I need more time. More hours in each day and more days in each week just to slow things down a little. People often ask me how I manage to do all that I do as a cyclist and a parent of four, and the truth is that it’s often a little much. Sitting down to organize RAAM photos hasn’t been and isn’t going to be a priority any time soon, but I wanted to share what I could. There are plenty of cool photos of me on a bike during RAAM, but few of those are shared below. The more interesting side of any race to me are the people involved in it, and those are the photos and stories I want to share. So here are some of the photos and stories from RAAM 2017, in no particular order or priority. The rest of the stories you’ll have to get out of me on a bike ride sometime.
This 3T stem was given to me by Tom Navratil, Men’s rookie of the year. Tom passed me in Ohio, and asked me why he was passing me after I had been ahead of him for the entire race so far. I explained the troubles with my neck and that I’d been riding sitting upright since Kansas, and he said he had something that would help. His crew handed the stem off to mine, and Tom himself even stopped to talk to my crew. English is not his native language, but sleep deprived and over 2000 miles into RAAM he took the time to talk with my crew about relieving some of the strain on my neck. This is the spirit of ultra cycling. We are all family, and even though it’s a race, we all try to help one another out as best we can. Someday I’ll pass this stem on to another athlete in need.
Cassie Schumacher came out to ride with me twice for a few minutes in Ohio. Once in the pouring rain even. She brought snacks for my crew, and a gluten free pizza for me. It was so humbling to have people like Cassie show up just to lift my spirits. It’s pretty obvious from my position on the bike that I was in a great deal of discomfort, yet somehow I’m smiling thanks to Cassie.
My glowstick family, Amy and David Croll from Urbandale, IA. David and his daughter showed up on the course after midnight near St. Louis with a bag of glowsticks and money for food for my crew. I asked David what brought them out there at such a late hour, and he said he ‘wanted to show his daughter what a strong woman looked like’. I’m sure I looked anything but strong at that point as I was in a good bit of pain and struggling to hold my head up. Having the courage to be in that race in the first place, and remaining in that race and enduring all that it threw at me wasn’t exactly the display of strength I was going for, but they reminded me that it was strength all the same. Quite a lesson from a simple shopping bag full of glow sticks.
My crew tried a few times that night to get the glow stick necklace off me. I’m sure they were worried about the weight on my neck. I refused to let them have it, and replied that glowsticks are “aero as f**k”. They did eventually get them off me, and I never saw them again. Amy and David graciously brought me a new set at my welcome home party after RAAM.
My custom RAAM kit designed by Kim Hopkins from Velorosa. It was a bit anxiety provoking trying a new bib short so close to RAAM, but these ended up being real winners. I made it 3000 miles without any saddle sores. When they proved their worth in training, Kim and Lisa got me four more pair in a hurry plus helped me find similar non-custom black bibs to take on RAAM. It was quite moving to see photos of friends and people I had never met wearing a replica jersey that they had purchased to help fund the expense of RAAM. Thanks to Velorosa, the GoFundMe account that Connie set up on my behalf, the fundraiser at Mickey’s Irish Pub in Waukee, and all of the people that mailed checks to my home address, more than half of my crew expenses were covered. RAAM is not an inexpensive race, and their generosity was much appreciated.
Stretch Wilson and Jenn Borst showed up on the side of the highway in Missouri. Both are good friends, and Stretch had a weird alien mask on when I first saw them and I didn’t even recognize him until he took it off! The sleep deprivation was real; a 6’6″ tattooed alien, and I didn’t guess that it was Stretch. They made the 5+ hour drive just to see me for a minute, then drove back to Iowa.
Gina and Bob Fourney caught up with me in Kansas. Bob escorted me into one of the Kansas time stations, and they followed me across much of Kansas. How can you top the experience of having a child decide on her own to follow your race? They were simply a delight to have along, and a pleasant diversion from the increasingly obvious fact that the race was otherwise not going as I had hoped. Gina hopes to be an endurance rider someday, and I’ll be honored to say I knew her back when.
The traffic on RAAM is a constant source of stress, especially for the day shift crew. The race passes through several high population centers and there are areas of heavy traffic that you have to be prepared to ride through. I have been hit by a car before, and have serious residual stress regarding traffic. Brian Arnold and Erik Newsholme were the primary drivers on dayshift, and they did an excellent job of alerting traffic to my presence, while Steve or Jill talked to me over the cardo about what was coming. From my perspective, how they managed that aspect of the race could not have been done any better.
Adam Ashwill and his family staff Time Station 30 in Fort Scott, Kansas. Adam follows many of the RAAM athletes on Facebook, and I enjoy following him back. It’s been fun to watch him grow as a cyclist and take a Strava KOM this year. I asked Adam to ride with me for a bit, and he rode the 7 miles from his house to the Missouri border.
And what do you do when your sponsor sends a youth medium shirt for you instead of an adult medium? You put it on Steve Fuller and take pictures.
And thanks to RAAM media for capturing this gem:
100% of my training and race nutrition expenses for the entirety of the my 2017 season has been covered by Carbo Pro. The support and generosity has been truly overwhelming. Fully supporting an ultra cyclist is not an inexpensive endeavor considering I ordered what would normally be a year’s worth of product for one race. I used to despair of ever finding a nutrition sponsor, as I’d previously only been able to tolerate flavored products for roughly 6 months at a time. And once I’d raced gravel with anything flavored, I could usually never do so again. Gravel has a way of permanently influencing flavors for the worst. Carbo Pro has no flavor, so I’ve never been traumatized by it. Mix it with electrolytes, and I’m good to go for days. I’d been racing with it successfully for over a year when Connie contacted Carbo Pro on my behalf after RAW, and they’ve been taking care of my nutrition needs ever since.
Matt Taylor, a friend from REV cycling, met me in Ohio and escorted me on his bike into one of the time stations. Matt and I had made arrangements for him to accept shipments if I ran out of nutrition. I ended up not needing anything, but it was nice to have a plan in case I ran out. There is another picture that I can’t find where I’m hugging Matt, and it looks like I’m trying to take a catnap on his shoulder. I probably was.
The cheese finger. I’m not sure why I’m waving it, but it’s in lieu of a real finger and that’s the media crew in front of me recording this nonsense. The blue shirt I’m wearing is Connie’s Quad Cities marathon shirt. She let me borrow it when my base layer got rained on. It became like an emotional security blanket to me; a constant hug from Connie. When it got rained on in West Virginia again and they had to take it off me, it was like a kick in the teeth. I was so sad.
I mostly consumed liquid nutrition on the front end of the race. As the days went on, more food was added in to supplement the calories. Daren offered me a banana on the night shift, and he offered to serve it to me in at least four different ways. I lost patience with the multiple options, saying “For f**ks sake Daren, just give me a f***ing banana”. Daren, without missing a beat replied, “Well you’re in luck. I happen to have both regular and f****ing bananas.” This isn’t THE banana, but any banana offered after the initial offense was a source of amusement. And however it came out the window was how I took it, without complaint.
This young man and his family were standing by the side of the road in hot, humid Kansas with popsicles. I’m so thankful that my crew captured the ‘You bet I’ll take a popsicle!’ moment. It was just amazing and so humbling to see how many people followed this race online, then either sent me a message, or positioned themselves along the route to be there to offer encouragement when I went by.
Erik Newsholme, self appointed road kill shoveler, popsicle man, and dayshift driver of the ancillary support van. I developed a taste for popsicles during my pre-race stay in Borrego, and Erik went out and bought a special cooler just for popsicles. He also shoveled all of the road kill out of my way across the entire country, so if you were ever behind me, your path was clear because of Erik. Later in the race I struggled with balance related to my neck issues. Quite often someone had to catch me when I stopped, because I couldn’t get off without falling over. This is Erik after a catch. I’m holding my head up with my fist, and you can appreciate the edema in my legs trying to bust through the compression socks.
This is my favorite picture of Alex. Everyone loves Alex. He’s easygoing, can fix anything, and can catch a rider before they hit the dirt. One of my sleep stops got interrupted, resulting in me falling asleep on the bike a few times before we got things worked out. Alex saw me starting to lose it, and was out of the car and had me in his arms before I hit the ground. I woke up in his arms looking up at his face. Falling asleep on the bike is never a good thing, but that ended up being one of my favorite moments of RAAM. It’s amazing the lengths my crew went to in caring for me.
I used to give my husband a hard time about his ability to fall asleep literally anywhere during his sleep deprived medical training days. Now I get it. 2 hours or less of sleep a day ensures that you can fall asleep anywhere, and sometimes without control. I fell asleep standing up waiting on a train in heavy traffic in Indiana. Jill and Steve were working on my neck, so I locked my knees and had a nap on Steve’s shoulder. They did eventually wake me and put me in the car, the train was that long!
Jill, Janice Sheufelt, and me at the awards banquet after the finish. I followed Janice’s ultra cycling career as I contemplated taking on longer races, and she is one of the women that inspired me. Janice stepped in as a RAAM official this year after the rider she was crewing for DNF’d. She poked her head into my van when I was stopped to offer encouragement during the big storm in West Virginia. I remember laying there like the dead listening to her tell me she believed I was strong enough to finish. I believed it too, but I really did not want to go ride in that storm anymore. I did anyway.
My crew chief, Brian Arnold. I’m almost certain when Brian agreed to be my crew chief that he did not expect to get felt up by his athlete on the side of the road while wearing a ladies disco top, but such is RAAM. Brian is very professional and not often seen running around in costume. In the haze of sleep deprivation, I couldn’t believe this was him so I grabbed a handful of pectoral muscle and gave it a good squeeze just to confirm.
The majority of my past crew members had been guys, so I did not anticipate my reluctance to communicate with Brian and the other men on the crew about things as they began to go wrong. I’d never done a race where so much went so seriously and scarily wrong at once. Everything is “fine” when you’re riding with guys that are stronger than you, even when it’s clearly not fine. I trivialized all of my major issues, beginning in Colorado with the pulmonary infection and the edema, and continuing through Kansas and the onset of Shermer’s neck. Brian was left to connect the dots and make decisions as best he could. I know he was frustrated with me on a few occasions, and I with him, and the responsibility for that was all mine. There are times to suck it up and be tough, and there are times when you need to say ‘I can’t ride the next 50 miles without stopping, or my head is going to flop on my chest like a rag doll and we’ll never get it back’… In hindsight, I wish I’d had the courage to do that. It would’ve been better for everyone.
The storm in West Virginia. It had rained for hours the day before in Ohio, and the crew didn’t tell me I was about to ride into the remnants of Tropical Storm Cindy. I guess they figured I’d find out soon enough, and after several hours and a tornado, I think it was Daren that finally mentioned it. “You are telling me this nightmare has a name, and you didn’t think to share that with me earlier?” Like any good midwesterner, I enjoy complaining about the weather vigorously and often. It’s a nice distraction from the things that truly concern me, as it’s never wise to dwell on anything of importance during a race. I figure they cheated me out of several hours of quality complaining by not telling me about this in advance. Quite possibly someone had told me, and it was lost in the haze of sleep deprivation.
My Katherine. Everyone should have a friend like Katherine. Katherine managed the media side of the event for Kyle’s Bikes, and she and her husband Eric drove down to see me as I passed through Jefferson City, MO. There is a picture of me riding later on in Missouri while zapping my neck with a tens unit. I promise you that was not a pleasant situation to be in, but there is a big smile on my face because Katherine and Eric surprised me again there.
My coach Greg turned up first in Kansas, and later on in Maryland. Greg and I have been friends for years, and he’s been my coach since 2015. He told me he’d be out there somewhere, so I was expecting to see him. I was still in denial about how bad things were getting when he saw me in Kansas. By Maryland, there was no more denial. Greg once said he didn’t know anyone else that could tolerate pain quite like me. I think friendships like his are part of the reason why I can. There is confidence in knowing that people care about you, and believe in your strength. My body can utterly betray me, the weather can punish me, and the time constraints of racing are real. But the courage to continue making forward progress in whatever fashion that I can while I still can comes from somewhere. I’ve found a lot of strength in the relationships I have with my family and friends.
The crew does what needs doing, and sometimes things come up that aren’t the most appealing of tasks. Among many other odd tasks, Laurel ended up drying my rain soaked shoes under a hand dryer in West Virginia. I had two pair, both soaked. I was optimistically hoping for a dry day the next day, but the shoes ended up just getting rained on again. Laurel is also a trained massage therapist, and worked on my neck whenever she could. She also taught others on the crew what to do since the times that I was stopped didn’t always coincide with her shift. The goal was to keep my neck functional to the finish, and we did.
Alex swapping Ice Friction chains on my bike with Daren looking half asleep in the background. I’ve been using Ice Friction chains on my bike since 2016. The specially coated chains are designed to improve drivetrain efficiency and speed, with a side benefit of cutting down on maintenance and work for my crew. Rather than cleaning and lubing chains, they simply swapped them out on a schedule. This coating is far better than conventional lube, especially on gravel. I do most of my training on gravel roads. Gravel dust eats drive trains, and using these chains has prolonged the life of my entire drivetrain. I love it. It’s a noticeable disappointment when I have to ride a bike without an ice chain.
Rob White and his girlfriend Leanne made the long drive from northern Wisconsin to Missouri so Rob could ride with me for a few minutes. It was on the worst stretch of roadkill littered highway I’d ever had the displeasure of riding on, and Erik was frantically shoveling loads of dead, liquified armadillos out of our path. Rob can always make me laugh, and it didn’t take much more than “I love Missouri. This road was my favorite part of RAAM” to have me laughing so hard it hurt. Rob and I have been friends since my first 24 hours of Sebring in 2014, and I crewed for him for the first half of RAAM in 2015. The best advice he gave me was to make sure that I had thought about all of the possible DNF scenarios, and to be prepared to ride through anything. If there was any excuse in my mind, any reason to quit that I was ok with, I might take it. It was great advice, and a great way to focus my mental preparation for RAAM.
NEWBS! The only guy I know that would stand on the side of the road dressed as Burger King in the middle of hot, humid, Colorado when he was supposed to be in Kansas is Scott Newbury. I met Newbs (it rhymes with Bewbs) at a triathlon in 2008, and I haven’t had a Newbs free week since. He is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and helped organize the fundraiser and welcome home parties for me at Mickey’s Irish Pub in Waukee in addition to surprising me in Colorado. It was over 90 degrees and humid when he put that costume on, and I’m thankful he didn’t pass out from heat exhaustion before I got there.
In the final miles, a group of cyclists out on their training ride came to ride with me. One of the members had been tracking the race, and knew that I would be passing through. They had to slow way down to stay near me. What a kindness that was. They obviously were giving up any semblance of a workout just to lift my spirits. I was pretty pathetically slow at that point; just when I had thought it couldn’t get any worse, I crashed during the night with about 70 miles to go, and my right side was messed up. It was surreal watching them surround me and flow up the hills without effort. The sleep deprivation and exhaustion added a dreamlike quality to the entire experience.
Eddie Rayford has been photographing me at 24 hours of Sebring every year for the last four years. He always photographs RAAM as well, and had told me that he would see me in Maryland. And when he saw me there it would mean that he was still alive, and that I was almost done with RAAM. Eddie got a big sweaty hug.
Kathy, coming to tend to me after a nose bleed on the way into Durango. Kathy was my daytime off the bike ‘mommy’, and for the last two years has spent the week prior to RAW and RAAM with me in Borrego while I acclimated to the heat. This year, the pre-RAAMcation was not so smooth. We ended up bailing on two separate condos due to bugs and a smoking air conditioner. She ended up on the pull out couch of a friends condo… RAAM started a little early for her.
Erik had arranged with Revolution Cycles to help me with a seat issue when I rolled through their Missouri time station, and when I stopped there was an enthusiastic group of girls with signs. I remember being amazed at their enthusiasm, and thinking that surely no one had told them that I was riding super slow and totally sucking. But then I realized they probably didn’t care, and wouldn’t have cared had they known. They’ll remember being there, and they’ll remember witnessing a woman competing in the world’s toughest bicycle race. I didn’t have many women athletes in my world as a child. I’m honored to have been there for them. It also ended up being a pretty slick and efficient stop. Revolution Cycles stays open 24 hours a day during RAAM, and they fixed up my seat and I was on my way in just a minute.
I was hard pressed to find a picture of me and Kate that didn’t look like I was trying to take a nap on her when she met me at the Mississippi River crossing. This one with what I think was supposed to be a smile is the best of the bunch. Kate Geisen is another friend from gravel riding, and I was so surprised and grateful to see her there as we celebrated getting over the Mississippi well within the time cutoff.
I wish I had more pictures of the night shift guys, but I just haven’t located many yet. Being on the night shift in direct follow, these guys had a lot of uninterrupted air time to fill, especially Daren. He was the master of sports psychology, positive talk and distraction. One time we saw what was likely a drug addicted man walking straight at my bike and the follow car. The rest of the night was filled with a discussion of zombies, halloween music, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The first thing that popped up when I opened Safari on my phone after the race was the search for zombie apocalypse music. I still haven’t cleared that page from my phone.
This is Connie and Joe with relatives of Joe’s that met me in costume at a time station at some wee hour of the night in Indiana. Connie is not a tall woman, and this pint sized, blue wig wearing bundle of energy that came up to Connie’s shoulder would’ve needed a step ladder to look me in the eye. She and her pink wig wearing husband were a delight! They are just one example of the many people that followed me on RAAM because of my family and crew members.
RAAM media captured this photo somewhere in Arizona. I had been approaching 50 mph on a descent when my bike suddenly went into speed wobbles. It was terrifying. This photo was taken after I stopped. The guys tended to swapping out my wheel and tightening the headset, while Jill took care of me. In every photo I have of Jill, she is taking care of me, physically or emotionally. Ever practical and always caring, Jill never missed an opportunity to get sunscreen on me, cram food down my gullet, and offer a word of encouragement before sending me on my way again.
This is my favorite photo of Connie and Joe. Joe and I had raced together at Trans Iowa and the Alexander. After I registered for RAW in late 2015, they contacted me and asked if I needed crew. Joe offered to let me use his minivan as my main follow vehicle. Their generosity has been simply amazing. Connie took care of most of the lodging logistics for RAAM and RAW. Using their vehicle for both races saved me a lot of time, hassle, and money. Joe served as my co-crew chief for both RAW and RAAM. I can’t imagine that I would have been as well organized as I was, or as well prepared for the problems that ensued on RAAM had it not been for their help. Joe and Connie had crewed for other athletes at RAAM before, but had not made it to Annapolis until this year. I am proud to have gotten them there, and so grateful to them for their help and support.
Penny Barker and me, at the finish line. Penny took Kathy and I in when we needed a place to stay in Borrego before RAAM, and we traded text messages via our crew during the race. Penny knew that she would likely struggle with Shermer’s neck at some point during RAAM, and it unfortunately ended her race prior to Annapolis. As soon as she was able, she was out on the course offering encouragement and humor at some of my hardest moments. I knew as hard as that race became for me, Penny would have given anything to have been out there still racing. I so appreciate her support and friendship, and her courage continues to inspire me.
I’m not quite recovered from RAAM, but I am at least back to racing short distances on a fat bike. My hands and neck continue to be a problem, and I’m better off for now sticking with the fat bike. I asked Kyle if he had a set of wheels that I could borrow to make my tank of a fat bike more appealing to race on, and as is typical of Kyle, he just gave me his much nicer fat bike to use for as long as I need it. More than a sponsor, Kyle is a good friend. The photo does not lie, the fat bike is good fun!
I have so many more photos and stories, and maybe someday I’ll find a way to share them all. For now, life goes on…