Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shift #2: A Monumental Effort

Quite possibly, my most memorable shift in all 3 RAAM's that I've done.

Memorable is about the best way I could put it. Airey asked me what was my "favorite" shift of the race. I'm not sure I could put my finger on a favorite per se, but this shift sticks out the most. The combination of anticipation, pulling away for good, temperatures, average speed, challenges, teamwork, terrain and topography embodied all that was RAAM.


I don't remember much past getting in the truck after finishing our first shift, other than getting to the hotel in the Navajo Indian Reservation before sunrise (I think?), which is the farthest I've ever stayed up the course for a second shift. Pretty cool. I woke up to the Hammer about ready to eat his arm he was so hungry, whereas I pulled the pillow over my head for an extra 45 minutes worth of z's. I ended up walking outside sometime around 10am, and BAM: 100 degrees! Haters would say "Oh, but its a dry heat", and while 10% humidity is WAY better than 90% humidity, it's still freaking HOT. It was like being in a hair dryer, because the wind was definitely up. Oh well, better start drinking and taking in salt.

The wind ended up being a topic of speculation for quite sometime. Like most racers, we were keeping tabs on the weather at least a day ahead of future shifts, and of course, what the weather would be like when we would be riding in a few short hours. Historically, we would get some cross/tail winds through this section, but mother nature, or at least the top 4 weather sites from google, were saying something different. The forecast was calling for 20-30mph winds out of the east-southeast. In other words, 20-30mph winds straight on our sides. Damn. The day, it seemed, would be a character building ride. Little do we know how familiar we were going to get with said winds.

Unofficial standard protocol states that whenever you wake up (or really, whenever you aren't sleeping), to check on race results. It looked like our guys had some trouble with our competition overnight. By trouble, we were still ahead, but it looked we may have lost a few minutes. Not a big deal honestly, because the race was still young and our best riders, and climbers, were out on course climbing through Flagstaff, and en route to us. Here's a little video our media crew made of their shift through Flagstaff:

This mindset actually marked the biggest difference between this year, and shift, than any other in the past. In years past, we were always trying to play catch up, usually in second place by the CA desert. The pressure of chasing is a lot harder. But this year was different. We were ahead, and I just felt confident that we would stay ahead. Of course, it seems easy for me to say that well after the fact, but that "stress" of prior races wasn't "there" this year. I was confident in my training, riding partner, our crew and our other riders.

We were communicating with the follow vehicle and Truck1 on an exchange spot, and we got there with about 30 minutes to spare. No worries, it was probably good to acclimate to the heat and be ready in case we needed to move. As I was standing outside, the wind was all over the place. But, slowly, and surely, it changed, and it stayed consistent, in the best possible direction: at our backs.

God Bless America
As METAL approached, he screamed at the Hammer, who immediately took off like a bat out of hell. Our truck then took off, and as we approached him, seemingly a mile up the road already, John said "I wonder if Airey knows that he's going 40mph". DAMN! Dude was FLYING. Next it was my turn, and fly I did.

The next few hours flew by, literally. While it was hot, the wind kept things reasonable, our legs were fresh, Truck1 put time into the competition, and we were amped TO DO WORK! Our media team, showed up sometime shortly after we started, and it was a blast to have them around. Now, when I saw we were flying, I wasn't BSing you. Here were the team splits from Tuba City to Kayenta (71.83 miles):

Team ViaSat:  30.57 mph (!!!!!!)
4Mil:                27.81 mph
Strat Lions:       25.2 mph

The stoke was easily seen at 3:00 in the video at the end of this post.

A few exchanges later, John and I posted up towards the bottom of a small hill. This is normally a Faux Pas in RAAM, since the oncoming rider likely can't get up to speed in time for the active rider, resulting in a total loss of speed. So, Airey comes over the hill, and John says "You know he's gonna come flying in at over 40, you should get going". I couldn't argue, so I started off in earnest. About a minute later, he was still back a ways, so, I just stopped pedaling. No big deal.

Now, for those of you who don't know the Hammer, he is a mild mannered, cool, calm and collected dude. He's doesn't get pissed off easily or often, but when he does, look out. Well, for whatever reason, he was picking up a headwind while he was catching up to me, and my pedaling just kept on extending him. He rolls up on me, screaming, swearing, and swinging his arms. Basically, he went way into the red to catch me at the end of a long pull. I thought "Oh shit, I'm gonna be out here for like 30 minutes" and paced accordingly. This is partially documented in the video at the end starting around 1:10. Now, it's also worth mentioning, that I was having my own problems on this exchange, because our media vehicle literally ran me off the road as they passed me. Dude! Fortunately, the Hammer's temper was short lived, and his perspective was easily taken over by the beauty that is Monument Valley.

I was SO STOKED to ride this part of the course. I drove it in 2009, and was amazed at how cool this place was. Incredible!!! In 2010, I rode through at night. Boring. Now, we were riding it as the sun was dropping on the horizon. Awesome.
Doing Damage

The stage was set for our media crew to take advantage of "The Golden Hour" in a great place to be, and that they did. It seemed for a while, that every time I was on the bike, about a mile into my shift, there they were posted up on the side of the road with cameras and video. For every pull for well over an hour. I felt like such a rock star, and so naturally, I dubbed them "The Paparazzi".

With the long stretches in Monument Valley, the Hammer and I started refining our exchange strategy without really even talking about. All that geeking out about efficiency before the race was starting to pay off. You can get a taste for what we started doing based on the below video, THE HAMMER CAM:

BIG props to GoPro (one of our sponsors), and our media team for putting this together!!!

Monument Valley wasn't without its hardship though. After 4 hours of 100+ temperatures, and not staying on top of my nutrition, I yakked three times on a pull, and told the follow vehicle to call John and have Airey ready to go on short notice. Fortunately, both of them were ready, and after a few pulls, I got myself better to finish out the final hour. Fortunately, the Paparazzi didn't catch any of this!

It's funny, as incredible as Monument Valley is, I don't really remember leaving the valley of massive buttes and towers, I just remember reaching the point where it was time to get the roadie out instead of the TT bike. The terrain had changed to rolling and hilly, which was a both welcome and unwelcome change to the past 4 hours.

The amount of explosive energy at exchanges can't be captured with a camera

We both finished off the shift on a great note, with me taking the last pull on a descent, and handing off to Truck3, literally, at the same spot I took over as Truck3 on our second shift in 2009. Big props to Truck3 for showing up early and becoming the Follow Vehicle so the real FV could get gas.

For any of you who haven't been through monument valley, it's one of those places where photos and videos won't do the justice.

You might be able to get a taste of it from this video, which was masterfully done by our media team (which still gives me some goose bumps when I watch it):

As we handed off to Truck3, we kicked back to relax, laugh and share some war stories from an EPIC shift...
Some more photography of our shift