Thursday, June 21, 2012
The Race Across America covers more than 3,000 miles, crosses 12 states and climbs more than 170,000 vertical feet before finishing in Annapolis, Md.
San Diegan Mike Wilson was a race rookie and one of 47 competitors who began the men's solo event. The race attracts competitors from all over the world.
Day One: (Wed., June 13, 2012) Wilson takes off on one of the most grueling bike races in the world. More than 300 cyclists from 21 countries are competing in this year's 31st annual Race Across America, or RAAM. He started at 12:42pm from Oceanside Pier and thanked everyone for coming out to support him before pedaling off amidst loud cheers.
Day Two: (Thurs., June 14, 2012) Mike Wilson's crew chief, Russ Boelhauf, says, "All is going very well. Mike is doing better than anticipated. Weather gave him a big break yesterday. Tailwinds and reasonable temperatures. Today is a new day; who knows what cruel tricks are hiding in the AZ desert."
Day Three: (Fri., June 15, 2012) By 1:30 p.m. Mike Wilson had reached Flagstaff, Arizona. His crew chief Russ Boelhauf said Mike had slept pretty well, getting close to four hours. Arrival in Flagstaff was preceded by five hours of climbing. But his crew planned to trade out his climbing bike for his cruising bike, as they anticipated a tail wind and a slight downhill course. Temps are cooling off with higher elevation. By early afternoon of Day Three, Wilson had traveled 500 miles and was in the middle of the pack. Russ guessed there were about 13 riders ahead of him and 8 behind.
Day Four: On Saturday, the fourth day of Race Across America, Mike Wilson continued a very long trek of non-stop riding. His crew reports he spent "28 hours" in the saddle, as he was moving into Montezuma Creek, Utah. He's reached a plateau and a fair amount of the climbing in the Rockies is behind him, though there's more to go. The toughest climbs in the race come toward the end, as you're scaling Appalachia while fatigue and lack of sleep really catch up on you.
Day Five: Contacting Mike's crew has been a challenge, presumably due to poor cell-phone coverage in the great American West. But Twitter feeds tell us that Mike Wilson has entered Colorado, and most recently breezed through the metropolis of Pagosa Springs, where he gave a valiant fist pump to the embedded photog. Sleep is coming an hour here and an hour there.
Day Six: (Mon., June 18, 2012) Mike Wilson's rookie voyage in Race Across America continues to move forward, and he continues to make the required time posts to stay in the race. But Mike won't win this one. His crew chief said this morning he was about 70 miles east of Trinidad, CO, while the Swiss rider who is the leader of the race has already crossed the Missouri River. Then again... Mike told me just finishing this year would be like a Gold Medal to him. Crew chief Russ Boelhauf says more than half of the people who started the solo race in Oceanside have already dropped out. Mike is riding through a terrain that's high prairie, full of buttes and ranches. The highest terrain is behind Mike. He recently crossed Wolf Creek Pass at over 10,800 feet. Boelhauf says the ride has been tough, but a masseuse has joined the team to help Mike with some tough cramping. The crew, meanwhile, has had to fix a flat tire on their motor home and recharge the pace car.
Day Seven: (Tues., June 19, 2012) Mike Wilson has entered the Great Plains and has been greeted by a common and unwelcome reality, a 40-mile wind from the south. It's not as bad as a head wind, but it forces him to lean to his right to stay upright, further sapping his energy. At about 12:30 pm on Tuesday, Mike was just east of Dodge City, KS. Lately, he's been averaging only about 11 miles an hour. Last night, the SD biker got only about 90 minutes of sleep, but he'll have to keep up the brutal schedule to beat the time cutoff for reaching the Mississippi River, and he's got to do that to stay in the race. Meanwhile, the leaders of Race Across America remain the two Alpine peddlers: Christophe Strasser of Austria and Reto Schoch of Switzerland. Tweets along the route say they entered Sullivan, Indiana virtually dead even.
Day Eight: (Wedn., June 20, 2012) At 3:15pm EST, San Diego cyclist Mike Wilson and his crew made the difficult decision to drop out of Race Across America.
By late yesterday afternoon, Mike had reached Pratt, Kansas, which is very near the halfway point of RAAM. After a long day of battling winds yesterday, he needed sleep very badly. After 2-3 hours of rest, however, his times continued to decline throughout the morning as the wind didn't let up. In addition, a problem with his right foot became almost unbearable. By the afternoon, it was clear Mike was going to have to withdraw from the race. The crew held a meeting and informed Mike that it was very likely he wouldn't make the next time cutoff, and Mike surrendered the decision to his crew chief Russ Boelhauf. "Out of respect to the race, we decided it was time to get out," Boelhauf says. Although Mike wasn't required to withdraw from RAAM until he missed a time limit, Boelhauf explains that when it's obvious there's no workable solution for finishing in less than twelve days, it's time to resign rather than be forced out.
Mike and the crew pulled into a Pizza Hut in the grassy little town of Yates Center, Kansas, just after 3pm EST and submitted the paperwork for withdrawing after discussing it on the phone with the managers of RAAM. Although Mike is no longer in the race, RAAM officials are encouraging them to proceed to the finish line at Annapolis, Maryland, to join in the post-race festivities.
Christophe Strasser of Austria and Reto Schoch of Switzerland are still in the lead. Within 25 minutes of each other, they are on time to cross the finish line within the next two days.
"Winning is a big deal, but participating is a huge deal," Boelhauf says. "You enter; you race; you finish or you don't, and there's no hard feelings." Mike's crew has invited New Zealand cyclist Nick Dunne to join them at the Yates Center Pizza Hut because Dunne also expects to withdraw from the race at this point. Mike has had a shower and the crew is talking him through the disappointment.
Boelhauf says at least half of the rookie riders have to withdraw from RAAM every year, so Mike is not alone. His number, 447, will never be assigned to another RAAM cyclist, but will remain his number in case he wants to attempt the nearly 3,000-mile race again another year.
Day Nine (Thurs., June 21, 2012) Wilson's racing story still ends on a positive note. One of his crew members, Andrea, is also a nurse, endurance cyclist and used to be Wilson's girlfriend. Now she's his fiance.
Wilson brought a ring on his journey and proposed to her after ending the race.
"That afternoon in a dirty parking lot, I asked Andrea if she would marry me and she said yes," Wilson said. "We had her on night crew, so she hadn't slept almost at all for the entire race, so I figured my odds were greatest at that moment."
Video by Katie Euphrat