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Team Ride Red pedals 3,000 miles across country in Race Across America

Pam LeBlanc, Fit City

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Austin-based Team Ride Red conquered sleep deprivation, overcame a smoking support vehicle and picked up a pint-size recruit as they pedaled 3,000 miles during the brain-numbing, quad-crushing cyclefest known as Race Across America.

The four-woman team, made up of Susan Farago, Carol Pope, Vicki Ford and Sue Schrader, started rolling in Oceanside, Calif., and wrapped it up in Annapolis, Md.

They crossed 12 states, racing through deserts, slogging up mountain passes, flying down switchbacks and whizzing through miles of farmland before finishing in seven days, six hours and 51 minutes.

That beat their goal time of seven days and eight hours.

The women rode for the American Heart Association, promoting women's heart health along the way. One in three American women dies from cardiovascular disease, and 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease, according to the association.

The Team Ride Red cyclists, all in their 40s, divided into two teams of two. While one pair rested in a support van, the other two traded off cycling duties.

"Each of us had a moment at some point in time where it was really hard to get back on the bike, and that usually had to do with sleep deprivation during the first few days," Farago said.

Those early days were roughest, Farago said, because her body was fighting for six or eight hours of sleep a night and wasn't getting it.

"On the fourth day, something happened and my system snapped into gear. My body became OK with only getting two hours of sleep at a time, and I could get up and function and I felt great. I did not expect that at all."

It wasn't much easier on crew members, who had to take care of the riders' needs and manage complicated logistics. At one point, one of the team's two support vans almost caught fire and had to be left for repairs in Colorado. The crew rented and outfitted a Suburban and then had to catch back up with the rest of the team in Kansas.

The weather cooperated, with no real rain and a killer tail wind all the way across Kansas, where the team averaged 25 to 30 mph.

Farago won't soon forget tag-teaming up Cucharas Pass outside of Pagosa Springs, Colo., with her teammate Pope. "The scenery was amazing," Farago says.

Another highlight? A 25-minute descent just before Sedona, Ariz. "It was just this crazy long switchback descent through mining towns. That was really cool."

The most memorable part of the ride, though, was riding through darkness, unsure of the team's exact location.

"For me, it was starting a six-hour ride shift at 2 in the morning and having no idea where I was, because you couldn't see anything, then as the sun came up the landscape just unfolding in front of me," Farago said. "Waking up to Monument Valley and seeing huge rock formations in front of us, or the green lush hills of West Virginia."

Not so cool, however, was the guy the riders spotted on the side of the road in West Virginia.

"We were on a late shift at 2:30 or 3 a.m., going through the hills. We rode right past this guy with long hair wearing a hoodie, pulling a rolling suitcase behind him in the middle of nowhere. He was so creepy. ... In our minds, he was pulling a human head. After that our exchanges got really fast."

All four women rode the final 50 miles and crossed the finish line together.

One final memory is likely to stick with Farago a long time.

As the team passed through Illinois, they stopped by a veterinarian's clinic owned by the sister of one of the team's crew members. They stopped to say hello, and someone handed Farago a calico kitten, which climbed right up her arm and sat on her shoulder.

"I got back on my bike but on the next 20-minute pull, I told myself, ‘I'm coming back for that kitten.' "

And she did. The team had to drive back through Illinois on their way to retrieve their van, so they swung by the clinic again and Farago adopted the kitten.

She named it Ramsey.

The scoop on sidewalks

People ask me all the time if it's legal to ride a bike on sidewalks in Austin.

The short answer? Yes, in most places.

It's not legal, however, to bike on the sidewalks of the downtown business district or on the University of Texas campus.

That means no bikes on sidewalks on Guadalupe Street between Martin Luther King Boulevard and 26th Street; Sixth Street between Interstate 35 and Guadalupe Street; and Congress Avenue between Fourth and 11th streets.

UT regulations bar cyclists from riding on all sidewalks on campus. (Yep, it's true. But not always enforced.)

It's OK to park or stop your bike on any Austin sidewalk as long as you don't obstruct pedestrian traffic.

App for Austin cyclists

Need some help organizing your bicycling plans?

The Austin Cycling Association has unveiled its own iPhone application, so cyclists can check the group's activity schedule. And it's free!

Just think. With a few taps of your iPhone screen, you can doublecheck where an ACA group ride starts and consult Google Maps to find out the best way to get there.

You can also email or call ride leaders, check the group's education calendar and link to the group's website to register for classes offered to members and nonmembers.

ACA members can also access an archive of ride maps and download them directly to their iPhones.

To get the app, go to the Apple App Store and search for "Austin Cycling Association Rides and Events."

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994