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A Great Race seizes you, makes you wonder how a human being could start and finish such a thing. I don't include the Indy 500, any Formula 1 race, any NASCAR race, the America's Cup race, Boston Marathon, and the like on my list of Great Races. For me, a Great Race is one person and a great distance. Sailing has the Vendee Globe, a one-person, nonstop round-the-world race held every four years. Sled-dog racing has the Yukon Quest, one musher, one team, 1000 miles. Mushers must carry their own food and supplies.

San Diego is home to...make that, is in the same neighborhood as two Great Races: the Baja 1000 and the strangely overlooked Race Across America (RAAM), an annual bicycle race that begins on the Oceanside Municipal Pier and ends 3043 miles and nine days later in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Outside Magazine calls it the "World's Toughest Race."

RAAM, for those personhoods who compete in the Traditional Solo Division, is a pure Great Race. You start, the clock starts. You finish, the clock stops. The person with the least amount of time on his clock wins. Traditional solo cyclists typically ride 22 hours a day and gobble 10,000 calories while they pedal.

This year's solo race goes off at 9:00 a.m., Sunday, June 10 in Oceanside. Team divisions start at 2:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 12. Same place.

There are several to many divisions in RAAM, as there are in other Great Races, and I'll get to some of them later, but it's the solo riders who beckon you into the big top. Put your mind around one person, one bicycle, 3043 miles. Elevations run from 170 feet below sea level at Mecca, California (a little north of Salton Sea) to 10,550 feet at Colorado's Wolf Creek Pass. Add all the ups together and riders climb 108,600 feet by the time they hit the Atlantic Ocean. And they'll do it alone; race rules prohibit traditional solo riders from riding together.

For a Great Race, the buy-in is incredibly cheap. I found the following on RAAM's excellent website (raceacrossamerica.org). This is Peter Moffett, 2007 race route director, talking about what it costs to compete.

You can do it for "$10,000 and still do a reasonable job. On the low/medium end, you need two follow vehicles.... You will feed a crew of six to eight and keep them in motels for about 18 days.... If your crew is a friendly lot, three or four in a room works at least part time.... Find a sponsor or two, and you may get your cost down to near $0....

"If -- and it's a big IF -- you have friends who will crew and can put together a functional pace car with stuff at hand and you've got all your own riding gear, you should be able to do it for $2000 to $3000 USD, including entry fees, and all have a fantastic time.

"...Most RAAMsters will have at least two support vehicles.... They are in it to win. If you're in it for fun and to finish, you only need one reliable vehicle and a crew of three resourceful buddies. Everything else is redundant. Costs and manpower increase exponentially with the number of vehicles.

"I've crewed the solo race 17 times.... There is no correlation between money spent and chances of finishing, although winning is something else. Also, I've found that the bigger the crew, the less fun, because it becomes all about keeping the crew happy and the fleet of vehicles on the road. The rider is relegated to just being the excuse for the adventure...."

As I said, the race has many divisions. Besides Traditional Solo, there is Enduro Solo (riders must spend 40 hours off their bikes between Oceanside and Atlantic City). There are 13 two-person teams, 18 four-person teams, and 8 eight-person teams, plus corporate teams, age-specific teams, and more.

Next week we'll look at one of the eight-person teams, North Coast Cycling, which is connected to North Coast Church, an evangelical congregation headquartered in Vista. I should have said an evangelical and athletic congregation since two pastors, Jeff Holmes and Ron Downing, are on the team.

Also on the team is Pete Penseyres, 64, who owns RAAM's fastest solo record, plus two other RAAM records, and is a 2003 UltraCycling Hall of Fame inductee.

But, it's Pete's teammate and brother, Jim, who got my attention. Jim Penseyres, 2004 UltraCycling Hall of Fame inductee, lost his left leg four inches below the knee in Vietnam. He started his first RAAM solo race in 1985, finished after 11 days and change. Did it again in '87, finished in 11 days plus. And again in 1990, this time finishing in 10 days and change.

We'll talk to him next week.

The Vegas Line can be found at SanDiegoReader.com. Click on "Sporting Box."

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