Race Across AMerica (RAAM)

Camel's Heart

RAAM Open Races

Ohio 1991
New York 1990
New York 1991
Illinois 1993
North Texas 1994
Missouri 1995


by Roger S Nelson

The RAAM Open Ohio (ROO) was held over the 4th of July weekend in 1991.  I was probably in the best condition in my life at the time I did this race.  This article was written shortly after the race and probably appeared in the Chainwheel Chatter, the newsletter of the TCBA.

    The RAAM Open Ohio was a 550 mile race to qualify to ride in RAAM held in the southern Ohio town of Wilmington (about halfway between Cincinnati and Columbus) at Wilmington College. It started at 6:30 am on Thursday July 5th and had a 49 hour time limit.  The race had two parts, first a 220 mile loop where my crew stayed near, "leap frogging" around me in the support vehicle. The second part was a 30 mile loop which was completed 11 times without support.  My crew stayed at the college and waited for me to come around.

    The course was challenging. The terrain is only a little harder than here in Ingham County, Michigan, but two places were real knee busters where we rode down into a river valley and out again. There had to be something to separate the men from the boys (I almost got separated).  The real challenge was following the route.  Unlike Michigan, where all the roads go north-south and east-west, the roads in Ohio go all over, like the lines of a shattered windshield.  I never knew exactly which way I was going and it was very difficult to navigate.  The 220 mile loop had 8 pages of detailed instructions.  With so many turns there were plenty of stop signs. railroad crossingThere were also lots of railroad crossings and I don't remember a single set of tracks that had a smooth crossing. Most of them were potential wheel busters. Stop signs and tracks really cut into my average speed.

    I finished the 220 mile loop before dark, but not before making four unplanned turns (fortunately I didn't go far). A fifth time I was on the right road when I came to a tee, but my crew was lost. I had to sit on the side of the road and wait for someone to come along and give directions. I figured that if I qualified at all it would be just barely.  Losing so much time really disheartened me.  It didn't matter that my crew were doing the best they could on a difficult course, and others were also making wrong turns.  I really am grateful to my daughter, Dolly, and Ken Klummer of East Lansing for their help, without which I couldn't have done this ride.  I knew they were doing their best, but, at the time, I felt like putting them both on a bike and pushing them over the next hill.  (So much for the difference between logic and emotion.)  I finished the 220 mile loop only 40 minutes behind a rider who I thought was of equal ability to me and who later qualified for RAAM.

    After the 220 mile loop I still had 330 miles to go. Since my longest ride of the year was only 337 miles (on a marathon), and my longest training ride was only 206 miles, I just couldn't picture myself doing 550 miles right now. So I just forgot about the distance and concentrated on the 11 laps.

    Doing laps, I didn't have to worry about my crew getting lost since I was on my own. It was cooler at night so I thought I could ride faster and make up some time lost during the day. Wrong! My head light was flickering on the very first lap and it was way too dim.  Ohio back roads seem to have more tar in them and so are darker than Michigan roads and there were no white lines on their sides.  I had to watch for a little arrow painted on the road and make all those turns on a unfamiliar course.

    Even though I changed lights after the first lap, and thought I had good lighting, it proved to be very inadequate. I might as well have been using oil lampa flickering oil lamp.  I struggled all night and lost even more time. Once I came to an intersection I thought I knew and went the wrong way. I can't blame my crew for all the wrong turns!  Another time I saw a car coming behind and was making room for it to go by when another bicycle went whizzing by. Was I surprised!  The guy's lights we so good, I mistook him for a car!  I needed lights like that. Time lost to wrong turns earlier was inconsequential compared to what I lost at night.  I was very glad when morning came.

    I covered roughly 340 miles after 24 hours. After a quick breakfast at McDonald’s I felt a lot better and poured on the juice! By dark I was doing my last lap.

    The weather was extremely hot during the ride, especially in the afternoon when the heat just roiled up off the pavement. I survived by drinking a lot (nearly 8 gallons) and by sprinkling myself with a sprinkle bottle carried on the bike. I could not have survived without the sprinkling. Once I stopped at a time station and asked if they had water. I got a cup, took off my helmet, and poured it over my head. As I felt the cold water trickle down my neck and into my shirt and finally into my shorts, I gave out a big shiver of joy and said, "Whoooeee, this has more chills than sex". The guy just looked at me and asked, "What's that? I haven't seen my wife in two days.  I'm stuck out here checking on all these bikers."

    In order to keep up my energy I took in lots of calories - almost 22,000 of them. For most people that's a enough food for a week or two. The second day I was averaging almost 900 calories per hour. I didn't know my body could digest that much, but I had no trouble and doubt that it was too much. Most of the calories came from an Exceed and Kool-Aid mixture until I ran out and then just Kool-Aid. This was mixed double strength (4 cups sugar to a gallon of water). Also I gulped twelve 500 calorie, low-fat Chocolate malts from a homemade mixture of powdered milk, Hershey's chocolate milk mix, and Carnation natural malted milk mix. I ate other foods, but they were minimal.

    Only 3 miles from the end, around 11:00pm, some kids drove a golf cart onto the road towards me. I heard a girl yell "Look out!" They got within 5 feet of me so I sped up, around a curve and down a hill. The golf cart had no lights on it and was driving on a public road after dark. At the bottom of the hill I turned right, onto the next road. Earlier I saw a biker catching me, so I stopped with one foot on the pavement to see if he made it through all right. (I had plans of racing him to the end.)  In the meantime, the golf cartgolf cart followed me on down the hill and made a screeching halt at the bottom. I didn't see the biker come through, but neither did I hear anyone yelling for help. I slowly rode to the time station and finished the race at 11:23pm. The biker still hadn't caught me so I reported the incident to the race officials and suggested they send someone back to check on him and also that they call the police.

    I rode back to the college and found out that two bikers were hit and had their expensive bikes trashed (a carbon fiber frame Kestrel, and a titanium frame Spectrum). A third biker (in addition to myself) escaped. The kids had been drinking and deliberately ran into the bikes with the golf cart.  I ended up at the police station until 2:00 a.m. to make a statement. The 22 year old driver faces 1 to 2 yrs in prison if convicted, but claims the bikers ran into him. A week later the guy was still in jail because he couldn't make bail. One biker had a broken toe and some knee damage and couldn't finish the race. The other finished on a different bike and was just shook up.

     After 40 hrs and 53 minutes I finished the 550 miles - no, make that 220 miles and a few laps. It didn't qualify, but it was a personal best and I thought I rode well enough to qualify.  I just had too many wrong turns and not enough light. This is the first qualifier I've done where I actually felt good at the end (sorry, no pain and agony, hallucinations or struggle to the finish). After 547 miles I was still ready to race that guy the last three miles had he caught me. I even felt strong enough to ride all the way across America. The biggest difference between this race and the others is that I ate enough. I will certainly do another RAAM Open, next time to qualify!

    I was the oldest finisher in my category (at 43). One master (50 or over) qualified and I beat him (masters get extra time). Also one woman qualified and I beat her. (I know it's sexist, but I finally rode a race where I beat all the women.) In my category (men under 50), I finished 11th out of 25 starters and with only 12 finishers.