As anyone who's flown to California from the East Coast knows, the daytime view of fly-over country west of Kansas reveals the meaning of the term "earth tones." The arid foothills, range upon range of them, seem upholstered in shades of brown velvet when seen from 30,000 feet. It's different on the ground, of course.
By Wednesday, June 11, John Tarlton, president of Tarlton Properties in Menlo Park, should be passing through those brown lands, bicycling rapidly along State Route 78.
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Accompanying Mr. Tarlton will be a crew of nine, two motor vehicles, and two other bicycles identical to the one he's riding and designed for 18 to 20 hours in the saddle, day after day. Mr. Tarlton, 45, is cycling in the 2014 Race Across America.
The race begins in Oceanside, midway between Long Beach and San Diego, and ends 3,000 miles and 170,000 vertical feet of climbing later in Annapolis, Maryland. Accounting for riders of varying ages and fitness, participants have up to 14 days to finish the race, though some are expected to take just nine. Compared with the Tour de France, this race is about 30 percent longer, and racers must finish in about half the time, the site says.
The Race Across America resembles a time trial in that riders race against the clock, but it's without the discomfort of a time-trial bicycle and the continuous full-out effort. There are other discomforts.
Rest, if you want to
Solo riders and team riders check in at each of 55 time stations along the way. The solo-rider race starts at noon, and riders leave individually. Unlike on the Tour, they stay at least 100 yards apart. Drafting the practice of reducing one's wind resistance by closely following another rider is not allowed. "It's all you," Mr. Tarlton said in an interview.
The first time-station is Lake Henshaw, 49 miles to the east, where men under 50 are expected between 6:40 and 8:15 p.m. Then it's on past the Anza Borrego Desert State Park to Brawley, 88 miles away, where they're expected between midnight and 4 a.m. Then an 89-mile trip to Blythe, California, arriving sometime between 6 a.m. and noon, and so on.
Notice the relentless ticking of the clock. This is another departure from the Tour de France. The Tour has a timed stage, but just one. In all the Tour's stages, when the riders reach the day's finish line, they're no longer racing and can go off to their hotels.
In this American race, the clock is running as riders arrive and as they're checking in. It's running as they go to the bathroom and stop to eat. It's running as they sleep. The sooner a rider gets to sleep, the better rested he or she will be and the sooner back on the bike.
Some riders can't get to sleep, Mr. Tarlton said. He's trained on shorter but similar races. A rider will lie down, but if he's not feeling sleepy in 20 minutes, he'll often get up and get back on the bike, he said. "I'm pretty good at falling asleep after I've been on the bike for 20 hours," he said.
The source of his motivation? "I'm doing this to raise money for the Stanford Cancer Institute," he said. Cancer killed his sister and his mother, but both lived considerably longer than their prognoses and both were treated at Stanford. Investigators there are "on the leading edge of primary research in cancer" and by supporting SCI, he hopes to spur more fundamental research and accelerate the race to stop cancer, Mr. Tarlton writes on his website teamtarlton.com.
Mr. Tarlton's crew -- in a motor coach and a van -- will be staying close, maintaining his bikes and keeping him on the assigned route via a receiver in his bike helmet. The motor coach is a traveling dormitory, he said.
Will he be stopping at stop signs? "Absolutely," he said. "We follow every traffic rule." The letter of the law in California says that cyclists are not stopped unless they have a foot on the ground. He's going to do that? "Yup. You bet."
Go to this link for more information, including links covering the race.