Sunday, June 13, 2010

End or beginning?

Three and a half days, 857 miles, pedaling on 6 hours of sleep. 5000' climbs and descents, a massive lightning storm in the night through Monument Valley, brutal headwinds, welcome tailwinds, navigating through towns and 120 miles on one stretch of highway...

Samim rode well, proved he is a rider who belongs at a race like RAAM, and gave it everything he had, including an amazing stretch getting to Durango yesterday. He was diagnosed with influenza pneumonia this morning at about 3am. The X-ray and lab results confirmed what we had become sure of as he tried to ride in the cold of early morning: his lungs and body were succumbing to a bacterial battle, had trumped his training and mental toughness, and his compromised body was just unable to continue the race. It took a lot of convincing even after the diagnosis (no no, I can keep riding...), but Sam's bid for the RAAM this year is done.

The fact that he's been riding with this for the last couple of days just underscores the amazing mental and physical strength that he brings to this race. I keep trying to find words to describe what he must have been going through yesterday, but I just can't. I know it was hard beyond any physical endeavor I've ever engaged in.

Which is not to say that crewing for those four days was easy either! We averaged about 3 hours of sleep a day, alternating between trying to find supplies in whatever local town, and being in the follow vehicle, trying to get Sam what he needed and keep him on the road. I spent the last three nights driving about 40 feet behind him at 20 miles an hour, trying to keep him in the headlights but not run him down, for hours and hours at a time. We'd pull up next to him, hand him drinks and food, and fall back to our follow position, all while watching out for vehicles flying by on these open western roads. Whew!

So we're here in Durango, CO, hoping that with a lot of rest and down time and the medicines he was given, the pneumonia will heal and he'll be able to travel in a week or so. He actually completed the course for the parallel race, Race Across the West, which ends here instead of Annapolis. We're hoping that with the experience and knowledge gained from this shortened time, he'll be able to come back next year dialed in, knowing how it all goes, ready to rock the RAAM. Go Samim, go!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On your marks...

Would you believe I've never been to Southern California before? It really is 70 degrees here all the time! I was able to get in a couple of runs along 101, beside the ocean with surfers and everything, but our time has largely been spent organizing and getting ready for the Race Across America (RAAM).

Packing for an expedition is always the hardest part - most stressful, complicated, and least rewarding. But this is way worse, especially since it's something none of us have done before. So there's T-shirts to get printed, flashing lights to fit to the top of the van, inspections to be on time for, food to buy, bike supplies to get, and those weird extra things, like finding a cigarette lighter extension so the lights can actually get to a power outlet. Six people tripping over each other, all with ideas on everything, trying to run this thing like a democracy instead of having assigned roles. An interesting cultural experience in my own country!

The most frustrating thing has been the difference in sense of time. I've spent some serious time getting to understand the sense of time (or lack thereof) in India, so I've come to understand that 5 minutes actually means as-long-as-it-takes. But here, we get a 15 minute penalty on Samim's final time if we're late for vehicle inspection. So leaving the hotel at 10:30 really does mean 10:30, not 11:00 or whenever we get around to it. Despite what must be extremely annoying nagging on my part, we're still en route to get our food, at 6pm the night before, let along organizing the vans or getting to bed early. It should all be fine as long as we're ready to go and Samim gets to sleep early tonight, but it has taken a fine balance between patience and trying not to let us get too far behind!

Tomorrow, though, at noon, Samim will start riding from the beach here in Oceanside, CA (just north of San Diego), and be on the clock until he arrives at the other side, in Maryland, in 9 or 10 days. 18 other solo men will be riding the same route, along with five women who started today and assorted other teams of 2-8 people. They're all crazy. But inspired, and that's why I'm here, to help him achieve his dream. (Different than hallucinations - those will come later, when lack of sleep sets in...)

We'll have internet connectivity in the van, so I'll be able to update. There will also be lots of forms of electronic media (live streaming video from the van, twitter, facebook, blogs etc), but I'm not sure where or what they all are, or when they'll be up. There's always Google, but there's also the leaderboard at

Go Samim, Go!!!!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


One Rainier climb between big trips, then off to California (and all the states between there and Maryland...).

Summit day for us was Monday, and even though it was snowing, it wasn't too windy. Decent visibility, and wands marking the route every 100 feet or so. I turned around with someone who was just out of energy and had to go down, but half the team summited. The weather was slightly borderline, but as the guide leading the trip said, "the weather was never bad enough to justify turning around."

Interestingly, there was a monster storm that came through about a week and a half ago, catching RMI out on the upper mountain (our team was almost down by then). Through a variety of events, one guide got frostbite so badly he might well lose his entire hand. Wow. So yesterday, they turned around at our first break - avalanche danger and high winds. Hmm. Would be nice if people could just make reasonable decisions consistently instead of reacting to whatever luck, good or bad, they've experienced recently. We as humans are subject to hubris and gunshy-ness, all of us - gives us something to work on, and definitely keeps life interesting.

But honestly, I'm actually ready for some time away from mountains! It's true. So my plan is to go sit in a car, driving 20 mph across the country for two weeks. Following a cyclist. Who's from India, competing in arguably the toughest endurance event in the world. Check it out: Race Across America 3000 miles, 100,000 feet of elevation gain, 10 days. Glad it's not me...