BOOTLEG @ THE Race Across America (RAAM).

Maybe not everybody knows that Bootleg has taken part for 3 years in a row (1996-7-8) to the RAAM, has the official bike of Aldo Calandro’s team.

RAAM 1998 Aldo “Rock” Calandro.

Los Angeles – July 23th, 1998.

The California Dream is on stage. Gray sky, 22 bikers look for some blue, need to run way, need strong emotions, need loneliness.

Free men from the lowlands, ready to live every scene. Tireless eyes that will never shut

Endless energy, blind faith, Far West looks. Inveterate and lost bikers, not looking for an excuse but aiming to find the road, the road that ends up in Savannah. Free to go, pedalling towards East, where the light rises, where sooner or later will sprout the finish line.

We left the Holiday Inn in L.A. where the route heading East begins, with the hope of succeeding, of not ending in the dust.

After only 100 miles we are already “cooked” in the white light of the dry Californian desert. Sun and dust. Overheated muscles, laboured breathing. This can represent a warm dream for sneakes, but becomes a nightmare for everyone else. The Snow River sand really looks like snow. My Bootleg is burning, the sun is implacable. The desert heat feels like a hair dryer. In the dried air there are 45°C. The asphalt is boiling. These are tough chilometters to ride in an aerodynamic position, pedalling all day and all night, between the silence of the sun and the starlit sky.

The elbows are leaning, the head bends over the handle, just like during a penance. My hands pray waiting for the next truck to pass by without hurting me.

July 24th.

On the cut open road to Yuma the Western wind does not blow anymore from Laguna Beach. Now a warm whizzzing comes from the Mexican plains.

The fugitives running away from those dusty burning lands across the border can imagine freedom and see paradise. But remember hombre: here begins Arizona and, as the General Sheridan used to say, :”If the devil owned the Hell and Arizona, then he would live in Hell and rent Arizona.”

Hydration to be satisfied, physical problems to handle with, new realities to test. Delicate mechanisms of sleep and waking, of hunger and satiety totally undermined by the dust along the American highways. Lost roads, plenty of saguaro cactus, crossed by wild animals way less dangerous compared to the Tennesse domestic rotweilers. When they slip their snout in your wake, your heart starts thumping away. While you look at the warm steam rising from the asphalt, a cold sweat runs down your spine.

Now you are afraid. Afraid you are not going to make it. Afraid you are going to loose if you reach the finish line 48 hours after the winner. You try to cover all those kms in 10 days, facing physiology, Chevrolet engines and coyotes howling.

The RAAM: a place of love and respect 5000 kms long that I, together with other 21 riders, have chosen.

It is an incredibile fortune.

Geronimo

5th day, dawn. A small gray tornado tries to catch me. At the top of the mountain rains and thunders. At last it comes the storm. Here on the dirt and radioactiv Almogordo plain, the dangerous West shines again through the rain. Where are you Geronimo? Why the great spirit does not talk anymore to the men’s heart? You have showed me the way toward East to give me the bears’ strength, toward South to give me the eagle power. You have told me that black represents the West, where the thunder creatures live and that from the North it comes the great white purifying wind.

No one could ever capture you, because no one can capture the wind.

To get through such a Coast to Coast someone uses Spirituality, someone else Alchhemy, others the Chemical Brothers.

Duruing the RAAM everything looks wonderful only at dawn, at noon time all appears fake, weak, trembling and there isn’t anymore respect for the burned plain, for the others, for yourself.

Texas.

When you put your wheels on Texas asphalt, then you realize that America is wide, a boundless territory. The only thing greater then Texas is the sky.

In Texas between buffalos’ breedings and oil-wells on the flooding plain, the sky appears so wide that you can see it from every position, even bent on your bicycle just like a real half-breed.

Here between Rio Grande and Arkansas every cowboy carries the sky on his shoulders.

This is the prairie: the wind blows freely and nothing relieves the sunlight.

In a place where the ground burns, a man that knows what he wants has so much the better.

In Texas the RAAM bikers turn their foot in a wheel, their skin in rubber, become one and the same with their bicycle, alone, even without the contact with the ground that their wheels just skim.

Time Station 29 – Texarcana.

At Time Station 29 in Texarcana someone tells me that I am  more then 48 hours behind the first. While I try to reach the border with Arkansas, Gerry Tatrai, Danny Chew, Wolfgang Fasching and Rob Kish, who had already won the race in the past, are in Georgia.

They are a step away from victory, I am close to defeat: the first time station in Arizona.

Do not try too hard to make others happy, let them pedal towards their happiness.

Take it easy! Stay still, looking the world going around. No one puts his hand to it,still it keeps turning forever.

This is what the RAAM makes you thinking about. Stay inside the magic circle…

The knees burn, the muscles rebel, the nerves give out, the fingers of your left hand become insensitive, the eyes shut down for five cosmic minutes, my heart becomes hard and smooth. Maybe death feels like this!

A shadow spread out over me, a calm voice that I knew told me: “Damn at when you decide to partecipate to the 4th RAAM. This race is cruel, those damned go fast, very fast…”.

Tha alchimist had appeared from nothing. He was talking quietly at my side:”You will make it to restart. You will not die today”. I found the water-bottle in my hand and it didn’t taste just like water: mineral salts, amino acids and electric shivers start running up and down my body. Then he told me:” Now it’s time for you to go, because the sword that brings death is the same that brings life”. Singsonging I started to pedal again, nimble like a greyhound. Under the shadow of the raised sword you might see the fear but if you manage to overcome it, if you go ahead you will reach the free men’s valley.

I turned around, looking for the alchimist,he had disappeared. But my crew was still there, luckily they had not abandoned me. Without them I never could have made it.

The night slowly comes down.

Now I look toward the wind direction, the sun is behind me, down on the horizon, the sky at East is becoming darker and darker, the night comes down slowly on the straight country stretches of Arkansas.

Memphis – Tennessee.

Graceland to remember, Memphis to get past, the Tennesse hills to climb, my guilts to be dispelled. Heart of the sky, heart of the earth be merciful even if I have not reach Savannah, give me the strength, the courage. Time Station 43.

That the wind could cross my heart, purifying my soul. You put all yourself in this day that is the longest one, the last one.

You put all yourself in this and then you throw everything to the winds, here at Time Station 43 in Lewinsburg, my last time station. In the end the winner is an Australian, his name is Gerry Tatrai; he has cut off the tip of his shoes to protect himself against the hot, he sleeps 6 hours and reaches the end in 8 days. The finishers are ten, among them two great Italians: Fabio Biasiolo the fifth in 9 days time,and Giovanni Ziliolo, the man that thanks to his poetry has beaten the terrible Seana Hogan.

Brave and romantic, they have waited so long to see their dream come true.3000 miles of unbounded beauty from the Pacific to the Atlantic. 1/8 of the earth circumference covered by bike in such a short time. California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Tennssee and Georgia, seven states  got past on the asphalt of a dream that will last an entire life. I too have got past the Far West, the hallucinations and Tennessee.

Here we have the challenge, the frontier, here between life and death there is the RAAM, much more then a race. Time in the end will blur totally everyone, fraction of seconds will swap with billions of years, darkness with light, the everybody’s dream with the each one’s nightmare. All the men are one and there is no other story to tell. Only the road will give the men new hopes, as the sleep will give them new dreams.

Aldo “Rock” Calandro.

Race Across America 1998