Insane people on bicycles left the West Coast on Sunday and embarked on what can only be termed something normal people just don’t do. It would take an individual with superhuman energy and drive to try to ride a bicycle across the country. But to do it as fast as possible simply defies explanation – and that is the charming lure of the Race Across America.
Insane people on bicycles left the West Coast on Sunday and embarked on what can only be termed something normal people just don’t do.
It would take an individual with superhuman energy and drive to try to ride a bicycle across the country. But to do it as fast as possible simply defies explanation – and that is the charming lure of the Race Across America.
RAAM riders will pass through the lake area for the sixth time later this week, starting with the aforementioned insane individuals. Team riders – and by that I mean misery loves company – left Oceanside, Calif., on Wednesday.
Most of the teams have catchy names, like the one from St. Louis – the Hole in the head Gang (www.holeintheheadgang.net).
Many teams embark on the race to test themselves and raise funds for a charity of their choice.
The racers (team No. 404), the first from the St. Louis area and I believe the first from Missouri, include Michele Hopkins of Edwardsville, Ill., Virgil Moehsmer of Ellisville, Mo., Steve Cottrell of Des Peres, Mo., and Lee Van Norman of Ballwin, Mo.
Five years ago, I followed the race leader through the lake area.
The Slovenian soldier, Jure Robic, never stopped pedaling down U.S. Highway 54 from the time I caught up with him early in the morning near the Camden-Hickory county line until I saluted his effort in Miller County east of Lake Ozark around mid-day.
I tripped running up hills to get in position to take photos. I slid back down them running back to the truck to get up the highway to the next spot.
Robic just kept pedaling.
I did get a brief chance to visit with his support crew, also Slovenian soldiers, who looked like the super-soldier characters from “X-Files.”
I’m not saying they didn’t look human, I’m just saying I don’t think eyebrows should have muscle ripples. It just ain’t natural.
And those were just the guys who rode in the van all day.
Robic – who is again a favorite in this year’s race and was running about three hours ahead of his pace near Cortez. Colo., on Wednesday afternoon – kept a steady rhythm up and down the Ozark hills.
That in and of itself ought to be an impressive enough feat for anyone who has driven a vehicle around here. Up a hill and back down at the same speed with what looked to be the same exertion.
Amazing, it was.
While the Race Across America draws bicycle riders with something to prove from all over the country and world, the lake does have a tie.
For six years, the Signal gas station and convenience store in Camdenton has served as Time Station 31 (email@example.com, ts31raam.com).
Eric Johnston manages and works on the time station all year. TS31 serves a variety of functions over the three- to four-day period when riders and support teams pass through.
Eric has built up a nice portfolio of stories from running the time station he likes to share with just about anyone who will listen!
He remembers his first or second year it being cool and misty when he was trying to doze off between riders. “About 2:30 a.m., Lena Herrera brought me a blanket. I certainly remember that,” Johnston says.
His favorites, though, are about the people who show up to volunteer and go out of their way helping the support teams find the stuff they need. The stories include searches for spare parts for bikes and vehicles. Questions range from where the grocery stores are to the most popular request, the nearest Laundromat.
Over the years, he’s shared stories like the mechanics at Camdenton Wal-Mart staying late on a Sunday evening to finish fixing a vehicle or the technician from Quality RV in Linn Creek repairing an electrical connection on an RV at no charge.
While Johnston and Web master Jim Glickert do their best to keep TS31 running, it’s the volunteers who make the time station. He’s always looking for volunteers, including this year – especially during the overnight hours and Sunday into Monday afternoon.
“The teams started a day late this year, and last year we were really hopping Sunday afternoon,” Johnston said.
“We’ve had as many as 12 teams here at once; that’s anywhere from 60 to 80 people speaking 10 different languages,” he recalls. “We get so busy we don’t even know what all’s going on, and then you get the long lulls where it may be hours between riders.”
And then more crews roll through and the process starts again.
“This is a moving circus, and the whole idea of the race is to get down the road, but we try to keep them here as long as we can,” Johnston says.
With the amount of goods and services we have here and the focus the lake area has on visitors, we’ve become one of the more looked forward to stops, he says. It’s a good place for travel-weary participants to stop.
“It gives us an advantage because we have everything they need,” he says.
Communication has come along way in the last five years. The Race Across America Web site, www.raceacrossamerica.org, has made tracking riders’ progress across the country easier to follow, and some of the teams now sport dashboard Web cams and satellite uplinks that literally bring the race to the entire world.
TS31 is also one of just a half-dozen or so time stations with its own Web site.
On Tuesday, Charter Communications hooked up Internet service at the time station (without billing them). Glickert the Web master bought a router so teams coming through at all hours of the day and night will have wireless access to the Internet.
The people that come through here are hungry for information, Johnston says.
Everything from weather forecasts for the road ahead to competitors’ locations to e-mails from home will be available in the Signal parking lot thanks to Charter.
Stop by Time Station 31 and visit, offer to help out if you like.
You’ll see something you certainly don’t see every day.
And please watch for the bicyclists and their accompanying slow-moving support teams on Highway 54. Remember, the whole world is watching, maybe even in real time on a satellite uplink!
I’ll be out oiling the rusty old chain on my bicycle, so e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.