In the Desert, I Don't Remember My Name

By Drew Olewnick, 1997 finisher

Shortly after 8 o’clock on Sunday night, I began the 12 mile climb out of Kelso, California. Although I had 420 miles of desert roads behind me, I attacked the hill, eager to see through the last 90 miles of this grueling bicycle race. But after six miles of relentless climbing, my determination turned to dejection and my legs slowed. Once again, the mountain was winning. Soon our entourage of cyclist and support vehicle was reduced to a painstaking crawl.

An occasional automobile passed me, straining to make the grade. I watched the taillights, waiting for the moment when the red lights would disappear over the lip of the hilltop. The receding red lights grew tinier, merged into one, but continued to float in my field of vision. I drooped my head, unable to watch and wait for a summit that would never appear. When I next lifted my head, I was blinded by a pair of car headlights. The oncoming vehicle, as if dropped from the heavens, pulled off onto the shoulder just ahead. Would this be the UFO sighting that would lend meaning to this journey to the heart of darkness? Rather, it was the support crew of cyclist Dwight "Shark" Bishop, who piled out their van with cheers of "go Otter, go!" The night was young again.

Otter? Shark? Instead of race numbers, the riders in the Furnace Creek 508, a 508 mile time trial through Death Valley, are assigned animal "totems". Billed as "world's toughest single stage open bicycle race", the FC508 serves as the West Coast qualifier for RAAM, the Race Across America. In addition to the desert locale, the race features over 35,000 feet of climbing, and is regarded as the most difficult RAAM qualifier. The monicker of Otter pleased crew member and NYCC rider Jill Tucker; the otter being her personal favorite animal. She teamed with my sister Lisa Tilley to comprise my required support crew. The three of us journeyed to Southern California in October to join the 35 other riders and crews contesting this ultra marathon event.

At the hotel in Valenicia, which served as the race starting site, we were befriended by Montana’s Dwight "Shark" Bishop and his three-man crew. The crew, who had supported Shark at RAAM and other distance races, stayed busy preparing three bikes and drilling Shark in his dietary regimen.

By contrast, the Otter and crew were relative novices. Late into the evening prior to the race, we worked to rig blinking lights and attach safety triangles to our rental van. In the FC508, the support van can accompany the rider the entire length of the route, and is required to follow directly behind the rider at night. It was only hours before the race when we finally acquired all the necessary lighting and signs to make the van a legally "slow moving vehicle."

At 7 a.m. on Saturday, the race commenced from the hotel parking lot. Among the 35 solo riders were Peter Popp, a 6th place finisher in RAAM this year, and Seana Hogan, perennial winner of the women's division of RAAM, and arguably the best female cyclist in the world. Also present was my buddy, Brian "Stork" Sidwell, from Santa Cruz.

It was clear and comfortable as the riders began their 508 mile odyssey. The first few miles were controlled for safety, and I chatted with some of the other riders. Tim "Kinkajou" Kincaide, from Moscow, Idaho, had qualified for RAAM earlier this season in Iowa. He was along for the fun. Sheherezade "Albatross" Adams, from Oakland, was looking to officially complete the race. She had missed the cutoff time of 48 hours last year. Bernadette "Hawaiian Owl" Franks, from Hawaii, had her family and crew spread over two vans. She was determined to qualify for RAAM this year. To qualify for RAAM, a rider had to complete the race within a 25% time window of the top finisher who had not previously qualified for RAAM.

At mile 40, we were already in the desert. The roads took on the appearance they would manifest for the next many hundred miles. Long, straight and extremely rugged. The riders had begun to string out. Support vans leapfrogged from rider to rider. Despite the 90 degree temperature, I gulped down some hot coffee when I finally met my crew, who had disappeared for grocery duties.

Continuing on the route, I passed hundreds of sleek, white windmills lining the nearby hills. But the winds were lighter than in years past, another rider informed me. This was good and bad. The desert winds are known to stop riders in their tracks, but the same breeze can cool an overheated body. Extremely powerful winds, capable of whipping up sandstorms, have been common in past Furnace Creeks. Pick your poison- heat or high winds.

By midday, the temperature and mileage closed in on 100. My jersey and shorts had turned white, the salt sucked out of my body. Up ahead, the leaders dueled it out under the high noon sun. Brian "Stork" Sidwell hung with the top three for much of the day, but his aggressiveness cost him. He dropped out the next day near mile 330.

I was struggling to maintain a decent 17 mph pace. A few heatwave days in New York did not prepare me for the desert. I completely lost my appetite to eat. I drank as much as I could, but it wasn't enough.

The roads stretched between towns 20 miles apart. Crossroads like Trona and California City reeked with the acrid stench of chemicals. Signs noted populations in the double digits. Rusty gas stations, shuttered storefronts and trailer homes lined the road. Dogs tethered in the rocks and scrub that constituted front yards yelped as I cruised by. Trucks loaded with salt or borax rolled out of dusty side roads. Teens in hot rods sped by. I couldn't help but wonder, "why do people live here?"

At mile 160 I weaved towards the support van, and crawled into the back, attempting to escape the glare of the sun. I spent half an hour chewing a roast beef sandwich. I forced myself to swallow V8 juice for the sodium. I began to contemplate drop out points, the locations of the few motels in the desert. The incredibly dry heat, the relentlessly rough roads and lack of nutrition had crippled me.

I set a goal of reaching the base of the most difficult climb in the race, Townes Pass, at mile 200. I pocketed another sandwich and some Pop Tarts and rolled back into the late afternoon heat. A five mile stretch at mile 180 was a lattice of tarred cracks; washboard surface at its worst. I tried to find a line around the mess, but short of riding on the dirt shoulder, it was impossible to avoid. I now knew why most FC508 veterans had arrived with suspension bikes.

Shortly after sundown, I attached lights and donned my reflective vest. The crew settled in behind me, pleased as I was to bid adieu to the sun. I began to regain some strength, riding in the more comfortable night air. I nibbled on Pop Tarts and cookies, receiving handoffs from the van as they cautiously monitored my calorie intake. I felt revitalized, and my crew urged me on. I focused on the lights of a tandem ahead, and within a few miles, rolled by them. The night had become my saviour.

I reached the base of Townes Pass, mile 201, at about 8 p.m. Despite a strong showing over the previous twenty miles, I was gasping for air and drained. I vowed to tackle the ten-mile climb up Townes Pass. The peak is at 5000 feet, the highest in the race. It is also the gateway to Death Valley National Park.

Support vans lined the road along the base of the climb. Riders went into the night, lights ablaze, music or support crew chatter emanating from mounted speakers. One rider was assaulted, via loudspeaker, by someone who sounded like his mother. She warned him: "it won't be like last year, when you dropped out here!"

I climbed slowly along the dark, curving road. The grade occasionally hit 13%, but was mostly a modest 6-10%. I turned the cranks monotonously, dropping to an 6-8 mph speed. Not very good, but enough to eventually pass six riders along the climb. Other riders stopped along the ascent to switch bicycles or to take a food break. One rider was stretched out on the pavement, taking an impromptu nap.

Only one other rider passed me during the climb, a member of a relay team, Team Hammerhead. Jubilant at the summit of the peak, I leaped into a triumphant sprint to celebrate my conquest! But I'd foolishly misjudged the top of the climb and realized there were still a few miles to go. Mentally, and physically burnt out, I returned to my trudge and eventually limped to the top. My crew and I stopped at a pullover to recharge.

Atop Townes Pass, on the doorstep to Death Valley, the night sky was brilliant with the blaze of stars. My crew and I marveled at the milky white band of heavenly light overhead. A green-blue shooting star cut a trail across the horizon. I changed my gear, cleaned myself with Kiddie Wipes and prepared for the long 17-mile descent. I slipped on arm and leg warmers, anticipating a temperature drop. But shortly after beginning the descent, I pulled over to remove the additional clothing. The desert heat was to accompany me all night, and never dropped below 85 degrees.

Although the descent was welcomed, it was not easy. Unfamiliar with the roads, and despite the lights of my support van, I coasted cautiously, tapping the brakes and never broke 48 mph. On occasion, the pavement dipped dramatically, sending me over the lip of the road and into complete darkness before the van's lights would catch me again.

We entered Death Valley National Park. Strung out on the road far ahead were the red and amber blinking lights of various cyclists and support crews. We cruised thru Stovepipe Wells, elevation five feet. The desert was warm, silent and eerie. A coyote darted across the road, my lights reflected in his clear, quizzical eyes. He considered for a moment my salty, taut calf, but chose to pursue a desert rat that had scurried into the brush.

We reached the Furnace Creek campground shortly after 1 a.m. I'd covered half the race distance, 253 miles, in a little over 18 hours, on a pace for an acceptable 36 hour finish. For the first time in hours, there was life in the desert aside from a few nocturnal critters. We quickly checked in a time station #3 at the Death Valley visitors center and enviously observed the lights from the Furnace Creek Motel. Invigorated at reaching the halfway point, and having successfully downed some food, I dismissed the thought of abandoning at the motel. With the full support of my valient crew, I departed Furnace Creek. Badwater, at 282 feet below sea level, the lowest elevation in the 48 states, was our next destination.

There was little worry of missing turns at night. The roads are few in Death Valley and the turns are 30 to 40 miles apart. The van's bright lights cut into the darkness, music from the tape deck and the occasional whoops from Jill and Lisa lent a party atmosphere to this dead-of-night jaunt. What could be harder than pedaling a bike 500 miles thru the desert? Perhaps driving a vehicle for that same distance at speeds from 5 to 15 mph. As long as I knew the Otter crew was behind me, I felt I could pedal that next mile, and climb that next hill.

We passed the Hawaiian Owl and her crew camping at roadside. They were relaxing in style, with two tents, a lighting system and portable stoves all set up. I moved up one place in the standings, otherwise oblivious to my overall standing among the other riders.

But another rider planned to move up a notch as well. I sensed the lights of a fellow competitor approaching from behind, and we were soon overtaken by Meerkat, from Long Island, and his belching, 60's-era VW support van. I decided not to risk my limited strength chasing him down. However, a short time later, I found myself gaining on the lights of Meerkat and company. In my 3 a.m. out-of-mind state, I initiated the "Battle of New York." Meerkat and I launched into a frantic race through the rolling desert roads, both support vans hot on our heels. Within a few miles, Meerkat had eaten my desert dust and, amid the cheers of my support crew, he and his rusting van were left behind, not to be seen again in the race.

At about 5 am, I ordered the crew to stop for some much needed sleep. I knew that after dawn, I would be most vulnerable to falling asleep on the bike. And despite trading off the driving, the crew needed some real shut eye. At exactly mile 300, we halted near the Ashford Mills ruins site, and I clambered into the front seat of the van for a restless nap.

Ninety minutes later, we awoke to dawn over a lunar landscape. In the night, I imagined some sort of woodsy-like growth flanking the roadside. But in the morning twilight, all was revealed to be just more rock, scrub and brush receding to dirt brown mountains in the distance. I was certain that I had hardly slept at all, but Lisa informed me I had been talking in my sleep. She claimed I uttered the word "sexy"; truly, I must have been dreaming.

The day started with two climbs that totaled about 12 miles. I didn't mind the early climbs, it allowed me to loosen my legs, stand and stretch, and guaranteed I wouldn't doze off on the bike. I leapfrogged with two other riders, Kinkajou and Swan.

It was another gorgeous day in the desert. The crew took advantage of the morning sun to snap pictures. As I climbed further along Salisbury Pass, I saw the support van parked ahead. Using hand signals, I motioned that they should take even more photographs. Watching the face reflected in the side view mirror, I continued to gesticulate with obvious hand gestures. It was only when I was upon the van, did I realize it was Kinkajou's support crew I had been wildly signalling! I mumbled a "good morning" as I passed the bemused driver.

Cyclists were not the only ones whose circuits became fried during the FC508. At one point my crew pulled over to admire my form as I stopped to urinate. Only after a minute of rapt attention, did they realize they were actually watching Kinkajou in this most private of moments!

I passed Swan during the climb up Salisbury. Amazingly, he was wearing a long sleeved black jersey and black leggings. It was morning, but it was already quite warm. When I reached the top of Salisbury, my crew and Swan's crew greeted me with a cheer—as did Swan, in street clothes. At some point during the long Salisbury climb, Swan called it quits. Sadly, this was the second consecutive year he had dropped out.

I descended into the nondescript desert town of Shoshone, leaving Death Valley National Park. I checked into time station #4 at mile 327, and for the first time ascertained my overall standing. I was the 18th rider among the 35 starters, a number of whom had already abandoned. Heartened by my relatively good standing, and promised a treat by my crew as they drove off to a nearby diner, I eagerly began the next stage of the race.

My mouth watered at the thought of a greasy ham, cheese and egg sandwich. But the only thing I was to taste was the prospect of defeat. The 56 miles of road that linked the desert towns of Shoshone and Baker would prove to be the most difficult stretch of cycling in my long distance career.

The dull thud of distant explosions echoed across the empty desert landscape. The early morning temperature inched towards 100 degrees. A steady 20-25 mph head wind offered some relief, but coupled with the rugged roads, slowed my progress to less than 10 mph. A lake that didn’t exist glistened on the horizon. My support crew had disappeared miles ago in the van, in search of a diner. I was cycling on a 56 mile stretch of road that featured stark desert scenery but nary a spot of shade. And my day had only just begun.

It was day 2 of the Furnace Creek 508, a 508 mile non-stop "time trial" through Death Valley and the desert environs east of Los Angeles. The FC508 serves as the West Coast qualifier for RAAM, the Race Across America. The 35 solo competitors in this ultra marathon event were each assigned animal totems. Riding under the banner of the "Otter" I was in 18th place after 330 miles. The overall winner of the race, Justin "Panda" Peschka, had already crossed the finish line shortly before noon, in 28 hours and 42 minutes. The second place finisher, and first woman, Seana "Hoopoe" Hogan, would be finishing in just over 30 hours.

At 10 am on Sunday, riders were strung out over hundreds of desert miles, each under the watchful eyes of their personal support crew. My rookie crew, consisting of NYCC member Jill Tucker and my sister Lisa Tilley, had ably pulled me through the first day when the heat threatened to overwhelm me. Now, as crew and rider departed the checkpoint in Shoshone, Jill and Lisa sped away in another direction, promising to fetch me a greasy breakfast.

Having suffered complete appetite loss on day one, I began the 56 mile leg between Shoshone and Baker with an encouraging desire for a ham and egg sandwich. I passed Idaho’s Tim "Kinkajou" Kinceade on the climb called Ibex Pass, the first of many occasions that we would "leapfrog" each other during the day. Shortly thereafter I reeled in a struggling Sheherezade "Albatross" Adams of Oakland. Albatross was hoping to be an official finisher after falling short the previous year; an official finisher must complete Furnace Creek within 48 hours.

As the miles mounted and my crew showed no signs of materializing, my appetite began to wane. I glanced over my shoulder, scanning the horizon for the rental van. All I saw was parched dirt and scrub, stretching off to distant mountains. The explosions that shook me from my rolling siesta emanated from nearby Fort Irwin; the arsenal for the next desert storm was apparently being tested. Luxury sedans periodically cruised by, driven by high rollers on their way to Vegas some sixty miles to the east. Twelve long miles after leaving Shoshone my support crew finally found me and parked up the road. Hooray! Breakfast was here.

I tried to suppress a sob when they showed me a saran-wrapped roast beef sandwich that appeared to have long exceeded its expiration date. I dutifully chewed the dry meat and crumbling bun; my crew was doing its best and the provisions available in the desert were few and far between. They watched guardedly as I slowly gnawed through the sandwich and washed it down with some V8 juice. Fruit salad and cookies rounded out the uneventfull brunch. My crew quickly redeemed themselves by devising a method keep me a bit cooler under the desert sun. They filled one of Lisa’s socks with ice and draped it around my neck. With refills every half hour this minimized the chance of suffering heat exhaustion; a malady that had already eliminated a number of riders.

I continued on the road to Baker, Jill and Lisa offering up ice and Gatorade every few miles. Up ahead, another crew had pulled off the pavement and was getting an earful. A wilted Albatross was whining to her frazzled support people "I don’t want any chocolate, I don’t want anything red, and I don’t want cheese on my pasta!"

The long straight line into Baker began to take its toll. I could generate no momentum against the head wind. I stood on the pedals. I drooped over the aero bars, only looking up to locate the crew. I refused to check my cyclometer, my speed barely in the double digits. Little aches and pains began to manifest themselves. Each bump or crack in the road sent shards of pain through my toes. And although the ice pack on my neck was working, the melting water trickled down my back and into my shorts, causing me to chafe.

I rolled into Baker shortly before 3 pm. I found shade under the only two trees in a 50 mile radius. Jill massaged my aching feet before I dipped them into a bucket of ice water, graciously provided by the time station crew. I was in 15th place among the 35 starters, many of whom had abandoned due to heat and various injuries. I now realized it would be necessary to cycle into a second night to complete the race, a situation I had hoped to avoid. My crew assured me that they were prepared for another evening performance. A volunteer estimated that I would need to finish in about 41 hours to officially qualify for RAAM. But the idea of RAAM qualifying was no longer foremost on my mind, finishing Furnace Creek was my only goal.

At the Baker time station Kathy Simko was kind enough to offer me an anesthetic for my toes and graciously donated a box of Ensure liquid nutrition to our supplies. Kathy, a RAAM veteran from Tucson, had been crewing for Charles "Gecko" Giles, who had abandoned. Taking a first tentative sip of Ensure, I became an instant convert to the idea a liquid diet. Watered down Ensure would be my drink of choice for the remainder of the race.

At mile 385, I departed Baker for Kelso. I crossed Interstate 15 and entered the Mojave National Preserve. Once again, I happened upon fellow rider Kinkajou. Cruising side by side, it was suddenly just another club ride. Kinkajou detailed his various aches and pains and told me stories of the Iowa RAAM qualifier. With his crack crew nearby, he gave the orders and they squirted us with water from a converted bug spray hose. Reminded of RAAM rules about fraternizing on the bike (no more than 15 minutes), we split up.

The road to Kelso included a 21 mile climb of a very modest grade. The crew took more pictures in the low afternoon light. We saw our first Joshua trees. I sipped Ensure, ate parts of sandwiches and Pop Tarts and continued applying the ice packs. We leapfrogged with Kinkajou and his posse; the crews shared supplies and war stories as we measured paces. During the long climb, shortly after a cattle guard, we hit mile 400. As the daylight began to diminish we peaked the summit and began the 11 mile descent into Kelso.

Dusk and a silence hung over Kelso when we arrived. A swathe of railroad tracks bisected the only roads in town. A stunning, Spanish style railroad station sat like a forgotten movie prop. We paused to attach the front and rear lights and to admire the eerie beauty of this forgotten railroad stop. Leaving Kelso, I gingerly rode over a series of five railroad tracks and cattle guards, my crew following in my wake.

But my crew did not appear. I waited for their lights as I climbed into the steadily darkening hills. After a mile I reluctantly turned around and retraced my route. Another car had mysteriously appeared and it was parked alongside the Ottermobile. For a moment I was alarmed. It did not look official and we were all alone in the middle of nowhere. Then it became evident that the occupants were the remnants of another crew that was following up the race route. They asked me to place an imaginary dinner order. I asked for a greasy hamburger and bid them adieu. We didn’t see them again.

I attacked the 12 mile climb out of Kelso using an easier gear and spinning more. I snacked on Pop Tarts, keeping a careful eye on the shoulder, which had a severe drop-off due to construction. On my right the sliver of a quarter moon hung suspended in the early evening sky. Cars popped up and passed us, coming from and going nowhere. Later did we learn that the road through Kelso was a shortcut out of Vegas.

I passed Kinkajou on the climb to much fanfare from the two crews. But after 30 minutes of attacking the grade, I was shot. I slowed to a modest trudge. Another six miles of hill awaited. The road cut straight up and over the mountain. The tailights of passing cars seemed to float in my field of vision for an eternity. I stood on the bike to alleviate the pain in my rear end. The night had now fully engulfed us. An approaching vehicle skidded to a stop off the road ahead and the crew of Dwight "Shark" Bishop jumped out to give a hearty cheer. Shark was passed out in the back seat, he had finished in just over 33 hours, good for 4th overall.

I climbed on. Far ahead on the mountainside the blinking amber lights of Hawaiin Owl shimmered like faint fireflies. Behind and below us, the lights of the Kinkajou squad floated on a black ocean. The Ottermobile groaned and gasped as it maintained a 6 mph pace. My crew proffered cookies, fruit and other goodies. I forced myself to drink, but shed a water bottle to lighten the load.

As scorpions skittered across my path, I pedaled over the top of Granite Mountain, ending nearly two hours of climbing. The crew and I immediately launched into the 20 mile descent. The overbearingly rough road seemed to drop straight off the edge of the planet. A stray yahoo shot past us at 80 mph in a car. I took most of the descent standing, to relieve my rear end and to absorb the jolts. We approached and passed under I-40, 18 wheelers ablaze with reflectors flowed overhead. At mile 457 we reached the outskirts of Amboy, California, population 18.

We pulled off the road to check batteries and gulp down some food. Kinkajou arrived and informed us that the state police had pulled over his crew to query their lights and signs. Race requirements included amber blinking lights, a slow moving vehicle triangle and a "caution bicyclists ahead" sign. The race organizers had provided us with official documentation that indicated the nature of our endeavor and that permission had been granted to race through national park land.

I cruised easily along the flat road that led into Amboy. The lights from a freight train across the desert plain paralleled our progress; Amboy was yet another town constructed around a railroad stop. Shortly after 10 pm, we checked in at the time station; I was the 10th male rider overall. Leaving Amboy, we paused as a train crossed the main street. We waited only a few minutes before setting out on the final 50 miles to the finish that awaited us in Twentynine Palms.

The road was wonderfully smooth for the first five miles before changing to the coarse gravel roads that had been my bane for the last two days. I commenced the final climb of Furnace Creek, over Sheep Hole Mountain. Once again I attacked the climb, spinning maniacally and cruising uphill at about 11 mph. Once again, I blew up after about five miles and settled into a slow cadence. My crew pulled alongside, offering water and trail mix and words of encouragement. We all knew the finish was somewhere beyond that hill.

I stood often to distribute the pain and generate momentum. I searched fruitlessly for the smoothest line along the rough road. The Ottermobile stopped briefly so the crew could switch drivers. In the middle of the night, astride the mountain, time stood still. Slowly but stealthily we made our way up the "stairway to heaven." The wind picked up, and a solitary tin can rattled down the road and past us like a tumble weed. Sleep deprivation was in full effect. My crew was getting the creeps and I tried to ignore the odd shadows in my peripheral vision.

The wind howled and the stars swirled overhead. We finally crested the Sheep Hole summit and made a brief stop to check batteries and pocket food. My crew and I were eager to flee this haunted hilltop and get back to civilization. We saw what appeared to be the lights of an airstrip in a distant field. Our map indicated that there should be no airstrip in this area. I hopped back on the bike for a hasty departure and the final 28 miles of Furnace Creek.

The 6 mile descent was another straight drop off the mountainside. The descents were proving to be as difficult as the climbs. Despite my weariness I had to be extra alert. The possibility of crashing so close to the finish kept me awake. The pain in my extremities heightened my desire to finish. Down and down we flew, towards the lights of the far eastern sprawl of LA. The air temperature changed dramatically as we coasted through waves of hot air.

The road finally leveled off and pointed us in the direction of Twentynine Palms. My crew carefully studied landmarks and the occasional road sign to make certain we missed no turns. Distant streetlights beckoned, but never seemed within reach. I began to panic that Kinkajou would catch me so late in the race and pass me in the standings. I tried to locate his lights behind me, but couldn’t ascertain just how far back he was.

The battery on my rear light went dead and I was forced to stop and change it. A technical violation at that point would have been costly. We were now among scattered trailer homes that dotted this seemingly uninhabitable landscape. A dog howled nearby, and then a gaunt young man materialized out of the darkness. He asked us if we needed help, and flashed a toothless smile at my support crew. We thanked him and continued on our way.

We began to double check all turns. The presence of Kinkajou seemed to hover just behind us. The final ten miles to the finish became tortuous. I could no longer sit on the bike, so I stood and pedaled, every stroke a major effort. The crew couldn’t find a landmark that was indicated on the cue sheet. I began to curse the night, the desert, the roads and the idea of the whole race.

Shortly after 3 am, we found ourselves on Rt. 62 going into Twentynine Palms. We passed every chain motel other than the Best Western that served as the finish. The road began a short climb and I cursed the organizers for locating the finish line on the other side of town. A McDonalds restaurant, shuttered for the night, beckoned, and the idea of a greasy hamburger provided momentary distraction.

At the far end of Twentynine Palms, after cycling 509 miles over two days, I pulled into the parking lot of the Best Western. I shattered a toilet paper finish line tape and officially completed the Furnace Creek 508 in 44 hours and 26 minutes. Race director Chris Kostman was rustled from his bed and informed me that I was the 14th finisher among the 35 riders and even more amazingly, I was RAAM qualified. Hugs were exchanged, pictures were taken and toasts were made. Kostman inquired as to how I learned of the race; I was one of three Easterners who had competed. With the small talk dispensed, the van secured and the bike in the room, we collapsed onto the beds. And fell into a black torpor that was beyond sleep.

Monday morning and the sun blazed brilliantly onto Twentynine Palms. The hotel was deserted, all the other cyclists had cleared out. We quickly cleaned oout the van, snapped some more photos and found a diner. I finally had that hamburger meat, but perhaps like Furnace Creek itself, the idea proved more provocative than the real thing.