Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Race Across The West 2012 - Chris O'Keefe Crew Report

As a long time fan of the Race Across America, I jumped (a little cautiously, but it was a jump all the same) at the chance to crew for Chris O'Keefe in the Race Across the West, version 2012.  As the race progressed it became obvious that there were a lot of great stories to be told, so I decided to take on the role of guerilla correspondent for the O'Keefe team.  Below are some interviews I recorded throughout the event.  I wasn't planning to take on this role, so I wasn't fully prepared and made some rookie mistakes.  For example, I didn't realize that I needed to hold my iPhone horizontally while recording, and I didn't figure out how to improve the sound quality until late in the event.  Nevertheless, the thoughts of the subjects resonate despite the amateurism of the "film crew" and I hope you enjoy hearing from these folks who raced or supported the race.  Enjoy!

For those who don't know, Race Across the West is an 860 mile continuous bike race from Oceanside CA to Durango, CO.  Riders (and crew) deal with wind, heat, sleep deprivation and all sorts of other maladies in their quest to complete this race.  It follows the course of the Race Across America (RAAM), at the same time as that race.  When we're not racing, fetching drinks, fixing bikes or getting food,  the crew has the chance to enjoy the space, beauty, and quietude of the American West.  From the Pacific Ocean to the Mojave Desert, on to the Navajo Nation, the mountains of Flagstaff, Sodona, Monument Valley, the red rocks of Utah, and the lower rockies (7,000 feet), we get to experience some beautiful, if unforgiving, scenery.

First up, here is a short pre-race interview with "The Talent", Chris O'Keefe.  This was my first effort and I didn't realize the benefits of using the headphone/microphone, but I'm glad I got some thoughts from Chris before the race.  You'll also hear an insightul question from the well known "Germarican" reporter and O'Keefe crew member Martin Brooks towards the end:

That's it or pre-race! Wish I'd done some more stuff before the race, and I will next time.

Afterwards, inspired by the event, exhaustion, and a couple of beers at the final awards banquet, I interviewed a number of participants and got some great stuff.

First, I talked to Jim Ryan.  Jim won the over 50 division and gave Chris a run for his money for 3rd place male despite contracting a case of "Shermer's neck" a day into the race.  Jim give a great overview of the race, the malady, and his crew's MacGyver-like ingenuity:

The next interview is with Jim and Sandy Dannis, a husband (racer) and wife (crew chief)  team from Northern New Hampshire.  They describe the challenges of coming from the east coast to race in the desert, and they also do justice to the wedding vows they uttered a few years ago, which must have included a few additions beyond the standards: "through sickness and health, dehydration and saddles sores, flat tires and headwinds..." You get the picture.  Besides a great experience, Jim was the 3rd male finisher in his age group
(ed note: The wind gets really bad on this recording, but bear with it, it does die down)

Next up, we talked to Chris on the drive home.  Sitting at a booth in the Race Day Cafe on the outskirts of Las Vegas, reflecting on his 3rd place finish, Chris describes the physical, mental, and nutritional challenges he faced in RAW 2012.  He also gives a little praise to the crew, though I felt he short-changed us a bit as we were clearly exceptional ;). Seriously though, following Chris for 3 days gave me a deep appreciation for not only the physical challenge of this race, but more importantly the mental outlook that is required.  While it sounds cliche, the racer must understand and accept that quitting is not an option, not a thought to consider, and that the only thing on his or her mind needs to be: what's next?

The last racer I interviewed was Sarah Kay Carrell.  Sarah finished 2nd in her age group, 3rd female overall, and first recumbant.  If you don't know, her Bacchetta Recumbant looks something like this:

This was a big group to interview, and I realized afterwards that there are quite a few accomplished cyclists on Sarah Kay's crew. Hopefully someone reading this can give some details on the palmares of this talented bunch. (ed note: no, that is not Sarah Kay, I'm having trouble changing the thumbnail image on this one)

Finally, here is an interview with Jim Ryan's crew.  I couldn't get them to dish too hard on Jim, but "off-camera" it was great swapping stories with them and reminiscing about the crew life.  We leap-frogged them on the road for the last day or so.  Keep in touch guys, we may need to combine forces if/when one of "the talents" makes his RAAM assault! (ed note: I held the iPhone properly for this one!)

To all who view this and for those who followed my tweets, thanks for all the support and encouragement.  While this is a niche sport, there is something very appealing about witnessing someone endure such an experience.  It's exciting to watch, it's liberating to be on the road with the event, and it's ultimately inspiring for all of us as we realize we need to challenge ourselves daily, because, as Martin put it so succinctly, "our lives aren't hard enough."