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Caroline Van den bulk: Still plugging away.
TAOS, NEW MEXICO
6/11, 18:25EST

This is my third time crossing the US with the Race Across America; once as a crew member for a solo rider and last year and this year on the RAAM media crew. Today I saw something I’ve never seen before, a RAAM rider walking up a hill. It was a few miles outside of Chama, New Mexico on the way to Antonito, Colorado, a leg that includes La Manga Pass, the highest elevation on this year’s course at 10,275 feet.

Van den bulk was walking her bike on the shoulder accompanied by one of her crew. As I approached she saw our media vehicle and, perhaps not wanting to be seen walking, she got on and started pedaling—slowly. The pain of the miles so far was evident on her face as we passed.

A few turns later I could see that for her, the worst was yet to come. Way up on the ridge towering over us I could see the road. This was not going to be easy for her. I drove up to an overlook where I found her second crew vehicle waiting for her. Eventually we could see her follow and her follow car on a basically level stretch of road, far far below. A very steep grade separated her from our vantage point. Many minutes later we all saw her, off the bike again and walking. A crew member walked alongside her, offering her encouragement. For a racer with a competitive streak as deep as Caroline Van den bulk’s, having to walk on a hill has to be a huge disappointment.

She stopped with her second crew for a quick break and within a minute was on her way—walking. I got back in our media vehicle and motored ahead a half mile to Cumbres Pass, which sits at 10,017 feet. While La Manga pass is actually 264 feet higher Cumbres actually marks the end of the worst. And after Cumbres there’s a downhill and some flat that would let her recover. By the time she came into view her second crew vehicle and one of David Haase’s crew vehicle’s had arrived at the summit. Everyone was out on the roadside hollering encouragement and cheering as we saw that she was back on her bike and pedaling. Near the summit I could see on her face a momentary smile as she read “Cumbres Pass, 10,017 feet” and realized that she would get some respite. She rolled over the top and sped down the other side. She quickly vanished from view, soft-pedaling as she went, which surely felt great on her fatigued legs. When we passed her again many miles later, she was still on her bike. And I’m happy to see on the Time Stats that she did indeed reach the Anonito, Colorado time station.

Good going Caroline. The highest climbs are behind you. Keep those cranks turning!
 
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