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Team Millenium/IRSA
Terry Zmrhal and Tracy McKay

pictures and commentary by Pamela Blalock

 

When Terry first approached me about crewing for him on his two-person team RAAM attempt last winter, I tried to turn him down. I'd been unemployed for a few months and hoped to be back working by the time of RAAM. As it later became obvious that the economy was not recovering as well as some press would have us think, I realized I would probably still have time on my hands in June. But then I worried about how I would do on a crew. When Terry and I crewed for my husband John in TNT in 94, I was so totally focused and committed to seeing John finish that I couldn't sleep at all. RAAM is too long not to sleep. I told myself that while Terry is a dear friend, he isn't my SO, so I should be able to detach! If only! If someone knows how to shut the brain down for a few hours of sleep, and still be able to get up after just 3 or 4 hours, please let me know.

Both our riders and our crew came from the far corners of the continent. Terry and Tracy had met on the phone, when Tracy called in some record attempts. (Terry is the UMCA records coordinator.) Tracy lives in Alabama, where he teaches spinning classes in a non-air-conditioned studio - good training for the repeated short pulls of a team effort, especially as the race enters the hot and humid zone. Terry lives in Seattle, and gets lots of training on nearby mountain passes in cold and rain - good for feeling feel right at home early on in the cold wet conditions.

Terry was meticulous in his planning. This race has been his dream for almost ten years. He qualified for solo RAAM at Furnace Creek, and has crewed on many qualifiers, including a few Furnace Creeks (both solo and team efforts), as well as RAAM. He also rode a few team events, including Race Across Oregon just before RAAM. Terry compiled loads of information from all his experiences, and tried to pass as much of it as possible on to Tracy and the crew. He sent out lots of emails and even put together a guidebook, composed of many articles from other veterans as well as many of his own articles. It's worth a read for anyone planning a RAAM!

We had crew members from Alabama, Washington, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, Minnesota, Idaho, New Jersey and Toronto. Muffy Ritz, who has completed RAAM three times was to be our crew chief for the first half. Prior obligations meant we'd lose her after a week, but Lulu Weschler was scheduled to arrive just as we were to lose Muffy. Our hope was the crew would be in sync and able to function well by that point. Muffy's considerable experience both riding and crewing for RAAM would be invaluable. Her sense of humor and ability to do push-ups wouldn't hurt. Lulu has completed Furnace Creek as part of a four woman team (with Muffy, Anne Schneider, and Susan Barr), and also brings her expertise as an orthopedic physical therapist.

Ed Flemming was our next most experienced crew member with lots of RAAM and RAAM qualifier crewing experience. Unfortunately Ed's boss refused to let him come at the last minute. After getting a call from Terry, I scrambled to try and find a replacement a week before, but it is tough to find someone who can drop everything on a moments notice to spend two weeks driving slowly across the country. My best hope for a last minute replacement had just injured her back. We had no luck finding anyone else, but felt 9 would be enough.

We also had two nurses, Mary Weeden and Sharon Dollar. Sharon is also a licensed Massage Therapist, midwife and former Navy Captain - bringing many great skills to the crew. She also has lots of riding experience too! James Sedis is a doctor, specializing in pediatric sports medicine. Sharon and James are both good friends of Tracy, so brought a bit of insight into working with Tracy and his needs. Mary and her son Philip (who brings youthful exuberance) have known Terry even longer than I have, and bring that special connection that comes with longtime friendship. Chris Gunnerson, a former housemate, also shares a long friendship with Terry.

Steve Scholl, Michael Robinson and I share some bike mechanic experience. Terry met Steve and Mike on tours with John Hughes. Some of the crew knew each other beforehand, but for the most part, we were a group of strangers, with a common goal, thrown together for a brief, but intense encounter. You'll get to read all about how this evolved over two weeks...

But for now, back to the start...


The team presentation. RAAM has lots of pomp and ceremony. The teams were introduced several times the day before and day of the race. Here's the whole crowd the day before.


Tracy is making a few last minute adjustments to his climbing bike. Sharon is playing bike stand. The vehicle in the background is Da Bus. It is a 15 passenger van, with the primary purpose of shuttling crew up the road for sleep. It also carried lots of spares and Sharon's massage table.


We discovered our CB's weren't working well, and Muffy ran out and bought battery powered handheld radios at the last minute. These had a short range (<5 miles), but seemed to work better than the CB's and were great for communicating between vehicles when in close range. They were a lifesaver, since the CB in Tracy's pace van never seemed to work. We also had a wealth of cells phones (one official one for each vehicle, plus our personal phones), but often found ourselves out of service areas. We also had a few phones seemingly stop working part way through the race, and had to substitute some of the personal phones. It would probably be worth having crew members get the entry level technician class ham radio license (which does not require Morse code) and should be more reliable for longer distance communication. I'd definitely recommend this for the future. Communications was one of our biggest issues. Following route directions also caused some problems. We never had an issue when with a rider - the whole route is marked, and we were moving slowly enough to see the markings. But on a couple of occasions, crew heading off for sleep, or back on duty got lost and suffered major delays. .


This is Terry's pace van, code named Zephyr. It had an easy access bike rack off the hitch, as well as racks on the roof for bikes and wheels. We had two bikes on the roof and loads of spare wheels. When he wasn't riding it, Terry's primary bike, a blue Titanflex, was on the rear rack. The purple Titanflex pictured above was his rain bike (note the front fender). It also has a quick release rear fender (not shown). He used the bike a few times, when weather warranted, as well as other times because it offered a slightly different riding position. He also had a third red Titanflex set up with wide range gears in case the hills seemed really steep. As testimony to his training, that bike never was used!


The inside of Terry pace van was impressive. All the rear seats were removed. There are several sets of drawers containing food, clothing, batteries, lights, drugs, etc., all organized and labeled. Atop this is a platform with a very comfy bed. In the team event, the rider will often sleep between pulls, and the bed was quite handy! There is also a chair, so Terry (or crew) can sit and get to stuff. A couple of coolers had liquid nutrition for rider and crew, as well as things like fruit and cold cuts. Turkey proved quite popular for both riders as they tired of liquids. Finally there was a small, but quite complete bike toolkit, as well as emergency supplies for the car - like a puncture repair kit!


Tracy brought tubular tires. I gave a quick demo for how to fix a clincher and suggested Tracy give the sewup lesson. I sold my last tubular wheel, about 10 years ago, and honestly can't see much of a reason for using them today, especially on something like RAAM, where your crew may have no idea how to mount a new one after a puncture. I was a bit surprised that Tracy didn't have preglued spares, or at least tub-tape to make things easier for the crew. I eventually found some tub-tape in Ogden, Utah, which I added to his tool kit. He also had deep section rims, and seemingly just one valve extender. I picked up a couple more of this in Ogden as well, since occasionally a crew member would take one away in a pocket from a shift accidentally!


The vehicle in the background is a Ford Escape, code named Typhoon. When Muffy handed me keys for it and said here are your escape keys, I apparently looked like I'd just been handed a get out of jail free card, and tried to figure out how to use it. The Escape was not actually part of the plan, but a mix-up at the rental car agency meant poor Tracy would have to deal with a small cramped pace vehicle. The pictures at the end show just how cramped it was inside.

Muffy and Chris are looking over the stop and eat sheets. We kept track of what the riders ingested throughout the trip. The idea was to keep on a consistent schedule and make sure riders were drinking enough and getting enough calories along the way.

Steve and Muffy