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Inside RAAM – The Memorable Beauty

by on July 20, 2015

Whatever one might say about the physical and mental challenges of a Race Across America, there are some simply amazing and stunning moments that just aren’t the same from a car as they are from a bicycle.  While there were some spectacular sights from the back of the minivan, here are some of my favorite times on a bike during this race.

Every. Single. Sunrise.

Yes, the last morning we didn’t really know when the sun rose because we were in the middle of a heavy rainstorm, and the morning we crossed the Mississippi River, it was dark and overcast and blustery and damp.  But I never tire of watching the sunrise, especially the sunrise from the saddle of a bicycle.

The absolute best sunrise I recall was in Utah, the second morning.  I knew that we were running behind our planned schedule.  Monument Valley, UT should have been traversed completely in the dark if we were anywhere near record pace for the race.  As the sky started to lighten before dawn, we started to witness the rock formations against that very early morning sky.  Yes, for that I stepped out and took a photo before taking my turn riding through that early morning beauty.

MV2 MV1

The photos are very grainy, but very few people get a chance to see these rock formations at this time of day.  Spectacular!

Another memorable early morning, by then location was a blur, was as we followed a river to our right, with a meadow between us and the river.  Deer were out by the dozens and beauty of the golden hour was simply amazing.

Each sunrise brought new promise to the day.  Riding at night is quite enjoyable, but my favorite time of the day is sunrise.  Like I said, I enjoyed them all.

The Darkest Part of the Night

When I talk about crewing for RAAM 4 years ago, I often mention that most of the country looked the same to me … since my shift always included the night.  This year I stopped and gazed at the night sky often.  The moon was in the first quarter as we began the race, so we didn’t have the amazing moonlight I recall from before, but we had very dark skies and I had forgotten how much I like viewing the Milky Way.  In the desert, in Kansas, and even in the Midwest, the light pollution was so minimal as to be able to see the Milky Way clearly.  I would have liked to have been able to sit with the car lights off for an hour or so just to get the full effect.

Some of the Wildlife

I’ll admit, some of the wildlife I was not enamored with.  The biting flies of Kansas and the mosquitoes of the Midwest didn’t make any friends.  We saw way more roadkill than we needed to.  (I didn’t realize that Armadillos had made it as far north as Kansas.)  My favorite were the deer, elk, and the like.  We saw antlers in full velvet.  One particular deer ran across the road in front of us, up a steep bank on the right, then leaped over a fence at the top of the ridge.  Our angle was such that the leaping deer was completely framed by the late evening sky.  Our vehicle nearly collided with a few deer, but our drivers kept a sharp eye out.  I did not encounter any troublesome dogs.  I don’t know about the rest of the team, but I heard no stories this year.

The Vistas During Descents

Starting with the “Glass Elevator” the descents gave me the most opportunities to marvel at the beauty around us.  Not only do the descents mean that there is less “work” being done, but the views are usually quite extended, especially near the highest elevations.  I especially liked the “Glass Elevator” and the descents into the Durango, Colorado area.

And More

Those are highlights, but there certainly is more.  I think of the drought conditions of California with its own monotone beauty.  The sand dunes and blowing sand of the Imperial Sand Dunes is always amazing in the dark.  The snow capped mountains of Colorado can be seen from far off (and a great reminder that we had to cross those).  The streams and rivers often paralleling the road, especially in the mountains generates excitement or peace, depending on the power of the flow of water.  The forests of Missouri were dense.  The fields from eastern Colorado through Ohio took me back to my roots.  Even the towns and their own unique character were pleasant.  Of course, Oldenburg, IN with its street signs in German is unique and so is the terrain around town.

West Virginia and Maryland were simply wet.  We caught especially western Maryland, and southern Pennsylvania in some of the wettest weather of the summer.  Even then, there was beauty.  Forested land in the rain has a very unique aroma.

And we got to see it all at an average of 17.5 mph, meaning that we didn’t dash past it.  We felt the moisture or the dryness.  We smelled the clean air and the decaying roadkill.  We noticed the cool pockets of air and the quick warm spots along the way.  We were immersed in the climate and conditions … and it is a great way to travel.

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