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.


  1. Nice job out there. Looking forward to reading the rest.

    Good luck on the 508 fixie..


  2. Thanks Chris, nice ride yourself.

    I'll have a crew for the 508, that'll make up for np gears or freehub right? Guess I'll see...

  3. Wow. Incredible write up. If this computer stuff gets boring, you can take up a career in writing.. Am already thinking about being one of the first guys to finish the Voyager twice...

  4. Thanks for sharing this wonderful report. You're a superhero, Adam!

  5. What a great report Adam! Congratulations on finishing. It's an amazing accomplishment. And I understand you also finsihed FC508 since - on a fixed gear?? Way to go!
    - Ton van Daelen