My crew vehicle needed a new tire since the space saver spare was limited to 50 mph. That would’ve made for a very long drive home from Twentynine Palms. Not to mention that we would be getting into the finish in the wee hours of Monday morning. In other words, nothing would be open at 1am to get a new tire when we arrived.
The decision was made by Brandy, my crew chief, to roll on ahead and leave me unsupported. I like the comfort and security of having the support vehicle directly behind me through this section because the big rigs and pick-up trucks towing their “toy haulers” often buzz me way too close. My crew chief stocked me with food, No-Doz and flat repair and they went on to Baker. Good thing they left when they did since the tire shop was closing when they arrived. The proprietor was gracious enough to stay open after-hours and sell my crew a new tire.
I was falling asleep on this section. We were about 28-30 hours into the race and only 350 miles. I was just slogging along. I know I lost a lot of time. I even got off the bike because I was swerving so badly. The winds impeded my progress. The winds were probably only in the teens as far as wind speed. I took three No- Doz in the 30ish mile section to Baker. I made it into the time station just as my crew was arriving from gassing up, buying food and cold medicine.
I forgot to mention that one of the side effects of the windstorm was my sinuses were so clogged I couldn’t breathe. I got some relief from a crew on this stretch I can’t remember that crew name. I think they were a 4X team. Brandy bought nasal spray and that really helped to clear up my sinuses.
UPDATE 10/21/09 : THE 4X TEAM NAME WAS TEAM CLOWNFISH. Thank you very much for the looking after on the road.
I arrived at the Baker Time Station #5 15:13 or 3:13pm Sunday or 32 hours and 13 minutes elapsed time. I always feel relieved getting into Baker. I feel I have the race in the bag. It’s only another 125 miles to the finish.
Furnace Creek Time Station #3 to Shoshone Time Station #4 (Mile 252.8- Mile 326.4)
What more can be said about this stage that hasn’t been posted on blogs, race reports and weather reports? How about that I survived it? How about that I had many moments of “WTF?!?!?” Or how about that I just couldn’t believe I was riding in it?
Here are just a couple of comments I’ve seen.
From Adam Bickett’s Blog
“I was only averaging around 11 mph. Sand, dust, and rocks sprayed in the air. I tried to yell to my crew as they pulled alongside, probably about how ridiculous the conditions were, but realized neither of us would ever be able to hear each other. I shook a bottle, and got back a full bottle of Perp. We’d have to use gestures.”
or Dan Crain’s Blog–
“…the 50 miles between Furnace Creek and Ashford Mills was much worse this year than in 2004.”
I left the Furnace Creek Time Station knowing that I would face headwinds as I went south through Death Valley but I had no idea how ridiculous they would be. The winds were blowing a steady 25-35 mph and gusting up to 70 mph. I can’t express to you how humiliating it felt to be riding at 7-8 mph into those headwinds. I pushed the pedals hard and got nowhere. I eased up on the pedals and felt like I was going backwards. I couldn’t get in my aero bars because I was being tossed around like laundry on a clothesline.
I would ride for 30 to 40 minutes and then pull over exhausted — physically AND mentally. When the road would turn slightly and the headwinds became crosswinds it was extremely difficult to keep the bike upright. I would lean into the wind and when the wind would shift and I would go wildly across the road. I felt like I was in the start house of a Time Trial and balancing myself with the spotters’ help and then they would let go of me as a sick joke.
This mental and physical torture went on for hours. It took me six hours to ride 30ish miles. Eventually, at 5:07 am, Brandy, my crew chief, pulled me off the bike and suggested that I take some time off the bike. The “plan” was to wait until daybreak to see if the weather would improve. Meanwhile, I would have time off the bike, rest my body and recharge my mental energy. Remember, being in Death Valley our cell phones are more akin to paper weights than communication devices. We had no way of reaching out to the “outside world”, the internet, to find out what the weather forecast might be for the next few hours. Many riders took naps of at least a couple of hours. I have trouble falling asleep when I first get off the bike. By the time I get comfy so much time has gone by I can’t take a nap then. My crews, bless their hearts, have always found a way to fall asleep almost instantly when I’ve gotten off the bike.
Daybreak did bring slightly better conditions but only slightly. Or was it that I was refreshed from the hour off the bike? One thing I’d like to mention is the tenacity and will power Isabelle Drake, who was part of a 2X Sandhill Cranes, displayed while on the Furnace Creek to Shoshone leg. She battled through the night in short spurts like I did. We would leap-frog each other and give each other motivation to continue. One time when I pulled over exhausted she even said “Don’t you stop (or quit) and leave me out here!” Isabelle you’re an inspiration. I’m proud of you and glad to have witnessed your ride!
Based on my personal experience, the winds this year were the worst I have ever ridden in my four Furnace Creek 508s and at least five other Death Valley Double Centuries. I fought the winds as the sun came up and my only goal was getting to the base of the two exit climbs out of Death Valley, Jubilee Pass and Salsberry Pass. The first climb starts at mile 300 and climbs about 1000 feet in five miles to Jubilee (El 1285’). A one-mile descent leads to the next climb, about 2300 feet in 9.5 miles to Salsberry (El 3315’). Source
If you can believe it I was so happy to be climbing again. Well actually, I love to climb more than anything else. The climbs were uneventful just climb and climb some more. The best part of these two climbs was I was no longer riding into a headwind! LOL!
I rolled into Shoshone at 10:18 am Sunday morning. I’m almost embarrass to say that it took me 10 hours and 41 minutes for cover 75 miles but I’m proud to say that I continued on from Shoshone. By my count (17) SOLO riders, (4) 2x teams and (1) 4x team DNF’d before reaching Shoshone. But I was still standing and that has always been a great motivator to me.
TRONA TO FURNACE CREEK (MILE 153.8 TO MILE 252.8)
My stomach issues were gone and now it was a race to get to the base of Towne Pass before needing lights. Last year I was pretty excited to have been within throwing distance of the right turn onto Hwy 190 before needing lights. The Towne Pass climb begins after a couple of miles of making that right turn. This year my pace was about the same. I was excited with the real possiblity that I might actually “see” the Towne Pass climb again in daylight.
I crested the Trona Bump (mile 14 of stage) and began my descent into Panamint Valley. I was feeling good. I love the twisty descent off the Trona Bump and I have yet to have a crew film me on that descent. But there’s always next year right ? 😉 Tactically, the smart move is to feed your rider as they come through this chokepoint summit and then catch up with your rider on the open road. There is a lot of gradual descending into Panamint Valley. As a rider you can maintain a good average speed. So things were still looking good to make it to Towne Pass in the daylight.
However, Mr Murphy, of Murphy’s law fame, had other ideas. My crew vehicle had a blow-out on the descent off the Trona Bump. Luckily it wasn’t in the twisty part but it still must have been scary for them. So here I am down the road quite a bit looking behind me for my crew and I don’t see them. Nevertheless, I kept the pace medium to high maximizing the terrain and the tailwind to my advantage. After some time another crew vehicle pulls alongside me and offers me a bottle. They tell me what has happened to my crew and give me a bottle to help sustain me until my crew is up and running.
My first concern was for their safety. But that helpful crew (I wish I knew who they were) allayed those fears. Now my next concern was the 6 o’clock hour was rapidly approaching. The 508 rules state in part.
4. BICYCLE LIGHTING
A. While riding at night (defined as between 6:00PM Saturday and 7:00AM Sunday and between 6:00PM Sunday and 7:00AM Monday), each bicycle must be equipped with a legal front and rear lighting system and this system must be ON at all times.
Without my crew vehicle providing direct support with all associated safety equipment I would not be able to continue racing. I am now calculating how long it will take to switch bikes (for Towne Pass) and get the lighting set up WHEN my crew vehicle actually arrives. Tactically, the best move is to send the crew vehicle ahead, have them set up the vehicle and get your bike ready. Then you arrive, switch bikes and off you go in tandem with your crew vehicle.
As I’m doing my calculations, the race director pulls up alongside and asks me about my crew vehicle. I explain the situation and almost in synch we confirm to each other official race time and the importance of the 6 o’clock hour. I had already made the left turn onto Panamint Valley Rd which then leads to the right turn on Hwy 190. A few miles into Panamint Valley Rd it was 6pm and I pulled over. It pained me to see racers pass me as I was sitting on the side of the road healthy, willing and able to ride
Here are some photos from the 508 website copyright AdventureCORPS.
At approximately 6:25 pm my crew shows up. We do all the necessary things and we are off at 6:35pm. Why so long? Well I was almost 30 miles down the road (unsupported) and even at 60 mph it would take the crew 30 minutes to get to me. As I began my ascent on Towne Pass I looked back at the time off the bike as a blessing. I had time (almost 35 minutes) to rest and hydrate. So a blessing in disguise I’d say. You have to turn setbacks into positives or they mess with your head for the duration of the race.
I felt great on my climb up Towne Pass. I was passing solos and teams alike. I was climbing really well. I saw riders on the side of the road, riders walking and some just slogging along as I passed them. I kept saying to myself “the 35 minute rest–that’s your secret weapon” “steady- don’t blow up” and “don’t get passed”. Eventually the winds became stronger and stronger. The combination of the steep grades, 10%+, and the 30 mph winds began to wear on me.
Something I did differently this year was not stop at the summit for a picture and clothing change. My crew pulled up and asked what I wanted for the descent. I said, “Nothing I’ll freeze the first 1,000 feet but we are not stopping”. The temps weren’t that bad on the descent. As I crested, I saw a few racers/crews pulled over. I thought “good I’ll get a jump on them”.
On the descent of Towne Pass we couldn’t go any faster than 35 mph– safely anyway . Our space saver spare was virtually flat. It was tough to do but I kept the speed at or about 35 mph. Seemed like an awful waste of a good 17 mile descent but SAFETY FIRST. As soon as we hit the desert floor OMG it seemed like it was 80+ degrees in Death Valley. Julie asked if I needed anything and I said “No nothing. But can you turn down the heat!” I might have said thermostat :). It really did feel that hot down there.
This next passage might sound gross to some of you but it is what it is. After hours and hours of sports drinks my mouth was feeling pasty. I asked for my toothbrush and toothpaste so I could brush my teeth. I usually do this in Baker Time Station #5 (MILE 382.6) when I change into a fresh kit for the last 120 miles. But I just couldn’t wait. So brushed my teeth and felt so much better. And yes all while still being on the bike.
I started feeling stronger winds as I approached the right turn towards Furnace Creek. I couldn’t believe how windy it was. We pulled into the Furnace Creek Time Station (MILE 252.9) at 23:37 or 11:37 pm or 16 hours and 37 minutes elapsed time. My goal was to be there before my 2008 PR of 15 hours and 28 minutes. So now I was 1 hour and 9 minutes off from my PR. Funny how all the little things add up. The 15 minutes on Stage 2, the 35 minutes on Stage 3 waiting for my crew vehicle. The wind notwithstanding I was doing ok.
At Furnace Creek Time Station I spent a few minutes chatting with Blackbird and eating a turkey sandwich. We talked about the wind conditions and the time splits of other racers. My crew meanwhile filled the space saver spare tire with air. The tire blowout, the flat spare and the damage to the rental vehicle concerned me way too much. I eventually was able to shut it out but I do remember ruminating over it far too much.
Anyway, I took on some supplements and got back on the road.
MORE TO FOLLOW WE ARE ONLY 253 MILES INTO A 508 MILE RACE! LOL!!
First stage went well. I was on Portia. There is a lot of climbing in the first stage (over 3,000 feet in the first 25 miles) but I find I like it on the P3. My goal for the stage was to be within 5 minutes of my 2008 PR which was 4 hours and 35 minutes. My legs felt good and rested. I felt fit. It was a good start to a 500 mile race.
The odyssey began on Friday when dealing with Rent- 4- Less or Blue Oval as they seem to be called now. Colin and I did the cursory inspection of the exterior of the vehicle, got our key and off we went. Once back at the house it is time to remove one of the seats, pack the van, and get on the road to vehicle inspection. On the drive home, Colin notices that the left taillight is out. Minor thing but it is something that we assume will be working, it’s unlawful, and will be inspected at vehicle inspection.
We call Blue Oval and they say they will reimburse us for the expense of replacing the bulb. Colin and Julie are up to the task and retrieve a taillight bulb AND a spare. We pack the van and we start our drive north to Santa Clarita. Once inside the van we notice the interior of the van has some issues. The handholds (or OH-SHIT! handles as I like to calll them) are falling off, the passenger’s captain chair has one armrest falling off, and we find cigarette burns in various places. But more noticeable than all those things is this annoying shimmy that is shaking the van. We call Blue Oval again and try to arrange a swap of vehicles. May I remind you, we are on the freeway and loaded to the gills with two bikes and all the gear we will need for our 508 adventure. Our phone calls were in vain since we found out that because we had taken one of the seats out of the van that another location would not accept the van to do a swap.
Our conversation with the rental office did provide some comical moments such as:
Rental clerk: “Why didn’t you tell me you were taking the seat out?”
Me: “I was not sure when I rented the vehicle but decided afterwards when we were packing the van that we would have more room without it. I was not aware I needed to tell you what I was going to do with the seats.”
Rental Clerk: “Wait you’re racing the van? You didn’t tell me you were racing the van.”
Me: “No I’m not racing the van in Death Valley. I’m going TO a race in Death Valley. They need to inspect the van as my follow vehicle. Nevermind. Look, it’s against the law to not have a taillight anyway.”
This year’s pre-race meeting was one hour earlier which condensed the the vehicle inspection and general BS’ing time. Also the pre-race meeting was held at the host hotel which made matters so much easier than driving cross-town like years past. During the meeting the Hall of Fame class of 2009 was announced. I still have that as my goal. I sat there thinking I just need to get through this one and I have four finishes. Little did I know how difficult it would be to finish the 2009 edition.
After the meeting we were off to our hotel just a couple of blocks away. The usual routine on the eve of racing is Brandy and crew gets the perishable groceries and the other items sorted out in the van. I was fortunate enough to lay down and relax earlier than usual. It was before 9:30pm. I tried to find the local weather but what I found were conflicting reports of wind speed. I put down the Blackberry, closed my eyes and went through my visualizing exercises. As I said in a previous post, I had an unusual calm this year.
Before I even started the race I was riding with pain. On my way to breakfast I rode my P3, Portia, to the the host hotel. As I was going through the Denny’s parking lot I felt the chill of the morning. I took my hands off the bars and zipped up my vest. All of a sudden I see a pick-up truck rounding the corner. I get back down to reach the bars to swerve away from the truck and I TOTALLY miss my base bars. You see I hadn’t ridden Portia since June 27-28th when I did the Grand Tour 300 miler.
I had gotten so accustomed to my road bike and road position that I miscalculated where the base bars were and endo’d right there in the Denny’s parking lot. I hit the deck really hard. My right thigh, and both wrists were in pain from the fall. That fall was the cause of much discomfort and by day two it was just damn painful to ride my road bike because my wrists hurt so damn much. Today is the 12th of October 9 days after the race and my right wrist still hurts.
I had scrambled eggs, 2 pancakes, and a small bowl of runny oatmeal for breakfast. I really hate runny oatmeal. It was nice mingling before the race with my friends.
Off to the start line. Putting on my MOEBEN arm coolers. Thank you Nathan Sports for the reflective gear on my Cervelo P3. And yes I am almost covered from head to to in SKINS COMPRESSION garments. The Skins Bib Tights are fantastic. I trust them with my undercarriage for my Ultras.
MORE TO FOLLOW