By Vic Armijo
City Dock, Annapolis MD
June 22, 2014
Saturday morning at 2:39 an 8-rider team finished here in Annapolis after having spent 6 days, 10 hours and 51 minutes pedaling eastward from Oceanside. A respectable finish to be sure—but nowhere near a record time—they took fifth place nearly a day and half behind the winning team. Yet this team of amateur cyclists garnered more publicity and interest from outside of they UltraCycling community than any team ever in the event’s history. Why? Simple; Pippa Middleton (age 30), sister of the Duchess of Cambridge was on the team.
Pippa’s participation in RAAM was covered on TV shows, in newspapers and in magazines around the world. The scene at the starting line in Oceanside was like none ever as scrum of photographers from news agencies and tabloids squeezed in to capture images of Pippa in her cycling wear. It was as if none of the other seven team members were there, which is unfortunate as they were as much a part of the team’s accomplishment as Pippa. Noteworthy was the participation of Pippa’s brother James Middleton (age 27) who spearheaded the formation of “Team Michael Matthews Foundation,” named for an organization that gives low-income children an education, and often builds schools for communities in need. This foundation was named after the 22-year-old who died in 1999 as he descended from the summit of Mount Everest after becoming the youngest Briton to reach it.
Pippa is known for being an adventurous sort, so in organizing the effort her brother quickly thought of inviting her, ”The boys, they thought there was going to be some sort of—some way they were going to benefit if there was a girl on the team. So I was roped in by my brother. It’s been positive having the boy’s support. But I’ve had to make sure that I do my best and make sure that I cycle as much as they do and do the shifts that I have to. It’s been a fantastic experience. The highest point was the beautiful scenery,” to which her brother added, “Getting to the top of the Rockies, spectacular. Everyday brought a new side of the US and we enjoyed every moment.” ” Pippa continued, “We had such amazing support all along the way. And I was most amazed by the teamwork; it’s all about the logistics. The crew helped to feed us, to get us to bed. It was all simple issues of cycling, eating and sleeping. The low points, the lack of sleep. Your body is tired and you’ve just got to plug on and do your best. Each of us had to do our best to get us here.” Part of being on this team was supporting the others, Pippa commented,”We were always looking after the teammates; making sure that they’re ready and have their helmets on, their lights on and are taking on enough fluids.”
TEAMWORK: The 8-rider team divided itself into two 4-rider groups that took shifts of six hours. They had no crew member along during these shifts and took turns driving. All team members helped load and unload the bikes during rider transitions.
Asked about the low points Pippa responded, “The lack of sleep, really. We were lucky if we had maybe three hours a night. And then you wake up and you have to get yourself ready, get on the bike, navigate, and drive.” James added,”You have to get yourself on your get and get yourself awake and concentrated and being ready. You can’t just wake up and get out on the road.” Pippa also mentioned that this was her first experience with night riding,”It felt quite intimidating actually. You’re on the road. It’s weird, you’re cycling and you don’t really know where you’re cycling. You’re going along and see this dark shadow alongside the road and you don’t quite know what it is.” A sad reality of cycling 3,000 miles of back roads is that the riders often steer around road kill, ”In one evening we saw a combination of snakes, skunks, we saw some deer,” Pippa said with a wrinkled nose. James added, “We had a tally of the all the road kill that we saw. Thankfully we didn’t contribute to any of it.”
Pippa also spoke of the challenges, “The first few days my legs felt really sore and I was anxious about facing six more days of it. But you’re body almost gets used to it, sort of stretching out and suffering less. And fortunately I chose a particularly comfy saddle. I think the boys suffered far worse than I did.” The team had studied the event and had an idea of what to expect, but Pippa related that she was still surprised by the endurance the race required, “I found that the night and day shifts, it was demanding on your fitness. The sleep deprivation, you sort of think ‘How is it possible to get to the end?’ You sort of take each shift—we did six hours shifts between four of us—and you get into a routine and as they days go by you sort of see yourself working your way across America. That was quite satisfying.”
James summed up the feelings of the ream, “We’re delighted to be here with friends representing the foundation. It’s worked extremely well. The appeal that RAAM has has helped us to raise some good money for the charity. So thank you for the coverage that’s it’s provided. On behalf of the Michael Mathews Foundation, all of the cyclists here would like to thank the RAAM organizers, the race officials and all the volunteers. It was a wonderful race, beautiful scenery and the American public was very kind to us and supportive—so thank you for that. To see all of your country and to combine it with the charity foundation to do good things for people—maybe we’ll come back next year.”