RAAM '90 Sets New Starndards of Excellence
The story of RAAM 1990 featuring Michelle Grainger, 3rd place and Rookie of the Year
Oct 4, 07
printed in Adventurecorps
RAAM '90 Sets New Standards of Excellence
By Chris Kostman
Originally published in the UMCA Newsletter, September 1990
In the ninth annual edition of the Race Across AMerica, "the race" didn't really start until the Rocky Mountains, but it was a class act from day one to the finish. Assembled on the August 5 starting line at the Holiday Inn of Irvine, CA was the largest RAAM field ever: 27 men, six women, and the mixed tandem of Ron Dossenbach and Sue Pavlat. Starting 24 hours later were the two men's tandems of Roger Charleville and Bob Breedlove alongside Lon Haldeman and Pete Penseyres. The sheer size of the competitive field, 39 riders strong, was the first of many records to be set in RAAM '90.
The race began with its usual parade start, but with a new twist. The riders departed in pairs and were each escorted by thirty entrants in the RAAM Kick-Off Ride. For the first 25 miles these lucky cyclists were able to experience the thrill of the start of RAAM, but after reaching Yorba Linda Park they were also lucky enough to ride back to Irvine and head home for the night, while the RAAM racers continued east, bound for Savannah, Georgia.
The RAAM 90 route was also quite unique from previous races. Instead of making a beeline from Southern California to the North Eastern Seaboard, RAAM 90 took an indirect route into unfamiliar territory, the Deep South. Day One's route across the Mojave Desert and over the Colorado River to Arizona was nothing new, but from here the route turned north-east through Flagstaff and through Monument Valley in south-eastern Utah. Here the route returned to an easterly route across Southern Colorado, climbing over three major passes and passing through Cortez, Durango, and Trinidad. Leaving the Rockies behind, the route plunged south for 400 miles across the corner of New Mexico and along the Panhandle of Texas to Snyder. Here it once again turned east and made a final straight shot across to Louisianna, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.
Since this route had never been used in RAAM, the difficulty factor was unknown. Lacking east coast mountains, many suspected it to be an easy course. Wrong! The climb to Flagstaff concluded the major western climbing in RAAMs '85, '86, and '89, while this year the riders had to contend with rugged terrain through Northern Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. The three 9,000+ foot passes in Colorado probably made up for the lack of eastern mountains.
For first time in RAAM history, the racers were met with headwinds across much of California. Temps around 110 were standard as well. Pat Ward, back for his 3rd RAAM, set a blistering pace during Day One, but by nightfall as the winds rose up, everybody's pace had dropped considerably. On all previous RAAMs the leaders made it to the Colorado River by nightfall, but in 1990 it was well into the night before the leaders pedalled their wind and dust blown bicycles over the bridge. Headwinds would plague the riders during Day Two as well. So much so, that after 24 hours, race leader Rich Fedrigon had managed to cover just 380 miles, far off the standard of 450 miles covered in previous races.
First into Flagstaff to claim the PBAA Trophy was Swiss National Team member Felix Bättig. Covering 502 miles in 36:25, Bättig was surprised to find himself in the lead and even more surprised to be awarded a trophy for his efforts. He rewarded himself with a pasta dinner in his motorhome.
In the women's division, Paris-Brest-Paris '87 winner Kay Ryschon took a commanding lead and claimed the PBAA Trophy in Flagstaff, six hours ahead of her closest pursuer, Laura Stern. Ryschon's choice of all white clothing kept her protected from the sun. Michelle Grainger claimed her PBAA Medal (presented to every rider who made it to Flagstaff) a little less than two hours behind Stern. Not a bad comeback considering the two hours she lost at the starting line after she got lost in the pre-race ceremonial start and ended up back at the Holiday Inn. Race Officials allowed her to drive to the official race start, which was at the 41.2 mile mark, and resume her journey. Needless to say, Grainger now rode with authority, and her pedals were the recipients of her anger at the unfortunate start. By Flagstaff, Nancy Raposo, Cheryl Marek, and Missy Carson-Roark were closely bunched ten hours behind the lead.
In the men's division, Premananda Childs rolled into Flagstaff nine minutes behind Bättig, and also stopped for a break. After such a great start, Childs contracted stomach ailments and dropped just 49 miles later. He believes he caught a "stomach bug" even before the race started and it took a day for it to do its damage. That left Al Muldoon, nine minutes further back, to take the lead as he rolled on through Flagstaff. Heading into the second night of the race, Muldoon's crew kept him entertained by playing live baseball broadcasts over their PA speaker. This night was exceptionally eerie, as the route passed through the open range land of the Hopi Navajo Reservation, but a drop in headwinds and a clear sky and bright moon helped pick up the pace. Bobby Fourney eventually took the lead when Muldoon slept, then Fedrigon took over the lead when Fourney slept.
Meanwhile, a head to head battle was brewing in the men's tandem division. Starting 24 hours behind the main event, Drs. Bob Breedlove and Roger Charleville were teamed up against current tandem transcontinental record holders Lon Haldeman and Pete Penseyres. The tandems also fought the unusual headwinds through the California desert, reducing their average to the high teens rather than the low twenties. Breedlove/ Charleville held a lead of just under one hour until the 420 mile mark, when Haldeman/Penseyres took over. The teams continued to remain close, setting the stage for a great race.
Day Three began with sunrise in the breathtaking Monument Valley. The headwinds of the previous days had taken their toll on the times and speeds. Leader Fedrigon's average was 14.4, far off the 17.5 which is standard this early in the race. By the end of the day, Rich had managed to push the pace up to 14.9, but the Rockies looming ahead would only serve to drop that average back down.
At Time Station #7, 551 miles into the race, Laura Stern became the first woman to drop out of the race because of dehydration, a common ailment in this year's event. The intense heat, coupled with two days of headwinds, really took its toll on the riders. Meanwhile, Ryschon had increased her lead to 8.5 hours over Grainger. The other three women were far off the pace, but it was still early in the race.
Heading east, the riders made their way towards Durango. The town was plastered with banners announcing the impending deluge of world class mountain bikers for the Mountain Bike World Championships. ATB Worlds Director Ed Zink came out to the nearby Time Station #13, run by RAAM '89 racer Jeff Brain, to watch the world class ultra-marathoners pass. With the altitude ranging from 6,500 to 7,300 feet, the night was chilly as the route passed through Pagosa Springs and on toward the first major climb of the race, Wolf Creek Pass. First through Pagosa Springs was Muldoon, followed by Fedrigon, then Fourney. By Del Norte, 59 miles later and east of Wolf Creek Pass (elevation 10,850 feet and a temp of 47 degrees), Fourney had taken the lead, followed by Fedrigon, Rob Kish, and Muldoon.
As Day Four began the riders were now some 15 hours behind the projected pace and everyone was beginning to openly wonder why. The headwinds early in the race had certainly taken their toll, but also none of the riders seemed overly concerned with being in the lead and setting the pace. The lead only seemed to change hands when the leader went down for sleep. Various theories were put forth to explain the "slow" pace: 1) the race lacked a Secrest-type cyclist to go off the front and set a blistering pace and leave everyone struggling to hang on. 2) the unfamiliarity of the new route, coupled with the improbability of bettering Secrest's new sub eight day transcontinental record or even Solon's 89 RAAM record, left the riders unconcerned with their pace. 3) the riders were only interested in winning, not setting new records from state line to state line, so they were all sitting in the pack waiting for the final sprint into Savannah. Winning the war was far more important than winning each day's battle.
Day Four also included the two other major climbs of the race, La Veta Pass (9,413 feet) and Cuchara Pass (9,941 feet and definitely the toughest of the three). This latter pass was just east of Cuchara, a real authentic western frontier town. Fourney led through Cuchara, over the final pass, and on through Trinidad, with an overall average of 14.0 mph. By Trinidad, Kish had moved into second, just 1:32 behind Fourney, while the others had fallen further back. Suffering from a severe case of exercise induced asthma, Fedrigon nearly dropped from the race, but hung tough and managed to crest Cuchara Pass on foot. While only one hour back of Fourney in Fort Garland, TS #16, this dropped him to five hours back at TS #17 at Cuchara, and to over six hours back by TS #18 at Trinidad, but he somehow managed to doggedly hold onto fourth place.
Heading out of the Rockies and across the gently sloped plateau of eastern Colorado, the racers set yet another "RAAM first": well into the race, they picked up the pace and their overall average speed significantly! With the mountains and headwinds behind and with Fourney and Kish commanding a strong lead, the pair made the most of the situation and put the hammer down. Between Trinidad and Dalhart, Texas, some 160 miles to the south-east, race leader Kish averaged an incredible 18.5 mph, for an overall average of 14.34 and a 2:42 lead. Colorado native Fourney may not have been surprised by his own position near the front, but Florida flatlander Kish was certainly shocked to find himself in first place. "I couldn't believe I was with the leaders coming out of the mountains. I'd figured I'd be in about 10th place, as usual, and it would be a long struggle to get to the front, if ever" commented the five time entrant.
At Time Station #17, 1,053 miles into the race in Cuchara, CO, Ryschon dropped because of neck muscle problems. After a commanding lead, she had dropped back to 5th place trying to figure out a way to keep going. Riding very consistently and maintaining competitive averages after having been up to ten hours back, were Raposo, Marek, and Grainger, in that order, and all within 90 minutes of one another. Taking advantage of the descents into Texline, TX, 1,235 miles into the race Raposo increased her lead to 5.5 hours over Grainger and 6.75 hours over Marek. Carson-Roark dropped at Texline. She felt she was too far back, about 33.5 hours off the lead.
On the fourth night Kish and Fourney witnessed an incredible lightning storm near Roby, TX, which encircled the entire horizon and brought along with it a torrential downpour. Both riders used the opportunity for some rest, 90 minutes for Kish and a luxurious 2:40 for Fourney. Kish held onto the lead until Athens, Texas, TS #32 and 1,883 miles into the race. For the first time in his RAAM career, Kish had led the RAAM and he had done so for 657 miles, finally surrendering his lead during a sleep break. Kish also made the local TV news in Corsicanna, the town home to one of the largest Time Station volunteer groups ever, some 40 strong as Kish rolled past. Leaving Athens, Fourney had built a 41 minute lead and was maintaining an overall average of 14.0. When Fourney went down to sleep near Chandler, Kish moved back into the lead and was thus the first rider to be greeted by the incredibly organized and enthusiastic Time Station volunteers at TS #33 between Tyler and Longview.
Raposo continued to hold a firm lead as she followed her race plan of sleeping four hours every night, just prior to local sun-up time. Marek and Grainger continued to battle for second, but Marek managed to hold onto a slim lead. By Time Station #33, 1,952 miles, Raposo commanded a very comfortable lead of 14 hours, 53 minutes over Marek, who had secured a stronghold of 7 hours over Rookie entrant Grainger.
In the the men's tandem division, Breedlove/ Charleville were the first to go down for a sleep break, at the 600 mile mark, while Haldeman/ Penseyres continued to build a lead. By the 800 mile mark, both teams had rested and Haldeman/Penseyres were enjoying a three hour lead. It was doubtful, however, that Penseyres was enjoying anything at this point as he was experiencing "mountain sickness" together with a very bad case of saddle sores or boils. With Haldeman/Penseyres forced off the bike to deal with Pete's problems, Breedlove/Charleville regained the lead. Penseyres dropped at 952 miles with the official reason stated as "acute mountain sickness and saddle sores". Haldeman remained intact, but also out of the race.
The men's solo leaders finally left the great state of Texas behind (775 miles across as the RAAM racer rides!) and headed into the true Deep South after six days on the road. Although the heat and humidity rose, this part of the country was experiencing unseasonably cool and dry weather, and so fears of unbearable heat and humidity were never fully realized. While Kish continued to lead, Fourney had upped his pace to 20 mph and was closing quickly. By Ruston, Louisianna, Fourney had caught Kish and the two were clocked together through the 2,103 mile mark. At this point Fourney was content to just sit in and let Kish set the pace. When the two arrived at traffic lights together, Fourney would hesitate for a few moments and let Kish pull ahead. A real cat and mouse race was unfolding and quickly ending all discussions of a "slow" race in 1990!
Heading towards the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, Mississippi, Fourney seized the lead and was the first to dismount for the mandatory ten minute drive over the bridge. By Clinton, Fourney had built the lead to 39 minutes and by Forest, 53 miles later, his speedy riding and Kish's decision to take a sleep break put Fourney over four hours into the lead. After his own scheduled sleep, Bobby was still 2:41 ahead of Kish at Kewanee, TS #40 and 2,375 miles into the race. Though in the lead and riding strong, Fourney was now battling problems with his neck and eventually resorted to a Paul Solon-style bungie cord system to keep the pressure off of his neck muscles.
By the Mississippi River, Raposo held onto a 12+ hour lead over Marek and about 25 hours over Grainger. Breedlove/Charleville had now caught most of the RAAM pack, despite leaving 24 hours back. In terms of elapsed time, they reached Tallulah, LA (just west of the Mississippi River), four minutes ahead of race leader Fourney.
Crossing Alabama, Kish closed to within 1:34 of Fourney, but between Tuskegee, Alabama and Columbus, Georgia his hopes of winning RAAM '90 were crushed. His speed began dropping and his crew put him down for his standard one hour sleep. After being awakened, Kish was found to have lost touch with reality and the entire race. After an emotional and confusing hour for the rider, he was finally coaxed back into sleep. Two hours later, he was awakened and immediately came to grips with the race and his surroundings. Back on the bike and riding with intense determination, he had unfortunately lost over five hours to Fourney. By Time Station #44 at Columbus, Kish's crew learned that they were 7:26 behind Fourney. They elected to withold that information and all subsequent time splits from Kish in hopes that he might be able to pull off a major upset. So, unaware of his enormous time deficit, Kish set a blistering average speed of 18.3 mph all the way to the finish, versus Fourney's 13.1 mph for the same distance. Meanwhile, Fourney was passing through Plains and past former President Jimmy Carter's home and the late Billy Carter's gas station. Here Fourney stopped to have his neck worked on, but was in good enough spirits to swap jokes with his crew. Not that Fourney was feeling too comfortable with his lead over Kish, however, for he was experiencing severe pain and discomfort and was forced to stop regularly to attend to the problem. Meanwhile, Kish was closing the gap, from 6:06 at TS #45, to 4:12 at TS #46, to 2:45 at TS #47, to 2:15 at TS #48, to 2:01 at TS #49. All this in less than 300 miles! Fortunately for Fourney, even at those speeds it still would have required 55 more miles of race course for Kish to take the lead. So after a thrilling five car police motorcade across Savannah, Fourney rolled across the finish line at 11:36 PM to be met by Mayor John Rousakis, several hundred fans, and the local TV film crews. Kish did not learn of Fourney's victory until TS #49, the penalty box where Bobby had departed from his 45 minute stop for rule infractions just one hour earlier. Though obviously disappointed, Kish served his own 15 minute infraction penalty and then rode strong across Savannah. With similar police escort and fanfare, he finished a mere 1:11 behind Fourney for the closest finish in RAAM history.
Nancy Raposo held her sizeable lead for the remainder of the race, finishing in 10 days, 10 hours, and 6 minutes. She looked great and rode consistently strong, due to her sleeping schedule directed by her coach, Pierce Gafgen, owner of Ten Speed Spoke in Newport, RI. She's now two for two in RAAM competition. She was third in RAAM '88 with a time of 13:18:25 on the tough northern SF to DC route. Her improvement is very noteworthy.
Cheryl Marek held onto second place with a time of 11:14:44, while Michelle Grainger of Portland, OR, earned Rookie of the Year honors with her third place finishing time of 12:04:03. The men's Rookie of the Year was ninth place Todd Mumbauer of Butte, MT, with a time of 10:01:22.
The ninth annual edition of the Race Across AMerica was one of the most exciting and smoothest run ever. Irvine proved to be a dynamic and exciting starting location and the RAAM Kick-Off Ride was well attended. The finish at Rousakis Plaza in historic and beautiful Savannah was absolutely the best in RAAM history. The new and unusual course was challenging, scenic, safe, and easy to follow. There was not a single snafu of any note concerning the route, the local law enforcement personnel, or the racers themselves. We had the largest starting field ever, as well as a record number of official finishers. The racers proved that they were here to race, hang tough, and not just set first and second day speed records. In spite of headwinds early in the race, challenging climbs through the Rockies, and the relative heat, humidity, and unfamiliarity of the South, the riders all turned out impressive finishing times. It should also be noted that the top eight finishers were all veterans, proving once again that experience pays. Other RAAM first included RAAM's first "senior citizen" finisher, 58 year old Victor Gallo, along with RAAM's first grandparent finisher, Mixed Tandem rider Sue Pavlat, who became a grandmother during the race. RAAM '90 was a class act from start to finish