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Old friends share cycling challenge

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June 16, 2009

Steve Bergholtz will follow John Palmer anywhere, even 1,000 miles from Oceanside, Calif. to Taos, N.M. on a bicycle.


The 39-year-old Palmer of Fontana and the 41-year-old Bergholtz of Lake Geneva will begin the Race Across the West on Wednesday. The race, which covers roughly 1,000 miles, has a time limit of 68 hours, or just less than three days.


The Race Across the West (RAW) is the little sister to the Race Across America (RAAM) an ultra cycling coast-to-coast race that starts in Oceanside and ends 3,000 miles later in Annapolis, Md. Palmer and Matt Mason completed the RAAM in 2005 in nine days and 14 hours.


“I didn’t ride my bike for more than six months,” Palmer said, recalling his physical condition after the coast-to-coast race. “I was done, I was shot.’’


Palmer and Bergholtz originally entered the coast-to-coast RAAM, but a string of injuries made the twosome switch to the RAW which is “only” one-third of the way across the country.


The pair will trade off riding duties through California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado and finally New Mexico.


“That’s more than 50,000 feet of climbing in three days,” Palmer said.


Bergholtz listed lounge chair racing as his top sports activity before Palmer, a certified physical trainer, helped his high school friend get into competitive shape.


Since getting off his lounge chair three years ago, Bergholtz has lost nearly 100 pounds, entered a half-dozen triathlons and has logged more miles on his bike than he can count.


Bergholtz said he never expected to test his endurance in biking 1,000 miles when he began training.


“At the beginning, no,” Bergholtz said. “But as we got farther in training, and I got in better shape, I started to do triathlons and I look at this as the next challenge.’’


Palmer put the challenge to Bergholtz in other terms.


“How neat would it be to lose 100 pounds and go from couch potato to actually biking across the country?” Palmer said. “Steve was up for it.’’


Palmer said rest will be a luxury during the race.


“I think we will get about an hour and a half of sleep a night,” Palmer said.


Sleep depravation is only one of their hurdles. Palmer said the team must endure changes in altitude, weather and riding on bad roads.


“That black asphalt can get brutally hot,” said Palmer, adding road temperatures could reach more than 140 degrees.


The pair’s race crew will include be Palmer’s father, John Sr., and three others. John Sr., who has recovered from a stroke, will finally see first-hand why his son does these crazy endurance challenges.


“My dad will understand why we do this sort of thing,’’ Palmer said.


Palmer also said that, besides the physical toll, the race will test their relationship.


“Your character traits and flaws become magnified,” Palmer said.


Neither rider will be in peak condition for the grind because of injuries and poor weather.


“We’ve only done 25 to 30 percent of the training we need,” Palmer said. “We have not done enough training to equal one day on the road.’’


Because the training has not gone well, Palmer said their goal is not a lofty one.


“Basically, our goal went to just try and finish,” Palmer said. “That is a lesson for us, and for me, because I’ve been so competitive. We just have to take it for what it’s worth.’’


That doesn’t mean Palmer and Bergholtz will fade at the first sign of trouble.


“I think we will finish unless one of us gets hit (by a vehicle),” Bergholtz said. “John is driven.”


Completing the RAAM gives Palmer a perspective on what the team will experience this week.


“The biggest thing is to never quit, just keep going,” Palmer said. “You have one foot turn the pedal just one more time, and your goal comes close and closer.’’



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