The idea of making a cross-country road trip with three of her closest friends sounded like a fun way to start the summer, so Anne-Marie Alderson agreed to partake in the grand adventure.
Covering 3,000 miles, from Oceanside, Calif., to Annapolis, Md., is an ambitious trip and quite a drive. It also can put a strain on an automobile. Alderson and her friends, however, won’t be driving a car, SUV or motor home.
They’ll be pedaling across the country.
Alderson, a Washington native, is part of Team PHenomenal Hope that will participate in the Race Across America bike race later this month. The four-woman relay team will cycle its way across the country in fewer than nine days. The team will have at least one rider on the road at all times, 24 hours a day, until it reaches the finish line.
That means each rider will be pedaling for at least six hours a day.
“Everybody thinks I’m crazy for doing this,” Alderson said.
A 2000 graduate of Washington High School and a resident of Shaler in Allegheny County, Alderson is no stranger to endurance sports. She has participated in marathons and triathlons. A quality engineer at Cook Myosite Inc. in Pittsburgh, Alderson also is an assistant triathlon coach at Steel City Endurance. This, however, will be Alderson’s toughest athletic endeavor.
“We’re planning for each rider to cover 100 miles a day,” she said.
Alderson’s teammates include Patty George of Pittsburgh, Stacie Truszkowski of Penn Hills and Ryanne Palermo of Butler.
Teams entering the RAAM partner with charities to raise money for various causes. Team PHenomenal Hope is sponsored by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association, UPMC and others.
The idea to participate in the RAAM came from George, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. About to turn 40 years old, George said she wasn’t ready to slow down and hang any of those “lordy, lordy, look who’s 40” signs. So she asked Truszkowski, who also was about to turn 40, what she thought about raising research funds for pulmonary hypertension – high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs that causes difficulty breathing; currently there is no cure – by participating in the RAAM. Truszkowski, an administrative assistant at UPMC, liked the idea.
Alderson, a mutual friend of the two women, was then asked to join the team.
“My first reaction was to say absolutely not,” Alderson admitted. “It sounded ridiculous. But the more I thought about it, I kept saying what a cool opportunity this is going to be. About two days later, I changed my mind and said, ‘I’m in.’”
Having accepted their ultimate athletic challenge and become the first team from Pittsburgh to enter the RAAM, the four cyclists, along with a 13-member support team with three medics, will leave for California June 12, two days before the race begins. The support team, which includes Chuck Finder of Washington, will follow the cyclists while riding in two vans.
Each team will follow a predetermined course and must reach designated checkpoints. Alderson said the first is in Durango, Colo. The course, which is one-third longer than that of the Tour de France, includes elevation changes of 17,000 vertical feet, reaching its peak in the Rocky Mountains.
“To get ready for this, I’ve been doing some intense bike work the last couple of months,” Alderson said. “I’ve spent a lot of time on the bike, putting in 16 to 20 hours a week.”
Alderson, who said she was “unathletic as a kid,” began participating in marathons and road races for fun while attending Pitt, from where she graduated in 2005. The marathons led to triathlons, which includes cycling. Alderson said the most miles she has biked in a day, during competition, is 122 miles back in 2010 in Louisville.
“Many of my friends already think I’m crazy for being a triathlete,” Alderson said. “They ask me, ‘How many miles did you bike today?’ I’ll say something like 85 miles and they’ll say they wouldn’t want to drive 85 miles today.”
Alderson and her teammates are prepared to encounter many different types of weather conditions on the journey, which will cross 12 states. And if this spring is any indication, much of those weather conditions could be extreme.
“Going through the rockies will be a slow part of the trip, and the Great Plains could generate strong headwinds, which will slow us down,” Alderson said. “The Appalachian Mountains, especially around Mount Airy, W.Va., is the slowest part of the course.”
For more information on Team PHenomenal and the Race Across America, visit www.teamphenomenalhope.com.