I think it is fair to say that 2020 has been a most unexpected year. I knew the writing was on the wall the first week of March that RAW and RAAM were likely to be canceled, but even then, I had yet to comprehend the severity of the worldwide crisis that was coming. CoVID-19 swept over the world quickly. The week before, I had completed a 9 h ride up and over Box Canyon, with a 12 mile dirt segment that was simply epic--the kind of ride that fills me with moments of uninhibited joy. A day later Italy would shut down the northern part of the country. My next week's 9-h ride, an all paved ride out over many of the same roads was overcast by the storm clouds of the growing pandemic. I was passing riders on the road with 2 m of space, quickly, and with only a quick glance--surprised there was some small organized tour on roads I usually see no other bike on. Over the next week, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic and the United States declared a National State of Emergency, The next week, Germany and Canada closed international borders, Spain and France locked down, and RAAM Texas Challenge canceled. Within two weeks, the United Kingdom had locked down, TransAm canceled, and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics postponed. Tour of the Gila canceled, and shortly afterwards, USA Cycling suspended all US racing. On April 3rd, Fred and Rick Boethling announced that RAAM and RAW 2020 were canceled.
When you are delayed to achieve your dream, it's not a denial but a preparation for the best time to come. For you are a winner in waiting" -Nomathamsanqa Matladi.
At home over the next month, store shelves were empty of some items (especially toilet paper). The normally busy University of Arizona was deserted. Idled American Airlines jets are now stored at a local municipal airport. My wife was sewing masks for my sons in New York City, Boston, and Minneapolis from the very same material she made baby quilts for them 25 years ago. New York's first Stay-At-Home order went into effect just two weeks after the birth of Eli Clay House-Pearce, our first grandson--cancelling our plans to visit and meet our grandbaby in Manhattan. During one of our Facebook video calls with them, New York City had the nightly applause for hospital workers. The New England Patriot's sent their jet to China to bring back medical equipment, including N95 masks for health care workers, and delivered it to the New York City and Boston. We all now know what "PPE" is. Through my friends in the international ultra community, and contacts throughout Europe as an owayo Ambassador via social media I was getting first hand updates on how it was to train and live all over the world as the pandemic was developing.
With much emotion, I had decided on 23 March to roll my 2020 RAW entry into 2021 and cancel our plans for RAW 2020 (two weeks before it was officially canceled). World events have severely impacted preparations and motivation to train. It's created an environment where the ask from my crew is too much, both in personal expense and risk to their own health. The risk to my own health with the exhaustion inherent in RAW training and the race itself were also significant factors in my decision. But most of all the ask of my crew weighed heavily on my mind, and I knew that even if the race were to happen, it would not be the shared adventure that makes RAW and RAAM so special.
Even though RAAM really is the world's toughest bike race, RAW arguably the second toughest, and a dream with much investment--at the end of the day, they are just a bike races. The climax of events over the last weeks compare in my lifetime only to 9-11. The scope of the worldwide crisis only compares to the World Wars or the 1918 Flu Pandemic. Many of the athletes I ride with have never experienced an event like this--and this one is in slow motion. We have a worldwide pandemic and a national emergency. These are words that if they are understood need no superlatives. They are words easily dismissed if we do not educate ourselves with credible sources.
The reaction through the ultracycling community has been as diverse as we are all. Most of the blogs have gone silent and the Facebook forums are as quiet as our city streets. Some continue to train for RAW and RAAM, even if it means >24 h rides on the trainer. I've learned that on Zwift, apparently you can let your avatar coast down a hill at zero watts without you actually being on the bike! A Virtual RAAM (VRAAM) has been organized. As difficult as I find it to explain to "normal people" why I would want to ride my bike 3000 miles across the America in 12 days, I cannot even explain to myself why anyone would want pretend to ride across America on a trainer in their basement or garage for 12 days. Others are self-organizing events to replace the canceled races, even if it means violating government stay at home orders and common sense. Most have set athletic dreams aside to re-focus on family and community in this crisis while replanning our training around 2021 or 2022 goals that are yet to be definitized.
We will be back and the epic challenge, celebration of life and the shared adventure will be even more special when the time is right. Meanwhile, all we can do is work towards being a better athlete, and in the process become a better person. I so look forward to riding through the night again with the sounds of the night and the hum of FOLLOW's tires behind me again.
My RAAM Story, 415 days to RAW 2021, 780 days to RAAM 2022
My interest in ultracycling dates back when I first started seriously riding a bike in college in the early 1980s. This is my RAAM story preparing to compete in the Race Across the West in 2020 and RAAM 2021.