Race Report: Furnace Creek 508 2009

It makes people crazy. The wind, it makes people crazy.”

                Pat White talking about folks who grow up in Wyoming



For all intents and purposes the AdventureCorps Furnace Creek 508 is the biggest ultra cycling race on the planet with the exception of the multi day craziness that is called Race Across America (RAM).The 508 race is actually 509 miles long and has 35,000 feet of climbing.  It starts in the city of Santa Clarita which is just north of Los Angeles, CA and takes a route northeast to Death Valley where it then turns southwest to a finish in Twentynine Palms, CA.  Race entry is only granted upon approval of an application which includes detailed race resume of previous results.

Unlike most other races, The 508 refers to each of its riders not by rider name or number but instead by animal totem. I have to admit this seemed utterly ridiculous initially but after having done the race and experienced having a totem, it is actually pretty darn meaningful.  After much searching I chose the totem of an American Kestrel.



For those that train and race a lot a “rest week” can be a dangerous thing.  There I was, mid May, taking a nice rest minding my own business when after a few days I grew antsy and began to brainstorm of all the great things to do this coming summer.  Out of this brainstorm hatched the plan to participate in The 508.  Of course, a plan like this can’t even get off the ground unless it has a solid support crew.  Out went the email request: “I am getting the band back together. Are you in?”  I must say I was a little taken aback by the lack of hesitation. Paul Clement, Dave Bishop (Bish), and Jen Hampton all chimed in with a resounding HECK YA!

Next step was to apply for race entry which involved the painstaking process of pulling together a lot of race results and trying to find web-based proof that the results were actually real.  Once submitted, I had to wait a few weeks and then while racing at Elkhorn the word came in that we had been accepted and were good to go!

Logistics, Planning, and training

I realized post Race Across Oregon that I needed to simplify matters in regards to nutrition and equipment.  In training prep for The 508 I simplified a nutrition plan that was realistic and not overly ambitious. Fluids would be kept topped off with Gu2O, Gatorade, and water.  Calories would be kept up with a regimen of Ensure, Sustained Energy, and PowerBars.  I also paired down my expectations in regards to calories consumed per hour with a hope to settle into a rate of 350-400.

My 508-specific training began in mid July, approximately one week after returning from our 600 mi family bicycle trip.  Pushing a lot of weight on the trip took some time to recover from and learn how to pedal circles again. For me, training for an event like this requires some pretty epic rides.  This is what I enjoy most: taxing the body, riding long routes, incorporating new roads and climbs. It was also about this time that I got a call from my great friend, Omar.  He announced to me that he was inviting himself along as part of the crew!  I was flattered that he would take the time and energy to commit to helping me through.  Omar and I go way back and when he used to live in Bellingham we often did crazy adventures just like this so I knew he would be a great asset to have along.

Another important piece is to find out who might want to help financially support this effort, i.e., sponsors.  Supporting a rider for an event like this is really a tough sell.  The event gets little to no mainstream exposure, there are pretty much zero (0) fans out on the course, and well, truth be told, not that many folks really care as they just think you’re crazy for attempting stuff like this.  Luckily we live in Bellingham where the cycling and endurance athletics community is strong and vibrant.  I approached numerous folks and two businesses really stepped up.  Holy and Jim from RunningShoes.com provide some great support (as they always do) and Dr. Steve Noble of Noble Sports Chiropractic really came through with some critical support and consult with nutrition supplements and a variety of treatments to keep me healthy and recovered.  I have worked with and been supported by both groups before and so very much appreciate their commitment to me and our community.  As I have said before, without the generous support of sponsors most of these kinds of undertakings stayed mired in the fantasy stage and never move any closer to actually happening.


Pre Race

We were up by 4 am for an early departure out of Bellingham International.  Arrived in LA by 9:30 am which allowed very little time to take the rental van up to Santa Clarita and ready it for inspection.  Phil Elsasser had driven my car down from Bham with all the gear and met us right on time at the hotel. Surprisingly quick work had the car ready for inspection: Set up rear amber flashing lights, affix the signage, final bike tune ups, set up GPS, power inverter, extension cords, mp3 players, etc ., etc. Paul provided professional quality signs and super sporty flashing lights.  Paul took the time to build 2 sets of low amperage lights from scratch.  We wanted to avoid having to pull any middle of the night Jedi moves as Paul did last year at Race Across Oregon. (~ 2am speeding down a descent and following only inches behind me the car blew a fuse.  Without hesitation, while driving, Paul opened the fuse box, pulled out the right fuse and replaced it! )

 The Crew






Jen Hampton



Paul aka Chief Jedi






Race Start

Nice mellow 5 mi neutral followed by an abrupt cracking of the whip. The year’s previous protagonists Michael Emde (3 time winner) and Chris Ragsdale leaped ahead quickly.  I choose to ride my own race and ease into things a bit.  Down a short descent onto San Francisquito Rd and a bit of flat roads before we hit the first climb which was about 15 miles long and 2,500’ of elevation gain. Interestingly enough a pack of riders began to form.  Knowing that drafting was against the rules AND knowing that a race official, Cindi “PitSnake” Staiger, had just screamed at us to remain single file I must admit I was a bit confused on what to do.  I put in a small surge to distance myself from the group and settled in on The Program. (The Program is my typical endurance race strategy of keeping my effort level at a constant 270-320 watts.) Riders soon joined, and then passed me to only slow down.  This would repeat several times over the next 10k or so.  Finally a race official called to us to split up within the next ½ mi or risk being assessed a penalty.  Enough is enough I thought.  The moment the grade steepened I surged and left folks behind.  It was easy to see that most in the group were riding well above their limit and I was thankful the reprimand by the official granted them the permission to back off.

As I climbed further one rider did stay relatively close while Emde and Ragsdale were far out of sight.  At mile 24 we took a hard right turn and that is when the climb summits and the support crews can begin supporting their riders.  Seventy cars all lined up along the shoulder.


MP24, crew waits in the cool morning air

Having watched numerous You Tube videos of previous races, our crew knew it would be best to avoid the chaos and park way up the road.  I radio in, “Here I come!”  A quick answer, “We are here, up over the top!”  All I could think of was “Race ON!”  The crew fanned out and I dropped bottles, clothes, and flat repair tools then picked up new bottles.  “Race update”, crackled the radio. “Emde and Ragsdale 6 minutes up.”  Wow, I thought.  That is much more than I expected yet I had little concern as I was going stick to The Program and let the race develop as it may.  As the route turned away from the initial climb we began to pick up HUGE tailwinds.  A quick descent with speeds approaching 60 mph and gusting winds tested the nerves with my front tri-spoke and deep dish rear wheel catching the gusty winds.

Soon we were onto formal climb number two, Windmills, which as you might guess is a climb that is dotted with numerous windmills all turning nicely with the big winds.  This climb is 7 miles in length and gains 1,000’.


Open Road

Over the top, the crew has the TT bike ready but it takes a few minutes to swap wheels.  I wanted to continue to run my Powertap race wheel and was willing to take the time to swap wheels to achieve that.  During the swap, Rock Rabbit, races past and to my failings I almost take him out as I am clipping in and am beginning to roll.  The TT bike has a sweet setup with a 54X11 which, within seconds, I am on top of the gear spinning out like you cannot believe.  I overtake Rock Rabbit with little extra effort.

Into California City we roll, Time Station #1 (mp 84 – avg spd 21.3 mph).  I am now 9 minutes behind.  We turn due north onto a major highway and begin to battle the fierce crosswinds.  First I am ok with being down in the aero bars then I need to take one arm out then another.  It is a totally flat section that becomes VERY hard.  Unbeknownst to me, keeping on the Program totally detonates Rock Rabbit whom I and crew would never see again.  Luckily after several miles we take a welcomed right turn.  I take a quick check of my average power and I am right on track with The Program, 105 miles at a 280 watt average.

The next 30-40 miles is a mix of rolling hills, increasing temps, and a mix of raging tailwind or crosswind.  Often, I find myself in the 54X11 spinning it out without any real hope of sustaining The Program dictated level of power.  It is during this time that traffic is light and the van follows behind at a distance of ½ mi or so. When traffic approaches or a feed is needed they leap frog ahead.  This strategy captures the ire of the officials and we are unceremoniously halted and interrogated by a race official for not strictly following the leap frog protocol. (No following of any kind is allowed as the car must travel the speed of traffic.) Cool heads prevail and after 3-5 minutes I am allowed to proceed without further delay. To their credit the crew remained non-confrontational, delegated the conversation management to the crew Chief (Paul), and quickly made the necessary adjustments to come into alignment with expectations.

Soon the crew leapfrogs ahead to gas up at the magic burrito stop that is known as Trona TS#2 (mp 154 – avg spd for this section 23.7).   As I roll through, the crew waves me by saying they have checked me in already.  Race report says I am now 15 minutes back of Emde and Ragsdale while Rock Rabbit is no longer considered a factor. 


Over the top of Trona Bump and heading down the backside

Next up is a relatively short climb over Trona Bump (1,000’ climb) and then a sweeping, windy and winding descent to the base of the feared Townes Pass (13mi 3800’). 

OpenRoad2_TronaBumpGorgeous views abound.  Desolate yes but the country is full of its own beauty. At the intersection of Furnace Creek Rd we hang a right and begin the 1.5 mile approach to Townes.  The crosswind is unreal.  On this section there is a course marshal trying to set up the “Bike Riders” ahead sign.  It looked like a futile task as the wind was simply bending the sign over itself.

Townes2At the base of the climb I swap real wheels to put on a cassette with a 27 as I want to climb Townes at a moderate pace.  Once on the climb the raging crosswinds soon turn into a raging headwind.  I am focused. Quite a ways up the climb Emde and Ragsdale can be seen.  I stay focused on racing my race which means climbing this monster climb at a comfortable pace.  Steep grades of 10-15% and the headwind make the going slow.  Mentally I am good as I feel patient and am staying within myself.  Due to the grade and prevailing wind, the climb will take well over an hour.  Regardless, I am feeling quietly comfortable and confident.


During the leap frog efforts I rattle off the needs and wants for the stop at the top: full lights, full change of clothes, TT bike (less aero front wheel due to the wind), coat, etc, etc.  To their credit, the crew takes it all in and is completely ready at the top. Once over the top I am expecting the temp to drop as quickly as the sun is going down so I change to new dry clothes including gloves and aero helmet to keep the hands and head warm.  Townes tops out at 5,000 ft and the descent is infamous in its length, top speeds, and “dips”.  Soon enough I am off on my own (the crew has to pack the van back up) and in the full TT position.  Within minutes I am rocketing down the hill at well over 50 mph.  Up ahead is the infamous “dip”.  At close to 60 mph I realize that if I don’t brake on this straight road that I will ultimately become airborne upon exiting the “dip”.  As I drop in, it feels analogous to what it must feel like to surf on the NorthShore. Once at the bottom I can’t see anything but sky and I am quickly jettisoned over the top.  I am left unsure as to whether it might have been better to go through this section during darkness!  After 210 miles and ~9hrs, my handling skills are suspect.  A conservative approach is the way to go.

The descent continues and I continue to rocket (easily) onward.  I pass a motor home without effort and soon I notice that the crew is with me.  We role into Stovepipe wells about 15 minutes before the 6 pm “night” riding rules go into effect.  The crew stops to gas up and I continue.  As we descend down to the valley floor I begin to realize a misjudgment that may sound minor but will have major impact.  My expectations going in were that the temps would drop drastically and as such I typically ride stronger.  The cooler temps make it easier for me to stay awake, onboard the required nutrition, and ride hard.  As I lose elevation, the temps steadily climb and soon it is in the mid-80s.  As we descend further we pass the Mesquite Flat Dunes and see an unexpectedly high number of parked cars and people. We have seen so very few souls since leaving California City and what is probably a relatively small number of folks seems like an infestation of sorts.  The dunes are beautiful in the fading light; 7 miles of gentle sand and picturesque slopes.  It is hear that I ask the crew, “where is the wind?”  It is warm, it is calm, and we have a beautiful sunset.

Within minutes, literally, the headwind begins.  My back begins to tighten and putting power into the TT bike isn’t helping it.  I radio that I want to swap back to the road bike and the crew gets ready.  I thankfully delay the exchange as it becomes apparent there is more descent to be had and resting (coasting) in the aero bars is pretty easy and efficient.  The wind continues to pick up.  I swap bikes and we are approximately 15 miles out from TS 3, Furnace Creek.  Initially, I am looking forward to this section as I am still thinking cool dark roads and time to make this a race.  The wind and the temps begin to change that expectation.  The wind is now quite fierce.  Thirty minutes later we are only within 7 miles of the TS.  The going is incredibly slow.  I am in my little chainring, pedaling hard, and going nowhere fast.  It is here that a Park Ranger passes us going the other way, flips a u turn, and fires up his lights. As he pulls the support car over I must pull over as I am unable to continue without the support vehicle per night riding rules.  Cordially, folks discuss the rules and after about 3 minutes agree to sort it all out at the next time station.  I am a little frustrated with the forced stop yet not anxious to ride hard and go nowhere into the incessant winds.  The fatigue is setting in quickly.  The difference between what is expected and what is becoming reality is beginning to take its toll.  I soon become sleepy. I soon start the bargaining/negotiating talk.  “I am sleepy, my legs are tired and we are just coming up on the half way point”. “If I am within 30 minutes of the leaders I will continue to race, if not let’s just ride.” 


Another thirty minutes and we pull into Furnace Creek TS#3 (mp 253 – avg speed for section 18.8) and find that we are 33 minutes down.  I share with the crew that I am very sleepy, that I don’t understand why, and that it is much too early into the evening to be sleepy.  It is warmer than I expect, it is only 10 minutes after 7pm and I am really sleepy.  The wind makes communicating difficult.  We have to yell at each other to be heard above the roar.  After a bit of delay I am back on the bike and back hammering into the headwind which has now escalated to epic proportions.  All I can think about is that this has now become really, REALLY dumb.  Here I am in the middle of the desert, 250ft below sea level, spent a huge amount of $$ and other people’s time to get to this point which is riding as hard as I can on flat roads and yet unable to break into the double digits for mph. The 60-70 mph head wind has created a completely ridiculous situation.

The wind is not only fierce it is also gusty.   The road winds along the edge of the valley and it is a fight to keep the bike on the road. I feel that when it comes to the wind I am one of the better riders.  I enjoy the challenge and tactic it forces upon mass start races.  However, the wind is reducing me to a novice with a death grip on the bars just to stay on the road.  At one point I am blown from the white line, all the way across the road and onto the gravel shoulder on the other side!  This is so ridiculous that it makes me laugh.  At one point I wave the car up (we have stopped using the radios by now as they are useless against the roar of the wind) and ask if they should start including the use of decimal points on the speed limit signs.  A bit further down the road I point in comedy at the “Reduce Speed Ahead” sign. 

I am unfamiliar with this area so I don’t know if this is normal or if the wind has pushed all of them up onto the road but mile after mile I pass by many scorpions that all seem to look at me and thrust their tails up as I struggle by.  They seem to be threatening me. They seem to say that it will be the end of you if I choose to stop. The wind continues to rage and by this time the race portion of this event has ended for me and I am now just on a ride.  The wind has broken my will to race but I am fully committed to finishing. This would continue for a total of almost 7 hours. It is 7 hours of struggling to go 7-8 mph on flat road.  It is 7 hrs of complete darkness. It is 7 hours of the wind howling in my ears. 

For one long section we see a car ahead of us, not moving and with its emergency flashers on. Is it Ragsdale or Emde we wonder?  In the dark and on a road that snakes back and forth it is impossible to tell not only how far away the car is but how long it will take us to get there.  One must remember that something only 5 miles away will take well over 30 minutes to get to. Eventually, I believe, the car turns off its flashers and drives away however I can’t really say for sure.

At one point we stop to switch to a less aero wheel hoping that the new wheel will be more stable in the wind.  As the crew makes the switch I stretch my back and take in a gel.  The crew is asking that I take a gel every 20 minutes.  For the most part I grudgingly comply.  Back on the bike, the crew pulls up and says it’s time for another gel.  I lose my temper, barking back (over the wind) that I just took a fucking gel 2 minutes ago.  For my sanity I need the facts and can’t have folks “tricking” me into things.) I am pissed because I know the crew knows this yet they have tried anyways. (Little do I realize that it has been well beyond 20 minutes since we last stopped.) Reality changes when you ride hard but go very slow for hours on end.

Finally we begin to approach the end of the valley and I begin to realize that even though I have “turned it off” on this section the conditions have taken their toll.  My back, forearms, and shoulders feel completely strained.  The muscles feel shredded. They ache and a fatigue has set into my upper body that will only get worse as the ride continues.  I also notice that my throat is sore and my glands and uvula have swelled up to the point that I am having trouble breathing at times.  Finally, we make a beautiful left hand turn and begin the 5 mile 1,000’ climb up Jubilee Pass.  Immediately, out of the wind, I am climbing a 5% grade significantly faster than I was riding the flats only moments ago.  What a relief to have the legs turning over at a reliable cadence.

I wave the crew up and alert them of my throat troubles.  I tell them that it is not a huge deal right now but that I am worried.  They acknowledge the issue and say they will fall back and discuss.  A few moments later they ask if I would be willing to have Omar put some Novocain jelly in my throat to temper the irritation.  I concur and ask that we wait until the top where I will want a thick thermal coat for the short but fast descent.  Soon we are at the top and I sit on the leeward side of the van and Omar takes a finger of jelly and puts it on the back of my throat which gags me instantaneously. Omar wants to try again and I wave him off.  20-30 seconds pass and I wave the crew off and tell them to step back.  Next, nothing short of the Exorcist, I throw up about 2 liters of liquid, pause, throw up another 2 liters, pause, and throw up yet another 2 liters.  Luckily Omar had given some antacids earlier on so that the puke is acid free and doesn’t burn my already aching throat.  Surprisingly, I feel better and am back on the bike bombing down the descent. 

Next up is the 9.5 mi 2300’ climb up Salisbury pass.  This climb goes well as everything is easier now that we are out of the wind.  The backside of Salisbury is a quick descent and soon we drop into Shoshone TS#4 (mp 326 – avg speed for the section 9.5 mph).  We take a right and are now back into the headwinds.  Not as bad as Death Valley but still significantly fierce.  We roll through Shoshone and I am now sleepier than ever and my appetite has all but disappeared.  I ask the crew their opinions: if I took a 10 minute break to try and sleep and calm the stomach.  I am surprised at how easily they seem to agree and I am soon in the van trying to rest.  Bish, to his credit, has to stand outside in the wind, as there is not enough room in the van.  Apparently 10 minutes later (seemed like 3 minutes) the crew rouses me and gets me going.

It is now about 4 in the morning. The wind is continuing but not as strong. My appetite continues to not cooperate and it is about this time that I begin ignoring my crew.  They have continued to push and I have continued to push back.  I ride for what seems like a 1.5 hr or so without taking much of any nutrition at all.  I know it is a death sentence but I am unable to get myself to take anything in.  Fortunately the stubborn strategy begins to work as I feel like I can take something on.  I wave the crew up and they provide me a sustained energy.  You can tell it gets their hopes up. 

After a short climb, the road into Baker is either flat or downhill.  It is nice to be able to roll along and to not have to battle the fierce winds.  As the sun rises we can see Baker and TS#5 off in the distance. It has been night, the miles have come slow and the frustrations have run higher than normal.  The frustration is with myself and my inability to keep “racing”.

FC1At 7:16 am (MP383 – 13 mph avg for this section) we roll into Baker. The crew checks into the time station and gases up. I stop to stretch my back and try to take on some calories.  Jen has the brilliant idea of offering me a pb&j sandwich. It takes me significant time but I am able to get it down. The crew urges me back onto the road and soon we are starting up the KelBaker climb of 20mi and 2500’ of gain.  Luckily we pick up a small tailwind.  Near the top the road turns from chip seal to some medieval concoction.  I wish we had a picture as it is hard to explain how the surface can be considered a paved road.  About 5k of this and we are over the top and descending the other side.  The crappy surface continues.  The fatigue of being on the bike and battling the high winds has caused my arms to completely fatigue out.  I am having trouble holding myself up.  If I take a hand off the bars to take a bottle I find myself unable to hold myself up.  It is unlike anything I have ever experienced.  The completeness of the muscle fatigue is astonishing. 


Notice the hunched and twisted upper body

We drop into Kelso TS#6 at 9:48 am (MP 418 – 13.8 mph avg for this section).  I have now been on the bike for 26hrs and 48 minutes with a total average speed that has been falling ever since Furnace Creek. It’s now at 15.6 mph. The next section is quite similar to the previous, long gradual climb followed by a long descent.  I continue to struggle with arm fatigue and an aching back.  The crew continues to push for calorie intake.  By now very little is palatable. To their credit the crew mixes some water with gels to thin them out a bit and offers it up.  It is fantastic!  The pattern continues of feeds, struggle, stop to stretch. I continue up the 12 mi 2000’ Granite Mountain climb.  Over the top starts a monstrous descent of 20 miles into the next time station, Almost Amboy TS#7 (MP 451 – 15.9 mph avg for this section).

We make a right turn and drop a bit further into Amboy.  As we pass the time station the crew checks in and all are relieved to be waved through.  (I believe it is here where time penalties are assessed and if you have any you detained for the amount penalized.)  We are now traveling on a busy highway and seem to pick up the headwind again.  The highway parallels some train tracks which I notice we will be crossing over shortly.  I also notice that the tracks are quite busy with immensely long freight trains.  I try to pick up the pace hoping to hit the crossing during a clear moment.  Not sure if the effect is an upping of the pace or not, but all works out as we cross over the tracks without having to stop.  Soon we take a left on Amboy road and pick up some tailwind.  It feels good to be on a flat, relatively smooth road and spin the legs out a bit.  We pass some weird salt flats type of terrain where some folks are out playing in the muck.  It looks a bit like of a toxic waste dump to me but to each their own I guess.

In pre- race planning I knew this section would involve a lot of fatigue but the climbs didn’t look overly hard.  Now, with arms that won’t work, a back that is sustaining some serious damage and over 29 hours of riding I am finding the climb tougher than expected.  To add to the misery, traffic on this road is just atrocious.  Folks are passing us at crazy high rates of speed. Thankfully the crew stays close behind.  Again, we continue the pattern of Gu mixed with water, struggle on, and stop to stretch.  I am so fatigued that I am having more and more trouble.  Each time we stop to stretch I need the aid of the crew to get me back onto the bike.  It seems that with each progressive stop the percent of them helping me to my feet increases to the point where it takes both Paul and Omar to lift me to my feet.

My form on the bike is terrible, with a posture that is slouched and crooked.  The crew urges me on and I oblige the best I can.  For what it’s worth, I am still in 3rd place and this seems to keep me motivated to ride as hard as I am able.  I know deep inside that because of last year’s Race Across Oregon where I DNFd at mile 495 of 530 due to very serious medical complications,  I am now at the point in the ride that I will finish no matter what.  I feel as if I cannot let myself or my crew down again when we are so very close to the finish.  We are now on the Sheep Hole Summit climb which is 10 miles and 1500’ of elevation gain. 

 The climb is gradual initially but steepens significantly near the top.  While I am not going very fast I feel determined and continue the struggle to the summit.  I know that it is in the bag once I get over this.  The climb summit can be seen ahead but unfortunately it is apparent that it gets significantly steeper.  My arms are unable to lift my body out of the saddle so I stay seated and grind up the last 2K.  It is surprisingly steep and the pace slows.  Finally we are over the top and we drop down the other side.  My arms deteriorate even more and just coasting down the descent is quite difficult. 

Once at the bottom we continue the long straight road into the finish at Twentynine Palms.  I am anticipating, even though I am not going very fast, that this section should be over relatively soon.  Unfortunately, this section is gradually up hill, 1-2% and we have re-found our headwind.  Frustration once again sets in as the combination of the fatigue, wind, and misjudgment of how many miles this section is are just too much (I thought it was 10-12 miles and it is actually over 20 to the finish).

I commit to myself that I will not stop again until the finish. For the most part, I honor this until my back spasms to the point where I can’t turn the pedals.  I quickly pull over, out comes the stretching blanket and I lay down for a quick stretch.  Omar alerts me that the 4th place rider is only a few minutes back. This triggers an immediate reaction and I am back off pedaling. (I come to find out later that Omar had totally made this up as they had no idea where 4th place was BUT that in fact 4th place WAS within 5-7 minutes of us!)  I also find out later that the crew had discussed not letting me stop as they were afraid I would not continue. (I believe the direct quote from Jen is “This f’in blanket ain’t coming out of the car again!”)  The thought of keeping my podium position puts me back into the race mentality and I am now going as hard as I can.  I wave the van up, frantic, and ask them “Where in the hell is the turn”.  Confusion and uncertainty fill the response.  I am frustrated as this slight upgrade and headwind are just too much.  I feel that town must be close, the crew gives me a couple of false estimates, but I just can’t see any sign of town.  I continue to ride as hard as I can and am committed to not stopping.  Town is still not within sight and the frantic struggle continues. 

Finally, the crew alerts me to take the next left and relief overwhelms me.  I think less than 1K or so to go.  We pick up a slight cross tailwind as we head towards Twentynine Palms Highway.  I scan the horizon for the “Best Western Hotel” sign which marks the finish. Crew instructs me to take a right on 29 Palms and I ask “Where’s the finish”, they reply “we are close”.  29 Palms Highway is crazy busy and I begin to fear that I may take myself out as I am becoming more and more unstable on the bike.  We continue forward and have to stop at a traffic light.  Once green, we roll through the intersection and my quads begin to totally seize.  I fight through it and frantically scan the store fronts for the Best Western sign which is nowhere to be seen.  I begin to think that this is ridiculous to have to ride all the way through town and on this major highway with tons of high speed traffic.  The road continues, up a short roller and my legs seize again.  I am unsure I will make it another kilometer.  Finally, about ¾ mi up the road I see the Best Western sign, which just happens to be at the top of a 200m steep roller.  I am unsure if I will be able to make it.  The crew instructs me to take the next left which entails crossing over 4 busy lanes of traffic.  I am unsteady and traffic is moving well above 60mph.  Luckily, my mental state arouses my mental states alerts enough to know to not try and make the turn ahead of rapidly approaching car.  I pause, legs locking up completely, and then once the car passes make the left turn and then the quick right into the finishing parking lot.  I can barely create enough forward progress to make it up the driveway.  I inch forward, slower than walking pace to cross the line.  Luckily my crew anticipates that I will be unable to hold myself up and within seconds after crossing the line, I stop and begin to fall over. Someone catches me, while I am still clipped on my bike. I am being supported 100% by Paul and soon the rest of my crew is trying to get me unclipped from my bike. They hold me up and have me walk around the parking lot.  I am not coherent and unable to support myself. All I want is to collapse. 


  The final turn, notice the ever worsening posture.
Time Station Miles into
the Race
Avg Speed
Finish 509.6 10/04 16:14 33:14:06 15.33
 Somehow folks arrange for the use of a hotel room shower.  I need assistance to the room.  Once in the shower I begin to hurl uncontrollably.  I am choking on my swollen throat and continue to throw up nasty amounts of liquid.  Once out of the shower, I get horizontal on the bed. Before I know it I am being helped up and over to the sink to start throwing up all over again.  It seems like only a short amount of time but the race organizers are pressing my crew to get me out to the finish for pictures.  I am unable to motivate myself off of the bed unless I need to throw up.  Finally, after much pressure I get dressed and stumble outside only to have to sit down on the first step and throw up a bunch more.  I am fatigued beyond belief.  Again, the race organizers pressure us to come over for pictures.  I stumble over and just stand their aimlessly, unsure of who to talk to or what to do.  After a few minutes, I begin to wonder what all the rush was for and just want to sit down.  Finally the race organizer, Chris Costman and photographer, come over and provide me with my finisher’s medal and jersey.  Folks get a ton of pictures including pictures of the crew.  Then Chris does a live web cam interview asking if I was surprised at how well I did.  I am barely able to muster a response. At the volume of a whisper I muster a monosyllable response and tell him that I had actually hoped to do better.  He asked me what I thought was hard about the race and all I can say is: “The wind.

Hmmm…..where did the energy come from for that smile?

Videos of other riders battling the winds:






Filed under Brian Ecker, Race Reports

6 responses to “Race Report: Furnace Creek 508 2009

  1. Brian,

    That sounds like an incredible experience. I’m humbled by the outstanding job your Crew performed in your support. Serious kudos for hitting the finish line in 3rd…. for even getting there! Sounds gnarly. Nice write-up.


  2. Brian..

    I met you and Dave at the top of Washington Pass this year on a 508 training ride.. I invited myself to share the descent with you guys..

    Great job on the 508..! Our 2X_THRASHER team finish was 10 hrs more than your incredible 33:14..

    American Kestrel.. Cool totem.. Totems are for life..


  3. Great race report!

    I had to laugh at your description of the winds, scorpions, and general absurdity of riding through Death Valley in the now infamous gale of ’09. I was waaay behind you, but got much the same treatment. I won’t forget it either.

    Great job!

  4. Pingback: LAX to SFO the Wrong Way « High Cadence Coaching Systems

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