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2008 Furnace Creek 508

Chapter 1: How It All Began

To describe the Furnace Creek 508 and the insanity that lead me to find myself on the starting line in Santa Clarita just before 7am on October 4th, and then at the finish line in 29 Palms 36hrs and 22min later, it is prudent to briefly explain the history and the progression of this "ultra-cycling disease"!

A few short years ago I was oblivious to the fact that these kinds of sadistic events existed. I was happily training for Ironman triathlons (sadistic in their own right!) and enjoying organized century rides. Then a friend, Leslie, told me about this crazy notion of a double century (riding 200 miles in one day) and how she wanted to attempt one. Ever the naive follower who is unafraid of biting off more than I can chew and somehow hasn't (yet) choked on the mouthful (did I mention I did my first half-Ironman before I'd even done an Olympic distance triathlon?), I said "Count me in!" and signed up for my first double century - the Davis Double in 2005. The ride went well, but the curious thing was that I noticed all these people wearing jerseys that said "California Triple Crown" on them. I had never heard of such madness - you mean there were OTHER double centuries out there? Well of course now that I'd heard of this challenge of riding 3 doubles in a single year, I immediately set out to make that my next goal. Ironically Leslie noticed the jerseys during the ride as well, and had the same reaction that I did... we were both hooked, or should I say "infected" with the ultra-cycling bug!

And that's how I found myself standing in line to check-in at the Butterfield Double Century ride in February of 2006 - my 2nd double, but more importantly the location and instant where I first heard about the 508. While standing there waiting to sign-in, Leslie and I overheard some other women talking about something called the Furnace Creek 508. My first reaction was "Why would anyone want to do this??? Ride over 500 miles in less than 48hrs with over 35,000ft of climbing, and through places like Death Valley no less! These people must be INSANE!!!" I apparently had not completely lost my marbles at this point in time, still recognizing just how ridiculous this sounded! But did I mention that this ultra-cycling disease progresses rapidly and engulfs the victim in an inexplicable urge to continue to do crazier and crazier things as the brain cells of reason and common sense are slowly (or not so slowly) devoured?

Not only did I get my first California Triple Crown credit that year, but I ended up doing 8 doubles (plus an Ironman and 2 half-Ironmans), and volunteering at 1 double. Here in lies more evidence of the rapid progression of this disease. After some growing pains of tackling our first double of the year (getting rained on, and finding out that we needed better lights for the many hours that we would end up riding at night), both Leslie and I independently reached the secret conclusion that maybe, just maybe, we could achieve the "Gold Thousand Mile Club" that year as well - i.e. ride at least 5 doubles and volunteer at 1. (Side note: Whoever markets these events knows how to suck in those such as myself who are stricken with this disease - just associate "titles" of achievement and jerseys with the different levels of insanity, and as the saying goes, "they will come!!") Both stricken by this double century disease, we did just that, and set out to gain the coveted Gold Thousand Mile Club jersey. But why stop there? We ended up riding 6 doubles together that year, plus I did an additional 2 on my own, including tackling the Mt. Tam double with essentially no preparation about a month after completing Ironman. It was a truly remarkable year - a close bond of friendship formed with my riding buddy. Depending on the season and the locale we garnered nicknames such as "the weather witches" or "the Bobbsey twins" (we had matching bikes and jerseys), but the most important thing that I gained during that time was the friendship and camaraderie of sharing these experiences and being able to help each other out throughout it all. I felt like we could take on anything together - we were invincible!

Joan & Leslie during the Hemet Double Century in April of 2006 – we saw a “Triple Crown Rd” sign, and since this ride earned us our first California Triple Crown, we stopped to take a picture.

Joan & Leslie before and then after (with Chris Kostman, race director) the Death Valley Spring Double in early March 2007.

Chapter 2: The Seed Was Planted - But Challenges Arise

So that was 2006. The ultra-cycling disease worsened a bit in 2007 as Leslie & I decided to tackle our first triple century ride (300 miles in less than 24hrs). We also toyed with the idea of attempting the 508 on a two person team, but our inability to find a crew to support us on such a venture, combined with some other obstacles (I was hit by an SUV while riding my bike in May just as the 508 sign-ups were happening, and at the time I didn't know how long my injuries would persist and when I'd be back riding - it turned out that I'd partially separated my AC joint), lead us to instead locate 2 other half-crazy (even if they didn't yet know it!) individuals to create a 4 person team. And thus "The Kites" were born as Rob and Dan joined the fray. It is important to note that this disease is highly contagious, as demonstrated by how it took hold of our newly infected team members. Rob subsequently earned his first California Triple Crown this year, and Dan, who had never even ridden a double century ride before, completed the 508 solo this year - evidence that I'm not the craziest person out there! ;) But let's not jump too far ahead.

So 2007 was a year of challenges on and off the bike. The lingering shoulder injury continued to bother me throughout the year. I still managed to ride 5 doubles plus my first triple century, and get the coveted title of Gold Thousand Mile Club member again. However 4 of the doubles I did by myself without my ride buddy, and my heart just wasn't in it to the same degree as when I was riding with my co-conspirator. The 508 was the week after I did the Knoxville double, which had been perhaps the lowest point of my ultra-cycling career in terms of motivation and enjoyment, so I went into the 508 tired and not in a great mindset. But the other Kites put up with my moodiness and we completed the ride and had a lot of fun doing so.

Right around the time of the 508 my shoulder got significantly worse, so I found myself in physical therapy for the remainder of the year trying to strengthen it and alleviate the pain. Going into 2008 I knew I wanted to attempt the 508 solo, although I didn't know whether I would be able to. I faced possible shoulder surgery, plus I didn't know whether my heart and mind were really in it enough. I consulted orthopedic surgeons in January regarding my shoulder and ended up with another cortisone shot which immediately eliminated the pain. I decided to proceed with a training/event schedule assuming that I would attempt the 508, and then reevaluate as necessary depending on how things were going - both physically and mentally. Amazingly this second cortisone shot seemed to last much longer than the first one I'd had the previous August. The rest of January passed, and then all of February, and then March too, and the pain had not returned to the pre-cortisone-shot levels. Could it be that my shoulder was finally "better"?

In March I had a scare when I was out riding with Leslie & Conrad one day and I got "doored" (someone opened their car door as I went by, sending me and my bike hurtling through the air!). I tore my right bicep and got some nasty bruises, and I ended up having to replace my bike frame and front wheel, but thankfully I was not more seriously hurt and everything healed up pretty quickly with no long term effects. But maybe that jolt also jolted something else in the universe, as it was just over a week later that Mike came into my life, and he became the source of my inspiration this year. It turned out that he had completed his first California Triple Crown in 2007, and wouldn't you know it, but he was also interested in 500+ mile bike rides - what are the odds of finding someone as crazy as me! :)

I did my first double of the year solo - the Solvang Spring Double - and shortly after that I did the Davis 24hr challenge - my longest ride to that point- 326 miles. So far so good - my shoulder was still holding up pretty well, so I sent in my application for the 508, and was selected to compete. Then I started trying to swim again - the first time I'd swam since the shoulder injury almost a full year prior. Although I could swim, it definitely seemed to flare up the shoulder problem again, and the pain/mobility continued to worsen. Toward the end of May I finally decided to pull the trigger and schedule surgery. I figured I had 2 options - either hold off on surgery until after the 508, or try to squeeze it in beforehand. I was already toying with the notion of doing Ironman New Zealand in March of 2009, and since the swim and run training would be much tougher on my shoulder than cycling, I decided there was no way I could train for and complete an Ironman 4 months after surgery, but attempting the 508 a couple months after surgery seemed possible if everything went well - although by no means guaranteed. So I scheduled surgery for mid-July.

I crammed as much as I could into the months leading up to the surgery. I did back-to-back doubles in May - the Central Coast Double and the Davis Double (which provided some extreme heat training with temps soaring above the century mark!). Then I did the Eastern Sierra double in early June, the LA Grand Tour Highlands Triple at the end of June, and the Death Ride in early July. I did all of these rides with Mike, and we were able to inspire and encourage each other. My surgery was booked for the Tuesday following the Death Ride, so we came back home Saturday night after doing the Death Ride so that I could go out and ride another 100+ miles on Sunday - I wanted to have done as much riding as possible before surgery since I knew I'd be out of commission completely for a couple weeks, and then be limited in what I could do for another month or more.

The Kites before and after the Furnace Creek 508 in October of 2007.

Chapter 3: Surgery and Recovery

On July 15th I had an arthroscopy and distal clavicle excision performed on my left shoulder - the good news was that the arthroscopy showed no major problems with the rotator cuff or joint structures themselves, however the AC joint was very arthritic and the covering on the ends of the bones was completely worn off (so my nagging pain was likely due to the exposed bone ends rubbing on each other). By removing the end of the clavicle, hopefully it would create enough space in the joint to prevent that pain from returning. Immediately after surgery and the week following I began to become very worried about whether I'd made the right decision - the initial recovery was much slower than I expected, and it was much more painful than I expected. But I started physical therapy and decided to take things one day at a time. I wasn't allowed to do anything for the first 10 days until after the stitches came out - I was starting to feel anxious to be doing something, although at the same time just walking hurt, so I knew there wasn't really anything that I could do, and rest was probably the best thing. I kept telling myself that I had a fantastic base going into surgery, and with patience I'd be back out there again. After the stitches were removed I was able to start riding the stationary trainer, and I quickly ramped up the volume such that I was spending up to 4hrs at a time on the trainer on weekend days, and two hours a night during the week. If you've never ridden a stationary trainer, it might be hard to imagine just how mind-numbing this becomes after a while, but I knew that this was my only option, so I might as well learn to enjoy it. I became a frequent borrower at the Mountain View Public Library in terms of getting DVDs to watch while riding the trainer in order to try and keep my mind entertained during these indoor suffer-fests!

At about 4 weeks post-op I ventured out on my first ride - about an hour of easy spinning. I could feel the road vibrations in my shoulder, and given the discomfort level I couldn't even begin to imagine riding over 500 miles in less than 2 months time, but I tried not to think too much about that. Besides, at least I was out riding, even if it was just for very short periods of time and I still had to ride the trainer long hours to supplement this. I quickly realized that riding uphill was essentially no different from riding on the trainer (as long as I could remain seated and it wasn't too steep). Riding slowly up hill hurt my shoulder less than riding faster on the flats and having to absorb more road-shock, so I decided to try and spend disproportionate amounts of time climbing when I rode outdoors. And so began my love-hate relationship with Highway 9 (a seven mile climb of moderate steepness that starts in Saratoga and ends up on Skyline), "love" in that at least I was out riding and not going completely stark raving mad on the trainer (at least not for more than two hours at a time now), and "hate" in that it got very boring and repetitive in its own right! This was the closest long climb that I could get to from home, plus it is a fairly tame climb in terms of steepness, and has a good road surface for descending. In a period of less than a month I made this journey up Highway 9 a dozen times. The accentuating point was the Labor Day weekend when I did what I dubbed the "Highway 9 Countdown" - Saturday I did two hours on the trainer and then went and did 3 repeats up Highway 9, Sunday I did two hours on the trainer and then went and did 2 repeats up 9, and then Monday I went and did 9 once - so I did Highway 9 a total of 6 times (3-2-1) that one weekend alone!

All this time on the trainer and yo-yoing up Highway 9 was mentally challenging, but I could also feel that it was making me stronger. I knew that there was only one climb on the 508 which was pretty steep (Towne's Pass), so I figured that not doing steeper climbs than 9 wasn't too detrimental, plus spending so much time climbing and doing intense intervals on the trainer was making me stronger. I was going up Highway 9 faster than I ever had before, and leading up to the 508 when I did some of the other climbs in the area (Old La Honda, King's, and Montebello) I noticed that I was staying in bigger gears and climbing faster. Ironically, the surgery may have been the best thing that could have happened for my training - I got a good period of rest mid-season to recover after going really hard early in the year, and then when I started back up since I was unable to do as much volume, I was making sure that what I did do was high quality and more intense. I ended up spending 82 long hours on the trainer in the 10 weeks leading up to the 508, and only 38 hours (561 miles) on my bike outside in the same period (a lot of which was climbing). Hopefully it would be enough.

The biggest concern though was just not having had the time in the saddle and wondering whether my body would be able to withstand the jarring and impact of a multi-day ride with some rough roads. My longest ride outdoors after surgery was only 75 miles - a far cry from the 509.6 which I would be facing in October! And obviously I was concerned about my shoulder - how would it hold up? I knew that my long term health is more important than a single ride, so would I know and recognize if the time came to throw in the towel? I've never abandoned any kind of race or event before, so the prospect of this possibly happening was a bit daunting. And going and crewing for Mike at the HooDoo 500 was a very humbling experience too - seeing a strong cyclist like him suffering to that degree and just barely making the cutoff certainly raised my anxiety level - the 508 looks easier on paper, but would I be able to survive it??? Had I finally bitten off more than I could chew??? I guess I would soon find out!

Mike & Joan at the top of Tioga Pass in Yosemite the day after the Eastern Sierra Double in June of 2008, and then at the Death Ride in July, 3 days before my shoulder surgery.

Chapter 4: The Big Event Arrives

So…..if you’ve read everything up to now, you’re probably going “alright already, get to the point”!!! But that is the point – the journey IS the reward, right? :) But yes, the actual event....

Things started off with a bit of a scare on Thursday morning when I got a call from my Mum saying that my brother Carson (one of my crew members – the others being my other brother Peter, and Mike) missed his flight from Toronto. His Greyhound bus had broken down on the way to Toronto from Guelph, and then when he did get there in the nick of time, he found out that he was already on the plane – apparently someone had boarded under his name!! Anyway, luckily they were able to reroute him through Chicago, but it left Peter scratching his head in Denver wondering where Carson was! Finally Thursday evening both boys arrived at what Carson dubs “The Ghetto Airport” – a.k.a. SJC. We picked up a few last minute supplies at the grocery store, and then Mike met us for Thai Food followed by gelato – yum! :)

Friday morning we loaded up the minivan and hit the road. We made it to Santa Clarita without incident, and signed in and got the minivan and bike inspected. At the 508 rather than having race numbers, every rider has an animal totem which they select, and once a totem is used by someone, no one else can ever use it. I chose “Nanook”, which is Inuit for Polar Bear. Some have asked why I chose an animal which is going extinct and not particularly well suited for the desert, but hey, I’m up for the extra challenge! ;) But seriously, I chose Nanook since my California friends have nicknamed me “Nanook from the North” since I’m from Canada and don’t get cold – at least not here in sunny California!

After signing in and such we relaxed for a bit before heading to dinner at the Olive Garden. Here, we (or should I say Peter) made a very personal connection with our waitress – Jessica T. It provided much entertainment, and we scored a big cup of Andes mints out of it – plus Jessica scored herself a big tip! From there it was over to the pre-race meeting. I was hoping they’d show a slide show like they did last year – but no such luck….. The meeting seemed to drag on FOREVER! Oh well, I guess in the grand scheme of what was to come it wasn’t all that long! ;) Afterwards we did some last minute organizing in the minivan, and then tried to get to bed and get a good night’s sleep since we had to be up at 6am – ugghh! The bed at the Hilton had to be perhaps the most comfortable bed I had ever slept in though – I got a really good sleep!

“Nanook”, and then waiting for vehicle inspection the day before the start of the race.

Chapter 5: Race Morning

So Saturday morning arrived and it was a quick shower, get dressed, slather up in sunscreen, eat some breakfast, get the signs on the minivan, and then wait for the start. We slapped our magnetic “Nanook” signs on the van, as well as the “Caution Bicycle Ahead” sign, and then my crew was all ready to go.

Joan & Mike just prior to the start of the race, and then waiting for the start.

Chapter 6: Stage 1

Santa Clarita to California City, 83.6miles, 6176ft of climbing, 7am – 11:51am (4hrs 51min)

7am arrived very quickly, and we were off! The caliber of riders was pretty impressive – many of whom I would not see again the entire weekend since they would be done long before I was! We headed out on the road, and I looked down and noticed that my cyclometer was not registering anything…… Damn!! “Try to stay calm” I told myself. I tried to put it out of my mind and decided that I would stop when we made the first turn just over 4 miles into the ride (since during the first part of the ride we were being escorted by a police officer on a motorcycle and were supposed to be staying together as a group). Dan came up beside me at one point and we chatted briefly before he went on ahead, and then a while later we made the turn. I stopped quickly and tried to get my cyclometer working, but it didn’t seem to want to work. Perhaps it got bumped on the drive down or something, but I wasn’t about to waste a whole lot of time trying to get it to work, so after a minute or two I gave up on it and just headed out.

By this time everyone else had made the turn and I was at the very back. I tried to just settle into a rhythm and calm myself down. Pretty soon I started passing some riders, and I was feeling pretty good. The climb started, and I passed a whole bunch more riders. I kept asking myself if I was pushing too hard, but I didn’t feel like I was exerting myself all that much, so I just kept going, hoping that I didn’t live to regret this pace! Pretty soon it got really foggy and overcast though, and I was concerned about my safety since I didn’t have my rear tail-light on – it was supposed to be daylight, so I’d left it in the minivan for later that day. Oh well, there was nothing to do but try to stay as far to the right as possible and be really alert for vehicles coming up behind. I continued to catch up to some more riders near the top of the climb, including Aye-Aye, the only other girl in my age group, and the 2nd youngest competitor at age 20. We had a quick descent and it was kind of steep and wet, so I was being pretty cautious and let several riders pass me – I wasn’t about to have my race come to an end this early just trying to save a few seconds on the descent. Pretty soon I came to the turn where I saw the support vehicles (through the dense fog that is!). Here I saw Bill, and I gave him a high-five as I went past him. I stopped at the van quickly and put my tail-light on, and then was off again. I’d estimated it would take about 2hrs to go the first 24.5miles since it was mainly uphill, and I was pretty much right on my estimate coming in at about 1hr 50min from the start.

Very soon after that we started the descent into the valley that leads over to the windmill section. Suddenly the fog lifted and you could see the sun’s rays poking through up ahead. Phew! I was worried that the fog was going to continue and that it might rain! The descent was fast, and then there was a nice strong tailwind across the valley. Little did I know at the time, but this tail wind was to play a very important role the first day! I just cruised along this stretch and passed several more riders. I went back and forth with Aye-Aye a few times, and mentioned to her that I’d read her blog about last year’s experience. I wished her well and continued on. Then came the windmill climb – this starts gradual, but there was a pretty stiff headwind on this stretch, so it seemed a bit tougher. I passed my crew on the side of the road and asked them to stop putting quarters in the wind machine! ;) I passed a few more riders going up the climb, and got passed by one gal – Adder. She stopped at the top of the climb though to change bikes, and I never saw her after that. There was a long descent down into Mojave, and I crossed the railway tracks in perfect timing, as just after I’d crossed a VERY long train came along – if I’d been a minute or two slower, I’d have had to wait for quite a while. This was to be the first of 2 lucky train timings during the ride!

After making the turn away from Mojave and sending my crew into Mojave to get Subway subs, there was a stretch that had a particularly strong headwind. I was in my aero bars and in my triple cog, and I seemed to be barely moving. Fortunately this section didn’t last too long, and then as the road curved to cross the freeway, suddenly the wind was at my back and I started to fly! I flew all the way into California City and time station 1, arriving at 11:51am, having covered the first 83.6 miles with 6176ft of climbing in 4hrs 51min with an average speed of 17.24mph. Not bad! But in the back of my mind I kept wondering when I’d pay for that section of screaming tailwind across the first valley, and then into California City!

Images from Stage 1.

Chapter 7: Stage 2

California City to Trona, 70.2miles, 4212ft of climbing, 11:51am – 3:32pm (3hrs 41min)

This stage continued to be fast – the wind seemed to be following me! :) I continued screaming along with very little effort. There were some sections of cross-winds though – most notably a section with a lot of blowing sand – I had to turn my head to be down-wind so that I could breath. The sand was blowing so hard that it hurt as it pelted me! I was just sooooo glad it wasn’t a head wind!! Then came the longish climb of this stage. Up till just before this I’d been trying to stick to liquid nutrition as much as possible. I’d gone through a couple GU flasks, and several bottles of my nutrition mix, but I was starting to get a craving for something more solid. I grabbed a quarter of a PB&J sandwich from my crew at one of the stop signs, and that helped. Then I realized I was craving some salt, so grabbed a couple of cans of V8 from my crew as I passed them. I didn’t stop for any of this, as my strategy was to keep moving as much as possible. The V8 seemed to help, although the longish climb that soon followed kind of got me down a bit. The road was a bit rougher, and the climb just seemed to go on forever. It gets steeper at the top, and not having a working cyclometer I had no idea how far I’d gone or how far I had to go. Finally the top came though.

As I made another turn I grabbed some watermelon and corn chips from my crew – these completely boosted my system and my spirits and gave me a 2nd wind! The next section was a lot of rollers – plus some really long, straight descents. Unfortunately there was a pretty strong cross wind on these down-hills, so I was braking to try and control my speed in case I got hit by a gust. It was on this stretch that I caught up to the youngest competitor in the race – Kakapo, an 18 year old from Oregon who was on a recumbent. Apparently my crew nicknamed him “Reekie the Recumbent” (even though that’s not his name). There was another long, fast descent to the turn towards Trona, and this section too had a nasty cross wind, but the good thing was that at the bottom I turned right and it became another screaming tailwind! :)

This lasted until just before Searless Lake where I rounded a corner and nearly got blown off the road by a gust of wind! The next section leading into Trona had some seriously strong headwinds and cross winds – several times I thought I was going to end up in the ditch! This is where I caught up to Shongololo – the only other woman I would see after passing Aye-Aye and Adder earlier in stage 1. It turns out that Shongololo (Michele) is from Menlo Park and rides with Team Sheeper, so we have a mutual aquaintance in Tanja - what a small world! It was here that I got passed by the first relay team – they’d started 2 hours after me, and I’d been expecting them for some time now – they were just flying! I pulled into Trona just in front of Shongololo, and then headed over to the gas station to wash off the layer of desert that I was wearing from the blowing sand, and to change clothes. I’d completed stage 2 in 3hrs 41min, and my elapsed time for the first 153.8miles was 8hrs 32min – I was in shock! I still kept wondering when I’d have to pay for all the tail winds! I had expected to be pulling into Trona near dark, and here it was still mid-afternoon!

Images from Stage 2.

Chapter 8: Stage 3

Trona to Furnace Creek, 99.1miles, 7538ft of climbing, 3:32pm – 10:28pm (6hrs 56min)

I headed out on Stage 3 feeling refreshed and pretty good. Soon I caught up to Kakapo and Shongololo, and the 3 of us went back and forth a few times. There’s a climb just after Trona before you drop down into the Panamint Valley. This was one of the stages I did last year on the relay, and I remembered having a pretty strong headwind in the Panamint Valley, so I was trying to prepare myself mentally for the fact that the “free lunch” was about to end. Imagine my surprise when I got down into the valley and realized the wind was blowing north up the valley – yippee!!!! So the stretch that dragged on forever last year just flew by! Riding through the Panamint Valley in daylight was much nicer than doing it in the dark like I did last year. I was really glad that my brothers got to see this in the daylight. The only thing that they missed out on was seeing all the lights crawling up Towne’s Pass since we got to the base of the climb in daylight, but hey, you can’t win ‘em all! :) So we got to the turnoff to Towne’s Pass immediately before 6pm. This was about 200 miles into the ride, and I’d just covered it in 10hrs 55min – my fastest double century ever!!! I still couldn’t believe my luck with the conditions!

Images from Stage 3 before it got dark, mostly in the Panamint Valley.

We stopped quickly and I put on my lights and ankle reflectors and my crew got the lights and slow-moving-triangle mounted on the vehicle since they would now have to follow me from 6pm until 7am the next morning. I also grabbed another Nature Valley Sweet & Salty Peanut bar – I discovered these bars on a double earlier in the year, and they pack a punch to them in terms of being satisfying but not with a lot of volume. Perhaps it’s because 2 of the first 3 ingredients are high maltose corn syrup and sugar (the 1st ingredient is peanuts), and then high fructose corn syrup is not far behind those on the list! They may not be the most “healthy” bar, but when you want calories that are not liquid but don’t take up a whole lot of room in your digestive track, they seem to work pretty well! They would become a staple food for the rest of the ride as I would consume many more.

We made the right turn towards Towne’s Pass and suddenly I had that cross wind that had been a tail wind blowing me up the valley. As I got a bit closer to the base of the mountain range though it became more sheltered. As it got dark, I found myself feeling chilly, so not wanting my knees to get sore I pulled over shortly after dark and put on my knee warmers and arm warmers. A vehicle stopped which was going in the other direction to ask us what was going on – they were quite surprised when we said it was a 509 mile bike race! They told us that it was raining really hard on the other side of the park, so I just hoped that it wouldn’t be raining when I got there. We could see lightening in the distance as we continued up the climb. Several relays passed me on this climb, including Dario. I was struggling for a while because there was a strong head wind which was really gusty, and a couple of times I thought I was going to get blown backwards back down the hill! Finally the climb got a bit more gradual, and I knew the top must be getting closer. And then finally, there it was, the summit sign, and every cyclist’s favorite sign – the one with a truck on a down grade! :)

The top of Towne’s Pass – note that this was photo was taken by AdventureCorps before I got to the top – it was completely dark when I made it here.

I got my crew to pull over though, as I wanted to have some hot soup and coffee and give my legs/feet a bit of a break since the climb had sucked a lot of energy out of me. I took off my cycling shoes to get the pressure off my feet, and had a great cup-o-noodle-soup, some coffee, and a piece of a Krispy Kreme doughnut…..more on how Krispy Kremes are rocket fuel later! ;) I also took a couple of ibuprofen since my hips were a bit stiff and my feet were a bit sore. So after being stopped for about 15min I put on my vest and some light weight long fingered gloves and started down the descent. Thankfully the wind had died down, or at least wasn’t present on this side of the pass, so I felt confident just letting ‘er rip down the hill, and was apparently going upwards of 35mph. It’s a long descent, but it went by fast.

Sometime after it got dark Peter started to see “Mr. Potato Head” as he followed me (he was the one who did all the driving after noon on Saturday – he took over and wouldn’t relinquish the wheel to anyone else!). He has quite an elaborate description of what all the parts were – right down to the detail of my salt-encrusted shorts! I thought he was completely crazy until I heard from Bill, who was crewing for Microraptor, that he saw the same thing!

The infamous Mr. Potato Head!

Anyway, after the descent it was a series of rollers and flats through Stovepipe Wells and on towards Furnace Creek. It was rather humid in this part of Death Valley – the complete opposite of what it usually is! There was even standing water on the side of the road in a couple of spots, so it looked like it had rained not too long ago. It was also much warmer here than up on the Pass, so I quickly stripped off my vest and long fingered gloves while riding and gave them back to my crew. Last year this section had seemed to go on forever and I’d been having trouble staying awake, but the coffee at the top of the pass seemed to be working, and I was pretty awake and Furnace Creek came faster than I expected. I pulled in here at 10:28pm. The elapsed time since the start was only 15hrs 28min, and I was almost half way! Of course I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain this pace, but it was sure a nice feeling coming through here hours before I figured I’d be there! I didn’t stop and kept on motoring.

Chapter 9: Stage 4

Furnace Creek to Shoshone, 73.5miles, 6744ft of climbing, 10:28pm – 4:56am (6hrs 28min)

I decided to try and make it to Badwater before stopping for another coffee break. Along this section I decided that I would try to get out of Death Valley before stopping to sleep. I was concerned that as morning came the wind would pick up and then I might be facing a strong headwind both in the valley and up the climb. We pulled into Badwater and I got in the van and had a coffee and a full Krispy Kreme doughnut. While here, Retriever (Nicholas Rice-McDonald) pulled in as well. Mike had met Nicholas at Eastern Sierra and found out that he’s from Scotland, plus I’d remembered his name from the 508 roster last year as well as the Death Valley Spring Double since he is actually close to my age and from Santa Clara. Most people doing these ultra-distance events are much older than me (the average competitor’s age at the 508 was 44!) – they at least have the excuse that they’ve lost more brain cells and that’s why they’re crazy – I don’t know what my excuse is, perhaps I was dropped on my head as a child! ;) Anyway, after saying hello to Retriever, we hit the road again. Shortly thereafter I discovered just how much energy is contained within a Krispy Kreme doughnut!!!! I felt incredibly strong, and just kept motoring right along.

It was just before midnight when we left Badwater, so shortly thereafter when the van pulled up beside me I wished Peter a Happy 25th Birthday!! I’m sure there are many things he’d rather be doing on his 25th birthday than following “Mr. Potato Head” through the desert, but here he was supporting me – what a guy! :)

There were some sections with a bit of a head wind, but nothing like I feared I might face. I passed a couple more riders while on my sugar rush. I decided that I would stop just before the start of the climb out of Death Valley and put on a pair of clean shorts, as well as have some more coffee (and another doughnut!). So I did just that. It was just after starting up again that Guanaco (Dan) passed me. I didn’t realize he was behind me at that point – we must have passed him while he was stopped just before we stopped, as I remember seeing a vehicle pulled over but not catching what the totem was. Dan was cruising right along. Although I must point out that his vehicle did an illegal pass here – rather than waiting until he’d gone by and established a lead, they came right around immediately behind him. I was just relieved that nothing was coming from the other direction since for a while they were driving right beside me before they were able to cut in front of me. Anyway, we started up the climb and after I’d gotten warmed up again from being stopped for a while Dan didn’t appear to be gaining all that much more on me. I could see his vehicle’s lights up ahead, and I kept trying to tell myself to “race your own race” and pretend it was someone I didn’t know (there’s more incentive to try and chase someone if you know them). But soon I wouldn’t have to worry about this anymore though, as Dan pulled over to the side and I went past. I called out what a great job he was doing.

I continued on up Jubilee pass. I’d done this climb on the Death Valley Double in the spring of 2007, so I knew that this pass was the steeper one, and that Salisbury was much more gradual. So I was very happy to see the top of Jubilee! Then it was a quick descent before the longer climb up Salisbury. It was on this section that the 2nd Krispy Kreme kicked in, and this climb turned into my favorite part of the ride. I could see all the tail lights stretching out in front of me, and I slowly picked them off one by one! I wasn’t working particularly hard, but I felt strong and I got into a great rhythm. Not only was I passing other riders, but I recognized several of the totems as being experienced veterans who I knew were really good riders! As I passed Desert Duck he said that he hoped I was on a relay because I looked too fresh to be solo! I’d remembered him from last year because our relay team caught him just before the finish, so I know this guy is fast!

Anyway, I kept on going, and soon I passed Tim Woudenberg – Werewolf. I’d gone and heard Tim speak last fall at a Western Wheelers meeting when he talked about his experience doing RAAM (Race Across America) on a 2 person recumbent team. I’d then met him again at the Davis 24hr event earlier this year, and seen him at Devil’s Mountain Double when I was volunteering, plus I had bumped into him up at Sky Londa during a ride one weekend earlier in the summer. This is a hardcore cyclist, so I was amazed that I was anywhere in his vicinity!!

Anyway, a couple of miles from the top my crew pulled up beside me to ask me to pull over since one of them had to pee….. I really didn’t want to stop since I felt so good and was in such a groove, but I reluctantly pulled over and waited. I started up again, but the brief stop was enough to make my legs feel heavy again, so the rest of the climb didn’t feel anywhere near as smooth as it had been. Fortunately I made it to the top relatively quickly though, and pulled over to put my vest on for the descent, and to quickly wolf down a quarter of a subway sandwich – boy did the pickles and ham and mustard taste good! Just as I was about to pull out, Guanaco pulled in behind me. I commented to him that at least it wasn’t as windy up there this year as it had been when we’d stopped there last year!

Then there was the quick descent down towards Shoshone. On the downhill I started to get drowsy, so I knew that I was probably going to have to stop and nap soon. Going into Shoshone I found myself veering all over the road and jerking myself awake while heading toward the double yellow line, so when we pulled into the time station I hopped off the bike, got in the van, and tried to close my eyes for 5min. It was now 4:56am, and I had covered 326.4 miles and been up for almost 23hrs straight. There were quite a few riders coming into the time station though, so there was too much activity for me to be able to get any proper rest, so I gulped down some more coffee and some chocolate covered espresso beans and hit the road again.

Chapter 10: Stage 5

Shoshone to Baker, 56.2miles, 2186ft of climbing, 4:56am – 9:31am (4hrs 35min)

This section I was awake for a while at the beginning, but soon found myself drifting off again. My crew handed me coffee out the window of the van which I gulped down, as well as some more chocolate covered espresso beans, but nothing seemed to be keeping me awake for any length of time. Finally I pulled over and said I needed a nap. I got into the passenger side seat to sleep and told them to wake me in 10min. At 10min I told them to give me 5min more. I didn’t really sleep well, but drifted in and out a bit. Whenever a rider came by my crew turned on the emergency flashers, and the clicking kept disturbing my rest. Finally I got up, downed some more coffee, and hit the road again. Soon it was twilight, so I just hoped that daylight would wake me up.

It was on this stretch that my bike started to make large clanking noises. It had done it a bit earlier in the ride, but now it was very consistent, and was starting to concern me. I called my crew up beside me while I rode to see if they could figure out what it was (and to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating and that the noises were in fact there!!). They couldn’t really figure it out, but Mike got me to stop at the top of the climb and he took a quick look while I downed another quarter of a sandwich. There was a long descent down the Ibex pass, and along the way it passed 7am and so my crew went on ahead and started to leapfrog me again. At the bottom of the descent began a 32 mile stretch into Baker which was just a very slight uphill, and it felt like there might be a tiny bit of a head wind (although maybe that was in my mind too!). This was definitely the low point of the ride for me. This section seemed to drag on FOREVER, and I was sleepy and not feeling all that perky or energetic.

Along here I saw the Kites a couple of times though, and Rob cheered me on. I also caught up to Guanaco again (he must have passed me again when I pulled over for my nap break) – he was pulled over on the side and I didn’t even realize it was him until I went by and he called out my name. I hadn’t expected to see him again, as I thought he’d be long gone by that point. I stayed in front of him for a while, and saw his crew leapfrogging him. Sean and Sarah cheered me on, which was greatly appreciated! Finally Guanaco passed me and I saw him disappear into the distance. I settled into what little bit of rhythm I could find and just slogged the rest of the way into Baker. I knew that Tom Parkes would be there running the time station, and I hoped that seeing another familiar face would give me some more incentive.

I finally pulled into Baker at 9:31am. I saw Rob again and he cheered me on. I asked him “why am I doing this again?”, and he quickly quipped “for the finisher jersey!” – that made me smile. I grabbed some clothes and headed into the Mad Greek Restaurant to try and clean up a bit and put on a cooler jersey for the day since it was already starting to heat up a bit. I came back to my bike and found that Mike had pumped up my tires and lubed my chain – I had my own pit crew and they were firing on all cylinders! :) I grabbed a plastic bag of salt and vinegar chips and some other snacks for on the road, and headed out again. I felt much more refreshed, and munching on the tangy chips really seemed to revive me.

Images toward the end of Stage 5 approaching and coming into Baker.

Chapter 11: Stage 6

Baker to Kelso, 35miles, 2920ft of climbing, 9:31am – 12:45pm (3hrs 14min)

This stage consists of a long but gradual 20 mile climb followed by a 15 mile descent into Kelso. My crew soon caught up to me after they’d fueled up in Baker - although they forgot to buy ice – the one thing I requested that they get!!! But that’s ok, I forgive them! :) They leapfrogged me again on this stretch, and kept me entertained with various comedy acts. Carson dancing – think frog in a blender! ;) Mike doing push-ups on the side of the road and running along beside me! Peter yelling out encouragement and waving the Canadian flag like the true hooligan he is! They were all great, and kept me motivated and smiling.

Near the top of the climb the road surface got really nasty though. Going uphill it wasn’t too bad, but I knew that descending the other side on this surface was going to be miserable. I finally got to the top – walked over the cattle guard that was on a bit of a steep section and looked a bit rough, and then grabbed some nourishment and fluids from my crew – a cheese stick rolled up in a piece of ham, some V8, and a swig of Mountain Dew – it all hit the spot! I’d once again caught up to Werewolf (Tim) on the climb – going uphill on a recumbent is more difficult than on a standard bike, but his advantage is on the downhill.

I started down the bone-rattling descent, and soon Tim whizzed on by. This was by far the worst stretch of road on the entire ride. I was hoping that at some point the road would get a bit better, but it was awful all the way into Kelso. And it was accented right at the bottom by a nasty railroad crossing! I got into the time station at Kelso and needed to take a break to try and “put out the fire” that was on my butt, and rest my feet. At this point my butt was really starting to kill me – I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that there was some rawness and swelling. Here’s where some ice would have been nice, but I made do with a cold water soaked cloth. I suspect that part of the reason my butt got so sore was the fact that I’d had less time on the saddle following surgery, so my butt had “softened up” a bit. Although riding this kind of distance would have probably resulted in some degree of discomfort regardless! Anyway, I changed shorts, slathered up in chamois cream again, had a bit to eat and drink, and then hit the road again. I pulled out just as Guanaco’s vehicle pulled into the time station. I’d seen his vehicle back in Baker when I left and had thought that perhaps he was already on the stage, but when they never passed me during the climb I didn’t know what had happened to him. I was glad to see that he was still going. And it put a bit of kick in my legs again to get moving and try to hold him off! :)

Images from Stage 6.

Chapter 12: Stage 7

Kelso to Almost Amboy, 33.7miles, 2280ft of climbing, 12:45pm – 3:08pm (2hrs 23min)

This section I’d done last year. It’s a 14 mile climb that’s a bit steeper than the previous stage’s 20 mile climb, but nothing too bad. It took me a while to warm up, and right at the bottom the 2x team Flying Fishtix passed me. The guy riding was really cheerful and encouraged me as he went by. I felt a bit sluggish to start, but as I got going I felt another 2nd wind coming on, and soon I found myself doing standing intervals up the climb (partly to take the pressure off my butt, and partly because it felt really good and my legs felt strong). I started picking up the pace, and even managed to catch up to and pass Flying Fishtix as well as Werewolf again just before the top.

At the top I stopped briefly to grab another cheese-ham roll-up and some V8 and Mountain Dew, and then quickly started down the descent – a long 20 mile affair. The top part was really fun – there was no wind, so I felt safe to just let ‘er rip and crouch into as aero a position as possible. As the hill got a bit more gradual towards the bottom, I tried to pedal some, but my butt was hurting pretty bad. Plus the sun was just incredibly intense on this stretch – I felt like my skin was cooking! I knew I’d sweat a lot going up the climb, so I wondered if my sunscreen was still being effective. I didn’t want to stop until I got to the next time station though, so I kept on going.

I finally got to the Almost Amboy time station at about 3:08pm, just in front of Werewolf and Wild Buck (I’d also passed him just at the top of the climb). It turned out that the time station missed writing down my arrival time (probably because all 3 of us arrived very close together), so luckily I was able to email Chris, the race director, after the race and tell him what time I went through and who else was there then. Anyway, I stopped and quickly took some ibuprofen (hoping it would help my butt more than anything else!), and slathered on another layer of sunscreen (or at least my pit crew slathered me up!), and applied more chamois cream (I applied that!). I quickly downed some more fluids and grabbed some snacks, and then hit the road again.

Chapter 13: Stage 8 and the Finish!

Almost Amboy to 29 Palms, 58miles, 4170ft of climbing, 3:08pm – 7:22pm (4hrs 14min)

The couple of miles into Amboy were on a rough road and into a stiff headwind. I was starting to think the last stage was going to be a suffer fest, but thankfully as we rounded the corner and turned onto a different road, suddenly we were going back in the opposite direction and there was a nice tail wind again - woohoo! :) This was my second perfect timing with a train crossing – just after I crossed the tracks a train came through, so I just made it across without having to stop! Being out of the headwind helped, but my feet at this point were still really sore. I knew the last long climb was coming up soon, so I decided to pull over quickly and just take a quick break to take my shoes off and rub my feet. I was only stopped for a couple minutes, but boy oh boy did it make a huge difference! I gave my crew a big thumbs up as I started up again and was in much less discomfort. It was still quite warm in this section, and I felt I needed an extra kick, so I asked for a water bottle with Mountain Dew in it somewhere along this section.

It was also along here that Mike told me that he’d been talking to his Dad on the phone and apparently he thought I was the 5th overall woman at that point (it turned out I was actually 6th, as some of the others had missed getting recorded at some of the time stations as well). So that gave me more incentive to keep on pushing. He also said that Guanaco was about 15min back at the last time station, so I decided to pick it up a notch and see how long I could hold him off – I figured he’d be kicking in the afterburners on the last stage, so I had my work cut out for me – he’s a much faster rider, so if he didn’t stop too long he’d probably be quickly gaining on me.

I started up the last climb up to the Sheep Hole Summit. The climb wasn’t particularly steep except for right at the top, and I was doing standing intervals all the way up the climb. I was amazed at how much I still seemed to have in the tank in terms of how my legs felt – I felt strong and steady. Up near the top on the steeper section I caught up to Flying Fishtix again. This time the woman was riding and the guy was in the vehicle – as I came up behind them he hung out the window cheering me on and saying how they’d been watching me gain on them for quite a while now. That made me feel even more pumped up, and I just dug even deeper and powered on by them. Just in front of them I passed Werewolf yet again too. At the top I stopped quickly to mount my lights since it would soon be 6pm and I’d have to have lights on again and be followed. I quickly wolfed down another cheese-ham roll-up and then hit the downhill. On the way down Werewolf screamed past on his extremely low “Bat-mobile” recumbent (he did RAAM on this bike) – it’s quite the sight! As it was I was probably going upwards of 45mph, and he just flew by me!

Route 66 into Amboy, the climb up to Sheep Hole Summit, and then the descent.

At the bottom of the hill began a section that was somewhere around 15miles long which was just a gradual uphill towards 29 Palms and the finish line. These slight up-hills seem to be where I struggle the most – I’d really rather just have a proper climb I think. Anyway, with the finish this close, I tried to keep pushing at a good pace. The closer I got, the more I tried to open up the throttle! I finally passed Werewolf a mile or two before the turn into 29 Palms. The section leading up to this had seemed to last forever, so I was glad to get to the turn. But those last couple of miles or so seemed to drag on a bit too as I headed into town. Plus there are a couple of little short but steep “bumps” through town just before the finish. On the first short but steep hill, I felt something in my right lower leg seize up, and I was worried that I was going to have to stop and walk the last couple of miles or something! But luckily I was able to keep going.

Somewhere along here I was hit by a wave of emotion, and suddenly felt myself welling up inside. It was a very emotional experience! I knew that there was no one close enough behind me that was going to pass me, so I just eased up a bit and savored the last little stretch before the finish. Just after 7:20pm I turned into the driveway of the Best Western and then stopped and waited for my crew to park the minivan and then come and cross the finish line with me. I’d decided before even starting the race that even if I was in a sprint to the finish with someone, I would stop and wait for my crew to cross the finish line with me – I couldn’t have done it without them, and I wanted them to share in that moment. Finally they appeared, and we crossed the finish line together. Carson had put on my Canada flag cycling jersey, and he and Peter were both carrying Canadian flags. It was a really proud and happy moment! :)

The finish!

So my finishing time was 36hrs 22min – well ahead of my goal of 41hrs. I was 32nd soloist overall out of 69 finishers (81 total soloists started the race) and 6th out of 11 solo women who finished (14 had started). At first I was slightly bummed about not cracking the top 50% of women, but then I found out who the top 5 were – first place was the 2005 RAAM (Race Across America) winner and a former 508 winner, second place was an ultra-runner who has done things like the Badwater Ultramarathon and has done Ultraman Triathlons, 3rd place was a world renowned adventure racer, 4th place was last year’s 508 winner, and 5th place was another RAAM winner who has also won the 508 before and who does ultra-running and Ultraman (and longer!) triathlons. Then in 6th place was little ol’ me! So considering the caliber of the women in front of me, I have no shame whatsoever in my placing – it was an honor just to be out there on the same course as them! Also, this was the first year that the 508 was not a RAAM qualifier. That was a bummer, because if it had been a qualifier event, I would have qualified!! Oh well, guess that means I need to go for Race Across Oregon and/or the HooDoo 500 next year to try and qualify! :)

Chapter 14: The Aftermath

As I got off my bike in the finish area, suddenly those 509.6 miles seemed to catch up to me all at once! My lower back seized up a bit, and I became all wobbly and couldn’t really bend over. But all things considered I felt pretty good. And the biggest surprise was that my shoulder had hardly bothered me the entire ride – a couple of times I felt a twinge or two, but nothing like I secretly feared I might experience. I got my medal and finisher’s jersey, and had my picture taken with Chris (the race director) and then with my crew. My crew got me some cold pizza that we’d carried with us the whole weekend [courtesy of Jessica T. at the Olive Garden in Santa Clarita! ;) ] and boy oh boy did it taste good! I’d wanted to eat some for a while during the race, but had been trying to stay away from things with a lot of volume so that my stomach didn’t get too bloated. But now that I was finished I wolfed it down and it tasted great! I saw Wild Buck, Werewolf, and Flying Fishtix finish – Werewolf and Flying Fishtix in particular had provided a lot of encouragement as we’d gone back and forth the last several stages, so it was fun to see them finish. Then we checked into the hotel, I took a long shower, we went and got some food, we had Peter’s Birthday Cake, and then we all crashed for the night!

The next morning Mike & I went to the breakfast that was being hosted at a local church, but Peter and Carson decided to sleep in. We ate breakfast with Retriever (Nicholas), and I briefly saw and talked to Rob and Anna – they thought they had missed seeing me finish because they were already in bed, so they were surprised to hear that I’d finished earlier than that while they were still at dinner. I don't think they expected me to finish ahead of Dan - it’s always nice when you exceed people’s expectations! :) Just as we were getting ready to leave I saw Guanaco (Dan) so I went over and congratulated him. I’m still in awe of how well he did considering he’d never even ridden a double century! Kudos to him and his crew for a job well done! Anyway, we headed back to the hotel, rustled Peter and Carson out of bed, loaded up the minivan, and hit the road for the 8hr drive home. Along the way we stopped at an In-n-Out on I-5 for a double-double - maybe we should have got a double-triple which would have added up to a 500! ;) Then when we got back we went and treated ourselves to La Bamba burritos – the best burritos ANYWHERE!!!! :) They hit the spot perfectly! Then we met Deb & Kris for dessert at The Cheesecake Factory and shared with them some of the weekend's excitement. What a way to top off an awesome weekend – with friends and family!

Chapter 15: Gratitude

So, as you can see, there are countless people who helped to get me to the starting line as well as the finish line. First of all, I would have never gotten into this crazy sport of ultra-cycling if it hadn’t been for you Leslie, so thank you for that, and for your friendship and encouragement over the years. I wish that you were still a part of my life and that I could have shared this amazing experience with you in some capacity, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. To my other friends who have encouraged me and believed in me and been there for me during the good times and bad – Deb, Kris, Meiling, Conrad, and Kathleen – I’m so thankful to have you in my life! To my family, who have learned to just shake their heads and say “what next?” – I love you all! To my Mum, I know you wanted to be here, but you were here in spirit, and by way of your awesome chocolate chip cookies! :) To my Dad - I know you think I'm crazy, but I think some of my stubborness comes from you! :p And Katie, you too wanted to be here, but would you really have wanted to be cooped up in the minivan with all that smelly testosterone all weekend? ;) To Mike – thanks for coming into my life and enriching it and for re-inspiring me and encouraging me! I was ready to quit ultra-cycling when I met you – now I’m pondering even bigger things! :) To Dan – I swear that having you out there took at least an hour off my time – my crew will attest to the fact that when Guanaco was in her sights (ahead or behind), Nanook found a 2nd wind – after all, how could she be lazy or give up when there you were fighting through the experience having never even ridden a double century before – you were incredible out there – I humbly bow down to you oh mighty Guanaco! To everyone who cheered me on out on the course - Bill, Rob, the other Kites, Sarah, Sean, Tom, Werewolf, Flying Fishtix – your smiling faces and encouragement out there were greatly appreciated! To everyone else who sent me well-wishes before the race – thank you all too! I’d try listing names, but I’m afraid I might forget someone, but you all know who you are! But most importantly, a HUGE thank you to my AWESOME crew!!! Peter, Carson, and Mike – I couldn’t have asked for a better group - or as Chris called you at the finish, my "hunks"! :) Even though the category is “solo” – this is NOT a solo event – I couldn’t have done it without you! You guys were so encouraging, and your antics made me smile and laugh even when I was at my lowest points. To Carson, who valiantly sacrificed himself and head-butted the van door! To Mike, who did pushups and ran along the side of the road. To Peter, who apparently hallucinated more than I did! You guys all rock! And I’m so glad that no one got left out in the desert – except for perhaps Mr. Potato Head! ;) We’ll have to go and find him again next year, right! :)

For my time splits, click here.

For complete results of the 2008 Furnace Creek 508, click here.

So in conclusion, let me end with one of my favorite quotes:
"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go."
--T.S. Eliot

Well, I started the 508 not knowing if out there in the desert I might find my limits. Well, I didn’t find my limits, so who knows what the future holds – but hopefully it holds every one of you! :)