19 November, 2011

one tough ride 2011, a strong finish!

2011 Furnace Creek 508 Finish: (L-R) Bursley, Melville,
Chris Kostman  (Race Director)
2011 Furnace Creek 508, Stage 1 neutral start
Bursley (RT w/"10")
Meals for Wheels Ride, Wild Hare U12 Team:
(L-R) Nicholas, Steve, Spencer
Meals for Wheels Ride, Wild Hare U12 Team:
(L-R) Spencer, Nicholas, Steve (team domestique)
one tough ride 2011 VIPs, Nicholas and Dr. David Lewis
It’s been a great season and this post will include a full recap of the 2011 Furnace Creek 508 as well as our last event for the 2011 Season which was the Wheels for Meals ride that I completed with Nicholas and his best friend Spencer whom I have dubbed the “Wild Hare U12 Development Team”.  This is a fairly long post so grab your favorite beverage and sit back and we'll recount the race stage by stage through to the finish!

The Furnace Creek 508 is an awesome experience in not only testing one’s mental and physical limits but also as a cycling odyssey that can really only be understood if you have done it.  In 2011, I had the pleasure of teaming up with Mike Melville as a two-man relay team as Team Wild Hare.

Mike took the even stages (2, 4, 6, 8) and I took the odd stages (1, 3, 5, 7) which would be completely new to me having ridden stages 4 and 8 with Team Magical Leopleurodon (a 4-man team) in 2010.  The 2011 Furnace Creek would also include the special treat of being able to race against the Founding Fathers of Ultra Cycling.  These four legends (Lon Haldeman, John Howard, Michael Schermer, and John Marino) were there when it all started 29 years ago with the 1982 Great American Bike Race which was the first non-stop bicycle race across the US and also covered at the time by ABC’s Wide World of Sports!

At 8:30 AM on Saturday, October 8th I lined up at the start and the crew and Mike headed out 24 miles onto the course to wait for me.  After a 5 mile neutral start led by the California Highway Patrol we’d turn left onto San Francisquito Canyon Rd. and the race was on!  The first 20 miles were tough with a lot of wind and much cooler temps (than last year) and I was fighting some sort of sinus thing and it was just tough to get into race mode.  After catching up with the crew at mile 24 I was feeling better and looking forward to a nice descent and then rolling along the flats till I’d hit the windmill climb before I’d hit California City and log my first 83.6 miles and more than 6,176 feet of climbing.

With cooler temps and fairly mild winds the Windmill Climb was not the effort I anticipated it would be and I rolled into California City at 14:21 with an AVG speed over the first 84 miles of just over 15.6 MPH.  Mike was ready to roll and I handed off the totem (a fake carrot of course since we were Team Wild Hare) and I got into the car to settle in for what would end up being just under a 4-hour rest before my next stage.

Stage 1 - Bursley: Miles Ridden 83.6, Elevation Gain 6,176 ft, Miles into Race: 83.6 miles, 6,176 ft, Time Station 1 Check-in 02:21 PM (Saturday)

Mike hammered Stage 2 with an AVG speed of just over 18.3 MPH over the 70 mile stage.  While Mike is always an amazingly strong athlete, this was an even more incredible effort considering he was still struggling with flu he had not been able to beat for the last three weeks.  Mike arrived in Trona at 18:11 setting me up for a great early evening start to Stage 3 which included the infamous 13 mile 3800 ft climb to the top of Townes Pass at just under 5,000 ft elevation.

Stage 2 - Melville:
Miles Ridden 70.2, Elevation Gain 4,212 ft, Miles into Race: 153.8 miles, 10,388 ft, Time Station 2 Check-in 06:11 PM (Saturday)

Before we could roll out of Trona, we had problems with the vehicle safety beacon lights that had to be operational as it was after 18:00 and they would have to be on till 07:00 on Sunday morning (race rules and the penalty is a DQ).  After a bit of fiddling I was able to get them working and jumped on the bike and was off for my 99 mile stage.  I passed a number of riders as I headed out of Trona for Panamint Valley but as the sun started to set it was clear that the top of Townes Pass was going to be cold.

As I made that right turn onto 190 East I could see Townes Pass right in front of me and all I can say is that it looked like an elevator of lights that went straight up into the sky.  With 130 miles on my legs and 47 miles into my 99 mile stage it was getting cold and this was just not going to be a lot of fun.  After just under 2 hours of climbing, I was at the top with a 16 mile descent in front of me but with the wind it was going to be hard to enjoy.  I did warm up considerably about 4 miles before hitting the rollers into Furnace Creek where Mike would get on the bike for Stage 4.

Stage 3 - Bursley: Miles Ridden 99.2, Elevation Gain 7,538 ft, Miles into Race: 252.9 miles, 17,936 ft, Time Station 3 Check-in 01:47 AM (Sunday)

After refueling the car and getting Mike on the bike he was off and ready to pick off some of the competition and attack the other of the two toughest climbs in this race which is Jubilee Pass.  Again Mike was like a machine out there dropping other riders as he ascended on Jubilee Pass then up and over and rolled out of Death Valley into Shashone where I’d ride Stage 5 into Baker.

Stage 4 - Melville: Miles Ridden 73.6, Elevation Gain 6,744 ft, Miles into Race: 326.5 miles, 24,680 ft, Time Station 4 Check-in 07:08 AM (Sunday)

Mike arrived shortly after 7AM and I jumped on the bike and was off.  Stage 5 was probably one of the best stages that I’d have with cool temps and relatively calm winds which was very different than 2010.  According to the Garmin, I was idle for only 1 minute and 7 seconds over the 53.6 miles of Stage 5 and had an AVG speed of 18.9 mph! I rolled into the Baker time station at 10:16 AM and was elated to know that I had only one stage left that was roughly 34 miles...the heavy lifting for me was now done!

Stage 5 - Bursley: Miles Ridden 53.6, Elevation Gain 2,186 ft, Miles into Race: 380.1 miles, 26,866 ft, Time Station 5 Check-in 10:16 AM (Sunday)

Stage 6 while relatively short at just over 35 miles is a brute starting out with a 25+ mile climb that offers no relief and is unprotected from the sun.  Mike cruised up the climb at a steady pace where he’d descend 10 miles into Kelso over some pretty nasty pavement and in fact I was told that it was so rough that another rider had broken his bars the prior year.  Mike arrived into Kelso at 12:36 PM with another great effort averaging just under 15 MPH over the Stage.

Stage 6 - Melville: Miles Ridden 34.9, Elevation Gain 2,920 ft, Miles into Race: 415 miles, 29,806 ft, Time Station 6 Check-in 12:36 PM (Sunday)

It was now time for me to get back on the bike for what would be my final Stage (7) for the 2011 Furnace Creek 508.  The Garmin (like me) was ready for the race to be over having personally logged 236 miles (and 15,900 ft of climbing) of racing but unlike the Garmin (which died at mile 7.2) I soldiered on into Amboy arriving at just after 3PM where Team Wild Hare would be required to serve a 15 minute penalty (before starting Stage 8) for a Stop Sign that “I” had run in the first stage of the race...I am still not clear on where I did that:)

Stage 7 - Bursley:
Miles Ridden 33.8, Elevation Gain 2,280 ft, Miles into Race: 451.3 miles, 32,086 ft, Time Station 7 Check-in 03:08 PM (Sunday)

After serving our time Mike was off to wrap this race up and he was a man on a mission.   Rolling out of Time Station 7 just before 3:30 PM a daylight finish was well within reach but we were also about to be treated to some head-to-head racing as Mike approached the Sheephole climb on Stage 8.  As he started the ascent Mike had our friends from Team Wolf Pack in sight.  I was driving and trying to make sure that both team riders were safe as the traffic was fairly heavy.  After a couple of attempts Mike attacked and overtook Neil just before the first half of the climb thinking that the false summit was the top. Both Mike and Neil are extremely strong climbers and I was enjoying the competition (especially since my stages were complete) but I feared that Mike had the disadvantage of not having ridden this race and Neil was a veteran and new the course.  Just beyond the false summit Neil would attack Mike and hold it through the top of the climb and descent but that race was apparently not yet over.

As we rolled along the last 20 miles into the finish Mike saw Team Wolf Pack and Neil was in sight and Mike was going to hunt him down.  As Mike closed in he dropped the hammer and passed Neil and never looked back.  Rolling into the city of Twentynine Palms with a tandem in sight Mike was going to drop another one before arriving at the finish line.  With a total time of 03:48 for Stage 8 Team Wild Hare had an official arrival time of 6:56 PM with an official finish time of 33:56:08!

Stage 8 - Melville:
Miles Ridden 58.2, Elevation Gain 4,170 ft, Race Total: 509.5 miles, 36,256 ft, Time Station 8 Check-in 06:56 PM (Sunday)...we did it in under 34 hours!

Two weeks after the Furnace Creek 508 I had the pleasure of riding in the Meals for Wheels ride with my son Nicholas and his best friend Spencer whom I have deemed the Wild Hare U12 Development Team.  We had an awesome day rolling just after 9:00 AM and then arriving back around noon in time for a great BBQ lunch complete with live music and ice cream for dessert!

I was very proud to ride with Nicholas and Spencer and see them complete the 15-mile course for a second year running.  We were also looking great with matching Team Wild Hare jerseys emblazoned with the Jeffrey Modell Foundation logo, Wild Hare team logo, one tough ride web site and our generous corporate sponsors CSLBehring, BMC Software, and Crank2.

I want to acknowledge some very important one tough ride 2011 team members for without their support and help we would have never achieved the success that we did and they are: my very patient and supportive wife Paula and my children Rachel and Nicholas, Vicki and Fred Modell and the entire team at the Jeffrey Modell Foundation, and Dr. David Lewis who is both Nicholas' Doctor and the Director of the
Jeffrey Modell Diagnostic and Research Center at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.

Thanks to everyone that supported the one tough ride 2011 project and for those that may still wish to make a contribution, please click on the Just Give badge on the right!
Racing for 10 million...


  1. Awesome job, Steve and Mike. Wished you didn't have that penalty so we could have battled it out in the last few miles of 8. I kept asking is there anyone behind me and I kept getting no for an answer. You guys rock! And your charity work is awesome.

  2. Bob, thanks for the comments on the post. Was a great season and was awesome to race against Spike, Spotted @ss', and Wolf Pack. Strong cycling buddies and some great commaraderie out there! Still have no idea as to where I ran that Stop Sign;)


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