Race Across America is the world’s toughest bicycle race, so naturally, I was in. The wheels started turning for RAAM in 2016 when I crewed my friend Rob for his 12 day solo race. I’m not much of a cyclist (heck, I borrowed a bike for RAAM!) so a 4 person team sounded smarter than going solo. Our team, 4 Dudes Race 3000 Miles To A Cure, would include myself, Ryan Jean, Erik Braun, and Matteo Seconi. We rode for 3000 Miles To A Cure to raise funds and awareness for brain cancer research.
I’ve never even ridden a bike 100 miles, but I’ve run 100 miles!
The first thing on the agenda when we arrived in Oceanside, CA was to cut ourselves some truly epic mustaches.
(Yeah, I know…I’m not sure why we always have to have mustaches, but it is what it is!)
Next was finalizing our plans. We spent 2 days sorting gear, organizing lists, covering our crew vans with stickers, and checking over the bikes. Once everything was done we sat around the RV with beers to calm the nerves. The 3,000 mile race from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD would take more than a week of constant riding and crewing. Once the race started, there wouldn’t be much downtime until the Atlantic Ocean.
We kept our team as light as possible, just 9 people total. That worked out to 2 crew members per cyclist, one to drive and one to navigate, with one floating crew member to help shuttle the RV ahead. We used 2 mini-vans to follow the 2 cyclists on shift who would leap frog back and forth for 6-10 hours, while everyone else crammed into the RV when off shift to get some rest. My dedicated crew members would be Brian Sarvis, who hiked the first 700 miles of the Appalachian Trail with me, and Rob DeCou, 2016 RAAM finisher. We were incredibly lucky to not only have Rob on our crew, but also Marshall Reeves as our Crew Chief, who Ryan crewed to a 2016 RAAM solo finish as well!
The day of the race we were the first of the 4 person teams released. We rode as a team for the first few miles and Ryan and I continued together to meet Matteo and Erik for their first leapfrog shift. Our shifts got shorter later in the day as we entered Borrego Springs and felt the furnace blast of the 107 degree heat. That night Ryan and I pulled the first night shift and my pace picked up with the cooler weather leading into Parker, Arizona, one state down.
From there Erik and Matteo took over and Ryan and I shuttled ahead to get some sleep. I woke up in Prescott, Arizona in time to have a cup of coffee with my grandpa and his buddys at the retirement home while the crew headed to my Aunt and Uncle’s house to shower, make breakfast, and sleep. Later in the day Dad and Kathy brought Grandpa down to the time station and they were able to watch Ryan and I take off pedaling toward Flagstaff.
That afternoon Ryan and I were once again treated to 100+ degree heat. As I descended through the historic mining town of Jerome and into the Verde Valley I felt the temperature rising above 105 degrees. We rode back up into the Arizona hills though and by the time we rolled into Flagstaff after dark there was a nice chill in the air. We swapped riders and crew and got a short nap in a hotel room before driving east where Ryan and I would ride our next shift through Monument Valley, Utah and a third day of 100+ degree heat.
Erik and Matteo crushed their next shift through the beginning of Colorado and we took over at the base of Wolf Creek Pass, the highest point on the RAAM course. Ryan and I split the climb into small chunks, pushing half mile sprints while our crews blasted music from the vans, cheering us up the mountain. I did the last half mile push, completely depleted at the summit, but putting Ryan in position to bomb down the other side of the mountain for a pretty radical all out descent. It would be miles before our crew van would even catch him.
Matteo and Erik took care of the next two mountain passes in Colorado and Ryan and I picked back up to finish off the state before heading into Kansas. Kansas would be a nice change to flat land, as long as the headwinds didn’t make flats harder than the mountain climbs. Ryan and I traded off back and forth, covering 7-10 miles per push before taking a break. I got my only flat tire of the race here, but my crew was close behind and within minutes Rob and Brian had a new wheel on my bike and I was off spinning ahead.
Kansas greeted Erik and Matteo with some seriously wild weather. Just moments after taking over dark clouds moved in and a downpour of rain flooded the streets then turned to golf ball sized hail pelting Matteo on the bike. The guys had to take cover in the vans for nearly an hour while the storm battered the Kansas plains.
Kansas disappeared behind us and we attacked Missouri. My lowest low happened here while Ryan and I pushed through the night, covering ground through the rolling hills. Each shift I hopped on the bike with the only visible light from my lamp and the van’s headlights. The night seemed to close in around me, silent except for my wheels spinning, sleep stubbornly trying to overtake my alertness. Several times in the night I heard dogs chasing me but couldn’t see anything, which made them sound more like werewolves than K9’s. As the night droned on I sipped cans of RedBull between 10 mile shifts, but Rob and Brian still had to wake me up to get back on the bike.
The next morning Matteo and Erik rode across the Mississippi River, meaning we were officially half way through Race Across America. Although the Rockies were behind us, the undulating hills of the Midwest and Appalachian range meant that some of the most challenging riding was still ahead of us.
With Missouri out of the way and a few hours of sleep to reset my mood and I was ready to hammer through Illinois. Ryan and I traded with side winds battering our bikes, but I was incredibly stoked when during one of my shifts I turned a corner and crossed a bridge under a large sign welcoming me to my home state of Indiana!
Ryan and I rode into Bloomington and Matteo and Erik took over for Central Indiana. Our crew napped there a few hours before moving on and David and I rolled out sleeping bags in the parking lot. Our restless slumber was interrupted an hour later when rain started falling and we took cover under the RV. We drove on through the storms and arrived in a small town to visit with Mom and Tom who had driven several hours from home to see our team pass by.
From Indiana we rode into Ohio and across the state to West Virginia. By this point the wonderful weather that Ryan and I had been blessed with passed on and overnight thunderstorms rolled in. Ryan and I traded off shifts, prolonging the pulls as long as possible until we were too cold and wet and needed to hop back in a van to warm up.
We swapped with Matteo and Erik a few more times as we passed through Pennsylvania and Maryland and inched toward the finish line at Annapolis. For the last few miles all 4 Dudes rode along with our 2016 solo finishers Rob DeCou and Marshall Reeves toward the Atlantic. We wound through the streets of Annapolis to cheers from people on the sidewalks and honks from cars at intersections. Finally, 7 Days, 4 Hours, and 28 Minutes after our start in Oceanside, we crossed under the finish line banner and officially completed the Race Across America..
As the sun set we celebrated together, friends watched via Facebook Live, and well earned brews were passed around. The festivities peaked with several of us jumping into the brackish water off the dock. Unfortunately, Ryan and I both jumped into the water with our cell phones in our jersey pockets, the only causalities of the trip.
Of the 4 Dudes, Matteo and Erik had really pushed the pace, while Ryan crushed and took on extra duties to pull me along. Being the least experienced cyclist I was just happy to finish in one piece. My original goal had been to not be the weakest link on our team, but as I got into cycle training, I edited that to not being the weakest link on the team…by much. I couldn’t have done it without those guys, and I’m sure they could have done it much faster without me, but I’m gonna to stick with our unofficial motto for Race Across America 2017:
We may not have the fastest time…
But we’re going to have the BEST time!
Finally, and most importantly, through the 7 day race we were able to raise more than $40,000 for brain cancer research. Just like in 2016, we were in awe of the support and personal stories we heard across the United States. Brain cancer impacts so many people’s lives forever and the outpouring of emotions we experienced on course as well as the online support and fundraising we received is what really makes Race Across America and 3000 Miles To A Cure something special.
Even though we’re done racing RAAM, and I’ve returned my borrowed bike and dropped off my cycling gear at Goodwill, we still support 3000 Miles To A Cure, and if you can, take a moment today to go to www.3000milestoacure.com and show your support as well. Thank you!