Thursday, June 25, 2009

The InKredible Kevin

Sometimes I feel like the janitor at the Justice League headquarters.

For you non-nerds out there, the Justice League is a group of superheroes who regularly save the universe. This is not to be confused with guys like Spiderman, who just saves New York, or the Fantastic Four, who spend their free time saving our planet. No, these guys save the Whole Freaking Universe.

What do you expect? You've got Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman. These are all folks that have saved the world at one time or another, so put them together and you can open a major can of Whoop A$$ on some bad guys.

I was very fortunate last year to crew for Team Gran Fondo Fixies on RAAM -- the Race Across America. The Fixies were the two-man team of Jeff Bauer and Kevin Kaiser, who rode fixed-gear bikes across the country in eight days, two hours, and 21 minutes. I got to meet the Supermen and Wonder Women of Ultra-Cycling -- folks like Jure Robic, Dani Wyss, Pete Penseyres, and Susan Notorangelo -- the kind of folks that do not just ride 3,000 miles on a bicycle, they race those miles.

Racing like this is a super-power ... the kind that you only get from being born on the planet Krypton, or because you're an Amazon queen, or a dying alien gave you his power ring.

It's easy to miss Batman in this kind of crowd.

Yes, Batman is a member of the Justice League. We forget this because he's a loner in the movies ... The Dark Knight and all that. But Batman is a key member of the Justice League because, along with being a good fighter, he is smart and he is determined.

At RAAM this year, Kevin Kaiser was Batman.

No Big Red S

First off, Kevin was not out there in a kit covered with sponsor names ... probably because he didn't have very many. Superman has that big red "S," which is supposedly his family crest from Krypton (but then shouldn't it be a "K" for Krypton or Kal-El, or "J" for Jor-El?) and Green Lantern has that lantern emblem (hmm, yeah ... maybe). Like those guys, Robic and Wyss had jerseys and vans covered with the names of companies who were paying their freight and/or giving them free schwag.

Kevin just had Chain Reaction Bicycles, who set him up with three bicycles, some spare parts, and a few jerseys. He also had support from crewmember Gator Cochran, who built a rig in case he suffered from Shermer's Neck. But otherwise it was either Kevin or friends paying for everything -- rental vehicles, gasoline, plane trips, hotel rooms, food. The budget was for around $15,000, and most of that came out of Kevin's pocket.

But here's one way that Kevin is not like Batman -- he is not really a billionaire playboy, but is instead a pharmacist at a Publix grocery store in Augusta, GA. Whereas $15K is chump change for Bruce Wayne, it's real money to Kevin.

No Magic

Kevin also cannot fly, doesn't have heat vision, can't make things from light, and has no magic lasso. Like Batman, Kevin gets his power by training. A lot.

Now, all of the RAAM riders train. You can not do this kind of race without lots and lots of miles. For some of them, training is their job ... or at least their duty station in the Slovenian army.

But Kevin has a day job, so training is what he does evenings and weekends. And he's been working at it for 10 years.

How far has Kevin come in 10 years? In 1998, Kevin did BRAG -- the Bicycle Ride Across Georgia. That sounds hard, but I've done it twice and I can tell you: It's a piece of cake compared to RAAM. On BRAG, you ride about 60 miles per day, with lots of stops on the way for cold drinks and cookies and sandwiches, and trucks full of folks offering to take you to the next spot if you get tired.

You get to sleep at night -- for the whole night, if you want -- on BRAG. Nobody does that on RAAM.

Kevin did not finish BRAG in 1998.

So, in short, it took Kevin just over 10 years to build himself up from a BRAG DNF (Did Not Finish) to Fifth Place in the The World's Toughest Bicycle Race.

Enter the Villian

Like most super-heroes, Kevin has an arch enemy: Heat. In all great comic books, the super-hero has to come close to defeat at the hands of his nemesis.

On Day Two of RAAM this year, Heat almost got him. He had averaged just under 20 mph over 90 rolling miles between Lake Henshaw and Brawley, CA, but when he got to the dessert nauseau struck. Kevin had trouble keeping food or liquids down, and threw up on the side of the road. He was getting dehydrated and over-heating, but there was nothing he could do about it if he kept riding.

So he kept riding.

Between the fourth and eighth time stations -- the 200 miles from Salome to Flagstaff, AZ -- his average was about 8.4 mph. It took him 25 hours to ride those 200 miles. Batman, swimming thru a pool of acid with chunks of sharp glass floating in it, could not have hurt more.

I'll be honest: I didn't think Kevin was going to make it at this point. I was hoping that he could just finish the first 1,000 miles of the course -- roughly, the Race Across the West portion of RAAM. But then, remember: I'm the janitor at Justic League. I'm used to seeing Superman do incredible stuff, so I sell Batman short.

Kevin recovered, of course. He dug deep and found the will to go on (fortunately, this did not require his memory of seeing his parents killed before his very eyes), and not only made the time cut-offs but starting passing other riders. He missed being the first American finisher and winning Rookie of the Year by just over four hours.

More Than An Everyman ... A Randonneur

If you look thru the list of RAAM solo male finishers this year, you will find that only one other rider (Daniel Rudge) is a member of Randonneurs USA. Kevin is not only a RUSA member, but helps manage the Georgia brevets that are held in Augusta. He does the same 200K, 300K, 400K, 600K, and 1200Ks that we do ... although usually faster.

He's one of us. Or, maybe, the "one of us" that we could be if we worked hard enough.

The difference between an ultracyclist and a randonneur is this phrase: Self-supported. In ultracycling, you have people passing you water bottles from the pace car and massaging your legs when you stop. In randonneuring, you nap in ditches and know that there's usually a water spigot on the side of rural Baptist churches.

So maybe it's the "loner" in Batman that a team like the Justice League needs -- somebody who can do it all on their own and get past the bad guys when everyone else has been trapped or beaten. Someone who may not have super powers, but who is willing to work just a little harder, be just a little bit smarter, and will not give up.

Welcome to the Justice League, Kevin.


  1. Robert,

    Thanks for the kind words. Justice League janitor actually sounds like a job I'd be good at. No stress. I guess if I had to be a Super Hero, Batman would fit the bill. The way he is portrayed in recent movies shows that he actually doesn't have any super human powers - he's just trained hard to be good at what he does. Unfortunately, though, I don't have any of the neat James Bond type gadgets that he always comes up with.

    Anhow, thanks again for the big words. I think I'll be happy to stick with you in the industrial maintenance division of the Justice League.


  2. Sorry, my friend, but as Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker: With great power comes great responsibility.

    You are welcome to push the broom with the rest of us, from time to time, but when the Universe is in Jeopardy (as opposed to when the Universe is on Wheel of Fortune), you must answer the call.