PEZ Goes to the Movies: Until the Wheels Come Off

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The Race Across America (RAAM) both fascinates and repels. An epic event launched in 1982, the route currently stretches from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland, a distance of approximately 4,800 km (3,000 miles). The race is not divided into stages, but rather it is up to individual runners or team members how far they will run each day, checking in at 55 stations along the way. It places extraordinary demands on participants, whether pilots or escorts, and this is superbly shown in a recent documentary, “Until the wheels come off.”

John Tarlton is what you’d expect from a Silicon Valley real estate mogul and probably needs to be a type-A dynamic person to take on something as strenuous as RAAM. After finishing the race in 2014 before the deadline, the film chronicles his return to racing in 2019, better prepared and aiming for a podium finish in the 50-60 male solo rider class. As someone with a family history of cancer, he will ride to bring attention to and fundraise for the work of the Stanford University Cancer Center, and his support team consists of a young and enthusiastic group, mostly friends, but including his daughter, two sons and, despite initial skepticism, his wife, Jenny Dearborn. John Tarlton comes across as a very likeable person, and it’s easy to see why the group comes together for him. But RAAM is tough and massage therapists laugh when she says her first response when she was offered the chance to sit in a van and cross-country for several weeks was “Nope.” But it ends there anyway. To give an idea of ​​what it takes to support a solo RAAM rider, the Tarlton Team support team consists of 16 people spread across four vehicles, including media specialists.


John Tarlton and Jenny Dearborn

In his previous RAAM Tarlton’s crew chief was an ex-military guy who wasn’t there in 2019 and it’s a bit foreshadowing in the buildup to Oceanside’s departure there’s some banter about who’s actually the crew chief since the RAAM organizers needed a name and it looks like the first available crew member has been dropped off. Given the logistical demands of a long race, from picking up the runner and navigating to organizing the teams and ensuring food and sleep for all, clear communication is necessary and we feel that , despite all the enthusiasm, it might be somewhat lacking. Jenny Dearborn, who is also listed as the video’s producer, is like a Greek choir throughout, expressing concern over the unfolding issues but leaving the team to fend for themselves as best they can.

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John Tarlton in Colorado

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After a rocky start in Oceanside, the race kicks off in earnest, traversing stunning scenery. Tarlton is clearly in excellent condition but as the lack of coordination in the rescue group begins to show, it’s a good time through the mountains which mark RAAM’s first big hurdle. But there is still a lack of concentration – at one point John Tarlton discusses the availability of diesel fuel with the crew for one of the vehicles, which he shouldn’t worry about as it’s vital to stay focused on the run. With so many friends around, Jenny Dearborn comments that the crew is being too nice to John, letting him rest longer than he should be allowed as the clocks are ticking. The scenery is striking, if intimidating, but the next segment is where things get really tough. The race takes place in June and the summer heat is exhausting for all but begins to cause particular difficulties for the cyclist, who is clearly suffering. This marks a turning point in the video as the crew gets organized as the race progresses as John Tarlton begins to disintegrate. Sitting in a van for hours while the cyclist in front of you trudges across country at 22mph can’t be this easy and it’s a tribute to the Tarlton team that no one else has. packed and left.

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John Tarlton and support vehicle

It should be noted that he went from being a parent figure, an employer, an adult to becoming more like a baby who is not really able to take care of himself. Spoon-fed by one of the crew while another massages him and another helps him get on and off the bike, he begins to show signs of sleep deprivation. Some of them, like imagining he’s somehow in the world of Harry Potter listening to audiobooks in progress, are fun, but others, like wandering down the lane into oncoming traffic, are less so. It was the cause of RAAM’s first death in 2003 and Jenny Dearborn reflects on her thoughts on what widowhood would be like. The children of Tarlton are incredibly well-spoken and supportive, but it must be hard for a family to see so much self-inflicted pain from a loved one.

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John Tarlton – RAAM

John Tarlton more or less disappears as a person and just becomes a nearly comatose guy on a bike that comes in for pit stops and the crew has to find ways to get him going. Solo RAAM runners drop out of the race at a high rate, but those who persevere are made of harder things. Jure Robič, who won the race five times, would get to the point where his crew would lock their van doors to avoid being attacked by him. And so Tarlton, who seems more interested in how his crew is doing than himself, keeps pushing, through the endless demoralizing straight roads of Kansas and towards Appalachia and his goal.

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Route RAAM

In Oceanside, when participants are introduced, it is noted that only around 300 solo runners have completed the race in its history. “Until the Wheels Come Off” is an overview of what it takes to tackle a race that makes the Tour de France seem like sybaritic fun.

“Until the wheels come off”, documentary, 1h37
Gravitas Productions
Released in April 2022
Available for video streaming at: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/untilthewheelscomeoff


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