Bicycle Dreams

Bicycle Dreams has been out for several years, but I had never seen the film until it was shown at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. Last Wednesday, I caught the movie with three cycling friends, including Craig Damaschi, one of the guys who helped launch my cycling career nearly 25 years ago. It was cool that we sat next to each other for this movie about the Race Across America (RAAM).

I got into serious bicycling when I was 12 years old. I got a 10-speed Shogun at Vernon Cycle. It was silver and had a mix of Shimano and Suntour components. I wish I still had that bike. It was so cool. I was very inspired by Greg Lemond and the 7-11 team. I also fell in love with Sean Kelly, the great Irish rider. I had a middle school friend in our neighborhood who also liked riding. We both decided to work on Cycling Merit Badge, which ironically, I never earned. I earned a lot of other badges on the road to Eagle Scout, but somehow, I blew it and never got cycling done. Well, that friend and I did a lot of long rides anyway. In high school, I met Craig, and my love of the sport really accelerated. He was well versed in Italian cycling heritage and had tons of cycling magazines that I borrowed frequently. Craig taught me the cycling ropes.

One of my most vivid memories of those early days was when my mother bought me a pair of fancy bicycling shorts at FARRS Sporting Goods in Manchester, Connecticut. They were made by Cannondale, a Connecticut company. In those days, they made their own clothing domestically. In fact, they were a family business in those days. Incidentally, my favorite cycling cap was also made by Cannondale. My Mom told me that I was going to be in trouble if she spent good money on those shorts and I didn’t wear them. Well, I wore them out.

Which brings me to RAAM. The first cycling book I got was Sport Cycling by Dr. Michael Shermer. That was my bible. Shermer was the founder of RAAM and one of its earliest stars. He was a tremendous ultra-marathon cyclist. Yesterday, I found the book on a shelf in our house. I knew right where to look.  It hadn’t been cracked open in more than 20 years. It is out of print, but you can track down used copies. Mine is in perfect condition. The photo of Shermer on the cover shows him on a classic Peugeot. He is sporting a Bell V-1 helmet. My father bought me that helmet because Shermer wore one. It weighed a ton, but was one of the safest lids of the day. Another interesting tidbit: the bookmark on page 214 of my book is a used ticket for the Boston Red Sox vs. Texas Rangers at Fenway Park on 22 August, 1985. It was a box seat ticket with a face value of $9.50.

I had an early infatuation with RAAM and the ultra-marathon segment of cycling. Eventually, my interests shifted to mountain bike racing and then European style road racing. RAAM had basically been off the radar for me until last week. Sure, I had thought of RAAM over the years, but I hadn’t kept up with the classic event. My friend, Arlen Zane Wenzel, was on a RAAM crew more than 10 years ago, so the topic came up from time to time, but it was really out of my consciousness.

So, I went to Bicycle Dreams not knowing what to expect. My friend, Garry Harrington, is the promoter who is bringing the movie all over the country as part of a tour to promote the race. Garry’s marketing lured me in. I hadn’t read about the film before seeing it, so it caught me by surprise. It is an amazing movie. I was completely absorbed, but shocked by the emotions that it brought out. I won’t give it away, but it is about much more than a bike race. The philosophy of life stuff was done very well and it wasn’t overwrought. It was spot on. The movie should appeal to cyclists and non-cyclists alike.

Debbie didn’t get a chance to see it, so I’ll probably pick up the DVD. It won’t be the same as seeing it on the big screen in a room full of passionate cyclists, but it will be enjoyable nonetheless. I have done some crazy endurance sporting events, but I can’t imagine doing RAAM. I’ve never been a fan of multi-day races (e.g. adventure racing) that involve sleep deprivation. Debbie has tried her hand at multi-day stuff, but I’ve avoided it. Our 2005 Long Trail End-to-End hike was hard enough, and we slept at least a few hours every night. The hardest stuff I’ve done has always been a long day or several long days, but with some rest in between. The Jay Challenge come to mind. That was hard, and that was only three days! Our White Mountain Hut Traverse is an example of a hard one day event. I was delirious after 20 hours on my feet. Imagine doing that every day for more than a week.

A RAAM winner can go nine days with 11 hours of sleep. They will average more than 350 miles/day. That’s nuts.

The risks that the riders take is beyond belief. Riding with traffic, at night, and while knackered is a recipe for disaster. Most RAAM riders are now on teams (two or four), but the real romance is in the solo category. I’m thinking about it, but it is unlikely that I would ever subject myself to that level of suffering. Still…the allure is there. Ultra-marathon cycling is logistically challenging, requires resources, and takes a lot of time. For RAAM, it starts with the qualifiers. Maybe I’ll check one out. But, for now, RAAM will remain in my own Bicycle Dreams.

1 Response to “Bicycle Dreams”

  1. 1 Michael Desilet 12 March 2012 at 7:23 pm

    I caught the link from Bicycle Dreams to your blog, funny seeing mention of places I know so well by way of a more national link. I didn’t realize the movies was shown in Hartford. I have the DVD but it would have been nice to see on the big screen. I crewed RAAM in 2008 and 2010 and it really is amazing what these people put themselves through. This year I’ll be crewing RAW, I’m sure it too will bring some interesting experiences.

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