The last day of RAAM is always the most exciting day of the race. Teams have to cross the Appalachians in WV and Maryland, the most difficult miles of the race, then ride a few miles through Gettysburg and then a 92 mile sprint to the finish.
The day shift started the day on Friday at 5am with an exchange on top of a mountain between Grafton and McHenry, WV, with the sky just beginning to lighten. The night crew had knocked out about half of the Appalachians, going further than we had hoped and planned. The mountains and climbing were almost continuous for the next 12 hours. The 38 miles between Cumberland and Hancock, MD are the hardest of the race in terms of feet climbed per mile. Using a tactic we developed in previous races, the team mapped out a mile by mile plan to attack the 4 mountains in this section.
They split each climb into 3-5 short sections of 0.5 of 1.0 miles each, allowing Libby, Jerome, Lisa and Andrew to all ride a lot faster than any single rider could do on these steep ascents. They tried to sequence this rotation so that Andrew, the fastest and most skilled descender, would top out and then take the entire descent down the other side. After a short flat the whole cycle would be repeated. They managed to finish these 38 miles in 2:11, faster than the team ahead and adding to the lead over the team behind them.
When the team hit Hancock around noon they still had another 6 hours to go. The map shows there are 3 significant climbs in the 70 miles to Gettysburg, but it doesn’t show how these miles are a constant barrage of short, steep (20+% grade in places) hills the entire way. It was a huge relief to get to Gettysburg for a few flat miles through this beautiful and sacred ground before the last shift change. The intrepid night crew was waiting anxiously to carry this race the final 100 miles to the finish.
The night crew finished with style. Andrew, who had already been riding for 12 hours, stayed out with Jeannie, Dave G, Ben and Dave P. With Andrew leading a pace line of 2 or 3 riders all the way to the finish, the ‘A’ train was hitting 30+ mph at times on the flat sections. Everyone was fighting to stay in line, but having so much fun they hardly noticed.
The Georgia Chain Gang arrived in Annapolis at 9:56 pm for a strong 3rd place finish in their class and a total time of 6 days 6 hours and 13 minutes. This was a 7 hour improvement over the team’s previous best time and meant the they had ridden 3,020 miles at an average speed of 20.1 mph!
Special thanks and kudos to our drivers and navigators – Charlie, Ron, Kelli, Neil, Mark, Max, Lynn and Kristin – for their essential contributions. They gave up their vacation time and time with their families to join this adventure, not fully understanding how hard it would be – following riders down descents at 50-60 mph in the dark and fog, navigating 12 states and 3,000 miles, eating irregularly – and doing it all on 3-4 hours of sleep a night. If it weren’t for each and every one of them doing their jobs exceptionally well, the team would not have gotten across that finish line so safely and so fast.
Everyone on this team is filled with a tremendous sense of accomplishment – with our results in the race and on the fund raising front. It was truly a team effort, with riders, crew and all our supporters contributing. In addition to your generous donations, your encouragement in emails and on our Facebook page during the race were more valuable than you probably realize. Knowing we had a lot of people cheering us on gave everyone an extra boost every day. THANK YOU!
Most importantly, our cause provided an ongoing inspiration and gave a bigger meaning to this endeavor, more than any desire for personal achievement could. All we had to do was look at Ben’s bike where he engraved “Beat AML” on the top tube, to be reminded that the treatments made possible today by LLS research funding might have saved the daughter he lost 15 years ago. We could also look up in awe trying to keep up with Andrew, who has held CML at bay for 10 years, and realize that we are helping in some small but real way improve the lives of people and families facing diseases that we are pushing back every day. What better reason to ride 3,000 miles than that!
During race week, we raised $14,895 brining our team total to $238,842. It’s not too late to donate to help us reach our ultimate fundraising goal of $250,000!