One of the biggest differences Slovenian Simon Kerk has noticed between his home country and the U.S. is simply the space between everything.
Cyclists from the United States and all over the world have begun to descend on Camdenton and the lake area.
The cyclists and their crews are participating in Race Across America (RAAM), a 3,000-mile race across the continental United States. The first of more than 300 cyclists began pedaling on June 13 from Oceanside, Calif., and will look to reach the finish line in Annapolis, Md., in no more than nine days.
As physically demanding as that task is for each rider, what may be less known are the challenges that presents to each crew who works tirelessly to make each day of the journey as smooth a transition as possible for their cyclist.
Simon Krek is a massage therapist on the eight-person team of Slovenia’s Marko Baloh, who was the third cyclist to pass through the lake area on Monday behind Austria’s Christoph Strasser and Patric Gruener. Krek is just one member of a team that includes a bike mechanic, an RV driver, a navigator, someone to get supplies and a follow group that drives behind each cyclist to protect them from any oncoming traffic.
Krek is participating in his second straight year of RAAM as a crew member and helps handle a number of those different duties each day for Baloh, who rides about 320 miles per day.
“I drive the car, navigate from the route map. I’m a nurse and I help prepare the food,” Krek said of some of the duties he takes on. “It just depends on what we need, and we don’t have a straight rule on it so we usually do everything.
“Marko rides the bike for 20 to 21 hours and after that he takes a shower, has a three-hour nap and then we wake him up with a massage, prepare him food and he is on the bike again,” he added.
The Slovenian native decided to participate in RAAM after a coworker, who previously worked on Baloh’s team, decided she did not have the time to do it anymore. Krek, being a cyclist himself, said it was not a tough decision to make.
“She asked me because she knew I was a cyclist and I do all kinds of sports so I said, ‘Yeah why not?’ So she gave me Marco’s contact and now I am here for the second year in a row,” he stated.
Krek is traversing across the U.S. once again, but making his third overall visit to the states after previously touring in Florida and New York and taking an RV with friends from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles while driving along Route 66.
“Now there is not a lot of sleeping,” he said laughingly about being a RAAM crew member, “but it is still fun if you like these kinds of things and you just enjoy it.”
One of the biggest differences he has noticed between his home country of Slovenia and the U.S. is simply the space between everything.
“It is hard to explain because in our country everything is so small so if you want to go hiking, cycling, skiing, swimming or see rivers and lakes you just need like an hour so it is a short distance,” Krek noted. “Here there is a huge distance from one place to the other… It is a big country so it is normal that there is nothing between some of the cities.”
However, he did find some comfort about 5,074 miles from his hometown of Skofja Loka, Slovenia, when the crew stopped by the time station at the Signal gas station in Camdenton about two-thirds of the way to their destination with 1,176 miles to go.
“I like this place because you can rest here for a little bit. There are not a lot of time stations where you have this kind of comfort,” he said.
The Camdenton time station is manned by the Camdenton Area Chamber of Commerce.
It also helps the team, made up of Slovenians and a man from New Zealand, to have an American along for each step of the way who can help the team quickly track down the things they may need. Martin Dressman of Cincinnati, Ohio, is the lone American on the crew and has mainly spent his time driving the RV as he participates in his fifth year of RAAM.
Dressman has worked with foreign teams in the past and he can certainly attest to Krek’s account of the differences the Slovenian has noticed between his country and the U.S. as other teams have made similar comments in the past. Overall, he is hoping the 3,000-mile race becomes a more popular event in America.
“They are surprised to be able to turn right at a red light, guns being available in stores, how everyone seems to have a truck and how polite people are,” Dressman listed with a smile. “One time we were in Kansas and they started taking pictures out in the middle of nowhere because they saw a cowboy on his horse.”
As for Krek, the Slovenian native said he would consider coming back to participate in RAAM in the future. However, he also wants to save his three weeks of vacation a year to pursue other interests.
“Maybe not next year because you have to get your holidays from work and that means I have three weeks off and then I come back and do not have any free days anymore,” he said. “But, yeah, I think I will be here another time. I might try it with Americans because it might be fun.”