The Tale of the Barfing Penguin

By Peter Penguin Pop, 1997 finisher

After overtraining nicely in RAAM 1997, even more overtraining in the Malibu hills and never letting up on his 64 mile a day commute, this Penguin is READY! John Hughes should be proud of me; I followed his regimen of scientific overtraining to the letter. If my average speed didn't drop, I just added a few more centuries. Never mind the hurting quads, numb feet and aching hands, this is what ultracycling is all about. This Penguin will eat them miles for breakfast. All you other animals out there, move over will you, here we come; or so I thought! Actually I knew I was still recovering from RAAM and was not nearly as fast as last year, nevertheless I wanted to win this race. I was getting way too old for these ultra events.

In the last two races, the winners took the lead early and by Trona and Townes Pass were so far ahead to be virtually unbeatable. This time I was determined to stay near the front. Unfortunately I just could not. While redlining my heartrate monitor, I was barely able to keep up with Mandrill (Charlie Miller) and Stork (Brian Sidwell), who appeared to be pacing each other in the distance. As far as I was concerned Panda (Justin Peschka) and Hoopoe (Seana Hogan) were of a different species all together, way out in front. Seana Hogan is Wonderwoman in my book, unbelievable! Climbing the Randsburg grade, I make one more attempt to catch up; switching on the fly to my Spectrum climbing bike (ultralight, no aerobars, titanium cogset,, etc.) I start to climb much faster, but I just cannot sustain it to the top. On the way to Trona I start to get really nauseous; I never knew Penguins ruminate! I can hardly keep anything down, even Hammergel and E-Surge are failing me this time. Coca-Cola with lots of ice is the only thing I can bother myself to drink. I force myself not to stop as this darn race starts to resemble my first double century from Stovepipe Wells to Shoshone and back: pure hell! And there goes Blowfish, looking pretty fresh. I try to keep up, but just can not. On the long descent across the railroad tracks I cannot see anyone in the distance. After the Trona Time Station an exuberant Flamingo (Reed Finfrock) blows by and I cannot even keep up with him climbing the grade out of Trona towards Panamint Valley. Somewhere past Trona we pass a troubled Stork. Seeing someone else suffer, too, is just wonderful. Reed looks very strong and in top spirits. Hey, there he stops, too bad: only a "Chamois BUTT'r" break and passes me again with a happy "Chamois BUTT'r" smile (for the uninitiated: this stuff just works wonders to prevent saddle soreness).

There is Chris Kostman in his black Mercedes "limousine"; I thought you were omnipotent, Chris?! Despite your last night's instructions they are not letting me win!" What a bummer!

Finally the glorious, treacherous descent into Panamint Valley road, where the scenery is just spectacular. This is what the Furnace Creek 508 is all about: racing through this majestic grandeur, climbing Townes Pass under a setting sun, dripping sweat on your handlebars and into the crankset. The only thing you hear is your rapid breathing, the clicking of your crank and "Hey, Peter, do you want a Surge? Three scoops?" "Want some tunes ?" "Yeah, hit me with Weird Al: Addicted to Spuds." Townes Pass will never be the same. We hit the dreaded "rough road" section in Panamint Valley. I figure our fearless race organizer must be in cahoots with somebody in CalTrans to leave it as it is, for our enjoyment. If you race Furnace Creek, better leave your dentures at home. After the left-hand turn, we meet Mandrill, who is about to bite the dust. After a few choice encouragements, Penguin keeps on paddling. I plain forgot how far that right hand turn to Townes Pass really is, I just want to reach the top in daylight.

Thank you, Lord! Finally I collapse in the van and eat anything in site, praying I can keep it in, so I can reach the summit. Back on the Spectrum, I am once again in survival mode. Darn, that damn cramp in my legs. Tums and more Tums. "Spinning" a 30/26 gear, heartrate 145!! We really are having fun now. Flamingo is apparently taking a powerbreak (Reed, who crewed for me this year in RAAM, would have told me to keep my sorry ass moving). Near the top we meet Toad and shadow him to the top (I thought in my demented state of mind it was Premananda Childs getting some exercise, their camper shells looking somewhat alike). Then down, down, down into Death Valley (checking my max speed the next day, we apparently topped at 61.5 miles/hr. I really must have been out of my mind) not even slowing down for the infamous "dips" which cause you to lose sight of the pavement. We pass, stop and get passed numerous times: Flamingo, Toad, Blowfish and Brittle Star. I empty my stomach several times on and off the bike. At Badwater I make another useless stop, by this time I have given up any thought of doing well: I just want to finish without having to take a long break in the van or a motel. That would be pretty tough on the crew. I am glad that over the years, short of a certainty of lasting injury, I never allowed DNF to be an option. I don't want to give offense, but reviewing the final tally of this year's race, some really gifted riders just gave up too early. So what, you don't finish in 32 hours, next time it will be even easier to quit. I have tremendous admiration for riders like Jeff Bell and Marie Handrahan completing the Tour of North Texas against all odds or riders like Don Norwood finishing the 508 with just minutes to spare.

Hallelujah! Ashford Mills and the start of the climbs to Jubilee and Salisbury Pass and there is that carrion-eating Flamingo again, on the side of the road, taking another powerbreak. Is Toad actually moving? I can't tell, but passing him is VERY difficult. Cresting Jubilee, PING!, there goes a titanium spoke, followed by the fastest wheel change. Back on the bike, just in front of the Toad, passing Brittlestar. Climb and climb some more. Flashing lights in the distance! Get those flippers moving, in circles please.

Between Shoshone and Baker we nearly catch up to Blowfish but my stomach just cannot take it anymore. Tiiiiiimber!, move over please, there goes a gallon or two of "high tech", electrolyte balanced, gastric content. Now we get a "fresh" start. Keeping that heartrate down (110-120), slowly I start taking in some calories: yogurt, E-Surge and Coke.

Now I am really glad I went on a Furnace Creek training ride with former RAAM crewmember Chuck Springbuck Schroyer. Towards Baker the Springbuck lost some of its spring; in fact, he became rather lame, and I had to encourage him to stay on the bike, no matter what the speed. I was now forced to take my own medicine. At daybreak we reach Baker where the crew will get gas and I will just keep on going. It is actually one of the better moments in this race, to start the long climb to Kelso with absolutely no one around. Stuffing myself with canned fruit and yogurt, I am ready for some more suffering. Team Whippet passes us, but seems to have a hard time to keep on going. Down to Kelso, across the tracks, one more massage and food stop. Back on the Spectrum. Oh no, not that Toad again; he passes me looking great! At the top, I have to be cooled down. I am now shaking, but have to get back on the bike; this is a race, remember. It is so hard to turn the crank for the first few turns as my quads are extremely stiff.

Finally, finally the metropolis of Amboy. I am not going to do it, NO, No, I am not going to get that shake. YES, I am going to get me that milkshake! Friends, that shake is going down real smooth. People stare at me in bewilderment. Look at that weirdo, downing his milkshake in ecstasy, while stuffing his face with huge chunks of watermelon. To get that shake was the best thing I did this entire race, it gave me a tremendous mental boost. Sheephole, Penguin is coming. Back in the aerobars, into the headwind. Darn, it is hot. "Spray me, will you?" Climbing "The Stairway to Heaven," I am relieved to reach the top, only to be passed by Shark (Dwight Bishop). The next 20 or so miles are the hardest and despite the frequent applications of Chamois BUTT'r , my rear end is very, very sore. This is to prove that being very tired and unable to have enough strength to get out of the saddle, forces you to put more weight in your seat, leading to saddle soreness.

Fortunately, John Walrus Williams leads me in and I break the toilet paper at 5:14 PM.

Thanks crew for hanging in there. John Gower, Linda Prueher, Steve Simmons, Anthony Underhill, Thanks!!! Better next time ?!?!