Early Monday morning the day shift was exhausted and in a bad mood after a 250 mile drive from Flagstaff the night before following their Sunday day shift, arriving in Blanding, UT after all the stores had closed and with only enough time for 3 hours of sleep. It had been a long day. Thankfully the night manager at the Quality Inn in Blanding helped raise their spirits with a little act of kindness – she arranged for the breakfast bar to open at 1:30am so the team could eat before hitting the road to catch their night riding comrades. Maybe that was a good omen as it turned out to be a great day riding through some spectacular scenery.
The day shift crossed the border into Colorado before dawn, riding under a full moon. Once the sky lightened they started to see the Colorado Rockies rising up around them. They spent the rest of this 230 mile day riding up and down the magnificent mountains; during one 45 mile section the team climbed over 6500′!
The team raced up four significant climbs including the 10,857′ Wolf Creek Pass. To tackle this mountain they split up the 8 steepest miles into 4 sections of 2 miles each and turned Lisa, Andrew, Libby and Jerome loose on the road. They all rode very strongly and made short work of the climb.
Of course what goes up must come down, and this team relied on Andrew Johnston to ride the descents like the pro he is. During one 15 mile descent he knocked 15 minutes off a 20 minute lead one of our rival teams had on us. Incredible!
Meanwhile, the night shift was resting up – even managed almost 4.5 hours of sleep! They started their day with a big Denny’s breakfast before heading to meet up with the day shift. As they passed rider Lisa on her final miles for the day shift, a crazy devil with a spear and horns started running after her and cheering her on! The enthusiastic fan turned out to be Dave’s big brother, Steve Gluck, just stopping by to cheer on the Georgia Chain Gang.
The night shift took over with the wind still howling. They were prepared and warned about the winds across Kansas, but this team will remember the relentless winds out West. Fortunately, much of it has been tailwind. They rode across the flat plains (at altitude) of Colorado with lots of tailwind and then the climbing began. Jeannie had a mild grade climb and a massive tailwind averaging almost 27 mph going uphill for 15 miles. Dave Payne took over climbing, climbing, climbing and then doing what he does best – speeding downhill into time station 19 at La Veta. Then the serious and painful climbing began as Dave Gluck turned south straight up the mountain and straight into a fierce headwind. He started at 7600 feet and went to 8800, and then Ben took over and did the same – again into a brutal headwind. These guys are tough, but no one said this would be easy! Dave Payne did a short, dangerous descent with treacherous crosswinds and then Jeannie lucked into 20 miles downhill at 25-35 mph for the whole ride, except of course when she had to test her brakes as a couple elk decided to meander across the road! That sighting was topped on her next ride when she came face to face with a gigantic elk with enormous antlers on the side of the road – we are certainly in the wilderness!
The night shift had some more rolling hills in the dark, and as they headed to the Kansas border each of the riders got a turn speeding downhill for miles and miles with a mild tailwind to end the day. There are moments in this blackness when you realize you are experiencing a “once in a lifetime” event!
Also worth mentioning was the very exciting excursion to the outhouse; yes, it was truly glorious to find a real bathroom in the wilderness, but it was even more exciting when Crew Member Kristin Cleare saw a brown bear! She didn’t have time to take a photo!
The team has competed extremely well so far! The legs are starting to feel it, but so far the mood has been positive and no major tempers or issues have erupted… except when Max tried to steal a sandwich from Mark! It certainly helps when the team has an amazing crew! Lynn and Kristin on night shift and Kelli on day shift are always so upbeat and organized; Max and Mark on night shift are the picture of calm and always helpful; Ron on day shift is adapting rapidly to life as a navigator; and it’s invaluable to have seasoned crew members Charlie and Neil on day shift. Crew Chiefs Jane and Frank are on top of everything every minute. All their support makes the riders relaxed and ready. Our only real challenge has been the record pace we are going through tubes! Maybe you shouldn’t pump tires to 110 psi at 8600 feet??
You may have noticed from the Leaderboard or Tractalis that we have been battling with 3 other teams for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th place spots in the Open 8-person class. It’s a long race and so much can happen, but after 2 days and over 1000 miles the riders and crew alike seem to be growing stronger and more confident as the race proceeds.