The recently concluded Dust Bowl Marathon Series continues to play on my mind. Each of the five towns that served as our home base during the event rolled out the red carpet for us. Ulysses, Kansas stepped it up an additional notch above the high bar exhibited by the rest. They seemed to have a sense of professionalism to their approach, like they’d been through it before and knew what they were doing. I complimented some of the townspeople at the pasta dinner held on the group’s behalf and it was here that I learned the story behind their well-honed abilities.
They mentioned a nationwide bicycle race, and described how the town accommodated riders and their support teams as they passed briefly through Ulysses each year. Some quick Intertubes sleuthing uncovered the Race Across America which indeed routes directly through Ulysses, a town that’s been set along the course for at east the last several years.
First, let’s all understand that Ulysses can hardly be described as a "convenient" location.
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Ulysses has the misfortune of falling directly within the middle of an immense rectangle completely devoid of Interstate highways access: 2.25 hours away from I-70; 3.25 hours from I-40; 3.5 hours from I-25; and 4 hours from I-35. Few visitors will ever drop into Ulysses by happenstance as they travel cross-country. No major historical events or entertainment destinations underpin an active tourism industry, either. Ulysses, like many other small towns falling within the freeway void, must rely upon its own wits to cultivate creative sources of income.
The Dust Bowl Marathon Series fits that definition, as does the Race Across America. Ulysses, by showing abundant hospitality, fills its hotel rooms, serve numerous restaurant meals and sells tanker-loads of gasoline to crowds spinning out from these rolling athletic circuses.
I’d never heard of the Race Across America before. It’s fascinating. Here’s the basic story courtesy of YouTube:
Bicyclists ride between a starting point in Oceanside, California and a dramatic finish in Annapolis, Maryland (for the 2013 version), and check-in at 54 intermediary “Time Stations” along the way. According to the RAAM Frequently Asked Questions, time stations "are approximately 40 to 90 miles apart" and provide a place for riders to report their progress to the race headquarters.
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RAAM provided tentative lat/long coordinates for the 2013 Time Stations which I’ve dropped into a Google Map. I’ve noted the Time Station for Ulysses, Kansas with a red marker.
Time Station locations vary from someone’s home, to bike shops, to city parks, to the Capital Building in Jefferson City, MO. About half of the Time Stations are staffed. This staff is invaluable in building awareness of the race in the local communities along the course. As racers pass through, the Time Station staff is the cheering section and most importantly there to help racers and crews find services in town. Time stations have offered hotel rooms, gas, showers and food.
The field spreads out as it races across the continent, either as part of multi-person teams or as solo competitors. Solo racers will finish in about ten days, and in any case they must be done within twelve days to be qualified as RAAM finishers. Remember, this is on a bicycle! I thought five marathons in five states in five days for the Dust Bowl series was extreme. RAAM brings physical and mental brutality to an entirely different level. I can’t say I truly understand either event although I respect the participants. Nonetheless I was quite content to serve as non-running support member for the Dust Bowl series.
Speaking of support,
Besides the entry fee, every racer and team has to provide their own support crew and support vehicles. Depending on the number of crew, the number of vehicles, and how deluxe your race is, the costs starts at $20,000.
I enjoyed my brief time in Ulysses, a burgeoning capital of extreme sports layovers. I’d love to be there again to watch RAAM roll through. Just don’t look for me on a bicycle.