Disclaimer: The words and viewpoints in this story are the author’s only and don’t reflect any other teammate’s view or thoughts. I wrote the story before I decided against writing it. I’m part of Team Javelina and I approve this message.
Why would any sane person ever ride his or her bike nonstop for 508 miles through the California desert and Death Valley you ask? Well, the answer to that question eluded me as well while I was pondering the attempt at such a feat. The genesis of this whole crazy idea started with a discussion amongst friends on a GVC bike ride about a year ago. Seeing how Karl and Mike were stalwart long distance kinda guys, I brought the idea up to them and bounced the thought of putting a 4 man team together. I figured, what the hell, it would be just over 100 miles between the four of us and we do that all the time, right? I was actually surprised by the immediate response, “let’s go for it.” Taken a back a bit, it thought to myself, “yeah, let’s go for it!” And, as they say, the rest is basically history.
Like all great enthusiasms that most middle-aged men come upon, the idea kinda faded away to the back burner of life. Then, one day, I got an email from the folks at AdventureCorps stating that the rules had changed and now all relay teams were to ride specific legs to designated changeover points. This brought the idea out of the cobwebs and to forefront once again. I email Karl and Mike and said, “Hey homees are we gonna do this thing or not?” Each responded with, “This homee is in!” So, now you know the history behind, “Team HomEEs.” Some great labels come from some of the simplest of things like: Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, well ... you get the idea. With 3 of the 4 Team HomEEs in place, the training began in earnest! Well, kinda …
The question now became, “who is crazy enough to be our 4th HomEE?” We kicked around a couple of names and then it came to me, Let’s ask Geoffrey! You see Geoffrey was young, a decent rider, and had been riding rather strongly the last couple of months. So, Mike set out on task to recruit Geoffrey to be part of our team. By the way, Geoffrey will be forever known as “HW Janes:” The HW stands for headwind ... more on that later.
Having no experience with the 508, I decided to go their website and read as much as I could about this famed bike race. I remember getting to the “tall tales” section and seeing a note that said, “if you read one story about the 508, read this one.” So, I clicked on the link and started reading. The story was about a female solo participant, Dolphin. It was an incredible story of her first solo attempt at the race. When I got to the part where she said she was lying in her support vehicle, dry heaving, delirious, and crying I thought to myself: ya know ... this is for me! ... and it is gonna be fun!
I must say that the website helped a great deal and the stories weren’t all that scary. As you can imagine, just figuring out the logistics of this whole effort is a bigger task than getting through the race. Fired up and ready for action, Team HomEEs set up the first team meeting and started the task of figuring out race strategy and just how the heck we were gonna get 4 riders, all their gear, and other odds and ends from one side of the Mojave desert to the other. Speaking of logistics, I think we did a pretty good job planning the whole thing. Executing the logistical plan, at least in my mind, was another matter however. For example, I think we brought enough toilet paper to keep the whole race plus support staff taken care of. The only problem was that all of the toilet paper spent its entire time in the support van. We forgot to put some in the chase vehicle. That’s a bad move after coffee and especially when the train wants to leave the station, if ya know what I mean? We also brought some other useful stuff along: a wind trainer (never used), a bike work stand (never came out of its case), ten thousand extra batteries (we only needed 2 thousand!), and somebody’s entire closet of clothes! Oh, I forgot about the air mattress, complete with electric pump! This wasn’t your average air mattress. No, it was a double-sized air mattress! This albatross took up so much space in the support van, there wasn’t anyplace to put the entire wardrobe of clothes or the coolers, not to mention the fact that there wasn’t enough room for it to begin with, even deflated. Try going around a corner and catching a cooler full of food in your lap after riding 100 miles! Needless to say, we brought waaaaaay too much stuff. I have found that if the thought goes through your head that you probably don’t need it, you probably don’t! One last thing about the logistical plan: If you have one, and have thought it through, it’s probably not a good idea to drastically change the plan half way through the race. We looked like a bunch of crazed morons, moving coolers, bikes, bags and a very tired rider from one vehicle to another at each time station. But hey, live and learn as they say!
Well finally it was here: The day of reckoning! I felt like that kid on The Christmas Story who is eagerly anticipating getting his first BB gun. My teammates were pumped as well, and we all couldn’t wait to get to Santa Clarita and do this thing. Loaded and ready for bear, we pressed out towards California with the plan to drive part of Karl’s route backwards. Karl was our leadoff guy and we wanted to at least give him a chance to see what was in store for him. Cruising past the giant windmills near Mojave we drove up a very long incline that would be Karl’s downhill run to California City towards the handoff with me for the second leg. But as they say, what goes up, must come down and vice versa. Heading south towards Santa Clarita we wound our way through some pretty tough mountains and the thought kept sitting on the back of my mind that this was going to be a pretty tough stage. Little did we know that Mother Nature was following our every move, snickering at us as we marveled and commented on how nice the weather was over here in California.
This might be a good place to mention our team totem. Although we coined ourselves Team HomEEs, this name was not in line with the race rules. The chief totemizer is Chris Kostman, Chief of Adventure Corps and the 508 race director. The idea is to give everyone a name instead of using race numbers and I think it is a pretty good idea too. The totem gives everyone a sense of ownership and identity. We put Mike in charge of picking possible names for submission and approval and we wanted something southwesternish; with a sense of uniqueness. Mike came up with a few animal names and Javelina became the final choice. Blessed by Kostman, we became the fast 4 little wild boars! Everybody thinks that a Javelina is a pig. To the contrary, the two are not even related. The Javelina is somewhat indigenous to the Southwestern United States and is in fact a species of wild boar all to itself. Known for its speed and toughness, we thought this was the perfect totem for the boys from Green Valley Cyclists! And so, Team Javelina was born!
After enjoying traffic jams that only California can offer up, we rolled into the hotel parking lot about 4pm to a sea of vehicles all decked out with totem signs, lights and bicycles. The atmosphere was rife with anticipation as the race officials inspected both vehicles and bicycles. Race officials were extremely strict about safety and all vehicles and bicycles had to comply with the rules, no exceptions. One other cool thing about this race is the friendliness of all the participants and crews. People were exchanging 508 war stories, greeting each other, and welcoming new riders all over the parking lot. It almost seemed like a giant family reunion instead of the eve of a major competitive event.
One thing that Kostman and the folks at AventureCorps do very well is recognize folks for their accomplishments. At the race meeting on Friday night, we watched a great video of 508’s gone by, and were treated to the induction of the 2004 508 hall-of-fame members. Each person was brought on stage after a brief slide show of their past accomplishments and given a special award that galvenized their name in the annals of the 508 hall-of-fame history books. Finally, it was our turn. Each rider was brought on stage and introduced individually in front of family, friends, and support crew. It was actually really cool and made you feel special just to be part of such an event. After the meeting it was off to the hotel for some serious sleep, or maybe not.
As things turned out I spent most of the night rolling from one side of the bed to the other trying to get the snot in my head to a comfortable place. That, as it turned out was futile. I managed to pick up a cold, of which I haven’t had in the last two years, just before leaving for the race. I told myself that I didn’t care what happened because I was gonna do this thing even if I had to crawl. At around 5am I got up and decided to find the reveille ring tone on my phone and have a little fun with Mike and Rick. But alas, all I could muster was some lame cat song, or stupid Fur Elise ring tone. So, I did the next best thing and went knocking at their door! Needless to say, the two of them weren’t too pleased with my early wake up call. Most, if not all the single riders were up and at the ready this early in the morning preparing for the single rider launch scheduled for the 7am gun. Mike, Rick and myself decided to miss the single rider start and instead went foraging for food stuffs. All loaded up and a Starbucks coffee later, we headed back to the hotel to launch Karl on the start of the Team Javelina adventure.
For those not too familiar with California, the weather inland can be a bit unpredictable early in the morning. The temperature usually hovers around the low 60’s and depending on the conditions, fog can be a factor. As it turned out, the fog machine had been working overtime during the night blanketing the whole area with thick air and moisture. Karl, along with all the other team start of riders, took the starting line about 5 minutes prior to official start time of 9am. Let me tell ya, Team Javelina looked good standing there in that semicustom team jersey ... we were ready to go! Well, at least Karl was ready. Out of the parking lot and on to the main drag, the team riders disappeared into the fog and downtown Santa Clarita. Well, I thought, there is nothing to do now but wait.
Geoffrey and I grabbed what would be our last real meal for a couple of days and headed out in the support van to California City. Because the road is so narrow and dangerous on the first leg, the rules stipulated the support van must go ahead and on an alternate route than the rider. The rest of the race (475 long miles) can be followed using a leap frog technique. Our first contact came from a cell phone call from Mike. He informed us that the wind was howling like mad from the northwest. My first thought was great! Wind, just what we needed. Not! I could here Mother Nature snickering off in the distance. As things turned out, Geoffrey and I got to California City about 2 hours early. I did the standard, get everything ready way ahead of time ... nervous bathroom break thing 4 or 5 times ... gee where are those guys act for the next couple of hours.
Finally, we get a cell phone call that Karl was about 5 minutes out. That’s about the last time we could use the cell, we were entering the Death Valley jaws of darkness! Pumped and ready to rock, I took my place at the starting line in front of the time station officials and eagerly awaited Karl’s arrival. I guess I was lucky, the winds swapped around from northwest to southwest leaving me with a quartering tailwind instead of a quartering headwind. Karl passed me the baton and boom I was off. My first thought was to hold back because I, after all, had 70 miles to ride. The whole sensation was a little eerie. I was out in the middle of literally nowhere hauling ass on my bike. I soon lost my sense of caution (and my mind) and decided to just put the hammer down. I figured I could at least use this wind to my advantage and try and put time into our competitors. So, I put it in the big ring and started spinning.
There was one point during the first 11 miles I spun-out at 43 mph. Man, I thought, this must be what it is like being Lance! Cruising like a big dog and making it look easy. As I turned due east towards Randsburg, I passed several riders and a few support vehicles. It was nice to have folks that you don’t know cheering you on as you pass by ... way cool indeed. Most of this leg was roller after roller. It is amazing how those types of roads can take the zing out of your legs over time. Geoffrey and Rick did an excellent job of stopping along the way to make sure I had everything I needed. Little known to them, I made a deal with myself that I would not stop along the way, for anything. I knew time was important and I wanted to lose as little as possible. I made the turn-off towards Randsburg and this is where the famous Randsburg grade starts. Not a real tough climb, but rather an endless climb to nowheresville. Towards the end, the road takes a nasty kick to south so I had increasing grade and wind to deal with, oh how fun!
Coming out of Randsburg, the course takes a few twists and turns and then heads north again towards Trona, the armpit of the world! A few more very long rollers culminate in the final downhill thrust into Trona. One of the race officials was standing on the side of the road and shouted out to me that there was a steep downhill approaching. I smiled, said thanks and pressed on. He was not kidding! By this time, Geoffrey and Rick caught back up to me and followed me down this wild ride. All in all, it was pretty cool. I got in the drops, tucked my head down and watched the computer tick of the speed. I quickly accelerated to 30+, then 40+, and then 50! The last I looked, I was doing 51 mph! That’s about the time the road starting getting worse. Not optimum for sure. As the bike banged around from the bumps and cracks in the road, I managed to slow back down to the mid 40’s. It is amazing how 40 mph can seem slow after doing 50+ on a downhill.
Now if you haven’t been to Trona, you don’t know what you’re missing, or maybe you do. Anyway, they mine something in that town, but I’m not sure what it is. The town is a real dump and there really isn’t much to look at: settling ponds, run-down houses, and of course the neighborhood bar! Great place to go on vacation ... not! The good thing is that there is one road into town and one road out of town. So, finding the handoff spot was not an issue. By this time, I was pretty spent and I was looking forward to the handoff with Mike. I saw Geoffrey waving at me and eyed Mike ready for the handoff. I passed Mike the baton and off he went as I made my way to some refreshing drink by our support van.
Rick and Karl took off as chase while Geoffrey and I got things together in the support van. Trona is about the only place to get gas and supplies for the next twelve hours so we got some ice and water and headed out of town. The biggest concern after a tough leg is recovery. I ate a couple of sandwiches, downed some perpetuam and tried to rehydrate. Another problem associated with this type of racing is the fact that you are in a car for hours after the ride and the legs turn to rocks! I did a bit of self massage and tried to stretch as Geoffrey drove us over to Furnace Creek.
Mike’s route took us up a gentle incline to the summit of a very steep drop-off into the Panamint Valley. At the summit, I decided to change out of my cycling clothes and take a much needed bit of bodily relief. The wind up there was incredible! I’m standing on the edge of a cliff with the wind at my back taking the longest wiz of my life! I felt like one of those Cherubs that adorn those Italian fountains. It is amazing what strong wind at your back can do! Just as the sun started to set, Geoffrey and I made it to the Hwy 190 turnoff that leads you to the endless climb up Townes Pass. We passed Dolphin on our way and I couldn’t help thinking about her solo story. I gave her a bit of a silent cheer and hoped she fared well the rest of the way.
At about this time we met up with most of the single riders and their crews. The site looking up Townes pass was as eerie as it was magical. The slow moving snake of lights seemed to creep up the mountain with a slow rhythmic momentum. The whole scene reminded me of those old movies where the Egyptians were moving materials up a pyramid on a night time construction shift.
The race rules specifically stated that the support van could not stop on Townes pass and had to move ahead of the supported rider so Geoffrey and I decided to make our way to Furnace Creek, time station number 4. By the time we crested the summit, it was as dark as you could imagine. We started what seemed like an endless and bottomless descent into Death Valley. I wasn’t sure what was worse, going up Townes Pass or going down the other side. The descent is not as straight and easy as I remember from some of the past 508 write ups ... and we were in a car! To the contrary, the road zigs and zags and drops off unexpectedly several times along the way. I looked at Geoffrey and said, “ya know, if Mike wipes out coming down this mountain, I’m sure as heck not going back to Trona and start over!” You see, the rules state that if a team member cannot finish a stage, one of the other team members can continue, but they must start over at the beginning of the stage. Geoffrey just gave me that nod of agreement and kept his eyes on the road.
After a quick stop for gas in Stovepipe Wells, we finally made it into Furnace Creek. I could feel Geoffrey’s anticipation. He had been driving all day watching us race and soon it would be his turn. The first thing I noticed when getting out of the van in Furnace Creek was the wind. It had been picking up all day and seemed to be howling a bit harder as we pulled in. We made it in time to grab a quick bite to eat at the Furnace Creek Restaurant and when we came out, we saw just how hard the wind was really blowing, our van was covered in dust! I thought to myself, “this is gonna suck!” Making our short drive back to the time station, we did what we had done all day, wait.
We figured that based on Mike’s planned pace, he would arrive sometime around 10:30pm or so. So, we waited some more. I managed to pass the time by talking with time station folks and checking out the competition on the leader board. Sasquatch showed up at about 9:30pm so I figured we were about an hour behind the leaders. They did an incredible turnaround at Furnace Creek and wasted no time getting back onto the road. As 10:30 approached, we started coming up on the CB because the cell phones were all but useless. Finally, at about 10:45 or so I hear a faint call over the CB (“Javelina, come back Javelina, HomEE is about 5 minutes out”). Geoffrey popped up and got ready. This is where things got a little dorked-up in my mind. Since it was dark, the chase vehicle has to stay behind the rider the entire time. The change of plans kinda screwed things up because we weren’t ready with the chase vehicle in a timely manner. We probably wasted about 15 minutes getting everything ready to go: Changing bikes, swapping coolers, tossing bags, oh, and don’t forget the toilet paper and ten thousand batteries! Oh well, better luck next time.
I swapped off with Karl as chase and Rick and I went behind Geoffrey as support crew. As we left Furnace Creek, Mother Nature started belly laughing at us and turned up the wind machine big time ... I mean big time! I’ve been in wind storms before, but nothing like this. Anyway, Geoffrey plugged away and after about an hour I realized the he was burning some serious calories battling these headwinds. I talked it over with Rick and we decided to stop in Badwater and get some calories into Geoffrey. We didn’t quite make it all the way so we pulled Geoffrey over to the side of the road and he asked how far we had gone: 17 stinkin’ miles in 2 hours! We still had 58 miles to go and 4,000 feet of climbing left to do! If you haven’t read Geoffrey’s write up, go read it, it is truly amazing and I won’t repeat everything here. Our biggest concern was making sure Geoffrey did not bonk on this leg so we pulled him over every hour and made him rest and refuel. By the time we got to the base of Jubilee pass, Geoffrey was pretty well spent. After long hours in the saddle and relentless howling wind, Geoffrey did a heroic job of getting to the summit of Salisbury Pass just prior to day break. By this time I had been up for 24 hours with one hour of sleep and 350+ miles of bike racing!
During one of the stops, Rick asked me if we had any toilet paper in the truck. I did not know, but I said I would let him know if I found any. Well, we had no toilet paper as it turned out, but we had the ten thousand batteries and a wind trainer with us and no coffee! Great, let’s have spin class right here in the desert at 4am! Finally, I found some paper towels amongst all the other mounds of crap and asked Rick if that was OK. He looked at me like a kid at Christmas who just got the best toy! His eyes got as big as saucers! All I could see was this shadowy figure hopping out into the desert beyond the headlights. As he returned I could hear his muffled voice nashing on about something. I asked him if everything was OK, and he said the wind was so strong it blew him over while he was trying to go to the bathroom. Can you imagine what the Coyotes were thinking? I got quite a chuckle out of that one for the next several miles.
Downhill at last and no wind! I don’t know who was happier Geoffrey or me, I’m sure Geoffrey. Rick woke up from a couple of hours of broken sleep and joined me as we followed Geoffrey to the end of his torturous stage. Approaching the bottom, Team Agouti slid by us and over took third place. I was so surprised to see them because I knew the conditions were the same for everyone and I was sure we would at least keep our time advantage on them. Rick and I scooted ahead to give Mike and Karl a heads up that Geoffrey was on his way.
Evidently, we had another change of plan and I was now in the chase vehicle again, this time chasing and supporting Karl. Well, I thought, I’ve gone without sleep this long, what’s another day? I was a little pissed because I was the next rider out on the road and I was wondering when I was supposed to get a little sleep. Not to mention the fact that all my stuff was in the other vehicle. See what I mean about a plan? Plan it, rehearse it, then execute it. Oops, that’s the military coming out in me. Anyway, I got my second wind and helped Karl keep fueled and supported for the next 50 miles into Baker. I soon realized that my whining was nothing compared to the solo crowd, who barely got any sleep whatsoever and were on the road riding all night!
Making our way to Baker, Mike and I stopped and chatted with the Team Agouti chase crew. Evidently, their rider was having some gastrointestinal trouble and was falling behind the pace. I thought, great we can finally put some time into these guys. And putting time into them is exactly what Karl managed to do. He built up about 30 minutes during his 50 mile run. I got stoked and figured we had 3rd place sewed up tight. As Karl and I exchanged the baton in Baker, I saw a look of relief on his face that signified his satisfaction with finally fulfilling his portion of our saga.
I started off pretty strong and was surprised at how well I felt after a night of no sleep and a lingering cold. Up and over I-15 I went in the oblivion of the Mojave desert. This road goes to the moon, I swear. My last portion of the race started off with this endless climb to the horizon. The climb is not steep, but let me tell you it does go on forever. I couldn’t remember if it was 21 miles or 23 miles long. Anyway, I broke it down into thirds mentally. I figured if I could conquer the thing a little piece at a time the rest wouldn’t be so bad. I passed one of the members of Team Pupfish and we exchanged pleasantries for a few moments as we shared our memories of the horrible night behind us. She was riding a bit slow so I said farewell and went on my merry way. There was no reason at this point to look ahead, all you could see was road! And, it kept going up and up. So, I just put my head down and kept pedaling. At about 10 miles into the ride, the boys passed me and asked me if I needed anything. Yea, I thought … an ice cold beer and a bed! At about the 14 mile point and an hour into the ride I came up the “Lonely Lemur” as I like to call him. As I pulled up next to him, being ever careful not to draft (LOL) he said to me, “man I’m glad you’re here, now I have some one to bitch at!” And bitch he did. He said, “ya know my crew is being nice to me and encouraging me and I told them I’m not getting back on the damn bike, you can forget it, I’m just not going to do it!” etc, etc. I just was polite and acknowledged his rant. He broke into another rant saying, “ya know my wife just looked at me and said, get back on that bike. I don’t care how you feel, just get back on that bike and ride! All you said to me on that last ride, as I laid there dead on the ground was, get your sorry ass back on that bike and ride, so you get your sorry ass back on that bike and ride!” Well, I wasn’t quite sure if the old Lemur had all his marbles in one bag or not, so I saluted him and went on my way. I never saw him again. Mike came back to me and said he and Karl were going ahead to the next stop to get ready and that I had a nice 11 mile descent ahead of me. Well, let me tell you about this descent. This road was by far the worst California has to offer. I went from the middle to the right side, back to the middle and even into the on coming lane of traffic just to find a decent flat spot to ride upon. I’m totally surprised that the bike held together. That, by far, was the most horrific road and descent I’ve ever had on a bicycle. I gladly handed off the Javelina baton one last time to Mike in beautiful downtown Kelso, and then staggered over to the support van for some much need calories.
At this point, everything was pretty much of a blur. I don’t remember the van ride from Kelso to Amboy. I think I fell asleep and woke up at the next time station just outside of Amboy and the start of Geoffrey’s final leg. The last thing I remember was waking up and hearing Karl and Rick pull up with the chase vehicle. Here it was I thought, the final leg: Geoffrey’s final leg and we are gonna make it!
Mike and I loaded up the support van and headed off towards the finish line. The plan here was for us to get to the hotel, shower, change clothes and head back to relieve Karl and Rick as chase so they could do the same thing. Pulling into Twenty Nine Stumps (Palms), all I could think about was the wind. It had started blowing again and it was picking up speed. I could hear Mother Nature whispering in my ear, “Not so fast Javelina, I’m not done with you yet!” We rendezvoused with the team just after Geoffrey’s descent from Sheep Head pass and this is where things got interesting.
The road into Twenty Nine Palms is very long and boring. It was getting dark and the wind was relentless ... and it was Geoffrey’s stage. This was insult to injury for sure. We followed Geoffrey for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, he stopped and I could tell he was pretty well spent. He kept asking us how far it was to the finish and I kept lying to him to make him feel better. I forced a banana and some Hammergel down him and told him to keep drinking while he was riding. I could tell he was slowly but surely entering the bonk zone. Finally, Geoffrey just stopped. Uh oh, I thought. This is bad. We made him take a break and sit in the truck for awhile and just at that time Team Agouti cruises right passed us. I saw the rider do a turnaround look to make sure it was us and off they went into the darkness. I felt that sinking feeling but felt even worse for Geoffrey. He had done a heroic job of riding and now Agouti had just passed us. I had a high school track coach tell me once that being great was 10% perspiration and 90% inspiration. Well, I guess he was right, especially in Geoffrey’s case at this very moment. Geoffrey just got back on the bike and rode! As we made the final turn into town, we could see the flashing lights of various support vehicles in front of us. I could tell Geoffrey saw the same thing because his pace had quickened. I yelled out of the car for him to take several hits of Hammergel which he did without complaint. At this point, Geoffrey was a horse smelling the barn. He put the hammer down and caught team Griz which I’m sure he thought was Agouti. I looked at Mike and we both had the same thought at the same moment: “Geoffrey just might catch Agouti!” Fortunately for us Agouti had some unique flashing lights atop their chase vehicle so we could differentiate them from the rest. I spotted them about 100 yards in front of us and couldn’t wait to tell Geoffrey. Mike pulled me up beside Geoffrey and while hanging all the way out of the chase vehicle I said, “Geoffrey, do you see those lights up ahead?” he nodded, and I said, “That’s Agouti, you go get’em!” Much to my surprise and Mike’s, Geoffrey just took off! It was just like watching Lance on one of those mountain stages. Holy crap! We are in for one heck of a finish! Mike and I got all caught up with the chase-vehicle mess at the finish so we couldn’t tell if Geoffrey beat Agouti or not. Finally, we rolled into the hotel parking lot, jumped out of the chase vehicle and saw Geoffrey lying in a heap on the ground. I ran over and said, “Did you get’em, did you get’em!” Geoffrey mustered up a muffled response and said something about getting cut off by a pickup truck. I just stood there in amazement! Let me tell ya, that was one heck of an effort! Turns out we got beat by 3 seconds after 36 hours 1 minute and 55 seconds of riding for 508 miles.
Well, we all got what we came for, a finish in the Furnace Creek 508 and the coveted race jersey and finisher’s medal. What a true team effort and a truly epic event! Let’s do it again next year! Well, maybe ...