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!