Race Across Oregon, 2012 by Janice Sheufelt (JFW Member)
The Race Across Oregon is a bit different than the Furnace Creek 508, which is the only previous 500+ mile ultracycling race that I have done. One of the main differences is that RAO has fewer participants – only 10 men and 2 women lined up for the start at 5:00am on Saturday, July 21st. After the race, the race organizer, George Thomas, told me RAO would likely never attract a large field, because the route is so hard, with over 40,000’ of climbing. I certainly agree with him – it’s a tough course, with endless climbs. But I love to climb, so this looked like a good race to sign up for.
The RAO start is the most civilized race start I have ever ridden – the twelve of us were led out by George Thomas, at a very relaxed pace. Most of the seven mile “parade zone” is on a wide bike path, and George even had the group stop for a “nature break” at the end of the bike path – how considerate! I mentioned to fellow racer Mick Walsh “what a nice race this is”, and he said “just wait!” Sure enough, as soon as the neutral start was completed and George said “Go!” the group immediately took off up a steep climb. I quickly found myself in last place along with racer Brian Martin, and we joked about who would end up with the “lantern rouge” – luckily neither of us did in the end!
I settled into a comfortable pace for the first seven mile climb, and I was surprised to start seeing my competitor, Seana Hogan, in front of me. I thought for sure that she would start quite fast, and put a lot of time into me at the start of the race. Instead, I ended up catching her on the somewhat technical descent (about mile 17) , but she quickly passed me back, and she was only about 30 yards ahead of me when we arrived at the point where all of the support vehicles were waiting (mile 21). I was happy to see my awesome crew – my husband Jim, my 13 year old daughter Laurel, and my dad, Ted. Both my dad and daughter were rookie crew members, but Jim crewed for me at the Furnace Creek 508 last year, so he is a veteran crew chief!
From mile 25, until mile 47, the race was a long gradual climb. Seana gradually powered away from me, and I concentrated on riding my own pace, being careful to not go out too hard. I figured she was gone and that I would be lucky to see her at all the rest of the race. During this climb I was often riding near Bryant Howard, who was riding a bike that made it clear that he is a fan of the University of Oregon ducks. My husband cheered Bryant on, saying “Go Huskies” (University of Washington).
I was happy to roll through “time station 1”(mile 53). In RAO (unlike the Furnace Creek 508), the time stations are just certain points on the course, they are not manned or staffed. It’s up to the crew to text the racer’s time into race headquarters. Since my dad doesn’t text, Jim and Laurel took care of the texting. After the race I found out that I had been 5 minutes behind Seana at the first time station – I had told my crew that only if I wanted to know, that I would ask them for my time gap to Seana, otherwise they weren’t going to tell me, so that I could concentrate on riding at my own pace.
At 62 miles into the race, we started a 4 mile climb – I was quite surprised to almost catch up to Seana at the top of the climb. From there until mile 187, I was able to see Seana a little ways ahead of me, most of the time. I thought to myself this isn’t the “Race Across Oregon”, this is the “Chase Seana around Oregon race”, but I still tried to be sure that I was going my own pace and not pushing too hard.
At 118 miles into the race we started a long, 9 mile climb. It was extremely hot on the climb, especially for an Alaskan! Luckily, I was often riding near Dan Bodden, and his crew member, Tony O’Keefe generously offered to spray me with their large, 5 gallon water sprayer – wow, that felt good! Tony graciously sprayed me numerous times on the climb. At one point on the climb I passed Seana but then immediately proceeded to get a cramp in my calf, and I stopped for a quick break. I figured that’s what happens when someone tries to pass Seana Hogan, six-time winner of RAAM!
At 143 miles into the race, inspired by Tony, my crew stopped in Condon to buy a water sprayer. When they caught back up to me, they also had a strawberry milkshake for me – yum! That went down good. On the next big climb Tony sprayed me a few more times until my crew assembled the water sprayer, which when they opened the box, came in about 20 pieces! I couldn’t thank Tony enough. Once our water sprayer was ready, my daughter Laurel took on the water spray job, which she enjoyed immensely – especially since I had her spray me right in my face and all over! She ran alongside me up the climbs, spraying away – awesome!
At 187 miles we arrived in Heppner, time station 3. Going into town, I could see Seana in the distance, in front of me. My crew helped me navigate through town, then they went back to buy gas. In Heppner, I was surprised to see some riders on the side of the road in town, and to pass Mick Walsh on the edge of town – he told me that there were only two other riders in front of Seana and I – just Marko Baloh, and Chris Ragsdale. I was quite surprised to be doing so well in the overall race. As I rode from Heppner, I couldn’t see Seana or her support vehicle; when my crew caught up with me they told me that Seana had made a stop in Heppner, and that she was now about 10 minutes behind me on the road.
So now our roles were reversed and I was the one being chased. Soon it was dark and we made sure that all of our safety lights were on the bike and vehicle, and the crew began “direct follow” support. One of our improvements from the Furnace race, was that Jim purchased a set of small radios from Radio Shack for about $20, and they worked great. I kept mine in my “bento box” and my crew was able to radio instructions to me for all the turns.
At approximately 270 miles into the race we started seeing other racers. We hadn’t seen any other riders in hours. Two teams caught me (Team 201, Native Planet and Team 401, The Four Brodies), and it also looked like I was catching a rider. George Thomas was driving the course, and he told me that Chris Ragsdale was the rider in front of me. After the race, George said that he told Chris that I was about 200 yards behind him, and that evidently was a strong motivation for Chris as he immediately picked up the pace!
At mile 290, we started a tough section – the road has just been chip sealed two days prior. Luckily I was riding my new Trek Domane, which really smooths out the bumps. But the loose gravel and darkness made for a long, slow descent off of Monument Pass.
At mile 350, I was quite tired on the long climb into Fossil – in retrospect I think that I did not eat enough overnight. On the climb I put my head down and just focused on making it to the next reflector post on the side of the road, for a long, slow 10 miles. But it did get light on this stretch, which helped.
On the climb to Fossil, my crew was able to see for miles down the road behind us, and there was no sign of anyone catching me, which was a relief.
After a few more climbs we reached the town of Antelope (mile 404) at about 8:00am Sunday, and my crew was able to get cell service briefly – they called race headquarters and found out that Seana had dnf’d, and I was very surprised! So when I saw a sign for the Antelope Café that said “marionberry cobbler” I pointed at it and my husband knew I was asking for some of that! They caught up to me on the climb leaving Antelope, and I enjoyed both the marionberry cobbler and a marionberry milkshake! This was the only time of the race that I sat down, briefly, on the back of the minivan.
So now I just had to finish, and I lost a bit of my impetus. My low back and butt were both getting a bit sore. After the time station in Maupin (mile 437), I only had 78 miles to go, but this was a difficult section – a strong headwind came up, and I crawled up the climb on US 197, then on the level section at the top of the climb I was only going 8mph into the headwind, and about 15mph into the headwind on the descent. The entire last 13 mile climb, up Dufur Valley Road and Forest Road 44, was marked by a headwind and swirling crosswinds, followed by a stiff headwind for the final 26 miles into Hood River. I was happy to reach the finish line at 38 hours and 21 minutes (7:21pm on Sunday), 1st place woman, and 3rd overall!
Thanks to my stellar crew: Jim, Laurel and my dad were all fabulous. Thanks to George Thomas for putting on a great race, including his friendly volunteer race officials, Keith, Alex and Ian. Thanks to my childhood friend, Carrie Reimer, for coming to watch the finish! Thanks to my local bike shop, Cycle Alaska, for helping me be one of the first to get a Trek Domane. Thanks to my coach, Hunter Allen, for making me do all those hard intervals! Thanks to my husband, for being supportive of all the time I spend training on my bike!