cycling utah August 1999
By Vicki Seiler
The Race Across America isn't for wimps. Neither is the Race Across Oregon. You have to be a little nuts to think accomplishing this feat would be fun but that's what my friend "Crazy" Christi Hall believes.
On a recent weekend I had an opportunity to sit in a van for 37 hours while Christi competed in her first RAAM qualifying event, the Race across Oregon. She raced from Ontario to Astoria, about 500 miles.
Well, I wasn't just sitting.
Christi appointed me Chief Crew Director: in charge of the route book, PA system, bottle/ food handler and co-pilot; her husband, John was the designated driver, co-navigator and pep talk coordinator; and Christi's sister, Shari prepared the food, kept track of Christi's hourly caloric intake and handled the camcorder. Most of the time as we drove behind Christi we felt like her audience of three waiting for Christi to signal that she needed something to eat, drink, or wanted to stop for a few minutes. It was a great way to see Oregon, at 10-15 miles per hour, and with very little effort!
The craziest part of ultra cycling, besides the mega miles these cyclists endure, is they do it all on little or no sleep! OK, none of the crew got any sleep either but we weren't pushing the pedals for 500 miles... I thought Christi would crack somewhere around 300 miles, you know start speaking in tongues or giving a dissertation on waterfowl in the subtropics. However, the closest she came to behaving abnormal was when she tried to make shadow animals on a 7-mile climb around one o'clock in the morning. We were driving, and she was riding through the Hood National Forest. The headlights were providing the ultimate light, casting shadows on the dense forest flora and fauna. We saw her raise her left hand, then her right. Unfortunately we didn't think it was funny as we rushed up to her side, "What do you want? What do you need?" She responded, "Oh nothing, I'm just making shadow animals!"
Prior to the shadow animal event we forced Christi off her bike. She was looking tired and in need of a pick me up. We disguised her break as a pit stop; when she saw all of us out of the van she thought, "Maybe I should stop too."
We got her in the van, rubbed down her legs and feet; gave her a tuna sandwich and told her to "Get out!" The ultimate blunder in ultra cycling is to allow your rider to get in the van and stay there for more than 15 minutes.
She got back on the bike and started flying. We came around a bend on Highway 26 and there was Christi's competition! They'd changed positions throughout the day and now here was another opportunity for Christi to catch and pass Lisa. When we approached Lisa we couldn't help but notice she was turning squares and yes, Christi flew by her. Lisa was never to be seen again!
I phoned the Time Station line several hours later and discovered that Lisa had dropped out of the race. She wouldn't qualify for RAAM in her second attempt.
Ultra cyclists are a different breed from road racing cyclists. The competitive nature is there in full force but the athletes are genuinely friendlier and helpful as opposed to being cutthroat. The team crews bonded during the race as we spent time waiting for our riders over the 500-mile course.
Besides the solo qualifier there were teams of five riders and tandem teams. I could easily see the team racers were having a lot more fun than the solos; I started thinking, "perhaps if Christi doesn't qualify for a solo ride we could put a team together." Relay teams don't need to qualify for RAAM, just sign up and show up! Teammates ride as much as they want the only stipulation being you must tag the next rider in line.
Eat woman, eat was the crew's hourly mantra. She knew she had to eat, we knew she had to eat and she ate - man, did she ever eat! We should've saved all the wrappers and cans, contents of the high calorie race food, would've been a great photo opportunity: one huge mountain of paper and aluminum. Christi figured she needed to eat about 400 calories per hour so Shari did her best to track the caloric intake and prepare interesting food for her sister to eat while riding at 15 MPH. You can imagine after 37 hours on the bike Christi was sick of sports drinks, water, gels, bars, tuna, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, protein drinks, fig bars, grapes and whatever else we passed through the van window. None of us had eaten or slept much from June 12 to June 14 but as soon the race was over we headed out for a "real" meal! Seafood in Astoria, Oregon.
You might think that Christi won the race by default because Lisa dropped out. Well, in order to become RAAM qualified she had to complete the 500 miles in under 48 hours. She finished in 37 hours and qualified in her first attempt, a feat not wasted on other riders who were there for their second and third attempts! So while she had no female competitors she still had to "beat the clock."
Needless to say the crew: John, Shari and I are really proud of what Christi has accomplished. She only began riding her bike a year ago! When I met her last summer she told me her cycling goal was to qualify and compete in the Y2K RAAM. I said, "You're Crazy!" Now you know why we call her "Crazy" Christi.