This song by Randy Travis was continually playing through my head during RAAM and it was often the backdrop for my experiences.
“My love is deeper than the holler, stronger than the rivers
Higher than the pine trees growin’ tall upon the hill
My love is purer than the snowflakes that fall in late December
And honest as a robin on a springtime windowsill
And longer than the song of a whippoorwill.”
My love is for my family and how grateful to have them to love.
My love is for this great country that opened itself up to me
My love is for the lessons that I learned along the way that fundamentally changed me, that taught me to live life in that moment and that fear is only fear and cannot, in itself, change the realities of danger.
My love had to override the terror I had that any moment could be my last.
My love is for the members of team Shake and how they made our part of this journey not only possible but a thing of beauty.
The night I arrived home, and as I finally slept, the purity of the rider exchanges that Jeff Richardson and Tuner Richardson facilitated between Neil and me came to me over and over again in dreams. Whenever I woke up I felt what it had been like to be part of this wonderful process. During RAAM, the energy that flowed from each exchange we made propelled me down the road mile by mile.
My cue that the end my riding segment was approaching – be it 5 or 15 minutes – was seeing our Tahoe (Racer Vehicle) and its flashing lights pulled over up ahead. Jeff and Turner would be out in their positions, with Jeff holding Neil for her start and Turner at the ready to take my bike and put it onto the rack. I’d cruise past Neil and cheer her on as I quickly slowed down and pulled to the right and off the road. Turner was always the rock that I could rely on as I then bent over my handlebars, gasping for breath. Seriously, every time. He’d patiently wait as I turned off my Joule GPS+ and accepted anything I had to say about that pull as I got off the bike. My only duty after that handoff was to get myself safely into the Tahoe and cool myself down, eat, drink, and take whatever Hammer Nutrition products I thought I needed at the time.
Jeff would make sure that we had everything secure and then it was off to leapfrog Neil. I would be relieved when I saw that she was riding safe and sound up ahead, and as we drove past her I was always inspired by her strength and purpose as she moved our group forward with every pedal stroke. She never ever ceased to amaze me.
While Jeff looked for the next perfect exchange site he also pointed out the beautiful and unique things along the way. There were always impromptu photo sessions. As I readied myself for the next exchange I was able to make note of the things he highlighted that I would never have noticed on my own. We also had endless conversations about what we were seeing, prior life experiences, and shared our beliefs in what was most important in life.
RAAM rules state that the Racer Vehicle had to be parked at least 5 feet to the right of the white line (fog line) but Jeff could regularly find an almost perfect spot. The stopwatch was restarted when we each started our pull so we were never in danger of being out there too long, tiring too much and slowing down. On long descents whoever was riding got to take the entire thing. Fun!
When Jeff thought it was time I would get out of the Tahoe, get my bike in the correct gear, and be at the ready for when Neil passed me and I could start. This was the time to look at the sky and see the Milky Way and shooting stars and the beautiful sunsets that had been to our back. When Neil arrived I’d cheer my appreciation for her effort and she would cheer me on for my pull. Jeff would push me off, his own effort so powerful that when he stopped pushing me the difference was astounding. The pedaling was now all up to me.
While I was out there I worked on being as efficient as possible with aerodynamics and power and on being as focused as possible in order to avoid driving my bike into any problems, be it disappearing shoulders, sudden road debris, potholes, road kill, or rumble strips. Every second counted and I’d work at getting as much out of each pedal stroke as possible without overdoing it and burying myself. I’d focus on the present tense, staying in the moment in order to be as careful as possible so I could ride as fast as possible.
I learned to love riding in the night. Tom Gray and Buzz Gamble were charged with the unenviable task of keeping us safe from behind. From 7PM to 7AM it was mandatory to have a vehicle follow us at all times, and racers were required to stay within the headlights. I always looked forward to this time, called mandatory direct follow. I was amazed at how much the headlights allowed me to see while riding, but it was also a precarious position to be in, with a vehicle following so closely. The headlights also did a good job of illuminating our exchanges, a silent helper, if you will.
It was not until it was completely dark that our conversation would change to how many miles we had left until our shift was complete and Bake would take over. Wind conditions would have to be factored into our ETA and there were also the unknown things like traffic lights that would take away from our average speed. Sometimes it seemed that I’d get to every light just as it turned red. But the exchanges between Neil and me continued to flow as they had done all day, with me clearing my brain in brief meditation while Jeff counted down the pedal strokes left until Neil passed me and I could start my next pull.
Eventually we would get down to the last pull of the night with that person charged to ride to the predetermined site. That person had to keep focused on riding while the rider in the Tahoe could now think about a shower, dinner, and massage, and the camaraderie of all the other support team members who were waiting to help us transition from active racer to recovering racer. Ana with her massages, Beth and Karen with food and encouragement, Peter, Mick and Dreux carrying bags, offering support, and driving us to our next hotel. And, of course, Dave Eldridge directing the entire process so it would go as efficiently as possible.
Another day of RAAM riding completed safely. More lessons learned. Even more places and people to be thankful for and to love.
Meanwhile, Trish Karter and Susan Lynch were now out there riding their segment -- Bake was on the road, Mary and Barb were their follow vehicle and Phil and Carolyn were in their racer vehicle, facilitating their racer exchanges just as Jeff and Turner had facilitated ours. We only got to see Team Bake in passing, but it was always with well wishes for what they were about to do or cheers for what they had just completed as we set out to start another day.