Yesterday, I took a little field trip to witness one of the best examples of an endurance athlete the world has to offer. I got up very early for a chance to catch a glimpse of ultra-cyclist Christoph Strasser as he headed to Annapolis, MD for another win in Race Across America. This guys holds the fastest time record at RAAM of 7 days, 15 hours, and 56 minutes to ride from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD. This year he didn’t go quite that fast, nearly 24 hours slower at 8 days, 9 hours, 34 minutes, but incredibly his nearest competitor was more than a day behind. No surprise, he also holds the record for greatest distance on a bike in 24 hours–556.856 miles. I had to see this guy with my own eyes, especially cause of my previous experience with RAAM.
I guess the race was having some problems with their live tracking which made it difficult for me to time a meet up with him as he descended out of the mountains of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, but after many hours of trying to track his location with a spotty signal and trying to scout a good spot for a photo, I found him and his crew.
I first saw his RV pop up over a rise in the two lane highway 16 just north of Mercersburg, PA and I knew he must be approaching. Next I could hear the sound of the loudspeaker attached to the follow vehicle with an almost constant dialogue coming from within. Too bad I can’t speak German to understand what they were saying to him. There were quite a few cars passing between him and me as I chose a spot on the opposite side of the road. He saw me, too. He’s not much of a smiler, but can’t blame him with a little over 3,000 miles under pedal and less than 200 to go. I think he was probably wondering who in the hell I was. The moment passed so quickly, after spending the entire day trying to catch him, I moved ahead two more times to get more shots.
On the street of Waynesboro, PA a man riding his bike with his young daughter stopped me to ask where the cyclist had started. When I told him California just over a week earlier, he was amazed. I think this may be one of my favorite aspects of this race because it passes through these small towns and the people generally have no idea what’s happening.
While I was waiting I came across some great scenery. It’s such a beautiful area.
Five years ago I was part of a winning 11 person team supporting a rookie cyclist in Race Across America (#RAAM), a 12 day bicycle race across the United States. This race is often called the toughest bicycle race in the world because it’s non-stop, 30% longer than the Tour de France and completed in nearly half the time. I can attest to the rigor of this event on the athlete and the team as a whole.
Tuesday, June 13, 2017 cyclists, including the cyclist I supported, will head out again from Oceanside, CA on the RAAM course heading to Annapolis, MD. The overall winner will cross in around 8 days, which is still astounding to me. So, what’s it like to RAAM, you ask?
In my RAAM experience I was along for the ride, a one person media team, to document the experience through video and photographs, and build an audience by way of social media posts for the charity (Hopecam) for which we raced night and day. I really didn’t know anyone on the team well. We raised over $300,000. We had three support vehicles–two minivans and an RV. We also had a medic, nutritionist, a bike mechanic, and a massage therapist–most of us volunteered our time. We slept and ate when we could, and shared beds as practical strangers. There was little conflict, a lot of sweat and smelly feet, one instance of leaving behind a team member at a convenience store, no booze, a few good laughs, and everyone on their best behavior. Near the completion of the race, fractures in the team caused by personality and generational conflicts and exhaustion were beginning to show, but the finish line was so close and our race going so well, no one dared to diminish his chances. We all could see the finish line., and an end to our forced companionship.
At the end, our cyclist, finished tenth overall and first place in his age group, a resounding success as most rookies do not even finish this race. It can’t be understated how important the role of the support team is in this event. No competitor can complete this race alone, no matter how well he or she trains. If the team falls apart, so does the racer.
I’ve been on many teams in my lifetime as a youth and adult athlete and media professional, a parent and a family member. These worlds are all strikingly similar in this way. I know how to be a good team member. I might even say I have been on so many teams and become so accustomed to sacrificing myself to such a great extent that I have a hard time being without a team and focusing just on my interests.
As the race unfolded, I saw each team member go through his or her ups and downs–myself included. Exhaustion affects people in different ways–bad decisions, irritability, mistakes, etc. Many a time I internally lamented not being allowed access to the racer or the follow vehicle to have constant opportunities to videotape the cyclist especially at sunrise and sunset. I thought this was a pretty critical mistake for this team’s effort–especially from a PR perspective. Shots were missed as a result. Moments were missed that would certainly have been useful. At times I was asleep when I should have been awake which was unavoidable given the scale of this race. I could have fought for the access, but I didn’t. What would this have done to the team, I thought to myself? Would it have put me at odds with the team leader and the cyclist who were weary of the nuisance of video anyway.
At times, I couldn’t think clearly enough to edit the segments. I was doing the work of three or four people–shooting, interviewing, voicing, writing, editing, uploading, and disseminating. After a while I worried I was getting the same shots over and over, and I was but that’s what was happening. For large spans I had no cellular signal to upload. I produced over thirty short videos during the nearly two weeks of the race. During stretches I was awake over 48 hours, and conversely sound asleep with four or five people coming and going from the room where I slept. I thank God I hadn’t seen the movie No Country for Old Men as I often was forced to go to sleep with motel doors unlocked so crew members could come and go as needed.
At some point during the race, I knew I had gained the trust and respect of my fellow crew members for my ability to function on so little sleep, to maintain a positive and upbeat attitude, and to remain neutral and avoid conflict. At one point, someone even pointed out that they weren’t certain whose side I would be on in a conflict developing between the younger and older members of the crew. When asked, I didn’t really answer the question. I made a joke. The fact is, I didn’t agree with every decision, I didn’t like everyone–young and old, but I focused on the job to be done and did it. This is what it’s like to be in the midst of RAAM.
Good luck to all RAAM cyclists, but most of all good luck to all of your crew members. Be safe, be kind, be generous. Remember cyclists, you couldn’t do this without your crew. They are your biggest muscle that will get you through this endeavor, OR they can become the cramp or saddle sore that brings you to a halt if you forget their value.
Just two days before the 2014 start of Race Across America, I am excited to announce that several of Pawpro Media’s photos from the 2012 race are included in the self-published book, What Spins The Wheel: Lessons In Leadership from Our Race for Hope” authored by Len Forkas, who successfully completed, won his age group, and finished tenth overall two years ago.
I was a member of his 13 person crew and proud to have donated 15+ days (500+ hours) of my time, gear and professional video skills to cover the team and rookie racer riding to raise money for the charity he founded, Hopecam.org, which connects seriously ill children, who are homebound, with their schoolmates by way of online video chat.
During the race I produced 33 videos, that helped promote Hopecam and Forkas and helped raise over $300,000, which in turn led to the latest fundraising endeavor of his book recounting the 2012 race. It was a grueling schedule as a singlehanded videographer, editor and voice of the reports filed, which demanded I stay awake for 48 hours at a time fueled only by Skittles and Mounds for sections of the race.
In this year’s running of RAAM, Hopecam is supporting Team Joe Barr, a cyclist our 2012 Hopecam team became acquainted with before his unfortunate withdrawal from the competition in that year because of a serious bout with altitude sickness as he encountered the Rocky Mountains. Barr will ride this year to benefit Hopecam. Donations are welcome at Hopecam.org.
I wish Joe Barr and his team good health, good weather, good results on all accounts this year. Some consider this to be the toughest bike race in the world as it is a running clock, 3000 miles in 12 days, while the Tour de France is 2,200 miles in 23 days with stops and days off. Follow Team Joe Barr’s progress during the race at https://www.facebook.com/TeamJoeBarr.
Pawpro maintains a catalogue of video footage and stills from this 2012 event.
Today I am opening a gallery of photos taken while I followed Len Forkas in the 2012 Race Across America–a 3,000 mile, 12 day bike race. The social media coverage provided by Pawpro was a substantial part of why Forkas and his non-profit, Hopecam.org was able to raise more than $300,000.
These are purely photos which is a distinction from the miles of video I compiled. In almost two weeks on the road, I only dedicated myself to shooting stills for a few hours total because of the priority to get video coverage and the limits on awake time, available wireless signals, editing time, and time being in proximity to Forkas to shoot footage. The collection will grow as I begin to review the video footage and create stills from certain moments of it.
When solo shooting a live event such as this the photographer/videographer must commit to one medium or the other for fear of capturing nothing if caught transitioning. The photographic moments either occur at a painstakingly slow or frustratingly unexpected pace. In sports gab, that means you must be on your toes at all times. If I had it to do again there would be things done differently, and other things that would be impossible to do differently under the same conditions. As an example, as much as I wanted to stay awake for 48 straight hours, sleep a few hours, rinse and repeat, no amount of Red Bull was going to keep me awake beyond a certain point. It was an experience that I will never forget. It took several weeks for my hand to recuperate from constantly holding the camera.
I was going to start this post by drawing the parallels between what was accomplished by Len Forkas and his Race Across America for Hopecam and Diana Nyad’s latest attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida. I was rooting for her, and remember how captured I was by her initial attempt back in the late ’70’s. It was that spirit for adventure that inspired me to join in the excitement of Race Across America. Then word came she had been pulled from the water–beaten by jellyfish, weather and sharks. My initial thought was, “I’m so relieved that there were no jellyfish or sharks to worry about in RAAM!” I don’t think the Hopecam crew would have survived as long as Nyad in such elements. As it happened, we didn’t have a drop of rain in our 11 day crossing of the U.S.
Thankfully, Len Forkas met with success in his endeavor. However, falling short at any extreme adventure comes with a fair amount of pride in having planned and made the attempt, at all. I am of the belief that so few can even claim to have conceived and committed to such outrageous challenges, that to have tried and stopped is no failure in the world of extreme sports. Although, I know that the individuals who commit to these challenges are rarely satisfied just by the attempt.
In the process of producing videos, I have often been in the company of accomplished and extraordinary people. Most of them adults. Most of them professionals. In the latest Pawpro Media video release we are highlighting the children of Hopecam who are, or have been, homebound and isolated by treatment for life threatening illnesses. It’s hard to not be impressed by their composure and strength.
For ten years Hopecam.org has supplied computers, cameras, hardware and any technical support necessary to connect these children with their school friends. Founder, Len Forkas, took on the mission to address this often overlooked, yet critical, aspect of long-term medical treatment for children after watching his son suffer with leukemia, and the painful emotional separation from his classmates at the age of nine. Often these children are separated from their friends for a year or more while being treated, which can have a significant effect on their psychological and physical well-being. The risk of a complicating infection is just too great.
To hear former Hopecam user, Daniel, now 13 years old, recall his initial thoughts of being diagnosed with cancer, wondering how long he has to live, wondering whether he will ever see his friends again isn’t a topic of which we expect a child to be conversent. And his mother, Donna, recalling how she worried about how to “. . . keep him whole” in the process. But these children and families are forever changed by this event.
With Len’s participation this coming June in the famed cross-country cycling event, Race Across America, Hopecam hopes to reach more children and make more people aware of childhood cancer, Hopecam and the need for this connection in the lives of the children and families isolated by intensive medical treatment. Please help Hopecam raise $150,000 in 2012 to carry out this mission. Visit Hopecam.org to donate today.
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