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The media team interviews and records video of competitors during the race

Meanwhile, in the media car, Dosanj, Goodman, and I traversed the same course. We almost ran out of gas on the dark desert highway. Once in Blythe, we met Chuck Pateros, an engineer in ViaSat’s patent office and a veteran of the race. He’d come along to help riders and crew adapt to new rules for 2011, and to herd us media cats. Pateros was the team’s greatest cheerleader, praising and encouraging riders to “crush the hills” whenever his frenetic jaunts back and forth along the racecourse allowed. He explained to me his take on the eight-man-team version of Race Across America. “It’s like a ball of energy, with lots of moving parts, moving steadily across the country.”

At the motel, we met up with riders Cawood and Noda, preparing for their shift, which was scheduled to start at 1:00 Sunday morning. By then, the media crew was asleep. At dawn we hurried to catch up with the next subteam, which had taken up the baton.

∗ ∗ ∗

Doug Poorman has been staging his own triathlon over the past 11 years. “I call it ‘The Poor Man’s,’” says Poorman, who is a project manager at ViaSat. “It’s the fitness event for the physically prepared and the fiscally challenged. On the weekend after September 11, we do 25 miles on road bikes to North Torrey Pines, a five-and-a-half-mile run on the beach, and a two-mile swim. We then come back the same way and have a barbeque at my house [in Rancho Penasquitos], all for no entry fee.”

At the U.S. Air Force Academy in the 1970s, Poorman competed in swimming. And tennis has always been “a wannabe sport for me,” he says. But he’d never participated in Race Across America, even though TeamViaSat wanted him. He and his wife Dede “always decided that going on vacation with a bunch of guys was not as much fun as going with the family. But suddenly there was an opening. They needed someone to fill in [just] weeks before the event. Still, Dede and I were hesitant.”

Then they learned that ViaSat’s 2011 effort would be dedicated to Austin Bice, an SDSU student who’d died accidentally earlier in the year in Madrid, Spain. Larry Bice, Austin’s father, was a part of the team at its inception six years ago and has competed several times since. He also has long been Doug Poorman’s friend and colleague at ViaSat. “When we learned about the dedication,” Poorman tells me, “participating in this year’s race made all the sense in the world.”

The start of the race in Oceanside

From the Oceanside Pier on June 18, Poorman and partner Dave Casterton pulled away from the starting line at a few minutes past 2:00 p.m. The first 16 miles, most on the San Luis Rey Bike Path, which starts about a mile north of the pier, were part of a parade for the local community. The race would be timed from College Boulevard at the San Luis Rey River — that’s where Poorman and Casterton started riding hard. The racecourse, from start to finish, had been designed to avoid freeways and superhighways. Once past College, it wound along rural residential and mountain roads well to the north of a heavily traveled portion of Highway 78, from Oceanside to Escondido. Highway 78 wouldn’t be picked up again until its intersection with Borrego Springs Road, southeast of Borrego Springs.

Poorman and Casterton wouldn’t get their first five-hour shift until we were well into Arizona. By that time, I had jumped in the follow vehicle behind the navigator, who, route book in hand, can call out directions through a loudspeaker on top of the car should there be hazards or a coming turn in the course that are difficult to see.

We motored along behind a steadily climbing Poorman. He was riding Highway 89 in southwest Arizona, headed up one of the switchbacks of Yarnell Grade on the way to Prescott. The race guide book said that, although not reaching the course’s highest elevations, the grade was the steepest climb of the trip. As we watched, Schaefer and Moore agreed that Poorman may have been the strongest of ViaSat’s riders. The rhythm of his pedaling looked smooth and forceful.

After the trip, Poorman told me, “You’ve got to love the hills.”

∗ ∗ ∗

Dave Casterton, at 28, is 26 years younger than Poorman, making the span of their ages the greatest among the four ViaSat rider pairs. Casterton, who lives in Encinitas, is an electrical engineer at ViaSat and is simultaneously working toward a master’s degree in neuroscience at UCLA. He is soft-spoken and likes music genres, including heavy metal, that he was sure Poorman would not. “Doug and I never agreed on musical selections for the follow vehicle to blare out of its speakers,” he says. “But I assumed we did have different tastes, so I brought along an iPod with the obnoxious music.”

“How was it teaming with Poorman in the race?” I ask.

“I can think of only one exchange where something went wrong,” says Casterton. “I was in the car, looking at our times, so I hadn’t even pulled my bike off the back when Doug went flying by. Whoops. We scrambled and ended up driving ahead to try it a second time.

“The race is interesting in that, when off the bike, you’re stuck in a car with two other people. It’s a very intense situation. You’re thrown together with people you may or may not know. When you’re riding, you’re dependent on them for your health. You can get injured out there. If that Suburban behind the rider messes up, they could plow right over you.”

About his time with Casterton, Doug Poorman had this to say: “I think he had fun being with me, because he could see this old guy and how he did things. But he had more race experience than I did. He was a crew member twice before. I was always listening to David for instructions on how to do things. He was very helpful.”

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