When The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Part 2

By Zoran Musicki, 1991 508 finisher

Going into the event, my priorities were, in descending order (and increasing difficulty):

  1. Finish
  2. Substantially improve on my finishing time from '91 (e.g., finish in around 35 hours);
  3. Qualify for the RAAM.

I didn't think that C was very realistic, given that, again, my preparation wasn't very good (less than 2,000 miles for the season and no activity in the month prior). However, just finishing, without accomplishing either B or C would be somewhat of a defeat.

I anticipated and successfully parried many of Devil's moves before the event. There was some virus going around in the weeks prior and I dutifully washed my hands every time I was in contact with somebody who looked like they had a cold. (I also changed seats on the plane to LA when the guy in front of me started coughing). So, I never caught anything, and I admonished Hugh to shake his cold before I got there (he did). I didn't enter a couple of road races immediately prior to FC508 that I was tempted to enter. I drove to the airport instead of using the van service. I flew to Los Angeles on Thursday, instead of Friday, to give me a better chance of resting, and more time for last minute details. I told Hugh ahead of time what kind of work my bike needed. We brought along a variety of foods. I read and reread the Race Magazine before the race to learn from other people's experiences. I didn't hire a prospective crew member who had to be at work at 6 am Monday morning. I also didn't spend time on the logistics of the next event I wanted to enter, the Athens to Atlanta in-line skate race (86 miles), which happened a week after FC508, and for which I would have been well prepared. So, I had to concede Georgia to the Devil this time.

However, the Devil had a few new tricks this time. He had a crew also:

  1. The ScheduleMaker, the mysterious entity at work, that creates emergencies every time I want to take off; this time I had to be at a meeting in Washington, DC, first thing in the morning on Tuesday, the 7th of October (no such meetings for months before or after). This meant last minute packing, no sleep Wednesday night, last minute drive to the JFK airport (and also to the LAX after the race), thus introducing me to the city of New York and the UPS, the other two crewmembers;
  2. The City of New York, deliberately did not put up the sign for long term parking at Kennedy, as punishment to politically incorrect people like me; again I have a cliffhanger, making it to the terminal with minutes to spare;
  3. The Los Angeles chapter of the HOV syndicate, making me get lost in the Norwalk area, as only the HOV lane on I-105 had access to Studebaker road, where my crew was. Instead I burnt a million gallons of gas and polluted the hell out of the atmosphere in some traffic jam, all in the name of the environment and punishing the politically incorrect people like me;
  4. Last, but definitely not least, good, ol' UPS (pronounced Oops!). First gave me an estimate of $150, then charged me $200 for shipping my bikes from LA to NY (didn't have time to take them with me due to the meeting in DC); about twice what the freight lines or the air cargo would have cost. (The airline charged me $50 flying into LA). Then, refuses to reimburse me for damage to my expensive 2-bike carrier, even though the package was insured. Ignores messages repeatedly left with their service department.

I had changes in my crew from '91. Ken couldn't come and Bear couldn't come. Betty said they'd had to give Bear away to a friend as he became too "rambunctious". What she meant to say is, Bear had a taste of the Devil in '91, and, as a result, a bit of the Devil became a part of him. This is not a battle without casualties!

Wisely they left their new dog, Heartland, with friends this time.

This year my crew consisted of Betty and Hugh Freed (from '91) and Jim Haltom, himself a strong long distance rider and an experienced crew member (crewing RAAM twice). Chris Kostman helped me find Jim, who proved an excellent addition, while Ron Patterson, the owner of Pat's 605 Cyclery of Norwalk graciously let Hugh and Betty take off on a weekend (a busy time) and on a very short notice.

Betty was again in charge of keeping everything organized and running smoothly, getting provisions, keeping tabs on expenses and finding the best deals. In Trona, she found very cheap ice, at a fraction of the going price. Of course, Hugh was again the master mechanic, and the Devil kept him busy, as a lot of small things happened both to the van and to my bike.

Jim was a great addition and an integral part. He calculated my energy and water balances during the ride, as well as offering encouragement when the going got tough. He also put together a list of areas for future improvements. And last, but not least, he ignored extreme pain and discomfort in the last couple of hours (not telling me) and thus materially contributed to my success on this ride.

The conditions this year were totally different than in '91. This time it was hot, and there was no tail wind to help us on the initial portion of the race. Perhaps the temperature was into the 100s and above (according to some people), with Sunday definitely hotter than Saturday. A lot of racers suffered from dehydration and heat and a lot of them quit for those reasons.

The first portion of the race, into Townes Pass, became a struggle for a variety of reasons. I was doing pretty well initially, and keeping up the good pace. As the day progressed, and it became hotter, I could not drink either water or Endura Optimizer (the energy and recovery drink). The water actually tasted dry, and didn't do anything for my thirst, I just couldn't drink it. This went on for quite some time (hours). All of a sudden it dawned on me that I was running a serious water and energy deficit, and it was really scary to look the facts in the face, and to realize that this couldn't go on much longer and that I'd have to quit. I was feeling really weak, sick and out of it. I think part of the reason for this state of affairs was that I had drunk almost exclusively Endura (no water) when I was feeling good initially in the race, thinking it would also serve to hydrate me.

This is when Jim's calculations of my water and energy balances proved very valuable. I had to rest and I told the crew that I needed electrolytes, and something other than Endura. I also told them to get the wonderful white liquid (WWL), because to me that is the best thing when I'm thirsty and tired (and also when I am not thirsty and tired, this is just the most wonderful thing there is to drink, sometimes I drink a gallon a day, I don't bother with a glass, I drink it straight out of the bottle). WWL is also commercially sold as "milk", I usually drink skim.

While I was having the roadside rest, we tried experimenting with different foods we had brought along. The first Clif bar tasted passable, but I couldn't finish the second one. The power gel tasted (and smelled) like shoe polish, I couldn't finish even one packet. Maybe I had a banana, and probably a power bar, I don't remember. Finally, out of all the things we had, the chicken sandwich (with Mayo) tasted good to eat, and V8 and WWL tasted good to drink. Later, we also experimented with Gatorade; I couldn't drink the wild apple flavor, but I really liked the watermelon flavor. Of course, we had plenty of ice to keep everything cold, which was very important in this situation, as the liquids taste much better cold when I'm dehydrated and it's hot (and they are absorbed much faster cold in the digestive system). My crew made sure to also put ice in the waterbottles when they were handing off. On Sunday, they also gave me ice-filled bags to put on my neck, or a cold wet bandanna to put around it.

So, through the end of the race, I drank a lot of WWL, V8 and Gatorade flavor that I liked. I also forced myself to drink some Endura, though not nearly as much as I should have (we may have used up only one or two of the 6 Endura big plastic bottles we had started with). I don't think I drank much water at all. I also ate chicken sandwiches.

Anyway, this condition of dehydration and having problems with energy and food balances persisted for quite some time on Saturday, and I had to stop at least twice, for a relatively long time, to recoup, get some rest and get some food/water. I kept telling my crew that somewhere I had read one could bike coast to coast without eating anything, that's how much fat reserves an average person has. Of course it is important to replace the protein (and other nutrients), especially in my case where I had started out with relatively weak muscles. In the end, the Endura and the chicken sandwiches and WWL got to my muscles, because at the end of the race they were visibly much bigger.

The other problem that plagued me was that of my bike. I rode my composite frame Trek 2300, while my old Cr-Mo Trek 614 (used in '91) was available as a backup (which I never ended up using). I figured I could make better time with the 2300, as it was much lighter and more efficient (Hugh put the triple crank, a wide gear cluster and aerobars on it). The problem I had was my legs started cramping very early in the race (probably as early as mile 50), precisely what I had experienced on this bike before when I rode it much longer than a typical USCF race (but I had thought it was due to the tight gearing). This leg cramping was later exacerbated with the dehydration problems. I remember on several occasions trying to pass a rider, and then having to coast because of severe, painful cramping. Coming into Trona, I noticed a rider a mile ahead of me. I really wanted to "bag" him before the time station. Just after I passed him, I had a cramping attack, and he passed me as I coasted. Then, a few miles later I managed to pass him again, and again cramping came as I was only a few tens of yards ahead of him. But I managed to hold on this time and roll ahead of him by the time station.

I didn't know what to do, because I had really thought that the gearing would solve that problem, and I had also thought the seat was at the correct height (had it raised before the race to correct an earlier cramping episode). Maybe I would have to ride the other bike. Finally I asked Hugh to raise the seat. This, in combination with slowly getting the dehydration problem under control, seemed to help. There was maybe one or two mild cramping attacks after that, but through the night and on Sunday I didn't have any more such problems.

The other problem with the bike was that the stem was too long for the aerobars to be used (Hugh put them on in LA for the first time), so I didn't use them as much as I should have, I was too stretched out and uncomfortable on them.

My riding on Saturday was a mixed bag. I rode well some sections, and I was really doing well after the dehydration episode, in the hills after Trona and prior to Townes Pass. But then some hills early on in the race (before dehydration) I thought I rode way too slowly. Even though I passed other riders, it seemed I was going very slowly for what seemed almost flat terrain. I even asked Hugh if maybe my bike was having too much internal friction.

Other riders' crews were really nice to me, always encouraging me when I passed, telling me I was doing well, dousing me with water, etc.

This time I may have underestimated Townes Pass. It was one of the strong points of my '91 race, but this time I climbed it in the dark. I think the darkness makes an incredible difference to me, because this year I had trouble on every major climb at night, that was climbed during the day in '91 with no major problems, and with relish. As I like climbing, and am relatively strong on hills, I had to think about it. I realize that in '91 I also had problems climbing at night. Both years, I had problems even riding certain flat sections at night (by problems I mean a general feeling of hopelessness and the impression of exceedingly slow progress). I thought maybe this had to do with not being able to judge how fast I was going, not being able to see around me, nor being able to see my speedometer. Then I compare this with my BMB experience, where I did pretty well at night. Maybe, the lack of features in the desert translates into impression of lack of progress, and this may be compounded by the bright lights of the vehicle behind you which makes it impossible to see far from the roadside and see the changing landscape (BMB was not vehicle supported, did it once 2-3 years ago).

This lack of idea about the progress I'm making in the dark has a negative psychological feedback effect, in my opinion, such that it discourages me, and actually makes me ride slower than if I was able to see. I think it would help to be wearing a Walkman with good tunes on, like the B-52s (they're from Athens, Georgia, I love that bitchin' beehive hairdo).

Anyway, Townes Pass was a disaster. Not just because of night climbing, but then dehydration returned, compounded by having ridden hard the 20-mile section prior without drinking much liquids. So, after passing a couple of riders, I conked out about 1/3 the way up, and had to stop and rest, severely dehydrated. This was only the second time in my life that I had to stop on a hill! Pretty humiliating, but I managed to joke about roadkill and a dead meerkat by the side of the road. A while later, further entertainment came up the road, which made me almost glad that I had stopped. There was this tandem, ridden by only the captain, while the stoker was walking behind, dressed in what looked like white, long pajamas, all illuminated by their van, on a desert road under millions of stars. My crew and I just couldn't contain our laughter, especially when the captain implored us to tell the other guy to get on the *@#$% bike. Then Hugh's friend Steve Reese, Dave's brother, came by and we all had a nice chat while I was recovering.

My crew was very supportive of me in this time of crisis, and they kept encouraging me and tried to make me comfortable. The race was not going well, and again I thought I might have to quit before the end. But again I recovered, and climbed the hill passing some riders. I remember a very huge boulder (weighing several tons) in the middle of the road near the top, a rock slide.

The Death Valley I rode very well, especially the section after the Furnace Creek time station (where we said hi to Dave Reese) and before the Jubilee/Salisbury passes. Even in the darkness I felt like I was riding like the wind, there were hills and other features I could use as a reference, and I felt pretty good. We stopped a few times for minor problems (adjusting the lights, food, etc.). We stopped just before the two passes again, but then we all fell asleep, for about 1 hour. By the time we started again, it was almost starting to get light. Postponing my sleep until almost dawn or early morning helped me later on enormously, it was one of the lessons from '91. However, I had to sleep, as again I didn't sleep well on Friday night in anticipation of the race.

Those two passes out of Death Valley were again climbed incredibly slowly. Hugh kept telling me that I was keeping up with riders from a team, but I still felt that I was going too slowly, given that it's only a 4% grade (I think I was only doing about 8 mph). Maybe it was the fact that it was early morning, when I don't perform well. I became incredibly sleepy coming into Shoshone, even though the road was downhill or flat, plus I was again dehydrated. So, in Shoshone, I had about 1.5 hours of sleep, after which I felt pretty good.

The section to Baker I did OK, better than in '91 and felt much better. We had a pretty good headwind, though, which limited my speed to 12-13 mph on flat sections. And it was pretty hot.

At one point, right after a handoff, I spotted a pond of water by the side of the road, which looked very inviting. It was maybe ten yards long by three yards wide, 1-2 feet deep, and looked like clear, clean water, left after the recent rains. I made a U-turn, as I needed a bath (my crotch area was getting irritated) and I figured it would be very refreshing in that heat.

As I was riding toward it in slow motion, I noticed the VW bus making a jackrabbit start in slow motion. As I stopped and laid my bike down by the puddle in slow motion, the van screeched to a halt next to me in slow motion. Hugh inquired what I was doing, and I told him. They told me that was very dangerous, the mud in the puddle was very soft, I would sink into it and would have a hell of a time extricating myself from it, plus the water would be very hot. So I washed myself with the water we had on board (and we had plenty) and changed into clean clothing and I felt better.

Devil, come on over here, I need to talk to you. Listen, that was a great idea putting those thoughts about the puddle in my mind, I applaud you on your creativity. But the execution sucked. You were too anxious, you should have waited until my crew was out of sight, there were other puddles. Then you would have ruined me for a long time. Timing is everything in life, Devil, everything.

When I arrived in Baker, I stopped for a break (even though I wasn't feeling tired), and, while my crew was getting provisions, etc., struck a conversation with Premananda Childs, manning the time station. The salad he was eating smelled so good, I wanted some. And the cold water in a foam cooler they had for my feet felt so good. Pretty soon an hour had passed, and I was eating my salad, relaxing, having a great time, totally unaware that a race was going on (as I had also forgotten previously on several occasions). A couple of riders came through and left. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some red character, rolling on the floor, convulsing with laughter. Apparently, an important lesson from '91 had been forgotten. The one dealing with Baker.

Eventually, I casually asked Prim a question about relative standings of riders and their finishing times. Casually, he mentioned that the RAAM qualifying time would extend until 1 or 2am.

Damn! That means I was still within the qualifying window, and here I was operating under the assumption that it was unattainable. Not only that, but for the past 12 hours I had pretty much given up hope that anything other than finishing was possible, I had pretty much conceded the race to the Devil, I just assumed that what he put in my mind was the truth! That was so insidious, Devil, a masterpiece, and you almost got away with it!

Immediately, I jumped on my bike and told the crew to catch up with me.

The next section (to Twentynine Palms) was again a mixed bag. Most hills were climbed in the dark, and I pretty much hated them. They were never ending; even though I knew approximately how long they were, I didn't have any good feel for distance, or even time, so the climbs seemed like eternity to me, but when I look back on them they weren't so bad. I asked the crew to signal the passage of each mile on some of the climbs, and to me their miles seemed like 3-5 of my miles. However, from my '91 experience I was better prepared for the psychological torture of the Sheephole Mountain (the last hill before the Twentynine Palms).

I also rode certain parts of this section very well and felt very good (I passed the last two riders and was close to the others). On the whole I felt much better on this section this year than in '91, thanks to my learning some lessons from '91 about sleep problems. As a matter of fact, this whole Sunday I felt much better than the one in '91, but I still did not improve on my average speed (maybe regressed) because of attitude and lack of focusing (will have to work on those areas next time).

There were a few times that I fell into a zombie like state between sleep and consciousness. For example, I kept wondering, as I was dodging potholes (which seemed numerous on this section), why certain potholes shook my bike, but others didn't. Everybody knows that it's extremely difficult to make a pothole that would shake a certain vehicle. The pothole has to be engineered to "fit" the vehicle. It has to be exactly the right size (to a fraction of a millimeter) and the right shape, in order to excite the resonances within it and the vehicle. Therefore, it was puzzling that so many potholes were actually "connecting" with my bike. I couldn't explain how that could be, it was statistically impossible that so many potholes exactly fitting my bike were made by random processes of nature. Maybe they secretly measured my bike before the race, and then went out and constructed those potholes so I wouldn't fall asleep on these downhills. And they did it for every competitor, wow, what organization.

Toward the latter parts of this section, it occurred to me that my progress was so slow that there was no chance I was going to make the RAAM cutoff. Furthermore, just finishing was going to be a struggle. I remember pulling into Amboy, and I think it was after midnight, maybe close to 1 am. Obviously, there was no way I was going to make even Premananda's much relaxed qualifying times of 1 or 2 am (which I had thought were optimistic anyway). So, just surviving was the goal now.

As we started out of the Amboy time station, all the lights on the Volkswagen bus went dead. I will never forget the flickering lights, then brightening, then total darkness; not because I had any doubt that Hugh was going to fix that in a jiffy, but because of what it signaled. And what it signaled went totally unnoticed by me.

I rolled my eyes, and thought to myself why was the Devil resorting to such sophomoric stunts, when he had already won, he already had my soul. I mean how long was it going to take Hugh to fix this? A minute, two minutes on the outside, there's no way I wasn't going to finish. And then I remembered recently we had a couple of occasions of broken spokes on my bike, another sophomoric stunt. Still, nothing clicked in my mind.

Why was the Devil going to all this trouble to delay us just by a minute or two here and there? Why when he had already won? Because he hadn't won, that's why. Because he was DESPERATE. Because minutes was all that would take for him to win and for me to not qualify, that's why. But I was oblivious to this reasoning, perhaps I was in a zombie state.

My crew was much more astute. Hugh kept insisting, even when it was past 3 am and going on to 4 am, that if I pedaled hard, I would qualify. I kept ignoring him, I just wanted to be finished. But I didn't know that Hugh was aware of yet another dirty, desperate, stunt that the Devil had pulled in the meantime. He made Jim painfully sick with severe stomach cramps (something he ate). All in a ploy to delay us. But they didn't tell me, Jim just silently suffered for a couple of hours, if I had known we would have stopped. It was Jim's heroic efforts in the last hours that saved the day.

In the meantime, I had a pretty grizzly picture in mind of what was awaiting me at the hotel in Twentynine Palms. Our shadows would be dancing on the walls, projected by the flickering flames of the fire. I would be arguing with the Devil, trying to weasel my way out, and I was hoping that Chris would be lending his eloquence to my cause. After all, I finished, and the conditions were hard. And the Devil would be unswayed. But then again, why argue. His place is probably a vast improvement over Wrong Island. I would have to insist on taking my bike with me, though, I like riding in hot, challenging places. No, not the composite frame, it would probably not stand up to the heat. Plus the other bike has sturdy tires, an important item when you're riding on superhot surfaces, as I discovered in Death Valley in '91.

Instead, what greeted me at the hotel was a construction site around the entrance where Chris was standing. At least that was the way it looked to me, but when I went around the ribbons marking the construction area, I heard groans from people. Those were the ribbons (made out of toilet paper) they were holding for me to go through, marking the finish line.

Then to my infinite surprise (because I thought I was at least two hours late) Chris informed me that I had qualified for the RAAM, with two minutes to spare. Now, the events of past few hours were starting to make sense, especially when I heard of Jim's condition he was alright after rushing to the restroom).

However, if you read to the end of the story, you'll realize it still is not clear that the Devil didn't win.

Washington DC, Tuesday lunch hour. I was so hungry, it was just after the race and my metabolism was sky high. I couldn't control myself in that cafeteria. I was piling up an enormous quantity of food onto my tray, and I could feel the inquisitive, somewhat shocked glances from my colleagues and the Federation G-men working with us.

I could almost hear the gears turning in their heads: was I really me, or was I one of those shape-changers from across the Galaxy, here to learn about America's nuclear secrets? (And, if the latter, then, by the way, what happened to real me?)

Nervous jokes were made about my appetite, as I was uncontrollably devouring my triple lunch (my hands were trembling, that's how hungry I was). Nervous glances were stolen toward the exits, in anticipation of my metamorphosing into a giant, snarling, blood- thirsty reptile from outer space (where they didn't have the asteroid impact, and the dinosaurs evolved into intelligent, though somewhat rude, life forms). Wistful glances were directed toward the entrance, where their phasers were neatly checked in.

Imagine their consternation, then, when instead, I turned into a giant, ferocious, blood-thirsty meerkat!

Well, almost, I managed to control myself just barely.

Since returning home from the race, I observe strange phenomena. For example, between Wednesday and Sunday morning of that week, I go through three full rolls of toilet paper, on my own! No, I don't have diarrhea, it's my appetite (meerkats eat a high fraction of their body weight every day). My leg muscles are twice the size as before the race. When I breathe, it sounds like a hurricane, I must be aspirating 2-3 times the normal airflow. I sleep a lot (all metamorphosing animals do). I run much faster than before. The whiskers on my face seem to be growing faster than usual, the rest of my body is already covered with hair. Two toes on each foot are numb. (How many toes do meerkats have?)

What is happening to me, Chris? What did you do to me? What is this secret ablution ceremony you perform prior to assigning animal totems to racers?

Chris!!!!????? Answer me!!!!