June 28, 2018
It’s been almost a week since I made the decision to withdraw from the Race Across America after 2,600 miles of sleep-deprived exertion, yet the adventure continues for me. The race has changed me. I am no longer the same person who waited anxiously at the start line in Oceanside on June 12. I’d like to think that I am a better man now, but history will be the judge of that. What I can say is that there is a story to tell, one that I feel compelled to share with you. It is a story of hope over hopelessness, triumph over adversity, humility over bellicosity, and love over, well, everything!
My dear teammate Susi Huschle did an amazing job of capturing the drama of each day’s racing, and many of you have commented on how you felt part of the adventure – riding right alongside me, so to speak, as a result of her compelling daily narrative. My reflective musings will seek to add another layer to Susi’s work, a “look back” versus a “look now,” and in so doing I hope to offer you an opportunity to see through the racer’s lens the incredible gift we call the United States of America.
Let me start at the end, at least the end of my race. Some of you may be wondering why I decided that my race should end at that point rather than 500 miles further down the road at City Dock, Annapolis, under the RAAM finish line banner. As you can imagine, the decision was not an easy one and despite my best efforts not to, I have naturally allowed myself to question that choice. What I can tell you is that I am at peace with it. Many factors came into play, some of them visceral and pragmatic; I’m wet and cold, it’s dark and a ferocious thunderstorm is sending sheets of water inches deep across the road in front of me, my saddle sores are numbingly painful, my legs are protesting loudly at each revolution of the pedals, and my eyes are heavy with the burden of 10-days’ sleeplessness. These sensibilities, though very real and compelling, were not enough to stop me. There was more at play. Reasons of a higher compulsion. This race wasn’t just about me and my sufferings. Allow me explain.
I struggled into Time Station (TS) 43 in Chillicothe, Ohio, after another riding segment of seemingly endless rollers. The brief downhill sections were scant reward for the uphill grinds. Rounding a corner I coasted into the parking area behind a gas station where the trusty “mothership” (our family 5th wheel) and the incredible Team Red Dragon crew stood-by ready to “service” me like a NASCAR vehicle in a pit stop before ushering me on my way to the next TS with a fresh cycling kit, saddle sore ointment, nutrition and water and a gift of 10-minutes sleep. However, before I came to a stop I noticed that Hank, my beloved father-in-law, and stoic captain of the mothership sat alone weeping and clearly distressed. I immediately dismounted my bike and went over to him, my mind shooting predictions in a thousand directions of what may be wrong. Had he received bad news about a family member or friend? Was he himself unwell or injured? We embraced and he buried his head in my shoulder. He looked at me and said, “I hate seeing you hurting so badly, and suffering so much.” His love and compassion at that moment spoke volumes and underscored a truth about this race that I had come to understand and embrace with each passing mile, and each human interaction. This epic adventure wasn’t so much about getting to the finish. It wasn’t about a destination. It was about about who I would become, who all of us on the team would become, as a result of our collective commitments to each other. For me, our RAAM success would be determined by the strength and rejuvenating power of the relationships we forged – within the team, with other racers and teams, and with each individual and group we interacted with across the vastness of this great country. At that moment with Hank, I came to understand that finishing this race was not nearly as important as being the best human being I could be for my team, for my family, for my supporters. Continuing on for any other reason would be misguided, selfish, and irresponsible. As I left that the Chillicothe TS, I was no less determined to see this race through to the end in Annapolis, but I was also clear about why I would continue.
Join me for Part 2. The end is just the beginning.