Chasing RAAM

Race Across America. We would never have heard about RAAM if it hadn’t been for a rain storm and some great hosts on our cycling trip. Stan and Misti insisted we stay a second day to wait out the storm, then entertained us with a delicious dinner as as watched a cycling documentary. Bicycle Dreams was captivating, following the thrill, pain, determination and tragedy that the cyclists endured as they raced across the country in a mere 10 days. Cycling day and night with little sleep, encountering temperature ranges from frigid to desert conditions, supported by dedicated teams and even medical professionals, they pushed their bodies to the limit.

RAAM map of cyclistsIt was pure coincidence that we happened to be in St. Louis just months later when the race was to pass through the area. We couldn’t resist this unique opportunity and we set out to see the race. Thanks to a race app, we could see the locations of the racers on a map as they advanced, and toted our own bikes to the route. While we’d hoped to see a number of cyclists, only the leaders were nearing the Washington MO time station, so we targeted rider #431 in third place, Anders Tesgaard from Denmark.

Doing the math, we started cycling about 25 miles in front him and calculated that we should meet up in about 45 minutes. It was exciting knowing we were cycling the actual race route, and kept constantly scanning the stretch ahead to spot the cyclist and support van. The further we went, the more the excitement grew. Would he be around the next corner? Will we see him over the next horizon?

Anders in LinnOur plan had been to stop and set up shop with our cameras in advance. But the town of Linn got in the way. We knew we had to be minutes away from the encounter as we rushed to get to more scenic countryside. Then suddenly, there he was! As we rounded a corner to descend a steep hill, the sudden jerk of Rich’s head gave me a moment’s warning. It was just enough to stop and pull out my camera to take some hasty shots. Rich called out “Go Anders!” and the astonished cyclist turned to give us a grateful grin as he arduously completed the uphill climb. Since the race is virtually unknown, and cheering sections non-existent, we figured our personalized cheers had to count for a revitalizing shot of adrenaline.

Quickly crossing the road, we reversed direction to follow in his wake. The town’s congestion seemed to mitigate his progress somewhat, and we were able to keep the van in our sights through that stretch. But once he reached open country again, Anders quickly lost us. How humbling, that after we’d covered a mere 10 miles we could be so easily outpaced by a cyclist who was on his sixth straight day of nearly non-stop cycling over 1800 miles!

We were nearly back to the car when I was surprised to spot the crew again. There was the support van on the side of the road, Anders snoozing under a tree. He does this, the crew explained – taking only about 1 1/2 hours to sleep at night, Anders would snatch brief naps during the day. We stood by to watch as he quietly retrieved his bike, consulted with his team members and returned to the road. Soon far ahead of us once again.Anders at his rest stop

It wasn’t too hard to catch him one last time with the car. We pulled ahead to get some final photos of Anders cycling, and were rewarded with a small wave. We couldn’t help but feel the thrill of being part of a RAAM rider’s journey.

Anders wavingAt the end of the day, the race drew us back once more. After seeing 5th place cyclist Henning Larsen on the road, we misjudged where he would turn and lost him. It turned out to be a fortuitous flub, as we chased him down at the Washington time station where we could observe more of the logistics of the race. Henning was already there, flanked not only his support van but two RVs filled with additional equipment and personnel. While he was checked over by his medical team, changed clothes, was shaved and took a short rest, we visited with Vicki, a volunteer. Henning at time stationArmed with a Danish flag (yes, he was another Dane!), pom-pom and cowbell, she dedicates 7×24 hours of the entire race to time station duties. But her passion is cheering on these amazing racers. She was full of fascinating tales and details of the race from her years of involvement.

By the time Henning left the time station it was fully dark. The night brought some relief from the heat and hopefully lighter traffic. And he would cycle on, 1100 miles yet to go. In an air conditioned car, with our bikes strapped on back, we headed for a soft bed in a motel. We were done chasing RAAM and our brief brush with some amazing athletes.Molly at the time station

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