@credit:Margaret Kaye

@credit:Joe Melena

Adventure is their companion

Publication Date: Friday Jul 29, 1994

CYCLING: Adventure is their companion

Two local teams will make history in Race Across America

by Geoff Lepper

"Yeah," Brad Melmon says with a sigh. He has just started work at a small start-up company, and his colleagues' reactions to his prescence are mixed. "They think I'm crazy. A lot of the employees I work with are not fit, they're chain-drinking Pepsis--they're very nice--but they really don't understand. I think that mostly they just think I'm weird."

That could sum up most people's reaction to Melmon's two-week vacation, which starts on Sunday: Race Across America (RAAM), a 2,905-mile non-stop week-long death-march of a bike ride from Irvine to Savannah, Ga.

Two local novice teams, each made up of four riders, will make history in this, the 13th annual RAAM. Team IDEO-Fat City--mostly made up of employees from Palo Alto-based IDEO Product Development--will become the first mixed-gender, two-man/two-woman group to compete in a RAAM. And when Team Mountain High-Kaiser--all Stanford students or graduates--pushes off, the first all-women's challenge at RAAM will be launched.

"I think it's kind of like, 'Why do people climb mountains?' " Team IDEO rider and IDEO engineer Lynette Ross explains. "It's that same kind of adventurous attitude. I think everyone on the team thinks it's going to be a great adventure, that's the main thing."

The teams expect to take between 6 1/2 to 8 days to complete the course, which follows mostly county highways or other surface streets through such areas as: the Rocky Mountains, the Mojave Desert, the Appalachian Mountains and the hot and sticky humidity of Oklahoma in August.

"You'll never have a chance to do anything like this again," says Megan Troxell of Team Mountain High-Kaiser. "So why not?"

Aside from riding at night down sheer-cliff descents at 45 miles an hour with only a van's headlights to guide you? Aside from possibly debilitating dehydration or saddle sores? Aside from being squashed like a grape underneath a passing truck?

All of those things didn't mean much in the way of challenges to these riders, of course.

"I think the fund-raising was more of a challenge than the race will be," Stanford team coordiator Nicole Freedman says.

That's a problem that's common to almost all teams in RAAM, which is still one of the most underfunded sporting events, in terms of corporate sponsorship, in the country. The cost of the race is extremely high because of the extreme support needed. Team IDEO's crew will number between 10 and 12, and ride in two pace vans and an RV; Team Mountain High will bring along a smaller staff and only two vehicles, but even so, the rental costs for the vans, the costs for food and water, for this and that, really add up. Going into the weekend, the teams were approximately a combined $30,000 in the hole.

"We've decided we're going to do this race right," said Melmon, who's riding with Team IDEO even though he no longer works at the company. "Even if it does mean we all have to go into debt."

The teams have taken approaches in preparation that befit their differing backgrounds. IDEO's group of engineers have divided the race into a series of problems needing solving. The team has had four training rides of over 24 hours or more since February, and that experience, according to team captain Gerhard Pawelka, is "invaluable. We're engineers. Breaking problems down into their component parts, that's what we do."

As with most college students, Team Mountain High was overwhelmed with the mountain of stuff to take care of in the first few months after deciding to enter, and didn't get its first organized training ride until last weekend's non-stop ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

"I agreed to do it," Kelley Herndon says. "But I really didn't think it'd come together."

Both teams have gotten fantastic support from their friends and co-workers (or teammates). The Mountain High crew is headed up by Stanford cycling coach Art Walker--all four riders were on the Stanford team last season--and features several teammates, which provides Herndon, at least, with motivation. "At first, a lot of our teammates were like, 'Ah, whatever, you guys are crazy.' So now I want to show our teammates that we can do it."

IDEO's riders haven't been reticent in enlisting the help of their co-workers, who didn't need much asking, since cycling is a definite majority culture there. IDEO model maker Jim Feuhrer spent approximately 72 hours--his own time, of course--making four specialized brackets to hold the riders' heart rate monitors, speedometers, and lights in one centralized location below the handlebars. This bracket not only makes it easier for the riders to see the information at night, but also clears up the handlebars so the rider can use any position he or she likes.

"Basically, we invented this for them. It may mean only a little bit of speed, but in a race this long, that could mean minutes or even hours," says Feuhrer, who served as a crew member on one of IDEO's training rides. "I want to be out there with them, but I can't. This is the next best way to help."

No matter what happens, just by finishing, both teams will set new standards of excellence for RAAM, serving as both the trailblazers for other mixed and all-woman teams and as the opposing recordholders.

Of course, there is the chance that one team may not finish.

"I want to see if we can make it," Freedman says. "To see if we can all get along for one week will be amazing." 

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