MOUNT AIRY — "You're here baby. I'm going to hang up now," Kristine Toone said to husband Brian Toone as he cycled into the parking lot of Mt. Airy Bicycle on Friday afternoon with his crew and a small group of spectators cheering him on.
Md. 27 is just part of the daily commute for many Carroll countians, but for cyclists like Toone in the annual Race Across America (RAAM), it's the last uphill push in a 3,000-mile, cross-country race that begins in Oceanside, California and ends in Annapolis. Mt. Airy Bicycle is Time Stop 52 in the race. Kristine Toone had been on the phone with Brian to keep him motivated after a slowdown due to an accident on Md 27.
Toone, a professor of computer science from Alabama, was competing in the event for the second time. In the 10 days of the race, he said he slept one to three hours per night while riding approximately 300 miles per day.
His motivation is the organization Hope for Gabe (H4G), which is fighting to end Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. At the Mount Airy time stop, though he looked thin and in need of some sleep, Toone, spoke passionately about the organization.
He said his own physical struggle on the race is a way at to pay homage to Gabe and others with DMD. One of the missions of H4G is to raise awareness of the rising cost of pharmaceuticals. According to the organization, a drug that recently cost $1.15 per day now costs $134.25 per day.
Toone rested for only 10 minutes at the bike shop before getting back out on the road. Members of his crew gathered around him, making sure he drank fluids and helping him put on a vest to help muscle recovery. "This is my natural physique," he joked referring to his wiry frame and sunburned chest. And then he was off.
"He gets on that bike and comes alive like, pow," Jeffrey White, Toone's crew captain, said. He expected Toone to reach Annapolis by early evening.
The crew was made up of about 10 people who traveled with Toone across the country. Members took turns in a van that drove with Toone on the road, while others went ahead in an RV or SUV.
Toone and White have been planning for the race since last August, assessing his condition and planning the route. White said their plan to complete the desert portions of the race at night worked, which made the race more bearable despite notably high temperatures in the western states.
Toone programmed his own software, topocreator.com, to track his riding as he prepared for the race and completed it. The data helped them plan more accurately. The crew also included nutritionists and physiologists, who took data on everything from his caloric intake to his urine, which they will use in their research.
Other crew members were cyclists like Steven Peters, who hopes to complete the race himself in the future.
"He's a nut and a crazy guy, but I guess I'm a crazy guy, too," Peters said, adding that he became a fan of Toone's through other races and was excited to serve on the crew for RAAM.
For him, the appeal of the race is testing the absolute limit of what a person can do.
"You see athletes that get paid a million dollars, but they couldn't do this," Peters said.
Added White: "He's the most humble guy out here — and not just because I'm biased."
According to Mt. Airy Bicycle owner Larry Black, Mount Airy is the highest geographic point over the late stages of the race. The final three hours on the way to Annapolis are mostly downhill.
He said that the stop is a make-or-break moment for participants — some find their second wind while others decide to drop out of the race.
RAAM fascinates him because it is so challenging compared to any other cycling race, Black said. The clock runs nonstop through the whole race, meaning most cyclists, like Toone, sleep very little.
"It's such a test of the human body and mind," Black said.
Mt. Airy Bicycle has been a time stop for the race for six years. Black said it is known as "the jail stop" because it is one of only two on the route where riders must serve a time penalty for safety infractions made by the crew along the way.
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Because of this and its proximity to Annapolis, the order of riders at Mount Airy is often the order of riders at the finish.
Christoph Strasser, of Austria, finished first out of the 115 competitors, completing the race at 11:50 on Wednesday night. Toone was the sixth entrant to make it to Mount Airy, German Guido Loehr having rolled through a few hours earlier.
Toone's crew had no penalty and he left the stop after just a few minutes of recovery and encouragement from his crew and the staff of the bike shop.
Jane Gupta, whose cousin's husband is a member of the crew, was one of those cheering him on as he set off toward Annapolis for the final 60 or so miles of the race.
"To see someone apply their own skills to something like [H4G] is so inspiring," she said.