Day 6.5 – Crossing the Finish Line in Annapolis – Mile 2988!

June 23, 2012

It’s done! The Georgia Chain Gang completes its third RAAM!

Our intrepid night shift took us all the way across Ohio by the time we caught up with them at 5am on Friday outside Parkersburg West Virginia. We again had the privilege of seeing a beautiful sunrise, this time as we pedaled east on US50 crossing WV. The sunrise sorta made up for the “fun” of riding on a major highway. While we’ve been doing it all week, we are still not quite used to riding on these divided highways, even when they have shoulders wide enough for our vehicle to get completely off the road.

RAAM afficianados know that the hardest climbing of the race is not out west, but rather here in the east from WV to Pennsylvania. To help us make this crossing as fast as possible, we decided to again use a strategy we’ve used in the past to work our way across a 100+ miles of this difficult mountain terrain. To do this Tony and the night shift cut their rest time in half and rejoined us at around 11am so that we would have a full force of 8 riders to deploy at all times.

The shifting state boundaries on our route meant that we would cross back and forth between WV, Maryland and Pennsylvania a half dozen times. Tony used detailed elevation and grade profiles to plot out our ascents and descents, breaking up the climbs by placing 2 or 3 riders on the way up and then having a single fresh rider make the descent down. Dave Payne, our most experienced and skilled descender, was our go-to rider there all day.

The climbing is so difficult both because of the steepness of the grades, which could hit 20+%, but also because this up and down pattern went on for such a long distance – over 100 miles. While a really challenge for the riders, it is also especially difficult for the crew since they are hoping in and out of the car doing much more frequent rider exchanges. Think of a Nascar pit crew changing out rider and bike and hitting the road again as fast as possible.

Adding to the stress, we were all operating under a cloud of sleep deprivation that had been building all week. I’m very proud to say that riders and crew rose beautifully to the occasion and just bull-dogged their way through this 36-hour final day. Eventually, somewhere beyond Gettysburg, Pennsylvania the mountains turned into hills and the hills flattened out all together. By then it was night again and we just had to gut it on out for another 120 miles to the finish in Annapolis.

We crossed the timed finish line outside Annapolis around 5:30am, just as the sky began to lighten. As we entered the town proper behind our escort, a beautiful sunrise unfolded in front of us – totally appropriate and fitting after the series of sunrises we’d seen all week.

There weren’t many people at the dock when we went through the shoot, but the RAAM officials had a fun time interviewing us, The GCG has become something of a favorite of theirs after three races. The interview gave Jane, our most eloquent spokesperson for the Leukemia Society, a chance to talk about our cause and let the RAAM folks know about our prodigous fundraising – over $375,000 across all three races so far.

We stood around drinking beers and made our traditional salute to beloved Crew Daddy and guardian angel, Warren. The RAAM race directors joined in with us as we toasted Warren with a shot of Jager! He surely was smiling down on us this week and would have laughed out loud to see us all celebrate by jumping off the dock into the Annapolis harbor to make sure we touched the water in both oceans.

I hope you gathered from the constant chatter and updating of our Facebook and Twitter accounts over the last week how enthusiastic everyone on the team was. The riders gave it their all every day and left anything on the road. Everyone went beyond their limits in their efforts to support each other. And we can’t say enought about our crew. In many ways they have an even harder race than the riders do. They suffer the same sleep deprivation, but they never have any downtime during their shift as it requires 100% concentration for a solid 12 hours of driving or navigating. I hope you know our appreciation.

Finally, we must extend our biggest thanks of all to all of you who have contributed to our #1 mission and made a donation to LLS. We are at a total of over $168,000 with many more checks awaiting us when we get home. Thank you for your donations and the constant support and encourgement you gave us while on the road. Your enthusiasm fueled ours all week.

Signing off now and heading to our celebration dinner tonight, Your Georgia Chain Gang, Tony, Frank, Jerome, Dave, Jane, Lisa, Lee, Joe, Brigette, Charlie, Bruce, Amy, Lynn, Neil, Steve, Celeste and Chad!

Day 5 – On the Front Steps of Ohio. Mile 2360! 6pm Thursday evening

June 21, 2012

Another great day – 510 miles in the last 24 hours – we are even surprising ourselves. Night and day shifts both put in great efforts, urging each other on using both encouragement and trash talk. Wed evening the “night train” picked up the baton southwest of Jefferson City, Missouri. They really pushed it and spent most of the night, riding 20-21 mph across Missouri and crossed the Mississippi about 1am this morning.

The Mississippi is a significant psychological milestone in the race. I think of it as the line where we can check off all of the west and two-thirds of the total mileage. We don’t quite smell the barn yet at that point, but it’s not too far off in the distance.

It is always fun and inspiring to talk to people we meet along the way who are interested in learning about the race and our team. Many offer to help in little and sometimes not so little ways. Andy at the Holiday Inn Express in Greenville, not only made breakfast sacks to carry with us (we checked out at 3:30am), but she also volunteered to do the entire day shift’s laundry in the hotel’s laundry room.

After crossing the Mississippi, Tony, Jerome, Lisa and Dave kept up the pace through a good chunk of Illinois, making it almost to Effingham by the time the “day trippers” caught up with them for the handoff around 5 this morning. Jerome was flying down the road so fast we weren’t even ready to ride and had to drive down the road to catch up with him.

As we’ve moved east, we’ve seen dawn earlier and earlier in our shift. The red sky of morning became visible within 20 miles of our start. This day was typical of others that did not involve a lot of climbing. In the cool of the morning we each rode about 15 miles at a time. As the day got warmer we shortened that to 12, then eventually to 10. Indiana, like Illinois, is pretty flat. We were able to keep the pace at 20+ most of the day, but after leaving Bloomington we began to run into more rolling hills and our pace slowed down a little. We also had two flats, and a couple of missed turns (our first of the race and they were caught quickly). Southwestern Indiana is dotted with interesting little towns and beautiful farms. One of the more interesting towns was Oldenburg where all the streets and signs are in German. These little towns also seem to have beautiful churches that seem to be big enough to serve all the people in the town and everyone else for miles aroung. We all have talked about doing this route at a more leisurely pace someday so as to have a chance to explore these interesting off the beaten track places.

Somewhere along today’s route we crossed paths with one of the riders from the 4-man United 4 Health team. The only reason we’d caught them was that they had a very costly navigation error and got 5 miles off the course before discoverying it. This team of 70-79 year old are schooling us on how to ride this race. We learned latter that they were on track for setting a record for their age group.

We met up with our night shift brothers and sisters about 15 miles short of the Ohio border. If we believe Jerome they will be halfway to Maryland by the time we see them at 5am, but our realistic estimate is that they will make it all the way across Ohio and just cross the river into West Virginia.

Friday is the big day of the race for us and should be exciting and challenging for riders and crew both, as we try to reach the finish line in Annapolis sometime late that night or early Saturday. Keep up the latest updates on this last day on our Facebook page or Twitter.

Your Georgia Chain Gang, Tony, Frank, Jerome, Dave, Jane, Lisa, Lee, Joe, Brigette, Charlie, Bruce, Amy, Lynn, Neil, Steve, Celeste and Chad!

Day 4 – Finally knocked out Kansas and hammering through Missouri. Mile 1850!

June 20, 2012

Day 4 – Finally knocking out Kansas and hammering through Missouri. Mile 1850!

We handed the baton to the night shift Tuesday evening with mixed feelings. The crosswinds had just battered us for 7-8 hours and it was not subsiding at all – so we know what Tony, Jerome, Dave and Lisa had in store for them. At the same time we were spent and very happy to get off our bikes.

It turned out that it kept blowing at 30+ until the wee hours of this morning and beat up the night riders as much as it did the day shift. We caught up with them about on the side of the road about 5am still 100 miles from the border with Missouri. Fortunately the wind had died down enough by then to allow us to put all our effort back into moving forward and not into struggling to stay upright. As we crossed over into the Show Me State the flatlands of Kansas began to give way to the rolling hills of the Ozarks. This is another beautiful part of the country with picturesque farms everywhere. We were able to keep up a good 19-20 mph pace throughout the day and thus keep our overall speed from the start to 19+.

When we turned the reins over to Tony and the gang they were determined to kick that up a notch, check off Missouri on our list of conquered states and head into Illinois for an early Thurs morning transition somewhere beyond Greeneville.

As you may have gathered there is a bit of a friendly rivalry between the day and night shifts. Jerome in particular wants to make sure he kicks my a** every day with a faster pace. Must be that Bulldog in him (we have 3 Jackets on the team). But that is just to lighten things up and keep everything fun and in the right perspective. On a more serious side we do have our eye on several teams that we have been close with us throughout the race, including our cross-town friends and rivals on the Shepherd Spinal Clinic team. There are several Canadian teams that we have been neck and neck with from the beginning. We plan to pull out our secret final day race tactics to make some improvements in the standings.

Our hats off to the 8-kid Believe & Achieve team who are keeping up a 20mph pace. The oldest rider on team is 17 (and a RAAM veteran) and the youngest is 14! Very impressive.

The crew and riders all seem to be in much better spirits today after feeling a bit beat up yesterday. In this event, if everything goes smoothly the hectic pace and constant fatigue from lack of sleep wears everyone down. And of course, things never go perfectly smoothly. We’ve run into a rockslide, a flat on the mini-van, 3 bike tire flats, 2 wheels with broken spokes and the ugly winds in Kansas. This all adds up and makes it extremely challenging for crew and riders alike. There are many famous RAAM stories of crew mutinies, rider meltdowns and minor personality conflicts that get blown up because of the close quarters. While we have had our share of short tempers and sharp remarks, we are all managing to keep our senses of humor and perspective. We take our motto from our honored hero, Warren Bruno: “Allow, Accept, Appreciate.” He must be watching over us.

Thanks again to our crew for their incredible efforts.

Your Georgia Chain Gang, Tony, Frank, Jerome, Dave, Jane, Lisa, Lee, Joe, Brigette, Charlie, Bruce, Amy, Lynn, Neil, Steve, Celeste and Chad!

Day 3 – Kansas, Kansas, Kansas….

June 19, 2012

When the people at RAAM HQ interviewed Tony about his race experiences one of the things he talked about was how we all thought that crossing Kansas is the hardest part of the race because it is so long and flat and the scenery doesn’t change much. But Kansas can also be a lot of fun in the right conditions, which was the situation on Tuesday morning. For a few hours after dawn, the temps were cool but comfortable and we had alight but almost direct tail wind. For long sections we were able to maintain an average speed of 25+ mph, and in some stretches were holdings 30mph. Some of the finest riding we’ve every had.

The other face of Kansas appeared mid-morning when it got a lot warmer and our lovely tail wind shifted to a direct crosswind coming from the South. As the day went on, the crosswind got stronger and stronger, making it a constant struggle to keep the bike steady and upright. Wind speeds must’ve been a constant 30-40 mph. We made our pulls shorter and shorter until by the end of the day we were only riding 4-5 miles at a time. At first it was a little interesting to see the amber waves of grain in the wheat fields, but after a while the howling wind sounded like a giant threshing machine seperating the wheat from the chaff. Eventually the wind began kicking up clouds of dust and grit blasted our arms and legs. There is a layer of fine dust on every inch of our bikes.

Lee nominated Kansas’ ‘Dust in the Wind’ as our theme song today.

Once the crosswind kicked in, holding our bikes steady took all our concentration, but before that we were able to enjoy the scenery a little. Yes, western Kansas looks a little bleak, but the long desolate vistas have a beauty of their own. One of the great treats of this whole RAAM adventure is seeing so much of our big beautiful country of ours. Each day the sun rises to a completely different terrain, topography and vegetation.

Well, that’s not completely true. Tony, Lisa, Jerome and Dave will ride for the next 12 hours and when we arrive to relieve them at 5am we will STILL BE IN KANSAS.

All the riders are so very grateful for our fantastic crew – keeping us fed, safe and transported to wherever we need to be next, especially after a day like this. Thanks to Lynn, Neil, Steve, Celeste, Bruce, Amy, Brigette, Charlie and Chad.

We must end with a reminder of why we are doing this. Yes, it will be nice to have the bragging rights, but much more importantly we are racing to fund those seeking cures to the deadly blood cancers we have all lost friends and family to. Please help out – visit our donation page and MAKE A DONATION NOW!

Monday Night Crew Update – Conquering the Rockies!

June 19, 2012
Frank gave you a great update from the day crew on Monday BUT the excitement only started with their flat tire and rock slide! The whole gang had a GREAT turnover from day shift to night shift – lots of focused and fast minds working together: one group coming on the scene after very little sleep, another  group struggling off course with a flat t…ire then racing to join up for an on time transition, and the third group continuing to race, held up by rock slides and dynamite! The Chain Gang has actually developed a unique “ganger” system for our riders exchanges and shift transitions and it all came together like a machine under mishaps out of our control!! Day shift handed over the charge on the Rockies to the night shift at the bottom of Wolf Creek Pass, the longest, highest and easily most beautiful climb on the RAAM course and only the second push into the mountain range with many more to follow. The night Gang rode to the top and descended, all for the first time in the daylight. In 2010 we reached the almost 12,000 foot pass near midnight; 2012 brought mid-afternoon! Last night the Gang finished off 200+ miles across some of the toughest southern Rockies RAAM could string together; high winds and most of the climbing in the dark at near 10,000 feet. Several unanticipated tough high grade climbs, several thrilling high speed descents, a couple with EXTREME wind from what seemed like all directions. The night crew so exceeded predictions that we outran our hand off to the day crew so the gang ended up in a situation where the day crew had to chase the night crew down the route trying to leap ahead to swap equipment, at least into a new chase van so the racing never stopped. We all again made it work. Day crew jumped to just the right spot, had a van ready to role and Joe Daniels  ready to race. Joe grabbed the gauntlet from Jerome and racing never paused. AWESOME TEAMWORK!!!