by Clark James Mishler
November 6, 2012
I was very fortunate to be invited to photograph a team in this year's (June) Race Across America (RAAM). This race is one of the craziest sporting events I have photographed since having covered the Iditarod Sled Dog Race several years ago. Essentially, this event is a 3000 mile 24/7 race of individuals and teams of 2, 4, and 8 bicyclists from Ocean City, California to Annapolis, Maryland. Teams are made up of men and women at all ages with a staggered start so all the teams arrive at the finish line at approximately the same time. Our team was the oldest team in the competition with an average age of 79 years. The most competitive rider in our group, Lew Meyer, started the first leg of the race and crashed at mile 17. He was knocked out for 10 minutes and was fairly banged up. None the less, he fixed his tire, got back up on his bike, and successfully completed the rest of the race. The day after crossing the finish line, Lew had an MRI and it was discovered he had, in fact, fractured his hip!
Each RAAM team requires a number of "chase" vehicles who accompany the individual and team competitors with very specific rules and procedures through the back roads of the American west, mid-west, and eastern states. Each team navigates the same route using a very detailed book containing maps and directions. Some of the top teams average above 20 mph with each bicycler performing a 15 minute "pull" while his or her team mate rests within one of the chase vehicles. The teams, competitors and crew, are divided into two sub teams, each performing eight hour shifts. With this system, half the participants sleep in the RV while other half perform the duties of the race. Imagine a three-ring circus of four bicyclers, four bikes, extra bikes, three vans, an RV and 20 people continually progressing through rural America.
I traveled with a film maker in a separate vehicle and we had a slightly different schedule from the rest of the team. In order to take advantage of the best light, we photographed from about 5 PM to sunset and again from before sunrise to about 7:30 AM. After completing our evening's work, we would race ahead, find a hotel, and flop in bed. We would then wake up at 4:30 AM, get in the van, and go find our team. After about two hours of photography, we would head back to the hotel room, get another two hours of sleep, head out on the road, race to catch up with the team by 4 or 5 PM, and start the process again.
The photographs I produced, as might be expected, feature the members of our team with rural America as a backdrop. It was, however, the people and details along the way that I found particularly interesting. I hope you will agree that the sample images of rural America and our octogenarian competitors demonstrate a fun and inspirational view of America.