RAAM 2015: The start line to Brawley, CA

{A bonus pre-race video blog I just remembered I had, from Monday, June 15, 2015, the day before RAAM’s start.}

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Brian tried to sleep in, as this was the last sleep he intended to get for about 40 hours, but I woke early with too many things to think about and to do. I had been super busy on Sunday and Monday and distracted by having my awesome sisters around.

Of course, he rode to the start from our hotel…

We got to the staging area with a couple hours to spare. And this photo of the awesome, crazy crew {minus Kirsten, who joined us in Indiana}.

We also had visits from Strava fans who found Brian, and our good friends the Luncefords who just happened to be in town. My uncle, Bruce, was there, too, as well as probably several folks I’m forgetting. Brian was quite a celebrity. Everyone loves him 🙂

Here’s a fun selfie Brian took from the start line. In the follow vehicle were Mike, Luke and I, and we had to stay in the holding area until just before the start when we would pull in behind Brian.

I found this fantastic screenshot on one of the Instagrams. Thank you to whoever took it. It is so fun to see and read now!

I love that the Cardo earpiece is in his ear here. We intended to use this for hands-free communication between Brian and the car. I think this maybe lasted a day??  It wouldn’t sit right on his cheek/ear, it didn’t work well… I don’t know. As it turned out, he carried his phone in his pocket and got it out to call me or the car whenever he wanted to tell us something. And he reached back for his phone every time I or the car called him. We did buy a JawBone earpiece at some point, and that worked ok. But it was another thing that needed charging, and the specific charger/cable had to be kept close at hand. Until he dropped it late in the race… and of course, we didn’t stop to pick it up off the road. Sigh. Technology made life so complicated.

Fun story that I posted on Facebook yesterday about the start of the race from inside the follow vehicle:

I understand that on the streaming video of last year’s start, Brian was cool and calm, laughing and smiling, and everything looked awesome. Behind the windshield of the follow car, though, it was a different story.
10 minutes before the start, as our car was pulling out of the holding lot, the official told us that our flashing orange light on top of the car was not on. I, in the back seat, pushed the plug into the adapter, and the official nodded that all was well. A few seconds later, he said, “it’s off again”. I pushed again, and it worked, but I knew that I would have to hold it in firmly, as it was a very loose connection. So I was in the back of the van – not the backseat – pushing the plug in, hoping that the officials wouldn’t stop us or give us a time penalty before we even started, or ask why I wasn’t buckled in my seat.
We tried to get ahold of our crew chief or other crew members at the start line to see if they could help us as we pulled up to the start line, but it was too loud and they weren’t expecting us to be asking for help before the race even started.
Luke decided to switch places with me – as I was getting really panicked – as we pulled up to the start. Luke climbed in the very back – which was packed with cabinets and coolers and wedged himself in to hold the plug in place. I jumped in Luke’s spot, the passenger seat. Brian came over and, lucky for us, didn’t realize that I was in the wrong spot, and he gave me a kiss and headed to the start line for his count down, not ever knowing that anything was wrong. We had to have the orange flashers on as long as we were in direct follow mode, which was only a couple miles from the start line. At that point we could pull off from Brian, and figure something out. So off we went, starting 3,000 miles, the exciting live start that everyone saw and cheered for, already battling our first problem, with poor Luke wedged in the very back holding the flashers on. It is so hilarious to look back now, but my hands are shaking just remembering. We made it through the start area, up the hill and sent Brian on his way, and eventually found another adapter that worked, and we never had another problem with it for the rest of the 2,095 miles.
Such is the theme of crewing for RAAM. One problem after another, find a creative solution, keep your rider pedaling, all the way to the finish line.

The original plan was that we would do about 12-hour shifts as crew. Mike, Luke and I during the day, and Pete, my dad (Dale), and Jonathan at night. Brian intended to ride each day until about 9pm, and then sleep for a few hours, as he had practiced riding long nighttime hours and felt like he could do that well. His plan also was to ride continuously from the start in Oceanside, CA all the way through the desert to Arizona and up to the cooler air and altitude of Flagstaff before he slept for the first time, which we were expecting would be about 40 hours. He thought that the heat and humidity of Alabama had prepared him pretty well for the desert. In reality, though, absolutely nothing can prepare you for the baking temperatures of the California/Arizona desert.

There are 53 time stations (TS) in RAAM, where the crew has to call in to race headquarters with the rider number and local time. They are live tracking the race with a tracking piece on each rider (or at night – from 7pm to 7am local time – when the car had to stay with the rider, the tracker would charge in the car), but sometimes the tracking fails with little cell service, and ultimately, these TS are the checkpoints for the finish line. Below is a photo of Luke calling in our time and location to the RAAM headquarters at the first TS. So exciting!! This seems like an easy part of the puzzle to remember – yay! you want to call in your progress! But there are so many things to remember. And eventually, the TS are just blips on the radar. Though you are really navigating from TS to TS, you lose track of time and distance, and we had to constantly remind each other and ask each other if we had called in.

This… this is the view I had for probably a cumulative 7 days of the 10 days, 14 hours, 22 minutes of RAAM. And it was getting hot here in the California desert as we were nearing Arizona.

Our organized car devolved very quickly. Being organized is always a huge goal for crew of RAAM. We had great intentions.  But the race starts, and it’s a race. You’re trying to do things as quickly and carefully as you can. You’re filling bottles as fast as you can, digging out a charging cable for the Garmin or phone, looking for fresh dry gloves, searching for Aleve. Every time you switch crew in the follow car, it’s a flurry of activity to move your stuff out and get fresh bottles and dry clothing and anything Brian might need from the RV for the next stretch of riding. And there’s just no way to keep things organized.

And it’s getting hotter. 110 degrees at almost 7pm near Brawley, CA on the first night of RAAM.

I’m not going to pull in exact times, but sometime late that first night, around midnight, I think, we arrived at TS 2, Brawley, CA where we planned to do the first crew swap. This was going to be the first major change we had done – our crew were going into the RV to rest and the 2nd crew were taking over. It was supposed to be quick, efficient and take like 15 minutes or less. It was none of these things.

Brian needed to change clothes – he intended to change often, as dry kits would hopefully prevent saddle sores. I can’t remember exactly what caused this exchange to be so bad, but it felt like a disaster. We couldn’t find a certain cable that was the perfect length for Brian to charge something in his pocket on the bike (I think we didn’t even find that cable until Maryland!). Brian and I were snapping at each other, and the RAAM media crew was there filming the whole exchange. I imagined we would be the headline on their highlight video: “RAAM rider and wife at odds only 10 hours into the race!” {Also I could say lots of bad words about the incessant job of charging all.the.devices: Garmins, lights, phone, Cardo, Jawbone. Add in the charging of the devices of the crew, the GPS for the follow car, and other random items. Wow.} Anyway, this exchange was terrible. It felt absolutely like we had no idea what we were doing. There really is no way to prepare a rookie crew for this, no matter how organized you are. Much wasted energy on Brian’s part, frantic crew trying to move things between car and RV, and and to be honest, I imagine both Brian and I were nervous about switching to the next crew.

Thus begins a major theme in the race, and probably the biggest struggle for me for ever minute of the race: being crew but also being Brian’s wife. As the wife, I really am the only person who knows Brian and all his quirks and needs. I anticipate him better than anyone. Though we intended equal time for both crews, I think my crew’s time was closer to 65%, and 35% for Pete, Dale and Jonathan. No offense to them, but Brian trusted our crew more, because he trusted me. Also, he could communicate freely with me {sharp and complain-y at times}, while he had to try to be patient and nice with them, and he had to explain exactly what he needed/wanted. To be fair, I was quite snappy with him at times, so believe me, it did go both ways.

As we finished up the exchange, we got him back on the bike, put Pete, Dale and Jonathan in the car and sent them on their way. I walked away from the RV, burst into tears, and at midnight Pacific time, called my best friend, Kim. Bless her heart. She was sound asleep at 2am Central time, but she picked the phone up immediately and heard me unload the whole stressful day. Overall, the day had gone fairly well, but it had ended so badly with Brian and I upset, and I was so nervous to leave him in the hands of the other crew. In the middle of our emotional conversation, Brian called to tell me that they had nearly led him off course, just 15 minutes into his time without me. Not a good start. Kim was my sounding board and let me vent, and she encouraged me to go try to rest. Phone calls and texts with her were one of my lifelines across the country.

In the RV, we were going to drive to another TS and switch crews in a few hours. As we settled into the RV to try to wind down and get organized before driving, Brian called again. {TMI warning} He wanted to know where the RV was because he had to poop, and he wanted to use the RV toilet instead of the side of the road (because this is one of the reasons that we supposedly got the RV, to make the shower/toilet part of RAAM easier for Brian). We needed to catch up with them down the road and find a spot to pull over.

The RAAM rules are really strict though, and Brian was really stressed about following the rules so we wouldn’t get a time penalty {spoiler alert: we didn’t get a single penalty all of RAAM. fantastic work, #TeamToone crew!) You must pull over 5′ past the fog line, so finding a shoulder wide enough for the van, and especially the RV, was always hard. This was the first time we had to do a meet-up like this, and to complicate matters, in the dark desert. We passed the follow car and Brian and found a spot, and he came in and took care of business. Of course, I was the one he expected to be nearby for whatever he needed to get in and out quickly (wipes, chamois butter), and it was supposed to be quick, so it was hugely stressful. Not helpful to wind down for the short sleep I was about to try to get. We sent him on his way away again.

I was going to be back in the follow car before I knew it. I needed to go to the RV and sleep – that’s the #1 job of the crew when you’re not in the follow car. SLEEP. But as I lay down, I was so wound up, and the adrenaline was coursing. I’m sure I also pulled up Tractalis at some point to see where they were on the road. I read comments and messages and finally eventually fell asleep encouraged by all the awesome folks cheering us on while the RV headed down the road.

Pre-RAAM 2015 days in Oceanside

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saying goodbye to the kids in Birmingham, as I left for California. (below) These two kiddos put up with so much leading up to RAAM! They’re so amazing. Analise was super anxious about the race itself (see her reflections blog from the finish line experience), but as it turned out, they were so busy with friends and grandparents, they didn’t even have time to track the race daily. Before they knew it, I was surprising them by waking them up in their grandparent’s hotel room in Maryland to take them to the finish line. I think the time flew by for them, while there were moments and miles that crept by for me.


Finding a sweet treat from my sweetest girl on the airplane. I love Twix 🙂


{From Brian’s instagram… picking up the RV in LA!}


Sunday, June 14, 2015

A morning run that included dolphins! My two runs along the beach in Oceanside were definite highlights for me. I love exploring places with a run.


Finding my love at RAAM check-in in Oceanside! Brian’s comment about this photo from his post-RAAM blog: “We had no idea what we were in for.” No truer words.


Shopping. Wow. So many lessons in hindsight. More after the photo…

When it was all said and done, it barely fit in the rental car, let alone in the small RV fridge and cupboards. We had great expectations for food consumption. We had 2 vegans aboard the crew, including the crew chief, and we all desired to NOT eat very much gas station/fast food along the way. As it turned out personally, I barely ate. I was too tired when I came back to the RV after being in the follow car all day, and rarely found myself hungry, probably due to the stress. Peanut M&M’s, Coke, and Egg McMuffins were my main subsistence. We surely didn’t eat even one of the frozen chicken bakes, and they took up precious freezer space for 10 entire days, never being noticed. The Red Bull on the other hand… we should have had a few more cases of that. I wish I knew how much money in total we spent on Red Bull. {Funny memory coming in mid-Missouri when Luke gave Brian his first Red Bull…}


It was beyond awesome that my sisters, Anna and Kat (and Anna’s sweet 5-month old, Grayson) came to Oceanside to see my Dad, Brian and I off.  My sisters are amazing. {My Dad is amazing for putting up with 10 days and 3,000 miles of RAAM, but more on him later.} Sister support was crucial for me in Oceanside. My nerves were sky-high the whole time we were there, and they were so fun and encouraging. I’m not sure I would have made it to the start line without them being there.


Monday, June 15, 2015

Hanging out at the check-in and merchandise area, finding folks we know.


The background paperwork and pre-race check-in requirements were incredibly tedious. I said over and over that there’s no way we would have made it to the starting line without me. Copies of drivers’ licenses, proof of insurance, rental agreements, RV agreements.


And then comes the vehicle, RV and bike inspections, where they go through the rules list and your car. So stressful, as you are setting the stage with the officials as to how organized you are, and how well you follow instructions. By God’s grace, we passed our check-in paperwork and inspections on the first try. That was the last moment that the car and RV were neat and organized… it only went downhill from there.


Brian was invited to be a part of the pre-race press conference. That was a fun time! So proud to see my hard-working, hard-riding guy representing #TeamToone and all those behind us with his great smile and laugh.


Posing for the official RAAM photo.


This day before the race was crazy busy. After all of the above, we squeezed in a practice time of following him in the vehicle. There was so much to learn in such a short time.  Only my dad, Pete and I had followed him for any length of time. It takes full concentration by the driver, while the passenger focuses on the route book, and the third person takes care of getting bottles and food ready. Lots of hurry-up and wait. Frantic moments followed by exhausted sitting back and trying to anticipate the next needs. {I’d just like to point out that my HR and BP are up just thinking about this. It’s surprisingly exhausting and stressful to do practically nothing except follow a rider in a car.}


We also squeezed in a photo shoot with The Player’s Tribune. This was a crazy story. We thought the original email in April was a scam, as it referenced Derek Jeter numerous times. But it really is a website that was his inspiration, to tell stories of athletes from all walks of life. They interviewed Brian over email in early May, and we thought they had forgotten about it. But right as Brian headed to California, they got back in touch and wanted to send a photographer to Oceanside as they planned to run the story right as RAAM started. The article turned out great, and it was an honor to have them tell Brian’s story.


We ended this day with a fantastic meal at Macaroni Grill, where crew chief Wes had negotiated a discount. The chef and servers were so encouraging, and it was the perfect team dinner before race day.


A year later… reflecting on RAAM

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So, it’s been a year since our epic adventure. I’ll be brutally honest here – I had every intention {before RAAM} of chronicling our entire experience on this blog after the race, so others could learn from it and so we would remember the highs and lows. But after RAAM was over, the weight of the emotions and the accomplishment and the struggle to get to the finish hit me very hard. Speaking about it to friends was a challenge, as they had seen the social media approved image we all put out, not the struggles we battled daily to get to Maryland. I’ve probably got a bit of Post RAAM Stress Disorder. Some friends heard all the details, some heard bits and pieces, but ultimately, I couldn’t bring myself to come back here and rehash it all, though there is so much to learn.
But Facebook is giving me memories from last year {a year ago today Brian, Mike, Pete and Lou were driving west, and I was set to fly out a year ago tomorrow}, and RAAM is poised to start on Tuesday. And a part of me wants to use these to look back and try to chronicle the journey here. Most of me doesn’t 🙂 But I’m going to try, and if you get bored of all my words, I’ll understand if you don’t read all the way through. I’m going to use last year’s Instagram posts from my feed as my springboard.  Understand that this is mostly therapy for me, as well as lessons for others who might be brave enough to try to support their husband on a 10 day race across the country, though those people, whew… I have some personally encouraging words just for them.

After all that, I’ll leave you with a funny Instagram post I just came across 🙂


The RAAM finish line through Analise’s eyes…

A guest post from our daughter, Analise. She had to write a descriptive paragraph for school.

I was wet, soaked to the bone. We were waiting for my dad to finish riding his bike across the country! It was rainy and windy, but it felt sunny inside my heart! I shivered as I sniffed the salty air of the bay. I looked out into the bay of Maryland and saw the darkness of 6:00 am. I felt like I hadn’t seen my dad in years, but it only had been two weeks. I turned around to see my cousins waiting with anticipation for my dad to come around the bend. As I began to turn back, I saw my brother screaming and yelping with joy as he saw my dad. My heart started to race like I was the one on the bike. I ran and pulled out my phone and almost dropped it. As I went to start the video, a nice man led me right up to the finish line. It felt like an angel was carrying me to up to my dad. As I saw him come around the bend, the wind made the American flag slap against its pole. I realized at that moment God had a reason for everything!

A family moment to remember
A family moment to remember