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The Four Seasons
Tour of North Texas
A View From Behind

by Pamela Blalock

 

Next time I consider a tour of North anything, I'm bringing my snow gear. Geesh.

When John decided to go down to Texas to do the RAAM qualifier, we worried about how he would handle the heat. Living in Ireland until very recently, he doesn't have a lot of experience riding in hot and humid conditions, and those experiences that he has had were not good. Last year after spending 24 days riding across the country in rather mild conditions on PAC Tour, John was in the best shape of his life and ready to tackle the midwest RAAM qualifier. Unfortunately, heat and humidity tackled him, and he ended up severely dehydrated and with a very dangerous electrolyte imbalance that left him hospitalized for 2 days.

Determined not to have a repeat performance, John took advantage of some time off before starting a new job, and headed down to Texas to train and get acclimated to the hot and windy conditions in the Texas Panhandle. Nick Gerlich, TNT's race director was incredibly gracious and kind in offering John a place to stay, and providing him with invaluable advice for several weeks before the race. We are forever indebted to Nick and Becky for their hospitality.

The day before John left Massachusetts (where we live now), temperatures soared into the 60's, allowing me to ride in shorts for the first time since early last fall. It's been a tough winter for cycling with over 8 feet of snow, coming in little storms every few days. We did manage to get in a lot of cross country skiing, and a few rides in snowy conditions. We had invested quite a bit in cold weather skiing and cycling gear, and never imagined how life-saving that clothing would be for riding in Texas.

The day after John arrived in Texas, temperatures plummeted and he found himself riding in conditions as harsh as those he had faced in New England in February. But soon, the skies cleared, the air warmed, and north Texas provided him with a spectacular playground for sunning and cycling. John's job for the month was to ride, ride, ride. He planned to get used to heat, wind, and sun.

My job as crew chief was to try and get everything else ready from here. I shipped John's backup bike down to him, reserved a van, and started making lists of everything we might need. I also tried to find additional crew members. At least two crew members are required, and a third would make things much, much easier. The race itself is actually run by a class that Nick teaches in Sports Marketing at West Texas A&M. One of the services they provide is finding students who volunteer as crew members. We simply had to pay their expenses during the race, buy tickets for the before and after banquets, and pay them a small amount for their trouble. We had arranged for one crew member through this service. But I was still hoping to find another crew member who had cycling, or even better, ultra marathoning experience. A friend of ours from Seattle, Terry Zmrhal, really came through for us, when he called and offered to come down.

So I relaxed a little, but I still had a fair amount to do. Traveling 2,000 miles to race presents major problems. I suppose I could have driven down with everything in my van, with lights and sound system permanently mounted, but that would have used every bit of vacation I had, and selfless as I'd like to seem in crewing for John, I had plans for doing some riding myself this year, and most of my days off were reserved for that. So we decided to rent a vehicle and set up temporary (but legal) lights and sound. I started calling rental car companies. Hertz said that they padlock and bolt the seats in the vans, so we couldn't get them out at all, no exceptions. I got John to go out to the airport and check around to find a company that didn't do this. He called back with the name of Advantage Rental Car. I called and had a long, long conversation with them. They had Dodge Caravans and Ford Aerostars. I asked if I could be guaranteed the Dodge, so I could ship down my roof rack to use, but they couldn't promise a specific mini-van. (More on this later.)

For lights, we used a couple of flashing magnetic base yellow lights purchased from Walmart. This is where I had John, the rider, do a lot of the legwork that the crew would normally do. Since he was there and had the time, he found the lights, the splitters for power from the cigarette lighter, the magnetic signs for slow moving vehicle and cyclists ahead warning signs. He really lucked out and picked up a couple of coolers at a yard sale, and started purchasing some food for the crew and himself ahead of time.

In the meantime, I tried to think of a way to set up a portable sound system. I found myself wandering around Radio Shack one evening checking out two-way radios, when I stumbled upon a PowerHorn. It was a megaphone that ran on 8 AA batteries and had a jack that would take the output from our portable CD player. In addition, I could speak into it, or press keys on top and play 8 notes from various college fight songs, state songs, etc. I had a blast playing with this thing that evening, although my neighbors probably preferred that I left it alone. I was thrilled with this discovery. I figured we could hang it over the side view mirror, strap it on with duct tape and we were set. We ended up wedging it in the window with the window partially closed. We placed the CD player on a small pillow to help absorb some of the road shock, and just like that, we had one of the best sound systems around. We even won an award after the race was over for best music to stay awake to !

I also borrowed a video camera to capture this event for posterity. My shopping continued as I picked up batteries, lots and lots of batteries, film, video tape, 5 collapsible five gallon water jugs, sunscreen, bug spray, baby wipes, more batteries, tubes and tires. Packing was a great experience. First I packed a bag with all the tools we might ever need, including wrenches, headset and bottom bracket tools, chain tools, cassette crackers, tire levers, hammer (for the pin in the Allsop), etc. This weighed a ton ! Then I found every good tube and tire in the house, along with chains, cables, and any other spare parts we might need. Since we had recently converted to 8 speed, we only had two 8 speed rear wheels in the house, one of them being mine, so I also packed my pair of wheels to carry down.

Just before turning in the night before I was leaving, I got a message from Nick saying that the predicted weather was cool and to bring warm clothing, so I threw in my rain jacket, rain pants and rubber boots - darn good thing I did !

I flew into Amarillo Wednesday night before the race. John, Nick and Edward met me at the airport. Edward, a rider from Scotland, had also been staying at the Gerlich ranch, and was making arrangements for his rental support car. Well, here is where the fun began. I went to pick up my mini-van and Advantage had blown it in a major way. They had this tiny little car made by Mitsubishi that was about the size of a Ford Escort. It had three rows of seats, so they kept claiming it was a mini-van. I hit the roof - in more ways than one. It was essentially a station wagon, so my head hit the roof, and it was not what we had discussed at all. They had also fouled up my arrival time, and despite the fact that I had guaranteed reservations, they gave away the real mini-van when I did not arrive at 3 PM, despite the fact that I had told them 8 PM when I made the reservations.

I yelled and screamed and ranted for awhile to no avail. There were no mini-vans available in Amarillo from any other rental company. They finally offered a large 4 wheel drive jeep, like a Bronco, but we drove it 5 miles and watched the gas needle fall 1/8 of a tank, and I knew we'd have to stop for gas every three hours in this beast. I knew this would never work supporting a rider through the middle of the night in desolate Texas countryside. Finally the next morning after I called the Advantage headquarters and ranted more about them finding a van somewhere in Texas and getting it to Amarillo, they did come through with a real mini-van. So we drove back out to the airport to pick up the van and Terry, who was due to arrive at around 2 PM. Unfortunately, weather and Continental spoiled our hopes of having things easy. Terry was stuck in Denver and would be in on the next flight at 5:15, right in the middle of the pre-ride banquet. I told him I'd have to come back out to get him after the banquet.

Then John and I headed to this enormous Walmart in Amarillo that had everything, including groceries. John and I had both made and combined lists of things we might need. The first thing was a notebook and pen to record everything, including this list. We walked around Walmart checking off everything I hadn't already brought down.

We bought another water cooler (I was still deluded into thinking we would need it), quick fills for the car tires, bleach and a baby bottle brush to clean bottles with, and duct tape. We already had paper towels, toilet paper, towels and handiwipes.

We then headed toward food. I had picked up a dozen sun-dried tomato bagels from our favorite bagel shop at home on my way to the airport. John had also gotten some bagel bars and low fat apple turnover energy bars. But we wanted REAL crew food. Neither of the other crew members had put in requests, so I picked up what looked interesting, including tortilla chips, salsa, Sun Chips, cheese, whole wheat and cracked pepper crackers, peanut butter, flavored sparkling water, 5 gallons of regular water (for the jugs themselves actually), a case of diet coke, apples, bananas, oranges, and apple cinnamon rice cakes. We also picked up 4 bottles of Pedialyte, an electrolyte replacement drink designed for babies.

We headed back to Nick's and started trying to arrange the van. John had been picking up cardboard boxes to try to make things easier. Next time, we will use some sort of portable drawer system. Even with the van and the boxes, we still had things piled on top of each other and had to rummage around to find stuff.

We were interrupted in our packing to go to the banquet and then back to the airport to get Terry. With Terry's help, we continued getting everything ready, filling the 5 collapsible five gallon water jugs, mixing up 5 one gallon jugs of Endura and Pro Optimizer (we used the water jugs I mentioned above). We filled one cooler with these jugs and ice, and another cooler had sodas and crew food and ice, and a third with ice and water. I figured we could get cold water out of the cooler and refill it from the collapsible jugs. See, I was STILL thinking we might need ice when it got hot !

We had two boxes with spare tires, tubes, cables, lights, tools, floor pump, and bike stand. The video camera, regular cameras, CD's and CD player all made their way to the front of the car, along with the race book, maps, notebook and pens.

We used a giant shoe horn to wedge this, John's spare bike, his clothes, etc. into the van, while still leaving room for three people to sit. I drove Terry back to his motel, topped off the tank with gas and headed home.

John and I had been building up to this for a while, and here it was, the eve of the race. John had said his goal was simply to qualify. This race is held pretty early in the year for those of us who have winter, and John was feeling a bit anxious about injuring himself by going out too hard. He trains and races with a heart rate monitor and agreed to pay attention to it. But he kept worrying about disappointing me and I worried about doing the same for him.

Crewing for someone you love can be quite stressful. I knew how much John wanted to qualify. I knew how much I wanted to be a part of that. And I know how disappointing it is to train and train and have something out of my control spoil it. I worried about the car. I worried that I would do something wrong while crewing. I worried that I would have to stop to pee and not be there when John needed me. At night we were required to stay with him at all times. If we stopped, he had to stop. I didn't know if my bladder would hold out as long as his. I simply worried about everything. And I tried to let John know how much faith and confidence I had in him, but most importantly that he could not disappoint me if his knee went out and he had to stop. We talked a while before turning in and trying to sleep. Amazingly, despite all the worry, we both slept very well, but the alarm at 5 AM was not welcome. We got up, dressed, and headed off to the start.

John and I both LOVE to ride. It is a passion with us. Adding the stress of having to get everything together for a crew, etc. does take away some of the pleasure, but once the race started, I believe for John, at least, the fun would return.

Fun is a word one could use to describe many things. Let me describe the start in another way. It was a bit chilly. Nah, that doesn't work. It was cold. The thermometer hovered between 32 and 33 degrees F. John changed his mind about clothing a few times and eventually settled on a couple of jerseys including a top layer polarfleece jersey, a light windbreaker, his heavy gloves, tights, headband, and clear lenses for his glasses. I was trying to videotape some of the preparations, when I realized I needed to be looking for clothes. The next few minutes on the videotape shows a lot of strange angles as I forgot to turn it off. Sometime near the end of the race I caught on to how to work the camera.

Anyway, we rushed over to the start, got off a few snapshots and a few more seconds of video and then headed over to the car to wait 20 minutes before support crews could head out. Just as we got back to the car, the skies began to leak, a few drips at first. Then it turned to rain and then sleet. I started to kick myself for not insisting John take his rain clothes. I knew he would be cold and soaked when we finally reached him, and this was simply not a good way to start. Thunder and lightning crackled all around us, and at some point, race officials told us to go.

Each booming sound of thunder made my heart leap as we headed out along the course to find our riders. I watched as bolts of lightning came down in nearby fields. I am absolutely terrified of lightning, and my stress level continued to go up. We caught the pack of riders after a few minutes, but weren't supposed to stop with them until mile 10, and were to do leapfrog support until mile 50. I saw a few riders pull over early to get more clothes. I kept my eye out for John. We had planned to have him wear his Audax Ireland jersey to make him easy to spot, but it was hidden under several layers.

We passed a few riders, and continued looking. Finally we found him out front, zipping along with a broad grin on his face. "I've got a great tailwind. I want to keep going." was his response to my query about rain clothes. So we continued to leapfrog. And I continued to jump with every bolt of lightning and rumble of thunder. After a few miles of this, Nick pulled up beside us, and said we should start following now. The riders were spread out, and he felt it would be safer to have us follow, so from that point on our windshield framed John and some really amazing Texas panhandle scenery.

Then we turned right and lost that great tailwind. Now John was fighting a good cross wind, and it also seemed he was getting hit by snow instead of sleet. Once we started following, I realized that I wanted to be in the passenger seat so I could talk to John. Terry and I did a quick trade, and were back in follow mode. We had the bullhorn wedged into the partially closed window. With the wind and snow coming from the right, this also meant that it blew into the car through the open window. It wasn't until many hours later that we thought of putting it on the other side of the car !

It wasn't too long after turning into the crosswind that John got cold and decided to add more clothing. Having ridden the course before, John knew of an overpass not too far ahead, and suggested we stop there. Here is where I made the first of many tactical errors. We pulled up ahead, and over to the right hand side, which unfortunately was a muddy mess. The wind was blowing quite hard, and the wet stuff falling was definitely now snow.

I convinced John to change into dry shorts, but he needed to sit down to do this, so we walked him through the mud around to the passenger seat in the car. This left his cleats and booties covered in mud. While changing a few riders passed. When we tried to zip his second set of booties back up, the mud in the zipper prevented any movement. We finally used duct tape to strap them on. We threw down a plastic sheet for him to walk on back across the mud, but it was a bit late for that. John decided to take a quick pee break at the time, and I figured I better go as well.

No trees, no shelter of any type. Forget modesty, this is a race. Just go !

On the road again. John now has fresh shorts and GoreTex pants and jacket. He's wearing his heavy Pearl Izumi Lobster Claw mitts that we bought for sub-zero commutes in the Boston area. I use ski goggles for these really cold commutes as well - but we didn't have those with us! He did have a headband covering his ears, but would probably ask for his face mask soon. I took some more video, and kind of laughed along with John at the weather conditions. This was just a freak storm. It couldn't last long, could it ?

Back on the bike, John was riding well, and seemed to be having fun. The thing about John that gives me the confidence that he can do well in RAAM someday, is that he just seems to have the right attitude, and adversity like this storm simply does not take away from his enjoyment of the ride. In fact, he turns it into a positive.

John played tour guide for a while and pointed out unique scenery along the way, including the Floating Mesa. This is a series of billboards, mounted halfway up the mountain and painted blue. On a clear sunny day, they would match the sky and make it appear as if the mesa was floating. John kept calling them "sky colored", while I tried to point out that the sky was definitely not BLUE on this day.

I tried talking to him through the bullhorn, but it wasn't working too well, maybe if I'd gotten a handheld mike to plug into it, but trying to lean out the window into the snowstorm raging around us and yell into the mike on the back just wasn't working. So we'd pull up closer and talk to him, but quickly noticed that he'd slow down and talk back, so we tried to keep our chats to a minimum. Since the wind was coming hard from the right, I never worried that our 5 second chats were aiding him, but I definitely did not want to slow him down.

Next time, we will rig up some sort of wireless mike for John to talk to us, and we will have a better method of talking to him through the loudspeaker. We've actually already found a few options at Radio Shack, but are holding off on the purchase until the next race. (Right now we are doing FUN stuff).

So we left the communication mostly in the form of music. Being the one who brought most of the CD's meant we listened to stuff I liked, and fortunately as it turned out John enjoyed it too. He had joked before the race about playing Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" whenever he overtook riders, so we did. A few riders had passed while we were changing John's clothes in the mudhole under the overpass, and now he was starting to catch them again. As we approached each one, the familiar "Thump, thump, thump" came roaring out of our sound system.

At some point along this stage, Nick pulled up beside us and told us of a rules change. He had talked with Shermer about the absolutely horrendous conditions here, and what he might do to motivate riders to continue on through the storm. They finally decided to call it a survival race. All riders who finished within the 53 hour time limit would qualify, regardless of other times. This would remove that pressure to not stop and get in warm or dry clothes. We passed this info onto John, who seemed to hear it, but didn't really absorb it. We kept asking about how slick the roads were to see if he wanted to take a break and wait out some of the storm, but he simply kept turning the cranks around.

As we passed through the first time station, we found ourselves in second place, with several riders taking a break there to change clothes, dry off and warm up. The only rider ahead of us was already qualified for RAAM. I reminded the crew that our goal was to qualify, so what Rick Kent did ahead of us was not important. He was already qualified. His time would mean nothing to John's goal.

We told John he was now effectively in first place. We told him Rick was out there ahead of him, but not to even think about him.

John had been practicing peeing off the bike, while training in Texas. Stopping for these breaks really is time consuming, and this ability can really save time. Unfortunately, he hadn't practiced while wearing tights, rain pants and heavy mitts - and even if he tried, I don't think he would have had much luck. So everytime John stopped to go, I got to go too ! This happened almost hourly throughout the day. We kept track of everything - everything he ate or drank, and everytime he stopped to pee, change clothes, etc.

We had set up a schedule of hourly bottles of Opti. John was alternating Pro and Endura, 2 Pro for every Endura. The Pro has more calories, but the Endura has more Electrolytes. This combination had worked well for him in training. So every hour on the hour, I handed John a fresh bottle. Most times, he had not finished off his old bottle, and would try to finish it off and take the new one. My body needs more calories when I cycle in cold weather, so I really wanted to make sure he was taking in what he had planned. This turned out to be my second tactical mistake. As it turns out, John is very good about drinking what he needs. As the day wore on, he was getting more bloated as I kept forcing the bottles on him hourly.

His water intake was also pretty good, as we were giving him a fresh Camelbak almost every two hours. The Camelbak holds 70 oz when full - and we were filling them to about 55 oz. His hourly pee stops seemed to indicate that everything was going well.

We took a change of clothes break at a store at 4 Corners. This was just after John had walked over a completely iced over bridge. While I was inside trying to ring out gloves and booties, and John was changing into warmer dryer clothes, Terry was outside banging the ice off of John's spokes and cranks. It's a shame we didn't get a photo before. The bike probably weighed a ton with all the accumulated ice, so Terry can certainly be credited with saving John significant time on the next leg of the journey. I also gave John a pair of disposable toe warmers for his shoes and another pair for his gloves. I have a case or so of these at home, and they really come in handy on winter rides. Fortunately I had brought a handful down with me.

While in the store, two of Dan Wood's crew members came in. We had noticed them a few times during the morning. Dan had two vehicles and at least 4 crew members. These two were checking out what was going on elsewhere on the course and were able to run errands, etc. Anyway, Nick had told me beforehand that Estelle Grey was Dan's crew chief. This name was familiar as she owns the shop where my custom tandem was built. We had never met before.

She walked in and introduced herself, and I then I did the same. Upon recognizing my name, she walked over and gave me a hug. I went on about how much I loved my bike, and she went on about how much they did too, etc. John walked out almost ready to go, and joined in the conversation. We chatted for a while, but then I made John get back on the bike. This is definitely a weak point for John. He'll start chatting away with someone, and seemingly forget he's in the middle of the race. This happened a few times. I felt like I was being terribly rude dragging him away from conversations, but I did it anyway.

Back on the bike, it was still snowing, and John was still turning the cranks around and around. We were still popping in new CD's, mixing up Opti, and feeding ourselves. At some point I got in the back seat and started to play. I reorganized a few times, getting everything exactly where I wanted. Well, not exactly, but as close as I could get with cardboard boxes, no bike racks, and water jugs everywhere. The floor seemed damp, and at one point I realized one of the ice chest had it's drain valve open. I closed it, and hoped we wouldn't have other leaks. Later in the night we discovered a water jug had a leak as well. Next time, we will cover the floor in plastic and close all the coolers.

Anyway, I started trying to feed the crew. I sliced up cheese and put out crackers. I peeled oranges, and sliced apples, offered sodas. I tried to eat a little as well, but I was just too full of nervous energy. Terry and Satish probably wanted to sedate me at some point, but I just kept trying to stay busy. I've both ridden and crewed and crewing is far more stressful for me. There is the matter of fighting off boredom, as well as not having enough time and space to do everything you need to do. Next time, I will bring along more crew diversion things, like trivia games, etc.

John had described Texas as flat, but it seemed pretty hilly to me. While certainly not mountainous, it rolled up and down. The winds on the other hand were exactly as he had described them - ferocious. At one point during his training, John and Nick were out doing 45-50 mph with a tailwind on a flat stretch of road. I had pulled out the map to see how much longer John would suffer with his current headwind. It looked as though it would go on for a while, and then he would make a right turn and get a crosswind again. When we made that right turn, Estelle was standing there cheering us on and hollered *Only 35 miles to the tailwind*. We actually saw quite a bit of Estelle on this section, as she pointed out turns and even did little dances for us. What spirit.. What also struck me was that while they might be getting *spy* info for their rider, they showed great sportsmanship and respect for the other riders by cheering them on as well. This is one of the things, I've always loved about Ultra Marathon events.

We started to notice a strange phenomenon as we passed cattle ranges. Fortunately this was not an area with free range cattle, since they really seemed to like sprinting along with John to the next fence. We finally decided it was probably the music, but it was certainly a sight to behold as hundreds of cattle ran alongside John on his bike. The video is quite entertaining.

After playing lots of 60's Rock 'n' Roll, I decided to go for an hour of classical. Much to my dismay, when I opened the Brandenburg Concertos, the CD case was empty. I then remembered having this disc in the player in my office. So I put on Vivaldi's Four Seasons. This is a very upbeat piece of music and a nice change of pace. I was never actually sure how loud or distorted the music sounded to John, especially with all the wind, and snow jammed in the speaker. At least with the portable speaker, we could wipe some of the snow out occasionally. I also wondered if the folks in their farmhouses could hear it as clearly as we could in the van. It was definitely loud in the van, and one of the things to definitely add to next year's list is earplugs. The new choice of music drew a thumbs up from John and Estelle, and other officials driving nearby. I also hoped The Four Seasons would appease the weather gods, who would finish off winter , and take us into spring !

When we did finally turn and get the tailwind, John's speed jumped dramatically. I could imagine the smile on his face broaden - although I couldn't see it from behind. But he did seem perkier. Having spent a fair amount of time stoking a tandem with John, I'm a bit used to the view from behind, and can tell an awful lot from his body language. John was definitely happy with the tailwind.

John passed through the second time station without stopping. We had thought that John was going to stop, but he didn't realize that this was the time station. We stopped, checked him through, bought gas, chatted with Nick and continued on. He told us that Rick had put quite a bit of time on John, but I again tried to ignore that. I was only worried about those riders doing the qualifier and they were all behind us.

But it did start to weigh on my mind. What was it this guy was doing right that we were doing wrong ? Was this guy's name Clark Kent, rather than Rick Kent ? He's done RAAM a few times, so his crew is definitely more experienced. He's local, so he wasn't dealing with a rental vehicle, temporary setups and cardboard boxes. He must have started out in snow gear and didn't have to change clothes at all.

But then, it also occurred to me that while he has done RAAM a few times, he hasn't won. If he was blowing us away by this much, what chance did John have of doing well in RAAM? I didn't dare voice this to anyone, but it was working on my confidence in John. But then, the other racers, not far behind John were no slouches either. They were plenty strong, and we were relatively close together, with Dan and Rainer within an hour. Not having a spy vehicle of our own, we could never be sure, but race officials occasionally gave us an idea of where everyone was.

Anyway, back to the ride. Having unintentionally passed through time station two, without stopping, John decided to stop at a Dairy Queen up the road. The clerk at DQ watched us with amazement. I took his heavy gloves and tried to dry them with the hand dryer in the restroom. I put fresh toewarmers in his shoes, while he took care of other matters.

In the meantime Terry worked on his bike. While driving along behind him, we had noticed that he was having some front derailleur trouble. Unfortunately his Mavic front derailleur takes an odd size (2.5 mm) wrench to adjust, and somehow, we managed not to have one. That won't ever happen again ! Terry got things working much better, but we still don't have it perfect (many months later). After spending so much time in this completely empty DQ, I felt that I had to buy something. Despite all the snow coming down outside, I asked for a small vanilla cone. We got a shot of John holding it before he left. And we rolled out again.

Just before darkness fell, the snow stopped - thank goodness !

John turned on his headlight. We'd had the taillight on all day, and we rolled into the night. He seemed to be riding very strong. The crew was still feeling wide awake, but John mentioned feeling drowsy occasionally. I put on some Led Zeppelin and we rolled on. He also mentioned feeling really bloated, but I just kept handing him fresh bottles of Opti to keep up his calorie consumption.

I had a routine down pat. I was sitting in the back. We started doing hand-offs from the middle window. This way, we didn't have to kill the music, which was attached to the front window. I could lean out the middle sliding window without worrying about falling, and give him a Camelbak or take an empty bottle or pass off a full one. I'd then shake out the empty bottle, rinse it with a little bleach, rinsing and pouring out through this window. I'm sure the side of the van looked great ! I'd then fill up a fresh bottle and wait for the next hour. I had brought a ton of bottles down, but we ended up using the same three throughout most of the ride. John had picked up a couple of Specialized Big Mouths that had screw on caps. We put the Pro is these. A third different looking bottle was used for Endura. This helped us keep things straight. I hadn't noticed and John had not complained that the third bottle had a shower nozzle on it. This is the type you can hold up and spray water all over yourself. I decided to taste the mixture, and discovered this for myself. I switched caps with another bottle.

After complaining about stomach problem again, I gave John some Papaya Enzyme, a natural enzyme that helps with digestion of protein. Later, he asked for an Antacid, and I gave him something he had brought over from Ireland. Over the next four or five hours, he also took a Motrin, a couple of Boost tablets ( a natural caffeine), and a No-Doz, when the Boost didn't seem to be working.

We pulled into the third time station in Shamrock, and talked with the officials briefly. They had booked a room in a nearby motel, and said John could go nap a while, shower or simply change. He didn't want to be tempted by a bed. He was feeling tired, but was afraid if he got near a bed, he would sleep forever. He asked to nap for a few minutes in the car. I set the alarm for 15 minutes, and Terry, Satish and I hung around the convenience store. It was still very cold outside, and standing outside wasn't pleasant. I woke John after 15 minutes and he asked for another 10, which we granted. After that 10, I tried to get him up, but he was still quite disoriented. I had a cup of coffee and a chocolate bar (full of caffeine), but he didn't want either.

He got out of the van and while I was gathering his helmet or jacket or something, he started walking toward the convenience store. Then I noticed he was weaving, just before he went crashing headfirst into the side of the store. Terry and Satish were inside and not aware of what happened in the next few minutes. I tried to get John up, but don't quite have the strength to manhandle someone who outweighs me by 30 pounds. He said he needed to throw up, and that's when I said we were going to check into the motel. I got him in the van, got the room key and headed over to the motel. Satish and Terry walked over with his bike.

My third tactical error was not to take one of the guys to help hold John up. I finally found the room and it was upstairs. I tried to hold onto John and guide him toward the stairway. He took another dive and then starting throwing up clear liquid.

Oh my god. Here we go again. All this time, I had thought his other crew in the first attempt was negligent in letting him get sick, and now I had done the same thing. John had never given me any indication that he felt this bad. He just said he was bloated and sleepy.

I got him back to his feet and he made it a few more steps before he threw up again. I didn't know how I would ever get him up the stairs, but this time he said he felt much better. Although he asked me to bring up a pair of clean shorts, since he would definitely be needing them. John will probably not be happy that I've shared this with the world, but these are the facts !

We got upstairs and got John into the bathroom, so he could get out of his clothes. I went back to the van and tried to find clean clothes. In the meantime Rainer pulled in and someone asked me to show him up to the room as well. I thought he was also sick, but apparently it was just that English isn't his first language.

I got upstairs and checked on John. He was still in the bathroom trying to clean up. I tried to get him to take a shower or bath and let me worry about the clothes. Finally he gave in. After making a brief attempt to clean the shorts, I simply sealed them up in a zip lock bag to be dealt with later. I cleaned up everything else and tried to get things ready for John to lie down for a while. In the meantime Terry and Satish had arrived, and were helping Ranier's crew of non-cyclists oil the chain on his bike. I suppose we can take some of the credit for his eventually winning the race !

I had Terry and Satish running up and down the stairs quite a bit trying to get clothes, food, water, etc. for John. I poured half a bottle of Pedialyte down John and tried to get him to lie down and sleep for a few hours. Instead he was busy chatting a way with Rainer telling him about the terrain and rough sections ahead. I did get a few seconds of video here and John looks amazingly good for being so sick. I joked with him about going downstairs to get some pictures of the sidewalk. Finally Rainer and crew took off, and we got John settled down. I set the alarm for a couple of hours later, and suggested everyone try to get some rest. Terry and Satish decided to reorganize the van and sleep in the stairwell instead.

I laid down and closed my eyes, but sleep did not come. All my fears were realized. John was sick again, and what could I do. Finally the two hours passed and I tried to wake John. He got up, but threw up again. He drank some more Pedialyte and went back down for another hour or so. I headed back over to the checkpoint and asked if there was any way to get hold of Nick. I needed some advice. If I got him back on the bike, he could end up seriously sick in the middle of nowhere. I just didn't know what to do.

We couldn't get in touch directly, since he was out of the cellular calling area, so messages were relayed up the course for him to call the hotel. I filled the car with gas and went back to the room to pull my hair out for a while. The next time I got John up, he felt queasy, but didn't lose anything.

I told him I didn't know what to do, that he had to make the decision. I was really scared for him. From his last experience, we knew how dangerous dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can be, and while we had kept plenty of fluids flowing through him during the day, he had lost a lot during the night. The Pedialyte certainly helped restore some of those, but I didn't know how much.

This was my biggest mistake, showing a lack of confidence in his ability. Thank goodness Nick called soon after. He was very encouraging and got John back on the bike. He suggested starting out with crackers, just as we would give a person recovering from the flu. He reminded us that we had plenty of time, and really encouraged us to get back on the road.

I talked to Terry and Satish and told them what our situation was. It was still quite possible that we might have to get John off the bike and rush off to a hospital, or he might be fine. But the next few hours would tell. They were eager to try.

I pulled out the box of Saltines that we had bought in case it got really hot, and John needed something salty. I read off the calories - 50 per three crackers. To get 600 calories per hour that would mean 3 crackers every 5 minutes. Hmm, how many to do a qualifier. How many to do RAAM ?

We finally got back on the road at 8:20 AM, well over 6 hours after we pulled into this time station. I gave John three crackers. Five minutes later I gave him three more. He was riding pretty darn strong for a guy who was crashing headfirst into walls and tossing cookies a few hours earlier - and all on Saltines.

At 9:30 AM, John reached the halfway point, significantly behind schedule, but on the bike!

We kept him on crackers for a couple of hours, but slowly starting adding a bit of variety, with rice cakes, and bits of apple energy bars Shortly after noon, he asked for a banana, and then later a bagel. It may not sound like much, but it was music to my ears.

The temperature was starting to rise, and soon John stopped to remove his jacket, and his outer pair of booties. We continued feeding him bagels, apple turnovers and rice cakes.

We reached time station #4 in Quitaque at 2:13 PM. John took a short break, while we debated how to pronounce the name of the town. John took a power nap here, and got back on the road quickly, and then finally asked for a bottle of Pro Optimizer, and a banana. From this point on, we got him back on the liquid diet, but only at his request rather than an arbitrary time table. He was still feeling a bit queasy, so his liquid was occasionally supplemented with antacid, but from that point on, we felt we were back on track.

Our log after that seemed to deteriorate. There are lots of times written down followed either by the word pee or pro (for Pro Optimizer), but it's somewhat hard to read. We were all getting tired. Both Terry and Satish had slept some while John slept and were able to get catnaps here and there. I, on the other hand, simply could not relax enough to get any sleep at all. Even after I knew that John was feeling better, and going strong, I worried. At one point I think I drifted off for about ten minutes, but that was all the rest I got in over 60 hours that weekend.

The sun actually made an appearance very briefly in the afternoon, and John decided to take off his arm and leg warmers, which he did on the move. The warmth didn't last long though, so he decided to stop to put them back on again. Despite the meager amount of sun, he did go home with a very impressive sunburn on his face for a very impressive first day of work at a new job.

We then hit a section of the route made for John's softride bike. Road construction had left the right side of the road grooved and beat up, but John pedaled through as smooth as ever. We'd had a softride beam on our tandem for a few years, but finally decided to go for the singles just before coming to Texas. I'll never go back, and I know John was quite pleased with the performance and comfort of his new steed.

Shortly before 8 PM, we pulled into Time Station #6 in Plainview, a very aptly named town, followed not too much later by Edward Bell. John and Edward had done a fair amount of riding together in the weeks before the race and had become good friends. They acted as though they hadn't seen each other in years and wanted to sit down for a chat over dinner. I felt very unfriendly prying John away to go back to the race, but was finally able to persuade him to postpone this mini-reunion until after the race.

We did learn from race officials at this point that Rick Kent had been disqualified for drafting behind his support vehicle. It had taken a bit of effort on Nick's part to catch him actually cheating, but I am quite relieved that he made that effort. Nick's suspicions were aroused when the splits between Kent and the other riders increased dramatically during very difficult and windy sections of the route. When an official was nearby, Kent's pace was very much in line with the rest of the racers, yet when on his own, he seemed to make better progress.

It was very disappointing to have this type of thing happen in an ultramarathon event. One of the things that I've always found so attractive about this sport is the camaraderie and respect that exists between competitors. Face it, this is not a mainstream sport, and only another ultramarathoner can really understand the physical and psychological battles that a person goes through in an event like this. Whether Kent was using the event as a training ride, and was drafting just for fun, his actions had a serious effect on his competitors psyche, and this type of unsportsmanlike behavior has no place in a sport that is less about competition between individuals and more about the battle with one's own perceived limitations. Ultra Cycling, the newsletter for the UMCA, used to have the subtitle, "Exploring the frontiers of human performance", which is really what this is all about. We constantly challenge ourselves to go beyond what we've done before. While there is a race between competitors, and a winner is declared, the battle really is the one we wage within, where we ask of ourselves to give everything and then some.

But while is was a great shock to hear that another racer had cheated, it was also a great relief to discover why those time splits grew so dramatically.

Along with this news, came the news that now Dan Wood, on a single speed cruiser, was battling it out with Rainer Klaus for the win. The weather had calmed, and while the cold and snow of the previous day had taken its toll on all the riders, the battle for first seemed to revive Dan and Rainer.

With over 6 hours off the bike, we had no chance of gaining, but I was hoping to still come in within a reasonable time of their mark. When we finally pulled John away from socializing with Edward, I tried to push him a bit harder. Watching the rearview mirror, it seemed to us that Edward was mere seconds back. We thought this ghost of Edward chased us throughout the night. As it turned out, he finished several hours back.

We pushed on into the second night. This was definitely not part of the plan. We were supposed to be finished and celebrating by now, but instead still had over 120 miles to go. At least John was riding well, and eating well. We had picked up a few sandwiches at the last time station, and he occasionally asked for solid food in favor of the liquid diet he was surely growing weary of.

We had two canyons to go through. These were definitely supposed to be daylight adventures for us. They were steep and twisty. John surely lost time by doing the descents at night. For safety's sake, he rode slower so he would not outrun the cars lights or the tired drivers skills. The climbs were tough, but with no visual cues, possibly less difficult at night.

John told us that this was the most beautiful part of the route, but I'll have to wait until next year for a chance to see it - next year when John and I will likely be reciprocating and crewing for Terry. While watching the snow, I honestly had no desire to be out there on a bike, but Terry was crawling the walls inside the van. He wanted to race. I could tell.

The skies were clear. A lovely moon poked up from the right side of the road, and stars glittered like diamonds in the sky. John was starting to get a bit sleepy and I began talking to him on the climb out of the second canyon. We hadn't seen each other in a month, so I had lots to tell him, or so I thought. We had started house shopping before he left. I described every little nook and cranny of the various houses that I had looked at over the last month. That didn't take long. I talked about various rides and tours I had done over the years, and asked him about his favorite adventures.

We hit a section of the course that included lots of turns of the road, while staying on the same road. Does that make sense? John had ridden it many times in the previous three weeks, and said it was mentally one of the toughest parts of the route, since it was close to home, but had bend after bend and seemed to never end. I was starting to run out of things to talk about. I began thumbing through the routebook, and went down the list of things and animals to look for when bored, asking if John had seen any, and trying to make up stories about each thing on the list. I'd covered everything including all the gossip in my office, and couldn't make up any new stories. At this point, I switched with Satish, and I took over driving again. Satish and John talked about travel and kept going for a while.

I noticed when driving that John seemed to match pace with the van as he rode just at the front fender within earshot, and not quite at a racing pace. I tried to convince him to step up the pace, but as we talked he would back it off again to hear better. We will definitely have a better form of two-way communication before the next race.

With a bit more prodding and harassment from me, John picked his pace back up as the light of dawn started to slip over the horizon. We pulled into the final time station before the finish, and quickly checked in and out. Just as we pulled out, John stopped with a broken spoke on his front wheel. We swapped the damaged wheel for the wheel on his other bike and headed out. The final 12 miles were incredibly difficult for me. I was driving, but definitely should not have been, as my sleepiness was starting to show. I choked down cola and crackers to revive myself, but the last half hour seemed to last an eternity. Fog began to roll in, and the temps fell.

My nose was alerted to a familiar smell (to me), and told Satish to pass onto John that we had marked skunk off on the list for him. At some point he realized that this unfamiliar stench (to him) was a skunk. He'd get to know that smell much better over the summer, as we have plenty in New England. Apparently, they don't have them in Ireland! We headed up the final hill and rolled on toward the finish line, where a small crowd greeted us with cheers and pizza.

John had finally finished and even made the 15% cutoff. At 2 AM the night before I never thought that would be possible. We pressed on because Nick encouraged us and because, due to the snow, we knew we only had to finish to qualify. But as it turned out, John would have qualified anyway. This certainly taught me a lesson about perseverance and how easily things can change in a long race. You just never know.

Rainer and Dan had a close race, with Dan toasting his legs climbing out of the canyon on his single speed machine, and Rainer capturing the victory. I must say I was very impressed with Dan's performance on that one speed bike, and will certainly never dismiss someone's competitive ability based on equipment or choice of gear ever again. I suppose the next challenge would be to do it on a fixed gear !

Edward came in a few hours after we finished, followed by Roger Nelson. Five out of the original 16 entrants finished the event.

Well despite my lack of sleep during the event, I still couldn't sleep after the finish. We returned to Nick's to clean up and pack, and prepare to head home, but adrenaline continued to keep us both going. I finally did sleep later that night and is was my best night's sleep in a long time. Goal accomplished.

It was a tough event. We learned a tremendous amount about ourselves during this race. I definitely have to learn to handle stress better, and John has to work on his diet. The experience we gained at this race will definitely pay off in the future when we find ourselves at the start of RAAM. Nick puts on a fabulous event, and his class does a tremendous amount of work that is certainly appreciated by all. The enthusiasm we saw from tired race officials was wonderful, and despite all the pain I may have described here, it really was fun. We will be back. Gotta crew for Terry, and maybe someday, I'll hop on the tandem and join John for a circuit around the Texas panhandle. But I'll be sure to bring my skis, just in case.