Volume 16, Issue 27 - July 3 - July 9, 2008

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Where We Live
by Steve Carr

Wish You Were There

When the heroes road in after cycling 3,014 miles, few seemed to notice

I first rode across the United States on a bicycle in 1976 as part of the Bikecentennial. I flew to Seattle with two friends. We assembled our bikes in the airport and began a journey from hell. We decided we had to go 100 miles a day to do the 3,000-mile trip in a month. By the time it was over, we all pretty much hated one another.

The next time I did it, I went alone from San Diego. This time my goal was to have fun, not ride across country like a mad dog. The trip lasted more than three months. After stopping along the way at the Grand Canyon, I applied for a seasonal job with the Park Service and ended up living on the North Rim for 15 years. But that’s another story.

This is a story about the Race Across America, the world’s most difficult endurance event. Last month, teams of eight, four, two and solo riders pedaled from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis. That’s 3,014 miles, crossing 15 states and climbing over 108,000 feet. In its 26th year, Race Across America makes the Tour de France look like a cake walk. The race begins with the broiling deserts of California and Arizona, climbs straight up through Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff, then across the flaming red rocks of Navajo land and over the San Juans and Rocky Mountains of New Mexico and Colorado, then down into the monotonous wind tunnel of Kansas, before dodging tornados in Missouri and floods in Illinois and the roller coaster Appalachian Mountains, to end at City Dock in Crabtowne, USA.

The start was staggered, with the solos leaving first, on June 7, and the eights leaving last. All had to arrive by 5pm June 20. Riders came from Brazil, the U.K., Switzerland, Canada, Italy, Luxembourg, Ireland, Spain, Austria, Germany and the U.S.

Racing to Annapolis

The organization came to Mayor Ellen Moyer in search of a greener home than Atlantic City, which had been the end point for five years. Annapolis seemed the perfect fit, except that Chesapeake Bay, rather than the Atlantic Ocean, would be their finish line.

Because of my experience with cross-country cycling, Moyer asked me to coordinate the event for the City of Annapolis. It sounded fascinatingly crazy. But the Annapolis Triathlon had just caused much heartburn. How would Annapolis react to five days of intense international cycling?

The first team arrived at 3:30am June 17, eight crazed Norwegians in search of a bar after completing their amazing run in five days and nine hours.

The solo Iron Man was a three-time winner from the Slovenian Army, Yuri Robic, who accomplished his supernatural mission in eight days and 23 hours. He stood on the stage in Susan Campbell Park, draped in a Slovenian flag, and basked in the glory. The next soloist would finish 18 hours later.

But as I met many of the teams at the finish line, or escorted the various riders in from the Annapolis Mall, I realized that Race Across America isn’t about winning as much as it is about winners. Anyone who finished this Herculean ride is a champion. And many were doing it for a charity, a favorite cause or a loved one: breast cancer, melanoma, Type One diabetes, fallen soldiers, heart disease, green power. Collectively, Race Across America riders raise over a million dollars each year.

Every finisher had a story. I often found myself teary-eyed. Like the eight riders from Canada who lost one of their teammates when he crashed on a lonely mountain road in New Mexico; he stood on the stage in his cast and cried like a baby. Or the team from Georgia who were all survivors of diabetes. Or the giddy group from Luxembourg who had no place to stay when they finished and no idea where they were, but who hugged one another as a double rainbow appeared over Annapolis Harbor.

I wish more people from Annapolis had witnessed this heart-warming event. It often felt like we were throwing a great party and no one came. The tourists loved it, but the locals didn’t show much interest.

But you will get another chance.

On the next to last day, Race Across America’s CEO, Fred Boethling, gave Annapolis a special recognition award for hosting the event and said, “Annapolis is the best town we’ve ever finished in, and we can’t wait to see you all next year.”

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.