Howling winds and thunderstorms in western Kansas are not unusual for June. But the winds proved to be a bit much for Chris Hopkinson, a United Kingdom rider in Race Across America, a cross-country bicycle race that covers about 3,000 miles starting at the Pacific Ocean and ending in the Atlantic Ocean.
Participants in RAAM began traveling through Pratt Saturday as they make their journey eastward and will continue for a few more days. The Pratt Walmart is Time Station No. 26 for RAAM. Pratt has been a time station for several years.
After leaving Montezuma Sunday evening, Hopkinson said he noticed he was traveling faster and faster, hitting speeds of 35 to 40 mph when his overall average speed was 10.6 mph. A severe weather front with winds reaching from 70 to 80 mph had caught up to him and he was being pushed along much faster than was safe.
The wind was whipping up sand and blasting him. The weather was deteriorating quickly as the storm passed over the area.
A local fire station warned Hopkinson and his crew it was time to get off the road and offered them shelter at their fire station.
Once the storm had passed, Hopkinson was on his way again and pedaling eastward but not without consequences.
"The storm messed up my sleeping," Hopkinson said. "And the wind was coming at me from all directions."
Once the winds died down he was able to get back into a rhythm and head for Pratt.
Hopkinson is now under a crucial distance deadline. Riders have to reach the Mississippi River by a specific time on a specific day or they are disqualified.
Hopkinson is going to be close on making that deadline.
When he arrived in Pratt Monday morning, Hopkinson was rested and feeling fine. He was also very hungry and had his crew head for Sonic to pick up a double cheeseburger.
Riders will burn up tremendous amounts of calories, sometimes up to 9,000 a day, and they have to eat a lot to recharge their bodies.
Sleep is on the other end of the scale with many riders getting only three hours of sleep for every 24 they ride.
Hopkinson's stop in Pratt was brief. While he was stopped his crew took notice of the arrival of another rider, Palle Nielson, a Danish rider.
Hopkinson's crew got him back on his bicycle and he headed east with one of his support vehicles right behind. Not long after Hopkinson left Nielson also got back on the road.
The endurance required to participate in RAAM is extraordinary.
For Hopkinson, the most challenging part of the race was over the Rocky Mountains. He has no mountains to practice on so he is unable to train at that elevation and the lower oxygen levels were a problem.
Page 2 of 2 - When he arrived in Pratt on Monday, Hopkinson was positioned No. 19 among the 50 and under riders when he arrived in Pratt, Time Station No. 26 of 55 in the race. Pratt is just 24 miles short of being exactly halfway through the race.
Hopkinson covered the 1,417 miles to Pratt in 5 days, 17 hours and 49 minutes after leaving the west coast at 3:06 p.m. on Tuesday, June 11.
Hopkinson is ranked No. 19 among the 50 and under riders. The fastest solo rider so far in the race is Christoph Strasser of Austria who traveled 23267.4 miles to reach the Greensburg, Ind. time station in 5 days, 19 hours and 4 minutes or just two hours longer than it took Hopkinson to reach Pratt a difference of about 900 miles. Strasser was just 663.1 miles from the finish line when Hopkinson reached Pratt.
Hopkinson said he took on the challenge because he could. He was also riding to help raise money for a little girl, Fraja Ellie, who has cancer. Her name is proudly posted on his the motor home support vehicle that follows him across the country.
His other support vehicle carries spare bicycles and parts, food, medical kit and several members of his crew.
One crewmember, Bob White, is planning on doing the event in 2014 and going along as a crewmember was a good way to learn what it took to complete the race.
Another crewmember, John Miller, said being a crewmember was a good way to the see the great country of America.
The RAAM course varies slightly from year to year so the total length varies but it is always close to 3,000 miles.
Riders that take on the nearly 3,000-mile race are some of the best endurance athletes in the world. The annual event draws the best individual and team cyclists from all over the world as they challenge the wide range of weather and road conditions during this year's 2,989.5-mile race.
The record for the fastest solo rider was set in 1992 when Rob Kish rode 2,911 miles in 8 days, 3 hours and 11 minutes.
The RAAM riders also include teams with two, four or eight members. While solo riders have to stop and sleep, the teams ride continuously, substituting refreshed riders while riding and never stop. Teams make the journey much faster and start four days after the solo riders.
The record for a team is Team ViaSat set in 2012 over a 2,993-mile course. The eight-man team covered the course in 5 days, 5 hours and 5 minutes.
Hopkinson was the first British Solo finisher in 2005. This is his second RAAM. He is considered the best 24-hour rider in the world.
He is from Catterick Camp in the northeast of England. He is a music teacher and part time soldier that plays clarinet and saxophone in the Royal Signals Northern Band.