So. I was planning on crewing RAW for Alan Johnson. When he decided against racing this year, I was left with a week's vacation - a beautiful, blank canvas to fill with...something. The very next day Jim Harms sent out a recruiting email for RAW officials. I figured, why the heck not? I've got the time, the Red Pearl is an ideal vehicle for a live/work adventure like this, and I wanted - badly - to see the new section of the course (the road into Flagstaff).
Bill had to tend the home fires so I was flying solo. I took off on Friday after work. I got just south of the Bay area when I noticed that the battery charge status indicator was heading south. The Red Pearl gives me an actual gauge - not just a light that goes on when it's too late to do anything.
All signs pointed to a slowly dying alternator. I was really hopeful that I could get all the way to Oceanside before fixing it, because we had two days of racer inspections there when I wouldn't need the van at all. I almost made it. I would've, except it started raining somewhere south of Santa Clarita. When it takes 5 seconds for the windshield wipers to make their circuit, it's time to throw in the towel. In Hawaiian Gardens, CA.
This sounds bad, but ends well. If you're ever stuck in need of car repair in Hawaiian Gardens, California, go to S & J Automotive. Silver took amazing care of me. A new alternator in 2 hours and $200. I wasn't from there, and in no position to complain. He could've soaked me, but he didn't.
In Oceanside, I arrived at my hotel room and found that I was rooming with Jamie Naragon. Woo-hoo! New friend just like that. And Ian was there. The "Welcome to Oceanside" sign now looks suspiciously like an In-N-Out - they've put a new one right in town!
We spent Sunday and Monday inspecting cars, vans, trucks, motor homes, bikes, helmets, lights, and all of the "stuff" that is required to make sure that racers and crews have what they need to follow the rules and be safe out on America's roads.
Sunday night I had enough energy to take a nice long walk, and I was rewarded with an Oceanside sunset that can't be beat....
Monday night was the shortest pre-race meeting EVER! I was bracing myself for the worst. And of course I had to be on mainly good behavior because all of the officials were in the front row. But - less than an hour! Woo-hoo!!!
On Tuesday we were up early. I got up in time to hit The Cup for a latte. "Would you like that with 4 shots?" is an awesome question to answer at 7AM.
The race got underway at noon - RAW racers first, then RAAM solos. As the front official on the course I got to see none of the starting action. But that's okay - if I'm famous at all, I'm famous for telling the racers I crew for that they DON'T get a photo at the start line...only the finish line.
The officials had a group text set up through an app called "Group Me". It was awesome. But - a lot of texts. Imagine that everything you said, ever, was "reply all". It does keep everyone in the loop. And - I was working with a great group of officials. If I had to go into battle, I'd have wanted every one of those folks on my side. So it was reassuring to hear that everyone was okay out there.
Before long, the first team racers were coming through. Monster Media Racing had been pretty clear that they intended to crush the course record, and they were doing it. It wasn't long before they were so far out in front that officiating "the front of the race" meant a lot of driving back and forth.
I got to Congress just before sunup, and just after Monster Media pulled through. It was too cold to get into the pool, so I took a quick catnap. After that I made some oatmeal and chatted with Vic until enough teams came through that I could go up the course again.
Here's Team MOAB on the Yarnell Grade. See the yellow-socked guy in the reflection of my mirror? He's "footobombing" the main action.
The road to Flagstaff was pockmarked with road construction, logging action, and elk. But other than the first, major, climb, it looked pretty good. The pavement was decent and in places very smooth. I didn't get any pictures through this stretch because I was driving quickly to get forward after staffing a mandatory "ferry" operation. One area of construction had been pretty much impassable - fresh oil, one lane road, seriously steep, and a pilot car going at 25 mph - so we had racers driven in their pace cars through that section. But here's a picture that Jamie took (thanks, Jamie!!!):
At Flagstaff, I got to visit the scene of the crime. In 2014, when Bill and I raced RAW, the route book indicated that the WalMart was open 24/7. So the crew went in and started shopping. Turned out that it was closed for business, but there were people stocking. The manager wasn't terribly excited to have them in there - but she did let them buy their stuff. So we gave Phil and Willard a pretty good razzing for pillaging the WalMart.
On to Tuba City, then Kayenta. In Kayenta I was hit up by some panhandlers but nothing else remarkable. And - woo-hoo! - HQ asked me to move forward through Monument Valley just as the sun was coming up. What a treat!
That's Team France in the lower right. They were from....France.
Next up - Mexican Hat. I spent a LOT of time in Mexican Hat. Then Montezuma Creek and slowly working my way toward the finish. Since I was at the front of the race I got to spend some time hanging out there, and driving back and forth to Pagosa Springs to make sure that people were following all of the rules. They were, whenever I saw them at least.But I got a lot of time to hang out at the finish line. It was pretty special to watch people finish a long, hard journey.
Friday night, I got a shower and I got to sleep in a BED - at Fort Lewis College. Relatively spartan accommodations, but for someone who was becoming reacquainted with the social obligation to pee indoors, it was a good "re-entry" night.
Once the last finishers came aross the line on Saturday morning, I turned off my group text notifications and set The Red Pearl on a westerly course, heading home. Before skipping town I stopped at Durango Joe's. Made me wonder whether Fred picks race venues on the basis of coffee shop desirability. And on my way out I ran into Larry Ide, who had been on Dru Dixon's crew. Dru was one of the few people that I didn't get to see finish so it was good to be able to say "Hi".
Officiating was a great experience and an amazing way to preview the course on the cheap. RAAM/RAW pays enough to cover your gas expenses, but you are more or less volunteering your time. I would definitely recommend officiating sometime - it's a great window into the behind-the-scenes intricacies of a very large and complex race.