RAW 2012: Part 1

The step up from 500 to 860 was bound to be a challenge.  I treated RAW like any other 500 miler.   We had one small car, one small 3 man crew.    The best part of RAW is you start alongside RAAM so you get to hang with big boys of RAAM and soak in the pageantry .  While RAAM is an obscure sporting event in the US, it has captured the hearts of a lot of Europeans.  Some of the RAAM solo teams were huge, well funded and loaded with bike bling unlike I have seen at any other event.    Some of the teams had team doctors along which gives you an idea how seriously they take this.   The RAW rider gets to soak up this excitement and line up with the hardest of the hard men and for this alone its worth the price of admission.  Getting to experience the vastness of the American West at a speed that allows to ponder the size, history, beauty, and tragedy of the expanse makes this an experience you will never forget and something that the 500 mile Ultra rider should step into immediately.

Its funny how calm people are before a huge undertaking like this.  I imagine its similar to people taking off for war.    The RAAM riders were fiddling with their bikes, adjusting their saddles at the last minute, chatting with their crews, and just hanging out and laughing. I could only imagine how much pain they would be in later, but for now, nobody had a care in the world.  I for sure did not.  I was relaxed and worked my way to the start.  The Race Director George Thomas introduced me and I was ready to go.   I was excited to know that the guy following me, Dani Wyss, was one of the top Ultra Racers in the world and glad I picked a sport where I could race alongside the best, even if that would be just for a few minutes.  Since the first 10 miles or so were neutralized, I got to chat with Dani for a while and he was a super nice guy and extremely focused.  He said that he planned on finishing in 45 or 46 hours and that the course was easy as he could "whoop" right through the desert like it was childs play.   The speed he took off once the neutral support was over was comical . It was like he was riding a 10 mile TT and was out of site in seconds.  

The start of the race was really cool in Oceanside and as we head East towards Palomar it started to heat up  quickly.   I met the crew for the first time about 25 miles inland and felt ok.  On the first climb a tiny guy passed me so fast I was surprised.  I knew the Team division did not start for a couple of days, but surely this guy could not be a solo as he was flying so fast it defied logic.  Turned out he was the eventual winner Reto Schoch and he was a solo rider.  Nobody had told him that rookies are not supposed to take off so quick I guess, or that race is 3000 miles long.    We continued to climb up to Lake Henshaw, the first time station and I was cramping pretty badly.   We hit the long descent into the desert, Montezuma Grade which is a classic fast and very smooth descent that drops you into the heat of the Mojave.    I hit 50 MPH at one point and was quickly passed in the middle by Gerhard Gulewicz.     Once we got to the bottom in Borrego Springs we switched out to the TT bike and I was off flying.   There were moments when I was able to hold 40+ on the flats.  Great tail wind and riding as the sun was settting in the desert was magical, even dealing with a few blasts of wind on my disc wheel that knocked me around a bit.  A few people were questioning my judgment on the disc wheel.  Might not be the best place for it, but I enjoyed it anyway.

We hit the Salton Sea and road towards TS 2 in Brawley.   I learned that in 1904 engineers trying to bypass the Colorado Rivers irrigation system inadvertently crated the Salton Sea whe nthe river surged and burts its bank and spilled waywardly for two years into a dry California lake bed.  I also learned its the biggest lake in California.   We were in Imperial County now and nearing the borderlands with Mexico.   We passed  labor camps, giant farms, small farms, truckloads of migrant workers, deserted motels, rotten decaying restaurants, and a ton of fast food restaurants once we finally pulled into Brawley.  We stopped at one and grabbed some junk food.   I got off the bike and relaxed a bit, surrendering into the sheer ridiculousness of what we were doing and not worrying too much about my standing.    We started up again and I was riding at night.   We would get passed by faster RAAM guys and then leap frog a few of them for hours.   We were in the Imperial Sand Dunes and I was still in my TT bike stomping up the occasional roller and cruising down the other side.  I was pretty sore and had to take a break.  Martin worked over my back and shoulders as I lay on a tarp in the pitch black staring at the stars.  At past midnight we passed a border patrol checkpoint and were passed through by a bored looking Border Patrol Guard.    I was feeling amazing riding at night and while I felt that we were making good time, was not passing anybody up ahead in the RAW field.  

We pulled into Blythe at about 3 AM and bought some stuff at a mini market.    I remember passing what we assumed was a German RAAM guy.  His team kept passing him bottles and they would end up dropping them.  It happened 3 times.  I was laughing like crazy watching this and I could tell that the crew were enjoying this.    I passed him and then he passed me.  I might have imagined it, but I dont think he was happy  I passed him .    There is nothing more awesome than riding a bike at night in the desert with a crew behind you.   Your able to relax and enjoy the night sky and desert and the crew allow you to relax completely.  Getting entertained by a novice crew practicing bottle hand offs made it memorable!   We were approaching Arizona as the first glints of sun started to show.  It was warm out and I was still on my TT bike.  I had never ridden the TT bike for more than 100 miles and my left knee was starting to bug me.    I kept riding too TS4 in Parker AZ, a dusty tired town that had the nicest parking lot I have ever layed down on by a Mini Market.  We ate some food and that nagging feeling that my knee was bad was hitting me.  I have not had knee pain in a while.