What was the hardest part about day one? Sprinting as fast as you can across a blazing hot desert? No – it’s finishing a shift being dead tired and still needing to clean the car, pack stuff up, unload, load the sprinter van, drive 200 miles to be near a location the next shift will arrive at 12 hours later, check in, unload, do laundry, shower, and … finally crawl into bed at 8:30 a.m. ET – right when your body wants to wake up again! That’s what the night shift experienced at the end of their first shift Saturday, going into Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, the day shift’s 3am wake-up call to make their 5am shift exchange seemed awfully early, particularly when viewed as midnight local time in Blythe, CA. But that is part of the deal in this race – many nights we only get 3 hours of sleep and feel lucky when we can get 4.
For the day shift’s first “on shift”, their timing for riding through AZ worked out well – they rode the hottest section of the desert in the morning before it got really hot (it hit 105+), and they had climbed into the mountains by afternoon. Nontheless, there were several long climbs that were plenty hot. First the 7 mile, 2000′ Yarnell Grade, followed by a 20 mile 2500′ climb to Prescott, and finally another 2000′ climb up Haywood Canyon.
They did their best to break these climbs into smaller segments. While riding 15+ mile shifts in the morning on the flat desert, they sometimes changed riders as frequently as every 2 miles in the steepest mountain sections. After Andrew, Jerome, Lisa and Libby conquered the Haywood Canyon climb, they turned the bike over to Andrew for a blazing 4000′ descent over 16 miles through the mountain town of Jerome, AZ and on to Cottonwood, AZ. He passed at least 3 other riders on his way to the bottom and maybe a few cars, too! Their shift ended about 20 miles beyond Cottonwood, at the entrance ramp of I-17 where the night shift faced 40 miles of driving and lots of climbing on the interstate, wrapping up the Gang’s first 24 hours on the road.
With the end of their shift, the day crew drove ahead to clean up, eat, and try to rest. Everyone is exhausted, so that drive is just a race to get to bed. Sunday night’s drive did, however, have one exceptional highlight. They happened to drive right through Monument Valley in southern Utah at sunset. As the sun was setting under a dramatic cloud cover, it broke through and illuminated the massive cliffs and mesas that march along both sides of the road. Besides the challenge of the race, these chances to see America by its back roads are what make this whole adventure such an extraordinary experience.
Our rookies – Kelli driving, Ron navigating – along with veteran driver Charlie and Neil at navigator – had an excellent first day on the job. Not a single navigation error, and we continued our 4 race perfect record of zero penalties!
While the day shift was blazing through the Arizona desert, around 1:00pm EST, after limited sleep, the night shift was up and preparing for their second shift. With the start of a new day, the miraculous appearance of a Trader Joe’s, big cups of strong joe, and some gorgeous valleys and awe inspiring plateaus in the distance, the night shift was primed and ready by 5:00 EST!
They started just east of Cottonwood, AZ with Jeannie and Ben taking turns on long climbs up I-17 with traffic buzzing by at 85 mph! With the follow vehicle mandatory and riding along the shoulder, it was not as bad as it sounds. Climbing out west is actually kind of fun when you compare it to things like Hogpen Gap in the Appalachians of North Georgia!
A little later the Gang made their way through Flagstaff, AZ with some city riding and then Jeannie, Ben, and both Daves had turns on the long, long fun downhill descents – 40 mph, 45 mph, 50+ mph! Gorgeous views out as far as you can see. The rotation is now fluid, and the night shift riders and crew are starting to settle into their groove.
They continued with the tailwinds crossing Arizona without too much excitement other than the dead coyote blocking the full shoulder. They crossed into Utah and entered Monument Valley after dark, but the massive formations were imposing even as silhouettes in the bright moonlight. Even into the wee hours of the night, the devil wind persisted mostly giving us a tailwind, and they all imagined Warren pushing them along. The night shift stopped just shy of Cortez, Colorado early this morning and passed the baton to the day shift.