Excitement and anticipation abounded as we gathered in Oceanside, Calif., for the start of RAAM (Race Across America) on June 14.
With temperatures in the 60s, a cool breeze and sunny skies, Debbie Tirrito took off at noon for the start of this epic cross country cycling adventure.
She was ready. Her support crew, including me, was ready.
By late afternoon, Tirrito had reached the first checkpoint at Mile 57, beginning her descent into the desert via The Glass Elevator, where temperatures reached 107 degrees that day.
Given the intensity of the heat, Tirrito decided to continue riding into the night to the next checkpoint. She put in a respectable 145 miles the first day of the Race Across America.
The next morning, temperatures were already in the 90s when she hit the road hoping to put in a few hundred miles.
Struggling with hydration and nutrition in the 112-degree heat of the Imperial Valley quickly took its toll. Our rider decided to stop early, sleep and get up at 2 a.m. to ride during the relative coolness of night.
Having ridden only 89 miles that day, she hoped to make up mileage before the heat caught up with her.
But between Parker, Ariz., and Salome, Ariz. a distance of 56 miles Tirrito was stopping frequently so we could douse her with cold water and place a wet towel around her neck. It was a slow and painful process.
Keeping her hydrated and making sure she was getting the necessary electrolytes was challenging as the heat continued to torment her stomach.
We resorted to hiding electrolytes in her water so she would keep them down and trying to make sure she was getting enough calories throughout the day.
I didnt expect the heat to be this bad, Tirrito said. Every gust of wind feels like someone opened up a pizza oven.
When we reached Salome that day, we decided the heat was too much, and we waited again for sunset.
Many riders had congregated at this checkpoint with the same strategy in mind.
By now it was Thursday afternoon, and we knew that it would be impossible for Debbie to reach Durango before the official RAAM cutoff time.
This was a low point for all of us; we discussed our options.
Tirrito was determined to continue riding even if she was officially out of the race. She was committed to raising money for her charities. And she pushed on.
Leaving Salome at 5 p.m., Debbie planned to reach Prescott, Ariz., sometime during the night.
My crew partner and I drove ahead and got a room so that we could trade off with the other crew upon their arrival, and they could get some much needed sleep.
At 6 a.m., Tirrito had not made the climb through the Prescott National Forest, so we drove back to find them and trade shifts.
Tirrito was looking strong that morning going up the pass. Temperatures were in the 70s, and it was a beautiful blue sky morning.
We arrived at the Prescott checkpoint at 10 a.m. We fed her breakfast, and she grabbed a quick nap.
The goal upon leaving Prescott was to try to get all the way to Flagstaff. Temperatures were in the 80s. It was windy and dry as we headed toward Jerome and a 19-mile climb followed by an extremely steep and windy 20-mile descent into Cottonwood.
Tirrito said she had a saddle sore that was bothering her, and although she had eaten a good meal in Prescott, she was struggling to keep anything in her stomach.
We were very concerned about her health and suggested she consider getting some IV fluids before continuing.
As a nurse, Tirrito was aware of the seriousness of her condition as we drove her to Cottonwood.
She had hoped to continue riding after receiving intravenous fluids.
However, the doctor admitted her to the hospital for observation concerned that she might have heat stroke.
He also was more alarmed by the saddle sore, which developed into an abscess requiring antibiotics and later a drain, preventing her from riding at all.
At that point, we all regrouped, and I headed back to Durango.
I dropped a crew member at the Flagstaff airport.
The other crew members, Tirritos husband and niece, continued along the race route with Tirrito via car interacting with the other riders and crews along the way.
The shared information and gathered insight into how to attempt this again with a more successful outcome.
I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Debbie.
She remained upbeat and optimistic during the entire time and pushed herself far beyond what many of us could have endured.
She plans to try RAAM again in 2013 using the wealth of knowledge she gained during this first experience.
I think it was a learning experience for all of us; Tirrito said.
For sure, it was grueling for racer and crew, I have no regrets.
She will be racing the Adirondack 540 in September, a three-day RAAM qualifying race.
I will attempt to tie in these charities to as many of my athletic events as possible. she said.
Vermont Childrens Hospital, the Visiting Nurse Association and the Howard Center are my charities for life.
Reach Marjorie Brinton at runswim55 @gmail.com.