Once again, Vic Armijo provides invaluable information about racing in RAAM or RAW and the role of the support crews. This originally appeared on January 22 here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/523225327828742/permalink/579227618895179/. It is Published and re posted here fro archive-ability and reference material for any future RAAM/RAW racers and crews. All photo credit goes to Vic Armijo as far as we know.
RAAM RACE CREWS: Athletic Support, by Vic Armijo
“The support plan for a RAAM rider to bicycle from the West coast to the East coast has been developed and refined over these past 34 years and has arrived at a basic formula. First a rider needs a crew consisting of six to ten people. Most crews are made up of friends, family and fans. The first requirement is to be someone able to keep a positive attitude under stress. Friendships have been made and ended on RAAM crews and more than one RAAM assault has fallen apart due to bickering within the crew. Few crew members are paid and all are required to be able to subsist on fast food and coffee, be able to get very little sleep while sitting up or traveling in a moving motor home, and be a combination driver, navigator, cook, mechanic, nurse, psychologist, family therapist and be willing to get up before dawn so that when the rider is ready to roll, all vehicles and all crew members are ready too. A member of one crew commented, “I tell people back home in Austria I am coming for RAAM and they say ‘Ah, you are going for a holiday in America.’ Right! Twenty hours of working a day, sleeping while bouncing in the RV. Yes, a real vacation!”
THE ROLLING STOCK
Each crew will have a follow car as required by RAAM rules. It stays behind the rider for the vast majority of the time, and is required at night. The follow car is usually a mini-van, SUV or station wagon. Most crews will have a second car to serve as back-up should the primary follow car have a problem. And the second car is used for speeding ahead to get groceries, supplies, check position of other riders, do laundry etc. Then there’s the motor-home; a place to prepare meals for the rider and crew and a place to sleep. Usually there’s at least one crew member taking his/her sleep rotation in the motor home. When I crewed for a rider in ’06 my job was to drive the RV. In that motor home rode the rider’s mother who had among her many jobs was the task of cooking for him and us. So we referred to the motor home as “the mother ship,” a term often used by other RAAM crews.
Most RAAM crew members have many jobs and will often rotate. There needs to be two to three people up to the task of driving the follow car, one of the most intensely demanding jobs in RAAM. Imagine how mind-numbing it is to drive on the shoulder of the road at 15 to 20 miles per hour while dodging road-side debris AND paying close attention to the distance between the follow car and the rider—running over your rider is generally frowned upon—but it has happened. Sitting shot-gun is the navigator/rider feeder. It’s the front seat passenger’s job to keep apprised of the route for at least the two or three turns ahead—missing a turn is time-consuming and frustrating, especially for the rider. The navigating job is much easier these days with GPS systems. The RAAM organizers make available to all teams a complete track of the route that can be downloaded into a lap-top. One crew told me that their lap-top GPS setup is their primary navigation method; the route book is only for back-up.
The “feeder” job is being the one who hands off water bottles to the rider, takes back the empties, hands up a rain-jacket when needed and is there to listen when the rider drops back with a question, or food order, etc. And finally, the front-seat crew member mans the sound system. Many follow cars have roof-top speakers hooked up to an I-Pod. In the ten years I’ve spent following RAAM I’ve heard everything to current US pop hits to Slovenian folk music blaring from the roof of follow cars.
A rider also needs a mechanic to keep the bikes tuned and always ready. Modern bicycles are very well engineered and so the 3,000+ miles of RAAM isn’t really that much of demand on them, that is if all goes well. But on RAAM a smart crew is prepared for any eventuality, so a stock of parts and tools is a part of any well prepared rider’s plan as is at least one crew member with bike mechanic skills.
Many other riders use a PA system as described above, while others merely use an I-Pod, but per RAAM rules, they can only use one ear-bud, the other ear must be open to hear approaching cars. Some crews use wireless intercoms between the rider and the follow car; some can also play MP3s AND the follow car can patch it through a cell phone so a rider can talk to family and friends while riding. Cool! Most crew’s outside sounds system are also equipped with a P.A. so that his crew can call out which way to turn or to offer encouragement or report on the whereabouts of other racers of concern. The workload within the follow car can be intense. Our ’06 crew referred to the follow car as “the pressure cooker.”
Those crew members not in the follow car have plenty to do too. With six to ten people to feed, clothe and (occasionally) shower there’s always a hunt for the next grocery store and laundry-mat. RAAM crews have a fondness for Mall-Wart, just about anything a crew needs is there in one place, usually including a gas station. Fast food places are popular—even among those crew members who normally don’t eat the stuff—in many parts of the route there’s simply no choice. Or if there are local restaurants, you never know if they’ll be good (or safe) or if their service is fast enough for a RAAM crew. The best thing to say about RAAM and fast food is that you know what you’re getting; the Subway sandwich or Quarter Pounder you got in Arizona will be pretty much the same as the one in Ohio.
For the first 54 miles of RAAM the riders must ride without a support crew. And sometimes when passing through cities during heavy traffic, a crew may pull off and let the rider go on alone so as not to block traffic with the follow car. In these instances a road-side hand-up is the only way for a rider to get a feed or water-bottle.
Along the RAAM route there are a few Time Stations where the station staffs have recruited local hotels or health clubs to provide the use of shower facilities. Those stations are among the most popular next to the ones that serve up barbecue! The station in Congress, Arizona, where it was in the high 90s, had a small wading pool set up this year. Ahhh, refreshing!
It is vitally important that a crew keeps everything clean, tidy and organized. With so much equipment and so many people traveling such close quarters that can be a challenge. The primary rule for crew members is “do it now.” Used a flashlight? Put it back where it goes the moment you’re finished with it. That 5mm allen wrench you used at that last stop? Back in the tool box it goes and not in your pocket. Would you want to be the one to tell your rider that his finicky derailleur can’t be fixed ‘cuz you can’t find the right tool? Made sandwiches for the crew? Clean up the spilled mustard and put away the bread now so that messes don’t accumulate. And the “do it now” mantra applies to crews’ personal business too. When there are showers, use ‘em. Someone’s fetching dinner? Order something, even if you’re not hungry, you can always eat it later. If there are a few minutes of down time and you need to call home, do it. The one thing that can always be counted on in RAAM is that any plans, not matter how carefully made, will be altered many, many times
Last, but not least, the crew members not currently in the follow car are a rider’s own built in fan club. Sometimes the best thing that they can do with their time is to be at the side of the road cheering on their rider as he or she passes.
Whew! That all sounds intense, doesn’t it? Now realize that there’s much more time before and after the time spent actually racing RAAM. Most crews will arrive at the start in Oceanside two or more days before the start. There’s much to do there, roof light systems must be installed, RAAM required stickers and sponsor stickers need to be applied to the vehicles. Many of those vehicles are rentals, so those must be picked up. Often the crews will remove the third seat from the follow car vehicle, but that seat needs to be on the East coast when the vehicle gets returned to the rental agency. So RAAM offers a freight service, they take a big U-Haul to the finish packed with luggage, back seats and anything else that a crew needs but doesn’t have room for.
Then there’s inspection. All vehicles are checked over; all lights, brake lights, turn signals must work. All drivers need to be insured. Follow car light systems are checked. Each bike and all spare wheels must have specifically placed reflective tape. Anything left undone found by the inspector must be corrected before the start.
Another task that must be done before the start is to organize all the supplies and equipment. There’s a huge list of things that need to always be at hand; the rider’s food, bike shorts, jerseys, tights, rain jackets, arm warmers, tights, gloves, eyewear, toilet paper, baby wipes, bike parts, tires, inner-tubes…it goes on and on. Plastic tote boxes and drawers are very popular with RAAM crews—nearly every RAAM follow car will have them.
Any rider who finishes the Race Across America is a hero. Heck, any rider with enough confidence in his or her abilities to even enter is a hero. But none of them, not the winners or even those who pull out partway could get very far if not for the hard work and sacrifices of their crews. Any, and I mean any RAAM finisher will be the first to agree with that statement.”
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