For the last two weeks, I have been away in the USA and have been, theoretically at least, taking a break from my studies. I have been working as one of the support crew for a four man cycle team doing the Race Across America (RAAM), with my role including driving a minibus, navigating, cooking, doing the riders’ laundry, updating our social media page and taking as many photos as I could. Of course, these roles were shared with some of the others on the 14 man team (4 riders and 10 support crew). It is a tough event, with cyclists riding 24 hours a day as a relay team, in groups of 8, 4, 2 and the utterly insane doing it solo. Here are a few statistics:
- the race is 3069 miles long, from Oceanside California to Annapolis, Maryland
- rider climb over 170,000′ and obviously descend a similar amount, the latter at speeds of up to 60mph
- the route crosses 12 states, including Arizona, where we experienced temperatures of 46°C in the shade.
- our team, Mark, Rob, Charlie and Gavin each cycled about 770 miles during their race, which lasted 7 days, 2 hours and 9 minutes, and they came in 6th in their group.
RAAM is considered to be one of the toughest cycling events in the world, and is even more gruelling than the Tour de France. It is ultra-cycling at its extreme, and is physically and mentally challenging for both the riders and the support crew. Sleep is a far away dream and everyone is lucky if they get a couple of hours a day. Feeding four hungry riders and the rest of the group is a logistical challenge, when the team is on the move all the time, and we tested the boundaries of our driving skills to the limit (and sometimes beyond). However, being part of a team that is both self-sufficient and entirely reliant on each other to complete the mission is a great experience, and makes bonds that will last for years.
Anyway, enough about the race itself. What about the photography? The mission I had set for myself was to document the highs and lows of the race, and not to simply produce lots of “brochure” images of cyclists against various iconic travel backgrounds. This was a team event, of which the cyclists are only one part, and my idea was to show some of the work that other team members were doing as well.
The images I took seemed to fall into four categories
- candid shots
- cycling shots
- travel shots
Each required different camera settings and I ended up utilising most of the manual settings on the camera during the week on the road. I particularly recall hanging out of the back of a fast moving car, while sitting on an open icebox, and trying to steady a telephoto lens enough to get anything useful.
Of the images I got, and bearing in mind that I haven’t really sorted them out as yet, I am most pleased with the portraits and cycling shots. With some of these, I am content that I captured the moment adequately. The candid and travel shots were not so successful. In the case of the travel ones, I simply did not have the time and opportunity to make good photographs, while the candid ones look rather busy and disorganised, and I feel I could have done them better. My overall success rate is much better than on previous trips though, and I took many fewer images. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed trying to capture the race through the eyes of the team, and would love to do something like this again.
Below, I have made a short slideshow with some of the best images from the trip. If anyone would like to make a donation to Antonia’s Friends, which raises money for Asthma UK, the link is here.