Dave Shively's outdoors column appears Sundays in the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Contact him at 871-4253 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Steamboat Springs Whenever I'm up on the "Great Divide" and drive down the west side of U.S. Highway 160, I make it a point to blast C.W. McCall's classic 1975 trucking anthem, "Wolf Creek Pass."
I laugh along to the absurd tough guy CB radio-persona lyrics as I have my own adventure down the "37 miles o' hell." But this week, as I was cruising fast as "gas through a funnel and eggs through a hen," I noticed something right before I hit the not-so-pretty, "hairpin county and switchback city."
Why was there a stream of cyclists grunting its way up the fabled pass, each with its own personal support vehicle?
By the time I got to Durango, there were some support vehicles congregated at Santa Rita Park, and I found out what exactly goes into the Race Across America. For being the longest annual endurance cycling event in the world and considered by many as its toughest, I certainly hadn't heard or paid much attention to it.
What started in 1982 as the Great American Bike Race with four solo competitors now has 220 racers, its largest field ever, pedaling 3,046 miles.
This event is crazy. There are no time stages. Just a continuous clock running on Eastern Standard Time from the June 10 start in Oceanside, Calif., to the upcoming finish in Atlantic City, N.J., - the top solo divisions should finish in eight to nine days. But to be in that top group, that means about 23 hours of saddle time a day.
You can imagine how the lack of sleep and continuous exercise wrecks havoc on your body. Only about half of the solo racers even finish.
I talked with a dazed Caroline van den Bulk, who had slept for five hours from the race start to Wednesday evening. The Huntsville, Ontario resident, who qualified at a 36-hour race in Switzerland, was bronzed from sun exposure and was looking through me with that thousand-yard Marine's stare.
"I sleep for 25 minutes a day, but my body thinks it's five hours - you lose feeling for time," she said. "You're just faking your body out. It's day, it's night, and then there's race time and local time. You loose track of everything."
That's what the race support minions are for - blasting music through speakers to kept riders awake, wrenching mangled bikes and constantly shuttling edible fuel to the weary riders. But they get worn out too.
Gene Smith was running the auxiliary vehicle for Italian rider Alessandro Colo's six-man support crew, trying to relax and fix up a bike after a long "day" that began at 2 a.m., outside Prescott, Ariz.
With the prospect of 5,000 feet up and over the divide, van den Bulk still said she felt good and was enjoying the scenery, so I didn't leave her with McCall's warning about the pass: "One mistake and it's the pearly gates." It's all down hill from there.
Check www.raceacrossamerica.org for more details and updated coverage.