The people that made this happen….

It’s hard to believe that this time a month ago we were in Oceanside on the start line of RAAM. I’ve been back for two weeks now and feel somewhat like I’m living in an alternate reality- the memories of RAAM are so vivid but it seems like a lifetime ago. I have photographs, neck ache and numb toes to prove it happened, but did it really? Yes it did, and it was made the wonderful experience that it was by the people that I shared it with. There are 8 very special people who lived and breathed RAAM with me… They fed me, watered me (sometimes very literally), fixed my bikes, tucked me into “bed” amongst the bike wheels and coolboxes, made me laugh and sometimes made me cry (that was just Zoe).They didn’t complain when I ate their sandwiches, wanted to change bike saddles again, decided I needed to sleep in the most unhelpful of locations or wanted something from the back of the car when they’d only just clambered back to the front seat. They walked with me up hills to keep me awake, read me all the lovely messages of support, patiently sorted through kit to find the exact piece I wanted and watched uncomplainingly as I walked in and trashed the RV (never open the fridge when the van is moving….). They camped out in cars in random locations with people they barely knew and followed me for mind-numbing hours on long straight road after long straight road, eating whenever and whatever they could and putting my needs and that of their team members above their own. They also kept me safe which given the challenges of the traffic and sleep deprivation is no mean feat, not to mention my ability to fall down large holes without any help from anyone else (seriously, millimetres from having possibility the biggest and painful muppet moment of my life. DNFing RAAM due to injuries sustained not even on the bike would have been embarrassing).

Our crew has morphed slightly over the last 3 races, but for me it’s been wonderful to have a core of people who have been with me since the start of this crazy journey and to be adding to it each year with people asking their friends to come along both because they want them to have an adventure but also because they feel that they bring something to the team. We’ve shared experiences and confidences within the team that only sporting challenges like RAAM or military life really expose. These guys have seen me at my best and at my worst; the incredible highs and the lowest of lows. They’ve given up annual leave, income (for those who are self-employed) and precious time with family. They’ve come along for dinner and meetings after long days at work, sacrificed weekends for race seminars, team development and practice runs. They’ve done it uncomplainingly and the time invested before the race certainly paid off during it.

These are the people who made those 1844 miles possible….

John Mews – Crew Chief
Adey Fletcher – Morale Officer
Kyle Barker – IC Sandwiches
Zoe Lofthouse – Body work
Daryl Barker – Bike work
Dave Olinkski – Camera dude
Wes Wells – Breathing coach
Shane Benzie – Research officer
And back home….
Peter Johns – Meteorological interpreter

The Follow Car crews…..

Daryl and Shane shared the first magical night in the desert with me; it was something I loved during RAW and it didn’t disappoint again during RAAM. I think I probably also crossed the most state lines with them….. Shane put up with me wittering on all the way up Cuchara Pass, nagged me to do my exercises and became Zoe’s able assistant in the massage department. I knew she had fully converted him to her evil ways when I couldn’t tell who was making me wince the most. Daryl (and Dave) kept the bikes running brilliantly and humoured my many requests about saddles uncomplainingly. We also shared a rather cool armadillo moment which hopefully made up for all the wildlife that they ended up with in the car. As we were on another long, hot road in Kansas Daryl shared a quote that will stay with me – “Let go of the race you’d planned and embrace the race you’re given”.

Last year Zoe had to put up with me going blue on the climbs to Durango, this year she and Wes had to deal with my sleepy demons on the same stage… both uphill and downhill. This led to a lot of KitKat eating and the slightly bizarre sight of me and Wes walking some of the way up the final climb doing breathing exercises. Zoe did an awesome job of keeping the neck issues at bay from about the 800 mile mark and Wes taught Zoe that rule number one is to never get separated from your kit. We shared the halfway point, the final rather poignant stage and a 90min sleep stop literally in the middle of nowhere as in my sleep deprived state I decided we needed to go tactical. Our first fireflies were cool, and it turns out that there are in fact 101 interesting facts about Kansas (some of which I can still remember). Above all, there was a lot of laughter down the Cardo and I frequently wondered when either one of them was going to breathe.

Dave and Adey had the joys of the Flagstaff stage, which saw Adey coveting my Egg McMuffin and Dave despatched to do altitude interval training, running alongside me with the water sprayer for which I am eternally grateful. They kept me awake down endless straight roads in Kansas with Car Snooker, What’s your Favourite…. And images of Adey getting stuck trying to manoeuvre from the front to the back of the car whilst it was in motion. It’s Dave we have to thank for all the wonderful images and film footage that made the flag-following that much more personal. These two regularly came back out on the road during their break time to get extra footage which made it so much richer. I have so many great memories of RAAM but the one that will always stand out for me was standing on the hard shoulder of a fairly major road in Kansas as the sun came up, laughing with these guys at the absurdity of the whole thing until the tears were literally streaming down my face and I was struggling to breathe.

And in the “Big Bouncy Fun Bus” (a.k.a the RV)
The Crew Chief has a huge amount of responsibility both for the racer and the crew. John’s hard work on all the logistics and preparation prior to the race in particular paid off. It was meticulously planned and it showed in the level of organisation and the confidence of the crew in their ability to deal with whatever presented itself. John’s true calling as a Fettler and Bodger was also finally able to come to the fore and the RAF boys showed that where there’s gaffer tape, there’s a way. John, thank you for all your hard work, for dressing me, doing maths for me and just for stepping up.

Kyle had the hardest job through the whole campaign – simply being married to me. His attention to the little things like buying hot dog rolls rather than bread as they’re easier to hold on the bike and bringing me a choc ice made all the difference, let alone dealing with the laundry and ensuring that everything was perfect for my stops in terms of kit and food. His love and support in the 48 hours after I’d DNF’d show the strength and compassion that both grounds me and enables me to put myself out there to chase my dreams. We sacrificed a lot along the journey and he did so without complaint. We are stronger together because of the journey we’ve shared.

To all of my crew, you were awesome. Thank you.