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Inside RAAM – Home Away From Home

by on July 21, 2015

During RAAM, perhaps the most comfortable place of the trip was on the saddle of the bicycle.  Of the 171.75 hours of the race, only about 43 hours were spent on the bike.  The rest of the time was spent in the cramped quarters of the rear of a minivan.  I can see the elements of a “How I spent my summer vacation” paper writing about 129 hours confined to a 2 1/2′ X 5′ space.  That’s right, about 12 1/2 square feet, unless you count the one seat which was shared.

Chip and I fretted over the arrangement of our precious small space as we planned the trip.  We had a wooden bunk under which was stored our gear.  One of us could lay on this bunk while resting or sleeping.  The other option was situated behind the seat.  Both of these spaces included a foam “eggcrate” pad and an inflatable camping mattress, about 1/2-3/4 of an inch deep.  Food and first aid supplies were stored in a bin at the foot of the bunk, leaving that space unavailable for our bodies.  There was also a cooler full of ice next to the one rear single seat (that we crawled over more than we sat in).  Another ice chest had cold food (like fruit cups) in it.  There was only one way out of our living quarters.  The sliding door was opened frequently, except at gas stations.  The gas filler hole was on that side and prevented the door from opening.  In the summer heat, when the van was turned off and if the person gassing the van forgot to open windows, we were quickly pounding on windows and screaming for relief from the heat.

Those 12 1/2 square feet were first and foremost our sleeping area.  What little sleep happened during RAAM was conducted there.  We traded spots on occasion.  Once I was sound asleep on the bunk and the van driver, in a rush to get gas, turned quickly into a gas station and dropped me from the bunk onto the floor of the van.  I woke up about halfway down.  I was lucky that my helmet was tucked away elsewhere and not on my landing spot.

Those 12 1/2 square feet were our dining room.  “Meals” were eaten there, snacks were consumed, and hydration fluids and powders were mixed there.

Those 12 1/2 square feet were our bathing area.  A sponge bath in such confined quarters was not unlike trying to clean up in a small bathtub with a ceiling less than 4 feet overhead.  Note: I had the 4 feet overhead.  Chip managed with a 2 foot ceiling.  (We did get one shower in a hotel room that week.  It was heavenly … though rushed.)

Those 12 1/2 square feet were the locations of a few leg cramps.  During the first 12 – 18 hours, I suffered through 2-3 leg cramps as the intensity of the cycling efforts moved from sedentary to short racing pulls at high effort.  Let me tell you, the inability to stand to work out leg cramps is a great hindrance to efficiency!  Sometimes just the very act of fitting into this space generated the cramping.

Those 12 1/2 square feet was our changing room.  Adding or subtracting clothing was accomplished here.  Ever try to change clothes in a phone booth?  I have greater respect for Superman!

Organization was key.  Everything needed a place and needed to be returned to its place when used.  On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is complete chaos and 10 is perfect organization, I think we averaged a 4.  Cell phones were misplaced, even while charging.  Damp clothing was hung on lines overhead to dry and would inevitably smack someone in the face.  Helmets never did find a consistent landing spot, and if we attempted to put them in the same place every time, a moving vehicle suddenly stopping, starting, and turning meant they might be anywhere.  Water bottles were the worst.  While we rarely drank fluids while on the bike, we always put a bottle on the bike.  It was usually the last thing we grabbed as we jumped out of the van and onto the bike.  I ended up with the same number of bottles as I started with, but trying to find one of the three I had when it was my turn on the bike seemed to be one of the more difficult tasks of the ride.

Once it started raining on Friday night of the race, nothing in the van seemed to be dry.  I’m glad we didn’t encounter any real rain until that last day.

Why put up with all of this?  Why not use a larger vehicle?  Why not hotels to sleep in or at least an RV?  It came down to money.  Our goal was to complete this ride with a budget under $30,000.  We used two minivans owned by John & Nancy, and one larger borrowed van that was used to shuttle crew and supplies.  We accomplished the shoestring budget and managed with the vehicles.  Simply adding an RV would have added around $10,000 to the cost of the trip.

Lucky for us, one of the luxury items in the van was a flyswatter!  As the van filled with biting flies in Kansas there was a flurry of activity to kill those vile creatures each time the vehicle started moving again.  Can you imagine what that is like from our 12 1/2 square feet of space?

I don’t know how long it takes for a RAAM rider vehicle to smell right again.  I think I did hear John say that a date with a car crusher might be in order.  One shower wasn’t enough to knock the stink off of me.

From → Cycling, RAAM

One Comment
  1. Rebecca permalink

    Try Fabreeze. It’s designed to eliminate odors – not just mask them.

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