I will never forget the phrase “Racer Number T815”.
Why? Because it was almost surgically attached to me for 3,000 miles across America, from California to Maryland on one of the most incredible team challenges I’ve embarked on.
You can look at a map, you can plot the course and do the training but when it comes down to it there’s nothing that can prepare you for crossing 12 American states in eight days, and climbing 175,000 feet of hill road along the way. But that’s why the RAAM, or Race Across America, is like no other race in the world.
To give you a bit of background on the cycle, the route travels west to east and is simply breathtaking. Along the way you cross the Sierra, Rocky and Appalachian mountain ranges, the Colorado, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers and the Great Plains, as well as the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts…..how’s that for a bucket list!
I was part of the incredible ‘Antonia’s Friends’ team made up of me, my fiancee Lucy, my boss Barry, former Wales backrower Alix Popham and another 17 fantastic human beings who came away on the trip as riders, drivers, cooks, navigators and general motivators.
For 36 years RAAM has been pushing ultra-cyclists to and past their limits, raising millions for charity. We were cycling for Asthma UK and a young girl Antonia Thomas, a bright, funny, beautiful, energetic girl who had been diagnosed with mild asthma, yet tragically died from an asthma attack in under 10 minutes at the tender age of 10. Raising awareness about the dangers of asthma and how you can manage it correctly and appropriately was something that I was passionate about and felt very strongly committed to, and it certainly motivated me and drove me through some of the dark moments during RAAM.
Over the course of the race every one of us experienced moments of doubt, extreme physical pain and emotional suffering.
Ultimately, though, we also felt exhilaration, redemption and massive reward. As a relay team reliant on each other, the race really is the true test of speed, endurance, strength and above all camaraderie.
I think the best thing about it all was the collective efforts of the whole team involved. Yes there were eight cyclists and we had to work hard on the road, but the support crew were just incredible. For example, having a resident chef that was ready and waiting with some of the most fantastic food you’ve tasted as soon as you finished riding was amazing, even more miraculous was the fact that it was cooked up on the side of the road! Then there was our onboard navigator/team leader coordinating our every move. The general set-up and how well it worked was testament to everyone’s hard work.
You might think that a support crew of 12 and the eight riders all cooped up and travelling across the United States together would be a recipe for disaster, but it was successfully the best experience I’ve had and the most enjoyable team to be a part of.
I would recommend the race to anyone as long as you’re willing to put in the hard yards to prepare. Although I might not have looked it at times, at 33 I was the youngest on our team with Richard the oldest at 63 and everyone got so much out of it.
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