym where the "teacher" plays dance music and helps attendees win the "Tour Day France" by yelling helpful tips and shaming people into working harder. In furtherance of this superfluous externally-provided motivation, these ass clowns instruct spinners (Who are often men, haha) to 'go all out for 30 seconds' and when that time is up they gleefully add 15 seconds. Wrong. I'm not so good with math but utilizing "All" of something leaves a remainder of approximately zero. I will conjure the energy to raise a middle finger but pedaling is not in the cards. My wife has stopped inviting me to the gym.

So I decided DH1 was a truck full of Spin Teachers in Richard Simmons shorts which made me laugh and paved the way for the combination of training, anger, pride and competitive desire that somehow dragged my withering self through that last pull.

After all that,The Jazzersizers in DH1 took over at precisely 4PM. Just like we planned it, right? Spin teachers!

Mission Accomplished

We pulled into The Cameron Trading Post parking lot about 25 miles this side of Tuba City and welcomed Zack onto METAL1 as our rotating crew. Zack was coming off five hours of navigating and getting his skull jarred by riding "dead center on the rumble strip" in the follow vehicle which, as you know, had been piloted by Ron.

Time Station Data showed us both leaving 4MIL behind and again we were faster than TT1. We earned the right to eat tons of food and reflect on a job well done. Not sure exactly why Ed was eating like a racer but grab a plate big fella, you earned it!

The four of us would drive to Pagosa Springs Colorado and prepare for the next battle in the Rockies and across the Continental Divide. During the drive to Pagosa we exchanged stories and shed actual tears of laughter as the Legend of Ron Grayson began to cast its shadow across a continent.