2002 Furnace Creek 508

Experience Pays Off for Race Veterans at the World's Toughest Weekend Bicycle Race

By Chris Kostman

The 28th edition of the world's toughest 500 mile weekend bicycle race was held October 12-14, 2002, with 112 competitors from across the USA and Europe competing in the prestigious AdventureCORPS Furnace Creek 508 Bicycle Race. The bicycle racers raced solo or in two or four person relay teams non-stop for the duration of this epic race through Southern California's mountains, Death Valley, and the Mojave Desert. When the dust settled after 508 miles of epic racing, Eric Ostrich Ostendorff, 41, of Torrance, CA took first in the solo division with a time of 31 hours, 14 minutes, and 11 seconds, while Seana Hoopoe Hogan, 43, of Gilroy, CA won the women's solo race, and placed seventh overall against the men, with a time of 35:06:03. Ostendorff placed second in 2001, while Hogan is now a five time women's champion.

The 508 mile race course begins outside Los Angeles in Santa Clarita, heads north through the Angeles National Forest to the Tehachapis, traverses the Mojave Desert and Panamint Valley, then heads south to conquer the length of Death Valley, and then traverses the Mojave National Preserve en route to the finish line in Twenty Nine Palms. It features nearly 35,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain and temperatures ranging from 50 at night to the mid-80's during the day. The legendary route is nearly traffic-free, incredibly remote, and dramatically beautiful. Furnace Creek 508 is recognized world-wide as the premier weekend endurance bicycle race.

On the morning of Saturday, October 12, the solo racers began at 7am, the two rider relay division began at 10am, and the four rider relay division began their full-throttle chase at 1pm.

In the solo race, Ostendorff took the lead at mile 40 and never relinquished it. After finishing second in 2001, just an hour and a quarter behind the winner, he'd focused his training for the last twelve months on this race. He rode from San Francisco to Los Angeles four times, plus once from Seattle to LA, all with friends and all hammering against his own clock. The goal was to be over an hour faster at the 2002 Furnace Creek 508, a goal which he handily realized during a weekend of intense racing under extreme conditions that included a steady headwind all day on Saturday.

By the first time station at mile 82 in California City, Ostendorff was sixteen minutes ahead of rookie entrant Andreis Blue Fox Boesch, 32, of Bern, Swizterland and 37 minutes ahead of Mark Panther Patten, a four time finisher, including third place in 2001. By Trona at mile 152, Ostendorff led Boesch by 27 minutes and Patten by over an hour.

In the women's race, Hogan took the lead early on. By California City, she was second overall against the men and 25 minutes ahead of Rebecca Sun Bear Smith, 53, of Portland, OR. By Trona, Hogan led Smith by 1:11. Meanwhile, Smith led the 50+ women with a two and a half hour lead over Nancy Mother Goose Guth, 52, of Stafford, VA.

Team Race Gets Under Way
Seven pairs, six male and one mixed, contested the two rider relay division that began at 10am on the 12th. Joining them was a two tandem relay team from Bakersfield, Fire Ants, the first team to enter in this two tandem format. Off the front immediately were the Fire Ants, Roehl Caragao, Mike Moseley, Emmy Klassen, and Marvis Friesen, all 508 powerhouse veterans.

Also riding off the front was the Onager pair, Dan Crain and Bill Osborn. Crain was a late substitution after Osborn's original teammate, Mark Newsome, had to withdraw. Crain more than held his own, as he and Osborn held the two man relay lead from early on until the finish, posting a near-record time of 29:37:56, 40 minutes ahead of the Kern River Rainbow Trout, Jim Bryant, 39, and David Rous, 32, both of Bakersefield, CA.

In the 50+ two rider division, the grizzled veterans of Team Chinook, Bill Hanf, 53, and David Fischer, 52, both of Kennewick, WA broke their own course record by nearly 50 minutes with a 33:04:51 finish. The mixed 50+ duo, Team Saluki, posted a new course record with a 31:12:49 finish. This was all the more impressive considering they started the race with overly long pulls of 30 to 45 miles each. After slogging into the headwind for much of day one and watching the rest of the field drop them, they shortened up their pulls dramatically and then started charging up from behind, ultimately posting a very impressive time and a new divisional course record.

In the four man division, nobody could hang with the Duke Energy Morro Eels of California, a 50+ configuration headed up by multi-time solo and team 508 veteran Brian Sheep Stark, along with 508 veterans John Warthog Williams, Herb Benham, and Elton Bryant. With no other 50+ teams to challenge them, the Eels set their sights on the overall team win. At California City, they held a sixteen minute lead over their rivals (and under 50 riders), Team Falcon, comprised of Paul Kingsbury and Jim Reed of New York and Jim Ryan and Stuart Kroonenburg of Colorado. By Trona this was a 17 minute lead, then 29 minutes by Furnace Creek.

Meanwhile, Team Poodle, a team that was thrown together in the last few weeks before the race, was chasing mightily, just eleven minutes behind the Eels, and in second place overall, at California City, then nineteen minutes back and in third overall at Furnace Creek. The Poodles, made up of six time solo finisher Peter Penguin Pop, 2001 solo finisher Doug Dog Sloan, Team 508 and Team RAAM Champ Joe Petersen, and 508 rookie Tim Skipper, a Team RAAM veteran, were nipping at the Falcons' heels, so to speak, for the entire race.

Night Falls on the Superstars
The usual ribbon of blinking lights ascending Townes Pass signaled that the 508 had returned once again to this pivotal portal to Death Valley. It also meant the end of the constant headwind that had plagued the riders all day for 200 miles on Saturday. The ten mile, 5,000 foot climb always separates the endurance stars from the first day heroes. For their effort, racers are rewarded with a 17 mile high-speed descent into the valley, then a rolling cruise across the valley floor to the halfway mark at Furnace Creek. It also marked the end of the headwind that had plagued the riders all day long.

At the halfway mark at Furnace Creek in the middle of Death Valley, Ostendorff led Boesch by 36 minutes and Patten by 1:11. But could he hang on?

After racing through the night and ascending two major passes, Jubilee and Salsberry, just to get out of Death Valley, Ostendorff led Boesch at Baker, mile 381, by 42 minutes, while Patten, the venerable 508 and RAAM hero, was still third, two hours behind the frontrunner.

Meanwhile, women's leader Hogan was racing in third overall, 1:22 behind Ostendorff, but starting to fade as she mysteriously built up fluid in her extremities, ultimately putting on ten pounds of water before reaching the finish line.

Sunrise in the Mojave
From Baker it's a long grind through the Granite Mountains and the Mojave National Preserve to the remote hamlets of Kelso and Amboy. Time Station Seven, at mile 480 and just before the summit of the tenth and final major pass of the race, Sheephole, was staffed this year by Ann and Bill Puma Peschka. Following in the very large footsteps of the Luau Crew of Greg Polecat Page and Dan Horse Dibb, who were racing and crewing this year, respectively, the Peschkas decorated their time station with pumpkins and costumes, plus passed out Halloween candy to riders and crews as they rode by en route to the finish, just 29 miles away.

Closing in the Sheephole time station, Boesch was putting the hammer down in a last-ditch attempt to reel in Ostendorff before the finish line. While he'd been 42 minutes back at Baker, he'd closed to 28 minutes at time station six (located on the side of the road in "nowhere") and was looking stronger and fresher than Ostendorff. However, the race leader was not about to throw in the towel or even just try to "coast" to victory; he kept the hammer down and even held off the two tandem relay Team Fire Ants for a long time; they needed a long, long while to finally move past the solo race leader.

Veterans Victorious
By the finish, Ostendorff would improve on his second place 2001 finish time of 32:24:29 by winning the solo race overall in a time of 31:14:11. Boesch, the Swiss sensation, would finish 28 minutes later in 31:42:54, followed by Patten in third at 33:07:12, who just missed his PR by six minutes but was thrilled with his performance nonetheless.

Another impressive result was posted by Steve Beaver Born, the 1994 508 champ and 1999 runner-up, who placed 18th in the men's division this year with a time of 40:16:34. This performance was literally on the heels of having raced solo, against the clock, from Twenty Nine Palms to Santa Clarita, following the 508 route in reverse in a time of 35:30. After a six and a half hour break while his own race clock kept ticking, he joined the race and returned to Twenty Nine Palms. When all was said and done, Born completed the first ever Double 508, for Furnace Creek 1016, in a time of 82:16:34.

The 50+ mens race was again a hotbed of talent with ten riders competing. First in this age group for the third time was Reed Flamingo Finfrock, 56, of Springville, CA who posted a 34:41:51, good enough for sixth man overall as well as his sixth official finish. Close on the Flamingo's heels was Sam Seal Beal, 50, of Mountain View, CA with 35:14:40, followed by Dave Dugong Tanner, 52 of Bloomington, IN with a time of 39:35:45. The lone 60+ standard bike solo entrant was Ron Worm Way, 67, of Downey, CA who achieved his second solo 508 finish with a time of 45:29:36.

Despite slowing down considerably due to her physical ailments, Hogan won the women's race in 35:06:03, good enough for seventh overall and her fifth women's victory. Rebecca Sun Bear Smith set a new 50+ women's record with her impressive rookie finish of 39:28:36, followed by fellow rookie Nancy Mother Goose Guth in 46:01:31.

Rookie women Annie Blue Morpho Butterfly, 24, of Mill Valley, CA and Erika Mountain Turtle Van Meter, 30, of Aspen, CO both withdrew from competition a bit over halfway into the race, vowing to return wiser and faster in 2003.

In the four rider division, the Morro Eels won in 25:38:38, followed by the first under 50 team, Falcon, in 26:24:37 and the Poodles in 26:440:00. Team racing is fast, tough, and definitely not easy. Said Doug Sloan, "The team race is not for those who think it will be easier, as you don't have to ride the whole distance. While you only ride roughly 1/4 the distance, you do it so much harder, so much more intensely, that it really hurts. I thought I'd have time to sleep, too, but no such luck."

Also racing in the four rider division was Team Snail Darter, veterans of the 1996 race who returned with the same configuration and six more years of cycling under their belt. Their mission: to prove that aging doesn't have to mean slowing down. While team member Anne Snail Darter Schneider, 54, of Davis, CA had raced solo in 1998 and 2001, setting a 50+ record in the process, it would be the first time that Marcia Gibbs, 51, of Winters, CA, Lois Springsteen, 50, of Santa Cruz, CA, and Susan Gishi, 50, of Davis, CA had returned as competitors on the fabled Furnace Creek 508 race course since their 1996 effort. They would battle headwinds all day on Saturday, then race through the night to ultimately finish in 31:21:53, just a half hour shy of the 30:51:38 they posted six years before. They were also just one hour slower than the 30:21:55 course record set by the 50+ Black Widows in 2001.

In all, 33 of the 56 solo racers would complete the course officially, a relatively low 59% finishing rate, while 50 of the 56 team racers completed the course. It was the biggest and most competitive field in the history of the race.

A live webcast of the race 2002 was produced here at www.the508.com, featuring over 1000 images, time splits, stories, and results. It received over 90,000 page views during the event and remains archived for ongoing viewing. Click here to see the webcast.

Next year's event is planned for October 11-13, 2003.

The 2002 Furnace Creek 508 was dedicated to a 508 veteran racers Jonathan Abalone Arnow and Perry Swan Smith, both of whom nearly lost their lives this past year, but survived, in part, because of their superior physical conditioning. The 2002 race was dedicated to them "for their courage in life, on and off the bike."

Abalone and Swan were both on hand at the pre-race meeting and were presented with special plaques commemorating the moment. Both received standing ovations and incredible support from their fellow cyclists as they quest to race the 508 again. For more information about Abalone and Swan, click here.