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!

RAAM 2014 – Pre-race Update

June 14, 2014
After nine months of training, planning and fundraising we are only a few hours away from the start of the 2014 Race Across America. The last week, particularly the last few days here in Oceanside, was crazy with pulling together all the final logistical details and supplies. Our two min-vans, driven Ron and Neil, left Atlanta last weekend, packed full of coolers, spare parts and a dozen bikes. Everyone else flew into various airports north and south of Oceanside until we were all finally assembled together on Thursday. Thursday and Friday were a whirlwind of getting all three of our vehicles prepped for inspection.
Our 12 bikes, three vehicles, eight spare wheels and 16 helmets were all closely inspected for conformance to the standards for safety. We passed with flying colors and the inspector complemented us on how light and compact our vehicle configuration is for an 8-person team.
Unlike most teams we do not travel with an RV. We use the two mini-vans as “follow” vehicles and they are always out on the road with the cyclists. Our third vehicle is a 12 passenger Mercedes Sprinter van (one of our sponsors) that we use to shuttle half of the riders and crew to motel rooms every 12 hours.
One of the highlights of the pre-race week was a press conference in Oceanside that Frank and Dave Gluck were invited to, along with members of a few other teams. One of the other teams, Legends of the Road, is made up of some well-known pros, including most notably Dave Zabriskie, who sat a couple seats down from us. Undoubtedly, that as the closest any of us will ever be to sharing the limelight with cycling royalty (Dave was the first American to win a stage at all three grand tours, and was seven-time US time trial champion).
Once we got through all the inspections the team had a little time on Friday afternoon to get on their bikes and ride. Dave and Ben scouted out the first 10 miles of the route, as they will be riding together on the first 24 miles of the race. This is the only time we will put two riders out together and we do it because they will not be supported by a follow vehicle on this section.
The rest of the team took a ride along the Pacific Coast Highway, where a buddy of Dave Gluck’s filmed them from the air using a drone. Be sure to check out the video on YouTube.
We are using a similar strategy as in years past to rotate our riders and crew throughout the race. We first split into two shifts – day and night – each with four riders and five crew. The day shift rides from 5am to 5pm EDT time every day. The night shift rides from 5pm to 5am. At end of each of those 12 hour shifts we completely change over riders and crew. At the exchange point the new shift gets a rider on the road and the prior shift jumps in the Sprinter and drives ahead about 250 miles to eat, shop, do laundry and get as much sleep as possible before rotating in 12 hours later. As coach Tony would say – lather, rinse, repeat.
We are aiming to get out a newsletter update every morning which contains updates from both the day and night shifts. We promise fans of the royal family that we will report on any sightings of Pippa Middleton, sister of the future queen of England, and her 8-person team. There was some buzz about them last night because as of that time their bikes had not arrived from the UK yet, and they were checking into whether they could find new bikes to buy and get fitted locally before the race. Embarking on this race with brand new, never before ridden equipment is something no cyclists would normally do so we are wishing them the best of luck if it comes to that.
Official start time is noon local time, but since the race uses a time trial start, our team won’t roll until about 12:45 pm local. Once we start, everyone will change their clocks to “race time” which is EDT. The goal is to beat our previous best time of six days and 13 hours, possibly arriving in under six days. More importantly, we also have a goal of raising a quarter million dollars for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Thanks to so many of your generous donations we are at $222,000. Just another $28,000 to go!

Day 6.5 – Crossing the Finish Line in Annapolis – Mile 2988!

June 23, 2012

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!

Day 5 – On the Front Steps of Ohio. Mile 2360! 6pm Thursday evening

June 21, 2012

Another great day – 510 miles in the last 24 hours – we are even surprising ourselves. Night and day shifts both put in great efforts, urging each other on using both encouragement and trash talk. Wed evening the “night train” picked up the baton southwest of Jefferson City, Missouri. They really pushed it and spent most of the night, riding 20-21 mph across Missouri and crossed the Mississippi about 1am this morning.

The Mississippi is a significant psychological milestone in the race. I think of it as the line where we can check off all of the west and two-thirds of the total mileage. We don’t quite smell the barn yet at that point, but it’s not too far off in the distance.

It is always fun and inspiring to talk to people we meet along the way who are interested in learning about the race and our team. Many offer to help in little and sometimes not so little ways. Andy at the Holiday Inn Express in Greenville, not only made breakfast sacks to carry with us (we checked out at 3:30am), but she also volunteered to do the entire day shift’s laundry in the hotel’s laundry room.

After crossing the Mississippi, Tony, Jerome, Lisa and Dave kept up the pace through a good chunk of Illinois, making it almost to Effingham by the time the “day trippers” caught up with them for the handoff around 5 this morning. Jerome was flying down the road so fast we weren’t even ready to ride and had to drive down the road to catch up with him.

As we’ve moved east, we’ve seen dawn earlier and earlier in our shift. The red sky of morning became visible within 20 miles of our start. This day was typical of others that did not involve a lot of climbing. In the cool of the morning we each rode about 15 miles at a time. As the day got warmer we shortened that to 12, then eventually to 10. Indiana, like Illinois, is pretty flat. We were able to keep the pace at 20+ most of the day, but after leaving Bloomington we began to run into more rolling hills and our pace slowed down a little. We also had two flats, and a couple of missed turns (our first of the race and they were caught quickly). Southwestern Indiana is dotted with interesting little towns and beautiful farms. One of the more interesting towns was Oldenburg where all the streets and signs are in German. These little towns also seem to have beautiful churches that seem to be big enough to serve all the people in the town and everyone else for miles aroung. We all have talked about doing this route at a more leisurely pace someday so as to have a chance to explore these interesting off the beaten track places.

Somewhere along today’s route we crossed paths with one of the riders from the 4-man United 4 Health team. The only reason we’d caught them was that they had a very costly navigation error and got 5 miles off the course before discoverying it. This team of 70-79 year old are schooling us on how to ride this race. We learned latter that they were on track for setting a record for their age group.

We met up with our night shift brothers and sisters about 15 miles short of the Ohio border. If we believe Jerome they will be halfway to Maryland by the time we see them at 5am, but our realistic estimate is that they will make it all the way across Ohio and just cross the river into West Virginia.

Friday is the big day of the race for us and should be exciting and challenging for riders and crew both, as we try to reach the finish line in Annapolis sometime late that night or early Saturday. Keep up the latest updates on this last day on our Facebook page or Twitter.

Your Georgia Chain Gang, Tony, Frank, Jerome, Dave, Jane, Lisa, Lee, Joe, Brigette, Charlie, Bruce, Amy, Lynn, Neil, Steve, Celeste and Chad!