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THE FIRST RAAM
 
By P. Stone
Date: 2/6/2004
THE FIRST RAAM
 
The GREAT AMERICAN BIKE RACE

010704
The
GREAT AMERICAN BIKE RACE.

Early one morning over two decades ago, wind swept across the restless sun-splashed waters of a temperate Pacific. With its arrival came the cleansing and invigorating promise of a new day. Beneath the brightening sky surfers pursued their passions, harnessing Mother Nature’s power and snaring a ride to shore. A pelican effortlessly responds to the heave and swell of the sea as it fishes. Higher in the blue, white gulls float here and there, watching everywhere. Traces of bird calls could be heard echoed in the surf. Sweet smelling suntan lotion and hotdogs grilling mingled with the scents of the plankton and surf. Joggers jogged by while surfers hoisted their boards carrying them to and from the sea. Beaming parents pushed a baby carriage; children chased their frisbee. Beach balls bounced about and a pretty girl captured the moment with her smile. In many respects, it was just another post card day in Santa Monica, California.

On this day in 1982, four elite champion cyclists met to contest a non-stop bicycle race across the nation. When they arrived at the pier they were shocked at the crowd assembled to see them off. Onlookers, family and friends crowded in and the Santa Monica PD closed off traffic. An ABC film crew and their trucks overflowed the pier while overhead a helicopter flew in a holding pattern. As each cyclist looked towards the hovering chopper, the glimmering sun reflected on their bikes and sunglasses. They were facing their destiny eye to eye. New York City was 3,000 miles away, but when they stood there adorned in their cycling gear, under the sun, the center of attention, something wobbled. Soon the attacking ‘jitters’ dissipated with the morning haze. Before them now was a brave new horizon and a towering Empire State building.

In the days that ensued, they raced and ached and some doubted and feared but they persevered.  With their hands cemented on their handlebars and their feet and pedals forged as one, they demonstrated that boundaries are only imagined. And we learned. When it was over Lon Haldeman of Harvard, IN, was the winner in 9 days and 20 hours. This was not just a great race. It was much more. It was the fountainhead of RAAM.

In August of 1978, John Marino broke the coast to coast cycling record with a time of 13 days, 1 hour, 20 minutes. His 1979 attempt was disastrous. Pounded by relentless rain riding straight into stiff head winds where tailwinds were dominant, sixty miles from New York in Phillipsburg, NJ, John Marino simply rode out of time. Depleted and drained, his effort ended in Manhattan's College Park Hospital. While he rested, he planned. One year later, in August 1980, he crossed the USA with a time of 12 days, 3 hours, 41 minutes.

John Marino first felt awe struck by the fanfare at the pier, but soon the excitement turned to fear, "I was also a bit afraid that this whole idea could backfire and turn into a gigantic financial loss and embarrassment. The 'what ifs' haunted me…….What if the route is incorrect and we all go off course? What if the police stop us for racing on public roads? What if the race is boring and uneventful and the ABC people are disillusioned? What if there is a huge traffic accident that casts a shadow on the entire event? So much was on the line. When I realized shortly after the start that I was no match for the other riders in this race, I started to doubt the event and myself. I was convinced that the telecast would be a wash for me. I was really out of touch with everyone. I was very concerned about the large splits between riders."

Marino had already spent a lifetime excelling in football and baseball. He was drafted by the L.A. Dodgers but injured himself in the weight room and never made it to the tryouts. He turned to cycling.

He showed up on the pier that fateful day ill prepared and under trained. The battle for sponsorship and funding had taken its toll on him. The problems, the setbacks, forced him to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. "I wasn’t putting in the training miles and was not really prepared mentally. I developed some saddle sores that made the experience dreadful. I came very close to packing it in on several occasions. I’m glad I didn’t quit. The biggest lesson I learned from this first race is do everything in your power not to quit. Put aside your pride and keep going."

Another contestant, 3 time Ironman Champion John Howard, remembers the race well. "It was a train wreck from the first day, I went down with heat exhaustion in Redlands. It was 110 degrees. I was in bad shape and needed more than 8 hours off the bike that first day to recover. When I started up again the others were literally zip codes ahead, and I was playing catch up, realizing then it would be a miracle if I ever caught Lon (Haldeman)."

Then it got tough. With 2,700 miles to go and in last place, John Howard was forced to fight headwinds all through the Midwest and as if fate can be specifically cruel - the record cold temps in the Appalachian Mountains.

Lon Haldeman was a small town giant who had recently crushed Marino's coast to coast record earning himself an invitation to the race. Haldeman's excitement for the race had possessed him; he focused the entire year before the race. Nobody knew what to expect, but a month before GABR he watched Susan Notorangelo really suffer while setting the Women's Transcontinental Record and he knew he could push himself a lot harder than he had previously imagined.

Haldeman remembers, "The GABR was the toughest race for me physically. I was beat up for 6 months afterward.  We all experimented with diets, equipment and sleeping. We all made a lot of mistakes."

On that morning, on the pier there was more than helicopters and hotdogs and the call of gulls in the air. There were dreams and the courage to pursue them. For the gathered onlookers the excitement was akin to sitting at the edge of a volcano, so exhilarating close to the fire that they could feel it burn. The racers, they were in its flow.

1982 GREAT AMERICAN BIKE RACE (The First RAAM)

Santa Monica Pier, CA to Empire State Building, NY, 2,968 Miles
Race Director: Jerry Kushnick

1. Lon Haldeman, Harvard, IL—9: 20: 02/12.57 mph
2. John Howard, Houston, TX – 10: 10:59/11.83mph
3. Michael Shermer, Tustin, CA—10: 19: 54/11.42 mph
4. John Marino, Irvine, CA—12: 07: 37/10.04 mph

To Participate or learn about this year's
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