Friday, June 15, 2012

It is done

Journalism 101 says never bury the lead, so I won't: Rob had to withdraw from the race after riding 484 miles in about 31 hours.

The reason is nerve damage in his hand. This has been a recurring problem for Rob since his first RAAM in 1996. Over the years, after each of his five RAAM starts and three finishes, as well as some of the 500+ mile races, it would get a little worse and take longer to heal. After his seventh place finish in RAAM 2010, he had such serious nerve damage in his hand that he had to have surgery. It took almost a year to recover.

Heading into this race, it was on his mind and, sure enough, he started feeling the telltale symptoms this morning. It is caused by a combination of things: road vibration, constant gear shifting and the weight he puts on his hands, forearms and elbows, depending on riding position. Today, it got progressively worse through the day and right after night crew came on shift, we went through the Cottonwood time station and Rob pulled over. He told us what was happening and we talked over the pros and cons of continuing for almost two hours. Rob also consulted by phone with Kate as well as day crew and we all agreed that his longterm health and ability to continue serving as a police officer (who needs two functioning hands to carry out his duties) far outweighed the need to continue to Durango.

While this is an immensely difficult decision, it is an entirely unselfish one and it does not diminish how great Rob did over the past two days. I can count all the people I know who can ride a bike like Rob on one finger. We had a great time out there and every one of us would crew for Rob again in a second. All he has to do is ask.

I don't think he will, though. This will not be the end of his riding a bike, but it is likely the end of his ultra-distance racing. After 18 years and - literally - tens of thousands of miles, it may finally be out of his system.

He appreciates all the comments and support. If you happen to be out for a bike ride and Rob rides up next to you, feel free to ask him all about all his races and his wins. Just make sure you pick up your pace or it will be a very short conversation. He's that fast.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Insane climb out of Prescott

***REPORT FROM THE ROAD, 6/14/2012, 7:44 PM EDT***

Rob woke me up with a phone call. He's having a few minor medical issues and wanted to talk through them.

Yadda, yadda, yadda, long story short...

He's back on the bike and rode up Yarnell like he had five miles in his legs. We just saw him at the Prescott time station and as he rode by me, I shouted "WTF???"

He just shrugged, smiled and kept on riding. Hammer-boy.

We're going to prepare for transition, chat more with Rob and have a better update shortly.

Worth mentioning before I pass out for the day...

1.) At TS 5, Rob was about 20 minutes behind his RAAM 2010 time. 2012 RAW travels the exact same route as 2010 RAAM. I mention this not as a critical fact, but more as a data point. Would he rather be ahead? Sure. But 20 minutes in a race of 860 miles is in the noise. It's an extended clothing change break. No biggie.

2.) I can't over-emphasize how hard today is going up Yarnell grade into Prescott, AZ. Rob has done this many times and he's a mountain goat, but he does not take this climb lightly. And his reward for doing it successfully? Tonight, he gets to ride from Sedona to Flagstaff: 40 miles of some the steepest roads and harrowing switchbacks I have ever seen anywhere.

3.) When will he sleep? Who knows. At this point, I won't say anything about it here, as every single other RAW racer has a crew with Internet in their support vehicles and I'm not anxious to tip any of them off.

This likely be my last post until after I wake up. Don't forget you can track him in real time at Cell service is pretty good here, so it should be a good connection all day. Also don't forget that the GPS transmitter is on the roof of the pace van, which must leap frog all day today. That means short bursts of 50 mph, followed by zero mph.

All the while, Rob is pedaling.

And shuttle crew driver...

Wave S.

In the shuttle van heading to Sedona to sleep

Shuttle crew navigator Tom W.

***REPORT FROM THE ROAD - 6/14/2012 - 8:40 EDT***

GOOD MORNING... um... Salome, AZ.

We are about 12 miles out of TS 5 in Salome. It's been a gentle but steady uphill for the last 50 miles, so Rob's pace has slowed a bit.

The sun is up and he says he feels good, if a bit logy. I told him it was because we were going uphill. It looks like he will end up doing about 230 miles during our overnight shift, which is, by all measures, super-neeto.

He just had some regular, caffeinated cola to perk him up a bit and his pace looks great.

We will be transitioning out of the pace van for day crew in about an hour. They will have to leap frog all day, since close-follow is not allowed in Arizona between 7:00 AM - 7:00PM local time.

We will head up the road about 200 miles with the shuttle crew, grab some breakfast, find a hotel and get about 5-6 hours of sleep.

I actually brought my running shorts, harboring the delusion that I might sneak in a run. HA!

Sleep is paramount.

But not for Rob. Not yet. He has some more pedaling to do. In 100 degree heat. Uphill. The hardest part of RAW is about to unfold.

Good shot from yesterday

***REPORT FROM THE ROAD - 6/14/2012 - 5:55 AM EDT***

Rob went through TS 4 in Parker, AZ, at 5:48 AM EDT. He's about 100 yards behind Gerhardt Gulewizc, who is one of the favorites to win RAAM.

As far as RAW is concerned, only two racers have come through TS 4 - Danny Wyss and Rob. Keep in mind that Wyss is a former RAAM winner and definitely a pre-race RAW favorite.

Rob had some stomach distress about 100 miles back, but we diluted his Spiz a bit, gave him some Coke and he is feeling great.

Right now we're on a slight uphill and he's doing about 19 mph. After 286 miles of racing.

The sun will be coming up in about 2.5 hours, which is always good for a mental boost, not that he needs it. He's riding like a champ.

***REPORT FROM THE ROAD - 6/14/2012 - 3:25 AM EDT***

Rob went through TS 3 in Blythe at 3:11 AM. That's 235 miles at an average speed of 19.6 mph.

***REPORT FROM THE ROAD - 6/13/2012 - 2:40 AM EDT***

We're about 12 miles shy of time station 3 in Blythe, CA. It's great that Rob is coming through here in the dead of night, since it is expected to be about 110 degrees during the day on Thursday.

He is just motoring along at a great clip. We're in a B-52s music set right now that is driving our mechanic, young Joe, nuts. This is golden oldies music to a 20-year-old.

We sort of screwed up when we transitioned into the pace van and forget to pack any kind of food that resembles... food. For dinner, I had a bag of Sun Chips, with a bag of Lay's BLT potato chips for dessert, all washed down with Diet Pepsi. My kingdom for some Naked Nuggets. LIVIN' THE DREAM!!!

Only seven more hours to go until day crew relieves us.

*A note about this blog: I am typing this on a small keyboard, attached to my iPad, sitting on my lap, in a moving car in the middle of the night, on less sleep than is considered medically ideal, all while being constantly interrupted by Rob for all his whiny, bullsh*t needs like food, water and medicines. So, please forgive the occasional tupo, er, typo.

Nighttime cruising

Massive tailwind

By the way...

Our next turn is in 76 miles.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

***REPORT FROM THE ROAD - 6/13/12 - 11:15 PM EDT***

We just went through Time Station 2 in Brawley, CA. Rob (and all the racers) have been enjoying a huge tailwind. Rob said in 2010 he came through here after dark and today we came through about 90 minutes before sunset. He feels great and is ready for a fast night on the bike.

Night crew is:

- Mike D. - driver
- Joe M. - chef/mechanic (in the back of the van)
- Bill B. - Navigator/blogger

It's almost pitch black now and we are heading into some serious desert, so it will be dark.

Nighttime is very different from the day and I know Rob really enjoys the "atmosphere." The music, the miles. He loves every bit of it.



***Report from the Road - 6/13/2012, 8:10 PM Race Time***

Just saw Rob for the first time since the start. We are at approx. 90 mile mark. It's 110 degrees and Rob blasted through at about 30 mph with a massive smile on his face.

Night crew goes on shift in about 45 minutes and we will leap frog for another hour before beginning close follow. (Leap frog is where the pace fan is NOT allowed to follow directly behind the racer due to traffic and safety reasons.)

Once we begin close follow, we will crank up the Captain & Tennile and Bieber and settle in for a rockin' night!

Layin' in the shade,..

...waiting for Rob to come through Borrego Springs, CA.

The Race is On!

Rob started at precisely 12:12 PM local time. It will be a leisurely "parade" start for the first 23 miles or so and then he will meet up with day crew in the pace van.

Night crew is now sitting next to the ocean eating Mexican before we head up the road 100 miles to meet Rob for night shift.

Rob was feeling great, but hungry and antsy. While we were standing there waiting to start, he consumed 1,000 calories in about 30 minutes and then said "I'm still hungry."

This is because he has been tapering for the past 10 days, but his body is in perfect condition for long-distance cycling and he's a calorie burning machine. He will consume about 10,000-13,000 calories a day for the next three days, mostly in liquid form via Spiz. Each crew member will consume about the same number of calories, but in the form of Big Macs and Cheetos.

Rob also said that he did an easy 50 mile ride yesterday and he felt like Superman. He said he was humming along at 26 mph and " was effortless."

He's ready. This will be fun.

He's on his way!

Rob and me at the starting area

He's ready.

Van staging area for RAAM/RAW start

Rob is the Axl Rose of ultra-cycling...

... waiting until the last second to come out of his hotel room and take the stage.

Day crew driver Bob C.

The GPS Tracker is Live

Follow Rob in real time at

Almost ready

More van prep

Pace van prep

Pre-race breakfast

Good morning from Oceanside!

7:45 AM and the crew is just getting up and running. I haven't seen Rob yet. He gets his own hotel room the night before the race because this will be the last good sleep he gets in a few days.

I shared a room with a member of Danbury's finest, whose snoring sounded like he was being strangled by a chainsaw murderer. This is the glamour of being on the RAW crew.

We'll all grab breakfast and then here's what happens:

(All times I am reporting in this post are Pacific time).

- After breakfast, we will install the speakers on the pace van that follows Rob the whole. These are the speakers that plays the music he listens to.

- 9:00 AM - Pack up both vehicles (pace van and shuttle van) and get ready to head down to the pier for the race start.

- 11:00 am - Rob has to be at the starting area.

- Noon - The race begins. It will be a staggered start, with racers departing individually at one minute intervals, time trial style.

At this point, all racers have to ride "unsupported" (without their support crew behind them) for about 23 miles to get out of the traffic congestion of Oceanside.

The day crew in the pace van will meet up with Rob at the 23 mile mark.

The night crew, including me, will be driven in the pace van about 100 miles up the race course to prepare for transition at 6:00 PM. That means the day crew will get out of the pace van and the night crew will get in to take Rob through the night. Once it is 7:00 PM local time, the rider and the van CANNOT be separated. They are considered one unit.

We figure Rob will ride between 110-130 miles in that first six-hour period before transition. We will follow Rob all night, and then day crew will come back in at 6:00-7:00AM Thursday morning.

We'll take photos before the start and post them here as individual blog posts.

It's go time!

Monday, June 11, 2012

RAW, RAAM: What's the diff?

(Greetings from 38,000 feet above a red state)

"So," you ask. "What's the difference between RAAM and RAW?"

The answer, grasshopper, is obvious. And yet, not so much.

Obviously, there's the distance. But it goes so far beyond that. Because RAW is less than 900 miles, the tactics Rob will use, his mindset at the outset, his sleep patterns - everything will be different.

Every RAAM racer (especially veterans who know what happens east of the Mississippi) who is being completely honest will tell you that at the starting line, he is thinking about what happens in a week, when the body is ravaged by heat, wind, rain, sun, sleep deprivation, nutritional issues, whatever. It messes with their heads. It's a constant source of concern from the first pedal stroke to the last, wherever in the country that might be.

Put plainly: RAAM is as much about managing sleep deprivation and the breakdown of the body as it is about riding a bike fast. Sleep too much, you fall behind. Sleep too little, you lose your mind.

Almost none of that applies in RAW. Yes, 860 miles is a long way to go and no, I don't think ANY riders, including Rob, will do it without any sleep. But the required sleep is so much less. And the racer does not need to worry about how lack of sleep in Arizona will come back to haunt him in West Virginia.

So RAW is much more about racing. In a way it's more "pure" than RAAM. It really is about the bike and the rider's physical ability and less about how much sleep can you skip without going batsh*t crazy.

I've seen Rob race in 12-hour, 24-hour, 500 mile, 540 mile races and at the end of every one of them he is riding faster than most people (and I mean people who race bikes) can when they are fresh.

So the real difference between RAAM and RAW is that RAAM is a war of a attrition, a death march.

RAW is a race where speed and climbing ability is paramount. Both work to Rob's advantage.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Quick Beginner's Guide to RAW

Answer Key:
* =  completely true answer
** = pretty much but not entirely true answer
*** = just messin' with you

What is RAW?
The Race Across the West (RAW) is an 860 mile bicycle RACE (not some wussie, leisurely TOUR) from Oceanside, Calif. to Durango, Colo. *

Why does it go from Oceanside to Durango?
It follows the Race Across America (RAAM) course. *

Wait! What is RAAM?
RAAM is a 3,000 mile race from Oceanside to Annapolis, MD, that starts the same day as RAW. *

Has Rob ever done RAAM?
Yes. In 1996, 1997, 2000, 2008 and most recently, he did RAAM 2010 and finished in 7th place. *

Why is Rob doing RAW and not RAAM?
Because if RAW is crazy, RAAM is certifiably sociopathic. Oh, and RAAM can take 9-12 days and cost a king's fortune. Since Rob needs a full support crew with him the whole time, and since RAAM can ravage the body physically, Rob thought that RAW would be a more manageable, yet still intensely challenging race for 2012. *

When did he start training for RAW?
When he was about five years old. No, really - he's been training since last fall and has put in thousands of miles including some 300+ mile rides in addition to intense interval training to prepare. **

What is the best way to follow the race?
This blog will provide commentary and play-by-play from the road. Note that the author of this blog will be the night crew navigator, so most of the posts will appear between 7:00PM and 10:00 AM EDT. I might (though not 100% sure) do some tweeting at @RobMorlockRAAM.

For real time tracking, check out this link from Rob's sponsor, It is a GPS transmitter that is in the pace van that follows Rob the entire way. Keep in mind that it connects via cell phone towers and in some of the places we are going, cell phone service can be sketchy.

For overall standings and positions of racers, click to the RAW web site. *

What if I get hungry while following the race on the web?

We recommended Rob Morlock's title sponsor, Naked Nuggets. Whether you need a quick snack or a full meal, they're yummy and nutritious.*

Which is harder: riding the bike or being on the crew?
Well, I personally have never ridden my bicycle more than about 120 miles in one shot, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I would have to say being on the crew is much more difficult. It's very hard and sometimes, when we have to hand Rob a bottle of water or some food, we have to open the door to the pace van and all the air conditioning goes right out. It's very trying.***

How does the crew work?

There are three crews:
- Day crew (Driver, navigator, chef/mechanic). Follows directly behind Rob, providing everything he needs, including, food, water, navigation instructions, music and scintillating, mature humor.
- Night crew - Same as day crew, except three suckers who Rob likes less, so he stuck us on the graveyard shift. Night crew also provides most of Rob's illumination while he is riding at night.
- Shuttle crew. This is a two man crew that shuttles the day and night crews in and out of the pace van and drives them up the road a couple of hundred miles to a hotel where we can eat and get some sleep before we go back into the pace van.**

Speaking of food, what will Rob eat during the race?
His main source of calories is a liquid called Spiz. Each bottle is a complete meal and about 500 calories and he will consume one of these every hour. He will supplement this with solid food including Naked Nuggets, fruit, and other stuff, depending on his mood and how his stomach feels. He will also drink a lot of water.*

How does he know where to go?
We announce directions over the PA system. Every inch of the race is detailed in a route book. There are intermediate time stations where we have to call race headquarters and let them know that Rob has arrived. *

Are there any hills?
Just a few. The race goes from sea level to western Colorado, which is, you know, in Colorado. Here is the elevation profile. *

What music will he listen to while he is riding?
Mostly light opera, Gregorian chant and Namibian death metal/folk music.***

When will Rob finish?
The race starts on Wednesday, June 13 at noon EDT. Depending on how things go, he will be in Durango sometime Friday evening/Saturday early morning.*

Why does he do this?
He was kicked off the company bowling team when he was a young man and this was how he decided to seek his vengence on a cruel and unforgiving society. **

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sanity is Relative

Last night, toward the end of my bike ride, I stopped to visit with my running pals at the Woodbridge Running Group, who were finishing off their Wednesday evening run.

Someone asked me about the Race Across the West - when it started, finished, etc. When I said that it started on Wednesday, June 13 and that Rob would probably finish Friday, June 15, someone else said: "That's impossible! How can anyone ride almost 900 miles in two days???"

When I replied that it was not only possible, but highly likely, she said: "That's insane!"

Taken out of context, she would be absolutely correct: who could possibly ride that far, that fast? But in the context of Rob Morlock and ultra-distance cycling, it makes complete sense.

How so?

Rob has competed in a large variety of ultra-cycling races, from 12-hour "sprints" to Race Across America (RAAM). (His results are here.) Next week's Race Across the West (RAW) will be Rob's longest non-RAAM race by more than 300 miles. (His longest non-RAAM race to date is his win in the 540 mile Adirondack race in 1999.)

So, make no mistake: RAW is a loooong race. But by Rob standards, it's right in his wheelhouse. By all accounts, when he reached Durango (the finish for RAW) during the 2010 RAAM (both races follow the same course), he was still fresh as a daisy and feeling great. Of course, there are a lot of factors at play in a race such as this including wind, weather, health and a million other little things, but if past is prelude, Rob should do very well at this distance. It'll be over before he has a chance to get tired!

So, yes - 860 miles in two-plus days would be insane for you or me, but for ultra-guys like Rob, it's a mad dash across the western third of the U.S., followed by a weekend in Durango with buddies and beer.

For Rob, that's about as sane as this sport gets.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

RAW: The Gear

People new to ultra-distance cycling often ask about the staff, stuff and gear. The short answer is lots of bikes, wheels, gloves, shorts, food, yadda, yadda, yadda. For a full accounting, check this post from Rob's 2010 Race Across America.

The primary difference between Race Across America (RAAM) 2010 and Race Across the West (RAW) 2012 is:

1.) There will be two fewer crew members and no motor home.
2.) Instead of writing this blog from the comfort of my home and pretty much making things up in the absence of actual facts (as I did in 2010), I will be with Rob, as night-crew navigator, live-blogging from about 20 yards behind him from 7PM to 7AM Wednesday night/Thursday morning, Thursday/Friday and Friday/Finish.

So while most of you are asleep, I will be posting things for you to read first thing in the morning when you wake up.

So what gear will I be using during RAW?

Back in the olden days (1996), when Rob did his first RAAM, there was no way to access the Internet from the road and cell phone service barely worked.

In 2012, you can't swing a dead cat without bumping into the Internet and cell phone service sort-of works. So, my weapons of choice will be:

- 1 iPad2 with a Verizon 3G connection
- Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover (I have to tell you: this thing VERY cool.)
- 1 iPhone 4S

That's pretty much it. Should be fun. Really.

(photo credit: NBC. For those of you who do not get the photo reference, click here.)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Rob Morlock as Tom Sawyer

Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” kicks off with Tom being forced to paint the fence as a punishment. He cleverly convinces his buddies to give him stuff in exchange for him letting them do the work for him.

Fast forward a few generations and you have the need for someone to drive Rob Morlock’s bicycles from Connecticut to California for the  start of Race Across the West. Naturally, you’d think Rob would do it himself. But somehow, magically, he managed to convince two buddies that it would be their privilege to do so.

And off they went, on Sunday, June 3. Let’s just hope that Tom and Wave don’t figure out the diabolical cleverness that Rob wielded BEFORE they reach their destination in Oceanside, CA.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

"So Let Me See If I Have This Straight...

…You’re going to pack all this stuff up, have a couple of buddies drive it out to California so you can turn around and ride it back east to Colorado?”

Yes, these are photos of the pace van, which has been outfitted with all the accoutrement, inside and out, for Rob to do Race Across the West.

As you can see, the inside has bins and shelving for all of Rob’s clothing, equipment, accessories and food. It also is wired for sound. This includes the PA system that we will use to communicate directions and instructions to Rob from the van, which follows about 10 yard behind him, as well as the iPod based entertainment system, which will blast the rockin’est tunes either side of the Rockies. This helps Rob keep his mind off the fact that he just rode 40 miles uphill into Flagstaff.

The van departs Sunday morning, June 3, for the trip west, driven by crew members Wave Smith and Tom Wendel.

The rest of the crew, including Rob, flies out a few days before the race, which starts on June 13.

It’s starting to get real.