A race so bonkers it’s likely to make you hallucinate, get ready for the cycling equivalent of Everest.
In fact, the comparison between the Race Across America (RAAM) and Everest doesn’t necessarily do justice to the difficulty of crossing america in 12 days on a bike. The RAAM website boasts that Austrian adventurer Wolfgang Fasching, a man/beast who climbed Everest and completed the ride across the US, said that Everest was more dangerous but the cycling was harder.
The details hide the devil: the race is an ultra marathon, an annual event which has been going since 1982. challenging riders and their support teams to make the journey from west to east coast USA in a round-the-clock race where riders can expect to cover around 3,000 miles and ride for 22 hours every day.
You don’t stop to pee, you often don’t stop for food, even though you have to take on a staggering number of calories every day to stay upright, and every sleep cycle is compressed down to spurts of snoozing and days of accumulated tiredness.
Etapes and Le Tour itself look elegant and dainty with their stages and their cobbled streets in contrast to the looming behemoth of a 1 ½ weeks assault on the senses and muscles. Cycling’s showcase event has class and drama, but it doesn’t have a 50% drop-out rate for solo riders.
When you’re at the cliffs of madness, the unusual becomes commonplace: teams prepare for their riders to hallucinate as the fatigue turns their minds to putty. One team crew recounted, on NPR’s This American Life show, how they acted parts as they followed their rider in order to spur him on and keep his mind focused in one direction.
Who does this kind of thing? Well, mostly Americans, but a look over past winners reveals a few Austrians (including the esteemed Mr Fasching) and several Slovenians. The race organisers make it clear that this isn’t part of the circuit for pro-racers, a lot of the time riders are simply people with a gluttony for punishment; adventurers, soldiers, tattoo artists.
However, behind the wild-eyed enthusiasm for cycling is a meticulous attention to detail when it comes to preparation: every mechanical decision needs to be considered when a bike is going to be in use for that length of time and over that distance. The scientific approach is too important to ignore, but it also makes a fascinating contrast with the amped attitude you need to stand a reasonable chance of maintaining motivation over those yawning highways.
It’s not surprising that this race exists and that people are willing to pit themselves against whatever nature has – but it’s still a testament to the riders passion for cycling and the incredible feats that brings about.
This year, the race starts at Oceanside Pier in California and finishes in Annapolis, Maryland and the organisers already have their sights on the largest field and most extensive coverage in the race’s history.
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