Flat on van
“Son of a bitch. Flat on van. FLAT ON VAN!!” I knew it didn’t make any sense to anyone, even as I was screaming it out at the top of my desert scorched lungs, but that’s what I saw and so that’s what I reported. OK, stop. Breathe. Don’t panic. Assess, plan, react. Adam was still rolling…good. Daytime, Arizona, so no close follow required, or even aloud. Fine. He’s OK without us and the follow van for a little while. But it’s 115+ degrees in the Arizona desert, meaning a guy pedaling a bike will need water and salt very soon, and since he had already been riding for more than 20 hours with no sleep, he would also need somebody there to make sure he stayed on top of it. With the Wildebago flatted, we needed the second support van to jump in and take up the task of keeping Adam hydrated and fed, and supply him with any other support he might need until we could get back on the road.
“Bill, we’ve got a flat, call the support van and tell them…” As I spoke, Anabelle Lau and David Su (aka DSu) pulled up in the second van, right on top of the situation as per usual. We quickly exchanged words and got on the same page, made sure they had what they needed to keep our rider on the road, and sent them on to chase Adam down. Anabelle (Adam’s girlfriend and our most experienced crew member) shouted some instructions to me about how to remove the spare from the van, which I quickly dismissed. “I can change the tire”, I shouted. “You take care of Adam.” Lack of sleep? Stressfull situation? Yep, plenty of excuses to be sure, but I would soon wish I had spent another two minutes listening instead of rushing to react. This lesson would present itself to me again and again throughout the unfolding odyssey of crewing for Adam “the Wildebeast” Bickett, in the Race Across America.
Meanwhile, FIX THAT FLAT! We had pulled off the road onto a sloping shoulder, more than five feet off the pavement of course, in full compliance with the race rules, but way too steep to safely change a tire. Thankfully, there was a good spot across the road, so we pulled the Wildebago around and quickly went to work. I rolled under the van and found the spare hanging there right where it should be, fully inflated and ready to be put into service. Good! I began to pound what looked like a giant wing nut holding up the spare, with a hammer, spinning it uselessly around several rotations before I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. Bill Fields and James Nichols were busy locating and pulling the jack and tire tool out, and thankfully also located a laminated instruction sheet showing how to lower the spare by turning a screw accessed through the van bumper using the tire tool. As I reviewed the instructions, I realized this is exactly what Anabelle had been trying to tell me, and Bill confirmed that he had seen this setup before as well. All I had to do was listen to my fellow crewmates, instead of rushing headlong into the task as if I were the only one capable of handling the situation. OK, so clearly I have some issues with taking instructions from others…duly noted. Eventually, with Bill and James’ patient help and a thorough exercising of my most colorful vocabulary (did I mention it was 115 degrees out?), we managed to get the spare down, change the tire, and get the primary support van back on the road. Cheers rang out among us as we pulled back onto the pavement…the AZ desert was unimpressed.
As I drove fast (but well within the posted speed limit of course) to catch Adam, Bill and James contacted the second van by phone to explain that we would need them to take the flatted tire to a shop in Prescott and get it repaired, should we find ourselves with another flat further down the road. We finally caught Adam on the climb out of Prescott toward Jerome. He was cheerfully pounding out the climb in the sweltering heat, and appeared to be unconcerned with the follow van issues. Good, we managed to get through this first big test of the crew without costing him any race time or causing him any unneeded stress, at least as far as he would let on.
To O2 or not to O2
End of Day 2, Durango Colorado. James and I came off shift at 9:00pm local time, and turned over the support van to the night crew of my brother Terry and crew chief extraordinaire, Airey Baringer. We quickly found a hotel, did some rough calculations to determine how long we could sleep before picking up the chase again, and slammed ourselves into a short night’s sleep. I awoke well before the alarm, and texted Airey to check their location. Something very wrong. They had only covered 30 miles overnight, as opposed to the 100+ that I was expecting. Even with the difficult climb into the Rocky Mountains over Wolf Creek Pass, there had to be a serious issue to have them only 30 miles up the road.
We quickly got on the road to get ready for our next shift and see what was going on with our boys. We found them stopped on the side of the road on the lower slopes of the Rocky Mountains, just before Pagosa Springs, with Adam sleeping inside the van. They reported that Adam had been struggling to put out any power on the bike (something that NEVER happens with the Wildebeast), was very cold and could not seem to warm up in spite of wearing most every piece of gear he owned, and was generally just tired and suffering. Probably all due to a lack of calories, possibly an imbalance between salt and water intake, layered in with all the stress of two days racing through the desert heat. Lingering heat stroke maybe? Hard to say, but sleep would surely help him.
It’s ridiculously difficult to isolate ‘real’ medical symptoms from the ‘usual’ effects of riding a bike for 20-22 hours per day, with the intention of covering 3000 miles in 8 to 10 days. Looking back, and reading the symptoms back to myself now, it should have been easy to have recognized these signs of serious altitude sickness. But Adam was barely at 7000 feet, not even into the real climbing or altitude yet, and we’ve all watched him climb over 10000 foot passes so many times in the past without any issue at all, that the thought didn’t even enter the conversation. This is a mistake none of us will ever make again.
With the situation poorly assessed by me, James and I decided to roll forward to Pagosa Springs to pick up supplies and get ready to take over the follow crew duties in a couple hours, leaving Terry and Airey to get Adam rolling again after a brief nap…hoping he would awake feeling better. Not long after we reached town we got a call from Terry.
“We’re at the hospital in Pagosa Springs. Airey’s in the room with him, we’re waiting to hear what’s up.”
Terry is my brother, 2 years older (I’m the good looking one, should you ever want to know how to tell us apart). We grew up together on the ragged edge of the west side of Phoenix, with little or no parenting to get in the way of our own upbringing. We somehow lived through it, and both carry scars and crooked noses as reminders of our childhood “brotherly love”. I know him very well, and have been through enough adventures, both planned and unplanned, to know when the situation is serious, just by the tone of his voice. Terry does not raise false alarms, and this was one of those times when a thin line of stress edged into his tone.
Among all the things that were awesome about this whole trip, and the list is long, a couple of the things I’m most thankful for are that Airey and Terry were the ones on shift when Adam was in potentially devastating trouble, and that I was only a couple miles from the hospital when this call came in. James and I were there within the next 20 minutes, bearing gifts of egg sandwiches and coffee for the overnight crew and desperate to learn Adam’s situation.
We spent the next several hours in the hospital, where Adam received excellent care and attention. Physically, he responded very well to oxygen and a saline IV, and to lying in a bed instead of trying to continue to pedal his bicycle up 6-8% grades with dangerously low blood-oxygen levels. His hydration was good, especially given what he had been through since leaving Oceanside, salt levels just a touch low. Apart from minor nagging chaffing issues, his major concern was (of course) severe altitude sickness, pulmonary edema, with some fluid accumulation in his lungs raising serious concerns of pneumonia. As things go, the doctor who came on shift that morning had a great deal of experience with altitude sickness, himself a high-altitude climber who had spent time in the Himalayas, and had a close associate who is one of the premiere experts on the subject in the world. He made a phone call to that associate, and then returned to tell us that his professional opinion was that Adam’s race was over. Go home, rest, and try again next year.
Nope, not good enough. Adam listened carefully to every word, then began a line of questioning about what could be done if we wanted to attempt to carry on, what risks he faced, and how could they be mitigated. After a time, our Medical Merlin realized that he was not dealing with anything close to an average patient, and that the rest of us there took Adam’s safety very seriously, but also took this race very seriously as well. He pulled the curtains closed to talk to us with as much privacy as possible, and poured out every ounce of knowledge he had as to how one might try to get over the Rockies given Adam’s condition, and the time constraints Airey had calculated would still allow us to make the cut-off time that loomed up-course at the Mississippi River. We absorbed, questioned, discussed, questioned some more, and when we finally determined that this incredibly patient and knowledgeable doctor was now resorting to repeating what he had already told us, we turned him loose to his regular duties and settled in to discuss our options.
The situations in RAAM can become extreme in the single beat of the heart. We now found ourselves sitting in the hospital with Adam, discussing what might be the most important decision of his life, because it was clear to all of us that his life and well-being may very well be at stake. If it sounds like I’m making more of this than it was, all I can say is that you had to be with us at that moment to know that this was our reality. We knew that doing the wrong thing, making the wrong decisions, could be disastrous…not in race terms, but in life terms. Not enough oxygen to one’s brain is a very serious matter indeed!
Adam is a remarkable young man. In spite of what he had been through physically, a serious lack of sleep, and the deep emotions attached to the situation he now found himself in, his approach was methodical and incredibly intelligent. He began by taking a quick survey of each of our feelings about the possibility of moving forward. The questions were: 1) were we willing to support him, given the risks that had been presented, and 2) what would each of us do in his shoes? After some discussion, heated at times, tears fought back at others, we all came to the agreement that we were willing to deploy a plan for getting him over the mountains and down to the thicker air on the other side, provided we could control the risks to everyone’s satisfaction. It was Adam’s race, but we were all responsible for his safety and there could be no compromise in that. After more negotiations and another visit from the doctor, we were cautiously optimistic that we had a plan, with very clear instructions on how to monitor Adam’s risk by tracking his blood-oxygen levels closely as he climbed, and that at the first signs of trouble we were not willing to try to push forward. We would immediately descend as quickly as possible. Game Over.
The medical advice was reasonably straight-forward. Adam would spend the next 24 hours (bare minimum, 48 hours recommended) at the current elevation, resting and on oxygen. That would give his body time to acclimate some to the thinner air, and the oxygen would, of course, allow him to heal and acclimate more quickly, and hopefully help clear his lungs. And so, with a solid plan in place, we moved Adam to a hotel and settled him in with his new best friend, an O2 machine. Meanwhile the crew settled into a luxury that none of us had expected, a free afternoon to catch up on things like laundry, car reorganization, and sleep! We now had all the tools we were able to gather to help Adam get over the Rockies, we just hoped it would be enough.
Wolf Creek Pass
After something like 34 hours off the bike, we drove Adam back down the course to pick up where he had left off two nights earlier. We passed a number of riders going the other way, who were just arriving to this stretch of the course. At one point Adam remarked, “Well, looks like I’m officially in last place.” We all had a good, if nervous, laugh at his charming nonchalance. I saw his wry sense of humor a multitude of times all across the country, and most often when the going got particularly difficult. Today marked an absolute deciding point for Adam’s race. The next few hours would determine whether or not he would be able to carry on.
I cannot speak for Adam as to how difficult the climb up Wolf Creek was. I know that he remained calm and controlled in his approach. No trademark Wildebeast Stomp, no fireworks, no heartrate spikes; just a long, arduous, and carefully controlled push. My throat ached with the ever-present lump that was lodged there while I watched his grim determination as he let two normally slower riders ease away from him on the climb. The feelings for me were very unusual and difficult to decipher. The best I can do looking back is to say it was the most heart-felt admiration I have ever known for anyone. I wanted to grab his seat post and shove him along over that mountain, running in my bare feet on the rough gravel if necessary. But no, this is Adam’s dream. The rest of us are just lucky enough to experience it up-close and personal, and help out where we can. Go get your dream young man, we’ve got you!
We stopped him every 10 to 15 minutes to check the numbers and get him more oxygen as he rested in the van. His spirits were good, whether real or simply a mask he put on in order to make us all feel better. I’m guessing at the latter, knowing how difficult that climb must have been given his compromised health, and knowing that Adam has the remarkable capacity to be as concerned for his crew as we are for him, even in the deepest throws of suffering on a bike.
In the early afternoon of day 4 of the race, Adam pulled into the parking area at the summit of Wolf Creek Pass and broke into tears as he fell into a deep and long-lasting embrace with Anabelle. The rest of the crew cheered loudly in order to cover our own tears. And then, just as quickly as the triumph was realized, it was time to move on. Adam still had two more summits at or near 10,000 feet to conquer, and every minute we spent at this altitude put his well-being in jeopardy. I went off shift before these next two challenges were realized, but when I returned to the race the next morning, Adam and the rest of the crew had done it! He was over the Rockies and rolling on the high plains toward the Kansas border.
Life in the bubble
When done correctly, close-follow support puts the rider in sort of invisible bubble, shielded from the rest of the world and supplied with everything he needs to just keep pedaling. Adam is responsible for taking direction, clearly and accurately reporting his status, and putting power to the pedals, while the crew is responsible for keeping him rolling: fed, watered and as comfy and safe as possible. That is the idealistic view, and is only possible by a crew with a lot of experience with their rider (see Christoph Strasser), and on the more quiet and rural stretches of the course. But there are sections of highway and two-lane road through small-to-moderate sized towns where traffic makes it impossible to maintain that kind of constant contact with your rider. Cars can quickly stack up behind the follow van, with no way to get around the vehicle and the bike safely, and the rules are quite explicit about not impeding traffic. At times, during daylight hours, the follow driver has no choice but to pull off the road and leave the rider to his own devices for short stretches as the traffic makes its way around him. At night, the rider must stay within the headlights of his follow vehicle at all times, so both the rider and the follow must stop to let traffic go. Thankfully, however, night-time traffic is generally light enough as to not be a concern.
On the afternoon of day 5, as we made our way into the town of Maize Kansas, I found myself in exactly this situation. We were racing under daytime rules. I was in close-follow, staying 10 to 20 feet behind Adam, but had to pull out every few minutes to let groups of cars get by so that we did not impede traffic. I generally found places to pull out that allowed me to watch as the cars worked their way around Adam, and was happy to see most everyone giving him at least ½ lane berth as they went by. There are, of course, exceptions in every group of decent people, but we were all remarking at how generally friendly people were being to him. I then pulled off just past an intersection to let a big-rig by, and was happy to do so at a place in the road where we could see that it was clear coming the other way so that he could move over and give Adam space. This driver, however, did not. He held his lane completely, and as the trailer came up even with Adam he edged even closer, forcing Adam off the pavement.
Somehow, in spite of the miles he had ridden and lack of sleep, Adam narrowly escaped contact with the trailer, jumped the berm on the edge of the asphalt, and rode down a steep 15 foot embankment of grass and rocks and kept his bike upright as he got one foot unclipped and slowed himself enough to stop without going down. It was a world-class piece of bike handling that saved him from serious injury, or even worse had he found any of the bigger rocks in just the wrong way.
It happened so quickly that I didn’t think to do anything but get up to Adam and make sure he was OK. No thought to get the license plate of the truck, no thought of chasing the asshole down…just get to Adam. By the time I got stopped and out of the van, he was already climbing back up the bank carrying his bike. The rear wheel had been forced out the frame, and the rear tire had cords showing where he had momentarily locked up the rear brake trying to get stopped before he was forced off the road. But other than that, the bike and Adam looked fine. Adam was incredibly calm, much more so than I.
“Do you want to take a minute,” I asked him as James got a fresh wheel on the bike.
“No, I’m fine”.
That was about the extent of the conversation. We may have exchanged some brief, choice words about the trucker who had just attempted to murder my friend, but I honestly don’t recall because I was battling off that shocky feeling one gets after a very close call.
I am in no way exaggerating this experience with my careful choice of words. Attempted Murder is only way to describe the actions of that driver. The trucker absolutely knew Adam was there, and chose to attack him with a big-rig diesel. Here’s what I know: The driver had to wait for us to get out of the lane before he came through. The follow van is clearly marked with “Caution Bicycles Ahead” signs and auxiliary flashing red lights on the roof that were turned on and operational. The lane was wide enough that every other car and truck that had come by us that day had slid over to leave enough pavement for Adam, even if there was traffic coming the other way. This truck also had plenty of room and plenty of time to slide over and NOT try to kill Adam by running him off the road. I could see down the road before I moved out of the way, and nobody was coming the other way for quite some distance. This driver absolutely, positively acted with the intent to do harm to my rider, by forcing him off the pavement. The only reason that bastard was not successful in his attack is that Adam was alert and skilled enough to ride himself to safety.
It took me a good long while to calm myself down after that, and I’m feeling a lot of those same feelings again now as I write this, eyes welling up a bit, sick to my stomach. I’m sorry, my good friend, that we were not able to keep you protected at that moment, and I am forever grateful that you were able to save your own life.
On a side note, DSu (who was somehow managing crew duties AND media simultaneously…thanks David for all the photos in this post!) ran a windshield GoPRO camera in the follow van for the entire race, and I was driving right behind the a-hole trucker as this incident unfolded. Stay tuned.
A Better Encounter
Not every intrusion into our race bubble was so unwelcome. At one point during a very rainy morning in Ohio, Adam needed to stop to change jackets. I pulled around him and drove up the road a bit to find a suitable location while James got the fresh jacket ready. I pulled into a gravel side road (which, of course, had plenty of room for us to stop safely a minimum of 5 feet off the pavement, but not block any side traffic that might happen to be coming through, as per the race rules). I noticed there was a pick-up truck parked some 100 yards back, on the edge of the gravel road, and then saw a young shirtless boy trotting excitedly toward us with a camera around his neck. His mother shouted something that sounded like “Bickett”, which I passed off as me just hearing her wrongly.
As I positioned myself to catch Adam coming off the road and take his bike while he moved over to the van to get help with the jacket from James, the boy started shouting excitedly. “Adam is doing great, Toone is just up the road. He’d DOING GREAT!”
This was no random kid on the side of the road. This was an ultra-cycling super fan. Who knew they even existing?! His mother was yelling to us from the dry safety of her truck. “He’s watching you online. He knows everything. He LOVES Adam!”
Really?! Here in the backwoods of Ohio, this boy convinced his mother to drive him out on course just so he could see The WildeBeast ride by? And it just so happened that we chose to pull into that exact spot to give him a chance to meet Adam face to face. The universe is an incredible place.
The boy shouted out questions to Adam rapid fire, barely giving him time to answer:
“How much are you eating?”
“How long do you sleep?”
“Are you breathing OK?”
“You’re doing great. You can catch Toone! He’s right up the road!!! Strasser is out. I don’t know why.” This kid did indeed know everything. He’s a true superfan of the race.
Adam answered every question and thanked him for the encouragement. The boy took tons of pictures, but was very respectful to stay out of Adam’s way. The entire encounter lasted probably 2 minutes, but I know that the effect of it will be with all of us for the rest of our lives. If ever a young man was inspired by a hero, it would be in a moment like this. The WildeBeast he had somehow found and followed online just bashed directly into his life. Not a flyby, not a split second to get a few blurry photos. Adam Bickett was no longer a flashing dot on a map of the United States on his computer screen, he was a real, living, breathing, talking man–with legs like tree trunks! I’m certain the story of meeting the WildeBeast will be told again and again until that boy’s friends and family beg him to stop.
But we were still in race mode, and there was little time to waste. Several minutes down the road after this spectacular encounter, I realized two regrets: I didn’t get the boy’s name or any way to find him again after the race was over, and I didn’t think to grab his camera and take some pictures of him with Adam. Young man, if by some miracle you ever happen to read this, send me or Adam a note on Facebook. I sure would like to see some of those photos you took!
The Brazilians are coming, or are they?
Just a few miles past Mc Henry Maryland the road tilts up for a tough little 1000 foot, 3 mile climb. As Adam rolled onto that climb, I saw a rider approaching fast in the van mirrors and passed on word to Adam through Anabelle (who was on the radio with him) that there was a team rider coming up on him. No reply from Adam on the radio, but I did see him pop out of the saddle as he started into the first steep part of the climb. Not an unusual move for the Wildebeast on the bumpier sections. He still had the energy and power to get out of the saddle and grind out climbs right to the end of the race, 3000 miles in! There seemed to be no end to the strength in his legs, though he may have something different to report from his perspective.
I watched how he was climbing, always looking for any change in his mechanics that might signal some sort of issue. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the smooth powerful pedal strokes that are his trademark (aka, the Wildebeast Stomp). What I didn’t notice was that he had apparently bumped up his watts, and when I looked back in the mirror I saw that the approaching team rider had stopped gaining ground and appeared to be struggling to hold his position with us on the climb. Whether this was a calculated response, or just Adam continuing to do what he does, I do not know. James got the number off the rider’s van behind us and reported it was a four man Brazilian team. Adam was outpacing a four-man team on a climb some 2800 miles into the race! I saw the racer behind us looking back at his van as if to ask if they were seeing what he was seeing. He was visibly struggling on the climb now, out of the saddle and throwing his bike side to side. Adam was still out of the saddle as well, but seemed to be floating on the pedals. We had music playing through the speaker mounted on the van bumper, and at one point he did a little dance, as Anabelle let him know that he was out-climbing the team behind him.
The Brazilian follow van clearly saw the incredible performance in front of them, and I could see the passenger hanging out of the window shouting, whether at his rider or Adam I’m not sure. Probably at both, and though it wasn’t in English, the meaning was clear. Roughly translated I think it was something like, “Holy Shit!” There was no other traffic on the road, so I eased our van over into the lane, to give the chasers a clear view of Adam as he pulled away from their rider, and I could then hear their shouts of appreciation double in intensity. About halfway up the climb, the Brazilian’s second van pulled up around us to set up a rider exchange. As they came by, they filled the open windows of the van and screamed and shouted their appreciation and encouragement. Adam was STILL out of the saddle, happily crushing the climb for us all to see. Goosebumps flooded my arms and legs. Again, emotions that were hard to put my finger on, but it was clear that I was watching a performance of grit and strength like nothing I had ever seen before.
We were over 9 days into this race, Adam was operating on less than 2 hours of sleep per night, and yet he looked as fresh as if he were just out crushing a century ride. The new Brazilian rider set up on the side of the road to take over from his suffering team mate, and the entire crew was out of the van cheering Adam on as we went by. We had gained so much ground on the rider still out on the road behind us that we lost sight of him before they exchanged to the fresh rider. A few minutes later, as we approached the top of that nasty climb, their leapfrog van came by once more, this time the rider that Adam had just dropped hung halfway out of the passenger window to shout his appreciation to Adam. Again with the goose bumps. Again with the lump in my throat.
I had told Adam at one point early in the race that crewing for him made me feel like a real badass, and this moment, watching him dig deep and put on a show of Beastly proportions, multiplied that feeling by a factor of ten. That’s my rider out there, Adam f-ing Bickett, putting the hurt on a four-man team, for no other reason than that he can.
On the following descent, the Brazilian team did indeed finally pass us, and the rider on the road gave Adam a wide berth, a huge smile, and a shout and wave of ultimate respect. Again, Adam created a story that I’m sure will be repeated for anyone willing to listen in group rides and coffee shops all across Brazil.
A long, difficult, fantastic night
There are a thousand other moments and a thousand other stories to tell from this adventure, but in the interest of getting this rambling post out before next year’s race rolls through, we jump now to the final night, which was truly one of the most special parts of the entire trip for me. I had been in the follow van since 8:00am (OK, roughly 8:00AM…my brother Terry is sure to be grumbling something about how I never arrived for the morning crew exchanges quite on time, but whatever). As we approached what we knew would be the last night of the race, I could not imaging going off shift and sleeping away the final hours of the race. James and Bill had been pulling huge crew shifts, and were ready to get some rest, but DSu and Anabelle also said they wanted to stay on through the night and help ensure we stay on course and get some final night-time media shots.
So, Bill and James set out ahead with the third vehicle to secure our hotel rooms in Annapolis and get some well-earned rest, while the remaining five of us strategized via cell phone about how we might arrange the final night shift. Airey and Terry came on early, also too excited to sleep and wanting to give Adam every possible advantage on what we all knew would be a very tough night for him. As Adam put it, all the cards were on the table.
Incredibly, since rejoining the race in Colorado, and after losing roughly 35 or more hours of racing time, Adam had battled his way from last place, back into the top 10. And, there were 4 racers within about 50 miles of us on the course. Lack of sleep was certainly catching up with him, but Adam and Airey hoped to race through the whole night without an “extended” sleep break, relying only on a few 10 minute (or less) power naps to keep him alert and riding.
After some discussion, and admittedly at my own suggestion, DSu and Anabelle generously offered me a position in the follow van with Airey and Terry, which would be my only chance to crew with my brother during the entire race. I was thrilled! Terry and I have crewed together on several other occasions for Adam, and this chance to be with him on the last night was more special to me than I can adequately express. When we mentioned this plan to Adam, he also immediately understood how important this was to us and gave a big thumbs-up to making it happen. And so I took my seat in the back of the follow van while Airey settled into the navigator’s seat and Terry took the wheel to shepherd Adam on to the ultimate goal.
The rapport between Airey, Terry and Adam was fun to watch. I got a clear vision into how they were able to keep Adam’s mind engaged through the long night shifts so that extreme sleep deprivation did not affect his riding. Airey and Adam chatted continuously on the radio about topics ranging from current events in the news, to what this race meant to each of us, to silly things that could only be absorbed in the context of the wee hours of the morning, late into a 10-day non-stop bicycle race. We read incredibly supportive posts from Adam’s fans on Facebook, gave him reports of other riders’ positions, and recounted events from the past 10 days. This was a night I would not have traded for anything. As we entered Gettysburg in the eerie, still hours of the morning with a light fog settling over the rolling landscape, Airey ad-libbed a stirring monologue of what it must have been like for the soldiers fighting there to Adam. It was a stirring moment, with all of our emotions already raw from the efforts of the race.
Just about two hours before sunrise, it became apparent that the lack of sleep was really taking a toll on Adam. He was not able to hold a straight line on the road, and his power and speed had dropped off considerably. Adam battled hard to stay on the road, but eventually we all came to the agreement that a power nap was absolutely essential in order to get him back on track. We found a good spot and got Adam into the van to take on more calories and close his eyes for a few minutes. He did not want to be stopped, but the moment he closed his eyes, he was asleep.
The nap was short, actual sleeping time less than five minutes. When we woke him, Anabelle had joined us from the other van, and when Adam saw her face he asked if she would be joining the follow van. Absolutely, we all agreed, Anabelle should most definitely be in the van for this final stretch. I took my spot with DSu in the second van, and rolled ahead to mark turns. Adam got back on the road after that brief nap, and was once again able to ride as he had been for the past 10 days, in perfect control of the bike and pushing out the watts. Amazing that such a brief rest put him back in good order. If I’m making this sound easy for him, it’s only because he makes it look easy. You can all imagine, it most definitely is not!!
And of course, RAAM was not done presenting its challenges just yet. As the horizon just barely began to lighten with the impending final daybreak of the race, the rains came. We had been watching this storm all night on various weather sites, and had hoped that we would finish before the worst of it hit. But as it turned out, Adam would do his final hours of racing in weather that ranged from steady drizzle to absolute deluge, with crazy swirling winds that would have put a fresh rider into serious distress. Adam soldiered on. DSu and I leapfrogged from turn to turn, to help ensure that Adam stayed on course. In spite of the obvious fatigue, and the brutal conditions, Adam managed a smile each time he passed us, and still appeared to be riding strong.
DSu wanted to be sure he was set up to get good photos and video at the Ram’s Head Inn, the official end of the timed portion of the race. So at about 10 miles out, we forged ahead and posted up there. While we waited there in the rain, I chatted with several members of an 8-man team from Ireland, who had done the race without any support! They had two vans and 8 racers who did all of their own driving and everything else required to keep themselves moving. They finished just minutes ahead of Adam (teams start 4 days after solos), and then hung out in the rain to cheer him in as well.
The moment that Adam pulled up to the finish line is burned deeply into my mind. DSu stood to the side, capturing the moments with his amazing array of cameras. The rest of the crew was in the Wildebago, following him in. And I stood out on the road, the fortunate one to be the first to welcome Adam to the finish line.
Oops, wait. Crap, forgot my safety vest. You know what? Fuck the rules.
Adam rolled up with the follow van honking and cheering behind him. It was a brief moment before the rest of the crew rushed out of the van, just long enough for me to give him a hug that could not possibly convey what I felt about his accomplishment. It is a moment that I will hold in my mind forever.
Adam made his way through the parade route in the rain, to the stage on the docks at Annapolis, the same place where he had watched Christoph Strasser finish just 3 short years prior. That was when he had told us that he had plans to tackle this race solo himself one day. And now, as a deeply emotional George Thomas interviewed him, Terry and I smiled on from the side, feeling incredibly proud of Adam, and of ourselves and the rest of the crew. The enormous expanse of this race is impossible to fully comprehend, even having seen it as up close and personal as I did. To know that Adam is now among the very short list of people who have completed it, and to have watched how amazingly well he performed, gives me an entirely new perspective on what each of us can and should dare to attempt.
Adam finished 8th overall, completing 3004 miles in 10 days, 15 hours and 53 minutes. It had been less than a week prior that we had thought very seriously that his race was over. Cheers my good friend Adam Bickett. Thank you for an experience that I simply could not have imagined without having met you, and for making me challenge my own view of what might be possible.