I finished up my 2007 cycling season by doing the Furnace Creek 508 last weekend. Two weeks before the race when I would typically be tapering, I decided to go to Ireland and play a few gigs with friends. More than a few Guinness pints were consumed, and many a late night were had. Doubtful CSC will use it as an example for their next training camp. I had some beautiful rides through Connemara, but nothing very taxing. I think I can safely say I have an addiction when it seems reasonable to pack up a bike in addition to a bass guitar.
While the lead up was hardly ideal from a racing perspective, it was excellent from a mental health perspective. I had some concern about whether i was taking this difficult race too lightly(answer: yes) and if I was in good enough health to race(answer: no). Paris-Brest-Paris had left me with a seemingly endless case of bronchitis. My Doc seemed to think I would be fine in time for the race and all seemed to be fine by the time race week arrived.
I managed to convince some friends that it would be fun to sit in a van for 30 hours and follow me across the desert at 18 mph. Jen was a new recruit, while Bryce and Carmichael were veterans from my RAAM crew. You’d think they’d know better by now. A few hours of cramped Southwest Airlines comfort later, we arrive in Los Angeles. I pick up a van from Deluxe Rent A Car. Deluxe in LA means cheap with surly counter girls at no extra charge. Off to the endless mall complex known as Santa Clarita.
The race started well. I was up near the front and working, but not overly so. I felt great as we hit mile 25 where the crews could begin doing support. That was the last time I remember feeling good. As the day continued, I felt heavier and heavier. It was not bonking, but I was slowing. As the evening approached my lungs started to tighten up and the coughing began and the doubt started building in the back of my mind.
Hacking my through Death Valley, I made it to the Furnace Creek time station. I had to stop. I’ve never quit an ultracycling event yet, but I was on the verge. In my mind I had decided if I couldn’t get my breathing back to normal with a 15 minute break I was calling it quits. I slept for 25 minutes. I felt quite a bit better, still coughing, but not an endless fit. I got back on my bike. No longer thinking of finishing fast, just finishing was enough now. Hopefully with enough time to get some sleep before flying out Monday morning.
I love riding at night. It feels like I’m 5-10 mph faster than I really am. With this minor self-deception it seemed like I was riding pretty well through the night. I pass Paul Danhaus on a climb, only to hear “I’ll catch you on the downhill” as I reach the crest. He flys by on the downhill. I next see him at the finish line.
Morning arrives and I am a full time station behind where I was when I did this race 2 years ago. Morale is low. All those miles in the past 2 years don’t seem to have helped at all. I worry about the crew. It was now looking like an evening finish, far later than we had anticipated and far more hours in that van than they had hoped for.
“Stay on the bike” was the advice Rick Kent gave me before RAAM. It applies in Furnace Creek as well. I keep pedaling, sometimes smoothly, sometimes slowly, every once in a while quickly.
A long climb inches by until at last a downhill section for as far as I can see. I begin the descent, tucking in to get as much speed as possible. I feel i slight pull on the bars. This is going to be great. My speed is increasing, probably in the 40 mph range now, and my front wheel begins flopping uncontrollably. I’m all over the road, trying to brake, but the brakes make it shimmy even more if I apply them too fast. I’m going down…
Somehow, I get control again. I am awake and alert now. Maybe I’ll take it easy on the downhills now, maybe those Zip 404s aren’t the best choice for this ride.
Slugging it out for the rest of the miles. I luckily get confused about how far I have left to ride. Thinking I have 30 more miles to go I unexpectedly enter Twenty Nine Palms and the location of the finish line. I have a few words with my friend Tim Woudenberg as we enter town and I kick it in one last time. Anxious to be off the bike.
I cross the finish line at 7:16 PM. A time of 36:16:19. Nearly 5 hours slower than my 2005 time. Not as fast I had hoped, but this years race was about surviving and not giving up. I think I’ll have a Guinness to celebrate.