A New Backpack, a Dubious Contest and an Amazing Race

Picture of Ben, Dan, Louise.

Louise and Ben picked me up at the Geelong train station.

January 25 - 26, 2015
Days 192 - 193

I bought my Osprey backpack around five years ago. It was huge, and it served me well. Unfortunately, one of the metal stays from the frame snapped during my flight to Australia. I removed the frame and brought it to a local shop in Melbourne to look for a replacement, but they didn't have one. Then I exchanged a few emails with the manufacturer. The last thing they told me was that my backpack had been discontinued, and they were searching for a replacement frame. That was over a month ago.

I had to find a solution soon. My shin was still swollen, probably a direct result of trekking through Tasmania with a 30+ pound backpack, sans frame. I decided to stop looking for ways to fix my old backpack, and instead buy a new one as soon as I returned to the mainland. But a surprise email from Osprey changed everything. As it turned out, they had been searching the whole planet for a replacement frame, with no success. My backpack came with a lifetime warranty, so now they offered to exchange it for a brand new one. Score!

I flew from Hobart to Melbourne (half the price of the ferry) and found the Paddy Pallin supply shop downtown, where they introduced me to my new backpack. It was narrower than my old one, but still 85 liters, big enough to store all sorts of stuff I don't need. It felt far more comfortable than my old pack because of its sturdy frame. I spent over an hour getting everything organized, then caught a train out of town, feeling like a new man. Thanks, Osprey!

An hour later, I was back in Geelong. Craig was busy working, but another old friend also lived there. Louise (who I wrote about in my book, 1000 Days Between) and her husband Ben moved from England to Geelong, Australia a couple years ago. I met them at the train station and we got caught up at their apartment. I was really happy for Louise and Ben. They had crafted a terrific life in this beautiful town on Australia's southern coast.

Picture of Sandals.

The competition.

The next day was Australia Day, a holiday that celebrates the arrival of the British in 1788. Louise, Ben and I drove to Torquay to celebrate on the beach, Australia-style. Among the thousands of beach-goers, a huge group was attempting to break a world record: most giant, inflatable thongs (sandals) in the water at once. It looked like fun, but I found out that it costs $30 to enter, and they change the color of the thongs each year, so you can't even reuse one from the previous year. At least they raised a good chunk of change for the local surf club. In the end, a few thousand people participated in organized, slightly boring fashion. The record was broken, in a parallel competition on Bondi Beach.

After watching the challenge for a while, we left the beach and got a massive box of fish and chips, the perfect meal for this national holiday. While eating our feast, we ran into Miguel, whom I had met during my last trip to Torquay a month earlier. He was preparing to lead a support crew in the Race Across AMerica (RAAM), the world's toughest bicycle race. It starts in Oceanside, CA and finishes in Annapolis, MD, covering a distance of over 3000 miles. The record time for the race was less than eight days. This boggled my mind. Most people take more than eight days to drive across the USA, and someone did it on a bicycle.

Louise, Ben and I had hundreds of questions, and Miguel was happy to answer them all. Here are a few that barely scratch the surface of our conversation:

Q: Do the cyclists get any sleep?
A: Yes, but not much. Each day they get a few power naps and one “proper” sleep of around 75 minutes, or one sleep cycle. Years ago, they would sneak away from the road to sleep, so the other racers couldn't use the fact that they were resting to gain a competitive edge. Nowadays, all of the competitors have GPS, so they tend to sleep in their support vehicles.

Q: What do they eat?
A: If the cyclists ate solid food, their bodies wouldn't be able to digest it efficiently, so they survive on liquid diets. They still manage to consume over 8000 calories per day.

Q: Can they listen to music during the race?
A: The cyclists each have a support car that follows them for the entire race. On Miguel's team, they'll play music from loudspeakers attached to the car. The cyclist will be in radio contact with the team, so he can request songs or podcasts. Usually, the support crew will play whatever the racer wants to hear, but sometimes they'll refuse, in order to push him to go faster, or for a longer distance between breaks. When the racer really needs motivation, they'll play messages from family or friends to keep him going.

Q: Do they ever experience psychological issues during the race?
A: Most definitely. If you went over a week with almost no sleep, you'd likely experience hallucinations, even without riding a bicycle across America. Mental fitness is extremely important for this race, and the support team is constantly tweaking things to keep the cyclist motivated.

I had never heard of RAAM, so everything about it fascinated me. It was great to get to know someone who was involved with it.

More photos from Torquay

External Websites:
Osprey's Website
RAAM Website

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