Hot take: RAAM IS massive

If no one has said it before, let me say it now.

The United States is actually massive.

And that Race Across America thing was pretty massive too…

Like, “over 3,143 miles” massive. “170,000 feet of climbing and felt like more” massive. The challenge was bigger than I could have imagined. The commitment to pedaling, to be "in it" at all times was maddening. The pain, delusions, and joy that brought me to the edge of madness. Endless climbs, no sleep, even with mostly beautiful weather - it was all massive.

And if you’re curious? Yes.

Yes I would do it again.

Really quick, the big shout out. I only got through this race with the support and enthusiasm of family, friends, and organizations like the Challenged Athletes Foundation. I owe you so much. To every one of you following my journey, sending me prayers and messages to lift my spirits: THANK YOU!!!

The question I want to answer comes to the core of who I have become:

How do we overcome the impossible?

For many people, even with my string of accolades as an endurance athlete, my bid at RAAM as a solo handcyclist was a futile effort. It had never been tried, might never be done. But I did it. How?

First, prepare by DOING, not by thinking. I knew I was ready for RAAM because I failed my first two qualifiers. In order to be allowed to race, every rider must qualify. The most basic one is the 24-hour race. Rack up 400 miles from dusk, through the night and the following day, and you’re in.

RAAM was a beast, but it never hit 400 miles in a day. Figuring out my nutrition, handcycle setup, efficiency plans were crucial to making it work. I hit every bump on the way - including one in Borrego Springs that literally broke my handcycle in two - but in the end I did. And having tasted failure, I knew I wouldn’t need to a second time.

And second (my personal favorite), when rolling off that start line, shut the brain off and follow your heart. I didn't think of the enormity of the continent before me and thus it couldn’t scare me. Every day, I had a job to do. My job was to pedal, all day, and every break from pedaling had to be justified. It didn’t matter what lay ahead - hills, storms, descents, mechanical bugs, barreling semi-trucks, fatigue, heat, cold. It didn’t matter. Carry on and ride it out, or go home.

So simple, your brain can call it quits by the time you roll off the line!

Thank you to my crew of merry fools: Colin, Brad, OP, David, Jen, Darwin, Matt, Chris and Jackson. You were a pleasure on those lonely roads with me. I am eternally grateful for your friendships and commitments. 

Thank you as well to Specialized, Phil Wood & Co., and Campagnolo for the gear upgrades that made all the difference. If RAAM felt smooth, it was because I everything I needed to succeed. You made this possible.

And now, time for some well-earned rest!

 

-AJK

“Live With Heart”

RAAM Qualified

It took two years and four attempts, but I've realized the dream. Finally, I qualified (and just received the official invite) to compete in Race Across America as the first ever solo handcyclist!

After coming up short on several qualifying attempts, I am so happy to have stuck with this goal.

If I'm honest, it's been difficult to go through so many grueling miles and still fail each time. For one, that should be easy relative to RAAM. It also made me rethink the purpose of all this and wonder if efforts aren't better spent elsewhere. I still don't know with certainty but I can say that sticking it out feels good and I've learned invaluable lessons and had priceless experiences along the way. Quitting my first attempt was one of the best things to happen for me as an athlete. I've always learned the hard way - so why should this be any different?

I just did 401miles in 31hrs and 2minutes (toot, toot) over 20,000feet of climbing mountains, through the desert night and up "middle finger" hills.

Please note: this is well beyond what I ever thought I'd be able to do, especially when I was just getting started and training on a 2.8 mile lake loop. Honestly, I never thought I would even aim this high.

Progress does NOT ignore dedication.

Thanks to all of you out there for supporting me and encouraging me when I get discouraged and confused by this Quixotic quest I'm on. Much love to you and to my 3 dedicated crew members - Matt Hoffmann, Jared Wylie and Kat Henning (nice pic Kat!) you should have seen (heard) us out there ;) Most people have no idea how big of a team effort this all is. Everyone grinds hard.

Specialized Bicycle Components and Phil Wood & Co. have been incredibly helpful. We made some adjustments and gear choices after some time in the Specialized wind tunnel and team mechanic Kyle Hayes completely rebuilt my drive train which massively improved efficiencies. They even teamed up with LeRoy at Phil Wood who built out a set of Roval hoops on Phil Wood's legendary hubs.
Thanks to you both, we did it!

One final big thank you to the RAAM officials for being creative with me to find another way to qualify. Having a freak mechanical 12 hours into my last qualifier (bike suddenly snapping in half) was unusual and they know how badly I wanted this. They agreed this was a fair solution and I hope it shows my worthiness to take on this awesome challenge.

Onward!     (gulp)

-AjK

andre@willgodo.com
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Another 24

Earlier this month I took another swing at qualifying for Race Across America. I was in good shape and had an awesome team with Mike and Tommy Hughes flying in to crew. I also had a solid traveling companion in Jackson Mauzé and in a huge upgrade to the readability of this site, he has written the following:

  photo: Pablo Durana

photo: Pablo Durana

To qualify for RAAM the threshold is an astonishing 400 miles in 24 hours.
“I’m not gonna be smiling after a lap on this bike.”
  photo: Pablo Durana

photo: Pablo Durana

snapped frame, snapped an insta, now just waiting for a ride and cursing into the darkness

The Borrego Springs 24-Hour Time Trial
by Jackson Mauzé

André’s journey to Race Across America (RAAM) faced its toughest hurdle yet this past weekend when he traveled to Borrego Springs, CA to compete in the Time Trial Championship. To qualify for RAAM the threshold is an astonishing 400 miles in 24 hours. If he was intimidated at the prospect of circling the same 18-mile course through the deep of night and heat of the arid day, he masked it under a hefty mantle of optimism and self-deprecation.

In fact, the ride inland from San Diego was a surreal insight into André’s character. Soon after setting out from San Diego we left the large interstates behind and began snaking into the mountains. We cracked jokes and mused about careers and art and life as our ears began to pop. Only as we descended the Glass Elevator, the infamous scenic road that winds down to Borrego Springs, did we stop to appreciate our surroundings. Where many endurance athletes can become consumed by love for their hobby, by stress for their challenges or even by a self-absorption from so many hours spent reclusively on the bike, André tackles each race with a refreshingly casual determination. For a 37-year old with the energy of a kid, he’s decidedly professional in his regimen and preparation without the swollen ego that could plague such an incredible athlete.

Then again, what “professional” sets off from the start line of a bike race without sunglasses?

Aside from that minor gaffe, quickly remedied, the race started well. Andre set a strong pace from the beginning, averaging under an hour for each loop. Then at 4 AM, nearing the end of a cold night that saw several riders beginning to bonk out, the aluminum frame of his bike snapped in spectacular fashion. After picking up speed on a shallow slope he hit the flat and his bike bottomed out with a BANG, hand crank breaking off in his hands along with the front wheel He skidded into the dirt as G-forces flung him about, only held in his seat by the belt across his lap.

The damage was irreparable, and due to the time-trial regulations, he actually forfeited the 16 miles he’d completed on that loop when an official had to pick him up and bring him back to the pits. He was tired and dirty, his hands bleeding from minor cuts as his crew worked to prepare his rusting back-up bike. But he still he was smiling.

When someone pointed that out as a silver lining, his response (with a grin) was classic: “I’m not gonna be smiling after a lap on this bike.”

The back-up handcycle was old and didn’t fit well, the metal bars squeezing his hips painfully. But after only half an hour in the pit he was out and cranking once more. His lap times saw a small drop but he dug deep and never quit, even as the night began playing its tricks. Andre insists he saw an old woman with curly hair in someone else’s headlight ahead of him. She was walking down the road in the black of night – which somehow didn’t seem odd to his befuddled brain at the time – with what appeared to be two miniature greyhounds on leashes. When his own headlight lit up the same area she was nowhere to be found.

As the sun rose over the mountains he kept his pace steady. He rarely stopped, only doing so to eat real food for a change or chat quickly with fans and friends. When his shifter cable snapped, sticking him in his heaviest gear for the rest of the race, he cracked a joke about it during his next pit stop before tearing back onto the course. His final lap on the big course (before switching to the mandatory four-mile loop at the end) was his fastest in the preceding four hours.
But he wasn’t done yet.

As we drew inexorably toward 6 PM, the temperature only just dropping from where it had sat in the low nineties for several hours, Andre started his final lap with only sixteen minutes left, knowing full well that if he didn’t finish in time, those four miles would be forfeit. We all waited anxiously as the announcer counted down the time remaining. Three minutes. Two minutes. One. Thirty seconds. Twenty.

With less than ten seconds left Andre whipped around the last bend, head down and cranking furiously. The crowd came alive as he pulled across the finish line with only seconds to spare - the last racer to finish.

In the end, Andre did not qualify for RAAM this weekend. At an official 343 miles he was short of the target, but nothing could dampen his mood. If not for the major bike malfunctions? If not for the lost mileage thanks to his breakdown? He was on pace to qualify. And this wasn’t his last opportunity before RAAM rolls around this summer. The same grit and determination that got him through the grueling race this past weekend will get him to the starting line.
It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “how.”


Thanks Jackson, it was fun to relive the race and weekend through your experience!

If any of you want to contribute to my next qualifying race and overall RAAM budget, I'd be extremely grateful, and am happy to give you a link to do that:
Help André Qualify

Thanks all!

-AjK
andre@willgodo.com

Alive Day #13

Pulled over in my car yesterday and hammered out a quick message to family and friends. Until somebody mentioned it to me, I hadn't realized that it was the 12th Anniversary of my accident (more info about that). https://andrekajlich.com/wgd/start

I sort of like that I never remember. However, it's also understandable that others cannot forget the day - I was literally comatose. I woke up, I healed up (mostly), and with the help of my amazing parents (pic to the right should sum that up ;) my sisters, my friends, my community, and a bit of my own hard work - I've made it to a much better place.

What came first to my mind as a reflection is worth sharing, it is the biggest lesson the past 12 years has taught me:

I'm appreciative and thoughtful today - Pearl Harbor Day and Andre Is Beyond Lucky to Be Alive Day. Bad Things happen - that will never change. Some will be caused by outside forces and many will be our own damn fault. The only way I've found an effective way to respond is to forget about blame, forget about changing the past or controlling what we can't control. The best response is to use that beautiful brain of yours to think long and hard about what is the most productive way forward. It won't be any quick snippet from any other source but yourself. It won't be the best choice or a sustainable decision unless you are willing to be painfully honest - at least with yourself. Confront what you don't know, don't understand, and what you aren't doing right. Find a way to focus on what you can control: your attitude, self-discipline, gratitude, knowledge, and move forward like your life depends on it, because in many ways - it does.

But really, I don't know much about anything so just try and enjoy today because you're still alive and that is good.

Thanks to everyone that has helped me get from there to here smile emoticon

 

-AJK (8th December 2015)

Stopping but Not

SoCal400_Andre_87.jpg

I haven't raced since May and I still need to spend time thinking about what happened. Maybe a big adventure with lots of time for reflection and it'll all come to me....although life itself is the biggest adventure and I love it for that (with all the ups and downs that love entails ;) Last May I raced the SoCal400. It was supposed to be 400 miles and a qualifier for Race Across America (RAAM), but I didn't qualify. I didn't even finish.

I'd ridden from the ocean up to 5,200 feet, down a valley, back up, around the Salton Sea, through 100 degree heats, fought head winds through the day and night. By sunrise I'd ridden back around to the base of those same mountains and crossed over again. It was smooth sailing from there, all down hill...    but then it wasn't.

Time was short, I was hurting, there was still plenty of work left, and I was tired - so I stopped.

I'd ONLY (I mean, I'm not totally embarrassed) ridden my bike 343 miles in 28hrs.

Things actually went pretty well through the race. Besides poor preparation, which lead to disorganization and late nights leading into it, this was a mentally motivated DNF.

It all started about 150 miles in. I really started thinking about where I was in life and was feeling pretty foolish for not having any direction. Racing and forming even bigger adventures and challenges in my head isn't the only thing I want to pursue with vigor.

This made me feel pretty foolish.

At that point I was still in the race, I didn't give up but I had decided that RAAM couldn't be the focus of my life for the next few months...plus I was far from ready.

So, as the morning light returned after a long night of falling asleep on my bike, discomfort, and just continuing forward on very little enthusiasm... I was running out of will...running low on purpose.

I made it back over the mountains. I'm proud of my team and of our effort. Still, I am regretful that I stopped.

From the top of the last mountain, it is about 60 miles back down to the coast, but there still remains 5-7,000ft. gain. Not quite a free ride. After the first big descent, I was hurting and hardly even able to safely navigate.

Down on the flats I was only able to pull 10mph and, as I saw my team van climbing a hill ahead, I just pulled off the road. I needed to stop. I immediately fell asleep.

After being woken up by the film crew van, I decided to ride up to my crew to discuss just bowing out. I think I said it hurts all over, I just don't see the point and I don't need to prove that I can do this to anybody.

With little conviction I said, "30 more minutes" and I'll reassess, but my crew member said something (it might have been "yeah - keep going") and I said, "yeah - I'm stopping."

To be honest, I should have proven it to myself. I need to show myself what I can do. It isn't enough to just FEEL capable of anything.

I'm still not sure what to make of it all. It was a very tired Andre making that decision. It's unnerving to know that THAT Andre is lurking. He may be the devil or he may be a lesson giving angel.

To some degree, because of this I'm working on a few things that I am excited about, a new direction.

RAAM is still on my agenda book. I've got a qualifier picked out in September, or October, or November. That seems to be the only direction I've got at the moment.

Still searching... still a struggle but I know that I just gotta keep pushing and it will be worth it- both for the experience and for where it takes me.

Thanks for great photos Bryan Myss  

-AjK (04/02/2015-08/17/2015)