My experience in Ultra-Cycling has been one of observation from a distance, remotely in fact. The longest distance I’ve ever ridden a bike is just under 120 miles, twice in two days, riding the Tour of the Scioto River Valley in Ohio as an early twenty something year old. While some might consider this ultra distance cycling, typically to qualify it takes a single day ride of MORE than 120 miles (or 200 km)… The Race Across the West however is more than 928 miles ridden in 76 (or less) continuous hours.
When I was asked to crew for a rider by my cousin (an experienced ultra-cyclist herself with more than 20 double centuries completed) As a cyclist and bike mechanic, I had no idea what to expect, but with some trepidation, I was in!
For several months prior to the event, the crew team and rider met via a skype conference to introduce ourselves, plan and discuss exactly what would happen over the 3+ days of the event. We were 6 crew split into two teams of 3. With teams alternating driving the ‘close-follow’ minivan supporting the rider versus driving the ‘mothership’ RV that would leapfrog the rider between crew changes picking up supplies and getting rest.
We gathered together in a rented house in Oceanside CA the evening of Saturday June 9th. Me meeting everyone except my cousin and her husband for the first time (other than via Skype.) The race started on Tuesday, so we only had two days to prep the van and RV as well as ourselves and practice the every day (and night) tasks we would be performing in support of our rider, James ‘Jason’ Ingalls.
Vehicle Inspection: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bj2yGnMAssx/?taken-by=fbhidy
Jason had ridden 15,000 miles in the prior 12 months since his last (unsuccessful) bid to complete the Race Across the West (RAW) in 2017. Many folks drive a car less in a year than Jason had ridden his bicycle training for this event.
With our two days of preparation, Jason was ready to start, and so were we! The two crew teams alternated every 8 - 10 hours. So some of our time in the follow van was during the day, and some was at night.
The minivan was pretty tightly packed, but as Jason rode, we would leapfrog during the day. Getting out of the van every couple miles to hand off food/water/chapstick or in the heat of the desert we would spray him down with cold water.
My view from the navigator seat https://www.instagram.com/p/BkAaDiyA9Es/?taken-by=fbhidy
Much of the route traversed the desert southwest from California, through Arizona and Utah, finishing in Durango, CO.
One of the sleepy little towns along the route, Jerome, AZ https://www.instagram.com/p/BkAiwb3gHeC/?taken-by=fbhidy
The physical demands on the rider go beyond just riding the bicycle. The temperatures ranged from highs near 110 deg F, down into the high 40’s low 50’s at night and in the high mountains in CO. The riders experienced winds and dust storms and smoke from wildfires and even rain at the very end.
The demands on the riders body required immense amounts of calories, water, and electrolytes just to sustain the effort. Our rider, Jason, had experienced extreme dehydration on his previous (2017) attempt where his kidneys shut down and he was unable to finish and pulled out before the halfway point. Along with tracking his intake of fluids, electrolytes, and calories, we tested his urine specific gravity multiple times daily to ensure that wouldn’t catch his crew by surprise again.
Not my typical workstation, but it worked for this event https://www.instagram.com/p/BkB8Vu-ALCB/?taken-by=fbhidy
As we worked together to support Jason on his epic ride, we also struggled to maintain our own sanity and remain alert and diligent in our tasks when we were working. As well as get every possible moment of rest afforded to us by our schedule when not working.
Ultimately we were all successful, most of all Jason. He managed to complete the ride in right around 3.5 days, with an amazing total stopage time of about 12 hours. Not 12 hours of rest, but total stop time was 12 hours, so some amount less than that was sleep. The other 3 days he was on the bike pedaling!
After the finish: https://www.instagram.com/p/BkGDoxMHTYn/?taken-by=fbhidy
It was an amazing experience and opportunity for me as a bike mechanic to take part in (though I did little actual ‘wrenching’!) It was also amazing to watch as a cyclist, witnessing the hours of effort and training payoff.