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Brian Toone first visited Nicaragua in 2001 and has been a keen supporter of Nuevas Esperanzas since the very start 9 years ago. When Nuevas Esperanzas registered as a non-profit organisation in the US he became one of the founding board members. He has enjoyed cycling for even longer and since he was given a book about the Race Across America (RAAM) when he was 16, he has wanted to tackle this huge challenge. Studying and work took priority but a couple of years ago, Brian heard about a 500 mile race that was a qualifier and started and ended just a few miles from his home in Alabama. This rekindled the old dream of competing in RAAM. In 2014 he qualified for RAAM 2015.

The RAAM 2015 was 3,000 miles long and started in Oceanside, California on Tuesday 16th June, finishing in Annapolis, Maryland 8-10 days later. The route started in California and crossed Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Brian was always confident he could finish the race, but also wanted to be competitive and hoped to place in the top 5. His training consisted of riding close to 500 miles per week, frequently extending his routes to and from work.

All the training in the world could not really prepare him for the challenges ahead. In Arizona in the first few days, there was an extreme weather warning due to the heat. Brian looks back at how his race nearly came to a premature end in only the second state.

Heat exhaustion
By 9AM, the temperature had risen above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I continued to ride, but as the waves of heat continued to increase my core body temperature I reached a point where I knew it was no longer safe to keep riding. Fortunately, this happened to be at a gas station in a small desert town called Hope, Arizona. The crew had called ahead to the RV to drive back from the next time station to meet me in Hope.

No hope
I went into the RV to try to cool off, but the air conditioner can only cool the RV about 20 degrees below the outside temperature. With temps reaching over 110 by this point, that meant that it was well into the 90s inside the air conditioned RV. It wasn’t enough to cool me off, and as I lay on the bed inside the RV I thought that it was the end of my race. Here I am only 300 miles from the start with 2,700 miles still left to reach the end of the race, and I had no hope of finishing.

New hope
When six times RAAM finisher George Thomas reflected on the irony of having no hope in a town called “Hope” during the finish line interview, I pointed out how the charity we were raising money for is called “Nuevas Esperanzas”, which means “New Hope”. I told him that this organization, based in Nicaragua, works with communities to provide infrastructure that enables them to thrive in the harsh conditions of living on the side of a volcano. This includes road improvements, access to clean water, sustainable agricultural practices, and training as guides for ecotourists. Just the irony of laying in Hope, Arizona with no hope and then thanks to my wife and my crew, I did have that new hope. It’s not over yet, let’s keep going, let’s do this.

How I went from “No Hope” to “New Hope” happened in stages. First, a friend and fellow cyclist from Birmingham happened to be working in nearby Yuma, Arizona and had decided to surprise me on the course with a visit. When he found out I was struggling with heat exhaustion in Arizona, he drove backwards on the course to encourage me. Then when I wasn’t cooling off because of how hot it was inside the RV, we set up a small cot inside the gas station where with better insulation the temperature was down in the 80s. I still wasn’t sure that my crew was going to let me continue, but I was wrong and my crew eventually kicked me out of the gas station saying it was time to ride. This was in the middle of the afternoon just past the hottest part of the day. Right as I left the gas station, a friend and fellow competitor from the south (Erik Newsholme from Atlanta) pulled up to the stop sign to make the turn onto the course past the gas station. We rode together and encouraged each other and this gave me new hope that my race wasn’t over and that I could still finish the race even if my original time goals were long gone.

Brian went on to finish the full 3,004 miles though to take 7th place in the solo male under age 50 category. While his time of 10 days, 14 hours and 20 minutes is definitely respectable, especially for a rookie, it fell short of his original hopes for RAAM. He reflected, “You adjust your expectations. I was real happy to come in 7th think I’d dropped down to 19th at one point and I’m happy with it. There’s just no way beforehand. You can’t simulate all of the different aspects that are in a race of this magnitude. As a rookie, you learn—you learn along the way.” In the final days Brian found himself in proximity to other racers, “At the end it was amazing. There were four of us within a very short distance,” he said, “Sure we’re going for 5th or 6th place but it doesn’t matter, you’re still racing. It was interesting to have such a long race come down to the very end. Changing positions so many times, it really came down to who could ride the longest. It wasn’t who was the fastest, but who could ride the longest.”

Brian’s long awaited RAAM was fraught with emotion, drama, challenge, difficulty, good days and bad days. When asked what he’ll remember most from the experience he quickly answered, “I have a very visual memory. I can picture huge chunks of the whole country. So most of my memories are going to be good ones.”

Congratulations, Brian and Team Toone on this amazing achievement and a huge thank you for all the support raised for Nuevas Esperanzas along the way.