The Georgia Chain Gang Finishes in 6 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes!

June 21, 2014

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!

 

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From Indiana to West Virginia!

June 20, 2014

The day shift was able to get a glorious four hours of sleep and relieved the night shift just outside of Bloomington, Indiana.  Everyone was happy to be back on Eastern Standard Time!  The day shift had a lot of work ahead of them, as they prepared to head into some of the most difficult stages of the Race Across America.  Five miles from the Ohio border the Gang had their last rider exchange in Indiana.

The day shift wrapped up their 12 hours, spent up and down the beautiful terrain in Indiana and Ohio — knocking out 230 miles. After a shift change in Chillicothe, Ohio, the night shift set off to tackle the rest of Ohio, then West Virginia. The day shift hated to see them go but looked forward to some food, a (very) little shut-eye – and reconnecting with them at 5am tomorrow to knock out the last bit of the race the next day!!!

At the end of the day shift, the weather potential was on everyone’s minds. But there’s a lot to like about beautiful rolling Ohio, especially the people. A nice lady pulled up at rider transition and gave a cash donation!

The night shift started out excited to put the last full night in the books! At first they had some trepidation about the hills ahead and how their legs would hold up, but in the end the night shift rocked it!   They were hoping to get ahead of the ominous black clouds and red and green and yellow radar. The team had a smooth shift change and a rare opportunity for the ladies of the Chain Gang to snap a photo together – being in three separate vehicles they are never together!

Ben started the shift taking the team through lush and rolling beautiful (and sticky humid) Ohio country side. It felt and looked a lot like home! Jeannie took the baton and got a handful of raindrops, but the night shift was so fast they were able to outrun the storm!

As the riding segments continued they pushed further and further into the Appalachians. The gang had been anticipating this shift for months and were more than a little intimidated by the climb profiles in the route book, but one by one they conquered them. None of the riders were fresh, but they are all strong! The months and months of training paid off, and of course they all have the North Georgia (southern Appalachians) Gaps in their back pockets. This shift of cyclists knows how to climb!

In every event of this magnitude there are any number of variables to manage and overcome, but the one the team didn’t consider was fog. The hot and sticky day turned into a humid and cool evening with low lying fog blanketing the route. Jeannie got to do several very steep descents unable to see the road in front of her and instead seeing her shadow reflected on the fog. It’s pretty exciting to be going at top speed with no visual of your route – just trusting the road is there!

The gang rode through the brick streets of Athens, Ohio, home of Ohio University where they have diagonal crosswalks. They did a little caravan with one van navigating through a tricky section of Clarksburg, WV making it through with no issues except a wee bit tired Dave Gluck from an extra long turn with extra steep hills!

The miles and the elevation gain continued with the final two climbs being the steepest. They split them up with Dave Gluck and Ben sharing the first and Jeannie then Dave Payne sharing the second. They even had a cheering section along with way when the Sprinter van greeted the team for the shift change.  It’s safe to say this night shift had never been so happy to see their good friends of the day shift! There were high fives all around and a thoroughly exhausted and exhilarated night shift!

The gang is looking forward to a glorious finish, friends and family, some cold beverages, and some glorious sleep!

The team thanks you all for your prayers, texts and Facebook messages; they have sustained and encouraged the team more than you can possibly know!


The Gang is East of the Mississippi!

June 19, 2014

Early Wednesday morning, the day shift woke up in Fort Scott, Kansas to learn the night shift had ridden all the way out of Kansas! The flat dry plains had been replaced with the green rolling hills and humidity of the Ozarks of SW Missouri.  The challenge of the day, beyond the 240 miles they’d eventually finish was the rollers they seemed to ride over the whole day. Nonetheless, they managed to cross the 2,000 mile mark of the race just before the Mississippi River and maintain a 20.8 mph pace overall.

On the way to St. Louis the team rode through MO’s capital, Jefferson City. The route circled around the domed capital  (in a very confusing set of turns for the rider and driver to coordinate) and the first of the 3 crossings of the Missouri River. They then rode many miles in the river bottomland, passing thousands of acres of corn and soybean fields (where the omnivores on board were faced with a dilemma).

While the first half of MO is one of the team’s favorite sections of the race, the 2nd half of MO leading to St. Louis is one of their least favorite. It seems they always encounter more people here who aren’t happy with bike riders on the road and they let the team know it. The team recognized most of the curses, but some were perhaps in German and the team is still trying to translate those…

Libby continues to amaze the team with her strength and determination. You may have read in her bio that she has only been riding for about 4 years and, though she’s completed many century rides, RAAM is her first race. Talk about debuting on a big stage! And of course our team hero, Andrew, just kicks butt every day. He warms up at 25 mph before he cranks it up to 30 mph for the rest of his shift. We are going to be leaning on all these riders on the last and hardest day of the race.

Meanwhile, the night shift had a rare treat after day 4 with a nice-ish hotel in Eldon, MO they scored with a great deal! They hit Perkins for breakfast after 4 hours sleep, took a team picture, and met some interesting locals. The team always tries to be friendly as they pass through each town! They met a sweet older farmer in Kansas who told Jeannie he’d “lived here all maa laaf and couldn’t imagine doing sump’n laak RAAM”. He was very impressed and offered up the bathroom in the always unlocked school house, “but fer some reason they always keep the church locked? Ah cain’t understand it”. At Perkins they met fellow fundraising athletes when the founder of Right to Life Running Foundation came up and chatted with them, and another woman who was physically challenged asked Max about our event. It’s the most anyone’s heard Max speak all week! At a rider exchange in southern Illinois, a few from the gray van unit met local John and his daughter, Emily, and her two boys from Edwardsville, IL. They drive the 20 miles over to the route each day to watch riders go by and cheer them on! The team truly appreciates the support.

The shift change was smooth with Jeannie and Jerome executing an ever improving rolling exchange. Two white cranes were spotted popping up from the low swampy and lush Missouri landscape during our first few miles. Dave Gluck took over with the anticipation of the Mississippi River ahead. The team was poised to rush ahead and get Facebook/Newsletter worthy photos only to be foiled by the very long and slow line of bridge construction traffic as they approached at 5:00 pm local time. RAAM allows the rider to go ahead and ride in the construction lane, so they didn’t see Dave for quite a while. Fortunately he took a cue sheet to help get him through all the turns in West Alton, MO.

The riding shifts continued plowing through Illinois. East of the Mississippi the terrain is very flat again, but this time the crosswind was nominal. It was a truly gorgeous evening and all four riders seemed to have a second wind! And so it went: Ben then Jeannie then Dave Payne then Dave Gluck and repeat and again…. No real wildlife excitement other than the flying object that hit Jeannie in the neck. It came at her looking like an extremely large moth in a sea of summer midwestern bugs, but the thud against her neck indicated a larger creature – a bat perhaps?

The night crew finished up their shift just past Bloomington, Indiana after a very fast and fun shift and are looking forward to the mountains during the next shift telling them they’re nearly home!


Crosswinds in Kansas

June 18, 2014

The day shift awoke at midnight in Trinidad, Colorado Monday night with the Rockies at their backs and nothing but 600+ miles of the Great Plains before them. The night crew had knocked off 120 miles of these flatlands  when the two met up at an all night truck stop just west of Walsh, Colorado, leaving the day crew with 480 miles of Kansas to hammer through.

Jerome, the human cannon ball, got the shift rolling at 5am sharp, just as he’s done every day so far. There was a partial tailwind that helped push the riders along at 25 mph for most of the day, but they knew that those friendly winds can turn from friend to foe with a change in direction. Sure enough, by the end of the day they were dealing with a strong cross wind. This didn’t slow our riders much, and by the end of the day they’d covered 272 miles at a 22.6 mph average.

The team’s goal was to hit the midpoint of the race on Tuesday, meaning 1510 miles in 3 days, and at 2 days, 22 hours and 30 minutes Libby crossed that point! Then they added another 34 miles to their 3-day mileage.

Meanwhile, the night shift awoke in Ulysses, Kansas after a blissful 5 full hours of sleep… only to find out they had to hurry because the day shift made such great time with tailwinds across Kansas!  By the time they reached the transition point, it had turned into a 30 mph crosswind…. not as much fun. Ben kicked things off and the team took shorter pulls in the 96 degree humid heat. Jeannie even had the pleasure of riding next to a plow blowing dead grass all over her and the highway!

Animal sightings were different in Kansas. Dave Gluck spotted a couple of big snakes slithering across the highway. When asked what kind they were, he was pretty sure they were “evil”. Aside from snakes, it was all about the livestock and road kill. They saw thousands of cows in a massive stockyard… burros… and while the gray van passengers were all out of the van awaiting Ben, about 50 cows made their way to the fence to say “hi”. And of course there were the dead turtles and raccoons and other indeterminate species to dodge as you biked the shoulder.

The word to describe the day is SLOG! It’s manageable, but they are hard miles with a huge wind blowing all the time, never ceasing – even as the darkness settled in. The night shift slogged their way across the eastern half of Kansas and made it to Missouri. Almost immediately after crossing the border the terrain changed to rolling hills and trees and creeks (in the dark you hear the water and the frogs) and curvy roads – they certainly welcomed the variability. At the very end of the shift, the wind finally died down a bit to welcome the day shift. The night shift was tired and didn’t make quite the progress they had hoped for, but it was still a strong day!

It seems like the riders are getting stronger as the race goes on, which is a true testament to all the training they put in over the last 9 months. It also has to do with each of them gaining confidence with the miles and getting acclimated to the crazy round the clock schedule. Our five rookies – Libby, Andrew, Dave Gluck, Ben and Jeannie – are all so impressive. Each have really pushed themselves to their limits, knowing they ride for their teammates and for their loved ones.

The crew continues to be exceptional. It’s known that RAAM crew members have a tough job, and it’s said that it’s often thankless and unrecognized – but our riders don’t want to go a second without thanking and recognizing our tireless 10-person crew. They certainly could not have a successful race without each of them! From driving and navigating 12-hours straight, being alert to follow close behind riders at times, to being a constant source of enthusiasm and emotional support to the riders, to helping with bike mechanics, unloading and reloading vehicles, laundry, errands for food… and even the simple things like keeping everyone entertained with great music along the way. Each of them do it with a smile and nonstop positive attitude, and we are so thankful for that.

And while the lack of sleep is certainly wearing on everyone, the good news is we are starting to imagine the finish line! There are a lot of miles to go and the 2nd half of the race is harder than the first half, but if we keep up this pace we’ll finish in less than 6 days!


Climbing through Colorado

June 17, 2014
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.

Day 2: California to Colorado

June 16, 2014

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.


The Race Is On!

June 15, 2014

We got up on Saturday eager and ready to get this thing going! We got all our bikes and gear loaded up, had last minute meetings, and headed down to the starting line at Oceanside Pier. We took pictures and met teams and met up with friends and family that showed up. Ben’s wife, Nancy, was there along with Jane’s niece Katie, and Jeannie’s friend Tammy showed up from San Diego. There was great fanfare as each team was announced and charities highlighted and stars pointed out. It was an absolutely perfect San Diego/Oceanside day with warm sun and a cool breeze.

Finally it was time for the Georgia Chain Gang, and we rolled across the start to horns, cowbells, and cheers. It was all incredibly exciting – worthy of goosebumps – and within a few yards it was totally silent and we were on our own. Six team members peeled off to their respective vehicles and Ben and Dave Payne took off on the bike path. They rode the first 23 miles together because it’s the only part of the course where there is no follow vehicle and if there’s a problem, you are out of luck. But they had no problems and came rolling to the first transition looking strong.

The next group was waiting with another team of young riders raising money for experimental Leukemia drugs. They were very impressive. Jeannie took over and headed straight up hill. About 2/3 of the way up the 7-mile climb it felt like she was on the Tour de France when she was greeted and cheered by the ginger bread man. After her climb Ben took over and the regular rotation began: Ben, Dave Gluck, Dave Payne, Jeannie. When Dave Gluck took over on another brutal climb, there was great sympathy from his son, Max, exclaiming “awww look, he’s struggling!”

After a few more hot rides we got to the top of the glass elevator. Dave Payne took over and headed down. Pretty quickly the next shift realized they had to chase Dave Payne down the steep, windy, treacherous hairpin turns at top speed if they had any hopes of catching him by the bottom for the next transfer. Dave is our fearless descender, and even he said 50+ mph descent with 30+ mph cross winds were “sketchy”!

And then we were in the desert. And it was hot hot hot and windy windy windy! Luckily for Jeannie it was a tailwind. She ran out of gears going 38+ on a totally flat course. The desert rides continued with mostly tailwinds with a few forced to take the headwind. Several rides were averaging up close to 30 mph. Dave Gluck was giggling each time he got back in the van! As sun set, the exchanges and rides continued into the darkness. The tailwind persisted as we blew past our 12 hour goal in Blythe, CA about two hours early! We waved to the other shift as we passed their hotel.

A successful shift change occurred just past the Arizona border, and the new unit took over. All in all a very successful, exhilarating, and exhausting day. Navigators and drivers did a fantastic job keeping us on course and Jane kept us aware of all the little details. So now we head to our hotel with lots of smelly laundry and tired bodies to recharge and get ready to do it all over again. Many of us are thinking about our dads and what we learned growing up that led us to this point in our lives where we are willing to try something so crazy as this to try and make a difference. We all say “Happy Father’s Day, Dad!”   Signing off until tomorrow!