2004 > Furnace Creek 508 > Tom's Report
Daddy Long Legs does the Furnace Creek 508
October 16-18, 2004
At some unknown hour in the middle of the night, Crew member Michelle awoke in the back of the van after managing to get a couple hours of sleep as her fellow crew, Thomas and Marti, drove. At first Michelle was disoriented. "Where am I? Oh yeah, crewing the 508" she thought to herself. Then sitting up she looked out the front window to see how the rider was doing. "My god he's still out there". Race director Chris Kostman would later describe the winds that night as "thermonuclear" and "the worst in the history of the event". Daddy Long Legs crept slowly straight into the teeth of the gale at slow jogging speed, 270 miles into the 508 mile race. Tumbleweed whipped past, the occasional huge wall of dust obliterated visibility and the rider struggled to stay upright as constant side gusts blew him left and right. The noise was deafening.
The rider, Daddy Long Legs, was me. What would possess someone to spend their night doing such a thing? I don't recall exactly when I first thought about doing this race myself, but I do recall who told me about it. My friend Beth, long ago, told me about her first experience with the "508". At the finish line, she felt if she could do that, she could be an astronaut. She could be a brain surgeon. She could be anything. It was a very compelling story. And yet it took me nearly a decade before I dared try it myself. Somehow, this was my year. Now that I've finally done it, I'm left wishing I had done it a lot sooner. It was an extraordinary experience.
Team Daddy Long Legs had arrived in Santa Clarita the previous Friday. After checking into our hotel rooms, we set about decorating our van with the necessary signs and mounting our mascot, a giant spider, on the roof rack. Marti had been in charge of van decoration and found the spider for sale. I guess it's easy to find a spider with 4 foot legs this close to Halloween. Our van got a lot of attention. Other teams had pictures of their totem on their van, but ours was the only van that I recall with an actual critter on the roof.
I signed into the race and we got through equipment inspection, all just in time for dinner. It was a very tight fit but we timed it perfectly. We drove to the dinner venue and enjoyed a huge pasta feed, sharing a table with Team Lemur, before heading out for some last minute grocery shopping and then attending the pre-race meeting. There was lots to do the night before and yet I found it all a big distraction. I had spent the previous week thinking "how am I ever going to have the patience to wait another week for this race?" I was so ready to go, the final hours were just torture in some ways.
Although the race didn't start until 7am, my alarm was set for 5am, to allow me a fairly leisurely time getting up. My first thought as I woke up was "the next time I sleep, I will be a 508 veteran". It was a cool thought but also kind of scary because I knew that that would not happen for yet another 40 some-odd hours.
The crew and I assembled downstairs and started in with the last minute preparations. I ate a bagel and some bananas and we did the obligatory pre-race photos. A complete disaster was narrowly averted when the crew realized that I had the key to the van in my jersey pocket! If I had left with the key, it would have been chaos I'm sure. They could have gotten someone to drive them up the course to get the key from me but we really didn't need that sort of mess right at the start. I'm glad they were paying attention because I certainly wasn't!
At around 6:55 am Chris Kostman got up and made some last minute remarks, played the national anthem, and then at 7am sharp we were off! The field seemed fairly huge and pretty well took over the road for the first few miles. Riders offered words of encouragement to each other as we all rode together in a big pack until the end of the "yellow flag zone" about 4 miles in. After that, we were supposed to split up and not ride near each other. The rules specified at least a 12 meter split between riders except when passing. But try to get a pack of 60 cyclists to suddenly just spread out! It sounds easier than it is. I was all jammed up behind some guys and did my best to ride a different line so I wasn't drafting but basically for a little while at least you can't avoid each other. Fortunately, around about this time I realized that I was well hydrated and needed to stop to water the bushes. When I got back on the bike, I was alone on the road. I liked it better that way, I could focus on just enjoying the ride instead of dwelling on my relative position to other riders.
The initial section of the race is a 2500 ft. climb up San Francisquito Canyon. It was cold and foggy and I wasn't wearing any warm layers, but I managed to stay warm just pedaling. As we approached the summit, we came out of the clouds and the temperature warmed considerably. The canyon got pretty rugged towards the top and was quite beautiful. After the summit, we dropped down slightly before meeting up with our crews for the first time. In order to avoid congestion in the first few miles, crew vehicles had been required to drive up the course 24 miles and wait for their rider there. I had therefore been on my own for 24 miles which meant I needed to carry lots of water and some basic tools to repair a flat. Now as I approached the van I got to see my crew swing into action for the first time. Thomas and Michelle quickly stripped me of my pump, tools and camelbak and gave me a water bottle and two-way radio in exchange. Marti took photos of the whole thing. And as quick as that, I was off again. It was a textbook maneuver.
Descending off of Johnson Summit after this first crew handoff gave me my first real indication of the winds that were to be with us for most of the remainder of the course. On the gradual descent, I looked down at my computer and was astonished to see it reading 57 mph. The road was smooth and straight and it didn't feel nearly that fast. But I had a BIG tailwind pushing me down the mountain. My speed slowed a bit as the road leveled out, but even on the flats, riders were sailing along at 25 mph with little or no effort. The crew practiced leapfrog support along this section, driving a mile or so up the course and then waiting for me. I tried playing with the two-way-radio setup and found that we could communicate quite effectively.
After rocketing across the first valley we arrived at the foot of the second climb of the race, the aptly named "windmills climb". Again, with the monster tailwinds, it felt way too easy. I had no trouble managing double digit speeds up the hill even while paying attention not to overdo it this early in the race. Towards the top of the climb the terrain starts to get more rugged and the nearby hills are covered with the giant windmills that give the climb its name. My crew passed me a fresh bottle in a "rolling handoff" towards the top, and then I headed down the endless descent towards Mojave. As I descended, I could see the Mojave airport in the distance, the airstrip from which, just a few weeks prior, Spaceship One had made history by becoming the first ever private space launch.
The crew stopped in Mojave after handing me a pump and spare tube in case of a flat. They intended to go get groceries and might not see me for a while. The tailwinds were positively absurd by this point and I roared down the road at 30 mph. I sailed into California City, barked out my totem at the first time station, and then sailed right on out of town again. The miles were ticking off at an astonishing rate. Not knowing this, my crew were taking their time back in Mojave. By the time I got down to the base of the Randsburg climb, I had covered 100 miles in 5:13 with very little effort. My crew finally caught up with me just in the nick of time: my water bottle had just run dry.
The route sheet declared that the climb to Randsburg, the third climb of the race, was "harder than it looks". I think what really sets these desert roads apart from what I am used to is just how far you can see. Approaching the base of the climb, you can see about 7 miles of road stretching off into the distance absolutely straight, right there in front of you. Riding up the hill, the end never seems to get any closer. But I was in exceptionally good spirits at this point and I loved the climb. Just before the summit the endless straight road finally gave way to some twisty turns and as I passed my crew, I yelled out that this was way too easy so far and if the tailwinds kept up like this, we would be climbing Towne Pass in daylight.
Past Randsburg, we descended almost continuously to Trona at mile 150, with the exception of two short and easy uphill sections. We traversed bare desert and off to the side of the road, a group of supervised children were riding motocross. Once again I was descending a moderate grade with a roaring tailwind and I was again astonished at the reading on my speedometer: 59 mph! It finally started to dawn on me that I was going to have to pay this all back later on. If I'd been going north with the wind for the entire day, it stood to reason that the return trip overnight would be against a strong wind. How true that would turn out to be!
At Trona I passed the second time station and again barked out my totem as I passed by. My crew stopped in town to gas up the van before later rejoining me. I climbed the fourth climb, the so-called "Trona bump", with ease. A few other riders were in my vicinity for a change, and we exchanged a couple of words. Everyone agreed the winds were amazing. After the summit of the Trona bump, I sailed down into the Panamint Valley, which took almost no time at all to traverse. The pavement was mostly fresh but the last 15 miles or so were quite bad. Overall I found that the pavement on this ride wasn't as bad as advertised. Yes there were some really ratty sections, but that was certainly not the norm. As we rode down the valley, one rider rode past and offered that he thought the scenery was horrible, that I should try coming up to the northwest. Oregon. Now that's scenery. I replied that I thought every place had its charm. "What is this place's charm?" he asked. I replied "its desolation is its charm". In that moment I think he understood, because he became silent and flashed me a big grin.
As is bound to be the case in life, all good things come to an end. And so it was with the tailwinds. After covering the first 200 miles in a blistering 10 hours with very little effort, we reached the foot of Towne Pass, with plenty of daylight left. I made a big deal of my appreciation as I passed my crew, sitting up and clapping at them, blowing kisses and generally acknowledging them as much as possible. Then I made the right turn onto Hwy 190 to begin the climb, and that's when things went all to hell. Suddenly, instead of having a 30 mph tailwind, I had 30 mph crosswind. Tumbleweed was blowing across the road in front of me. "Party's over" I thought to myself. To make matters really scary, it was still daylight on the first day, which meant the van couldn't follow me directly. I was out in traffic with gusts blowing me left and right unpredictably. It was really white-knuckle for a couple of miles before we finally got into the relative shelter of the climb itself. Once we headed up into the canyons the rock walls sheltered us from the wind and things started to settle down.
I got into a climbing rhythm but soon decided that after a full day's riding it was time for a potty break. The crew handed me the designated FC508 potty kit, which consisted, officially, of "everything you need in order to use nature's toilet". I wandered off into a big gully to bond with the desert. Unbeknownst to me, my crew was mischievously plotting to photograph the top of my helmet, which was still visible, or alternately draw numbers on sheets of paper, to be displayed in olympic-judge fashion upon my return, rating my performance in the bush. I didn't learn about these shenanegans until quite a bit later. I'm glad I was able to be a source of such entertainment for my crew. After a full day in the van, I guess folks can get pretty creative.
I climbed happily up the rest of Towne Pass as the sun set. We had taken a moment to put on my lights, change my glasses over to clear lenses and the van was now following me directly. I had expected the presence of the van right behind me to be bothersome, but I could barely hear the engine as they crept along, and it was nice to know that my friends were close by. The nearby mountain tops turned red in the setting sun before the scenery finally faded to black. It was peaceful and beautiful. I made good use of my granny gear in order to preserve my knees and fully enjoyed the climb. As we approached the summit, we came upon a huge four foot snake stretched out across the center line. I pointed it out to the crew so they would not run over it. It was the first of a lot of wildlife sightings that night. Finally, we arrived at the sign indicating the summit, and I stopped to put on my big powerful HID headlight and a windbreaker for the descent.
Descending Towne Pass on a bike is a whole adventure unto itself. I had decided that Marti, who has more driving experience than the rest of us combined, would be behind the wheel of the van. The top part of the descent is rolly and twisty and very very fast. Further down, the road straightens out and gets even faster. The van would need to stay close enough to still be in compliance with the rules, but far enough that they wouldn't run over me if I should fall. To make things even more interesting, the road occasionally dips, leaving you plunging into darkness at high speed. It was very exciting. I took it easy up in the top portion where the road was twisty, but once we hit the straightaway, I let go of the brakes and just went. Occasionally I would brake as cars approached in the opposite direction, but mostly it was a flat-out charge down the mountain. I stayed near the center line because it seemed the safest place to be at night. There's no ambiguity about where the road goes when you're on the center line. During one particularly steep section, the ground was going by so fast, I figured I must have been close to 70. Later on I checked my speedo and it registered a max of 62, slower than it felt but still plenty fast. We saw flashing lights in the distance and within a few minutes we caught and passed another, more sensible, rider.
Soon enough, the lights of Stovepipe Wells appeared and we coasted to a stop at a gas station to change back to a smaller headlight and get rid of my windbreaker. We were now at sea level and the temperature was balmy in contrast to the shivery conditions at the summit. Unfortunately, we were also now down in Death Valley in the midst of what could only be described as a gale. As we headed out of Stovepipe Wells, we cut across the wind, thereby mostly avoiding its brunt, but huge walls of dust and tumbleweed were blowing across the road. I had to hold my breath occasionally as I was engulfed in the dust. After a few miles we turned and headed straight into the wind. I know this road from having ridden the Death Valley Double numerous times, and there is a nice descent just past the turnoff to Scotty's Castle. I knew we were in for a very long night when we got to the descent and I had to pedal hard just to get down it. My attitude and my body were deteriorating rapidly as we crept along. I knew there would be a short climb about a mile before Furnace Creek and I kept thinking the climb was just ahead and then it wasn't and my attitude would fall even lower. By the time we finally got to Furnace Creek, I was falling apart.
We arrived at the third time station in Furnace Creek, the halfway point of the ride, after 15 hours of riding. I again barked out my totem, then went over to the van and told my crew I was declaring an emergency. They were awesome and immediately went into action. I was nauseous and cramping and I had to sit down and then finally lie down on the gravel parking lot. Marti brought out a pillow for my head and covered me in a warm blanket. I commented that gravel had never felt so good. I didn't care at all that I was lying on rocks. As long as I was horizontal everything else was fine. After a while we started trying to treat my condition. I reasoned that I was probably electrolyte depleted so we administered some Endurolytes. No change. We then tried gatorade. We tried milk. We tried an apple. We tried tums. We tried advil. Nothing helped. Nothing seemed to have any effect at all, positive or negative. I remembered the same thing happening exactly three weeks prior at the Knoxville Double. My stomach had just stopped absorbing anything and when I finally threw up, only then was I able to start absorbing water and nutrients again. I decided, therefore, to go throw up and see what effect that would have. I wandered off down the road a bit so as to not offend anyone, and then threw up what seemed like gallons. It seemed as if literally everything I had consumed in the past few hours was just sitting inert in my stomach taking up space. No digestion or absorption had happened at all. I threw up 4 or 5 times.
Upon my return to the van, I felt so good all of a sudden that I declared to my astonished crew that I was all better and we were getting under way. I hopped back on my bike and off we went, just like that. We had been at that time station for over an hour and I was really feeling the need to get on down the road. We headed up a half mile or so and then made the right turn onto Badwater Rd. Once again, I was finding myself pedaling hard in order to go downhill. I plugged away for a few miles and then realized that with nothing in my stomach, I was running on fumes. With a total bonk imminent, I reluctantly stopped yet again and called for food and drink in the van. The crew once again sprang into action, feeding me and making me hot tea. After a few minutes I was energized and got back on the bike, this time to stay.
The distance from Furnace Creek to Badwater is 17 miles. On previous years I've covered this piece of road as part of the Death Valley Double. It had always gone by pretty quickly. This time however, I was pushing into a steadily worsening headwind and it took us over two hours to cover the distance. I'm not sure it's possible to adequately describe the conditions to someone who wasn't there. I felt like a hood ornament. The headwind must have been in the 30 to 40 mph range, judging from the speed at which the tumbleweed whipped by. The roar of the wind was absolutely deafening. At one point, the van came alongside and Thomas tried to communicate something to me. He couldn't have been more than four feet from me, shouting as loudly as he could, but I couldn't understand a word that he said. Eventually I shrugged and gave up trying.
After what seemed like an eternity, we arrived at Badwater, the lowest point in the western hemisphere. We stopped at the visitor parking area and everyone used the facilities (which, since the facilities were locked, meant going around the back to water the desert). We still had 25 miles before we would get out of Death Valley and we were averaging about 8 mph so I figured we had another good three hours of this madness. Fortunately, my attitude was really good. I have no idea why, but I just had to bow to the absurd. It was so preposterous to be out riding a race in these conditions, I really found it amusing. On the road after Badwater, I began to sing loudly, belting out silly songs at the wind. At one point I defiantly stood and sprinted into the wind for a few hundred yards before once again slowing. The crew noted in the logbook "good natured complaints about the wind" after coming alongside and hearing me cussing and swearing with an imaginary foreign accent - "Thees ees boolsheet mon! eets boolsheet!"
One thing that was really cool about this section was the wildlife. I saw dozens of little nocturnal white mice out on the road. They all appeared completely disoriented, perhaps because of the wind, perhaps because of the strange lights. Invariably, they decided that the best place to be was right under my bike, requiring me to swerve a lot. Of course I was swerving a lot anyway because of the side gusts, so it all just became part of the game. I also saw a lot of scorpions and several tarantulas out scuttling around on the pavement. And later on I was reminded of my friend Ken when I saw his totem, a Kangaroo Rat, hopping across the road. We had lots of human company as well along this section. Teams were leapfrogging each other as one would stop for a rest while another continued. I passed and was passed by the same riders many times. I came across Dolphin and said hi. When asked how I was doing, I declared "I've been a lot better". "Me too" she said. Everyone was just getting hammered.
Just as all good things must come to an end, so, too, must all bad things. And so it was with the thermonuclear headwinds of Death Valley that night. After a few more hours of earnestly plugging away into the gale, conditions finally started to ease up as we approached Ashford Mills, the historic site which marks the start of our climb back out of the valley. A few miles in advance of this point, the winds died down to the point where I once again found myself riding along at normal pace. The pavement turned exceptionally crappy for a brief period, but then improved again. In hindsight, this might have been the worst pavement of the ride, although it didn't do much damage because of my extremely slow speed. We stopped briefly at the outhouse in the Ashford Mills parking lot and then headed on up the pass, out of Death Valley.
It's interesting that in hindsight, I think what I enjoyed most of all in this event was the climbing. Before the start, Chris Kostman kept saying helpful things like "try not to think about the 35,000 feet of climbing that you'll be doing" but honestly I found the climbs to be the most fun parts. For whatever reason, they suited me. By now the wind had mostly died, and we made quick work of the 1200 ft Jubilee Pass ascent. I alternately shifted up a gear and stood, then shifted down a gear and sat, trying to manage my effort and keep everything in balance. I remembered from previous rides here that there is a very quick descent off of Jubilee before starting the Salsberry climb and I wondered if the van would fall behind initially, leaving me without much light. But as it turned out, the sky was starting to lighten and while the van was still required to follow me at this hour, I didn't really need it anymore in order to see. We made the 1 mile descent off of Jubilee and then started up Salsberry as dawn broke on the second day of the race. We had covered 305 miles so far.
We hit the 7am mark somewhere on the Salsberry climb. At this point, it was once again legal to remove lights and have the van resume leapfrog support rather than following me directly. However, given that we weren't far from the summit, and the next time station was just at the bottom of the following descent, we instead opted to just continue in night mode until the time station. Somewhere near the summit it started to rain. It was just a very light drizzle, barely enough to get through my jersey. The cool drops were refreshing on my face and later on we got to see a really nice rainbow. I fully enjoyed the rest of my climb up Salsberry but was nonetheless glad to reach the summit and head on down. It was fairly chilly at the top at 3300 ft, in the rain. The descent was a bit of a letdown compared to the others. It was the first descent so far in the race where I had to pedal in order to maintain speed. The wind wasn't helping and the grade wasn't very steep, so just coasting wasn't an option. I grumbled a bit about not getting my payback after all the effort on the uphill, but we made it down to the bottom soon enough, and after one flat mile south we were at the time station in Shoshone.
I don't know why, but it was somewhere after Shoshone that my mood really started to dip. We were doing everything right: my crew was taking great care of me, I was hydrated, fueled, had the right dosage of caffeine in me and it was now daylight on the second day. I should have felt fine. But having seen the tremendously slow pace that we averaged against the headwinds all night, I started doing some mental calculations and grew concerned about whether we could make it to the finish before the cutoff time if this pace continued. The winds were still against us and my pace was averaging about 9 mph on the flats. I didn't want to be out all night the second night and was concerned about my crew having to drive 8 hours to get home on crowded southern California freeways after being up for 48 hours with no sleep. It was a real concern. I got over the smallish Ibex Pass just outside of Shoshone and then headed down into the big valley below with my mood pretty much at rock bottom. We made a few stops along this section to apply sunscreen and get out my windbreaker for the descent. Finally I stopped and asked for the calculator and figured out that I'd have to average 7.7 mph to make the cutoff. I was doing maybe 9 or 10 on the flats and I was sure that I would slow down once we got to the mountains. As it turns out, this was wrong. I sped up considerably once we got to the mountains. But I didn't know this would happen. The crew were genuinely concerned that I was going to declare that we couldn't make it and throw in the towel. But Thomas stepped up and applied logic to the situation, and it worked brilliantly. He presented two arguments: namely that you can't say what will happen in the mountains until you've tried at least one of them, and if being out all night is the concern, you don't need to make a decision about quitting until at least nightfall, which was still a good 7 or 8 hours away. I fully agreed with his reasoning and sucked it up and got back on the bike. As if to prove me wrong in my concerns, the wind immediately started to die down at this point. Pretty soon I was averaging 10 mph. Then 11. Then 12. By the time we got to the next time station at Baker, there was hardly a breath of wind and I was riding a normal pace of maybe 16 mph again. Things were suddenly really looking up. I think we all breathed a sigh of relief!
At the time station in Baker, I felt kind of lightheaded. I had been taking a no-doz every 4 to 5 hours since about 8pm the night before. One no-doz is, according to their label, equivalent to a cup of coffee. But just the same, I felt like lying down. Thomas authorized a 10 minute nap in the van, which I immediately agreed to. I was expecting him to come in like a drill sergeant after 10 minutes to evict me but to my surprise I was allowed to stay in the van for a good 15 minutes or so. I didn't sleep but I did close my eyes and it felt good. In the end nobody asked me to get up, I got up on my own. I actually was starting to feel pretty good as we headed on out of Baker. The road into Baker had been jammed with RVs and was a little scary but the road out of Baker was pretty much deserted. The only traffic was race traffic. I fell in behind a couple of other riders, with their support vehicles, as we hit the early slopes of the Kelbaker climb, the biggest climb of the second half of the race. This climb was advertised as being really tough mentally because it seemed to go on forever. As we headed on up the hill, the two riders in front of me were yo-yoing a bit. They would speed up and open a gap, then slow down and I'd get all jammed up behind them. Passing a rider is easy but passing a rider with his support vehicle is hard so I was a bit reluctant to do so. Instead I would find excuses to slow down a bit. Once I stopped to water the desert at least partly as an excuse to let the others get up the road a bit. But the problem was, once I got back on the bike, I caught up to them again. It was starting to irritate me.
And then, after 400 miles, after about 30 hours on the bike, my body suddenly exploded with energy. It was the most awesome second wind I've ever had. I decided to pass the other two riders. As I accelerated to come around the first one, it felt really good. So I accelerated a bit more. It felt even better. Then I accelerated a bit more to come around the second rider, and it felt still better. At that point I figured I was just going to go for it. My legs felt like machines and the bike surged ahead. 13 mph. 15 mph. 18 mph! I was flying up this mountain at 18mph when a few hours earlier I was doing 9 mph on the flats. I couldn't believe it. I felt absolutely bulletproof. I could push myself as hard as I wanted and nothing hurt, nothing weakened. The crew came up alongside and gesticulated excitedly at me from the van. They could see what was happening. The other two riders were a few hundred yards back. Then a quarter mile. Then they were just gone. The summit was still far off, but I didn't care. I was on top of the world. After feeling so low for so many hours it was just an incredible relief to be feeling better. I was flying up this big mountain and loving it.
I hammered on until the summit, feeling invincible. I was almost disappointed to start the descent and as I headed down the hill I found myself looking forward to the next climb. The descent off of Kelbaker Rd into Kelso is the one place on this route where the pavement really lives up to its bad reputation. It's hard to describe it to someone who hasn't been there. Imagine taking a rocky dirt road and then carefully reproducing a paved version that was just as bumpy. Ok so far so good, but then you have to ask yourself, why would anyone do this? Was it some kind of sick joke when they made the road? My bike rattled wildly as I bounced down the hill. The white line on the shoulder provided some relief but wasn't always in good enough repair, itself, to be ridden on. On a few occasions I tried riding on the center double yellow line but that, too, was pretty inconsistent. Fortunately the descent wasn't terribly long and pretty soon we arrived at the time station in Kelso at the bottom of the valley. As if to add one last insult to the rider, we had to cross 4 or 5 railroad tracks just before the time station.
My body was severely battered by the descent. At the time station in Kelso, we changed my socks and cleaned my feet. My little toes on both feet had gone numb on the descent from all of the vibration and new socks seemed to help. One of my oddities as a cyclist is that I wear sandals. They are cycling sandals, made by Shimano, but nevertheless they are fairly unusual. One of the benefits of sandals is that you can wear thick cushy socks and not overheat your feet in the summer. So I switched to my thickest socks for maximum cushion and my feet were immediately very happy again. The rider and crew were happy as well. We were all in a fantastic mood because of my second wind. We all knew now that not only would we finish, but we would finish early enough to get some good sleep before having to drive home on Monday.
I departed Kelso ahead of the van and very quickly worked myself back up to hammer pace on the "Granites climb". This was one of the most beautiful climbs of the race for me. The surrounding mountains were abrupt and very rugged, and it was once again fairly late in the day and the sky was getting reddish, accenting the natural minerals in the hills. At 6pm we stopped and dutifully switched to night mode, mounting lights on the bike and switching my glasses to clear lenses. From then on the van had to remain right behind me, just like the first night. As we continued on up the road I saw flashing lights in the distance and realized that there were other teams up the road a bit. I was in full hammer mode now and caught and passed one of the teams near the top. The second team was a bit more tenacious. Just below the summit we both pushed it up to full throttle. I never did catch the other rider, but on a few occasions I was out of the saddle in a full sprint. I was still feeling fantastic and starting to wonder how long this would last.
At the top of the Granites we stopped briefly to put on my windbreaker for the chilly descent. A little further on we stopped again to switch to my full winter jacket and tights. It was really quite chilly by now. The descent was fantastic, the pavement was smooth and the downhill went on forever. Marti commented that we must have been back down to sea level after that descent. To me, it felt like we must be underground after coming down that much. It gave me a nice chance to rest since I didn't need to defend myself from bad pavement, or pedal at all. I did notice, however, that my head was starting to feel a little bit loopy and I wondered when it was that I had had my last no-doz. When we got to the time station at the the bottom of the hill, I requested another dose and perked up a bit after that.
Time station #7, at the bottom of the Granites descent, is a fun one. It is dressed up like a Hawaiian luau and advertises "hula lessons". Upon my arrival I was given a customary lei and alohas and mahalos were exchanged. Michelle stepped back into the shadows for a nature break and one of the rest stop workers told her "go back a bit farther: we live here ya know!". I thought to myself "yeah, best not to pee in the man's yard". More on that topic later! For now, we made the right turn onto National Trails hwy and began a 15 mile flat section. I started out in my big jacket but quickly realized that it was warm again now that we were down off the hill, so I switched to the windbreaker instead. The road was dead straight, but rolled slightly up and down. I had a visual image of where we had to go from having studied the map intensively prior to the race, and I rode along watching for the lefthand s-curve that would signal our next turn. After a few miles the road did, indeed, curve to the left and then right again, after which we made the left turn onto Amboy Rd. I was really smelling the barn by now and was hammering down the road in my aero-bars. I finally warmed up to the point where the windbreaker was not needed, and sat up, removed it, and handed it back to the crew.
Up ahead in the distance, I could see flashing lights indicating other teams snaking their way up the hill on the final climb, the inexplicably named Sheephole Summit. Once again I was fooled by the apparent distances in the desert: things are always a lot farther off than they look. After spotting these lights on the mountain up ahead, we still had to motor on for what seemed like forever before we finally got to the base of the climb. And then, just as quickly as my second wind had appeared just outside of Baker, it suddenly disappeared. I had ridden 70 miles in full sprint mode, but now, at the base of the last climb, I was starting to lose my strength. On paper, this was a little climb, significantly smaller than the previous two. But for me, it was huge and very steep. I crept up the road feeling weaker and weaker as we went. I tried to gauge how much climbing remained by looking at the flashing lights of the other vehicles up ahead. But just when I thought I knew where the summit was, I'd catch sight of another vehicle still farther up. It was a bit demoralizing and to make matters worse, I was starting to get really cold again. We stopped just below the final push to the summit to get out my full cold weather gear. The pavement was once again atrocious in a way that I've just never seen before. I sat and looked at it and just laughed. But we were going uphill at a slow pace, so the bumps weren't a problem for me.
Initially on Sheephole Summit, there had been a lot of traffic, but mysteriously, at almost precisely 10pm, all traffic stopped. We plugged away to the summit in silence. I headed down the other side secure in the knowledge that once at the bottom, I had nothing left but a 20 mile straight section that climbs a bit, but oh so gently. The descent was unremarkable but did allow me to rest a bit. Once on the flat run up to the finish, I felt that I should have been smelling the barn and feeling really great, but it was quite the opposite. It was the longest and hardest 20 miles of the race for me. It went on forever and nothing ever changed. There were no points of reference. All I could do was look at the flashing lights of the teams up ahead of me and hope and pray that they would soon turn to the left, indicating we were on the final few miles. After what seemed like an eternity, the van came alongside and Thomas told me to expect to come to the turn soon. I watched for roadsigns and finally we were there. After the left turn we had a couple of miles until the final turn. The van came alongside and Thomas told me we'd turn right at the flashing red light, and then it was about 3 miles to the finish.
I watched that flashing light and it never seemed to get any closer. Once again, distances in the desert are all distorted. It looked like it was right there at the next intersection, but each intersection came and went and the flashing red light was still off in the distance. Finally we got to it and made our final right turn. From here it was a straight 3 miles to the finish. I had heard some rumors about a nasty little climb just before the finish and sure enough, with about 2 miles to go, there was a short little climb that was so steep, it almost stopped me in my tracks. I was down to my absolute lowest gear, one that I hadn't used at any point yet in this race. After that, I was to look for a Burger King and then the finish line hotel was a quarter mile on from there.
At this point I started to notice that my eyes were playing tricks on me. I was riding along the white line by the side of the road, and as the line stretched up the road in front of me, I could see it turn into a man standing on the shoulder. I was utterly fascinated by this. I had heard stories of sleep-deprived riders hallucinating all sorts of fun things, but hadn't experienced it myself. I looked at the line, knowing full well that there was nobody there, but I clearly saw a man on the shoulder. I also started to notice that I was seeing lots of odd things in my peripheral vision that would disappear if I looked directly at them. I was seeing a lot of butterflies in the upper left quadrant of my field of vision that turned out to be lights reflected in my helmet-mounted rearview mirror. And as I approached one intersection on the final mile, out of the corner of my eye I saw a big tractor trailer truck approaching from the right. I reached for the brakes and looked right and.. nothing. It was an empty street.
But the best hallucination of all was so compelling, I didn't even realize that it had occurred until days later. Rewind a bit to time station 7, the luau, where I had thought to myself "best not to pee in the man's yard". My recollection of that time station is that there was a house and some old junky cars out front and maybe some rusting farm equipment. There were trees and possibly a fence. There were businesses along the roads nearby. That is what I recall. But then a few days after the race, I saw some photos of that time station. There is nothing there! It's just an intersection of two roads in the desert. There is some sand and some tumbleweed and that's it. The time station consisted of some big cardboard cutouts of hula girls and palm trees, one or two vehicles and a large open tent. That was it. Everything else I had imagined. I was absolutely dumbfounded. When the man told Michelle "we live here ya know" he was joking but I totally bought it!
At long last I spotted the Burger King, closed and dark at this hour, and then the hotel on the left. I turned into the parking lot and cut the tape (really a piece of toilet paper) to the cheers of the staff. My crew piled out of the van and we all congratulated each other. Someone woke up Chris Kostman and he came out and took photos of us and presented me with a shiny gold medal. Holy cow I finished the 508! I was in heaven. Thinking back to the earlier parts of the ride felt like thinking back to last week, we had been out there so long. We were all quite eager to go to bed and didn't linger. The crew piled back in the van and I got on my bike for the 200 yard ride to our hotel. Team Leatherback Turtles arrived at the finish just as we were leaving, so we got to cheer on another team and watch them cut the tape. Then we coasted down to our hotel and checked in for a well deserved night of sleep. Team Daddy Long Legs had finished!