Day 8, West Virginia, it is a down right cold pre-dawn morning, by now the crew have settled into a rhythm, and by rhythm I mean just short of total chaos. Stu and I have been on night shift since the beginning of the race and tonight I decided to switch Brandon off days and add him to the night shift as well. The main reason for the switch is, both Stu and I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon trying to recall the events of the previous night, we both remember from 9PM to midnight and from 3AM to sunrise but the hours from midnight to 3AM are a total fucking mystery. We know we did ok because the food log had been filled out and Hammer was still racing, but we both completely blacked out those hours, so I figured we could use an extra eye. The van is parked at a gas station in Grafton, the first place 8 person team passes us while Hammer is asleep. It’s 4AM when his REM cycle ends and I wake him in the customary fashion. I tee up Metallica on the stereo and turn the volume up to 11 just as I shout at the top of my lungs “Heeeey Haaammmeeeer!” Hammer thrusts forward grabbing for the handle bars he believes are still in front of him. “Your name is Jason, you are racing across America. My name is David, I am your crew chief, the race is that way so lets go.” His face is white and pasty but semi-alert and oriented. He knows that we are not in Arizona, and that he is supposed to be riding his bicycle “Orcus”, somewhere. I couldn’t ask for anything more at this point. Brandon and Stu drag his sorry ass out of the van and shove a warm cup of coffee in his face. “You ready to take West Virginia out for a ride?” I say with a grin “fuck yeah, lets go!” is what I like to hear but after 8 days of riding a bike with only about 7 hours of sleep his “fuck yeah” sounds more to me like “Jiles, something isn’t right.” Buckling legs and disorientation is quite normal so I tell him to get a grip and get on his bike. Part of being a good crew member is having a deep seeded resentment of your estranged father that allows you to be sadistic at times. He protests as I walk Orcus towards him saying “Seriously Jiles, somethings not right.” I’m not in the mood for this shit, I think to myself, I am also sleep deprived and hangry, you know that “so hungry it’s making me angry enough to end it all right now by driving into a tree” feeling. I grab him by the arms to square him up to me, give him a shake and just before laying down the law I catch a glimpse of some crazy shit going on in there. On the outside he looks as if he had been hit by a truck but that was just the race talking, he had looked like that since Colorado, it was something deeper. Under the surface there was some really weird ass shit going on. His eye’s said it all, a mix of puppy dog hit by a newspaper, tweeker high on whatever tweekers get high on, and someone that’s just plain old bat-shit crazy. To tell you the truth I am not sure whether he is going to kill me or cry but to be safe we put him back to bed for another REM cycle in hopes to turn the tide on whatever the hell is going on. After his second REM cycle we repeat the wake up process and “Fuck yeah!” is back on the table. As we head toward some of the hardest climbing in the race the Hammer is back in full swing.
There are three notable climbs on the section from Grafton to Keyser the first “seemed pretty flat” according to Hammer, and the second “was a lot of fun”. Now, I know this guy pretty well and he always surprises me with his ability to overcome but this was extraordinary. He was setting a pace that very few racers have or will on this section of the race. I am happy that he is doing so well and even more happy that I am about to go off shift. The night was rough one even before the “crazy eye’s” incident at the gas station. He had a couple bad bouts of the sleep monsters that are very trying for us as crew members. But now, the sun is up and we are on the way up the final big climb of the section. His pace had settled back to normal then fell slightly below normal but I didn’t blame him one bit. He had just Hammered out an amazing 30 miles of really steep mountains, in the process passing a very good european cyclist as if he was standing still, puking in a ditch. Admittedly, said european cyclist was actually standing still puking in a ditch. Nevertheless, Hammer was out of the saddle and dancing on the pedals to the sound of a techno mash-up of Ludacris‘ “Move bitch, get out the way!” blaring over the loud speakers at the time. He deserved an easy spin up this last climb. The three of us, completely sick of sitting, take turns jumping out of the van and jogging with the camera, taking photos of Hammer and the scenery. Exercise felt like a slap in the face from Hulk Hogan, painful but happy that you are experiencing it. I spend about 10 minutes leap frogging Hammer on foot, sprinting ahead, then letting him ride by while I try not to pass out as I snap a few photos. We exchange pleasantries, I say things like “Yeah, buddy we’ll be there soon, eventually.” or “You look like shit, but damn you’re riding slow.” Generally speaking, with Hammer, a well timed sarcastic comment solicits a smirk or a follow up comment regarding my mother and what she could do in the sack, but this morning all I get in return are monosyllables and grunts, sometimes nothing at all. I shrug it off thinking he is just tired of listening to me yap, after all I had been shouting in his ear for 12 hours. Somewhere about 2/3 of the way up I am back behind the wheel of the van, I pull up along side to change out his bottle when Hammer says “Jiles, this is taking to long. Why aren’t we at the top?” “You have 1.1 miles left, you’re doing fine, pace is a little slow but don’t worry about it, you’re still way ahead from the first two climbs.” I hand him a bottle and drop back. A few minutes later he waves me along side. As I approached he says “Is this the first climb or the second?” “The third” I reply “No thats not right we’ve already been here before.” Surprised that he is so concerned I reassure him that “we are on track and making good time, that I am 100% sure we are in the right place and that in 15 minutes we will be at the top, in the sun and will stop for crew change and some food.” He seems convinced and goes about his business. Hindsight, will prove later that leaving him to his own crazy mind is the worst thing I can do but at the moment I do not have the gift of foresight so I let him be.
As we crest the climb the cool shade of the western slope gives way to sun swept fields and the warmth of a new day, a day that I hope to sleep through the majority of. As the grade flattens we see the day crew off in the distance. They are parked on the side of a field with food and new clothes out and ready. June and Pipewrench are always a sight for sore eyes, bright and fresh, excited and cheerful. Like every morning, as we approach the crew change our moral lifted. Normally Hammer would ride past and wave, continuing on his own for a few minutes till we changed crew bags and coolers. Today he is pretty gassed and slightly more delusional than normal so I tell him to stop and hang out with us for a minute. We are in the waning hours of the race and the sense of team had been growing stronger over the past few days. This morning everyone is just plain old having a great time being miserable together. As Pipewrench, Brandon and Stu ready the gear June and I chat with Hammer about the evening before and how he is feeling, we tell a few stories about the night and then Hammer says something funny. I only catch the tail end of it “...I was dreaming, I got hit by a truck and was in a coma in the hospital.” It wasn’t a red flag at the time because on the way down one of the blistering descents he did, in fact almost get taken out by a truck. Later I would learn that what he actually said was “I am dreaming I got hit by a truck and I am actually in a coma in a hospital.” SUttle difference but what he means is “I am not completely with it and am heading for a catastrophic meltdown.”
I look over at Hammer, his arms are crossed and I can see from behind his dark glasses that his eyes are watering. As a visible tear slowly rolls down his cheek I think to myself “Oh shit, we broke him.” It’s important to clarify that Hammer is the toughest person I know. We’ve raced all over the world together, he laughed while we sat next to each other wondering if the “doctor” used the same needle for both our IVs after getting salmonella near Jordan, we nearly died on a number of occasion in the Patagonian bush, and this one time when all his toenails split in half and had separated from their nail beds he stubbed his toe on a root...That time he said “Ouch” out loud but besides that never a peep of fright or pain. So needless to say that tear rolling down his cheek might as well have been massive internal bleeding. I figure he is done, not done done, but done. To protect his dignity, I pretend not to notice the tear and hurry him onto Orcus as the crew heads to the van. I stop to talk to June and tell her to use kid gloves for a while and keep a close eye on him. But, before I can finish he signals me over for a chat. What came next was touching “Jiles” he says with full blown tears streaming down his face “I’m fucked man.” “No Jay, your doing fine, we are almost done with this thing, you are riding fast and it’s almost over.” “No you don’t understand” he says “I’m really fucked in the head. Like completely fucked up. I mean I’ll finish the race, but when we get to wherever the hell we are going you need to take me somewhere.” “Ok, ok” I say trying to calm him down “it’s gonna be ok, where do you want me to take you?” I figure he is about to confess his true love for me and wants to go on a date but my mind is still a little foggy. “I don’t know, a hospital or something cuz i’m totally fucked in the head.” Now, one doesn’t touch Hammer on the torso or face unless you have a really good reason like you are doing CPR on him. An attempt to hug him is generally life threatening but at the moment I knew he was in a bad way so I grab him by the waist and say “Hey, it's going to be ok. I’m here and i’m not going to let anything happen to you. Do you want a hug?” In my half hearted attempt at reverse psychology I expect him to toss me aside and jump on Orcus but instead he nods and smiles...I nearly pass out but manage to regain my composure to give the hug I had waited my whole life to give. Afterward, I look at him right in the eyes and utter the last words I ever wanted to hear myself say “Do you want me to stay in the van for the day shift?”
Twenty minutes later we are driving down the road, Pipewrench at the wheel, June in the backseat while I navigate. The three of us are practically giddy to all be in a car together, sharing stories from days previous, laughing and talking about how far Hammer had pushed himself. Meanwhile, fifty yards off the front bumper Hammer was slowly going crazy, his mind was crumbling like a SaraLee coffee cake, his anger started growing because, according to him, we had been “switched with an impostor crew” he “knew we were no longer racing, that we were behind him laughing, and pushing him to ride in circles and go nowhere.” When he finally had enough he stops Orcus and stands in the middle of the street on a blind corner, I jump out thinking it is a clothing change or a food request but as I approach his jaw is clenched and arms are crossed. I could see behind his glasses that the crazy eyes were back, this time they were twitching a little and held behind them were the fire of a thousand suns. “What’s up?” I casually say. “Nothing, what’s up with you?” he says in a gruff throaty voice that resembles an overzealous actor playing Batman. “Uh, well you stopped so I figured something was up.” He pauses for a moment and stares me down “Nope” is all he says.
Puzzled I remember a story he once told me about the first time he was really sleep deprived in an adventure race. Oddly enough he was racing in West Virginia for the first time. After his team had mismanaged their sleep over the three day race he had a small personality split and his alter-ego showed up. Apparently this alter-ego, lets just call him Harvey, was a real mean SOB. He thought his teammates were impostors and began hiding his food from them so they wouldn’t steal it, he then was convinced he knew where they were and had been on that trail before so he didn’t need the map, later he believed he was in a dream and the only way to wake up was to throw himself off a cliff. Luckily, he’s not the best runner because one of his teammates was able to catch and tackle him before he was able to hurl himself off an actual cliff that was about 100 feet off the trail.
“So, if nothing is up and you don’t need anything why did you stop?” I ask. His only response is to shrug his shoulders. “Do you want to get back on your bike?” Another shrug. “Do you want to keep racing?” “Well, we’re not really racing, are we?” And the penny drops, he’s trying to catch me in a lie. It’s confirmed Hammer is gone and I am now negotiating with Harvey a twisted psychopath. You see, right now, this guy thinks we are purposefully steering him off course because we are spies from another team dressed up like his crew and he will do anything to foil our plan. I’ve never seen Hammer like this but figure if anyone on the planet can get through to him it’s me or Ro and seeing how Ro’s not here I take up the task of proving the depth of our relationship. “Jason, you remember that time in Patagonia when Wilson stepped on your foot in the river and snapped your big toenail off?” No response, just those crazy eye’s staring back at me. “What about the time with Big Titty in West Virginia when we saw the little deer, when you crashed on thin ice and Wilson’s bike fell apart?” Again, nothing. “What about Phillip, how would I know about Phillip?” Later I would learn that all I was doing was proving to Harvey that we were very well researched spies. Just then June comes bounding out of the van after some urging by Pipewrench to go give Hammer a hug. You see, for all they know we’ve been standing in the middle of the street chatting about Poptarts for the past five minutes while trucks and cars swerve around us. As June approaches, I give her the don’t say anything stupid look but she misses the signal completely. “Yo Hammer, this guy telling you lies about how close we are to the finish, how bout a hug?” Thinking he is about to be stabbed he squares up and gives June a full blast of the crazy eye. She says nothing and retreats back to the van just after looking at me with a face that adequately conveys “Holy Shit.” “What in the hell is going on?” and “I just pee’d myself.” all at the same time.
I decide to reach out to our old teammate and one of Hammer’s best friends. “Do you want me to call Ro?” He shook his head and says “You would have thought of that.” I needed to think like an impostor. He wasn’t going to trust anyone I could have researched, I needed someone impartial, someone that we only knew casually. “How about Deirdre? Do you remember Deirdre from registration?” Deirdre had made an impression on Jason the previous year after he was hit by a car in Arizona, one that even I was not aware of, so it was just dumb luck that I mentioned her name. Harvey’s response is another shoulder shrug, but this time instead of conveying “You would have thought of that.” it is a shrug that says “Sure you can call her if YOU want but I’m not gonna say yes to that.” I pull up Deirdre’s number on my phone and request a verbal confirmation “Hammer, I’ll do it right now if you want, but you tell me.” He pauses for a moment, staring at me, waiting for me to come up with an excuse as to why I can’t call her. He knows full well that if I am in fact an impostor I do not have her number and at the very least she will not go along with my story. He ponders another moment before saying in the melodramatic Batman voice “Make the call!”
As the phone rings I hope to hell she is somewhere on the east coast or at least in central time, after all it’s still 8:30 in the morning. He is staring at me the whole time, with every ring I can sense his excitement growing. If she doesn’t pick up I’m done for, Harvey will be convinced I am a fake and we will have to wrestle him to the ground and tie him up. “Uh, hello?” an incredibly groggy voice emits from the speaker. It doesn’t sound like her to me and I wonder if I’ve dialed the right number. “Deirdre?” I ask “Yes” she replies “It’s Dave Stiles.” I don’t want to feed her too much information and ruin the only chance I have to convince Harvey. “UH?...” Deirdre replies. Turns out she was at home in California so (5:30 AM). “You know, Jason Lane’s crew chief?” Harvey is now smiling in content, he thinks he has won. “Yeah, Dave I know who you are I am just trying to get my bearings.” Harvey’s smile turns into a frown, I figure a little info is in order “Listen D, I know it’s early but we are having a little trouble with Hammer and he needs to hear a familiar voice. Could you talk to him for a minute?” Still groggy she agrees “Uh, yeah I guess so.” It is poor form to call someone you barely know at 5AM and even more so to call a race official during the race but this is an extenuating circumstance. I hand the phone to Hammer and even though he had just heard her on the speaker phone he takes the phone and holds it up to his ear. He pauses for a moment and says nothing, then hands the phone back to me, a little smirk on his face like he’s got me “There’s no one there.” he says. I shove the phone back into his hand and say out loud “Deirdre he’s right here, you can talk to him now.” The next conversation is half interrogation half girl talk.
Deirdre: Hey Hammer Baby, what’s going on?
Hammer/Harvey: Nothing, you?
Deirdre: Just getting up for some breakfast. How’s the race going?
Hammer/Harvey: What race?
Deirdre: RAAM of course, I’m sorry but I can’t make it to the finish.
Hammer/Harvey: Oh yeah, where is the finish?
Deirdre: In Annapolis, I sent you some beer. It will be waiting for you.
Hammer/Harvey: Oh yeah, what kind of beer?
Deirdre: Well, it’s a Delirium Tremens, I thought it might be fitting given the situation.
Hammer/Harvey: Right. Now where exactly did you say that was going to be again?
Deirdre: At the finish in Annapolis.
I can see things are starting to go down hill so I intercede. “Thanks Deirdre, sorry again to bother you so early.” Later I would call her back and explain. “OK Hammer, what do you want to do?” He looks me right in the eyes and says “I’m gonna go check on that beer.” before turning and walking away toward Annapolis which I might add is still 270 miles away. Nothing seems to be working so I figure he might be able to keep riding if we get him started but I am afraid he will drive off a cliff or into a truck to try and snap out of it. I figure a test of my own is in order. “Do you want to just keep riding?” I say in a sharp voice. “You say the word and we’ll get going, but hear this; if you pull a West Virginia and try to wake up by riding off a cliff or into a truck all you will do is kill yourself and make us really upset.” He shot me a little smirk that says it all “Yeah, that’s exactly what I’ll do. That will teach you fuckers.” I make an executive decision to shut it down and call over Pipewrench in case I need back up to take down Harvey who surely has super human strength. “You’re done Jay, we are putting you to bed for a while.” I grab his bike before he can get to it and hand it off to PW. We back up the van and pull off the road. We can’t even set up the bed in the van before he is out cold in the seat, his neck folded over like it was snapped. We pick him up and get him squared away, close the doors and walk a hundred feet down the road to recount what in the hell was going on. I fill in PW and June about the conversation and in typical sleep deprived fashion we laugh our asses off for about 10 minutes.
As I stand there telling the story that has come to a pleasant end, Harvey and his crazy eyes are still watching our every move. After about 15 minutes of gabbing I press my face up against the tinted window to check on Hammer. Expecting to see a quietly sleeping bundle of racer, but I am shocked to see those fucking crazy fireball eyes staring back at me. We open the door and start chatting a bit, he had woken up and thought we were plotting against him so he decided to stay awake to find out just what we were up to. A half hour goes by of June, PW and I trying to figure out how to get him to go to sleep. We talk to him, hold his hand, play soft music, and PW even tries something he saw on Dr. Phil once. I told PW rubbing his head and telling him how beautiful he is will get him nowhere but he tries anyway. After 45 minutes of him dozing off and waking up abruptly to stare us down I realize he isn’t staring us down he is actually checking to make sure we hadn’t stolen his bike. In a stroke of pure genius I ask PW to “grab his bike and bring it here.” We lean Orcus against the open door and place his hand on the brake hood. A look of relief washes over his face as he closes his eyes. Within about four seconds every muscle in his body contracts and he starts to wince, his knuckles turn white from gripping the handlebar so hard then suddenly, he relaxes and is down for the count.
Three hours later, after Stu and Brandon brought us food and we had updated everyone under the sun including the race officials, Deirdre and Ro, he finally woke up. He looks at us a little funny as we all stand there in total suspense. I can’t really tell if the crazy eyes were gone completely. He grabs his water bottle and starts sipping from it. No one says a word to him for about 90 seconds until June breaks the silence, “You want some Spiz?” Pipewrench, unable to handle the seriousness of the situation blurted out “Nah, he doesn’t want Spiz he wants a redhead with big knockers!” Psssst! Hammer spits out all the water from his mouth and starts laughing. “AND WE’RE BACK!” I yell holding both hands over my head. Hammer finishes chuckling looks up at me with a bit of puppy dog in his eyes. “I went crazy again didn’t I?” he says “Yup, you ready to get moving?” Within five minutes Orcus was going 25MPH again and Hammer didn’t stop until the finish.
We laughed for hours about our run in with Harvey. We chose Harvey Dent mainly because of the ridiculous Batman voice he uses and for the two faced nature of alter egos. Hammer remembered very little of the morning leading up to the event so we spent the remaining hours of the race filling him in and repeating Harvey's catch phrase "Make the call" every chance we could. Twenty hours after ditching Harvey, Hammer coasted over the finish line in Annapolis to find a Delirium Tremens waiting for him.