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June 29, 2010 / teamoperationprogress

Father’s Day on the Road – Morning of Day 8

Team Captain Kristina Ripatti sent her husband and crew member Tim Pearce his pre-recorded Father’s Day message.  A precious reminder of the little ones at home missing their mommy and daddy!  All the team members were either away from their Dad’s or their children on this Father’s Day except Max Pearce.

Max and his wife Carol joined our team on the last day before the launch of the race.  He is the father of Tim Pearce, and Kim Schory, board member for Operation Progress and key crew members for RAAM.  It was awesome to see them all together on this grand adventure.

Morning dawned and a rider arrived as another heads out.  Breakfast is served!  Cold cereal, yogurts, juice and fresh fruit layed out for the crew and riders.  I layed in my cot for a couple of hours.  Texted a friend back home and tried to rest but the excitement and adrenaline just don’t allow the body the REM needed to rest.  Johnny and Kim slept in the van and I peeked in on both RV’s through the night and I have never in my life heard so many people snoring!  I was amazed they could all sleep through it but learned later they all had ear plugs.

I was able to observe the crew in action and you could tell that the lack of sleep and demanding schedule was really getting to them.  There was a crazed look in everyone’s eye and the body language said way more than their words, which were few.

I was told by Rob Beckers and Tim Pearce that they literally traded places every 2 minutes and did jumping jacks, ran around the vehicle, and other oddities just to stay awake as they drove Kristina Ripatti while she was resting in her van.

The team packed up and headed to their next location…Keyser!

June 29, 2010 / teamoperationprogress

Eve of Day 6 into Day 7 – A different perspective

The president of Operation Progress, Johnny “Jay” Coughlin and I arrived at LAX airport in Los Angeles with a replacement wheel chair in tow.  We were set to board a red eye flight to Cleveland, Ohio where we would drive 4+ hours to Blanchester, Ohio to meet up with Team Operation Progress.  Our plan was to drop our rental car and crew with the team into Annapolis, MD.

We were getting text warning us not to come. Telling us not to come.  Saying it would be “like joining a Haitian Refugee Raft…NO ROOM!”  We thought they were thinking of our comfort and sanity and laughed it off as we boarded our plane. We later found out that they did not want us to come and take up any of the coveted sleeping quarters.  We learned people slept on there knees with their head in a chair seat, others on the floor by a door.  We decided to keep the mini van and while it was on errands, I found a cozy foxhole under the dash, on the floor of the passenger side seat  of the motor home and rested my eyes for 30 mins.

It was hot and muggy but that did not stop the Blanchester Police Department from showing up in full force with a smiling crew of Officers there to greet the team and take pictures with Kristina.  We exchanged Police Patches and every one grabbed a quick bite at the McDonalds and then we headed off to the next time station.

The day turned slowly into night.  It was 9PM when I sent a sunset picture home to the West Coast via my iphone.  The team had a magnificent dinner prepared by Sal, Max & Carol.  Fajitas and Refried Beans and Tortillas.  Carne asada was amazing as well!  Quite a treat and everyone headed for the RV for a quick nap!

Johnny got a hotel room for the RV drivers once he heard they had slept very little and we were in for a long haul.  Almost 4 hours to the next time station so we sent them to shower, and rest up.  The snoring symphony had begun in the motor homes and a few stragglers unfolded their cots near the field of fireflies and took a quick nap before we packed up the crew and headed out once again.

I found Monica on the side of the RV on her hands and knees washing Fran’s riding clothes so she would be ready for her next ride.  People improvised as needed and only a few ever really complained.  An amazing group.

Johnny, Kim and I slept in the mini van and then headed out with the team ahead about 4 hours to the next time station.  Saturday blended into Sunday….

June 29, 2010 / teamoperationprogress

RAAM Day 6 “Storms”- Crossing the Mississippi River

Day 6 Crossing the Mississippi/Rider’s on the Storm

The smell of  midwest smoke pit barbeque fills the mid morning air as the riders all fantasize about a normal meal rather than their Endurolite drinks and APEX bars that have become the norm for their road chow.  Grandma’s wave us on while cutting three foot high switch grass on their tractor mowers as we drive by.  Team OP  & Crew meet in a parking lot at 12:00pm, two and a half hours before the cutoff for the Mississsipi River and we all rejoice at the fact that they have made it 4 hours before the cut off for the second and final checkpoint before the finish line in Annapolis. Parading across the rust colored mighty suspention bridge with the mighty Mississippi River beneath them, all the riders feel a great deal of accomplishment and confidence that they can finish this race within the time required.

RAAM has funny way of putting the ego in check as soon as rider thinks they have beaten the course.  With all four rider in rotation through the afternoon a snafu occurs.  Kristina’s wheel chair flies off the roof of the Toyota Sienna after a bungey cord holding it down snaps.  The look of dejection on her face was heartbreaking. One comment she made was that is was like loosing her legs.  Luckily, her crew was able to bend the wheel back in place and get the chair to at least roll around although wobbly.   As night fell the corn and soy fields we illuminated by dancing fireflies and the fog rolled in as baby frogs hopped across the marshy bayou.  Thunder crackled in the distance and the only three riders on the course were Nancy, Mark and Kristina.  At 2:00 am a huge thunderstorm starting dumping on the highway and forced the riders into their car for 30 minutes.  Once the severe lightening passed, the three riders rode strong, as needle like rain drops pelted at them.

Morning broke and a tree that has fallen down in the middle he road backed up traffic and delaying the team for 20 minutes.  The storm lifted and all three member looked to Fran to ride two-hour shift while they rested.  Fran has not rebounded from her earlier incident and can only do one-hour shifts. The crew chief Joe Meyer began to question whether the team could make it to the Annapolis finish line before the official cut off time.

June 29, 2010 / teamoperationprogress

RAAM Day 5

Sweltering heat and steamy humidity brought Team Operation Progress to its’ knees as they entered the fifth day of the race in the rolling hills of Missouri on a mad dash to make it to the Mississippi River before the qualification time set for Friday afternoon by 5:30pm. With 400 miles to cover in 24 hours, the team was feeling the pressure to perform and not let down all the supporters of the OP who have made this race possible.

The team went from fifteen minute to five-minute intervals and came in drenched in sweat, panting and dehydrated.  By mid day, the heat index on the Garmin mounted to a riders bike read 110 degrees.  All four team member traded off and rallied through the late afternoon waiting for the occasional cumulus cloud to puff up and bring down the temperature. As the heavy late afternoon set in, the mosquitos and ticks were out in full force looking to sink their fangs into the physically and emotionally drained riders and crew loading bikes on and off the racks almost fifty times throughout day.   Competing for pavement with the boat towing, exhaust blowing monster SUV’s all speeding for the lake of Ozarks, was not an ideal situation for Kristina who sits in her trike at just three feet above the ground. As the sunset and the RV’s pulled into a Wallmart parking lot outside of the Ozark Lake, an ambulance and fire vehicle had their amber light blinking around one of our own Operation Progress  2011 Sienna’s.  As we approached the van,  we see Fran sitting in the car surrounded by EMT’s who are taking her vital signs.  The EMT’s determined that she is severely dehydrated and needs to be withdrawn for the race for at least eight hours.

Fighting off the loss of a teammate, Nancy, Kristina and Mark ride through the night on a mad dash to make up for lost time and the stress of being down a team mate.

Driven to not fail, they are able to maintain a 15 mile per hour average and come within 100 miles of the Missouri/Illinois border.

June 18, 2010 / teamoperationprogress

RAAM Update – We’re not in Kansas anymore

Day 4: Over the Rocky hump and into the Mid Way Kansas Wind

Hitting the inconceivable target of completing more that 400 miles per day, Team OP and its crew, has its’ aim set on conquering the final phase of the Rocky Mountains before opening up into the longest descent of the race through the windy farmland of Kansas.  Ambition and determination coupled with sleep deprivation and burnt out bodies are a dangerous combination for Team OP who must dig deep to find the strength to keep the pushing the pedals to the pavement.

From La Vida Colorado to Trinidad is a deceptively beautiful climb over the  Chucura Pass. Anticipating the exhaustion, the crew captains relied on the freshest legs of Mark and Nancy to push the team over the Pass.  Nancy, who earlier in the day, had experienced a nasty fall off her bike reaching the top of Great Continental divide left her hip bruised and limping. Nancy’s true test of character was put to the test as the crew advised her to not feel obligated to climb over the pass.  Determined to not let the team down, she decided to ice her hip numb and climb through the majestic but grueling Churcura pass without blinking an eye. Greeting her at the bottom border town of Colorado called Trinidad was Kristina, who then began her descent into the night.

Nancy and Kristina’s drive to ride despite her injury is testament to how one individual has the ability to motivate the entire crew to keeping moving on and head toward the half way point of the race in Kansas.

Lighting storms ignited the midnight skies of Kansas as all four-team members charged in three-mile intervals the Great Plains state of Kansas with a 20-mile per hour tail wind assisting them. Despite the ability to use nothing more than her body from the chest up, Kristina took advantage of her aerodynamic trike catching drafts that increased her speed up to 30 miles per hour with occasional minor descents.

As the crimson dawn finally emerged, wind swirled through the rows of wheat fields crackling the grains against each other in the heart of the nations breadbasket.  Huge white turbine driven windmills cranked along the road as the riders battled thirty mile per hour headwind trying to keep up the pace of 15 miles per hour in order to finish the race in time without being disqualified.

Two days earlier in the race a driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and veered of the road to fatally hit a biker outside the half way point of the RAAM journey, checkpoint 25, the small town of Greensberg, Kansas.  Nancy, upon hearing about the tragedy welled up and consoled her husband John as she shared a similar experience losing her son from being hit by a driver 15-year prior.  She then went one to tell us that her personal tragedy was the catalyst behind getting involved with competitive bicycling as a means of cope with her devastating loss.

Despite the barren terrain, the people of Kansas are some of the nicest most generous folks we have had the pleasure of encountering offering us free ice and waters at multiple checkpoints in Kansas upon hearing about our mission with Operation Progress. This is a testament to how Kansas, although divide by the jet stream is united in its intent to help get Operation Progress across the finish line in time.  Please join in your support as we make out way into the “Show Me” state of Missouri.

June 18, 2010 / teamoperationprogress

Day 4 – June 16th, 2010

These riders are nothing less than amazing, not only Team Operation Progress, but all of them.  They are riding in extreme temperatures from very cold to exhausting heat, sometime within a matter of minutes.  With great determination, they ride around the clock with little or no sleep, meeting the dawn on unknown highways to cross into a quiet night with only the follow vehicle as company, casting a lonely stream of light so the rider can see the road.  It must seem like eternity to each rider as he or she listens to the hum of the tires, mile after mile while forging ahead.

Team OP is completing Day 4 and has covered 1,487 miles with 1,517 more to go; almost half-way there, averaging 14.61 miles an hour.  Yesterday had experiences to offer; some good and some not so good.  Climbing up to the Continental Divide was truly a challenge for any athlete of any stamina.  The 10,800 foot elevation was attained by snaking up the mountain, switchback after switchback, trading out each rider every 10 minutes to conserve strength and energy.  Their strategy worked:  They made it to the summit in astonishing time.  Their desperate need of rest was not theirs to have, though.  As Kristina prepared to confront the descent, she did a last-minute brake check before taking off on her bike to discover there were no brakes.  Because of the altitude an air bubble formed in her brake line.  (This woman definitely has a Higher Power watching out for her.)  Luckily, the South Fork and Alamosa PD were keeping tabs on the team and South Fork’s Chief of Police was waiting for them at the summit.  They were able to escort them down and to a bike shop where Tim, who hadn’t slept in 36 hours, was able to get the bike repaired.

Two of the riders, in their moment of joy at conquering the mountain, accidentally crashed, leaving Nancy with a very sore hip, but the true athlete that she is, got back on her bike, dead tired, and did the descent working through the pain  like a trooper.  Nancy will be 60 in two months.  But all was not lost.  Alamosa PD had hot showers and a great barbeque waiting for them.  With full stomachs and refreshed spirits, an hour later the team bid their thanks and farewell and were on the road again.

Today was a tough day for all of them.  You could tell the lack of sleep and stress of the race was taking its toll, but they are holding tight with firm purpose in their stride.

Team OP needs your help!  They are burning through gas as the team caravans.  If you are able, we could use some help.  No amount is too small; you can donate by going to our PayPal friendly web site   Your donation will help a lot and we’ll make sure it goes to the race expenses or however you want to designate it.

Thank you for supporting our efforts to bring awareness to the mission of Operation Progress which is to identify, improve and invest in the potential of students who might otherwise be denied an opportunity to succeed!

June 16, 2010 / teamoperationprogress

Day 3 – Crossing the Great Divide

RAAM Day 3- Crossing the Great Divide:

Under pressure to make it to Durango, Colorado by 6:00 a.m., Team OP went on a mad dash through the bottom of Utah heading towards Colorado.  Durango is the first of three time station that have mandatory time requirements to meet or be disqualified.  The team bumped up their average speed from 15 mph to 17 mph to meet the challenge ahead. Riding well above 6,000 feet , the oxygen starved riders spirits were lifted by the crew as they shifted the teams mood and created a party like atmosphere encouraging the riders over the treacherous 8,400 foot Hesperas Hill into the highlands of Colorado.  In the dead of the night with a new moon looming low on the horizon, Team OP managed to surpass Team Brazil, another 4-man RAAM cycling team and descended into Durango, CO a little more than 2 hours ahead of maximum time allowed.

Reaching the time station in Durango, Team Captain Kristina Ripatti then took the overnight shift through the highlands approaching the basin of the Colorado Rockies at Wolf Creek Pass.  Kristina logged nearly thirty miles in chilly 35-degree weather.  Her ride ended with the rising of the sun, a clear head, a revived spirit and once again allowed the rest of the crew to get a couple hours of desperately needed rest.

Fresh legs and positive attitudes made for all smiles on the teams third sunrise on the road.  Fran commented that she felt like she got her groove back and Mark’s cramps were replaced with laughter as they began the ascent of  Wolf Creek Pass (el. 10,863 ft.). The pass is notable as inspiration of a C. W. McCall song. Though not as formidable as the song made it seem, the pass is significantly steep on either side (7 to 8% in most places),

Riding up the pass was an incredible spectacle with Granite mountaintops giving way to melting snow flowing into meadows filled with dandelion and daffodils, all surrounded by towering ponderosas. The sun peaked over the mountain and a haze of mist burned off the dew filled grass as the riders traded off in half-mile intervals approaching the Continental Divide.  Nancy pulled the last leg toward the top and Mark in his enthusiasm came along side Nancy, who anticipating only a high five received the “Tour de France” Victory clasp that sent her tumbling off her bike before reaching the top of the Pass where the entire crew greeted her.  The Alamosa Police Department was also waiting to greet the entire team and crew with news of a courtesy barbeque and  hot showers awaiting us at the bottom of the hill.

Prior to Kristina making the descent, she did a break check and discovered her brake line was not working and needed repair. A quick adjustment by the team and crew and Fran then began the gorgeous eight mile descent into the Eastern Rockies taking in the natural hot springs steaming up from pool along the roaring Rio Grande River as beavers hunted for fish in the dammed up flat areas.

Sharing a meal and their thankfulness for the gracious support of the law enforcement all around the country, the crew and riders shared their enthusiasm for this collaborative adventure where Team Operation Progress raises awareness of our mission to identify, improve and invest in the potential of students who might otherwise be denied an opportunity to succeed and the opportunity to do so all the while taking in the glory of Mother Nature one pedal at time as we near the great plains of our sweet land of liberty, Kansas.