A Front Row Seat to the Race Across America
by Dave Nevins
While the Tour de France has twenty-one stages, hotel stays, catered meals, ample sleep opportunities and is ‘only’ 2088 miles, the Race Across America (RAAM) is one single, grinding, relentless stage.
Vic Armijo and Jennifer Salazar and rider Christoph Strasser near Trinidad, CO
The top solo participants in RAAM average about two hours sleep a night, with no hotels. Their meals are corralled from the confines of cramped vehicles and they pedal 3,004 miles (if they are among the 50 percent that prevail as overcomers ). The clock starts in Oceanside, California as riders follow a detailed network of back roads that take them through the searing heat of the Mojave Desert, up and over the Rockies (high point is 10,856 feet), across the wind ravaged Kansas landscape, over the dreaded Appalachians, with a final tick of the clock in Annapolis, Maryland. This year, the country unleashed some brutal, nasty weather upon the participants. The desert Southwest was 5-10 degrees hotter than in the past decade and torrential rainfall and floods east of the Mississippi River slowed the race field.
Christoph Strasser (Austria) near Trinidad, CO
With the start of RAAM on June 16, I was driving the RAAM Media 1 vehicle. I followed the procession of solo riders as they left the Pacific, churned up Palomar Mountain, took the plunge down the Glass Elevator, a ten mile plummet into Borrego Springs, CA and the searing heat of the Mojave Desert. This is stark reality punishing the riders, especially those coming from Europe. Their training doesn’t usually include adapting to oven temperatures. I had a front row seat to the highs and lows that make up one of the toughest events ever concocted.
Severin Zotter (Austria) - Hanover, PA
With me in the Media 1 vehicle were photojournalist Vic Armijo and videojournalist Jennifer Salazar. Their task was to provide photos/commentary and video of the race, with a special eye on the leaders. My task was to assist them in reaching their goals. I drove, drove, bought gas, and drove some more, with ample opportunities to take my own photos/film and assist Jen with filming.
Along beautiful Highway 12 near La Vita, CO
It took a short while to work our way through the whole field of solo riders and eventually catching the race leaders near Brawley, California. The teams (2, 4 and 8 person) started the race on June 20th and generally caught the tail end of the solo field in Ohio.
This was my sixth RAAM. In the other five I had participated in I had been part of a crew supporting a team. This included Team Type 1 and their first RAAM (2006). I also crewed for Team Type 2 for two years (2009 & 2010). During this year’s race I was extra thankful for my CGM, as I was living a life that was definitely off-track from my usual lifestyle. I had to stay focused and do the best I could with blood sugars and control, constantly checking the sugars on the CGM. It was easy to check the blood sugar levels with a quick glance on the CGM. My basal rate had to be notched up a significant amount to cover my deficient exercise life while fastened to the driver’s seat. Thankfully, I had good blood sugars for most of my time on the road. Another smile….
Vic Armijo and Jennifer Salazar near Hanover, PA
The long hours at the wheel did affect my glucose levels and management. I started each day with a low carb meal and kept the basal rate at a higher rate than normal. Lunch was usually whatever could be snagged at a roadside gas station/convenience store. Not ideal, but slightly better with coffee in hand.
Dinner found us chasing riders or settled into a hotel in Anywhere USA. I often packed a dinner of sorts early in the day from food that I was able to pick up or had packed in Dave’s ever-relied upon food bag. Our first sit-down dinner didn’t happen until the end of the race in Annapolis. I relied on constant contact with my CGM and the convenience to make bolus shots—when needed—on my insulin pump during crazy-busy times often while driving.
Pagosa Springs, CO
Steering wheel in hand meant dealing with traffic, a long list of turns and directions for each day and continual filming and photography. Often I drove alongside the cyclists to provide some of best opportunities for Vic and Jen to take photo and film—yet a little unnerving for the driver. We were always on the search for choice places to capture incredible footage. Thankfully, this was Vic’s tenth year and he was pretty dialed in to the premium locations for shooting. Our route took us mainly on back roads where we were immersed in the beauty of this country—the nooks and crannies of a beautiful and historic landscape that eludes most people zooming down the main arteries that crisscross this country.
Jennifer Salazar in Maryland, near the end of the race
Toward the end of the race, the notorious hills of West Virginia and Maryland greet each rider with a wicked, sneering grin as the finish line hails. By this point riders are at their lowest ebb energy wise. We ended the race tracking the top two solo riders; Severin Zotter (Austria) and David Haase (United States). Severin wheeled across the finish line in Annapolis, first (eight days, eight hours, and seventeen seconds). An amazing feat since this was his rookie year.
A fun shot taken by Jennifer Salazar as I was not, quite, the RAAM Rookie Male of the Year
So what was the payoff for me? I came away with a vast number of photos and a healthy amount of video from a truly amazing event. Not to mention the many outstanding and inspiring stories, too many to recount in this blog. No doubt the memories will stay with me forever, not to mention the hope that I’ll be back on the roads of RAAM next year.