18 October, 2010

Furnace Creek 508 Race Report Part 1 (Stages 1-4)

Adventure Corps describes it as "The Toughest 48 Hours in Sport" with references on their web site that include: "A Spiritual Odyssey, An Unparalleled Personal Achievement and A Premiere Ultramarathon Bicycle Race" and I can say that Furnace Creek 508 (FC508) lives up to all of this and more.

The FC508 was the last of the series of scheduled events for the onetoughride season and this event truly represented the spirit of the project and the pinnacle of my cycling experience to date. This event was also very different from the others on this seasons schedule as I would ride with four other friends (three riders and a crew captain) as a part of a 4-man relay team over a 509.54 mile course with 35,000 ft of climbing which we would have to complete in 46 hours or less.

We departed N.CA on Thursday, September 30th and arrived at the start city of Santa Clarita, CA that evening to be ready for the vehicle and bike inspection and team check-in on Friday. After completing the inspection and check-in we had some time to run some last minute errands and then it was off to the mandatory pre-race meeting. It was during this meeting that it would really sink in that this race would start in just a little more than 15 hours. As the Race Director shared parting words that a lot of things can and will happen out there and that we all needed to do whatever it took to make it to 29 Palms before 9AM on Monday...I admit, I was a little nervous. Following the meeting, we headed off to dinner and then back to the hotel to call it an evening as Team Magical Liopleurodon had a race that next morning.

Saturday, October 2 at 3:30AM and we are awakened to the sounds of thunder, lightning and rain. We turn on the TV to check the weather only to find out the S. CA is being blanketed by a tropical storm that is not expected to pass until Saturday evening...I think, wow this should add an element to an already extremely difficult race. Gil and I head out to the van to check the damage to the signs that have been printed with an inkjet printer and while they are wet, only one is destroyed which is good as we'll be DQ'd without these and will not be able to start the race which is now only hours away. After removing the signs we bring them back to the room to dry them with a hair dryer and then apply clear packaging tape to seal them for what we anticipate to be a wet race.

About 5:30AM and the team is up and some are off getting breakfast while others are getting ready. Another hour later and we are loading up the car and the weather is improving and I am just hoping that this storm is faster than we are and that somehow we'll get a break and make it to 29 Palms by Sunday night. 8:00AM and the van is packed with everything we brought (the race ends in another city so we will not be back to Santa Clarita and must carry "everything") and Gil is ready to start as our lead man out and the rest of the team must get in the van and meet him at mile 24 which is before the end of the first mountain section of Stage 1. From there, we would leap frog (supporting them with liquids and fuel) our rider throughout the daylight hours of 7 AM to 6 PM when you are then required to trail your racer with the appropriate signage and lighting.

As I was able to work with a company called SPOT who generously provided us with a SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger (which would be worn by each racer during his respective stages) we were able to track Gil's progress by going to a pre-defined web page (on my iPhone) that had been set up so friends, fans, and donors of the onetoughride project could track the team by simply going to the web site.

At roughly 10:45AM Gil rolled past us as team mates Jason and Jim were ready to complete bottle and food hand-offs while I shot photos and our crew captain Cheryl (Gil's wife) readied the team car for departure and the start of the chase of our first team mate on Stage 1. As Gil passed and took fresh bottles and fuel he was nearing a long descent and then a relatively flat section for the next 23 miles till he'd start the next big climb. Gil was tearing it up over the flats and was making great time!

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We leapfrogged Gil for roughly the next 29 miles and then waited for him in the middle of one of the climbs. After waiting for some time we were getting concerned as Gil had a great pace the last time we saw him but it was heating up and we were now about 53 miles in. Another racer would pass and told us he saw Gil on the climb and he'd arrive shortly thereafter. A little bit beat up from the heat, he took on some water and fuel and continued the climb finishing up the the second mountain section of Stage 1. At this point he had a nice descent and then a fairly flat run into time station (TS) #1 where Jim would roll for Stage 2.

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After leapfrogging Gil for the next few miles we headed for the TS #1 to get Jim ready to roll for Stage 2 as Gil rolled the last 8 miles without us.

2:49PM Gil is in to TS#1 and Jimmy off and out on the course and the weather continues to heat up. Jim's got about 23 miles of rollers and flats before he starts mountain section 3. He's ripping up the course and taking taking positions from the other teams as he's now starting the mountain section and this guy is on a mission and not slowing down for anything! As Jim makes a short descent down to HWY 395 and then a right it looks like he may be cramping and we hand off more Enduralyte's and he's got another rider ahead...and that means another one to pass!

With a chance to refuel before heading into the evening hours (officially by race rules this is 6PM to 7AM) we leave Jim on the course in pursuit of a couple of other teams and the rest of the crew pulls over for water and gas. Jimmy's got a quick left in less than a mile and he'll begin some more rolling climbs. After refueling we're back on the course and chasing Jim but he's nowhere to be found and then we see him further up the course and he has now passed at least another 4 riders since we left left him before the gas station.

Jim is now heading for a 3 mile descent but we'll have to stop him right in the middle as it is a couple of minutes before 6PM and we have to start trailing our race with the appropriate lights and signage or face the possibility of being caught and receiving a time penalty or DQ. After stopping and readying the van for night riding we are back out on the course and heading for TS #2 and ready to get Jason on the bike for Stage 3 which will be our first stage that we'll complete in the dark. As dusk turns to dark Jim passes another rider who cannot keep the pace but struggles to get back in front of Jim. The Course Marshall sees this and waives the other rider and his crew to the side of the road...not sure if they got a penalty or a warning. Since we are now riding under night rules we cannot leave our rider and must pace Jim all the way in and only then get Jason ready and on the bike but he'll have to wait till we have Jim's bike back on the roof before he can start his stage.

TS #2 and it's 6:47 PM and Jason is ready to roll as he starts Stage 3 with 153 miles behind us and 355.8 miles to the end of the race. Jason's ride will include the well known Townes Pass which is a 13 mile 3,800 ft climb.  With grades of 10-13%, this is going to be one night of climbing. In addition, this is the longest of the first four stages at roughly 95 miles! Jason is riding like a machine as he pounds out mile after mile which includes a fueling regimen of Hammer products plus Skittles, Coke, and Red Bull. After nailing Townes Pass and the climbs that preceded it, it's a long descent and we cannot keep up with him as he passes other riders on this steep and sweeping descent!

Wrapping up Stage 3 Jason rolls into TS #3 at 1:47AM on Sunday morning and I am up next. While it is late and I have been up for almost 23 hours the adrenalin is flowing and I am ready to get out there and pound out some miles! It's now 2:15AM and after some logistics at TS #3 I am on the course for Stage 4. With 252.89 miles behind us we are roughly at the halfway point and I've got some Rush R30 on the iPod and it's just an awesome night to be riding with the stars out in the middle of the desert. About 1.34 miles up the road it's a right turn and I am heading for Badwater which also happens to be the lowest elevation in N. America at 282 ft "below sea level". I am feeling great and passing a few teams as I am able to wind it up when I am not out in the wind. After about 45 miles of rollers (and being a bit concerned as I see lightning in the distance) I am at the start of mountain section 6 and overtake another team as I start the climb up Jubilee Pass. Once at the top, I've got a 1 mile descent before hitting Salsberry Pass which will I will soon find out is a 9 mile grind that will take me an hour and 26 minutes (according to my Garmin) to finish. The sun is now coming up and I am ready to get off this bike as I have now seen the sun rise 2x without any sleep. At 7AM I am a mile or two from the summit and I waive the team forward to head for the next time station (it's 7AM so we can start leapfrogging again) so Gil can get his bike off the van and be ready to roll when I get in. 7:51AM and I am into Shoshone and TS #4 and Gil rolls out on Stage 5.

There's more to come but you'll have to wait for my next post!

It has been an awesome cycling season but this year the onetoughride project is my reason for riding. I'll be fund-raising through the end of October and while we are close, we are still about $425 short of the $10,000 goal that I have set (which will be matched by the Jeffrey Modell Foundation). If you have not donated yet, my family and the families and friends of the 10,000,000 children and adults around the world living with Primary Immunodeficiency diseases would greatly appreciate your support. For those that have made a donation (and in some cases multiple donations), thank you for your support!
Enjoy the ride...
Steve

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