Memory is a funny thing. I have found that as I look back on my life at age 55, I see it in episodes. The memories sometimes seem like movies, or books I once read. They seems to stretch back so far into the past. Growing up in the many different places we lived when I was a kid, then all the crazy things I did after leaving home. Went to Alaska at 19 and nearly died, then hitchhiked across the country to return home in 1969. Lived in many east coast cities working every job you could imagine, finally staying in Greenwich Village for 5 years. Rode the bicycle across the US in '77, and settled at the beach with two other guys for a couple of years in the most intense party house you could imagine. Then my first marriage that lasted 5 years, owning my own bike shop for 7 years. Finally my real marriage for the last 19 years, buying a house, raising two kids (now teens). Whew. And I'm deliberately leaving some really wild stuff unmentioned for fear that my kids might read this. As the Grateful Dead once said, "What a long strange trip it's been."
But every now and then a small memory will pop into my head, seemingly for no reason at all. I was watching the Tour last week and suddenly recalled an incident that happened way back in 1977 shortly after I arrived in California.
When I got here from my cross country bike trip, I was fortunate enough to have a very good friend who had moved here at the beginning of the summer. He was expecting me, and we shared a small apartment in Playa del Rey for a few months until we found the house at the beach.
I immediately started looking for a job in local bike shops but came up empty. Then I saw an ad for Cycles Peugeot, the west coast distributor for Peugeot bikes, an offshoot of the French company. I got a job there working in the warehouse, happy to be working in the bicycle industry. The sales manager took an immediate dislike to me, he hated what he called "bike freaks". No worries, I was young and in incredible shape, biking to work every day, 15 miles each way. The head guy, the general manager, was a Frenchman, very aloof, supposedly some kind of aristocrat, a duke or something. Whatever. I did my job in the warehouse and was happy.
One day, I was called into the Frenchie's office with the sales manager. I figured they were pissed about something, bu I was wrong. The wanted my advice! It seems a fellow had shown up looking for Peugeot's sponsorship for an attempt at the record for a cross country bike ride. The record at the time for riding a bike across the US was just under 15 days. The two managers knew that I had just ridden a bike across the country, and wanted my opinion on whether it could be done.
I hedged for a while, asking them some questions. I asked exactly what or how much he wanted for sponsorship. They wouldn't say. Then I asked a bunch of questions about the guy, how old, what kind of shape, what he was like, etc. They answered what they could, bu I found that they knew surprisingly little about this guy. This was, of course, in the days before everyone had a computer and the internet and a way to check the background of just about anyone. Finally, after being pressed, I stated that I was sure that the record could be broken if the right person attempted it. Then they sprung it on me, would I go riding with the guy and evaluate him.
His name turned out to be John Marino and we met at or near my house in Manhattan Beach and did a ride that took us up through Malibu and then up into the canyons and the Santa Monica mountains. Flat in the beginning then going to some strenuous climbs and finally flat at the end, we covered approximately 95 miles that day. The guy was awesome. In the mountains, he just walked away from me, waiting at the top. I had just come from riding through the most challenging mountain ranges in the country, and was capable of some decent climbing myself. John also just seemed to be the kind of intense person who could pull off an attempt like this. So on Monday morning, I told the bosses, "If anyone can do it, this guy can".
So that was it. Peugeot gave him the sponsorship, although less than he was asking for, and he took off from Santa Monica. Broke the record, completing the trip in under 14 days. This was the beginning of RAAM or The Race Across America. The following years saw the record dropping by days. John continued riding for a couple of years, then Lon Haldeman started breaking the record. ABC carried coverage for a couple of years, but then it all seemed to fizzle out. At least I stopped hearing anything about it.
I should probably have Googled this before writing about it. I'm pretty sure that the record dropped to less than a week, which is hard to believe when you think about it. I think it eventually became as much about sleep deprivation as cycling ability.
But that was the small role I played in the beginning of the RAAM.