arrived, the one I’d been waiting for, training for, losing
sleep over. The countdown to the start of what would prove to be
the most difficult endeavor I’d ever undertaken was upon me,
RAAM had begun. The first miles were quite easy going. The entire
group of riders would stay together for the first 15 miles or so.
It’s what they call the parade route. Talk was limited on
my part, I tried a few times to engage other riders in conversation,
but not too much avail. At one point I found myself along side Rob
Kish, the icon of ultra marathon cycling having completed RAAM in
all of his previous 16 years. Struggling to find something relevant
to say, I mentioned that he was “quite an inspiration”
or something to that effect only to be scoffed by another rider.
I purposed at that moment to at least defeat this other veteran
rider if that was all I did. That proved quite easy as he DNF’d
about a third of the way into the race.
As the parade route came
to an end and we were left to begin establishing our positions,
I found myself focusing on “riding my own ride.” I didn’t
intend to be swayed or pressured into keeping anyone else’s
pace but my own. After all, this was a 3000 mile race: what did
it matter what position I was in for the first 100 or even the first
1000 miles for that matter?
To make the race “more
interesting”, race organizers decided to add “primes”
to this year’s race - little races within the race offering
bonus cash (in this case $500), to the winner. Three primes were
offered, the first being awarded to the person who reached time
station one (Maupin, Oregon) ahead of the rest of the field. While
$500.00 was quite a temptation, especially considering how much
this race cost me to be a part of, I had made the decision that
I would not go for it. “This is a 3000 mile race,” I
kept telling myself. “If I push too hard now, I may hinder
tomorrow’s performance.” Besides, to receive the prime
money you had to finish the race so thoughts of going for the cash
and counting my losses hardly seemed practical. I was here to do
my best, finish this race and be “rookie of the year,”
those were my goals and I was intent on reaching them. I found myself
in 1st place at the front of the field and was still riding my own
pace. “Could this pace get me to Maupin first”, I asked
myself. “NO just stay focused on your goal,” I replied
to the somewhat schizophrenic conversation going on in my head.
“But I’m even ahead of Fasching,” I argued further.
Austrian Wolfgang Fasching,
having won this race in quite convincing style two times prior and
recently summiting Mount Everest, was the definite favorite. But
I was ahead of him now and even though we were only 30 miles into
the race, it felt pretty good. As we drew nearer to time station
one, my lead proved brief as other riders, with dollar signs in
their eyes, pushed up to the summits of Government camp and Blue
Box passes. As we repeatedly leapfrogged one another, I lost count
of the number of riders ahead of me. But one thing I was sure of,
Fasching was up there and now my job was to ride my ride as planned.
It was to no ones surprise Fasching was the first rider to Maupin
and no surprise to me that I would never see him again unless I
made it to Pensacola.
the end of the first days riding, after passing and being passed
multiple times, I found myself securely in second place only 1½
hours behind Fasching. Pre-race jitters had made sleep the night
before next to impossible, so faced with the unknown element of
a multi-day race and a tired rider, my crew opted to put me down
in Unity, Oregon for an unplanned and unwanted sleep break. But
after 1½ hours I was back on the road chasing down Germany’s
Stefan Lau who had passed while I slept, a scene that would play
out a number of times in the days to come.