The context of this film is the Race Across America (RAAM) that happens every year, where cyclists race their bikes from the west coast to the east coast. Unlike the big and well-publicized grand tours of cycling, this race doesn’t have daily stops and starts, stages, and all that. It’s really simple – everyone starts in San Diego, and the first one to get to the appointed spot on the east coast wins.
How many of the 24 hours in a day can you stay in the saddle and pedal? How fast can you keep going? These guys usually sleep an hour or two a day, and pedal the rest of the day – at least the ones that finish first do. The winner generally makes it in about 9 days or so. Read it again – 9 days to ride a bicycle from the west coast to the east coast.
With this in mind, it’s easy to see that while this film uses the RAAM as the context, the story is really a story about the ability of the human being to push himself to the absolute limit and survive. The riders are hallucinating in extreme states of sleep deprivation. Their support crews are fashioning devices out of duct tape to help them hold their head up as they ride. They’re pushing their minds and their bodies to the absolute edge of survival.
The bar is high to qualify for this race. You need to prove through previous events that you have the physical ability to excel at ultra-endurance cycling, with strong finishes in other races that require hundreds of miles of nonstop cycling in brutal conditions.
Even with this high bar to enter, only about half the folks who begin in San Diego will finish the race. For the rest, they find that limit to the suffering their body and mind can endure.
This film was compiled from footage of the 2005 RAAM. The race has been occurring since 1982, when Ron Haldeman and 3 others decided to race from the Santa Monica Pier to the Empire State Building. They called their race “The Great American Bike Race”, and Haldeman won it in 9 days and 20 hours. It’s grown since then, to become the premier ultra-endurance cycling event in the world today. For cyclists like me who feel good about a long day in the saddle when we can average 15 or 16 miles an hour over a hard day, then go home and relax, think on the fact that the record speed over the 3000 mile event is 15+ mph – that’s AGGREGATE, meaning you start the clock on the west coast, stop it on the east coast, and figure the average. Includes sleeping, eating, hallucinating, arguing with mailboxes, taking punches at your crew when they push you, all that stuff. Kind of humbling, isn’t it?
While not intended for mass-marketing, this is a film that will be loved by cyclists in general, and especially by long-distance cyclists, endurance cyclists, and ultra-endurance cyclists. I highly recommend it to all my cycling friends. But I also recommend this film to anyone who’s interested in learning more about the madness that many people succumb to – this madness of finding the limits to our sanity and our survival.