Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Team Raven Lunatics ROCKS the 508!!!

Team Photo - Finish Line. photo credit Chris Kostman

This has been a big year for me. I've gotten a lot done: a well-contested RAAM DNF and four new course records under my belt: three solo 24s and the very first mixed recupright team record in ultracycling history. I crewed a very successful RAO for my friend Joan, and I started a new era in Oregon double centuries by launching the Tillamook Double. It might've been enough, but I saved the best for last. Really.

I crewed Team Raven Lunatics to a record-setting 50+ recumbent record at Furnace Creek. OK. The super-cool part is that I did just a little bit more than crewing it. I MADE the team. From scratch. Decided that it should happen. Figured out who should be on the team, convinced them (OK, that part wasn't hard), and signed 'em up.

The heart and soul of this team is my friend David Bradley. David has worked tirelessly for the sport of ultracycling for years. There have been years when he's been racing strongly, and years when he's “only” been a supporter: the guy you can call 24/7 during RAAM for advice, who puts together route maps for all of the RAO races, who you can count on for van signage, team shirts, spare lights and GPS systems, whatever. The years he's not been racing bikes, he's been racing sarcoma. This year, he's been doing a little of each, but mainly bikes. It was time for a celebration ride. I thought of Furnace Creek because it's late in the season – giving us the most time to prepare - and David's always there one way or another.

So...who to put on the team with David? Bill, for sure: he's one of David's best cycling buddies. And Jim. And then....we need a fourth. So - why not go big? I wrote John, promised him I'd have all the team on Bacchettas, and that they'd definitely be setting a record, and that it would be great publicity for Bacchetta....Once I dropped David's name, I honestly don't think the rest of it really mattered: John was 110% in.

David was going to be finishing up his spring crop of treatment “just in time” to train adequately for the 508...if we were lucky. I promised his wife that I'd be available to step in as an alternate if he was really unable to do it: safety first. Having assembled the team and gotten Mary on board, I only had to...break the news to David! He was only a little miffed at being the last to know.

Once assembled, the team came together swiftly and surely. David trained to the very best of his ability – smart training that didn't wipe him out. Bill and I designed team hats. John came through with brand new carbon bikes (Bacchetta CA 2.0's) for the team to ride. Jim – one of the deans of recumbent racing - even trained a little extra, from the looks of things!

Bill, David and I left Arcata on Thursday, picked up Jim, and headed to Santa Clarita early Friday morning. David, being David, had already totally prepped the van for inspection: signage all around, lights installed, and safety triangle up (but covered, naturally!). His van is optimized for team racing: we can rack 5 bikes, have room for a bin for each racer, three ice chests. seating for 4, and a bunk that disassembles to create seating for 5. We were so well-prepared that we got done with our pre-race inspection before noon! Considering that inspections were scheduled to START at noon, I thought that was pretty good (kudos to Cindi and crew for being out early to make the inspection process efficient).

Racer photos, sign-in, hugs, dinner at the Olive Garden...in the middle of dinner we got a message from Mandy – she was coming down to the start line to visit. Our first groupie! Woo-hoo! MORE hugs. Off to the pre-race meeting, where we were solemnly warned against interacting with the desert tortoises. Apparently if they're frightened they reflexively empty their bladders, which leaves them vulnerable to death from dehydration. After the meeting – typically David – we headed to Costco for a reprint of another team's van signs: the first set that he made didn't pass muster so he redesigned and reprinted them from the start line hotel lobby. A quick grocery run, and early to bed.

The next morning, we got to the start line barely in time to see the solo racers off before taking advantage of the start line hotel breakfast (highly recommended). Before we knew it, it was time to be filling Bill's bottles and double-checking his bike...good thing we did, too: at the last minute we discovered that we'd taken off a strap that was holding down his gear bag...without the strap it was going to be in his back tire: strap located, installed, and the rest of the team leaves for the meetup point, 24 miles down course.

Besides having fun, kicking butt, and setting a record, one of the team's focal points became beating the Hammer Frogs: another strong 50+ team (all women!). Bill was a bit behind their racer at the first meetup point, and the pressure was on: none of these boys wanted to be “chicked”. I smile inwardly, let it go. There's some great downhill and flat/rolling terrain; Bill catches up: he's “un-chicked” himself. More cowbell!!!

Uh-oh. Windmills. Re-chicked. Downhill, into Cali City: un-chicked. So it went for much of the rest of the race.

We meet up with Bacchetta rider Greg Raven (really, that's his name!) in California City. Since he has been a Raven Lunatic from birth, we award him the coveted team cap. John snaps a few photos, and we're back at it. David is having great early run...for the first few miles there might have even been a sighting of the shy and elusive Tailwind. We're clipping right along until the climb to Randsburg. CRAP! It's been freshly chip-sealed. That sucks a bit of the energy out of David, and before you know it...yep. Chicked. Hi, Isabelle!

I'd set up our schedule assuming that we'd have the more typical tailwinds early in the race. Since we didn't, we had to change strategy a little bit: gas in Johannesburg rather than Trona, so that we didn't have to do the gas stop under night rules. This meant No Burritos For Us, which was sad, but we steeled our nerves and ventured out anyway. Now it was John's turn to put the hurt on this course.

When I'd assigned him the third leg, John made a feeble attempt to bow out and let Jim handle it instead. I reminded John that “all” he had to do was a 5.5 hour century – with 1800' of net elevation loss. He does that all the time in Florda....except that he doesn't get the elevation loss. So this should be even easier. Yeah, right.

What a performance. I was blown away: rock steady up Townes Pass, passing people left and right and sideways. One of them caught us at the Monday breakfast and said...”passed by a recumbent going up Townes...that was just wrong...” And she was lucky: she got passed going up. The folks that got passed going down...let's just say that if they'd been tortoises, several of them would be dead right now. His top speed was 62 mph. That's amazing enough – but he didn't just hit it and quit it – he stuck 60+ for miles on end. I was delighted beyond belief that I'd handed driving responsibilities over to David at the top of the pass: I'm sure that John's confidence in the driver behind him more than made up for the few seconds it took to make the switch, grab a jacket, and let everyone take a quick pee break.

I'd asked for a 5:30 split from John: he came through with 5:27. When he got in the van, he was grinning like a kid at Christmas. I think he was glad to have taken that pull after all! He handed the baton off to Jim, who was more than a little antsy to get his turn.

I slept through a good bit of Jim's pull. The great thing about this team is that not only is it stacked with top-notch racing talent, it's got just as much top-notch crewing talent. Every one of these guys is an experienced ultraracing crew member, and it was so much fun helping everyone work together. It was absolutely seamless: guys filling bottles for each other (usually with what the racer was asking for, though there was a bit of locker-room joking about that, as you'd expect), everyone hopping out of the van and taking care of business. We'd plan it out in advance: Sandy gets the racer, David gets the retiring bike, Bill unracks the new racer's bike, slaps fresh lights on the bike, John installs the bottles....and we're off. Everyone was focused, calm, efficient: just the way I like it.

Sometime in the middle of the pull, we ran into a team in distress. A solo team and crew had pulled over for a sleep break, and when they were ready to go again it turned out that their battery was dead. David – always prepared – brought out his starting battery setup and had them going in under 2 minutes. It cost us some time, but that doesn't matter: we don't leave people stranded. Period.

Bill takes off for his second pull out of Shoshone. Once again, we were looking forward to the more usual tailwinds through this section, and the goal split of 2:30 would've been easy for Bill to knock off under those conditions. He took off at about 30mph, got his bearings, headed over the first little incline, down the other side, and – wham. He was riding into a 15mph headwind. Not anything to cry about, but it was definitely going to slow us down. Rats.

6:59 AM...we spot a vault toilet just off the course. We restrain our glee until 7:00 – official end of direct follow – and inform Bill that we're off to see an Interesting Geologic Formation. He points at the vault toilet. He knows us too well! A few minutes later, we're all feeling refreshed, we've emptied the trash, and ready to head out to catch up with Bill. As we're turning the van toward the road, we see a white minivan with two recumbents traveling at freeway speed. We know what that means: Tim has abandoned. CRAP. We figure they'll stop and check in with us after they pass Bill.

But – they don't pass Bill. They catch up to him and...feed him! Woo-hoo! We'd just stocked him up before we'd undertaken the Geologic Reconnaissance Mission, but Dana didn't know that, so he did what any good crew chief would: offered food. Bill took on an extra Boost before he realized that it wasn't coming from...his...van. We razzed him pretty hard about taking candy from strangers!

Talked to Dana – Tim's stomach had quit on him. Not surprising given the weather and how hard he'd had to work to stay with Akita (Rick Ashabranner). They tried everything they could think of, but – no dice.

Bill finished his pull. Despite not reaching his time goal, he was pretty spent: it wasn't for lack of trying. By this time the team had put about 20 minutes on the Hammer Frogs. David was very concerned about being re-passed (or would that be “re-chicked”?) - so he was working to the very best of his ability. The climb up Kelbaker isn't that steep, but it's relentless, and there's no shade. Finally we got to the point where David could take John's advice to heart : “Just kick it up a gear and punch it over the top!”. I followed David down the hill as long as I could, then took John down to the time station for the exchange: he needed time to find a private bit of shrubbery before he took off for his leg.

The road down to Kelso has horrific pavement, so I headed back up the hill to make sure that David was okay – no mechanicals or flats. Just as I was leaving, I saw Lee's van heading down the hill to leave off his racer...I knew that David would've seen him, too, and wondered how much they'd made up on him on the Kelbaker climb.

I caught David just a couple of miles up, bombing down the hill for all he was worth. As he came past my van, he screamed, “NO......FROGS!!!!”. I didn't quite catch the word in the middle. It's probably not important.

John's second pull was uneventful: he got it over with in 2 hours flat – not shabby at all. We pulled in to TS 7, got lei'd, and waited for our exchange. A couple of minutes before John came in, we saw...Akita! Woo-hoo Rick! He powered through the time station, flashed his ear-to-ear megawatt smile, and was on his way.

We had arranged with Jim – our anchor – to have a little bit of downtime to cool John off and get assembled for the final assault. He was prepared for 40 minutes of solo riding. I expected to be to him in no more than 30...

Well...stuff happens, y'know? The team was pretty efficient at the time station, but we did spend a couple of minutes checking up on racer position. And of course, just as we were about to pull out, our stalking horse (BIKEVAN) showed up, announcing the imminent arrival of those danged Frogs.

So off we went. As we approached the gas station in Amboy, Ron Smith flagged us down: Rick was having a heat “moment”, so we stopped to give some encouragement. He normally feels the heat more than most folks. What was surprising to me was how happy and enthusiastic he'd looked just a few minutes before. As it turned out, a few minutes of cooling off and hard work at hydration and he was back to his hammerin' self.

And then we got stuck behind a train. So by the time we got to Jim it had been more like 42 minutes, but he wasn't complaining. Turns out he'd been stuck behind a train, too – and lost about 5 minutes. CRAP! He'd gotten this far with a 5-minute break?!?!?

There were huge washes of sand across the road. Any one of them had the potential to cause Jim trouble: blowing sand from oncoming or passing vehicles, or just finding a deeper pocket of it and going down. Fortunately we skated through there without incident. A couple of times I let him know that a truck was coming along, and to expect a “dusting”: he was able to hold his breath through those, or in a couple of places put the hammer down and get past the worst of the debris.

By the time he reached the base of the Sheephole climb, Jim had run the gamut of rabbits: he'd caught everyone we had a chance to catch, so it was a matter of time and motivation to keep him moving at his best. He did a great job of monitoring his effort and putting out his very best. We were trying to avoid getting to the finish after night rules were in effect: since the team had decided on a group finish, if we came in after 6PM we would have to directly follow Jim and make a full stop for a couple of minutes to unrack everyone's bikes.

Once again, the winds weren't cooperating: after we came off of Sheephole, Jim had a stiff crosswind to deal with. To his credit it didn't slow him much. It was amazingly close...but as we made the final turn I realized that it really didn't matter anyway: I was going to direct-follow Jim no matter what: the sun was directly in our eyes, which meant it was also in the eyes of passing traffic, which meant that we needed to protect our racer.

Ironically, we pulled into the group staging area at 6:00. Unrack the bikes, turn lights on, and GO!
Watching the team finish together – priceless.

By the end, we'd put a solid 30 minutes on the Hammer Frogs. Rick came in shortly thereafter. We racked up the bikes, checked into our hotel, went out for Chinese food, and came back to watch some more of the late action. It was clear that it hadn't been a “fast” year – everyone's time was slower than anticipated. In retrospect, the conditions were tough but not unbearably so. Times were slow because none of the tailwinds that we can usually count on ever materialized.

In closing, I'd like to thank Team Raven Lunatics for the privilege of being “out there” yet again. I don't think I'm overstepping by saying that every one of the team members is looking forward to next year – racing, crewing, doesn't really matter. The first weekend in October, I'm booked.


  1. Sandy, I don't know which you do better: write or ride. Both are awesome! Toss in your crew chief skills, and you win the trifecta.

  2. What Larry eloquently said. Larry himself is eloquent.

    What a fun read. I dunno how you remember all that but I'm glad you did.

    Congratulations to a great group of folks. You done gooder.

  3. @Joe - many, many people assume that if you're racing, you don't retain of this detail. It doesn't work that way for me; maybe that's the attraction of racing. I'm so totally in the moment that events are seared into my brain - indelible, technicolor detail. I can't remember so much about less engrossing things.