The first time Bill Bradley tried the Race Across America, he made it to the finish line a little more than a day late.
The grueling, 3,000-mile race, which goes coast-to-coast across the United States, has a time limit in place--usually 12 days--and riders must complete the trek within that schedule to be considered official finishers.
Bradley was a little tardy. A bummer, but it gave him something to shoot for the next year.
He's striving to cross the finish line when there's actually a finish line there.
"I don't know what it's like," Bradley said, "when they're not setting up for a flea market."
Bradley joins a couple hundred cyclists taking human capabilities to incredible limits. The 2009 Race Across America kicked off in Oceanside, Calif., with a 3,000-mile trek to Annapolis, Md., in store.
How hard is this race? There's no time off to sleep. Solo cyclists can sleep however much they want, but the clock never stops. Most racers sleep only a couple hours a day. Some cyclists--with the physical extremes and sleep deprivation wearing on them--have reported hallucinating by the end of the race.
There is also a team division where two-, four- and eight-person teams can split the racing. The teams will race 24 hours a day.
The course touches 11 states and goes through deserts, plains and mountain ranges, with climbs totaling more than 100,000 feet. Solo riders will log between 250 and 350 miles each day, with a personal crew following close behind in a vehicle.
The 2009 RAAM started about 50 feet from the Pacific Ocean at Oceanside Pier and will finish at The City Dock in Annapolis, Md. The goal is to complete the massive journey and check one of cycling's most grueling feats off the to-do list.
Preferrably when the finish line is still set up.
"I'm hoping," Bradley said with a laugh, "there will actually be some people there this time."