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Inside RAAM – The Detours & Delays

by on August 5, 2015

Every RAAM competitor and crew must be highly adaptable within the rules.  In a race that uses public roadways and takes up to 12 days to complete, just about anything can cause plans to be adjusted.  In this post, I simply want to give you a description of a few of those things we encountered (in no particular order).

Human Needs

The most frequent causes of adjustments to our ride plan was related to the reality of our physical needs.  Use your imagination.  Our vehicle was stopped for usually a few minutes at a time at most.  Sometimes the retiring rider is approaching more rapidly than the bladder is emptying.  Good planning means that the next rider is not the one along side the road “making water”, but good planning doesn’t always happen.  The time cooped up in a vehicle, a diet high in carbohydrates and very little fiber also meant that constipation was likely.  Good facilities were few and far between … especially if elimination takes a little while.  An extra long turn on the road or a different rider than expected getting out there can be the result.  Sleep is also a condition in which adaptation happens.  There were times one rider would ask another to take another “turn” just so that an hour of sleep could be achieved.  We may describe that our plan was 15 minutes every hour for each of our riders, but that was just the plan.  The reality was often different.

Delays

Some of the delays we encountered resulted in detours.  More about that in the next section.

Summer in the United States is the time for road construction.  Road construction, as you well know, is often accompanied by flaggers and one lane of travel.  Cyclists are not immune.

One particularly frustrating delay because of road construction happened in Colorado.  I exchanged with a retiring rider one afternoon at the top of a hill on a very warm day … 95°F and not a cloud in the sky.  I had a fast descent and then I knew I would be climbing, paying it all back.  As I got halfway down the hill, I noticed cars were stopped.  I kept going on the shoulder of the road, all the way up to the flagger, a young woman nearing the end of her shift.  I asked if I could go on ahead (hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask!) and was told, “No!  You have to wait.”  (I figured.)  I waited.  I sweated.  I waited some more and then we struck up the obvious conversation about what I was doing, how far I was racing, and how crazy this all was.  Finally, cars started coming down the other way.  The flagger grumbled about how slow they were going.  She grumbled about how there was too much space between cars.  She grumbled that they let too many cars come through.  Then, when the last car came through, it was time for the construction trucks to proceed.  Remember, I’m sweating while I’m waiting.  I’ve now emptied my water bottle it is so hot.  Finally it was time for us to go.  I was told to be careful because there was no real shoulder ahead.  Did I say that the flagger was at the bottom of the hill, so I now had the climb with no real shoulder and a mile-long string of cars behind me?  This delay was between 10-20 minutes long.  We called it in, but got no credit for that wait.

Another time, I again saw a line of cars stopped in the roadway.  Again I pull up to the front of the line (this is a race, remember!) and I began to talk to the police officer holding back traffic.  A restaurant was on fire.  The road was closed in both directions because the fire department was on its way and the fire hydrant was located across the road from the restaurant.  The officer guessed the road would be closed for hours, and that he was simply waiting for word about where the detour should go.  He was aware that I was riding RAAM and wanted to help, but couldn’t let me through.  We began to discuss detour options.  It sounded like the closest detour would add about 5 miles to the ride.  He told me to wait a minute.  He then went on foot to his counterpoint blocking traffic going the other way, and after a couple of minutes of animated conversation with hand waving and frequent use of the radio, he came walking back and moved his car and traffic began flowing once again.  The restaurant was still on fire, but evidently the fire department brought in a pumper truck.  That delay was also about 10 minutes.

Delays due to mechanical failures also contributed to a change in plans.  Twice with our two riders, as we pulled a bike off the rack and set it on the ground we discovered a flat tire.  Each time the other rider in the van took an extra turn while the other pulled the bike into the van and repaired the flat.  The other two riders were not so lucky.  They had about 8-10 flats they had to adjust to, and for each one, there was a bit of a delay and an impact on rest and sleep.

The biggest mechanical failure was a result of road construction.  One rider was stopped at a flagger.  The flagger insisted that the cyclist proceed over unrolled newly laid asphalt.  The cyclist objected, but the flagger was insistent that the cyclist could not ride in the roadway.  The asphalt stuck to the wheels, to the brakes, to the drive chain and about $1,000 worth of damage resulted.  The tar destroyed the derailleur, the derailleur hanger, bent 3 links of the chain, and bent a tooth of a rear gear.  The cyclist had to change bikes.  The cyclist was verbally abusive to the flagger.

Even the normal construction caused some delays.  The flaggers might wave us through fairly quickly, but traffic was often slower than our usual pace, and very hazardous.  In one place there was a convoy of equipment going the same direction we were going.  We first encountered the roller, then machines laying asphalt, then machines melting asphalt (that’s pretty hot going by one of those on a bicycle!), and finally the milling machine removing old asphalt.  What a mess to be riding by that while the work is going on.

Traffic accidents/incidents caused delays.  I jumped on the bike in Sedona, Arizona.  It was a crazy, congested town with a lot of traffic and the downtown area full of construction cones and very narrow lanes.  Leaving the town means going uphill.  As I started the climb, traffic came to a complete stop on the narrow, twisty road.  Passing the cars that were stopped, I came upon a fender-bender.  There was no shoulder, so the vehicles in the accident simply stopped in the roadway.  I went around them, but that meant that my follow vehicles were stuck in traffic.  I climbed.  I climbed some more.  I hit the switchbacks and still I climbed.  This was a long turn on the bike since none of the support vehicles could get through until the accident was cleared.

Detours

By far the thing that impacted us the most were the detours.  Many of them were known by race headquarters and specific instructions were given as to the approved detour.

For instance, one bridge over a railroad track was being repaired and no longer had a deck on it.  The detour was a simple 3 miles, 1 mile south, one mile east, one mile north.  Simple … except for the fact that it was all on loose, dry gravel.  The amount of traffic using the detour meant that the dust was so thick that it was hard to see a vehicle ahead of you.

Early June saw heavier than usual rains in the middle of the country.  Flooding took out many planned sections of the route.  There were brand new routes communicated by race headquarters to the racers.  In Jefferson City, Missouri, the flat, fast route was replaced by a convoluted, very hilly route, through some of the rougher sections of town, with a lot of stop signs and traffic lights.  We hit that at night.  Flat?  Not at all!  On my turn, I had a 15% uphill just as I got on the bike.  Yes, a bit of delay compared to the original planned route.

Not all the detours were planned.  In fact, I can think of at least two occasions where we were one of the first to encounter an emergency road closure.  One was a bridge that was flooded in Maryland.  The other was in the middle of the night in some small town in some state where police had closed the road (traffic accident?).  Before each of these detours, a call had to be made to headquarters, the road closure described, they had to select a new route, and we got to ride extra miles.

Road/Race Conditions

While most of the things above didn’t necessarily affect all teams, and certainly did not affect all teams evenly, every team encountered issues.  By far the greatest factor challenging the riders plans had to do with road/race conditions.  Temperatures in the desert were 5-10°F hotter than usual.  Extreme heat warnings were out for the first few days of our race.  Winds hitting one team in the face might change up to being a strong tailwind for a team a few hours ahead or behind.  Sand blowing across the road near the Salton Sea didn’t affect everyone.  Some teams didn’t have a drop of rain fall on them while we had torrential downpours.  Milled roads under construction and gravel roads were unavoidable on certain sections.  We were supposed to stay on the shoulder of the roadways as much as possible.  The debris on some of those roads made it look like a landfill.

The road conditions that nearly ended my race was unpacked asphalt on the shoulder of the road in 95-100° F temperatures.  The asphalt looked tight and well packed, but when I hit it at 20 mph it was as if I suddenly was on loose sand or gravel.  My bike skidded and fishtailed and only superior bike handling skills and a pulled muscle in my back kept me upright.  I signaled to the crew for a rider exchange.  I laid on an ice pack for 90 minutes before I decided I could ride again.  That muscle still isn’t quite right, giving me some pain at times.

Flexibility is a key component of RAAM.  There is an overall plan, but as you can see, adaptation is the name of the game.

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From → Cycling, RAAM

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