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Transplant Athlete
Saturday, June 14, 2008
  Paint It Black

RAAM has always been the definition of "epic" on par with anything the Greeks could have imagined. A rider must battle not only the terrain, but the bike itself, the weather, and the worst enemy of all: the clock.

The terrain occassionally goes in your favor, with a downhill here, or a flat section there giving a rider respite. The weather may host a heatwave hellish enough to fell the mightiest sailor, but it also can cool down to near freezing; somewhere in between, a rider will find his or her sweet spot. The bike, being a machine made by man, requires man to adapt to fit it. The contact points with the bicycle are where the war is waged; however, a bicycle provides mechanical advantage giving riders a levered return on their energy investment. There is one enemy however that is brutal and unforgiving; the clock. The clock doesn't care how long you've been riding, it doesn't care about your suffering, it doesn't care what your plans were, it marches on and rolls over everything in it's past. There is no stand of trees that will shelter you from time. There is no downhill to let you coast through time.
Time marches on.
Time is always marching on.

At 3pm on Thursday, we were approximately 10 hours behind the cut-off point in Taos, NM. We asked for and received an extension to continue along the course. Stephen had a tough slog in to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Dale, Nick, and I had fallen asleep at the hotel and didn't get back to the course to cheer Stephen. He hit numerous obstacles from wrong turns, to failing lights, to sheer fatigue along the way. Could we have made the difference and gotten him in to Pagosa Springs sooner? We'll never know. His speed for this section dropped to 6.94 mph. He needed a long sleep break to recover (3 hours) with a half hour before (for food, massage, shower) and an hour after (to prepare to ride). This long sleep break lowered his speed to Chama, NM down to 5 mph. His speed from Chama was excellent considering the elevation and amount of climbing, a whopping 10mph! This was the 15th fastest time for this section, a solid mid-pack performance.

He started off strong to Taos, but the cold was beating him up and the cumulative miles were taking their toll. At one point, we told him he had 1.1 ish miles to go to the time station. He said he could make it but, "if it's more than ish, I'll need to stop." His body was beaten, his mind was showing signs of cracking, but he remained upbeat.

In Taos, I overslept by a half hour, meaning Stephen got to oversleep a half hour. Like a Trooper, he got up to get ready and to get back on the bike, while his wife groaned and pulled the blankets over her face.

Dale, and I decided on a short cut to meet up with the follow vehicle in Eagle's Nest. Due to some miscommunication with the follow vehicle, we ended up in the wrong place and they ended up waiting for us at the top of the mountain for a long time.

On the descent into Cimmaron, Mark, Robin, Kristi, and I supported Stephen in the follow vehicle. The descent down the mountain was twisty, but fast. Well, I should have said could have been twisty and fast. As I've said here before, Stephen's got plenty of heart and endurance, but he's only been riding a bike for 2 years (before that he ran ultra marathons). He looks down to see what gear he's in, he is usually in the wrong gear (often climbing in the big ring with a cross chain condition (the chain ends up on the largest cog in the back and the largest ring on the front). Because of the extreme angle the chain forms, it puts incredible stress on the chain and wears out the gears faster. His descending skills are rudimentary at best. His line is choppy, he brakes mid turn, and he keeps the pedals level throughout. At one point in the descent, It occurred to me that allowing Stephen to continue without doing anything to correct his technique was a safety issue, so I asked Nick to hop on a bike and ride alongside Stephen to give him some pointers. Stephen objected, so I told Nick to "go stretch his legs." Nick had been dying to get on the bike, so he enjoyed blasting down the mountain.

I think the funniest part of this section to me, was during a hand-off from the vehicle to Stephen. Again, Stephen's skills are new, so he tends to swerve towards the vehicle either during or after the hand-off. This being the first time Robin had ever seen Stephen swerve towards the vehicle she screams out, "You're going to hit him." Mark, who is driving the follow vehicle, immediately tries to react, so the follow vehicle starts lurching all over the road alongside Stephen who is also swerving all over the road...a recipe for disaster. I turned to Robin and shushed her, but it may not have been in the most diplomatic of fashion, I was reacting on instinct which is sometimes colored by prednisone (meaning I don't have time to censor myself). I probably should have warned her that he sometimes does that, but I just didn't foresee it being an issue.

In Cimarron, the team vehicles started catching us. Stephen pushed on. In Springer, Fred and Rick Beothling pulled us over and asked us to call the officials phone line. We all knew why. We were getting pulled. We tried to shelter Stephen from it, but it was obvious. Fred actually recognized me and introduced himself, I had been attempting to maintain a low profile during the race. I wanted the focus on Stephen, not my politics, my kidney transplant, or my previous attempts at RAAM.

Stephen had been fighting headwinds all day, so he pretty much realized he wasn't going to make an official finish at that point. I think an unofficial finish was also a casualty of the headwinds. I've been in his shoes, I go the call last year. I know that it cuts deep into your core, but there's also a little bit of relief. I know that once a race like this takes hold, you may not be able to shake the obsession until you complete the race.

I've heard it said that the word "Hero" is used too often when describing RAAM riders. I don't know if hero is even a good word to describe the RAAMed (or should it be DAMNed?) They certainly fit the definition: showing exceptional courage, nobility, and strength. Someone who fights for a cause.

By definition, Stephen Bugbee is a hero.

I think however he's more than that. He's an inspiration. A hero completes his journey, Stephen has inspired others to complete their own journeys.

 

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I've gone through kidney failure twice. The first time in 2000, my mother donated a kidney; and again in 2008, I'm on dialysis waiting for a breakthrough in immuno-suppression medicines before seeking a new kidney.

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