The Race Across the West (RAW) Team Eland, rider 204A (Jim Pyatt) Race Report. My partner for this race was Karin Weller (204B).
Life is one big highway with many signs and exits. Too often I didn’t heed the warning signs of danger ahead and took the wrong exit. The year was 2000. After returning from Interbike, I jumped on a shop bike with no helmet (first ride ever without a helmet). The road was busy with traffic. As I was zooming by cars on the right, I was struck head-on by a car cutting through an opening. I awoke in an ambulance and spent the next 10 days in the hospital with a broken back (in two places) and a fractured skull.
After one year of therapy, the doctors said I would never be able to ride my bike again without numbness and pain. My life was on a fast descent down into a dark canyon of alcoholism. When I finally hit the bottom of this descent, God said enough was enough, wake up and live! I started climbing out of the darkness into the light. In 2008, I purchased another bike and have been pain-free since. Back on the road of life avoiding the ruts and staying on course, I have been racing for charities to raise money and awareness for the last five years. In 2012, I had a vision for a woman’s recovery home and in March of this year God moved a mountain in order for Freedom House to open.
Team Eland’s goal was to raise $20,000.00 for Freedom House www.freedomwomanshome.com. As of the writing this story we are at $9,165.00. The secondary goal was to break the two-person mixed record.
None of this would have been possible, if not for our sponsors, Winton-Ireland, Strom & Green Insurance Agency, Alfred Matthews, West-Mark, Romeo Medical Clinic, Oakdale Bicycle Shop, Norgard Farms, All Good Bail Bonds, Mabe Chiropractic, Custom Locksmiths & Alarm, Shore Chemical, Oak Valley Community Bank, Monte Vista Optometry, Yonan's Jewelers, Alldrin Brothers, Fores Macko, Denair Lumber, Wright Choice Painting, Silverado materials Ripon, Inc and Joe's Carbon Solutions. Along with my personal sponsors, Specialized bicycles, Shimano, Zipp Speed Weaponry, Fluid Nutrition for keeping me hydrated, Niterider keep my light shining bright, BRL supplements gave me the endurance to power at high altitude and Clif Bar for providing calories to perform at the highest level.
Karin and I trained six months for one day, or should I say for 57 hours! After countless hours and miles on the bike and endless hours of logistic preparation, we were ready to make the trek to Oceanside, CA. Our crew would consist of 10 people including six rookies who had no idea what they were in for. We arrived in Oceanside on Sunday afternoon and immediately began race preparations. The van needed to be set up and paperwork needed to be completed.
I ran into Lon Haldeman, the winner of the first two Race Across America rides. I met Lon in 1990 when I rode across America in 21 days on one of his transcontinental tours. I discussed with him the impact that tour played in my life and ultra-cycling. The easy part is riding the bike - it’s all the preparations and the crew that make it successful.
On day two, Monday, Karin and I went out and rode the parade portion of the course. The rest of the day was filled with inspections and meetings. The last meeting was rider introductions. The energy was high as the teams were called up and introduced. Karin and I were pumped and ready to race! Once back to the house, the crew and riders discussed strategy, had dinner, and I shared about Freedom House and the real reason worth racing.
Tuesday morning, race day! After a great night’s sleep, I awoke full of confidence knowing we were ready for the ride of a lifetime. The crew and racers made our way to the staging area and, in a very short time, we were called to the rider staging area. We would be the fourth team to leave. As we moved to the start line with support crew ready, I heard 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 GO!! Karin and I rode down the beach road making a right turn. I would then peel off and join the crew for the short drive to the first exchange at to Old Castle Road.
Karin came around the corner in the top five. I was ready, waiting, and off I went. My heart rate was high with adrenalin pumping. It wasn’t long before I settled down into my race pace. After a couple of rider exchanges, I had the task of descending a massive descent called “The Glass Elevator.” The name is because you have amazing views throughout your entire descent down the mountain. I was riding my new Specialized Tarmac, supplied by Specialized, components from Shimano and wheels from Zipp. The descent starts at Ranchita with a strong tail wind were I reached a top speed 54.8 mph. All was good until I hit the strong wind current coming up from the desert. This descent is difficult even for a seasoned rider, you have swirling winds coming up the mountain and down from the coast. My bike held a great line in the wind throughout my descent. In a very short time I reached the Anza Borrego desert. Coming around Christmas Circle I spotted my crew waiting to make the exchange and Karin was off.
The next exchange was five miles down the road at Yapui Pass Road. It was at this point I climbed on my Specialized Shiv TT with disk wheel; I would ride the next 29 miles and average 30.2 mph. Sorry Metal for taking your spot, I moved passed you into 6th Strava cup overall. Karin took the exchange heading right on SR 78E. The next exchange would come in Brawley, CA. At 12:15am Karin went ahead to Parker, AZ to get some rest. Feeling good I pushed hard for the next 44 miles to Parker. Average speed was 20.2 while I grabbed a KOM and a #2 cup. Making the right turn in Parker we were now heading south to Vicksburg. Karin took the exchange for a difficult section into a headwind. I tried to rest in Vicksburg but only got a couple of min of shout eye. Soon Karin arrived and I was back on the bike headed to Salome, AZ. After another exchange Karin went ahead to Congress, AZ to shower and get refreshed for the Yarnell Grade Climb. It was now 7 AM Tuesday as I began to ride towards Congress. I had several PRs on this section. I arrived in Congress and Karin was off to grabbing the QOM on Yarnell Grade Climb. After my shower and a few minutes of rest, we were on the road to catch Karin. We were back on our planed rotation to Prescott, AZ. I rode the highway section to SR 89A towards Jerome, AZ. Karin started the climb and we made our scheduled exchanges. At the top of the climb, I had the privilege of descending down through Jerome. Soon I was caught behind a cattle truck that I could not safely pass. Tommy estimated I lost 15 minutes on my way to Cottonwood, AZ.
We were now entering new territory for me as the route had changed. We were on our way to Camp Verde, AZ. The next 100 miles were not only new to me but for everyone in the race. We were both feeling the pain from many hours on the bike and are averages were coming down. We limped into the time station in Flagstaff, AZ. Tommy informed me that we needed to get some rest of we would fall apart; however, like any endurance athlete you believe you can continue. About 10 miles outside of town I made the decision to follow Tommy’s advice and stopped so we could both get a couple of hours rest. Thanks Tommy for keeping us in check.
After a short 1.5-hour sleep break we were back on the road. Karin was off first and we caught up to her around mile 20 and were back on our rotation schedule through Tuba City, AZ. Resting proved to be a great move, as we started moving through the field. We were off to Kayenta, AZ. Making the right hand turn, Karin was riding. We stopped to get gas and lost track of Karin - a tense couple of minutes. She had passed and was well up the road. We found her and were back on rotations as we entered Utah and Monument Valley. The views are incredible through this section, at lease for most of us - my wife Karen says it’s just red rock desert! I had the last section down a 10% grade into Mexican Hat, UT. Another difficult section with an extreme cross wind. The crew later told me I was riding leaning 50o into the wind at 45 mph on an extremely rough road. Was it fun? NO. Our rotations were staying on track as we continued to Montezuma Creek, UT.
I love the section on Ismay Trading Road, a peaceful ride through pastures or so we thought until this year. We were warned that there was chip seal on the road ahead. Okay, so in California a chip seal road has gravel covered with tar. Not in Utah! The chip seal was nothing more than a pea gravel road. Try climbing on a road bike in gravel - NOT FUN. Karin started this section but we went back to meet her for me to ride. Was I crazy? No, just wanted to help my teammate! We cruised into Cortez, CO. Excitement was in the air as we knew the last climb was in front of us. Tommy devised a plan for rotations up the climb that worked to perfection. I was to go ahead the final three miles before the top to change into our team kits for the finish line. Karin reached the summit and I was off down the mountain headed to Durango, CO. Karin changed and met me a few miles from the finish so we could ride in together. Crossing the finish line 932 miles in 2 days 9 hours and 8 minutes to finish 1st place in our category, two-person mixed and 3rd team overall.
The finish was a joyous occasion as we celebrated victory for the race but more importantly raising funds for Freedom House. If you read this and haven’t given to our cause yet, please visit www.freedomwomanshome.com and give. I want to challenge you to give 2.5 cents per mile or $23.30. If we can spend six months training and ride 900 miles, you have the easy part, click and give.