Local women finish Race Across America
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Not many women are up for riding their bikes across the United States as fast as they can, sleeping for no more than two hours at a time between sprints. But the women who are up for it are probably the wrong ones to ask about why others aren’t interested.Local cyclists Linda Guerrette, Michele Keane, Wendy Lyall and Kerry White were the only all-women team to compete in the 2005 Race Across America on team Roaring Fork Volvo Border to Border Divas and completed the race around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Atlantic City, N.J., with a finish time of 7 days and 42 minutes.The race began last week in San Diego, Cailf., and took riders nearly 3,051.7 miles across the country. Local men’s team Beaver Creek-Vail (Toph Leonard, Brian Smith, Jimi Mortenson and Mike Janelle) was the first to cross the finish line Monday morning with a time of 5 days, 18 hours and 15 minutes.
The race, considered by many to be the most difficult cycling event in the world, was made especially difficult because of soaring heat along the course, reaching temperatures of more than 100 degrees, even at night during stretches of desert.”Dealing with the heat this year was tough,” said Guerrette, who, along with Lyall and White did the race last year, competing this year for the second time to raise awareness and money for pediatric HIV/AIDS through Border to Border USA. “Being that we live where we live, we don’t really deal with this kind of heat and humidity,” she said. “I mean, it was 115 (degrees) at night with 100 percent humidity. One day is one thing or two days, the whole week; it’s very hard on your body. There’s always the fear of dehydration.”Sleep deprivation all around
The Divas worked in teams of two. Each rider put in close to 800 miles altogether and each team would ride for four-hour intervals, with one team member pedaling for 15-20 minutes at a time, while a car and RV followed at close proximity, rotating through for the duration of the event.”The best part was seeing the system work and everyone working together,” Lyall said. “It’s a little depressing now that it’s over, after functioning for seven days on such high intensity.”The Divas worked with a 10-person crew, consisting of Border to Border president Joel Fritz, Ken Harper, Sean Plumming, BIll Kennedy, Amy Flammang, Bert Boyd, Dave Stephens, Kathleen Eiky, Craig Roberts and Gene MaGarity, who didn’t make it through the race. “They were 10 of the most level-headed people we’ve ever met,” White said. “They would have to drive 10 feet behind the rider the whole time, trading out four hours of driving, four of navigating and four of rest – which wasn’t really rest because you were doing grocery stops and laundry stops – nonstop for seven days.””The crews are so vitally important to this race,” Guerrette said. “They’re on the same sleep patterns as us. We spend however much time training and focusing, but they don’t train for being sleep-deprived. And they’re responsible for you out there. You’re asking someone to follow you at 45 mph at close range at night after not sleeping really at all for days. You have to ask yourself, ‘Can I do that?’ Can I trust the person doing that?’
Welcome to the roads of AmericaKeane was a last-minute sign-up on the team after Deb DeCrausaz had to withdraw a few days before the race started. Keane, who has done several 24-hour mountain bike races, had to borrow a road bike from Fritz and is new to long-distance road riding.”It’s like doing 24 Hours of Moab seven days in a row, except you have to deal with traffic,” Keane said. “The crew had way more stress do deal with than I did. You’re following your rider, on their butt the whole way to make sure nobody runs her over. I’m scared to death of traffic. That’s why I don’t ride a road bike.”Keane said her fear was augmented significantly after Iowa cyclist Robert Breedlove, one of 26 solo racers competing in RAAM this year, was killed by a truck last Thursday near Trinidad. The Divas pointed out that in many ways, RAAM is more difficult and dangerous than even the Tour de France.”If you did the race and slept every night, that’s different,” Keane said. “I got zombie at one point. There’s that. Plus, it’s not like it’s a closed course and people will know you’ll be there. We had one guy chase us down at one point. This is small town America. There are people cheering you on and being really nice as you pass by, and people who are pissed off that you’re on the road. Linda had a dog after her. I had one guy drive up beside me at 3 a.m. You just don’t know what to expect.”
No way going it soloWhile all of the Divas said they would like to do the race again, all were adamant about never wanting to do it solo. When the team bumped into Anna Catharina Berge, RAAM’s only solo female entry after six days of riding, they realized how zombie-like a racer can truly become.”Having seen the solo riders, what they go through and what it does to them, it’s an amazing thing that these people go through,” Guerrette said. “They sort of evaporate. Their bodies are there, but they’re not there. When these guys cross the finish line, you look in their eyes, and no one’s there. We sleep an hour to an hour and a half every eight hours. You can actually do really well on that amount of sleep. But, if you’re getting one hour or two every 24 hours … We passed the solo woman rider in Indiana. I stopped to acknowledge her, to shake her hand. She had this look in her eyes like, ‘I don’t know who I am. I don’t know who you are.’ That’s really scary; the long-term effects it must have.”Having slept 10 hours following the race Tuesday night and looking forward to more sleep, the Divas expect to return to the valley on Friday.”It’s going to be a long drive – about 35 hours,” White said. “But yeah … I guess it won’t be too bad.”Sports Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado