Wednesday, June 28, 2017

An "Official" Look Inside

For most people, the prospect of riding a bicycle hundreds of miles in a weekend seems ludicrous. However, to some endurance athletes, this is viewed as an exciting challenge. And, for ultra cyclists, there is possibly no greater event than Race Across America (RAAM) to test their fortitude.  

Every summer, RAAM draws hundreds of riders, crew members, officials, volunteers, and media to be a part of a 3000 mile trek across the country.


In an effort to draw new people into the sport, as well as to keep RAMM-aficionados active until the next summer, RAAM also features a series of weekend challenges in Texas, California, Florida, Oregon, Minnesota, and Ohio.


This weekend, I was honored to be an official for the Ohio Cycling Challenge.  Having previously served two years as a regional official in Ohio during RAAM in the summer, I had a general idea of what to expect.  Nonetheless, as is typical with RAAM—and cycling in general—surprises are around every corner!


My weekend started Friday afternoon in Dublin, Ohio, where I met race organizers and Jim Harms, RAAM Director of Officials.  We set up the start/finish area, the registration table, and aid station gear.  Shortly before 4, riders began to check in.  Myself, Jim, and the three other officials for the race, began to inspect the riders’ bikes and, if used, support vehicles for safety. That’s right… “if used.”  7 riders, including 1 female (Laura McElwee) and a man named Terry Duffy riding a recumbent, tackled the 200 mile course unsupported.  No crew, no backup car full of supplies…just their pluck, their bikes, and their will.


5 men and an additional female, Patricia George, rode the same 200 miles with a support vehicle. 


Simultaneously, seven men decided to try their legs on a 400 mile course (all with the assistance of a support vehicle). 


Following inspection, all involved had an informational meeting to clarify the rules.  Then, everyone was freed to get rest.


The next morning, the riders all gathered at the start line at 4:45AM.  The supported, 200 mile riders individually began at thirty-second increments, followed by the unsupported riders (to give them riders to try to spot for navigation).  After the 400-mile riders started, the officials were released on the course, each heading to a specific location on the course. 


John Foote and myself were assigned to the 400-mile course, but since the first 105 miles were the same for both 200 and 400 mile riders, we helped cover this initial portion. Loudonville and Nashville, Ohio, were of primary interest, largely due to construction, detours, and potential course difficulties.  So, thus began the leap-frog monitoring of the bulk of the weekend.


When I leap-frog, I usually follow a rider (and if present, their support vehicle) for a half mile or so to make sure they are safe and to see if they need any assistance.  I log where and when I encountered them in order to track progress.  Then, when it is safe, I’ll pass them and drive ahead to the next rider.  After anywhere from 20-50 miles, I’ll pull off the road (sometimes on course, sometimes hidden) and wait for a group of riders to pass me, once again logging their time and location. After giving them a few minutes, I’ll begin the process again.


 My job is thus four-fold: 1)keep the riders safe, 2)keep the riders following the rules, 3)monitor the riders’ progress and location, and 4)do whatever necessary to help the riders on this journey.


I usually make a point of stopping at a time station for a few minutes just to more-easily communicate with riders if they need anything.  In the summer, time stations can be anywhere from parking lots, to gas stations, to fast food restaurants.  On this course, each time station was a gas station which is convenient when, as an official, you are driving several hundred miles!


Along the way, there are often quite a few adventures.  First, I was able to see cities and towns including New Berlin, Millersburg, Bakersville, Plainfield, New Berlin, Steubenville, McConnelsville, Bishopsville, Glouster, Athens, Allensville, Greenfield, Washington Court House, Newport, London, Plumwood, and Plain City.  One of the most memorable moments for me was in Amish Country, watching a horse and buggy pull through a McDonald’s drive thru! There was also a pretty disgusting road-kill incident that impacted John a lot more than me, but let’s just say our vehicles were not the most pleasant smelling upon our return to Dublin on Sunday!


While RAAM does a great job of creating maps, GPS files, and cue sheets for the course, nighttime, weariness, and the often undulating, narrow twisty roads with next-to-invisible street signs does occasionally mean a loss of way.  In most instances, it’s easy to get back on course with 1-2 turns.  Athens, however, was an entirely different story.  I reached the home of Ohio University around 11:00 Saturday night.  Turns out, in a college town, this is a fairly popular hour to be…”visiting friends.”  There were probably hundreds of students roaming the streets.  So adding to the hard-to-find signs, random one-ways and dead ends, was a moving throng that ultimately led me to deviate from the course for a few miles to get up to Time Station 4. 


With only seven riders directly responsible, John and I split up the 400-mile field where he covered the front few riders and I covered those in the rear.  Edward Walker was moving so quickly, it was often difficult for John to keep pace! Meanwhile, I was focusing a lot of time with John Greten and Christian Echavarria.  By the end of Saturday night, I had started monitoring Ben Miller and Michael Hunter as well, while John was now largely focusing on Michael McClintock and Nicholas Perhala.  Greten was a fairly solid 45 minutes ahead of McClintock and Perhala.  They had a fairly sizeable gap back to Hunter.  Miller was a ways behind Michael.  Then Greten was about an hour back, with Echavarria serving as lantern rouge, about 45 minutes behind Greten.  So, John and I would rendez-vous at the time stations, then he would drive ahead while I sat and waited.  Then we would stop along our routes, texting along the way updates.  I wound up staying at Time Station 5 in Chillicothe the longest.  It was around 1 in the morning by the time I reached it, and while I don’t think any rider slept, they were certainly beginning to feel the fatigue, so their pace decreased.  I didn’t mind the wait, however, as Chillicothe is a sentimental location for me. It was here in 2008 that I first started working for RAAM, managing a time station.  And, for the past two years a summer regional official, it is the end of my route.  So, I reminisced while waiting for the riders to trickle in.


By the time Echavarria arrived around 6:27 in the morning, I could tell he was tired.  He had been slowing down throughout the middle of the course, losing ground on Greten.  Christain pulled over to my car and thanked me for waiting for him.  It seemed like he felt badly for making me wait…but I was glad to do it! It was important to me to make sure he—and all riders—were safe.  So telling him this, and encouraging him that he had only about 100 miles to go, he seemed to take spirit a bit.  When I next encountered him 40 miles up the road, he was singing and smiling, shouting and waving hello at me.  Just to see him so happy, despite being so tired, warmed my heart.  And that’s the special thing about RAAM.  These riders are out there long hours, often alone, staring at an unyielding road.  Do they occasionally lose their tempers? Sure.  Are they sometimes grumpy? Yeah.  But who wouldn’t be? By the end, they are so thankful and so appreciative…to everyone who played any part in what they often forget is truly their achievement. Just watching a tearful Christian cross the finish line filled me with pride…and excitement for my next RAAM adventure.  Click here for full results. Click here for my full photo gallery from this weekend.




Here are links to some of my previous RAAM work as well:


2010 Report


2012 Report


2013 Report


2013 Photo Gallery


2010 Photo Gallery



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