Erik Jellum and the Kelly Benefit Strategies–OptumHealth Early Season Work

I have spent the past 2 weeks in Minneapolis, building bikes, organizing parts and working on the trailer. It has been a cold couple of days with the temperature never getting warmer than 10 below zero. Any work that needs to be done outside is done with haste as I’m afraid to lose a limb to frostbite. Luckily for me the team’s service course is big enough to take over the entire space to build bikes, and building bikes some how takes up a lot of real estate.

Once all the race bikes and spare bikes have been built up and all the spare parts have been divided up into bins, it’s time to load up the van and trailer. Even though our trailer is 29 feet long and we have a full sized passenger van, we will pack each vehicle to the gills. Not only will bikes and spare parts be loaded, but also riding clothing, water bottles, Clif nutrition product and about a 100 other random items get put in the van/trailer. The trailer is built out so almost every bike and spare part has a dedicated space, but some how it still takes all 4 of us 6+ hours to load up.

Again I pulled the short straw and I was chosen to drive the rig the entire way out to Oxnard, CA for training camp. This year the team is sponsored by Acura, and we where fortunate enough to have 2 of the new team cars delivered out to California. This saved 2 team staff from making the long drive west.

Once the trailer was ready to go, I started heading south immediately. Probably rolled out of Minneapolis around 7 pm on Sunday night. The plan was just to get a few hours driving in before pulling over to a hotel somewhere just south of Des Moines, Iowa.

Generally when doing these long drives for the team, I’ll wake up and just start driving, I’ll stop somewhere for lunch and then just continue driving till I get tired or get to a good stopping point which will vary between 7 and 10 pm. About an hour before my stopping point, I’ll give the team’s Performance Manager (Jacob Erker) a call and let him know my current location and a general area of where I would like to stop for the night. In a few minutes Jacob will then send my phone an email with a hotel reservation. It is very nice knowing I have a hotel reserved for me somewhere down the road, because nothing is worse than driving around at the end of the day trying to find an available room. If I request to stop near a big city, I always ask to stay on the departing side of town so when I wake up in the morning I don’t have to worry about traffic.

Driving the team’s big rig (the van and trailer combo) takes quite a bit of energy and doesn’t go quite as fast as an Acura TSX Sport Wagon. So the trip out to California will take about 4 complete days. I have followed the same route out to California for the past few years and the roads have always been pretty good to me in the winter months. My route is basically is to head due south as fast as I can until I hit I-40. That’s when I start heading west. I-40 will almost take me right to Oxnard, CA, with only a few back roads to avoid going any where near Los Angeles. If I wanted to do a scenic tour of the USA in a nice Acura, I would probably choose to drive through Colorado and through the heart of the Rockies, but driving a 15-passenger van pulling a fully loaded 29-foot trailer can be a little difficult plowing through some big mountains in the winter time. That’s why I pick the more southern, flatter and a little less direct route from Minneapolis to California. The largest obstacle I encounter on my route, driving out to Oxnard is driving up to Flagstaff, AZ. Pretty much the road from Albuquerque, NM to Flagstaff, AZ is all uphill, but once you reach the top it’s all downhill till you hit the ocean. Great gas mileage!

Driving is very therapeutic for me, the alone time is quite welcomed after the hectic month that just took place. Not a whole lot can be asked of you when driving, so the time that I spend “off the radar” is very nice.

The past 2 seasons the Kelly Benefit Strategies - Optum Health staff has been very fortunate not to be logging in serious miles in the cars. In years past, we were lucky our season has started out in California and slowly worked it’s way across the country over a few months time. The team’s road map looked like a large backwards “C.” Starting in California working out its way up the east coast, then out to the Midwest and finishing up with the Tour of Missouri. This year, our preliminary schedule looks a little more chaotic, as of now it seems we maybe traveling coast to coast a few times either by driving or flying to get to a bike race.

It is only a 4-day drive out to California, but I usually allow myself 6 or 7 days to complete the drive. I could write a book filled with stories of interesting adventures that have happened to me while driving for the team. From spending 36 hours snowed in at a truck stop to loosing a trailer axle while driving over a bridge in one of the worst rain storms I have ever encountered, there would be no shortage of material for the book. With the countless things that can go wrong driving long distances on America’s Interstate System, it’s nice to have plenty of time to handle anything that comes my way.

“Anything” is exactly what happened this year. I was about 140 miles from my final destination when I decided to stop in Barstow, CA for the night. I was making great time, by hitting all my target destinations along the way. I woke up very early the following morning and I wasn’t feeling particularly well, but I figured I would just fight through my pains and finish off my drive. I stopped for gas not long after pulling out of the hotel and still was not feeling well. By the time the vehicle was filled up, I was feeling much worse, but continued to tell myself “just a 140 more miles.” Well 10 minutes later, I was desperately trying to find an exit to get off the highway. Just when I was losing touch, I found an exit just outside of Barstow with a Motel 6. I sat in the parking lot for sometime trying to collect myself and trying to figure out what was going on. I knew I could not continue driving, so I went and checked into a hotel room at the Motel 6 at 6:30 a.m. I had to confirm with the front desk that they would not kick my out of the room in a few hours because it was still dark outside and it seemed weird checking into a hotel so early. Once in the room, I immediately collapsed on the bed and didn’t rise till 9 a.m. the next day. When I finally woke up, I didn’t feel all that bad, I just felt a little groggy from all the sleep. I don’t know what happened, the flu, food poisoning or something else but I was well enough to continue the cross-country mission.

After all the years, I never get tired of the feeling I get when I escape the frozen tundra of the Midwest and drive myself to sunny Southern California. If I’m near the ocean, I will drive to a beach just to see the waves. It’s a great feeling.

There are usually a few days before the rest of the riders and staff arrive. So I have some time to finish up projects that didn’t get done in Minneapolis. Also I’ll be making arrangements to pick up or to retrieve team product that was shipped and is needed before training camp.

Even after all that driving we still have a 10-day long training camp and the workload picks back up. Well, at least the sun is shinning.

Eric J