Hell on Two Wheels

Comments by Dale Campbell, Co-Editor

The Race Across America (RAAM) starts every June with about two dozen riders gathering in a parking lot in Oceanside, California with almost no fanfare or media attention.  The riders/racers mount bicycles and start pedaling across the continent. In 2009, the winner crossed the finish line in Annapolis, Md., after eight days, six hours and one minute. RAAM "is the most brutal organized sporting event you've never heard of," writes Amy Snyder in this engrossing account of the 2009 competition.

Since its inception in 1982, only 200 people have finished the route within the 12 days allotted. By contrast, Ms. Snyder notes, more than 3,000 people have climbed to Everest's summit. Just to make the race's every-thousand-mile cut-offs, riders must average 230-250 miles a day. If you want to win, you'd better cover 350 miles daily—and survive on about an hour of sleep for each 24-hour period.

Amy Snyder's book defines how the racers endure painful saddle sores, extreme weather—125 degrees in the desert, below freezing on mountain passes—and a malady called Shermer's Neck, which occurs when the muscles holding the head up suddenly fail from exhaustion.

And here's a bizarre aspect of the race. The winner of this grueling coast-to-coast sprint doesn't even receive a prize. Everybody who finishes does get a T-shirt, which reads: "This Ain't No Tour"—as in Tour de France.

Recently reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the Journal called Hell on Two Wheels "engrossing" and a "clear, gripping account." In gathering the research for the book, Ms. Snyder, a retired management consultant and former triathlete, spent two weeks driving across the country to watch the 2009 race, interviewing the racers and their support crews, and combing through a mountain of research on pain endurance, sleep deprivation and other features of the competition. In the Wall Street Journal review, its noted that she presents a clear, gripping account of the race as it unfolds, affectionately sketching the personalities of the bikers and chronicling their triumphs and tribulations.

One of the riders in the 2009 event, Jure Robic is quoted to have said. "I have loved cycling all my life. It's my way of life. I can't imagine a life without it. It's coming from the heart. I'm not doing it for the money or material things. It makes me happy and that's why I do it." Understanding this, perhaps the Race Across America doesn't sound so crazy after all. I intend to find out by getting a copy of the book and read it to learn more about the participants and their drive to ride in excess of 250 miles a day. As suggested by The Journal article, I'm sure Ms. Snyder's account of the race will more than provide that insight into the event.

Editors Note: Can't wait to read the book? May I suggest you see "Bicycle Dreams," a movie about the race. Details about the Colorado Springs showing of the movie are included nextin this month's newsletter.


BFC April 2011 Issue - Vol 4 Issue 4, 1 August 2011

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