Sometimes it takes someone who has traveled the road before you to show you the way. In early 2009 I had a dream to do Race Across AMerica (RAAM) - a 3,000 mile nonstop bike race with over 100,000 feet of climbing. For the race I recruited a team of 3 friends, one of whom also has Friedreich's ataxia (FA) - the energy deprivation disease that is supposed to keep us from accomplishing things like this. It was a monumental task and I knew I would need lots of help. So I put out the call and got an overwhelming response from friends and family. However none of us knew about ultra cycling much less how to survive "The World's Toughest Bike Race."
I had incredible support from many, many, familiar people but it was a stranger who was the key to our success. We met Lee Mitchell at an informational seminar for RAAM riders and crew where we learned everything from proper nutrition, to crew schedules, to all of the rules to keep us safe. The seminar only served to add to the overwhelming stress of the logistics of RAAM. At the seminar I sat next to a skinny guy with a big white beard and red socks. I had no idea who he was but when he spoke, everyone listened. This guy had been a crew chief on RAAM for over 20 years and could tell a story about any "what if?" that anyone could think of. I am pretty sure he sensed my mounting stress throughout the seminar so he offered his phone number and he said he would send me his info pack.
Over the next few months I had many conversations with Lee Mitchell whenever I needed something. He walked us through the process and showed us the ropes. He even invited us out to his house to practice rider exchanges in the parking lot across the street. Lee guided us through everything and asked for nothing in return. Lee lived to help others accomplish their cycling goals; it was sufficient payment when we successfully crossed the finish line - proving to ourselves and the world that we are capable of anything.
Cycling accomplishments are much more than miles under the belt and increased fitness. It is all about the feeling you get when you think to yourself "If I can do that, I can do anything." Lee knew this and so he dedicated his life to helping others accomplish the impossible. He spent almost every weekend in the summer for over 20 years volunteering at Ultra Cycling Events - double centuries, and 500 mile races lending his time and experience to help others reach the next level in cycling, proving that they can do anything. There are countless people who can say that the only reason they finished was because Lee provided a spare tube, tire, spoke, seat, crankset, or encouraging word. I am one of those. There is no doubt in my mind that Team FARA would have never even made it to the start, much less the finish of RAAM if it were not for Lee Mitchell.
After Team FARA completed RAAM, Lee continued to stay fired up about FARA and Ride Ataxia. He was our SAG chief for Ride Ataxia NorCal in 2011, providing guidance to a group of rookies and ushering the very last rider in behind the wheel of his famous Bike Van. He helped us plan routes, mark the course and ensure the safety of our riders.
Any thank you will fall short of what we owe Lee for showing us that we can accomplish anything. However we are going to give it our best. This year, Ride Ataxia NorCal is dedicated to Lee Mitchell.
On the inside collar of every jersey there will be a tribute to Lee:
and on the back of every jersey will be the famous BIKE VAN license plate:
Thank you Lee. Because of you anything is possible.