Race Across The West - 1390km in 76 hours
Race Across the West (RAW) is a non-stop 1390 km long bike race
It's the 'little' sister of the more famous Race Across America. The race starts in Oceanside, California, runs through the Anza-Borrego desert into Arizona, through Monument Valley into Utah and ends in the Rocky Mountains in Durango, Colorado. There are a total of 14,000 vertical meters and 500 km desert. Our Eva participated in this challenge, read her story:
June 10: The Hertz car rental, Los Angeles
The entire team had gathered on. The team consists of Rune, Rikke, Jakob and Rene. Rene unfortunately had to stay in Los Angeles when the race began due to illnes.
The first few days
We spent on buying stuff, fix the car, get on the bikes and the car approved, go to press conferences and other important meetings. The car should be equipped with stickers, plastic boxes and a mattress where I and the team would be able to sleep when possible. Wallmart is a great place for it! I primarily used the time to relax while the others ran around doing all the things!
July 16, 2015, 12:17 pm
I drove up to the start line of Race Across the West, as the first Danish and Scandinavian woman. I had actually imagined that I would cry a little (of joy) as I have fought for this very moment in 2.5 years. The process has cost much blood, sweat and tears! But there I was, had a sense of joy, pride and anxiety. A fear of what would come to pass, what we would encounter and the challenges I would face and a pride that I stood there.
10, 9, 8 ... .. GO!
I put my foot on the pedal and started pushing the bike. The first 8 km was a parade zone so I could not overtake. The temperature started to raise as soon as I went away from the ocean. Already after the first 8 km had the temperature increased from 17 degrees to 23 degrees, I thought of it as a problem at that time, I was just enjoying that I wasn’t freezing anymore. Shortly after the parade zone ended did three guys pas me with great speed, all with disc wheels. I just thought - yes I will see you later!
The further into the country
The warmer it was getting, the temperature quickly hit 30 degrees - here I began to get a little worried about how hot it would be in the desert? When I met my crew at 38 km the temperature was 35 degrees, it was starting to go up and I already felt a little overheated. As the temperature rose and did the teams start to spray water on their riders (so did my team of course) and also other teams rider. I could see on my GPS, that halfway up the mountain was the temperature increased to 40, I had already nausea and felt really overheated inside. But suddenly did I hear someone shout further up: “Hey Beautiful, bow your head if you want ice!” I bowed my head and he poured ice water over - my speed increased by 2 km / h and nausea disappeared. Well then I thought, it's going to be okay until at least next desert ...
At the top of a Glass Elevator
Which is the first real descent in RAW (17 km and 1200 hm). At the top was the temperature 25 degrees and the bottom 45 degrees, it really gives some strong and very hot winds, my eyes was running and I had difficulty breathing (try sticking your head in the wind from a hair dryer and you will get the feeling). At the bottom of the descent is Borrego Springs, which is completely flat and 45 degrees, so we decided that I should switch to my cooling shirt and my Fuji. Away it went until dark. I would then change clothes and bike and continue in a now more hilly terrain.
The sun rose
I got 25 minutes of sleep, I also got 25 minutes of sleep in the beginning of the night. It's definitely the two hardest times since the body first thinks that it is time to sleep and then realize that it does not have slept, but as soon as the sun rises, it is ok. The temperature increased again quickly and when it hit 35 degrees at 9:30 am, we knew that it would be a hot day, but not that it would be SO hot!
Around noon did we have 48 degrees, one thing is when you stand quietly in the shade in the heat, sitting on the bike without the possibility of shade and the heat comes both from above, from below via heat radiation from the tarmac and from the wind. It hurts in the lungs, it stings in the eyes and on the legs and it feels like someone put fire on your feets. The highest temperature we saw that day was 52 degrees. My cooling sweater works only when wet and it was dry after 500 meters so my team had to run out and sprayed me all the time.
It is very hard to describe what it's like to ride in the heat
One thing is for sure, one needs to constantly be aware of how you feel. If you do not listen you will overheat and the race can be over. I kept an eye on my heart rate, I kept the intensity as low as possible, when I was too hot (despite the intensive cooling by my team) my heart rate would increase above 150 and I knew I had to be cooled down. It happened twice and I drove off the road and was placed under in the shade and got ice bags in the groin and armpits while my team was spraying water on me, got a Coke and a bite to eat (mostly watermelon and salty almonds).
I don’t remember much of the day
I was probably in a bit of trance. In the afternoon around 4 PM, I think, did I sleep for 1.5 hour. The Aircon was not really sufficient, so I wasn’t really cooled down afterwards - but it was still colder than outside! When I woke up again was I feeling really shitty, or actually came after some time. I sat in the car in front of the fan with ice packs on but it did not really help.
I had a lot of nausea and was really close to throwing up. Rikke and Rune got me to take my cooling jersey on and gave me an ice cube in the mouth - it helped alot. They got me on the bike and that helped right away, the cooling jersey made my nausea disappeared and I could continue. It was still seriously hot and the team continued to pour water on me as often as they could!
It was a relief when the sun went down and the temperature began to drop. When the dark came did wish for ten minutes of sleep, but the team rejected it. The next time station was just around the corner. It turned out to be a staffed time station equipped with a pool and lemonade! I dipped my swollen feet in the water and enjoyed the free wifi for 10 min.
And then the climbing began
When driving up in pitch darkness, you do not notice how long it actually goes up, but Rune told me later that it took forever. I had a RAAM rider in front of me, so I had a constant mark to follow and an easy motivation because I wanted to overtake him! At the top did I get 5 min sleep, because I kept going right and decending like that is not a good idea! I got 1.5 hours of sleep after dawn at time station 7 in Prescott – When I woke up did I feel like a new person. The team car of Carol Pope, she and Karen Armstrong (the two other woman in RAW) were 30 min and 10 min away respectively. I got some breakfast and we drove off just behind Karen.
At some point did we hit the high way
That is not normal for Europeans and we were a bit unsure about the route! It's pretty uncomfortable to ride on the shoulder and cross the exits and entrances. Later should we turn left and then climb 12 mile. It was a very beautiful winding road. I could constantly see Karen, that pushed me a lot and I overtook her on the middle of the climb. I knew that from that point was it very important to keep her behind me! I hit the top of the climb faster than I expected, and in the last curve could I see that Karen stopped because of something with her bike. The descend was a 20 km downhill on an absolutely perfect shaped road with a very smooth tarmac! Only disturbed by a small town where we had to slow down.
We proceeded at high speed on the other side
And arrived to the next time station. After this time station did it just go up, up and up for 50 km. I was quit often overtaken by the support car of Karen and that pushed me a lot because I knew she was just behind me. There was a lot of traffic on the climb, and a lot of road work but the people were really nice to keep a distance, they were not angry that I was there and I didn’t feel unsafe. I had hoped that it was not necessary to spray me with water that day but the temperature hit 40 degrees again so it was certainly needed. I remember that it felt like I had bin climbing forever and when I asked Rune how far there was to the top he replied enthusiastically: “there is only 18 km back!” Shit man, that is longer than any climb I have ever ridden but okay, I just need to step en the pedals and start counting the kilometers, at least I had a flat top to look forward to. But the top wasn’t flat, it was hilly like the worst hills in Denmark all the way to Flagstaff!
When we got to time station in Flagstaff
I was really really tired in the legs. As we entered the time station did we discover that it is staffed, they had pizza and cola and it felt like heaven! One of the staff members told me that I had to climb very short, but steep climb, and then there was a 30 km descent, and after 90 km I had to turn to the right and then would I get a tailwind. I suddenly got the motivation to continue riding. The short stepp climb was indeed short but not very steep - then there indeed came a completely straight 30 km descent followed by small hills! It was a relief to feel the bike go by itself!
I did the 90 km in around 2.5 hours and I felt like flying
The temperature had now dropped below 40 degrees and it was great! We drove into the Indian reservation Navajo where people certainly did not like cyclists, therefore did the car constantly stay right behind me. Later in the evening we got reports that there were wild dogs in the area - I am very afraid of dogs so I was constantly on guard. The first time was it some really small dogs but Jacob drove the car to the otherside shouted so they disappeared.
Later did the team told me that there were four dogs on the other side of the road, my reaction was to hide on the right side of the car but there were 20 dogs on that side (which I didn’t saw), but we got past them relatively unnoticed. The time station in Tuba city was a large gasoline tank station. People were beginning to ask us how my team got me through the desert and it came to knowledge that almost all other riders had troubles in the desert. We drove on into the night. It was really cold that night and I got more and more clothes on. At some point did my right Achilles to hurt, I tried a lot of things to make it stop, but in the end was the only option to cut up the heel in my shoe.
It helped, and I could continue to ride without much pain
We stopped at one point because I wanted my extra legs on but dogs started howling all over the place and when we could hear they came closer and closer did we drop the idea and I sprinted everything I could away from them! On the 2nd night did I have the experiences that I sort of flew above my body and was looking down on my hands thinking - this is not my hands, I must be in a dream. It happened again this night and it feels like looking down on an alien body that is riding my bike - it's pretty scary!
When the rode is completely straight and flat (there was no turns within 110 km ..) can you see the lights of the cities very far away! We could already see the city were the next time station was 30 kilometers away, it was very frustrating not being able to see that you actually are getting closer until you are like 5 kilometers away from the city.
Kayenta where time station was located was just on the state border of Utah, I got 10 minutes sleep before we went on.Every shade along the side of the road looked like wild dogs for me and I drove as quick as I could to get away from them. When dawn started to brake was I really really tired but I would not stop because I could feel Karen breathing down my neck. There was absolutely no network so it was impossible for us to check where she was.
We tried to keep me awake with music
But it did not really help, I had troubles staying on the road and I wasn’t really awake. At one point I nearly give in to the sleep but instead I looked back on the car and saw Rune and Rikke with techno glasses on - I got a pair myself and rode happily on with music in the ears - I had a party.
The sun was beginning to rise
And we could see some funny rocks on the horizon but we thought that it was just some small weird ones. The closer we came and the more the light there was the more clear it came to us - it was not just some small dull stones, we were in Monument Valley which is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and my crisis was completely gone!
The road in Utah was really bad
I felt that even when I was riding down the hill did my bike go slower and slower because of the resistance in the tarmac. Through Utah was there a lot of 200 rollers - hills which is approximately 60 m high and very steep.
After Monument valley and almost all the way to the boarder of Colorado did I have the English RAAM rider Shusanna Pillinger in sight and I used her as my motivation. By Montezuma Creek, a city that is really in the middle of nowhere, did we stop at the time station at the same time as Shu and her team. Her mechanic told us that we had done the right thing with my shoe when I had Achilles tendon and that it is a well-known problem.
We drove on and the terrain began to change
The rocks were softer and the nature became greener. We still had no idea how far away Karen was so we took minimal breaks. I was beginning to be really tired and my right thigh was feeling like a stone., it felt like I couldn’t pedal properly anymore. At one point we stopped because I needed to pee and at that moment did one of the support cars of Karens team pass us. I panicked, I didn’t pee, I just got my bike and went as hard as I could!! Suddenly I hit a gravel piece; there were wholes and every bump was hurting my leg, my ass and my lady parts!
I could never forgive myself
If I did not give absolutely everything I had in me and therefore lost my first place so I pushed with everything I had in me! We stopped approximately 1 min at the last time station and then I went as fast as I could towards Durango. The Altitude profile showed us three long climbs and one small climb. The reality was a little different, there was 5 or 6 climbs; they were not particularly steep but very long and very straight. I constantly looked backwards to keep an eye on Karen, it still felt like she was breathing down my neck! On the 3rd climb did my team stand with the Danish flag because we all believed that it was the top of the final climb.
It gave a huge energy boost
It made sure that I was able to push on the 4th climb. While Descending from the 4th climb I saw a white multi-van on the side of the road, which was a bit strange at that time, but when I got closer 5 people jumped in front of the car wearing Danish clapping hats, the Danish flag and glitter wigs - it was Andy, the other Dane participating in RAW (he had to drop out of the race because of overheating) and his team; they had turned up to cheer on me. They got me over the last two peaks and without having Karen at sight could I happily ride down to the finish line.
The feeling of driving across the finish line was unreal and completely amazing
I cried for joy and happy to get out of my shoes and to sit down. I was deeply grateful and blown away by the effort of my team had done.
I crossed the finish line in 3 days, 4 hours and 1 minute
It was 6 hours more than I had hoped for – I didn’t care at that time, and I still do not! The heat we met was the highest in many years, even the locals grumbled. Only 33% had completed the course, usually 75% completes. We were 21 solo riders and only 8 got to the finish line. Karen Armstrong came about an hour after me, so if I hadn’t sprinted the last 90 kilometers she would indeed have caught up with me. Who knew that a 1400 km bike race would turn into a 90 kilometers sprint… Not me!
Keep riding! Be #Strongher
About Eva Hansen
Ok girls, sit back for this chick who did an incredible challenge called the Race Across the West. She cycled 860 miles all be herself in a time of 3 days, 4 hours and 1 minute! An inspiration for everyone to show that you can achieve everything you want. And girls cycling also heals your heart as Eva discovered cycling after her heart was broken a few years ago, cycling really heals everything.
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