There is always the joy of anticipation when planning for an event. But the logistics of this one made it a little difficult. First, I needed 2 people to crew that would follow me along the course providing all the necessities (food, drinks, lights, batteries, clothes, equipment, directions, support, etc.) The crew vehicle needed enough room for a couple bikes, plus all the food and drinks, extra equipment, clothes and normal luggage. Plus we needed extra lighting for night riding which meant flashing lights mounted to the top of the Jeep and reflective signs attached to the back of the Jeep to warn approaching vehicles. Nicole “invited” her friend Mona for “a weekend of shopping” in LA only to surprise her last minute with the real weekend agenda. OK, we are going to drive through the middle of nowhere, in a car full of bicycle parts and clothes that don’t smell very good. Oh, and we have to drive pretty slow cause we are following this guy on a bike. Oh, and we can only stop when he stops. And here is the Gatorade and Clif mix so when he hands us a water bottle we need to fill it up. We’ll do that a lot. Doesn’t this sound so much better than shopping! Yea, I can’t wait either. What about bathrooms? When we stop, the “ladies room” will be the nearest cactus or sagebrush and watch out for scorpions and snakes.
The story gets better, I promise. The weekend before we had flown out to St Paul, MN for a marathon by taking a red eye after work on Friday night. Our return flight on Sunday was delayed by an hour so we didn’t make it home until after 2 AM Monday. We were able to sneak in a few hours sleep before heading off for a busy week at work. Most of the evenings were spent getting things ready for the 508. So we were going negative on sleep when we should be banking it.
Nicole worked a few hours on Friday morning then we left around 11 AM. About 30 minutes into the drive, I turned to Nicole and said, “WHERE AM I GOING!?” Instead of heading to LA, I was headed to Lake Tahoe out of habit. Luckily, this only cost us about 20 minutes.
We arrived in Valencia for the check-in, registered and attended the pre-race meeting. Mona was driving in from Phoenix, so we met her at the Ontario airport so she could park her car there until the finish. We then drove back to Valencia, picked up some last minute supplies and finally tried to sleep. Our heads hit the pillows after midnight. Nothing like everybody arriving at the starting line exhausted.
The solo riders started at 7 AM and the first 4 miles were a nice easy cruise through the city. This gave me a chance to talk with a couple other riders: French Frog from France who had competed in RAAM earlier in the year, Grasshopper from Chicago and Prairie Dog from LA. Then we headed up and through the canyons where met our crew around mile 25. The riders started to separate so I put on my headphones and started climbing to “Eight Easy Steps” by Alanis Morissette. One of the highlights of the trip was meeting the crew at mile 25. I came around a corner and out front of me was Nicole and Mona. Along the road there were about 100 crew vehicles, all advertising their totem and carrying extra bikes. Everybody was cheering and waiting for their rider.
The first part of the day wasn’t too bad. The climbing was moderate and there was a bit of a headwind (elevation chart of the 508). Last year’s winner, Gecko, passed me around mile 40 riding a very nice time trial bike. I had debated whether to ride my tri bike but given the amount of climbing, I didn’t think it would be a good decision. Some riders will actually switch bikes during the race depending upon the terrain. They might ride a more conventional road bike for the climbs but ride a time trial or tri bike on the flats. 508 miles is a long way to ride in an aero position. Maybe you can gain 1 or 2 MPH but you pay for it on the lower back and shoulders. Gecko eventually dropped out due to lower back problems.
By late morning, we arrived at the windmills. It was slow going up the hills and plus it felt like the windmills were blowing the wind right at us. I kept checking my brake pads thinking maybe they were rubbing against my wheels and holding me back. Nicole and Mona would stop every 5 or 10 miles, helped navigate any upcoming turns and gave me a fresh water bottle. For lunch on Saturday I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a banana.
The major goal of the day was to get over Towne’s Pass in the daylight but that wasn’t going to happen. We arrived at the bottom of Towne’s Pass just as the sun was about to set. So we made the 4600’ climb in the dark and were able to pass a couple riders during the climb. At the top, I put on a jacket and we made a pretty fast descent into Furnace Creek. From there the road snaked along the valley to Badwater, the lowest point in the United States. If you’ve never been to Badwater, don’t expect much. There is nothing there but a sign…and some funky smells.
From Badwater, the road turned worse. Lots of cracks and bumps, just what the doctor ordered after 300 miles. We saw a couple riders ahead in the valley and saw a few cars behind us but nobody really within a mile or two. Maybe an hour later, we passed another rider on the climb into Shoshone. After Shoshone, it turned a little chilly and I realized I forgot to pack gloves. Luckily, Mona lent me some very stylish, big and comfortable red gloves. They did the trick and kept me moving through the night. But after Shoshone is where my vision problems began.
Sometime during the night I started seeing things that really weren’t there. It must have been around 3 AM. My eyes were already dry from riding the last few hours through Death Valley, and we started the climb outside Shoshone, a climb maxing out at about 3300’. The descent down the backside is hard to describe other than I wish you could have been there. It’s a little like the Disneyland ride Space Mountain. Nicole and Mona are following right behind me in the Jeep, lighting my path down the road so I could steer my bike around corners and over bumps and dips. When we came to steeper downhill portions, the bike would speed up and out ahead of the lights and into the unknown. If I needed to use the brakes, the thought in the back of my mind was crashing into the hood of the Jeep. You are a little tired, you can’t really see that well, you are on a road you’ve never been on, and you have this car right on your tail. The rider and driver are both trying not to fall asleep. And you are trying to go as fast as you can without losing control.
But as the road flattened I started counting the miles to Baker. How much farther? Baker would mean about 400 miles down and only a little over 100 more to go. The next goal: let’s try to get to Baker before sunrise. So riding through the night, I kept looking for a mileage sign since I couldn’t read my bicycle computer in the dark. I’d look ahead and see a sign and thought “OK, now I’ll know how much farther.” But as I would get closer the sign would vanish and instead it would just be a reflector on a post sticking up out of the side of the road. I’d raise my hopes, pedal a little harder to the next sign only to realize it was just a reflector. I was having a difficult time focusing. To add insult to injury, right before the sun came up, some guy on a very expensive time trial bike, skin suit and aero helmet went flying past me followed by his crew van. I thought how can anybody have that much energy after pedaling all day and all night? Not to worry, Nicole and Mona pulled along side of me and told me “he’s a relay rider”, which meant his team had started 2 hours later and was only riding portions of the race. Still, nobody should look that fresh! The guy probably just woke up and took over for the poor soul who had ridden all night and was sleeping in the back of their crew van! The vision problems continued for a couple hours until the sun came up. Finally, we pulled into Baker and I told Nicole and Mona that I needed to sleep for 30 minutes because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. As planned, they kept me out of the Jeep and on the bike. However, as I started to head down the road, I noticed the right lens of my sunglasses was completely flogged up. Quickly, Nicole wiped them off and then she handed them back to me. But I still couldn’t see out of them. So I took them off and noticed that everything appeared blurry, with or without the glasses. I started to rub my eye, then Nicole took a look and nearly fainted. Apparently, the pupil was gone and my eye was behind a thick cloud. I tried to flush it with some water then Mona tried with some saline. Nothing helped. With one good eye, I got back on the bike and 20 minutes later pulled over, having a very hard time keeping my eyes open, and everybody compromised on a 20-minute nap. My thought was if I just could just close it for 20 minutes, then I’m sure it will be fine? 20 minutes never went by so fast. But we were 390 miles into this thing and not going to quite. So again, I was back on the bike and Nicole was on the phone with Kaiser trying to explain the condition and the circumstances.
Nicole: “My husband has been riding through Death Valley for the past 24 hours and his right eye is really cloudy and his vision is blurred. Does this sound like something serious? He’s having a hard time keeping the eye open and we still need to ride another 120 miles.”
Nurse: “Shouldn’t he have worn goggles?”
Nicole: “Yes, that would probably have been a good idea.”
Nurse: “Is any liquid come out of the eye?”
Next, Mona sped up and Nicole rolled down the window and asked me a question, then they dropped back, following me.
Nurse: “Does it help if he blinks?”
Mona sped up again and Nicole rolled down the window and asked me then dropped back.
Nurse: “Anything affecting the vision should be looked at. He should come in.”
Bummer! But we decided to finish the race THEN go to the doctor.
The last 100 miles took a long time. The pace was slower, the temperature was hotter, I was cranky, really thirsty and the roads were miserable. My feet kept falling asleep so I would get up out of the saddle and try to stretch my toes. You know that you are close to finishing, but unfortunately you still need to do the work to finish. Going through the Mojave Desert the road was brutal. Then going into San Bernardino, it smoothed out and we could enjoy some of the scenery. Plus, we were now in cell coverage and Nicole would let me know when someone had called the cell phone and wished us luck. From Route 66 to the finish, I was running on empty. However around this time my eye finally returned to normal. All of the sudden I noticed things were clear. The last couple hours, I would drink some fluids but a few minutes later be completely dry. Nicole and Mona really helped me get through the final 20 miles. At about 5 miles out, we caught Dung Mite and passed him to seal an 8th place finish in 32 hours and 33 minutes.
We took a few minutes to catch our breath at the finish then jumped in the car to get Mona back to her car in Ontario so she could drive back to Phoenix and we could drive home. Probably the hardest part of the weekend was the drive home. We didn’t get out of LA until about 9 PM Sunday night and weren’t home until 4 AM Monday morning. Unfortunately, with only about 10 hours sleep all weekend, we slept right through our alarm clock and arrived a couple hours late to work.
What it took:
* Spectacular Support from Nicole and Mona
* 1 Bagel
* 4 Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
* 2 Bananas
* 2 Cookies
* Pretzels and Chips
* Fig Newtons
* 3 Clif Shots
* 1 Clif Builder Bar
* 15 Bottles of Gatorade
* 2 Vitamin Waters
* 5 Cokes
* 1 Diet Pepsi
* 1 7-UP
* 4 Monster Drinks
* 3 Mocha Starbucks
* Unknown Energy Drink Bought During The Last Stage By Mona
* …And A Lot Of Pedaling