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Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Furnace

The Furnace
Your first experience with the beast would have been the Mojave Desert and the Salton Sea Basin at the head of the Imperial Valley had you been either riding or crewing RAAM this year. This is between San Diego and Blythe, California. This was 208 miles of desert and mountains. Temperatures got to 108F and above, making the ride a crucible. This is also a problem for the chase van, because you are running too slowly to run the A/C and the hills make it worse. You have to watch the temperature on the engine like a hawk. The first major grade is Yarnell Grade. This is an 8 mile climb at up to 8%. By the time you get there, the day is in full swing and the temperature makes the ride a literal hell for the rider. Rob remarked that Yarnell Grade is dreaded by RAAM riders. Yarnell is the climb out of Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea Basin. A point of geographic note is that the Salton Sea is 227 feet below sea level, only 5 feet higher than the lowest point of Death Valley. After Yarnell Grade is Chiriaco Summit, and this is on I-10. The good part is that after Chiriaco, it's downhill to Blythe. The bad part is that it's after dark and you are riding the interstate. There is a risk of getting blown off the road by a passing semi. The chase driver also has to be especially aware in this section, due to the traffic, and remember that the truckers are probably getting tired and may have a little problem with lane position. By the time you reach Blythe, the rider is spent as well as the chase crew. This is how Day 1 ended.
Blythe to Flagstaff, AZ,
This was day 2 of RAAM. Rob rode 310 miles to Flagstaff., AZ. We went up AZ 89 through Wickenberg. The day was another 108 degree day, and the terrain was mostly uphill all the way. This was the section of the race that took Guy Wells out of the race for medical reasons as well as Valentin Zeller of Austria, also for medical. The first two days of RAAM are truly an intimidating ride. If you make it through the first couple of days, your chances of finishing do go up. Zeller is no stranger to RAAM, being a previous 5 time competitor. He knew exactly what he was in for, believe me and he definately trained for it! Wells is a veteran of the Furnace Creek 508, so he's no stranger to endurance riding either. This section also included more interstate riding, along I-40. The worst part of the ride had to be after dark, though, for Rob. After a day of 100+ degrees, the temperature in Flagstaff dropped to 38 degrees F! It was COLD! I truly felt for Rob, as my teeth were chattering and I was in the van! By this point, crew fatigue is also setting in, and the mental alertness is already starting to fade. This is also the point where the rider is starting to really hurt!
To be continued,
Monument Valley and Colorado

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