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


RAAM Open Midwest 1993

by Roger Nelson

In retrospect, I did get my foot problem solved, it was a matter of moving the cleats on my shoes all the way back.  In fact, I drilled new holes in the shoes to move the cleats back even further.  I never had foot problems again.

    Team Tailwind is the name I'm using for the RAAM qualifiers and possibly other events I enter. It emphasizes that it is the whole crew who competes in these events, a team, not just me. It is not possible for me to ride in one of these without help from a good crew. I'm only the dummy who hammers the pedals. The crew stays up all hours of the night, navigates, mixes drinks, gets supplies, fixes breakdowns, does all the worrying, and does whatever is needed to keep me going. It's truly a team effort.

    The team competed in southern Illinois over August 27-29. The course was one giant loop about 600 miles long, starting and ending in Okawville, a small town about a hour east of St. Louis just south of I-64. I told the crew that I could average 15 mph on the bike and we could be done in 40 hours riding time. Any additional time would be time off the bike. I told them we could finish is less than 48 hours (I was thinking more like 41 or 42 hours). We had team T-shirts that had a big green reptile (a tail-a-sore-us) on a little tiny bike and the person's name on the back. Everyone loved the shirts and we went down there to have a good time, not just to compete.

    One of the things we agreed on ahead of time was that the biker would keep going, no matter what.  In 600 miles anything could go wrong.  (Of 8 previously attempted qualifiers I've only finished 4.)  If team members got lost, we'd go on without them. If a vehicle broke down, we'd try to finish with just one vehicle. No matter what happened, we would go on as far as possible or until we finished.

    The team leader was Mr. Gadget (Dick Long) who always had the tools or gadgets needed for any situation. He had a headband with a flashlight attached and he fixed the CB radio. Other team members were Mr. Overkill (Greg Bancroft). If you ask him how far to the next turn he will not only tell you what street you are on, how far you have gone so far, what town you were just through, the next eight roads you turn on and your average speed, and, if you're lucky, how far to the next turn. Greg really was a tremendous help. While I was sacking out after the race, he even cleaned the van and repacked it. Then there was Ma (Ruth, my sister) and the Kid (Julia, Ruth's daughter), who are not bikers but were willing helpers.

    The race had a 2 minute staggered start, that is, a rider started every 2 minutes until everyone was on the road. I started at 7:44 am Friday morning. The wind was almost non-existent but seemed to be mostly at my back. I pedaled real easy, saving my strength for the end of the ride. Every 6 miles I'd tell myself "1% done, 2% done etc."  (Oh, the mental games I play.)  It's real tempting to go fast early, but not worth it later in the ride. I had a low cadence of about 60, but was pedaling real light. I breathed through my nose, not my mouth, to ensure I was taking it easy. I still managed to average 20 mph for the first 50 miles.

     Then the route turned west into the wind. It was like riding in a furnace. My current speed gradually dropped to about 15 mph. I couldn't drink enough to replace lost fluids. The temperature read 97 on one bank and we were told later that the temperature index was well above a hundred.  It was hazy, hot and humid. I kept dumping water on myself and drank as much as I could, but around 5:00 psalt shakerm I stopped when I could only pedal about 10 mph and my upper legs started to cramp.  I needed salt.  Sodium.  Potassium. I rested, drank, and ate some pretzels.

    About an hour later I was on the road again. The crew got some salt substitute (potassium). From then on I had the crew add a pinch of salt and salt substitute to each water bottle. Ruth also suggested drinking orange juice, which is high in potassium. The crew got some orange juice along with some peach juice and grapefruit juice, all which were mixed with Coke Classic and ice. Looks terrible! Tastes great! Let's do a commercial. Not!

    I rode on. At 2 am we went by a bank that said 87. It was cooling off.  I had to ride without my glasses as they were all fogged up from the humidity.

    By dawn it might have cooled down to 80 and I was completely rehydrated. After 24 hours we had in 333 miles. Not bad.

    Riding at night is my favorite time, not only is it cooler, but the van drives behind me and gives me extra light.  It also plays music (except when going through a residential area).  I tried to get the crew to keep changing tapes (I had a hundred), but it seems like they kept playing thecrow with CDsame ones over and over.  I pedaled to polkas half the night.  Then we played some marches. The U of M fight song was being played when we went under an interstate bridge. Wow! All the echoes, and a couple of semi trucks adding extra booms to it as they crossed overhead. It was awesome! Once we were playing the Carpenters and the Kid asked me "Do you really like this stuff?" Generation gap. "Yes, I love it!" But we probably played less than a dozen different tapes.

     My feet hurt. Normally you think of your seat hurting, but my Selle Italia Flight titanium saddle is the most comfortable saddle I've ever used. It absorbs road shock, it's soft, it's small enough it doesn't chafe, and best of all it's just about the lightest saddle you can get. It really works for me (but not everyone). I wish I had something so comfortable for my feet. My toes went numb. I tried wiggling my toes and flexing my feet. I had 3 sets of Dr. Scholls foot pads in the shoes. My feet gradually hurt more and more as the ride went on. Sore feet was my biggest problem.

    The second day it seemed a little cooler and I was eating more (I was adapting to the heat), but I started taking more and more breaks because of my feet. The breaks didn't help much, I guess I should have just kept going.

    I stopped in the shade of a tree in one place and a butterfly lit on my shorts and started drinking the sweat.

    I stopped at a Hardees and had a shake.

    I stopped at a McDonalds and had a quarter pounder club. After I ate that quarter pounder, hamburger fries and cokeDick started to feel like maybe I would have enough energy to finish this ride. I never had any doubts that I would finish, but there were times when my crew wasn't so sure.  Looking back I don't blame them.

    We reached the Shawnee forest area in the southern tip of Illinois. There I learned what it was like to be a winning football coach when Dick got this evil little gleam in his eyes and had Greg drive the van up beside me. Then he leaned out the window and dumped a whole bottle of ice water on me!  OOOO. OOOO. OOOOH. AAAAH. The initial shock was breathtaking, (these are the moments you live for) but it felt so good I stopped carrying the sprinkle bottle on my bike and just let the crew drench me from then on. I rode across some little hills which were fun to ride (nothing like the ones on RAGBRAI). But my feet hurt so much I was making a biathlon out of this race by walking short stretches.

    Late that night we came to Alto Pass. I finally took off my bike shoes and put on some aqua-treads (shoes made for wading). I walked part way and then pedaled with those on. It felt good even though I knew I couldn't ride the rest of the race that way. At the top there was a sign that said "elevation 390 feet". (The lowest point in Michigan is about 600 feet.)  It was laughably low, but seemed much higher. The climb wasn't so bad, it's just that my right knee hurt, my feet hurt, and I was tired from 500 miles of pedaling. Any other day I would have charged right up.  It wasn't like "the Wall" on DALMAC.

    Illinois is very flat, even flatter than Michigan. Probably only Florida is flatter. But berserking race directors route you over the highest hills in the state. (Someday if I get the RAAM Open Midwest to come to Michigan, I'll do the same thing. Just because it's 600 miles, you don't have to make it easy.)

     About 2 am I couldn't ride in a straight line. I told my crew I needed a 15 minute nap. I took 2 caffeine, 2 ibuprofen, and a vitamin pill and conked out on the seat of the van. When Greg, my alarm clock,alarm clock got me up in 15 minutes I felt like a new man. Knee pain was gone. My mind had transcended my feet, I hardly noticed them. It surprised me how good I felt. The terrain flattened out again. I told the crew to play a special tape I made for biking and I started "grooving". Cadence 90. Ruth asked me how fast I was going. It was too dark to see my computer. She said that the Van said around 20 mph and she really didn't believe it. I told her it was probably right, I was really moving. It was a miracle nap!

    I had to take another 15 minute nap later, but basically I "grooved" all the way to the finish line. I zoomed across at 7:25 am Sunday morning. Total time: 47 hrs 41 min. Time on the bike: 39 hrs 23 min (including walking time). Time off the bike: a whopping 8 hrs 18 min. About 584 miles of actual pedaling. (The course was shortened due to floods and road repairs.) Other than my feet, I felt great.  We went out for breakfast together. We finished, and we were still speaking to one another!

    Considering how much time I was off the bike there was a lot of room for improvement. My actual riding time was fast enough to qualify for RAAM, it was the time off the bike that kept me from it. I'm going to try to qualify when I go to Texas in April next year. I have nine months to get my foot problem fixed.