Wednesday, October 5, 2011

2010 Furnace Creek 508 - Rock Rabbit's Fixed Gear Report

It wasn’t supposed to be so hard. After my struggles in the Hoodoo the month prior, I figured that the 508, even fixed, couldn’t be too bad. In the Hoodoo I had already dragged myself, unsupported, over a 10,000 foot pass in the middle of the night, vomiting, unable to hold down food or water. I had recovered, and found a raging headwind through the entirety of the “easy” mid section of the course.  Then another massive climb to over 10,000 ft, and a final internal battle as I finished in the early hours of the morning, my grasp on reality beginning to succumb to extreme fatigue.

The 508 couldn’t be this bad the second time around: I would have the luxury of a crew, the climbs were mostly gentler and at lower elevation, and I knew the course. Having only one gear, and no aero equipment would slow me down, but perhaps also liberate me from the competitive pressure to push my pace beyond my abilities.  I felt ready this time, with a (perhaps unfounded) confidence that this time I would do things right. I was wrong.

Death Valley, the desert,  the 508 course, all demanded more respect than I had given them. I dragged myself to the finish, with the help and guidance of my crew, but yet again my knowledge and experience of the meaning of difficult, of epic, was recast. At the finish, I was again left trying to salvage feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction out of what was really only survival in the midst of a complete breakdown.  The 508 and Hoodoo, both within about a month,  both extraordinary sufferfests,  left me utterly drained and exhausted.  I wanted to write about my experience, but put it on the back burner, struggling with how I wanted to express it. I’m now finishing this report a year later, only days away from the following 508,  and while some of the details have faded, the essence of the experience is still fresh and vital in my mind. I tried here to capture the kernels of memory that define this ride for me. My recollections center around my own experiences, from the narrow visibility of my saddle (and occasionally, the side of the road.) While they might not get enough mention below, my crew was an essential component of my success here, keeping me going through extremely difficult circumstances for everyone, all the way to the end. Thank you, Jordan, Anabelle, Bal!

Towne Pass. Mile 200. Dark.

Walking. 3 miles an hour. Ok, at least I’m still moving. My pedals periodically jam into my calves, punishing my awkward gait, kicking me for not being on the bike.  A moonlit stroll.  Brilliant stars. In the middle of an epic race.  Surreal.  Wrong.

The plummet had happened so suddenly. I was at the bottom of Towne, in the center of the pack, the middle of a procession of lights marking the road ahead and behind. I had recovered from my earlier slump, and thought I was feeling great. Here the route turned right and up toward the pass, then beyond to Death Valley.  Riders were stopping here, steeling themselves for the climb. I pushed ahead, almost giddy to start climbing, to destroy Towne with my one gear. A mile up and my confidence was waning.  My legs were empty, the distressed fibers barely firing, and willpower alone was hardly enough to torque the pedals around, one agonizing revolution every 3 seconds, up the 10% grade.  

OK, stop, switch to running shoes. This section was going to be on foot.  I had known this might be necessary. But not so soon. I could barely handle extended 10% grades on the fixie when fresh, but I was 200 miles in now, and in trouble. The change in position as I laced up my shoes churned my stomach. I tried to ignore it and jumped up, pushing my bike up the grade. I made it a few minutes, as all energy drained out of my legs. Stop again. The vomit came forcefully, and I retched pathetically, lying on a camping pad beside the road,  struggling to will myself to get back up.  Pitch black, moving painstakingly slowly. Various riders passed. For a second year, the race was passing me by on the slopes of Towne. This was a long climb, much longer on foot. I tried to convince myself it was ok, to keep upbeat. I was recovering, I would be able to spin down, and get stronger through the night, as I pushed on through Death Valley.  Near the top, the climb is finally back to reasonable grades. Cycling shoes back on. Back on the bike. Eat a little. Pass by the top of Towne, not stopping this time. 5,000 feet down, legs like manic pistons,  300 miles to go.  

Back on the bike near the top of Towne. Death Valley awaits.

Death Valley

The valley floor arrived none too soon. Bright reflective signs announce Stovepipe Wells, but the town was behind me before I notice it had passed. It felt warm. The moon was out. There was an eeriness to the night air. The wind was nothing like the maelstrom of the year before, but was still a nuisance, pushing against me as I battled my way south, around the curves and undulations of the tortured path out of the valley. And so the night progressed.  The grinding monotony of my slow journey through the dark desert was only occasionally broken - a nosebleed in the dry air, catching and passing a few riders, a handful of crackers. A brief respite at the Furnace Creek time station, still almost 50 miles from the climb out, and back on the road. 2:30 AM is a tough time, the body begging for sleep, the muscles aching from the hours and miles before, the mind dulled and a bit dazed, the world slowly pulling away, quiet and black.

Death Valley - The Climb Out

The valley is long, and seems even longer. I knew the road too well to fool myself. My stomach was not happy. I had been taking in decent amounts of food, calories, fluids. But something wasn’t quite right. My legs were weak, and the going was slow. I passed a few riders, but it was a death march out of the valley. The previous year I was fighting my way south through ridiculously strong headwinds at single digit speeds. But I felt great then, tackling epic conditions with a newfound strength from recovering from a near DNF. This time it was different. I knew all too well what was ahead of me, and I didn’t feel  particularly up for it. But I would need to suffer through it. Believing in the accomplishment instills meaning to the pain. I didn’t have energy for that, so I would just grind on.

Three hours of this unremarkable drudgery, and the sky was finally beginning to show some color. The sun was rising, but it wouldn’t peek over the towering mountains to the west for another few hours. Here at the base of the 3500 ft climb out of the valley, my souring stomach and growing fatigue became too much for me to overcome. I stopped, planning to sleep a little bit, and start fresh, recovered and ready to tackle the 200 odd miles left between me and Twentynine Palms. I stumbled forward as I dismounted, my legs absurdly sore, and as I sat down in the passenger seat, knew I was going to be sick. Painfully sick, in violent heaves. From the looks of it, most all of my chosen nutrition for my trip through Death Valley was staring back at me from the sandy shoulder. Great. Stomach exhausted and cramping, but finally rid of its aggravating contents. It had taken eight hours to drag  myself and my fixed gear from this camping pad on the side of the road of the climb into Death Valley, to the same wretched position on the climb out of Death Valley. I closed my eyes. I must have gained a few minutes of precious sleep, in between sips of lemon water and muscle massage from Anabelle, and increasingly impatient urgings from Bal to get the hell up.

Dawn breaks in Death Valley. Get back on the bike.

After almost an hour, I began the slow and uneasy process of dragging myself to my feet, mounting my bike, and rolling again. The longer the stop, the more painful the start. My legs were wooden and my stomach fragile, but my morale was on the rise. The morning was here, it was time to ride. With a wonderful lemon honey and water mixture in my bottles, I embarked on the monster climb to higher ground. The climb up Jubilee and Salisberry Passes averages a mild 5%, but for 15 miles. And in my weakened state and high gearing, that meant a gruelingly slow cadence of 35, or almost 2 seconds per pedal revolution.  I strained against the pedals, recruiting every enervated muscle fiber I could, in a tense struggle to keep moving. The difficulty of the climb brought me back into my element; I was a little happier with each painful, agonizingly slow mile. I felt once again what I had been missing since Towne...a reason to be doing this. Challenge. Overcoming it. Knocked down twice, reduced to puking on the ground, just to get up again, and push a stupidly big gear up this climb. Yes. I am doing this. I want to be doing this. 

The Escape from Death Valley

The beginning - San Francisquito Canyon

Santa Clarita. 7 AM.  The race is off with the usual casual banter at the start line, words by eventmaster Chris Kostman ( don’t think about the 500 miles ahead of you, the 30,000 feet of climbing, the wind, the heat...)  and a police escort out of town.

We reach the left turn marking the end of the neutral section, the pleasantries are over, and we’re heading up. The race is now strictly no drafting, but just as last year, no one wants to separate.  Annoying.  I try to keep it easy, to stay alone, but am still swarmed by draggers on. At one of the steeper rises I foolishly take off, wasting energy in order to get some separation. My gap thankfully sticks. I try to keep it sensible from here on, focusing on smooth pedal strokes, standing up and torquing the pedals when the grade stiffens, sitting and spinning out the tension on the flatter sections. The first summit finally comes, marked by one last, painfully steep section. I clench my teeth and power up it.

Rolling over the top of a climb on a fixed gear is a different experience - gone is the relaxing, enjoyable descent of a geared bike, the chance to rest the legs, catch your breath, enjoy the speed. Instead, the ceaseless spinning of leg, wheel, and crank seamlessly shifts from the grind of the uphill to the crazed dance of the downhill. I had trained extensively on my fixie, and had managed to improve my fixed descents, and limit the toll of the extremely high forced cadences of 150+ on my body. But still, the fixed gear descents offer little recovery to a body weary from the previous climb.

Then the right turn onto Johnson Dr, and the first crew meetup - the road here is lined with support crew, all cheering, and passing by them all  is exhilerating.  My crew were waiting near the end of the line, with a fresh bottle and some fruit, and I grabbed them as I passed. 25 miles down. The route then dropped quickly off the ridge into the vast desolation that is the Mojave desert, where we would trace a giant horseshoe across the expanse of rock and sand. 483 miles to go.

The Mojave, Day 1

I can’t find a pace slow enough to calm my anxious body. My heart rate is too fast. I nervously think back to 2009. Is this slow motion downfall happening again? I can’t let it. With minimal effort on the pedals I try to ease myself through the desert. It’s interesting to be in the middle of all the riders. I convince myself that I’m in my own race, that it doesn’t matter I thought I was faster. But still, no matter how easy I go, I can’t stop my heart rate from beating too fast. 

The beginning of the Windmill climb

This long daytime section into Trona is only a prelude. The true tests lie ahead. The desert is there, all around, a force pulling at you, weakening you for the trials that begin at Towne. It was doing just that.  I was in survival mode, far too soon.

Struggling in the desert

I stopped turning the pedals for the first time at 130 miles. 15 minutes of rest and muscle massage.  But the heart rate is still unsettled. The stomach, uneasy. There was only one thing to do. Deny the impending disaster. Keep going. 

Panamint Valley, approaching Towne. 

Into Baker

The road stretched far into the distance under the bright desert sun, mocking me. It was hot, nearing 100. It was windy, an oppressive and steady south wind, with occasional strong gusts.  I toiled on in my slow cadence, and my gaze followed the road to the base of the mountains ahead, miles away. There it curved slightly to the left to skirt the terrain. It was 35 miles south to Baker, and the sun was high in the sky. I knew I had little hope of any reprieve from either the wind or the heat. It would been have been calmer and cooler earlier; only further punishment for my earlier difficulties.

Time, like the miles, ticked by at a lumbering pace. I was weak: from near no sleep, from well over 24 hours on the bike, from vomiting, first on Towne, then on the exit from Death Valley. From the ceaseless demands of my fixed gear, which never allows a moment’s break: the torque and strain of an overgeared uphill, the frantic spinning of an undergeared downhill, and the lack of flexibilty even on the flats. I was at 12 mph, cadence in the 50s, overheating. My confidence was flagging.

I had overcome my troubles on Towne, and pushed on through Death Valley, through the night and into the morning. I had another low before the large climbs of Jubilee and Salisberry, but I had fought through the pain and fatigue to muscle up the 15 mile climb. Now here I was, in a situation just as trying, but now I was weak, laid bare in my suffering. I had little left to give, and the prospect of what lay before me was despairing. At my speed, I had hours of this until Baker. I felt pathetic. I didn’t want this. Desire is absolutely essential at times like this, and I was losing it.

It was here that my crew pulled up alongside me. Anabelle handed a bottle out the window - I could hear the ice cubes clinking inside.  “It’s ice water...pour it on yourself!” OK... I dumped half the bottle on my neck and back. It was heavenly. My core temp wavered a fraction, and I was jolted out of my negativity.  I chewed on the remaining ice cubes in the bottle, downed the water and handed it back. More please.

So we progressed - into the raging wind, the nondescript desert scenery, the unforgiving sun. We had ice, water and gatorade. Just by looking, there was no hint of progress. The miles counted down on my Garmin agonizingly slowly. I tried not to look. I took the bottles handed me, emptied them, returned them. The crew cheered. We had found a rhythm; the physical task itself was little easier, but once again I wanted to be there, I felt like I was accomplishing something, like this difficulty meant something. And that made all the difference.

After hours of our routine the desolation finally gave way to a ramshackle collection of restaurants, gas stations, and budget motels around I-15. Baker. What a welcome sight. We had staved off the heat until now but I needed to cool down. I eyed the AMPM across the main drag. The entrance had two sets of sliding doors with an entryway in between where AC was blasting. I stumbled in and planted myself on the floor, the wonderfully frigid air wrapping around me. Almost giddy, I smiled to myself at what I had just accomplished. For the second year in a row, I was m
uch, much slower than I had expected, performing nowhere near what I knew I was capable of. But still I had done something. The last three hours had been some of the hardest hours I had ever endured. And I was still here. I was going to finish. Regardless of my finish time, this would mean something. My desire was back.

As I was basking in the wondrous cool, letting my core temp fall, and readying myself for the remainder of my task, Willy “Long Eared Jerboa” Nevin came in and sat himself on the floor opposite me. It was great to see him at this point. The previous year, he had given me advice on my first 24 hour race. He was one of the many who had dropped out amid the windstorm of the ‘09 508, but was resolved this time. We were only 200k from the finish. I thought back a year. For me, without a question, this had been harder than 2009. I had worked for every mile this year. No aero gear. No coasting. No sensible gearing. I realized now how much a difference it made. The 15 minutes in the AC had left me feeling refreshed, ready to go. My crew had grabbed ice, water, frozen goodies, and we were rolling again. I dismissed the 380 miles in my legs, I was a new rider. From here on out, no problem?

Leaving Baker refreshed, on Kelbaker Road

Kelso Climb

Leaving Kelso

The second dusk was upon us. The air above Kelso was crisp, in the sky an intense sunset, framing the surrounding granite mountains and high desert in dark blues and bright oranges. There were thunderstorms in the distance behind us, but I had my eyes ahead. I was feeling almost drunk with fatigue. My legs were still below me, making slow, tense circles, but I felt detached from them - from the sensations of the climb, from their sore exhaustion. The crew ambled behind me, Bal never quite keeping a straight line, occasionally faltering into the dirt or falling too far back. Maybe I was setting the example. It didn’t matter. What a moment. We had already been through so much. Nothing was going to stop us from finishing. I motioned for them to pull aside me and gushed forth. “I love you guys. This is so awesome. Thank you so much. But I can feel that I’m losing it... just wanted to let you guys know. This may get difficult.” 

The sun sets above Kelso. It gets harder. 

And my world began to shrink as the day slipped away, limited to the rough pavement in the headlights, the side of the road, and whatever my mind filled in to the dark boundaries. As the grade stiffened, I filled in pine trees bordering the road, and I was riding in the Sierras. I wondered briefly how I got there before I startled back to reality.  My perception of time was failing me - the climb seemed like it should have been over long ago. My crew had lost track of miles and didn’t know either. I tried counting - my gearing is 262 pedal revolutions per mile. One...two...three... at a cadence of 30, I realized this game wasn’t going to help.  I  relaxed and simply accepted the pace, not fighting my gear, or the mountain, but instead just gently rolling up it. And after ages we were at the top.

The crew needed to switch batteries on the amber lights, and I wolfed down some remaining fruit salad. We were soon back moving, tackling the 25 mile descent as fast as I could muster. After hours of too slow, my cadence was now far too fast, and I relaxed my legs and tried to let gravity fling them around in circles, squirming to get comfortable on my saddle, sneaking quick half-stands, shuffling my numbing hands on the bars. The interminable descent that is a welcome treat to all geared riders was a complete chore to me - but after many false hopes and misinterpreted light clusters, the real Amboy time station finally came into view. The staffers were cheerful, enthusiastic about the Hawaiian theme of the control, and lamented that we didn’t want to stay and chat. I was not in the mood for “getting lei’d” jokes...I downed the pineapple juice they handed me, and motioned to my crew that we needed to keep going. It was 9 pm and I should be finishing now.  But, ashamedly, my job was far from done. The finish line, and my hotel room, were still 55 grueling miles in the distance.

To the Finish

Onwards to Amboy... The road was familiar to me, both from training and the previous 508, but I didn’t recognize it in the dark. I was falling again into an uneasy confusion, and was worried that I would miss the upcoming left turn. I passed the iconic Roy’s motel and cafe in the dark without noticing.  I was too fatigued to realize anything but my confusion. My tenuous grip on consciousness was soon to be lost.

The turn came, and we crossed the railroad tracks onto Amboy Road - which would take us most of the remaining 50 miles to the finish. The two bright lights behind me were alien, sinister, following me with an unblinking stare and the faint purr of an undertaxed engine.  The dark shrouded the sand, the mineral flats, the wastelands we were passing unseen, with an even deeper nothing. In this unbounded emptiness my mind began to unload all the doubts, anxieties, suffering, frustration, fatigue and emotion of the previous day and a half. But my pedals kept turning, in weary, unceasing circles.

Voices were talking at me in the darkness. The vehicle had come along side me. They were familiar, but I couldn’t quite place them. My very existence now seemed a mystery. What am I doing. How did I get here.  It was terribly frustrating. I got my answers. Oh. Right, the 508. I need to finish. Twentynine Palms. Yeah. But wait. A minute later it was gone - a fleeting epiphany. The road was climbing now, I was torquing the pedals. Standing up. Moving very slowly. Am I on my right bike? The words came out of my mouth. My faceless companions next to me in the dark didn’t quite know how to answer.  I had the foreboding feeling that something was wrong. I was in the middle of something huge that I didn’t understand, and I could be doing something wrong that would ruin it all. Something to do with my bike. It was special, it was different? I started a race, ages ago. I was here now riding in a quiet blackness. How does this make sense. I don’t understand what I’m doing.

My crew answered patiently. You’re on the right bike. It’s a fixed gear. You’re on the last major climb of the 508. Sheephole. Keep riding. You’ve been riding since yesterday morning. You’re going to finish. OK. Right. What's your totem?? Rock..Rabbit. That's right! Wait. No...what was I doing? But how did I get here? The answers weren’t sticking. But I was trying.  I’m on my bike. You’re the crew. You’re in the car. I have to keep going this way. This would be repeated many times as I slowly made my way toward the finish. Cresting sheephole, down the last descent, up the painful last 20 miles of headwind and gentle uphill. I was detached from reality, but also from any suffering that may have been left in me. It was a dream, but too vague to be a nightmare. I kept moving, at a glacial pace. I had no conception of competition anymore. My memories are only of the brief flashes of recognition amidst the confusion: the left turn onto Utah Trails. The last right onto the highway. The appearance of lights.  Businesses. Other cars. Twentynine Palms. Some final hills. The fluorescent arches of the Best Western. The end.

As I rolled onto the driveway of the Best Western and crossed the finish, the bright lights and  handful of people cheering snapped me out of my madness. I was here. I was supposed to feel something. But I couldn’t - I knew now what was happening, but it was as if I was only observing.  Why did the achievement seem so empty? My crew parked, got out, and ran over. I hugged Anabelle. We had made it. Chris Kostman was there with a jersey, a medal, and a camera. Pictures with my fixed gear. Pictures with my awesome crew. Then off to our motel room. Haggard, fatigued, and 15 pounds lighter than at the start line, a 42 hour eternity before, I collapsed into bed. I drifted into a deep, content sleep. I was done.

The crew that made it all possible. Jordan, Anabelle and Bal

Monday, May 16, 2011

Devil Mountain Double 2011

I have history with the Devil Mountain Double. In 2009, after dragging myself over the 50 miles of Hamilton and Sierra with debilitating, excruciating leg cramps, I quit at Sunol, and ended up taking a trip to the hospital. In 2005 and 2006, I did reasonably well, finishing in 14:19 and then 13:10, but still had major difficulties on the crux climbs of Hamilton and Sierra. I knew I could do better. This year I came into the ride well prepared with distance - including an extremely windy Death Valley Double on the tandem, 3 400Ks, and 2 600Ks in the preceding 2 months. These long rides were just the training I needed to address my weaknesses. Physically, they helped train my stomach to keep processing at higher intensities, and develop the leg muscle endurance required to put out a baseline of power over long periods. They also sharpened me mentally; a 200 mile ride is not nearly as imposing as it once was - and the major climbs and difficulties along the way are much easier to simply take in stride and tackle as the come.

The terrain is extremely difficult, but perfect for a double - scenic, predominantly remote, few traffic lights or stop signs. Fremont in the East Bay was where I cut my cycling teeth - so the prominent DMD landmarks - Diablo, Hamilton, Sierra Road, Calaveras, Palomares, I knew very well, having ridden them countless times. Stringing them all together in one massive ride has always held a special significance to me, from back when I first started considering attempting these “double centuries”, marvelling at the idea that anyone could even accomplish it.

So it was an easy decision to drive up this year and give it another shot. I had some lingering knee pain from the OC 600k and Temecula 600k at the beginning of April, but this seemed to be mostly healed. Regrettably, nearly all of my recent training had been on the weekends - but I had made the most of them with a series of long brevets. Bal Singh, a friend from the UCSD cycling team, burgeoning ultracyclist, and 2010 Rock Rabbit 508 crew member would be coming as well, taking on the DMD as his first double.

After a very windy drive from San Diego to my parent’s house in Fremont, and a runin with a massive tumbleweed on I-5, we had an afternoon spin to open up the legs and fine tune the bike setup, and an early bedtime.

4 AM wakeup. Grabbed some bananas, and some coffee, we threw our bikes on the car, and headed to San Ramon. We checked in and were back at the car with plenty of time until the 6 AM start. Tires inflated, chain lubed, brakes not rubbing. Numbers pinned, sunscreen applied. There was a quick deliberation about what to wear - it would be windy and maybe dip into the 30s on the summit of Diablo, but would quickly warm up for the rest of the day. So knee warmers were out. Thin long fingered glove liners and arm warmers would be my only extras. A few minutes of cold was well worth not having to lug around extra clothing all day. There was time left for another trip to the bathroom, and then the start area.

The ride director Scott had us take a moment of silence to honor Jim Swarzman, who was killed in the Temecula 600k I had ridden just 3 weeks prior, and Tom Parkes, who had a heart attack on the backside of Hamilton on the 2010 DMD. I had been thinking about Jim quite a bit since the event - Jim’s death was such a terrible and senseless blow; the community lost a great man and cyclist. I had passed through on the same road just a few hours before. It was a sobering reminder of the dangers of our sport, and the need for everyone to be vigilant in the furtherance of cyclist’s rights, and to ride as safely as possible. It was a meaningful and somber moment.

Soon after we were off toward Mt. Diablo into the blustery early morning, at a slower pace than usual. There was a large (230+ rider), strong field, including Marc Moons and Robert Choi, who have been duking out the stage race in recent years, and Nathan Parks, a strong Cat 1 road racer, who along with Kevin Metcalfe had dropped me mercilessly as I struggled up the backside of Hamilton in ‘06. Also in the field were three fellow 2010 Hoodoo Voyagers: Rick Jacobson, Chris O’Keefe, and Russell Stevens, and some 508 veterans.

After the leisurely spin to the base of Diablo, I moved to the front so I could pick my way through the awful potholed road at the base, and we were soon headed up the slopes of the first 10 mi, 3,000 foot climb. Some riders surged ahead, but the pace predictably soon slowed to the tempo we would hold for the remainder of the climb, and I made myself comfortable near the front. It was a gorgeous morning as we gained altitude, with increasingly expansive views of the East Bay, clear blue sky, and a cool, gusting wind. I began to worry a bit about my wheel choice - I had a deep 808 on the front and a 404 on back, a reverse 606 (which I dubbed..the 606..) which people typically wouldn’t ride because of high side force on the front wheel. In clinchers, they were also fairly heavy, but I still thought it was a better idea than the few riders I saw pressing their luck with tubies. The wind grabbed and tugged at my wheels on the exposed sections, but it was manageable. I talked some with Curtis and Rick about the Hoodoo, the 508, Jim, but the climb was largely focused and silent. Before too long we were attacking the last ramp to the summit. Those of us in the front yelled our numbers to the staffers, pulled a U and headed down the mountain. We had climbed Diablo in a near identical pace to ‘09, a hair over an hour from the Athenian School, at a little under 4 W/kg. I felt good throughout the climb. The ride was looking good.

I had worried about being cold on the descent, and apparently it was indeed in the 30s at the top, but I didn’t notice that as I sped down the upper switchbacks. I realized I had not descended in windy conditions with these wheels, and I was having a hard time taking aggressive lines on the tight switchbacks. I could tell I was going slow. Bal passed me, and quickly gained, latching on to Marc ahead. Nathan passed me later on, along with a few others. I felt sluggish on the descent, but saw no reason to push my speed, knowing I would catch on by the bottom.

Sure enough, due to required slowdowns to pass 5 am riders also on the way down, the group came together before the bottom, and in a large group of maybe 15 or 20 we rolled through the streets of Walnut Creek and Clayton. It was a pleasant trip to the base of the next climb. The surrounding hills, verdant and lush from the recent rains, were framed in a warm glow from the morning sun as we rolled through. We hit mostly green lights for an easy trip to the right turn that marked the start of the stair stepped, rough road climb of Morgan Territories.

A Capo-kit clad rider had jumped to the front earlier to set pace. I didn’t catch his name, and only heard him mention that he was headed only to the next rest stop, and that he’d like to get a good workout in. No one objected to his pace-setting up front, and so we made our way over the shoulder of Diablo on the pothole strewn, narrow, tree-sheltered Morgan Territory Road. In ‘09 we had attacked the climb, shelling riders and wasting energy with an uneven pace. Having our buddy out front keeping us civil and sane slowed us down a few minutes, but saved some energy and stress on the body for the many taxing climbs ahead. We passed by the bulk of the 5 AM riders on this section, most wondering aloud cheerfully “Oh, is it the 6AM group? Hi!”
The road breaks through the forest onto a grassy hillside in a final series of steep ramps, and we hooked left into a dirt parking lot for the rest stop. I rolled in at the front of the pack, filled my bottles, grabbed some PB+J squares and fruit amidst the throng of riders, and headed back to the road. I saw Robert Choi just coming in, and began spinning toward the upcoming fast descent as I waited for the rest of our group. Nathan came, then Bal, and Marc. We started down the steep, fast descent known as “The Plunge” toward Livermore, 1500 feet below.

The winds were swirling and gusting, pushing at my deep wheels and threatening to throw my bike, and there were occasional cars and slower riders, so I took the narrow, corkscrewing, exposed descent cautiously. I found out later that a rider crashed on the descent and had to be taken to the hospital. No need to take such risks. Bal, Marc and Nathan passed me again on the descent; but I was just not feeling confident handling my deep wheels any faster. Bruno and Max Mehech, a father and son pair, attempted passing me somewhat recklessly on a curve, while I was slowing for a rider ahead. As I watched them pull away, I thought back to the reasons I quit USCF racing - I don’t like those kind of risks or challenges. At least I wasn’t descending this in a road race - so there was no reason to push my luck. I still managed to average near 35 mph for the 5 mile section, and caught quickly back on to the small group in the flat runoff.

It was then a small group of us, Bal, Nathan, Marc, Max, Bruno, and I, and we formed a rotating paceline to try to shelter ourselves from the strong head and cross winds on the way to the Altamont. As we battled our way eastward with quick short pulls, I’m sure none of us were wondering why the hilly landscape is so liberally peppered with windmills. In this section we were joined by Curtis from behind, and caught up to Alan, who had blown through the Morgan rest stop. At one point we joined the course of the Wente Road Race, being held simultaneously, but only came across a few stragglers, no pelotons. The wind was certainly more painful for the racers than for us. We also came across some groups of 5 AM riders, who made some valiant efforts to integrate to our paceline.

Before long the route turned back westward, the steep 1,000 ft Patterson Pass climb between us and the stop at the base of Mines Road. What had been a raging headwind in past years up the climb seemed to be a gentle tailwind on this morning, making the climb much more pleasant. The previous day Bal and I had driven the road at rush hour, and it was a harrowing death trap - a 1.5 lane commuting corridor with trucks barreling through at 60+ mph, with little regard for the oncoming traffic. It was a completely different story on this Saturday morning: an empty road and a cyclist’s paradise, with nothing to contend with but other riders and Patterson’s steep, inconsistent grades. I had been eating consistently, drinking well, and my stomach seemed to be handling the calories without complaint. But my legs had been feeling slightly dead all day. I wondered if I was coming down with something, whether I had some other serious issue brewing, or whether I was just being overly vigilant and worrying too much. The moderate pace we had settled on was working well for me. There was an intermediate water stop at the bottom of the last pitch, dubbed the “Oh-my-God Hill” - that Nathan, Bal, and Marc had stopped at. I was ok on water, and decided to simply spin easy up the climb, taking the extra few seconds for some active recovery. It was nice being able to ease up the climb at a leisurely pace, although you can only go so easy up 15%! Marc and Alan soon joined me. By the top of the climb our small crew had reassembled, minus the the son Bruno, who had earlier been complaining about the pace and had begun to have cramping issues.

Then came a fast descent and some easy flat miles to Mines, where I restocked on water, some soda, PB+J, and a few bananas. We were all in and out quickly. Mines Road begins with a long climb followed by a gradual upstream saunter through the remote valleys of the Hamilton Range, leading eventually in some 40 miles and 2500 vertical feet to the bottom of the brutal climb to the Hamilton summit. On my past DMD efforts, this was always where I began to unwind. The heat picks up here, and now with about 6 hours in the legs, the body begins to rebel against any lapse. Unsustainable pace, poor nutrition or hydration, insufficient training. This road seems to tear at any weakness, ripping it wide open.
We kept a civil pace up the main Mines Road climb. My knee was starting to hurt, but I focused on smoothing out my pedal stroke and it was manageable. We passed Steve Smead, who was toiling up the road on his fixie. His gear was somewhat lower than what I used for the 508, but these climbs were steep, the descents long, and needless to say I was not jealous of his equipment. Although I may someday want to try DMD fixed, I was quite happy at the time with my freehub and 39-27.

We passed mile 100 with a little less than 6 hours in the saddle, and the main climbing over, took to the false flats leading to the Junction at a good clip. The area’s unique ecology and climate is a haven for birders, who were perched on the side of the road in safari vests, cameras and binoculars at the ready. My legs weren’t feeling great, and I kept my pulls measured and even. Bal was starting to drag here and began to gatekeep. I finished a pull, looked back and merged in ahead of him, hoping he would be able to stick on. The other three were looking strong. In ‘09 it was here that my heart rate began rising for the effort, the first warning for the impending collapse on the slopes of Hamilton. This time my heart rate was looking ok, hanging at a high but reasonable 160. My stomach still felt good.

We hit the two half mile pitches that mark the end of the climbing before the Junction at a strong pace over 300W. I was happy at how little my legs complained. On the following descents, again I couldn’t hold the lines that Nathan carved, and ended up gapping Marc as well. I wasted some energy getting us back up to Nathan and Alan, once again feeling stupid for my wheel choice, and surprised at the difference in handling.
We rolled into the junction at about 6:35 elapsed, 10 minutes slower than ‘09, even though I had only spent a few minutes off the bike. Our pace this year had been sustainable for me, and I was feeling confident that I could remain strong for the remainder of the ride. I filled up water, got a Coke, grabbed some food, and used the porta-potty. Alan and I rolled out after a few minutes, with Marc soon following. It turns out Nathan had quietly left a bit earlier. I expected him to drop me on Hamilton, so I almost welcomed that, as I needed to set my own pace at this point. As Alan and I were spinning from the rest stop, we saw Bal headed rapidly toward us, backward on the course - he yelled that he had blown by the stop as he passed us. Bummer. Adding miles is the last thing you want to do on a ride like this.

Alan was surprised that I had driven all the way up from San Diego to ride the DMD. I mentioned how I loved riding in the area, coming back to my hometown. Driving to a ride like this seems a lot more worth it than a long journey to an office park crit in my collegiate racing days. He mentioned that at least someone was enjoying this, because it was really starting to hurt, and he was wondering why he did this. It was just a reminder to me how important keeping a positive mindset is in endurance riding - I do this because I love it - and as long as my fueling and nutrition is going well, it’s easy to stay happy. Alan dropped back as Marc caught up, and we talked a bit on the approach to Hamilton, where he stopped for a nature break at the top of a small climb. I told him I knew I’d see him later on. He said never be so sure, this is really just the beginning of the ride. I thought about that and fully agreed - the 120 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing to this point were really only a sort of prologue, the real separation of riders only began on the slopes ahead. For now I pushed that out of my mind and pressed on, enjoying the fast terrain leading to the base of the climb.

There are large mile markers on the road counting down to the summit, and right around the “7” the fun starts. A mile at 8%. I powered up it, trying to ward off my doubts, my worry at the climbing ahead. Then a brief twisting descent, a bridge river crossing, a mini rest stop (no need to stop here), and I was at the pièce de résistance, the 4 and a half miles of 9% to the top of Hamilton, 2,000 feet above. So quickly the imagined totality of the climb, the big numbers, the memories of bad times past, the fear of a meltdown, fade into the mundane reality of actually getting up the damn thing. The miles, the minutes, the pedal strokes, the world, everything in slow motion. I was crawling,3.5 W/kg, and struggling at that, 7 mph or less on the endless turns on the dry tree-lined hillside, no real visible landmarks to judge forward progress against.

As I slogged up the mountain, I was growing light headed. My legs felt empty and my power was dropping slowly. Nothing to do but concentrate, keep pushing the pedals around, just let the climb happen. Quackcyclist SAG extraordinaire George, who had been tailing our group for much of the day, pulled up alongside me. I didn’t really need anything but to get to the top, but I took some M+Ms and encouragement and got back to work. After 38 minutes of focused, concentrated, pained, effort, I reached the summit with great relief. I hadn’t smoked up the climb, but I hadn’t self destructed. And I had a long descent ahead. Bring it on.

So I attacked the slow, winding descent of the frontside of Hamiton, taking the curves as fast as I could. It still wasn't very fast. I’ve descended this mountain many times, but never gotten much enjoyment out of it. Many of the turns have no good line and poor pavement, it’s hard to get much speed, and the descent is broken up with pesky climbs. But it still offered a welcome respite to the rigors of all the earlier climbing. Midway down the descent, I looked back and Marc had caught back up. I was surprised it had taken him this long, but I let him take the lead and followed his line. We came together into Grant Park, 8 miles from the base, and started up the 1 and a half mile climb over the ridgeline to the last section of descent. Marc dropped his chain and I spun easy for a while, thinking he would be back up soon. After a few minutes, he hadn’t come, and I couldn’t see him behind. I kept going, feeling a bit bad, but sure that I would see him soon.

Soon the climb crested and the fastest, most enjoyable part of the descent led to the right turn onto Crothers Road. On the annoying, steep out and back to the home that serves as the rest stop, I saw Nathan headed back out, and we waved. He was at least 5 minutes ahead. Chapeau, I thought.. I would try, but with Sierra looming I didn’t see bringing him back. For those spending much time at the rest stops, the Crothers stop must be great. For me, the out and back was frustrating, and I much preferred the Grant Park stop location from the 2005 ride. I topped up my fluids, grabbed some food, and headed out just as Marc was arriving. There was one thing on my mind. Sierra Road.

Only 15 minutes later and I was at the base of the 3.5 mile, 9.5%, 1800 foot climb. I know the climb all too well; it has been a centerpiece training climb for me. The steep sections, many well above 10% for long periods, make it very difficult fresh, and simply masochistic after 155 tough miles. My best climb of the road was under 24 minutes. In the Tour of California, the top riders summit in under 19. But on this day, my expectation was more like 40. The one blessing of the ridiculously steep grades is that you as long as you are turning the pedals, you’re putting out decent power. And so I crawled up the familiar grades, speed in the 5s and 6s, not able to able to will my legs to push any harder. Although it was tough, it was comfortable, and I knew exactly where I was, and what I had in store, at all points. This made it far easier to me than Hamilton. I looked back often, surveying the ever expanding view of Silicon Valley, expecting to see Marc at any moment. About 2/3rds in, a flash of green, a beard, long hair, there he was. He passed me, and offered a “great climb.” “You’re a beast” I gasped. I used him as a carrot, trying not to let him shrink too much. And I watched him, a hundred yards ahead, as we toiled to the top. 33 glacial minutes and I was over, traversing the ridgeline, then at the “Pet the Goat” rest stop.

I filled up, grabbed some food, and left, knowing Marc would catch me on the descent. The ride was looking good; all I had to do now was hang on. After the fast, enjoyable descent down Felter Rd, Marc caught me on the steep and short “Calaveras Wall”. We made good time working together on the rollers around the reservoir. Then we traded pulls into Sunol. Marc, still looking as fresh as the morning, took more time than his share at the front. We spent around a minute at Sunol, filled our bottles, and got back on the road, ready to tackle the last 25 mile section and be done with it.

A quick jaunt on the high-traffic, unpleasant Niles Canyon Road, and we were at the penultimate climb of the day, the tame, tree-shaded, riverside climb of Palomares. The climb gains 1100 feet in just under 5 miles, and consists of a few steep sections interspersed with flats, making for the most mellow climb of the ride. Marc and I took it at an easy pace, whiling away the climb chatting about the usual: riding, training, life. And we were up and over, hammering the fast descent and runoff.

On the way through Castro Valley we came across the first series of stop lights in many miles. I was tempted to roll a red at a T intersection - as there was no intersection that broke the bike lane - but Marc asked that we stopped - adding that he never violated lights. I was impressed, and thought of Jim, and all the reminders of how important it is to always ride safely - and to display to other drivers and cyclists that following traffic laws is important, even in situations where it seems “ok”. Soon enough we were on our way and up Crow Canyon road, Marc hammering on the front, me hanging on.

It was only a few miles, but plenty long enough, on the busy, unremarkable Crow Canyon Rd before we came to the final test of the day, Norris Canyon, a steep, short, unwelcome climb over the ridgeline that lay between us and the finish in San Ramon. Marc, apparently unfazed by the 200 miles in his legs, attacked the slope and I followed, with great effort. This hurt. It was only a mile or so of climbing, but he slipped away as I awkwardly muscled my gear around, my head pounding, legs resisting. I had been riding hard since Sierra and was way behind on calories and fluids. Allowing lapses in hydration and fueling are a rookie mistake, but one that requires constant vigilance to avoid. After summiting Sierra I mentally relaxed, slipping on the intake regimen, but continuing to ride hard. Oops.

Marc held up until I caught him again, and mentioned “we rode this far together, we’re finishing together.” He could have dropped me on the climb, and put a minute or two into me by the end. The competition in doubles like this is unique, much more collegial and nowhere near as cutthroat as USCF racing. Sure enough he once again easily pulled away over the top, which finally arrived for me too, accompanied by a wave of relief, and I joined him on the descent as we hammered the remaining miles to the San Ramon Marriott. We finished in 12:18, a time I was very happy with. It had been a pleasure to ride with Marc, and although we came in together, he was clearly the stronger rider in the end. Nathan was the first to finish 15 minutes earlier, and I missed the chance to talk to him. I took some iced sparkling apple juice and went back to the car to change.

My head was reeling and my stomach was shocked by the cold fruit juice. I sat in the car with closed eyes for a few minutes, then retched the past few hours worth out of my stomach. I couldn’t believe it. Or maybe I could. Even on a strong finish, I was still having these issues. At this intensity, even a few hours of inattention could push me over the edge. Mental note taken. I can not let this happen during my long(er) rides. Just a few more bottles of water to balance out the calories and I suspect I would have been ok.

My parents had moved up their flight from Vegas to be able to see me at the end, but I had just beat them to San Ramon, perhaps faster than they expected. It was nice to see them, and I’m sure nicer to them that they weren’t taking me to the hospital as in ‘09. Despite a missed turn, a lost contact, and disturbingly little training, Bal finished in just under 13 hours, a superb showing for his first double. His first 300k and 400k had only been a few months earlier; Honey Badger will be a rider to watch in this year’s 508.

Overall I was very happy with my performance. I had maintained a high intensity, about 3.3 W/kg norm power throughout the entire ride. Although there were several points of difficulty (exactly where I expected), mentally I felt strong and within control at all times. Had I been going longer I would have moderated my effort, but this was perfect training. I ended up with only about 12 minutes of stopped time, which would be difficult to improve on. I would have needed to moderate my effort, especially in the latter hours had I been going long(er), but that is to be expected, and my intensity here was already significantly higher than the ‘09 508, where I performed well, apart from my disastrous meltdown on Towne Pass. My brevet riding earlier in the year paid large dividends here, and I look forward to the coming months of increasing training as I sharpen my distance riding for Hoodoo and the 508.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

HOODOO 500 - Voyager Division Race Report


The Hoodoo 500 is insane. I was scared of this ride. While I had dreamed for years of doing the Furnace Creek 508, I knew that I should not do the Hoodoo. The 508’s centerpiece climb of Towne Pass is 200 miles in and tops out at 5000 feet. The monster Hoodoo climbs of Boulder Mountain and Cedar Breaks, climbing to 9,600 and 10,600 ft at miles 255 and 407, scoff at Towne. The Utah desert air manages to be even drier than the arid Mohave, and oxygen is of course rarer - nearly the whole ride is above 5,000 feet. But the terrain is beautiful, and the challenge is alluring, in a twisted, masochistic way.

Despite (or because of) all this I found I had a strong subconscious desire to do this ride... in one weekend at the end of July I went from toying with the idea of joining a team for Hoodoo to full commitment to the solo “voyager” edition: by far the hardest way to do the race. In over 30 starts in the first 3 years of the race, only 8 Voyagers had finished the ride, just 6 of those inside the 50 hour time cutoff. The voyager division is ultra distance stripped to the bone. You may have no crew to depend or crew car to retire to. You can use drop bags at 4 designated ,locations on the course, and limited use of hotel rooms at 3 of the checkpoints.  This would be me, and me alone against the terrain, the elements, myself. It would be the perfect companion ride to my fixed gear 508 attempt in October, which strips away comforts and artifice in its own way: easy gears, aero gear, coasting.

I would not have much time to prepare - I had less than a month to figure out all the logistics, prepare all my gear, and get myself to the start in St. George. And then there was my doubt about my fitness...after getting hit by a car in May, I was off the bike through most of June due to head injury, then was able to ease into riding with rides up to a few hours. The Death Ride in mid-July (on my fixie!) with my dad was my first ride over 3 hours since the accident. It went well, but I had only been able to slowly ramp up my training, my eye on the 508 in October, which already would be cutting it close with preparation time. But the opportunity, and the challenge, was too tempting to turn down. I talked at length with Mike Sturgill, the current record holder at 42 hours, about the course, the gear, his experiences. I stocked up: wool base layer, jackets (I never wear them), booties, hand warmers and thick gloves, balaclava, dynamo hub and super-bright LED light. I studied the route, I planned my the range of my arrival times, I agonized over what to bring and how to pack my allotted 4 drop bags. I pored over the historical weather reports of weather stations around the route. I fretted about the increasingly ominous weather reports - ridges, troughs, convection, instability, “the first taste of fall”, “significant chance of thunderstorms”, lows in the 30s... My goal would be to finish by Sunday at nightfall - which would be 39 hours, around my 508 finishing time. I thought it should be no problem. I would be smart, I would pace, I would not let anything drastically wrong happen; averaging 13.2 mph should not pose an extraordinary difficulty.

And before I knew it, the end of August had arrived; it was time to extricate myself from an extremely busy work week, and drive to Utah. I had squeezed in a handful of 10+ hour rides over the past weekends, even tested out a long ride with a Camelbak, which as much as I hated to wear, I conceded would be a necessity given the sheer remoteness of the route. I left on the Thursday before the ride, driving through a sweltering Inland Empire (109 in Temecula), then intense lightning storms as a crossed Baker and the 508 course, intermittent downpours as I headed toward Vegas, and then nighttime temperatures of near 100 all the way to St George.

The next day held focused, nervous preparation. A 3 hour ride up and back the last section of the course in 100 degree heat. Pack all my drop bags. Final setup of the bike (commit to no aero bars, lube the chain, tweak the shifting, test the new dynamo light). Check in (crew, crew chief, crew vehicle, all spots taken by me and my bike). Talked a bit with Dave Holt (on his way to defend his 2009 solo victory), his wife Susan, and Vinnie Tortorich (a strong ultra rider himself, this year crewing for Dave). I ran into the boundlessly happy Michele Santilhano (fresh off a successful solo RAAM!) and Bill Osborn on my way to my room. They would be doing the 2x relay. Ah, how fun that sounded. I spoke to the Planet Ultra race organizers, Deb and Brian, who were chipper and very optimistic. This would be the year the dramatically low finishing rate of the Voyagers would change. Of course you’re going to finish! Uh huh. A mercifully quick and pleasant pre-race meeting, and I was off to my room to bed. Final check, deep breath, lights out.

The 9 Voyagers: (Left to Right) Rick Jacobson, Adam Bickett, Tim Carroll, Chris O'Keefe, Steve LaChaine, Sean Nealy, Jared Fisher, Joel Sothern

Section 1 : Saint George to Kanab

My eyes opened to a harsh red 4:23, a few minutes before my scheduled alarm. I had slept miraculously well, racking up over 7 hours of a luxury I would not taste again for many hours. Jumping out of bed, I did the usual slathering of sunscreen and chamois cream, kitted up, donned my Camelbak (ugh) , pumped my tires, filled my bottles, grabbed my bike and headed for the door.

The trip to the start line was easy enough : two flights of stairs and out the door. Deb was there, but no other riders, and just over 10 minutes to the start. The other Voyagers began to emerge, we chatted, introduced ourselves, took some pictures. Everyone was there except for last year’s winner (ex-Pro) Sean Nealy, who had opted to start with the solos at 7, and Joel Sothern, who had (barely) overslept. Everyone was smiles and jokes, but behind that was nerves and edge - this was the start of something big, with a host of uncertainties. This would be hard. I thought of the click click click ratcheting of a rollercoaster being dragged up the top of its drop. The anticipation was a good feeling. It was 5. Go.

5 AM Voyager Start
We rode the first few miles through the city of St George and its outskirts together, the race only starting as we hit the open highway. Russell Stevens took off from the gun. I didn’t see any point to doing that. i stayed mostly out of the wind, near the front. Steve “BoneDog” LaChaine and I chatted about our 508 experience from last year. He had called his race at Baker, after making it through the worst of the conditions. He was one of the early wave of riders to pass me as I struggled desperately on Towne Pass (the entire field would eventually pass me on that mountain). I thought of how vulnerable all ultra riders are in the depths of the inevitable emotional waves that begin to break as the ride wears on. You can’t do anything but ride these out. Harmful ideas can quickly take root - negativity can amplify, just the simple consideration of quitting can soon become irresistible. You and your ambition are laid bare. With a standard solo ultra race, your crew needs to understand this and help you sharpen your goal and overcome the challenges. When you’re alone, it can only be you. I felt like I had this down, as long as I was physically capable of continuing.

Before long we hit the end of the neutralized section. This was it, we were on our own. Jared Fisher, all smiles, pairing carbon wheels with long mountain biking shorts, surged ahead, mashing a bigger gear than me. I kept myself contained. The road was trending up, and I felt good. The dark of the early morning was a pleasant way to begin the ride. I passed Jared on a descent, and then headed through the city of Hurricane. The route heads East on 59 directly out of Hurricane, and this is where Joel Sothern came up to me. He had left around 5 minutes late, and apparently made it up in short order. He was on a mission. He attacked the steep bottom slopes of the climb out of Hurricane at a pace that was making me hurt. I watched him quickly shrink into the distance. Now I felt the burden of all my extra gear,  my full Camelbak, the large bag on my seatpost. There was no way I would, or should, try to match his pace. Godspeed Joel. I knew he would crush the ride if he could hold that.

The sun snuck out as I crested the climb, throwing light on the impressive rock monoliths surrounding me. It was a gorgeous day already. I tried snapping a quick picture and video with my phone, knowing there was no way I could capture what I was experiencing. This ride was going to be awesome. 30 miles down.

Smooth roads, wide open expanses of desert shrubs and rocks, rolling terrain, slight tailwind. I motored along, keeping a watchful eye on my power and heart rate, sipping my fuel. A green highway sign announced “Apple Valley” - not bothering to declare its elevation or population, there was near nothing there. The rumble strips on the side of the road provided a diversion: I would ride on the left side until I got buzzed uncomfortably close by a large truck or bus, then would hop over to the shoulder side. Before long I would tire of the debris on the shoulder, and hop back on the left of the bumps.

It was a fast run to the Arizona border, and I crossed a state line on my bike for the first time. Welcome to the bustling border metropolis of Colorado City, home to a collection of trailers, ranches, and three sects of fundamentalist polygamist Mormons. Signs notified me that I was not much more than 100 miles from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The rolling terrain was a pleasure to ride, red desert floor, covered with green scrub, impressive rock massifs to the North, wide open blue skies.

And I rode on, in great spirits, onward to the comically named hamlet of “Fredonia” - I thought of Duck Soup, the Marx Brothers comedy centering on the fictitious dictatorship of the same name. My thoughts wandered, observations, musings, nuggets of “wisdom” too trivial to remember, but enough to entertain me through the trip. Fredonia was a nice tree-lined town, and was for some reason swarming with Arizona State Troopers. I passed through the town as their patrol SUVs buzzed by. Just a few miles and a state line later, I arrived at the Kanab checkpoint, in time to see Joel Sothern hastily scoot off. I grabbed some Hammer drink powder and gels, some crackers and nilla wafers from my drop bag, filled all 132 ounces of my Camelbak and bottles (which I had just finished off), and set off for Bryce Canyon. 83 miles and 4500 feet of climbing down. 4 hours and 45 minutes; right on schedule.

Section 2 : Kanab to Bryce

It was a quick jaunt through the rest of the quaint country town of Kanab, in the midst of some kind of festival with horse-drawn buggies and fragrant food. The route now headed north over a series of gentle climbs, toward the higher country of Bryce and beyond. We were skirting around Zion National Park, through red rock canyons contrasting with dramatically white mountains. Every turn brought a new view, a fresh perspective. Truly magnificent land. I was settling down to a more endurance pace, taking the shallow grades conservatively. The climb profiles were remininiscent of the 508, mile after mile of 2%, but these were stacked on top of each other, each descent dropping much less than the climb that preceded it gained. The nondescript town announcing highway signs were back: Mt Carmel, Orderville, Glendale.. each coming and going with about as little fanfare as the sign.

The wind was steady at my back, allowing me to coast and recover at speed on the long gradual descents. The road signs gave mileage: 10 to Panguitch. We would turn off soon; and it would be well over 200 miles by the route we were taking. And coming from the north, I knew to expect a fight with the wind the whole way down. I put it out of my mind and got back to enjoying the moment. But I had twinges of fatigue, and could notice my mood was starting to shift. That meant something was amiss with my nutrition: I popped some endurolytes and sipped some of my drink. I would just have to ride this out. I was feeling more tired than I would have wanted...but I was 8 hours in, progressing to ever thinner air, and I had a long way to go.

Surfing the tailwind and my wavering emotions, I came to the turn on Highway 12 quickly, and ventured east into a gusty crosswind. This stretch of highway, which I would be traveling the length of, a 125 mile trek through Bryce Canyon, through the Grand Staircase, over Boulder Mountain at near 10,000 feet, and down to the town of Torrey, would test me. I was feeling weaker than I would have liked, but I was ready. Highway 12 is considered one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the US. What better way to experience it than on a bike?

It was one more climb, on the roadside Red Canyon bike path, through Bryce Canyon, and more red cliffs and ancient eroded rock forms... fins, pinnacles and ridges, the namesake hoodoos of the race. The path pitched up in fits, and I took them slowly, grinding a slow cadence and low power out of both necessity and a conscious effort to avoid overextending myself. I was beginning to feel the elevation more. The dry, windy air had been assaulting my airways, and my eyes were stinging as salty sweat ran into them. Stop dwelling on the negative Adam, you’re in beautiful country, having a great ride. I was keeping my heart rate low, at 150, but my power was lower than I would have expected, and it was making a minor climb take forever. Maybe I should have recognized something amiss, but I was trying hard to be positive.

My spirits were raised as I hit the end of the bike path and the Chevron in Bryce, which was where I was to call Deb to check in. I judged that I had enough water to get by without stopping; it wasn’t hot and I had 2 full 33 oz. the next section, until the checkpoint in Escalante, was an easy 48 miles, and 1700 feet lower than my current elevation at 7700 feet.

Section 3 - Bryce to Escalante

It was thankfully temperate; windy, but only a little warm, and I relished the long descent out of Bryce. The terrain opened up before me; gorgeous, truly living up to its “scenic byway” status. I navigated around out of state cars crawling at 10 mph, snapping pictures from inside. I pulled out my phone and snapped some myself. I was elated. What a ride. I was through the tiny towns of Tropic and Henrieville, trending up through the varied rock panorama.

A race official passed by me and took my picture. The course is so vast and empty, even brief contacts such as this provide a bit of comfort and grounding. And as happy as I was at that moment, I was unaware that I was walking a knife edge. The road turned up, winding around and through the twisted rock, up, up, up. It was a gentle climb but I was crawling. I wasn’t feeling great, and the recovery ride effort was taxing me more than I wanted. My breath was short in the thin air, my heart was beating with the effort. The grade increased as I climbed. The screw tightened. Take it easy, Adam. Ride with it. It's only you out here.

As the road kicked up in one section, I took a minute off the bike; my first stop since the Kanab drop point 5 hours before. When my heart rate dove down to reasonable rates, I climbed back on and mashed on. A glimmer of recognition of trouble flicked across my consciousness. I wouldn’t even desire to stop unless trouble was afoot. What was in store for me. I didn’t know. But I needed to be easy on my body. And worrying about it now would help nothing. Onward and upward.

Over another ridge, drop down, and hit the real slopes. The road was a serious grade now, 10% stretches. Ouch. I was climbing at half my threshold, but could do no more. I stopped again. Another minute. Breathe. Go. Another 5 minutes on, 1 min off. The visuals of the twisting steep road ahead was beating me psychologically. Get a hold of yourself... one more 2 minute stop, and in slow motion I attacked the last twisting rocketing steeps which dropped me on the summit. It was marked by a sign : 7630 Feet SUMMIT. They don’t even bother to name them in Utah.

And then a glorious drop into Escalante. Nothing to do but down. Gurgle. Something was up. I stopped and promptly puked. I hadn’t even been feeling nauseous. This was trouble. Flashbacks of my meltdown on the 508 came flooding back to me. No. I was doing everything right. I sipped some water and carefully chewed a few bites of banana. OK. Calm down in Escalante, and press on.

I finished the remainder of the descent into Escalante uneventfully, and chatted a bit with Brian at the checkpoint. I was second in behind Joel, but he had arrived and left a whole hour before me! His pace was ungodly. We wished him luck; either he was going to crash and burn, or completely destroy the rest of us. I was sitting at 203 miles, 11,000 ft of climbing and 11:45 ride time. I got out my drop bag, changed into my new clothes, threw myself on the bed and started chomping on ice, sipping water mixed with some Mountain Dew. I was going to confront this issue now. Take some time off the bike, let my stomach recover, and finish strong.

Jared Fisher and Russ Stevens came in close behind me, and were clearly feeling much better. They grabbed stuff out of their bags and were out quickly. The clock kept ticking. I couldn’t worry about that. Brian mentioned the race starts in Escalante. Always a good sign to be puking before the start. I called my dad, who had flown in to Vegas and had now made it to St George to see me at the finish. I let him know I had some problems, but it was under control. I thought I believed it.

An hour later I had sipped a good amount of fluids, and replenished my electrolytes. I packed up the warm stuff from my drop bag for the long, cold night ahead. Sean Nealy arrived as I was packing my gear. He had started 2 hours after me, but was still off Joel’s pace. He would quit before the next time station. I had spent well over an hour and a half at the stop. I headed out into the waning hours of the evening. I had an adventure ahead to get to.

Section 4: Escalante to Loa

I set out tentatively from Escalante. I didn’t know what to expect. About the climb ahead, which I had never ridden. About my body, which was clearly in distress, but was hopefully under control. About the weather, which was forecast to be perhaps the coldest weekend of the summer, with chance thunderstorms. But certainty is boring - the accomplishment depends on challenging the unknown. So I told myself.

The route east from Escalante is a pleasant warmup to the brutal climbs that lay ahead. The surrounding red rock formations were lit up with the setting sun, and I seemed to feel ok as I spun through the scenery up a gentle climb. It topped out with an expansive vista over a maze of formations. The road quickly dropped down among the rocks, a thrilling rollercoaster of twists and turns. A car stopped in the road in the middle of a blind turn halfway down provided some extra excitement - but it was indeed “stop your car” beautiful.. I wouldn’t need to worry, I’d have plenty of time to admire the sunset. As I hit the valley floor along the Escalante River, my stomach asserted itself. I was going to need to stop again. I parked my bike at the bottom of a steep kicker, took a step, and promptly watered the sandstone. That must have been everything I had taken in Escalante. My hour plus of work slowly sipping fluids, gone in a few seconds. Great. I sat on a rock slab and laughed to myself. What was I going to do now? I nibbled some banana and took a sip of water. I guess the only thing I could do was slowly start over. And keep going.
I closed my eyes for a few minutes and took some deep breaths. This was going to be a tough night. I thought of Towne Pass on the 508. There too, the sun was setting and my race was turning uglier by the minute. Nowhere to go from here but forward. It had already been 20 minutes when I picked myself up and began crawling up the steep climb. “The Hogback” as it is known; a jaunt up to the top of the ridge 1300 feet above, in about 8 miles. Apart from some shorter steep sections, it’s a pleasant enough climb. My tactic would be survival: my stomach was extremely sensitive now, so I would go as slow as I could stand to give it as little additional stress as possible.

The base of "The Hogback" and the beginning of my troubles...
It seemed to be working. At my glacial pace, my heart rate was 130, and my stomach was hanging on to the banana, and what little fluids I had sipped. An hour later, the sun had slipped below the horizon and I had made it to the top of the ridge. Things were going to be ok. I got off my bike and took out my warm jacket, balaclava, knee warmers, and long fingered gloves, and sat down to put them on. With the change of position, the all too familiar wave of nausea broke over me and again I heaved into the dirt what little I had consumed over the past hour. OK. This wasn’t going to be so easy to fix.
I lay on my side, curled in the fetal position, and planned my next move. It was now dark. I had to make it over a massive mountain. I couldn’t keep anything in my stomach. I tentatively sucked some water from my Camelbak anyway. Maybe some would stay down. I was parched. The air was drawing moisture out of me, and my stomach was giving up the rest. I closed my eyes again. It had to go away eventually. A few solos and their crew cars passed by. Most stopped and asked me if I was ok. Yeah. I’m fine. Just uh, trying to get my stomach back in order. No, I don’t need any help, thanks. Repeat, ad nauseum. Hah. I wasn’t in the mood for my own lame jokes. This was ridiculous. What was wrong with me? A few voyagers passed as well. One of them, Tim Carroll, stopped for a while. I explained my situation. He said I should just keep trying, lay down like that for a while, but get back on the bike soon. Yeah. He went on ahead. 
There was too much traffic here for me to get any rest. Why was I stopped at the top of a climb anyway? I got up. Dusted myself off. Made sure I had all my gear. You have so much of it racing with no crew. The change in position prompted another series of heaves, mostly dry this time. Surprisingly, apart from the stomach, I didn’t feel that bad.

The descent down to Boulder was fast, and would have been fun on a clear mind. But it was a few easy miles anyway, and easy miles were hard to come by now. It was cooling off, but I could tell it wasn’t near as cold as the forecasts had predicted. Good thing. I had enough to deal with. 
I tackled the climb with the same mindset: easy, steady, just keep the pedals turning. I’ve always had a hard time doing a real “recovery ride.” But nothing teaches you to go slow like a seriously upset stomach and 250 miles in the legs. I made it 20 minutes, and stopped. I needed more fluids. Getting off the bike again made me puke. OK. I still sipped some more water, and lay down on the dirt again. Tim rolled by again. He had spent a few minutes in Boulder filling his bottles. He kept going. I got up and followed the pace set by his blinking rear lights a few hundred yards up. His positive attitude as well as his figure in the distance was encouraging. 
And the night wore on as I inched up the mountain. The full moon was up now, some wispy clouds, and a sky full of brilliant stars. I noticed all this, but was in no mood to enjoy it. I spent more time on the side of the road. I kept trying, and failing, to keep water down. But still, I could ride. I could make out the top of the birch tree lined ridgeline in the moonlight, and I knew I would eventually make it there. The climb would end. Tim was also having some difficulty, and we leapfrogged each other a few times. He stopped by me again near the top, offered more words of encouragement and pressed on. Relay teams were passing me now. It was late.

A quiet eternity later and I was on the ridgeline. A short false summit, a descent, and an easy last mile of climbing, and I was at the top. SUMMIT: 9600 feet. I snapped a picture, almost incredulous that I really had made it. I tried a few times but the sign kept reflecting the flash. What was I doing? I really was a mess. But hey, I actually dragged myself up here. Fresh, the 14 mile climb from Boulder may have taken a bit more than an hour. Tonight, it had taken 2 hours, with another hour on the side of the road. It was midnight. I had planned to be in Loa by now. A car with race officials cruised by. You sure you’re ok? They asked. Yea. They probably wondered why the hell I was stopped at the top of the climb. It was ok, I didn't know either. And I still couldn’t keep fluids down. They left. I started the descent.

But as ready as I was for an unbroken descent straight into Loa, that’s not what I got. There were 100 and 200 foot climbs peppered throughout the descent. I didn’t mentally prepare myself, and I was near the edge. Such things should seem minor after climbing thousands of feet, but they mattered. I stopped again at the base of a little kicker. The race officials were back, and this time they wanted to follow me down. I guess they were concerned about me. Understandable. I wasn't in the mood to talk, lying on the dirt on the side of the road. I made sure they knew I needed nothing, but said they could follow if they wanted. I grinded out the pesky hills, and swooped down the rest of the descent.

The town of Torrey is a few miles of false flat from the bottom of the descent. But I wasn’t mistaking it for flat - I was so weak I climbed the 1% grade as if it were 10%. There could have been a headwind, or not. I hadn’t kept down food for over 8 hours. Finally I rolled through the town of Torrey. I toyed with the idea of stopping. I was out of water. I had Perpetuem but my stomach wasn’t even taking water, so I didn’t try. But then I saw the red glow of a coke machine by a closed burger shop. In a wishful delusion I thought it would be a good idea to try and drink some coke. I dug and found some dollar bills in my bag. I fed one into the slot. Nothing. I tried to smooth it out, again. It sucked it in halfway, then back out. I tried again. No luck. I was getting pissed. The effort made me puke again. This was pathetic. I lay on the bench by the coke machine, looking at the wet splotch I had left on the concrete, lit up by the machine.
Eventually I convinced myself that I needed to get the remaining 15 miles to Loa. This bench, this temperamental coke machine, this shuttered town, they had nothing for me. There was a room in Loa, a change of clothes, a shower. I could sleep, recover, put this night behind me. I got back on my bike, draped myself over the handlebars and closed my eyes, trying to steel myself for the next effort. It was a slight uphill, and a bit of a headwind. It shouldn’t seem long after what I had just gotten through, but I had metered my mental effort based on the climb. I should have known better.

Michele Santilhano, then Tim Carroll (who had actually backtracked a few miles to find a dropped jacket) passed me while I was standing at the side of the road. I watched their lights blink as they moved into the distance, and finally got back rolling again, using their lights to motivate me. Surprisingly, I was starting to feel a little better, and I began to make up ground. I had my negativity in check, and the remaining miles to Loa, even with the slight uphill and the headwind, seemed doable again. My progress was raising my spirits - and really, I was amazed that I still was riding - weak but not in pain - with absolutely nothing in my system. 
I caught up to Michele and chatted with her for a while - there is no drafting allowed in the race, but two riders may ride side by side for 15 minutes. She was a having a great ride, and her good cheer was somewhat contagious. As I vented some of my frustration with my stomach issues, she mentioned how she was puking for hours on her swim across English Channel, but overcame it. And that it was still early, there was plenty of time left for me to recover and have a great ride. I knew it, but being reminded of that helped me. I asked her about her successful RAAM this year - she said it went through without a hitch - no physical issues, no crew issues, it was a great ride. Amazing. Truly an incredible athlete.
And finally the lights of Loa were upon us, and the Snuggle Inn, checkpoint 4, was just ahead. It was a quaint country inn, and I set down my bike outside and eagerly headed toward the room for voyagers, imagining a nice warm bed, a shower, an opportunity to settle my stomach. I opened the door of the room to a different scene: Steve LaChaine and Chris O’Keefe were already in the one queen bed, stuff was strewn everywhere in the small room, there was no window, and the warm stuffy air smelled terrible.

It was after 3 AM and I plunked myself down between the wall and the bed, scrounging an extra blanket and pillow, and trying to make myself comfortable. I got some ice from the machine outside, mixed the ice with coke and water and started sipping. My only mission was to get my stomach settled. But sipping wasn’t doing it, I was desperately thirsty. I took a few gulps of my drink, then a few more. Aahh.. feeling guilty, I took a few more conservative sips, as if my stomach would forget my overindulgence. I lay down and shut my eyes, and it didn’t take long for me to start feeling sick again. I took a few deep breaths hoping it would pass, but no. I bolted up, saw the bathroom was in use, and made for the hall, getting out of the room just in time to spew my drink all over the (thankfully tiled) floor, then again outside. After some help in cleanup from the gracious volunteer manning the checkpoint, I took a shower, rinsed out my mouth, changed into fresh clothes from my drop bag, and tried once again to get some rest, giving up on my stomach for a while.
Although the room was nasty: five guys, jammed in a small space, in the middle of an extreme endurance event, and in various states of digestive distress, spirits were fairly high. Everyone was committed to finishing, and everyone (me included) was enjoying the ride to some degree. There was a bond between all of us arising from the extreme nature of our undertaken task...very few people would ever attempt such a race, and here we all were right in the middle of it, in a rare chance for comradery in an event that consists mostly of isolation and introspection. It was fun talking to everyone, but it wasn’t conducive to rest. I was committed to leaving, but only when I was well. Tim and Rick were feeling fine, and headed out around 5. I planned with Steve to leave after sunrise as the next section can get very cold, and I was still unsure about my stomach. Chris headed out by 6, and I got some more rest, chatting some more with Steve, sipping on fluids again, even gambling on some pretzel sticks staying down.
And finally it was morning, and time for me to leave. I had gotten maybe a few 10 minute sessions of sleep over my 4 hours in Loa, but more importantly, my stomach had conceded the fierce battle that it had waged since the previous afternoon. That was all that I needed. I gathered my stuff quickly, and headed out. Steve was going to stick around a while longer, but I needed to get back on the road. I had arrived at Escalante at 4:45 the previous afternoon, and was leaving Loa, only 83 miles further on the route, over 14 hours later. Only six hours of this time was spent riding.
Section 5: Loa to Panguitch

Judging by the profile, this section should have been a fast and easy interlude between the climbs to Loa and the monster climb to Cedar Breaks. The stage consisted only of a gentle 1,000 foot climb followed by 80 miles of flats into Panguitch. But I knew better than to expect tailwinds and free miles, and withheld any expectations of ease. As I toiled up the steep initial grades of the climb out of Loa, my weary legs ached in complaint. My muscles were tight, my stomach irritated from hours of vomiting, and I was still no where near properly hydrated. But, cliche or not, it was a new day, and the warm morning sun was lifting my mood, making me believe that this was a whole new ride as well.

It was longer than I expected, but the climb finally topped the ridge and gave way to a steep, fast descent to the valley floor. At the base of the descent, Trevor King and his crew were stopped on the side of the road. Trevor, only 20 years old, was doing well. His crew was applying his sunscreen, and I thought of how luxurious it is to have a crew handle everything for you. As it was, I hadn’t packed sunscreen to Loa (expecting to pass through in night), but I had gotten this far without help, and wasn’t about to ask for assistance (which also carries a time penalty). They mentioned something about wind coming up. I offered that it probably wouldn’t be too bad, and pressed on. As I made the left turn onto southbound 62, I immediately realized my uncharacteristic optimism was misplaced.

I was fighting to go 11 miles per hour on a slight descent. It might have only been “near-gale” on the Beaufort wind scale, but whatever it was I had 70 miles of SSW travel to Panguitch in a strong SSW wind. At this speed my estimate of 4 hours from here to Panguitch was going to be off by hours. I quickly got discouraged, and angry at the course. I already had relived the terrible stomach problems of my 2009 508. Now, just as in the 508, my recovery would be tested with a fierce wind on a traditionally easier section. But in the 508, the wind battle was at night, in Death Valley, with blowing scorpions, dust, and tumbleweeds. Then I was passing crew car after crew car of riders, defeated or waiting it out, with my own crew in tow for the ride. It felt epic, and I fed off that. But now, I was just tired, and in the bright flat sunlight the road stretched endlessly onward into the wind. And there was no one around. One mile of the headwind ticked by. 

I was starting to unreel mentally. This was dangerous. I needed to get a hold of myself. I put down my head and watched the pavement for a while, clearing my mind as best I could. This wasn’t about the wind. This was an internal struggle. So I take a few hours longer to get to Panguitch. So what? This ride is two days long. Take a deep breath. Don’t dwell in the insignificant discomforts of the moment. Rise above them. The miles melt away, the day goes on. I almost laughed at my own platitudes as I was calming myself: I was something in between Tony Robbins and a zen monk. But it was in a meditative state that I was able to let go of the frustration of the wind, of focusing on the many slow miles still ahead, of the negativity of the moment. And eventually I lost the harmful self-awareness of the challenges I faced, and the simple joy of cycling slowly replaced it..

And so I made my way slowly southward through the windswept valley. The road rolled up and down, curved slightly, but never enough to give respite from the wind, which was now gusting over its steady baseline. After a long, painstakingly slow 30 miles in the wind Highway 62 finally curved westward, following the dry Sevier River up a canyon toward Highway 89, and offering shelter and calm air for a few precious miles. I knew that the left turn on Highway 89 would have me heading south yet again, and I fought the desire to cling to the blind hope that the wind would be gone in that valley. I could already feel the air swirling as I approached the turn. Yes, another 32 miles of brutal headwinds, this time trending uphill, all the way to Panguitch. How do I handle this? Fake bravado? Just how I like it. Bring it on.

Hours passed. The road sweeped through the town of Circleville, offering a break from the wind for a few minutes, and a tour of the Piute County seat, its most populous city at 505 residents. Ranch houses, road, and wind. The road now rose to Panguitch, the wind amplifying the effects of the slight grade. The wind was wearing chinks in my meditative armor. It was taking effort to rein in my negative thoughts, and I was tired. My mouth was dry. My eyes burned. I continued to battle the wind and my psyche all the way up the rise to Panguitch. I considered matter-of-factly that this was probably the hardest thing I had ever done. And it was far from done.

Traffic was increasing; it was midday now. I watched the cars pass me, cutting through the headwind without noticing. They must be getting terrible mileage, I consoled myself. A road sign read PANGUITCH 10 . I had been hoping it was closer. 10 miles is still almost an hour in this wind. I thought back 24 hours, when I was on the same road, heading north, 10 miles south of Panguitch. All that, and I’m still riding. The road then levelled for a final, exposed slog into the city. The town was visible in the distance, and I watched it hungrily, as it grew ever so gradually. A few miles out of town I caught a glimpse of three riders: and figured they must be Chris, Rick, and Tim. In the slow last few miles, I reeled them in. I rode alongside Chris for a few minutes, and he mentioned that Tim and Rick were considering quitting. No way, not after getting through that! He agreed. And finally, after 7 brutal hours in the wind, with great relief I pulled in to Panguitch’s own Color Country Inn.

Tim, Rick and Chris had ridden many of those tough miles with each other in sight. Always at a distance of course, as no drafting is allowed in the race, but I imagined there was a mental comfort in keeping others nearby. Staffer Tom Parkes eyed us mock-suspiciously, as we all arrived at the motel at 2:07 PM. It was a reunion from Loa, except for Steve, who was still on the road. I wondered if he would quit. That section was brutal. I sat down on the bed inside and realized I didn’t feel good. Looking around, it didn’t seem like anyone did. I nibbled on some food, filled my bottles, and changed my clothes again. I didn’t want to dwell on how I felt, but I was worried about the 4500 foot ascent that started right from Panguitch. Chris left. I took a few more minutes to collect myself, and was surprised when I saw an hour had almost passed from our arrival. I threw all my extra gear back in my drop bag. Tim and Rick would stay a bit longer, trying to digest the Arby’s they had somehow managed to get down. I grabbed some pretzels, nilla wafers, Hammer bars and gels, and hopped back on my bike. Time for a little climb.

Section 6 : Panguitch to Cedar City

The road shot up right from the edge of Panguitch. I was calm, if a bit nervous. This one last test, I told myself. Just get yourself to the top of this mountain. There were still over a hundred miles from the summit to the finish, and although they are mostly downhill, I imagined more punishing headwinds, other unforeseen difficulties. But for now, I just needed to keep the pedals moving, and chip away at this massive obstacle. I knew I would be on these slopes for a long time. It was 30 miles ahead and over 4,000 feet above to the summit, and here I was ambling along at 5 mph. But my stomach had settled once I got moving again, and although my power was anemic, my heart rate had relaxed to the 120s, a typical late-ultra beat for me, and I was good for the long haul.

The steep base of the climb gave way in a few miles to more tentative grades, making upward progress only in fits. After an hour the route topped a basin and circled Panguitch Lake, a pleasant resort community. I thought of lounging out on the lake, relaxing, soaking in the sun. But I had everything I needed and pressed on. A car passed, I noticed the motto on the Utah plate: "Life Elevated." No kidding. The wind was at my face, but it was manageable. The climb was frustratingly inconsistent, rise a few hundred feet, drop a hundred, repeat. But I knew well to let this go, let each hill pass, let each mile flow from before me to behind me. I was progressing up the mountain, and I was enjoying it now. Wide open grasslands, stands of aspens and pines, fresh mountain air.

The meandering middle section of the climb came to an end around 8500 feet, and with a renewed purpose and steeper grades the road began tackling the remaining 2000 feet. It was 2 and a half hours and just under 25 miles from Panguitch. I took a gel and some water, chewed on some pretzels. Had to keep the crew chief happy, he thinks I’m not getting enough calories and fluid. Wait, who? I don’t think I have a crew...oh...right, I’m just slightly losing my mind. My crew chief was me. But seriously, shouldn’t piss him off. Eat something. Take a drink. I shook the delusion; my tired mind was only bothering occasionally to weave together the threads of my consciousness.

I watched my legs trace labored circles. They looked small, my fatigued muscles twitched with the effort. The altitude, my weariness, the grades, the wind...for a host of reasons my speed was flirting with 5 mph - and I was below 50 rpm in my generous 39-28 gearing. My fixed gear training was paying off - this was a time I needed to maximize my torque at low cadences. How strange I thought - the crux of the ride, a near 5,000 foot climb at altitude, with 400 miles in the legs - and I was calm, relaxed, enjoying myself. I was letting the mountain and my body dictate the pace, and I was just along for the ride. It was a novel vantage point; most rides I would be attacking the terrain, but I had neither the desire nor likely the ability to do this now.

As the climb topped out it passed through a large grassy meadow. There was a sizable flock of sheep grazing on both sides, some crossing the road. The sun was low on the horizon, and I stopped to pull on my warm gloves, jacket, and balaclava as the sheep watched me warily. I could tell I was moving slowly even off the bike, as I fumbled with my clothes. It was already chilly, and I knew I would get colder as I descended. Another few steep ramps and I had reached the summit of the climb, and the entrance to Cedar Breaks National Monument. No time to stop and sightsee now, I wanted to get down this 5,000 foot descent before dark.

But the descent was still further ahead - there were some rollers on the ridge to contend with. I had been experiencing increasingly intense deja vu over this section. I had an unshakeable feeling that I had ridden this climb before, the scent of the trees, the rolling terrain, the thin air, I had definitely been here. Of course, I had never been there before and I knew it. My exhausted brain was misfiring, creating and then recognizing the same memories.

Well over 4 hours after leaving Panguitch, I was finally over the summit, past the rollers, and on a fast, effortless ride into Cedar City. The high speed westward descent had me staring straight into the setting sun, there was heavy traffic, my hands were half numb, and I was cold, but it was still a glorious 20 miles. Dusk had fallen as I rolled through Cedar City, and pulled in to the penultimate timetstation, a Chevron in the shadow of I-15.

Chris was coming out of the convenience store and ready to head out, as I parked my bike and stretched out my back. He was feeling good. He left to grab some food as I called Deb to check in. She offered the encouraging news that the winds had died down on the return leg to St. George. I hadn’t even let myself consider such a possibility, not wanting to risk the disappointment, but the news sure sounded good to my weary ears. I filled my bottles and grabbed some apple ring candies inside. The clerk looked me up and down, surely wondering what the hell I was doing out there. I smiled to myself as I left the store. He had no idea.

Section 7 : Cedar City to the Finish

And again I was rolling, 30 miles to Newcastle. Around 80 to the finish. I was invigorated. It was in the bag now. I needed some music. I threw on Crystal Castles - abnormal, exhilerating, ridiculous, dissociated experimental electronica- perfectly matching my skewed mental state. I got in my drops and headed west. staring at my spot of light in the sea of darkness. There were people running beside me, frolicking in my periphery, cheering me on. Kids, must be. Nice of them. Wait. They disappeared, of course, when I looked to the side. OK, brain, funny. I know they’re not there. I looked back at the road, and they returned, laughing at me. Alright, they could stay, they were all the support I was going to get.

My phantom entourage and I ventured further into the rabbit hole of my faltering consciousness. In a mild headwind, up and over a long climb then descent, finally reaching the sign announcing Newcastle. I passed through the sleeping town in a few blocks and back into the dark nothing. Bench Road. It was bumpy, more twisty than I expected. I was completely disoriented now. Just keep following the road. Some vicious sounding dogs chased after me. I’m pretty sure they were real, but I didn’t know.

The turn south onto Highway 18 came as a relief, and almost a surprise. I was so far out into nowhere I almost thought I couldn’t be on course. It was just a tired paranoia. There hadn’t even been any turns. Through the town of Enterprise, back into nothingness. One more climb. Then I was descending.

The brisk midnight air hit me and aroused a confused swirl of association to my waking dream. Fog in the dark to my right, blasts of cold air, like a sea breeze. Rolling terrain, heading home. It was reminiscent of riding along the coast, in my nascent cycling days back as an undergrad in Santa Cruz. Highway 1. How nice.

Wait a minute. What was I doing on the coast? Was I on course? I stopped, looked around. That doesn’t help, nothing really to see. I turned around and rode backwards. My Garmin beeped. Off course. OK that's not right. I pulled out the route sheet. 18 until a right on Snow Canyon. OK. I need to get to Snow Canyon. Where is that? Must be ahead. I turned back in the right direction and continued. More descents, more rollers. I was only tenuously convinced of my route, of what I was doing out this late. 1 AM? Didn’t I finish the Hoodoo already? No, I couldn’t have, Snow Canyon. You have to call in to the finish. I don't think I did that yet.

My brain was grabbing half finished thoughts, ideas, fears, jumbling them, stitching them together into a muddled consciousness. I tried to reach through the fog and clarify my purpose. Snow Canyon. You have to go there Adam. That’s all. Remember that. Pay attention. The GPS says 10 miles. Go that way. The numbers didn’t really mean anything to me at the time. But I got through those miles. And there was a sign, and a right turn. Snow Canyon. I stopped. What did I have to do? Call the finish.

As the phone rang, I worried that I was doing something wrong. I had finished and I was out riding meaninglessly. I was off course. I wasn’t really at the final checkpoint. But no, I was indeed at the final checkpoint, Snow Canyon, and I was waking up - the impact of where I was and what I was doing was finally sinking in, trumping my confusion. Deb answered and I kept it simple: I’m at Snow Canyon. Great! She said. We’ll be here when you come in. I couldn’t help it, I started blabbering on, something about my strange trip down the I realized my delusions I cut myself’ll tell you about it when I come in. I called my dad, who was waiting in St George. Then I hopped on my bike. Awake. Aware. Ready to finish this thing.
I bombed the Snow Canyon descent, bunny hopping over the speed bumps at the top, relishing the twists and turns of the narrow road. And then I was out of the canyon, on the wide city streets leading into St George. I hammered the route with what was left of my muscles. Nothing to worry about now. What a feeling. I searched through the haze of my memory of the last 6 hours, trying to make sense of the experience. I gave up. It didn’t matter, up a hill to a final right turn, and a traffic light. I waited for the green, and could see the finish. And I was in the parking lot, and through the line. 2:34 AM.
Some pictures, some congratulations. A hug from my dad. It was great to see him. A chair. My dad, Deb and I chatted for a while. The gist: It was really hard. It was windy.And I finished. I was tired. We headed up to the room, I showered, and lay in bed. It was a big deal. I was done. But it was hard to process things at this point. I went to sleep.

OK dad, it's your turn now...

The event was so draining that I didn’t have it in me to feel strong emotions at the finish. But I couldn’t get the race out of my mind...and still can’t almost 2 weeks later. It was an incredible experience. The voyager edition was a remarkable challenge, and made for a completely different experience than a crewed race. It is a journey of introspection; you can learn a lot about yourself in such trying circumstances.

At the breakfast the next morning, the voyagers reconvened. I was happy to see that Steve, Chris, and Tim had all finished in the last hours. Rick pulled out after making it into Cedar City. That meant a staggering 7 out of 9 of the starting Voyagers finished - more than doubling the total finishers since the first Hoodoo in 2007. Even though the conditions were tough enough to cause all but 5 of the 13 solo crewed riders to quit, the ethic among us voyagers to finish was contagious. And it was unquestionably worth it. It was a great group of people to share such an epic adventure with.

Finishing Voyagers at the breakfast - Steve, Chris, Me, Russell, Jared, Joel (Tim was still sleeping)

My time of 45 hours was much slower than I expected, and I was disappointed and frustrated in the resurgence of the stomach issues that I suffered through in the 2009 508. My stomach issues cost me at least 8 hours between Escalante and Loa but even subtracting that, and assuming near no rest, I would have still been a few hours behind Joel Sothern’s smoking sub-35 hour time. Riding into the second night exposed me to the mental challenges of sleep deprivation - something I’m going to have to address for longer rides in the future (like...gulp..RAAM?).

As much as I would have liked to at times, I have no crew to thank.. But many thanks to Deb and Brian of Planet Ultra, and all the volunteers for the tireless work involved in putting on this exceptional, and exceptionally brutal event for a small group of crazy ultra riders.  And thanks to my dad, who traveled all the way to Utah to watch me finish! Thanks also to Mike Sturgill who gave me lots of helpful advice as I was hastily putting together a race plan throughout August.
The Hoodoo course is unique. It is both beautiful, and punishingly difficult, more challenging than the 508 (especially in the voyager division!), and more spectacular. It is now a smaller and lesser known race than the 508, but it deserves to grow. I think it’s safe to say I’ll be back.