I still remember the first time I rode on two wheels. My brother, along with his delinquent friends, took it upon themselves, to remove my training wheels and send me down the rickety wooden planks that lead to the rough inclined pavement near our garage. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now I realize they were more interested in witnessing a crash than teaching me to ride a bike. I considered the experience a success and didn't disappoint them as the ride lasted all of 30 yards before my lack of balance got the better of me. The bicycle has gotten bigger, the speed's faster and the distance is much longer but my desire to ride like the wind is etched in my mind, as it was that first day.

Having grown up on bicycles, the bicycle soon became an extension of my body as it was the only logical choice for transportation. My brother, three years my elder, brought out the competitive nature which drove me to BMX racing on a small scale. My quick growth in height made me graduate from BMX to 10 speeds. I rode my bike everywhere and even when I got my first car at 16, I never lost my interest in cycling. I found myself riding more and more and craving long distance riding and the excitement of competitive racing. I entered the team division of the Whiskey Dick Triathlon sponsored by Albertson's with some guys I worked with at the Ellensburg store. We won our division and to my surprise I had the best cycling split time. This confidence boost lead me to the Valley of the Sun Triathlon in Yakima and again I had the best cycling split. As this was proving to be fun and lack of sincere training didn't seem to keep me from doing well, we entered two more Triathlons. In all the Triathlon’s I participated in, I always did extremely well and felt a true sense of accomplishment. As my focus turned to USCF racing, I began actually training and riding double centuries. I remember seeing an article on Race Across America and thinking "no way", "how incredible", but couldn't even imagine that kind of endurance racing. I did however, began to think I could possibly make a living doing something I absolutely loved until a car accident changed my life.

In January of 1988 I was coming around a corner by Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 and hit black ice. I found myself in position number 12 of a 35-car pileup that left me with an injured back. After various attempts through doctors, chiropractors and various means of medical help, I had to face reality that my dream of a career in bicycling and even riding in any degree had been diminished in a matter of moments. I put the bicycle away and tried to do what I could to heal my back.

I learned to live with constant pain and found myself in severe pain at different times in my life. The worst being 9 years after my accident, a month before my first child was born. I had been having sharp pains in my back that seemed different than the constant aching and one day found myself flat on my back hyperventilating on our living room floor with my body realing in pain. My pain threshold is quite high, but I couldn't help the tears that formed as the pain was so unbelievably intense that an ambulance had to take me to the hospital. I came home and laid on our Futon for about a week practicaly paralyzed with a massage therapist coming to my home to try to work with my spasamed muscles. For the next two years I lived with severe constant pain 24-7. I ever so slowly began to heal and it was suggested that in addition to some massage and chiropractor work, I should start working out with weights at the gym to strengthen my body overall, especially my back. I began a faithful workout daily and found myself getting stronger and stronger overall. My back seemed to hurt less and less as time went by. Eventually there were even a few days that my back didn't hurt at all.

It was during this time that I began to ride again. It felt good to get back in the saddle, natural. I began doing short rides of about 25 miles and then found myself doing more and more. I rode in the STP (Seattle to Portland) with my brother and chose to do the one day version. Up to this point, this was the longest ride I'd ever done. We had fun and did fairly well, but since it wasn't a race per se, did not put in a full out effort. I did STP several times and some other century rides, but then began to think about going for more distance. My back, although not completely pain free, seemed to be cooperating with the cycling so I figured why not.

I chose to enter Cannonball, which is a 275-mile race from Seattle to Spokane. I kept telling my wife, Teresa that "I may not finish, but I'd like to try it." I had planned on making it a family day and meeting Teresa in Cle Elum and other stops along the way to rest and restock my food and water supplies. However, by the time I reached Snoqualmie Pass I found myself in the lead as I caught up to Jan Heine. Jan Heine was not only the current leader, but was the record holder of Cannonball and always did the race unsupported. We decided to work together to try to pool our resources if you will, and I found myself calling Teresa via cell phone to say "meet me at the Cle Elum exit to give me all the food you can, but then I won't see you til the finish line because we're going for the win." As we drew near to Spokane it seemed possible to not only win but to set a new record as well. It was a victory for me and a taste of something I had missed more than I realized in the 10 years I had not competed.

I learned that S2S was shortly thereafter and had to do it. It was also from Seattle to Spokane, but on a different course and with much more elevation gain. Jan and I again rode together and came in first place once more. I had a drive in me and knew I wanted more. I heard of a RAAM qualifier in Oregon (Race Across Oregon) and knew I had to do it. With only 5 weeks to train and pull a crew together I knew the odds of success were against me but I entered any way. I rode as much as I could, but did not even get the miles I should have to compete in such a race. I studied up a bit on the race, but looking back could have been much more prepared in every way. In those 5 weeks I toggled much between 'I know I can do this' and 'what if I don't finish'. The fear in not finishing something is probably one of my best friends in competition as I just won't give up! I packed up my brother's Tahoe with my crew, which consisted of my brother, my long time friend Clint, and my wife Teresa, and we headed to Portland. All the way down, I kept thinking I have to finish and would love to qualify for RAAM. I hesitated thinking about winning RAO as I thought that would be quite arrogant for such a rookie. However, in my mind winning is always the drive and ultimate goal of participating. It pushes me, drives me and keeps me focused.

As I looked around at my competitors for RAO, I saw long time riders, past RAO winners, a few rookies like myself and some past RAAM riders. I felt out of league a bit, but was going to give it all I had. RAO is a 508 mile race and this year had an elevation gain of 41,000 feet (there is some debate on the actual elevation gain, but it was a lot!) At 5 am I got on my bike and began pedaling and only stopped a few times, more than I planned however, until I saw the finish line at 3 pm the next day Looking back, I was off my bike longer then I wanted to be. I went through rain, snow and lots of Ensure. At the beginning of the race, the riders all do a neutral start. My wife saw us go by at a leisurely pace and thought "why is Allen riding so slow and why is he near the back of the line." Well, that was the last time those thoughts entered her mind. As soon as the first hill was on the horizon, I decided my race had begun. I went up it powerfully and was a long ways ahead by the top and was sure some of the riders must have thought..."he'll be spent for sure by 100 miles into the race and he'll be watching us pass him by." However, I never saw another rider after that except RAAM veteran Andrew Otto as he was coming into a 12 mile out and back stretch to Spray and I was nearing the end of it.

I rode steady and strong throughout the night, but then hit Santiam Pass. It was snowing, cold and miserable conditions for a bike race. I ended up with a case of Hypothermia. My wife had just woken up from her 45 minutes of sleep and asked me how I was doing "I'm freezing" I told her. I got in the Tahoe and as my crew helped get the wet clothes off me and warm me up, I devoured a Cantaloupe. My first and almost only real food so far on the race. I asked how I was doing as up to that point I had been about 2 hours ahead of second place, Andrew Otto, but had not had an update for quite some time.

As I was shaking from the cold and unsure of lead time, it crossed my mind to turn the Tahoe around and head home. My wife and crew said "No way, you are winning this thing!" They warmed my toes and hands, put new clothes on me and almost pushed me out of the Tahoe and onto the bike. Within about 5 miles I was feeling a rhythm again and felt I could continue and maybe even win. We didn't hear until about 35 miles from the finish what my lead time was and when we heard that I was about 2 1/2 hours ahead, we knew the title was mine. I was shocked and felt a great sense of accomplishment. No, it wasn't the Tour de France, but for me the feelings were more than I had experienced, especially with all my back problems and having not had the training time I should have.

Winning RAO qualified me for RAAM. I think back to when I saw that article and dismissed it as ever being a possibility and now something I was going to pursue.

Once I crossed the RAAM finish line in 2002, I truly believed my curiosity was tamed and I’d done it. But within 24 hours as I heard the crew talking about next year, I found myself thinking…”if I made some changes and took all I learned from this race, who knows…” then the war wounds would penetrate my brain waves and I’d quickly retreat to my OLN statement “I’ll never do this race again.” Well, all things healed and against my own advice during the race, RAAM 2003 is right around the corner. Everyone knew I’d have to do it again and just SEE if I could do better. 2003 training has been much different as John Hughes, my coach from last year, knows my goals and is doing everything he can to equip me. I feel stronger and can see results. I have an extreme respect for RAAM, the competitors and the sport as a whole. I come to RAAM 2003 desiring to do my best, but very aware that anything can happen. I would love to come in first place and dream of it often. This kind of victory would be so sweet. It would say thank you to all those who believed in me, helped me and prayed for me. It would hopefully inspire others that anyone can overcome and press on towards a goal. But, most of all, it would bring glory to the One who created me. You may be thinking, “What about 2004?” Well, as my wife tells people who ask that question, “One year at a time.” Blessings to you all.

 

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