By Daniel Smiechowski
June 19, 2022 (Borrego Springs) -- It is called one of the most brutal endurance events in the world. The Race Across America, a cycling event of over 3,000 miles from coast to coast found a home in Borrego Springs. Dozens of foreign countries were represented this year, as testament to the prestige attached to becoming a winner or even finisher in this punishing test of endurance.
It was spectacular. The cyclists descended the perilous grade into town with greased lighting, appearing as ants in the distance. Uncharacteristically cool weather greeted nearly 100 cyclists in Borrego Springs, with temperatures hovering in the upper nineties.
The solo riders left the Oceanside Pier on July 14 and never looked back; then on June 18 the Team competition began with a vengeance. Teams are comprised of either 2, 4 or 8 riders. There are mini cities on wheels with crew members including drivers, mechanics, massage therapists and others who follow their rider like mother hens. All of these logistics are just mind boggling.
The first solo causality occurred near Blythe, when a cyclist conked out for lack of hydration. I asked Tim Dowjeof Team Sunshine from Brooklyn, New York how he felt about the desert heat and he replied, “It’s cooler than normal and won’t affect us.”
Sharon and Greg Hall are avid RAAM fans and came outto cheer the cyclists from Mission Viejo. Their son was a past race van driver in 2017 and 2019 in this event. Unbelievably, the couple has been following this race since it’s inception in 1982. when only four riders competed, including San Diego County legend and early Ironman John Howard who finished the inaugural event as a pioneer.
The Bemer Team of eight holds the world record and hails from California. Keith Kohar, their van driver, was very proud in explaining this to me and when asked about the windy conditions, said, “The strong tail winds are perfect for us.”
The race finishes in Sail Harbor, Maryland and crosses the Colorado River, the Sonoran Desert, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains,
the Mississippi River and continues east through America’s heartland to the East Coast. It’s a trip down nostalgia lane and rife with emotion.
In writing this story, as an early Ironman myself still training in the scorching heat of Borrego Springs, I got choked up when the first team rider blew into town like an old French supersonic Concorde. As I watched in awe, a Brazilian cyclist who I had spoken with moments earlier was transferred the baton as he chased the leader. It was an unforgettable indelible sight of our raw human condition on the flat, windy, hot desert floor.
They came and they left in the blink of an eye, but the memories are etched in perpetuity. Godspeed!