Road biking, dirt road riding on Frankenbike, tandem riding, group riding, time trialing, randonneuring - I love to ride, and I love to write. As I've traveled along on two wheels, I've learned one thing: Expect Adventure. Join me on the journey!

Betty Jean Jordan

Sunday, July 26, 2015


Cosmo (racing name Mesa Cajun): July 4, 2000 – July 24, 2015

This isn't a cycling entry, but one of the few things I love as much as cycling is my dogs.

I wasn’t ready to post until now, but on Friday Robert and I had to say goodbye to Cosmo.  He was such a good, sweet friend for so many years.  I miss him terribly.  I was thrilled that he made it to his 15th birthday earlier this month.  He’s the oldest greyhound we ever had.  He really did quite well in his old age up until about his last week.  In August 2011, he had a really bad spell (maybe his heart).  The vet got him through that and said that Cosmo might live another six months.  For that reason, we have especially cherished every day since then – nearly four years!

We adopted Cosmo in July 2003, shortly after he came off of the racetrack.  Robert was into triathlon back then.  He had a race in Acworth, just a few miles from the Southeastern Greyhound Adoption (SEGA) kennel.  (I've volunteered with SEGA for many years.)  We went to the kennel after the race, where we completed Cosmo's adoption.

Those who are closest to me get multiple nicknames, and Cosmo was no different.  The best way I know to pay tribute to him is to describe his various nicknames and where they came from.

Cosmo Conehead – Cosmo’s ears always stood up rather than lying back in the usual greyhound rosette way.  Several times at GreyFest (SEGA's annual greyhound festival), he won the Funniest Ears contest.  Sometimes he even put them together in a triangle, which made me think of the Coneheads from Saturday Night Live.

Barfy Boy – TMI, I know!  Poor Cosmo had a sensitive stomach his whole life.  He even barfed on that long ride home from the kennel on the day we adopted him.  Sometimes he would get this rather green look on his face, and I would say, “No barfy, Cosmo!”  It actually seemed to work.  Before my time trials, I often get all worked up and nervous.  I relax by telling myself, “No barfy!”

Cosmo Klepto – Cosmo loved stealing unattended shoes.  We quickly learned to keep them out of reach, but occasionally we would forget.  The funniest thing was when he would pick up one of Robert’s heavy work boots and carry it in his mouth.  Cosmo also loved to steal stuffed animals, particularly a stuffed bat of mine.  Fortunately, Cosmo never chewed up the things he stole.  He just carried them to the basement or into the backyard.

Poultry Hound – Cosmo loved any kind of meat, but he went gaga over chicken and turkey.  One time I was preparing our Thanksgiving turkey.  It was a couple of days ahead of time, and I carried the turkey out to the garage to place in a cooler of ice to brine.  I left the bag of giblets in the sink, intending to throw them away as soon as I walked back into the kitchen.  Can you believe that in those few moments, Cosmo climbed up into the sink, grabbed the bag of giblets, and carried it down to the basement?  There was a telltale trail of giblet juice that gave him away.

Additionally, Cosmo was the best greyhound I’ve ever had for meet & greets and pet therapy.  He was so patient.  One time a little girl at a meet & greet poked him right in the eye (intentionally), but he didn’t flinch.  Another time, we were at pet therapy visiting with a particular man who had Alzheimer’s.  Usually this man didn’t respond to us when we walked up and said hello, but that day he sure did.  He reached out, grabbed Cosmo around the snout, and began to squeeze!  Inside I panicked, but I calmly and carefully pried the man’s fingers from around Cosmo’s snout.  None of this fazed Cosmo.  It’s as if he knew that this person needed special care.

Cosmo was always the alpha dog, but he was quiet about it.  Mr. Spock – my other greyhound, who is quirky and insecure (but sweet) – always submitted reluctantly to Cosmo’s authority but seemed to look up to him, too.  Mr. Spock is missing his nemesis.  Our beagle Shelly seems rather lost, too.

Twelve years with a greyhound is quite a gift, but I still wish we had more time.  I’m grateful for all the love and fun times we had together.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Tour de Peach

While the pros were battling it out in Europe on Saturday during the Tour de France, we Middle Georgia cyclists pedaled our way to four peach farms over 105 miles in the Tour de Peach.  The contest here was: who has the best peach ice cream?  I took a highly scientific approach to determine the winner.

The four contenders were Dickey Farms, Pearson Farm, Brown Farms, and Lane Southern Orchards.  I created an assessment form to objectively evaluate the peach ice cream at each location:

Science has never been so delicious.  I must confess that I had been to all of these farms before except for Brown Farms.  This implies bias.  However, my previous research did not quantify the data.  Thus, I had confidence in my experimental procedures.

The ride started at 8:00 A.M. in Warner Robins.  Although I had invited others to become researchers as well, I’m not aware of any who conducted their own official experiments.  Perhaps a lack of funding kept them from adding to the body of research.  (The ride was free, but we did have to pay for ice cream at each place.)  Regardless, it was sure to be a peachy day for both cycling and ice cream.  Allez!  Allez!

First, we stopped at Dickey Farms in Musella.  For years my Macon cycling friends have talked about riding to Dickey Farms for peach ice cream in the summertime.  I got to go there for the first time about a month ago, on the Peaches & Lakes 200K permanent (see my blog entry dated 6/8/15).  Their ice cream was so delicious then that I greatly anticipated it on the Tour de Peach.  I also knew that it would set the bar high for the other contenders.  Sure enough, I gave Dickey Farms a 5 in every assessment category.  It breaks away from the pack with its intense peachiness.

Next we went to Pearson Farm.  I had gone there recently for the first time, too.  On the way to a job site at a landfill, I noticed a sign for peaches at Pearson Farm near Fort Valley.  It was a hot day, and I started thinking about how good some peach ice cream would be.  I figured they probably had ice cream as well as fresh peaches and decided to stop on my way back to the office.  While I was at the landfill, I asked the operator if he knew whether Pearson Farm had peach ice cream.  He said yes, but there was no need to go there; Brown Farms was just a couple of miles down the road.  Excellent!  I went to Brown Farms, but unfortunately, they didn’t have any ice cream that day.  Bummer.  At least I could revert to my original plan of going to Pearson Farm.  It hit the spot then, and it hit the spot this past Saturday, too.  I gave it a 4 in every category.  It’s an all-around good peach ice cream.  Another bonus is that you can watch fresh peaches go by on a conveyor belt as they are prepared for shipping.  Incidentally, several of my comrades ordered a muscadine slushy.  Now, I love muscadines almost as much as I love peaches.  Looks like another visit to Pearson Farm for a muscadine slushy will be in order when my work next takes me to that area.

The third stop on Tour de Peach was Brown Farms.  This time they had ice cream – yea!  It looked beautiful, having flecks of peach throughout.  It was more frozen than the soft-serve at the first two farms, but that wasn’t a minus; the texture was creamy and delectable.  The only downside was that it didn’t taste particularly peachy.  If it had, it would have been vying with Dickey Farms for the yellow jersey.  Or should I say, peach jersey?

Finally, we got to Lane Southern Orchards, only about 10 miles from the end of the ride.  Riding on mostly flat terrain, our group had been keeping up a fairly intense pace, about 20 mph.  By this point, most of my cycling companions were severely wilting (or worse, cramping) in the heat, and a few decided to forgo the last stop altogether and simply finish the ride.  Several of us needed a water refill, though, and I wanted to complete my peach ice cream research.  Lane is the largest operation of the four farms that we visited.  In addition to peaches, it has all kinds of peach products, other produce, and various gift items.  Because of its close proximity to I-75 and significant advertising, Lane draws numerous tourists passing through.  Saturday was a prototypical hot summer day; the place was packed.  The restaurant line snaked across the store.  It would have taken quite a while to get ice cream, and so I didn’t get to try my last Tour de Peach sample.  Lane Southern Orchard DNFed, or technically probably DNSed.  Isn’t that the pits?  At least I had had Lane’s peach ice cream before.  It’s good (come on, is there really any bad peach ice cream?) but not quite as good as the other three.

Dickey Farms stands atop the peach ice cream podium!

Clockwise from upper left corner: Dickey Farms, Pearson Farm, Brown Farms, empty peach yogurt container from that morning's breakfast since the line was too long at Lane Southern Orchards to wait for peach ice cream

Friday, July 3, 2015

RAAM Report

What an adventure!  3,004 miles in 7 days, 7 hours, and 21 minutes!  I am so happy that my Sorella RAAM Cycling Team – riders and crew – completed the journey safely and strongly.  It wasn’t easy, but I found that keeping a positive attitude and finding as much humor as possible in this whole crazy adventure made it a lot of fun.  (Hold onto your helmets – this will take almost as long as RAAM itself.)

The Riders

I had fantastic teammates: Jennifer, Korey, and Lauren.

Korey, Lauren, Jennifer, and me (before we got stinky)
The four of us are quite different, yet we each brought abilities and perspectives that made our team stronger as a whole.

Jennifer – She has been riding and racing for years, and that storehouse of base mileage served her well.  Even more amazingly, Jennifer was still able to participate in RAAM even after breaking her collarbone in April.  She had some top-notch doctors and trainers who helped her heal quickly.  Between that her intense mental resolve, she was RAAM ready!

Korey – Korey is the heart and soul of our team.  It has been her dream for several years to complete RAAM.  She has worked and prayed diligently to make it happen, including crewing for a RAAM team last year.  Originally from Mexico, Korey particularly desires to empower women who come from disadvantaged circumstances such as hers.  If you spend any time with Korey, you can’t help but be inspired by her loving, generous spirit.

Lauren – We were so thankful to have Lauren’s expertise from her two previous RAAM races.  She made great suggestions on everything from equipment to rider schedules.  Furthermore, she is a strong cyclist, honing her skills regularly as a triathlete and personal trainer.  Lauren kept us focused on getting to the finish line as fast as possible!

Betty Jean – After training so hard for months before RAAM, I focused almost exclusively on the ride itself.  That discipline paid off because I felt good – better than I expected – throughout the race.  Also, I recover quickly, a real boon for participating in RAAM.  Additionally, I was the team nerd and jokester.

Ruh roh!  Someone added to the label on this cabinet in the RV.  I wonder who it could have been?
Probably one of those meddling kids.

The Crew

Of course riders are necessary, but the best team in the world can’t compete without a good crew.  We had a wonderful one!  They made our race possible by driving support vehicles, navigating, feeding us, maintaining our bicycles and equipment, washing our clothes, massaging us, and encouraging us with every pedal stroke.  (Need more cowbell!)  Their job was even harder than riding a bicycle across the country.  I can never thank each crew member enough:

Adam – He drove the party (leapfrog) van, always made sure our bicycles had lights and other necessities on every leg, grinned mischievously, and sang “Coal Miner’s Daughter” as we drove through West Virginia in the middle of the night.

Chrissy – She served as a leapfrog van navigator and always had a can-do attitude.  My favorite memory of Chrissy is when I woke up from a nap and stepped out of the RV into a grocery store parking lot in Kansas.  She had our freshly washed kits draped over a shopping cart and was drying each piece one at a time by waving it in the warm, late afternoon wind.  I didn’t have my phone with me, but I’ll always have that cute mental picture.

Dan – One of our co-crew chiefs, Dan was a primary contact between our team and RAAM headquarters.  He built a great rapport with RAAM officials.  This was especially important because our team encountered numerous detours.  Dan also drove miles and miles as the direct follow vehicle behind us riders.  Direct follow was required at night.  Although direct follow wasn’t required during the day, we usually utilized it then anyway as a safety precaution.

Denise – Her magic touch soothed our sore muscles as she massaged out the lactic acid.  I’ve had relaxing massage before, but this was sports massage.  Denise got my body to move in ways that I didn’t know it could move.  She definitely knows her stuff!

Divya – Divya joined our team only a couple of weeks before the start when her original crewing arrangements fell through.  Coming from India, she already had her flight booked and, therefore, was looking for another team to work with.  How fortunate that we were able to connect with her!  Divya has crewed and officiated with RAAM several times before and brought a great deal of knowledge about the rules and other aspects of the race.  Her ultimate goal is to learn enough about RAAM to bring a team from India, where she is a primary advocate for cycling.  In fact, she even heads Audax India Randonneurs.  In addition to having overall RAAM crewing expertise, Divya is an excellent cook!  Our favorite thing she made us was a delicious beef curry served over rice.  Now about that blueberry bagel, ham, and ranch dressing sandwich…

Emily – Our other co-crew chief, Emily kept everything humming.  One way she particularly shone was as a mediator.  Fun and exciting as the week was, there were definitely points of contention among the group.  Emily’s calm and kind demeanor helped us smooth out those rough spots.  We also appreciated her being willing to be away from her husband and young son, who turned two on the day we crossed the finish line!

Jeremy – Jeremy took turns with Adam driving the leapfrog van.  Ever levelheaded, Jeremy’s no-nonsense demeanor saved our bacon several times when we could have gone off course.  Also, I love his speaking voice!  He could be an announcer.

Madeline – Our youngest crew member, Madeline is a rising high school senior and an avid cyclist.  She helped navigate when Dan drove.  She also built quite a reputation as maker of yummy sandwiches.  Whether it was mini beef burritos wrapped in foil, a chicken and hummus sandwich, or peanut butter and jelly on a tortilla, we riders could always look forward to whatever deliciousness that Madeline prepared for us.

Michelle – Our most excellent deejay!  And she can play music while she navigates!  Michelle really helped keep us going during those hardest wee hours, about 3:00 – 6:00 AM.  She, Adam, and Peyton helped me go faster because I was always eager to get back to the leapfrog van for more music, jokes, shenanigans, and tomfoolery.  Additionally, Michelle communicated calmly and clearly with other crew members and RAAM officials.

Patrick – Patrick was another last-minute addition to our team, and he proved to be invaluable.  A professional truck driver, he enthusiastically jumped in to drive our RV all week.  He is used to odd sleep schedules and not having all the comforts of home.  At the same time, he opened my eyes to the luxuries of truck stop culture.  We got to take showers at a couple of truck stops along the way.  They were such clean, user-friendly facilities.  Despite the cramped, noisy, smelly conditions of the RV, Patrick said he wants to crew for RAAM again next year!

Peyton – One of our two film crew members, Peyton documented all of the race action from the leapfrog van.  In fact, after spending the first night in the RV, he decided to spend the remaining nights in the van.  We joked that if Peyton emerged from the van and saw his shadow, it meant six more days of riding.  Besides filming our race, Peyton did so much to keep up the morale of us riders, interjecting loads of humor or simply listening if need be.

Sam – Having just finished his first year of college, Sam was the other young pup on our crew.  He didn’t say much all week, but with 17 people on the team, it was good that not everyone was a chatterbox.  Sam came through with flying colors on all of his responsibilities.  He navigated for the direct follow van and was Johnny-on-the-spot, moving the riders’ go-boxes of essential equipment when we changed shifts.  Sam has a nice smile, too :)

Whitney – With experience as both a cyclist and professional cinematographer, particularly on sports related topics, Whitney was an ideal film crew member.  She also had the warmest personality and an excellent sense of humor.  Or should I say egg-cellent sense of humor?  (I wonder where she got that mask?)


Lauren lives about 45 minutes from Oceanside, California, the RAAM starting location.  She graciously allowed everyone to stay at her house in the week preceding the team race start on June 20.  Dan, Madeline, Sam, and Stefanie drove our two team minivans from Atlanta to California, leaving a week before the race started and arriving at Lauren’s several days later.  Stefanie was only able to help with driving out (which was huge!), and so she flew back to Atlanta.  Jennifer and Korey flew to California on Monday, June 15.  Those who were there on Tuesday, June 16 got to see the solo RAAM racers start!  I flew to California on Wednesday, June 17.  Most of the rest of the crew (Adam, Chrissy, Denise, Divya, Emily, Jeremy, Michelle, and Patrick) arrived later that Wednesday evening or the following morning.  Once our film crew (Peyton and Whitney) joined us, our team of four riders and 13 crew was complete.  Everyone pitched in to install lights and signage on the vehicles, load gear and food, and clean up the mass chaos we inflicted on Lauren’s house.

We picked up our rental RV in California.  On Friday, June 19 we drove it and the two minivans to Oceanside, where everyone stayed in a motel near the start line.  That afternoon was busy with vehicle, bicycle, and equipment inspections and official team photos.  In addition, we had a special group photo session with all of the women team racers.  This year RAAM had the largest number of women participants ever.

How great to see so many other women who love cycling!

At 5:00 PM we attended a mandatory racers’ meeting.  In addition to reviewing the race rules and other important information, the RAAM organizers introduced each team.  Teams can consist of two, four, or eight people and can be male, female, or mixed.  I especially enjoyed seeing how many teams came from other countries: Australia, Brazil, Denmark, India, Ireland, Japan, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.  What a fascinating way for these visitors to see our country!

After the racers’ meeting my Sorella RAAM team celebrated at a local pizza place.  We savored our last civilized meal before the race.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The next morning we packed up and went to the staging area near the start line at the pier.  Because the race didn’t start until noon PDT (3:00 PM EDT), we didn’t have to rush to be ready for the start.  We soaked in the festive, excitement-charged atmosphere.

At last it was time for us to line up.  The teams started one at a time, going off at one-minute intervals.  Jennifer, Korey, Lauren, and I were able to ride together for the parade start over the first seven miles.  We were instructed to ride no faster than 15 mph during this section.  At the end of the parade section, Korey and I peeled off, and Jennifer and Lauren continued to the 23-mile mark.  These first 23 miles were on a bicycle path on which vehicles are not allowed.  Therefore, we kept two riders on this remaining section; just in case something happened to one person, the other could continue.  Jennifer and Lauren both made it fine.  At that point, Jennifer got into the leapfrog vehicle to continue Lauren’s and her first shift.  Korey and I went to the RV to rest until our first shift began four hours later.

We worked in teams of two like this throughout the race.  Lauren rode for 30 minutes while Jennifer rode in the leapfrog van.  Then, Jennifer rode her bicycle for 30 minutes while Lauren rode in the leapfrog van.  After four hours, they went to the RV to sleep and eat.  While they rested for four hours, Korey and I alternated riding and leapfrogging for 30 minutes at a time in the same way that Jennifer and Lauren did.  We kept up this same general shift schedule for the entire race.  We also planned to ride some shifts of five to six hours so that the same riders weren’t always riding at the same times of day.  Furthermore, we sometimes rode for 15- to 20-minute intervals if it was particularly steep or hot.  The only downside to this two-team approach is that Korey and I hardly got to see Jennifer and Lauren all week.

A number of people asked me why we did 30-minute pulls as opposed to 1-hour or even longer.  I’ll admit that I was skeptical, too, when I first heard this strategy.  However, I had learned at our mini RAAM training weekend that it really does work.  During actual RAAM, I became certain that this truly is the best four-person team strategy to maximize speed.  We stayed warm between pulls, and by the time 30 minutes elapsed, we were ready for a break.  Multiple rider exchanges weren’t a big deal, either.  Even if they slowed the team down by a few seconds, we made up for it by staying as fresh and strong as possible.

We put Jennifer and Lauren on the first shift because it included the Glass Elevator, a steep descent with hairpin turns down Palomar Mountain.  Lauren has ridden this a number of times and is comfortable with it.  I’m glad because descending is not my strong suit.

I did nap a little bit during that initial rest shift.  We did a team exchange at Borrego Springs, California, the first point at which RVs were allowed on the race course due to safety.  My motto is Expect Adventure, but I didn’t expect to have adventure during my very first shift…

When I got on my bicycle, my shifters wouldn’t work!  I have a Marin Stelvio with Di2 (electronic) shifters.  I had fully charged the shifters at Lauren’s house, and so I knew that wasn’t the issue.  I couldn’t investigate further right then because I needed to simply keep moving forward.  Fortunately, we were in the flat desert, and mercifully I happened to be in a good gear.  I rode single speed for my first two shifts and did pretty well.  I pretended I was my friend Jeff (a.k.a. “Stony”), a super strong cyclist who mashes the pedals and puts the rest of us in the Stony grinder.  I also channeled my friend Chad, time trialist extraordinaire.  This obviously wasn’t a permanent solution, though, particularly as we approached some significant climbs in Arizona.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

As I finished my first overnight shift, the sun was rising over the desert – how beautiful!  After my next sleep shift, the terrain definitely was getting hillier.  I rode one shift on Lauren’s spare tri bike.  Even though we adjusted it as well as possible for my dimensions, I knew it wouldn’t be smart to try to ride with an inexact fit across the rest of the country.

Was there any way to fix my Di2 shifters?  I checked all the external cable connections of the system, but I couldn’t find anything wrong.  I called my husband Robert to see if he had any advice.  I suggested that maybe the 112-degree desert heat had fried the battery.  He said no, Di2 is designed to withstand extreme heat and cold that cyclists potentially can face.  Robert started calling bike shops in the upcoming towns, trying to find a mechanic familiar with Di2 technology.  Nobody could help because that part of the country is much more heavily mountain bike focused than road bike focused, and mountain bikes don’t use Di2.  So we came up with Plan B: purchase another road bike with mechanical shifters.

Robert found a 51-cm Breezer Venturi with a steel frame in Prescott, AZ.  In the meantime, Emily was still trying to find a Di2 mechanic.  Can you believe she found one?  His name was Scott Gordon, a crew member with the Love, Sweat & Gears tandem team.  (Yes, there was a tandem team on RAAM – cool!)  He found a disconnected cable somewhere inside my bicycle and got everything working!  He even cleaned and lubed my bike!  Wow!  Thank you so much, Scott!  You are the true embodiment of good sportsmanship!  Even though my shifters were working again, we were concerned about them going out again later in the race.  Therefore, we went through with the purchase of the Breezer.  I wound up being able to ride my original Marin for the rest of the race, but if I hadn’t bought the Breezer, I’m sure I would have needed it.

Side note: I’m going to auction the Breezer.  Any final bid amount over what Robert and I paid for it will be donated to Wellspring Living, our Sorella RAAM charity.  Wellspring Living helps victims of domestic minor sex trafficking (www.wellspringliving.org).  I hope we can make this a great fundraiser for them!

Monday, June 22, 2015

As we rode into the night, Korey and I passed through the Navajo nation.  RAAM headquarters cautioned us that some of the earlier riders had encountered wild dogs in the area, but fortunately we didn’t see any.

During my next sleep shift, we crossed into Utah.  I woke up as the sun rose and saw that we were approaching Monument Valley:

All four of us got to ride through a portion of Monument Valley.  I was riding when we passed the distinctive Mexican Hat formation, which was also a RAAM time station.  Time stations were set up approximately every 50 miles, but I think this was the first one that we passed while I was riding.  Every time a racer reached a time station, the follow van called the time into RAAM headquarters.  The vehicle carried a transponder, which verified the location and allowed live tracking of the team.

Spending relatively little time in Utah, we soon crossed into Colorado.  We eagerly anticipated the time station at Durango.  This was one of two time cutoffs that we had to make.  Not only did we make it in plenty of time, we also learned that we had no time penalties!  Yea!

I was in the RV when we stopped at Durango, and I dipped my feet into the COLD Animas River before beginning my next ride shift:

The late afternoon sun was beautiful as it shone on the fields and increasingly taller mountains.  We were obviously getting closer to our crossing point over the Rockies, Wolf Creek Pass.  Korey and I rode a good bit of the way up the 10,856-foot climb.  After a team transition, Jennifer and Lauren finished the climb and made the descent.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Korey and I began our next ride shift at about 1:00 AM.  All things considered, I felt pretty good, but I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t going any faster than I was.  The crew in the leapfrog van explained that we were still doing some significant climbing, and the altitude was high.  (It was hard for me to tell what was going on in the dark and in my late-night, fuzzy mental state.)  Only later did I learn that Korey and I climbed to an elevation over 9,000 feet!  No wonder the going was slow.

That shift wound up lasting about six hours.  On my fourth leg, I wasn’t feeling too great.  In fact, that was one of the toughest legs I experienced all week.  I wasn’t yet aware of just how high we were climbing, I had fallen asleep in the leapfrog van, and my stomach was pretty wonky.  Trying to bring some levity to the situation, I imagined that evil gnomes were attacking me.  When I told this to the crew, Peyton asked, “How do you know they’re gnomes instead of elves?’’  Immediately I replied, “Because I’m friends with the elves.”

Miraculously, I felt much better after that tough leg.  We still had a little more climbing to do, but the sun began to rise as we approached the summit.  Then came a fun descent!  It was nice to have a little relief as our shift was ending.  Not only that, the alpine meadows and surrounding mountains were breathtaking in the dawn light.  I even did my best Julie Andrews.

After some refreshing sleep, I woke up to see that we were in the plains.  I asked Divya if we were in Kansas yet.  She said no, but we might as well have been because eastern Colorado looks so similar to Kansas.  As expected, the plains were windy.  Fortunately, we didn’t have much full-on headwind, just crosswinds and the occasional welcome tailwind.  The crosswinds were significant; I felt like I was a one-person echelon.  Even so, we made good time, averaging upwards of 25 mph.

That ride shift ended just as we were crossing into Kansas.  Neither Korey nor I had ever been to Kansas before, and so we rode the last mile of our shift together so that we could cross the Kansas state line together.  That was definitely a highlight of the journey!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The next ride shift got us into the early hours of Wednesday.  My final pull of that shift was another high point of the trip.  Although I was tired, I got a huge energy boost.  Peyton had downloaded Rush’s Clockwork Angels album onto his phone.  I love Rush and this album, particularly the title track.  In fact, Korey (another big Rush fan) and I kind of adopted this song as our RAAM theme song.  Peyton let me borrow his phone.  I cranked up the volume, put the phone in my jersey pocket, and crushed the last few miles of my shift.  Jamming across the plains of Kansas in the middle of the night to this fantastic music is something I won’t soon forget.  I did find that it’s kind of hard to headbang while riding.

The good feeling carried over for me as I began my next ride shift the following morning.  The temperature was great.  The giant chicken made an appearance.  We went through Towanda, Kansas, which reminded me of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes: TOWANDA!  Finally, I saw a sign at a business that had some good advice: Life is too short to be anything but happy.

Although I was having a great time in Kansas, everyone else seemed to hate it.  There was some bad juju going on amongst the group.  I tried to insulate myself from it for several reasons; I generally try to avoid conflict anyway, and I thought it was most important for me to simply focus on riding my best.

Poor communication seemed to be our biggest problem.  The RV and minivans couldn’t always talk to each other because cell phone coverage was spotty, and we didn’t have CB radios like we thought we would (planning breakdown).  Korey and I had begun several ride shifts thinking we would be riding four hours, but they seemed to keep expanding to five or even six hours because we couldn’t get the RV to the right location for the team exchange.  She and I got frustrated because we would find out about these time extensions after already having ridden for several hours.  We didn’t mind riding longer, but we could have prepared better mentally, nutritionally, etc. if we had known before the shift started.  It got to the point where Korey and I just assumed that we would be riding for five to six hours even though it was supposed to be four.  I think Jennifer and Lauren had about as many of these unexpected ride extensions as Korey and I did.  It was hard on all of us, and it likely increased our overall race time.

We had other issues as well, including poorly defined roles and probably just some out-and-out personality conflicts.  Again, I avoided as much of the turmoil as I could and tried to be as positive as possible, hoping that would make it easier for everyone else.

Kansas was one of the highest mileage states, seeming to go on and on.  Many people complained about the monotony, but I found it rather meditative.  It reminded me of Peach Peloton (winter training) rides when I’ve gotten dropped in bleak kaolin country in Georgia.  Kansas was just greener and windier.

We were now more than halfway through RAAM, and everyone was looking forward to getting to Missouri.  As we crossed the state line, the terrain began to get hillier, and tempers started to soothe.  That evening the RV stopped for a little while at a small-town park.  We took some food to a picnic table and had what resembled an actual meal!  It’s amazing how we usually don’t pay attention to life’s little luxuries like this.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Missouri was a particularly pretty state.  It just gave me a sense of Americana.  Riding through the night, I enjoyed the pleasant temperatures, listened to the frogs calling, and even picked up a whiff or two of mimosa, which reminded me of home.  Toward the end of that shift, we did a rider exchange next to a church.  I never knew that my husband Robert and I have a saint!

Sometime that morning we crossed into Illinois.  The rest of the day brought several treats, including a shower at a truck stop and more excellent culinary creations from Divya: salad made of spinach, rotisserie chicken, tomatoes, and chia seeds with lemon rind and salt sprinkled on top plus a bottle of water with lemon juice and salt – so delicious and refreshing!  Also, I was psyched as we crossed into Jasper County, Illinois because I live in Jasper County, Georgia.  I couldn’t help but feel a kinship.  Maybe that set the stage for the wonderful hospitality we received there from the kind people at St. Thomas School & Church.  The RV stopped in their parking lot for a team exchange.  A priest, another church worker, and half a dozen children came out to see what we were all about.  They warmly offered to let us use the restroom in the parish center gym.  They said that would have had done more for us if they had known we were coming.  Thank you, friends!

We continued on into Indiana.  I don’t remember much about Indiana, probably because we went through it pretty quickly.  Oh, wait – how could I forget the fire at the meat packing plant?  Korey and I were about to begin a ride shift.  Literally about 10 seconds before the RV could drive through a particular intersection, the police and fire department closed off the road we were supposed to take.  We could see the fire in the distance.  Extremely luckily for us, some RAAM officials happened to be right there to help us figure out what to do.  We stayed in our vehicles as they led us on a detour to get back on course, and they gave us a time credit for the delay, which was beyond our control.

By the way, we had several other detours during the week.  We knew about some ahead of time, like some reroutes near the Mississippi River due to flooding.  Others we had to deal with on the fly, like the meat packing plant fire and a couple of bridges that were out.  RAAM officials were always most helpful and fair as they worked with us.  I guess all this just added to the adventure.

Sometime around midnight we passed the time station in Bloomington, Indiana.  That was a big mental milestone for me because at that point we had about 300 km per person left to go.  I can do a 300K brevet straight through in about 13 hours, including stops.  Here I had to do that distance in even more manageable, smaller chunks.  I knew I would make it to the end!

Friday, June 26, 2015

My first ride shift on Friday began at sunrise.  We were only about half a mile from the Ohio state line:

Even though I was buoyed by having relatively little distance left, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies after that.  In fact, Friday was one of the most difficult parts of the ride for me.  Korey and I rode a shift that lasted from about 6:00 – 10:00 AM.  I felt particularly tired at the end of that one, and so I went to sleep immediately when our next rest shift began.  After I slept a couple of hours, I woke up and had the lowest energy level I’d had all week.  I was afraid that that would be the status quo for the remainder of the race and that I’d somehow have to force myself to the end.  Michelle to the rescue!

Michelle is a dietician and immediately recognized that my blood sugar was low.  My muscles didn’t have any glucose stored, and my liver didn’t have much glycogen, either.  She had me drink a Sprite to get some sugar into my system right away.  Then, she had me follow that with some yogurt to keep my blood sugar level from spiking too quickly.  Within about two minutes I felt so much better, and she said my color returned.  I know it’s just chemistry, but it seemed like magic!

I focused on eating more carbohydrates for the rest of the race.  I had been as diligent as I could about getting enough protein, but at that point I needed more carbs.  More than anything, it was an indicator of just how hard it is to get enough fuel on such an endurance event, even when you feel like you’re constantly eating.  Food is truly your fuel, and you stop viewing it in its usual pleasurable, social terms.  Sometimes it was a matter of simply finding something to eat that sounded tolerable.

One other note about fueling: I made a point to eat a variety of healthy, real foods throughout RAAM, and it served me quite well.  This is the way I trained and the way I live my life in general.  Not to say that I never enjoy an occasional treat, but that’s the key – occasional.  It was interesting to see different racers’ approaches to fueling during RAAM.  Some rely much more heavily on supplements, and I even talked to one guy who swears by McDonald’s cheeseburgers because they have protein, fat, and carbohydrates.  Hmm…

The people of Ohio seemed especially friendly to me.  Several even pulled up beside me while I was riding, giving words of encouragement through their rolled down car windows.  It’s amazing how something seemingly so small can make such a difference.  It reminds me to look for opportunities to encourage other people, whether it’s in cycling or anything else.

It seemed kind of strange that we expected to finish the next day because we still had several more states to go through.  Next up was West Virginia.  It was another new state for Korey and me, and so we crossed the line together again.  However, this time we got documentation:

Saturday, June 27, 2015

West Virginia was quite memorable because most of my riding there was in the middle of the night.  It’s also where the rain began in earnest.  Nothing like a 2-mile, 9% descent in the rain at 2:00 AM to wake you up!

I’ll never forget the end of that shift.  It was one of the best examples of how humor helped me get through the week.  Korey and I finished riding sometime before sunrise.  When we got back into the RV, holy moly!!  I’ve never smelled anything so horrible in all my life.  The crew hadn’t been able to find a location to dump the RV tanks, and the black water (sewage) tank was backing up into the sink.  It was like being in a medieval village.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had had an outbreak of bubonic plague.

Korey and I resigned ourselves to simply trying to go to sleep.  At least we would be unconscious amid the stench.  We opened the windows in our sleeping compartment and crawled under the blankets to shield ourselves from the cool, damp night air.  All of a sudden, Korey said, “Wait, I have something!”  She pulled out a small bottle of air freshener.  “It’s been blessed,” she assured me.  So, Korey sprayed her blessed air freshener all around us.  As we rumbled down the road in the back of the RV, being jostled about in the now marginally-less-stinky dark, I thought about the absurdity of the whole situation.  Who in their right minds would subject themselves to such conditions?  I started laughing, which got Korey laughing.  We had a satisfying giggle-fest before drifting off to sleep.

I’m glad I looked ahead in the route book.  We actually went into Maryland for a while before crossing into Pennsylvania and then back into Maryland for the finish.  It would have been confusing if I hadn’t check the remaining route.  Regardless, we were starting to smell the barn – only a few hundred miles left.  Those last few hundred miles seemed to take forever, though.  We were still in the Appalachians, which slowed us down a great deal.

I really didn’t mind the climbing, but it was tough mentally because it rained.  And rained.  And rained.  I think we rode through the rain for about 18 hours.  Later we learned that Maryland had more rain that month than any June on record.  Thanks to good gear and adrenaline, I managed not to get cold despite being pretty thoroughly soaked.  The rain was probably more intense than I realized because I was so focused on the finish line.

In the afternoon we switched to all-hands-on-deck.  That meant that all four of us racers would rotate turns until we reached the finish, with Jennifer and Lauren operating out of one van and Korey and me operating out of the other.  I knew from the beginning that we planned to do this toward the end of the race.  The only problem is that we never fleshed out ahead of time exactly what all-hands-on-deck meant.  How long would our pulls be?  For how many miles or how many hours before the end would all four of us be riding?  I suppose I should have asked these questions earlier, but because I had never done RAAM before, I assumed that someone with more experience would make these decisions.  Although we worked through it, this is another example of our how we could have improved our logistics.

The mechanicals, the climbs, the descents, the detours, the rain – all this faded into insignificance as I rode through Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.  What an honor to be the one person on my team to get to ride through here.  I couldn’t help but be struck by the somberness of the fields where so many Americans killed each other in the bloodiest battle of our history.  The killings in Charleston just before RAAM loomed in my mind, too; in some ways, it seems like we humans haven’t made much progress.  Gettysburg is the only point during the race where I felt emotional.  That didn’t last very long, however, because I was jarred back to the race when we came upon yet another detour…

A park ranger stopped us and said that our intended route was blocked due to a flooded area.  Our wonderful crew coordinated yet again with RAAM headquarters to find a solution.  The ranger said that one vehicle (not both) could drive through, but cyclists could not ride through.  I climbed into the leapfrog van, which ferried me across the flooded area and deposited me safely on the other side.  The other van met up with us a short time later after a reroute, and we got another small time credit for the delay.

We passed the second time station that was also a time cutoff, Mt. Airy, Maryland.  As with the first cutoff in Durango, Colorado, we arrived in plenty of time and, thankfully, still had no time penalties.  We only had about 50 miles to go.  Were we really getting close to the end?  Time seemed to slow down.  To add to the anxiety, my van got lost.  Jennifer and Lauren were riding with their follow vehicle, and so we were still making progress, but Korey and I needed to get back on course to relieve them.  I watched helplessly from the back of the van while Dan and Emily tried to find the way.  Tensions were high.  I wished I could help, but I knew that I would just make it worse at that point by trying to jump into the fray.

We did have a bit of comic relief when Dan stopped to ask directions from a man standing in his driveway.  The man said that he was too drunk to help.  At least he was honest.

The sun went down, and we were still off course.  The transponder was in our van, and so even though Jennifer and Lauren and their follow vehicle were right where they should have been, people following us through the live tracking system were starting to freak out.  My mother was particularly worried.  She even posted on our Sorella RAAM Facebook page, telling us to turn on such-and-such highway.  Ha ha – as if we’d be consulting our Facebook page to figure out which way to go.

At last we caught up to the other van – hallelujah!  By that time, Jennifer and Lauren had ridden so long that we all agreed that Korey and I would finish it out.  We had about 15 miles to go, but the last five or so miles was really a ceremonial finish.  There was a preliminary finish line that determined our race time.  Once a team crossed that preliminary finish line, 20 minutes were added to the total race time, no matter how long it took to get from there to the ceremonial finish line at the Annapolis harbor.  Similar to the parade start, this ceremonial finish allowed all team members to join together as they crossed the finish line.

So, Korey and I had about 10 miles of actual racing left.  She took the first half, and I took the second half.  I couldn’t believe it – I was going to get to cross what amounted to the real finish line!  I was determined to ride as hard as I could.  When my time came, I raced like I was in the state time trial championship.  I knew I was going hard because I gasped for air with my mouth hanging open, like I always do during time trials.  At last, here came the finish line.  I crossed the line and raised my fist in victory!


We regrouped at a designated gas station a short distance beyond the preliminary finish line.  A RAAM official was there to escort us the remaining few miles to the dock in downtown Annapolis.  We had just one small glitch: coming up with a working front light and working rear light for each of us so that all four of us could ride together to the finish.  Our lights had long ago become community property.  Some lights had quit working, and we didn’t have just one person designated to keep up with recharging them as we should have.  Every time one of us had started a shift, our crew scrambled to make sure we had adequate lights, swapping from here, there, and yonder.  So, here at the end we were scrounging, even borrowing a light from the nice RAAM official who was driving the escort vehicle.  Consistent with our shoestring, gum, and duct tape methods of the entire race, we managed to get it done.

We rolled into the dock area, having to take a slight detour even in the last few hundred feet to avoid a flooded area.  As we crossed the final finish line, our families, friends, and crew cheered, clapped, and took about a gazillion pictures.  I was so happy!  As I planned, the first thing I did was give Robert a big hug and kiss.  Someone handed us bouquets of flowers and a couple of bottles of sparkling wine.  (I recognized the cheap stuff – the same brand I’ve bought for the podiums at the Macon Cycling Classic that my team hosted for a number of years.  Ha ha!)  I did my best to shake up the bottle and spray it generously on the people near me.

The announcer instructed us to take off our helmets and walk on stage.  There we received finishers’ medals and had a little more pomp and circumstance.

It was around midnight, and I couldn’t believe we had such a good crowd to welcome us.  A couple of other teams were even there, including the cute Germans who had sat behind us at the racers’ meeting back in Oceanside.

The next morning, I actually felt pretty normal.  I was able to get about six hours of sleep – extravagant!  Almost our entire group met for lunch because many of the crew were flying home that afternoon before the RAAM banquet Sunday evening.  We went to a nearby seafood restaurant, where we had some of Maryland’s famous crabs.  That afternoon while Robert went for a ride on a local cycling trail, I went back to downtown Annapolis and enjoyed the waterside.

That evening we attended the second of the three RAAM banquets.  (One was held Saturday night, Sunday night, and Monday night to accommodate differing finish times.)  The Aussies and Brits made it a lot more fun than your typical banquet.  They led various cheers and singalongs, even getting everyone standing on their chairs at one point.  Additionally, each team and solo racer in attendance received awards.  All in all, it was quite a fun evening and a fitting finale to the week.

One last note: Lots of love to my wonderful husband Robert.  He fully supported me from day one when I told him about this wild adventure I wanted to get into.  He picked up the slack in so many ways as I spent hours training, he rode a bunch of those training miles with me, and he always had an encouraging word.  On top of that, he didn’t even mind spending his birthday driving back home from Annapolis with me!  Neither of us ever really wants or needs anything for birthdays, Christmas, etc.; therefore, it can be challenging to come up with gift ideas.  This is what I gave him for this year’s birthday, a bottle filled with soil samples from each of the 12 states we visited during RAAM: California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

Although I got into RAAM rather by chance, I’m so glad I took the opportunity.  It was such a fun, rewarding week even with a few bumps in the road.  I actually trained harder than I raced, which made RAAM so much more enjoyable.  Although I would do the race itself again, I wouldn’t go through the necessary training again, purely because it was such a time commitment for so many months that I wouldn’t be able to replicate.

Thank you again to my teammates, my crew, and everyone who prayed, sent good wishes, donated, liked our Facebook page, or gave us any support in any way.  We couldn’t have made it without you!  Peace and love.  Ride on!