By Pete Brahma Bull-et Bajema, 1998 solo finisher
First I would like to thank Chris Kostman and company for running a great and challenging race. This has been my most difficult race to date. As many of you know already, Murphy's Law has a way of "creeping in" on ultra cycling events, and the way we respond as riders (crew members too!!!) will determine how well we do. My first experience with the 508 was nothing different.
My epic journey started Thursday morning before the race. I was meeting my crew chief, Tim Kinkaede in Moscow, ID before heading south to Valencia. The 400 mile trip over from Bellingham, WA gave lots of time to think about the race, and how crazy I was! It's the end of my season and I'm supposed to be recouping from all the riding and racing! Enough of those thoughts, as I am already in Moscow! My work had only just begun, as I loaded up his van and setup his climbing bike, for all those hills I was about to climb. We left that night around 7pm, family and dog in tow for the 24 hour trip to Valencia. Thoughts of 24 hours in a car: Help! The drive went well as the scenery was beautiful, along with the mental preparations needed for a race of this length. In Boise, we picked up crew member Kristi Hall, a future 508'er who wanted to drive the course before entering next year.
The crew takes turns driving throughout the night (letting me sleep), with the sun rising in Nevada. As we stop for gas, I contemplate the thought of racing in less than 24 hours. Am I ready? Only time will tell. We make good time into the LA area where we dropped off Denna, Katie and Benjamin (dog) at her Mom's house. Now all that is left to do is to make it to the pre-event dinner and Kostman's Spaghetti. There we meet Tom Davies, my final crew member, and we all get dinner. Tim reminds me of special powers the spaghetti has and to eat as much as you can! My nerves are starting to grind on me as 1,800 miles of traveling has taken its toll. The bed is comfortable and I'm out for some much needed sleep. A seven hour sleep has never felt so good!
The race starts off with a gentle pace and many rider conversations. Once the hills start, I find myself riding with the front group of riders. The pace they were riding coincided with my targeted heart rate. The first two climbs went well as my crew helped me settle in and pace myself for this challenging ride. The downhill on the San Fransiquito was fantastic, as speeds up to 58 mph were obtained. The next climb at Johannesburg, I felt like I was in heaven or climbing there, as the day was warming up and the road seemed to get steeper at the top. I was pleased to see the top as my legs were starting to feel the lactic burn. My crew kept me cool with ice towels around the neck, keeping the rising temperatures in check. This was a godsend as I never felt overheated during the entire race.
The road in Panamint valley (if you could call it such) was one of the "most challenging" roads I have traveled on. I have ridden on better fire roads in the hills back home. A front shock is definitely in order on the next trip, as I am still waiting for the feelings to come back to my fingers! One thing you sure couldn't complain about was the sheer beauty of the desert. As I was nearing the turnoff to Townes Pass I glanced at the hill I was about to climb to my right. It looked huge, shooting straight up from the desert floor. At the turn-off, I took a short break, rubdown and fueled up for the climb ahead. At this point I switched to my climbing bike, an ultra light GT with 11-27 cogset. Life couldn't get any better, as I was climbing it in daylight with music to boot! Tim had used this custom GT bike last year with great success and commented that it was a must for this hill. I understood why as I started up the hill jamming to Ozzy Osbourne and Metallica. No soft rock for this kid!!! Not once during the climb did I have to get out of the saddle to expend extra energy. I took a food break half way up and finished the last part in the nightlight. At the top I came across two riders (Macaw and Lion) who I hadn't seen up the climb.
The top was chilly as a slight headwind had come upon us, so I put on some extra clothing for the fast descent into Death Valley. How wrong I was, as the air warmed right up! What a ride down the hill. Another 50+ mph descent as the support van was having a hard time keeping up with me creating an occasional ride into darkness. We stopped at the Death Valley visitor station to remove the extra clothes, feed me and get me ready for the next long haul into Shoshone and Baker. The most vivid memory here was how remarkably fresh I felt and ready to ride throughout the night. The ride though the valley was uneventful with lots of little hills to climb over. They are not kidding when they say the ride thorough Death Valley is not flat!
I had just gone though the Shoshone stop and was proceeding to Baker with a tailwind with hopes of covering target of 400 miles in 24 hours when Murphy struck out of nowhere. It was as if someone hit me across the throat with a 2x4, not allowing any air to get into my lungs. As I would find out later, I had suffered a bronchial spasm which restricted the airway to the point where all I could do was sit. Talk about hitting bottom in a hurry! I immediately started treating myself with inhalers in an attempt to open the airway passages. Up came the blood and it was not a pretty site. At this point my crew told me they would support whatever decision I made. Quitting never entered my mind since I have always finished what I have started and this race was not going to get the better of me!
So I forged on at a snail's pace of 6-10 mph throughout the night, with my crew encouraging me every stroke of the way. I remember the "Penguin" passing me and then getting very cold (from a cold head wind), necessitating more clothing. Early the next morning, it was clear that I was suffering on the bike. I had covered only a fraction of the miles and at this pace it was questionable if I would finish in the 48 hr timeframe. Seventeen miles out of Baker, Tom pulls me off the bike and asked me what I wanted to do. At this point I feel they want me to throw in the towel! I instructed them to go get me some Benadryl and I would feel better. So off went Tim and Kristi to Baker while Tom, an ice chest, one bike and myself stayed behind. It must of looked quite bizarre to the riders who passed us, as I was on a blanket in the dirt trying to recoup with Tom, bike and ice chest by the road passing time.
Once the Benadryl took hold, I started to feel better; no more blood, and most importantly, I was able to get back on the bike and maintain a pace of 9-12 mph without going into oxygen debt. This is where my crew really helped me. Without their support I would have thrown in the towel. They made me feel like a champ, no matter if I was struggling up the remaining climbs or showing brief flashes of 20+ mph bursts along the flats. Everything that came out of the PA system (what a system) was giving me more strength to finish. Many thanks to my crew!!!!!!!! The miles between Baker and Amboy were long and at times hard but nowhere as difficult as the night before. I felt like I was in a "trance" and before you know it, I was in Amboy.
It was here the crew noticed that I may be able to RAAM qualify this year if I was able to pick up the tempo considerably. They told me that I would need to average at least 15 mph to the finish. Never being opposed to a challenge (only 52 miles to go), I stuck it in my big ring and hammered away. Things were looking good as I got to the base of Sheep Hole Mountain with no O2 debt problems and time to spare for the last big climb. This is where the sleep deprivation started to show it's ugly face. I climbed the first half of hill well, but was starting to weave the bike a bit. My crew says it was a little more than just a little. They suggested I change to the climbing bike, so I could spin up the last half and save energy for the last 20 miles of "flats" to Twentynine Palms. I took advantage of this time to take a breather in the van while the bike was being set up to get fueled up and my legs rubbed out. Then for some strange reason I turned to Tim Kinkaede and told him I was going to be playing baseball against the Oakland A's tomorrow while eating a cream cheese bagel. It's funny how you remember things about a ride and this one sticks out. I thought about what I had just said , turned and told Tim, "I'm Hallucinating!" Tim smiled and agreed. Then like the other statement, another one came out just as strange only this time it had to do with inviting him to dinner with my Mom and Dad tomorrow. The only thing wrong with this picture is my parents have been divorced for 25+ years and are 1,500 miles away up in Washington. Once again I turned to Tim and said, "I'm Hallucinating, get me on the bike before it gets any worse!"
This time they really had to coach me on keeping a straight line as I would always drift to the right into the dirt area. Fortunately, I didn't crash in the dirt doing these creative maneuvers. Things were going well, but I was starting to lose my desire to finish this climb. At one point I told the crew I'm done climbing. My crew, never one to panic, told me to walk my bike for a ways until I feel better. I did this for about 50 feet until a car went past me and showed me that I was very close to the summit. Once I knew where the end was my I had no problem climbing the rest of the hill. This was the toughest climb for me as it played tricks with my mind with the many false summits. I think the next time around it will be easier since I will know what to expect. Once at the top, I was anxious to go down the hill and down I went. Halfway down the hill my bike started to shake violently. I fought the bike to a stop and ask for my other bike, They told me it was fine and to continue as I did. Come to find out later my legs were causing all the shaking as the time on the bike was starting to take its toll!
Down at the bottom my crew told me I had less than 20 miles to go! Wow I should be able to do this in my sleep! Was I wrong! The first 5-6 miles went OK, but everything started to fall apart when I saw the Twentynine Palms sign. Thinking I was finishing, I started questioning my crew on where the finish line was going to be. After every stop sign and stoplight, I would stop and would ask is this were I take a right. After around the fifth stop, they started to tell me to "pedal straight" It took me a long time to understand the concept as I would stop pedaling and start coasting. The only problem with this was I was going uphill! It's amazing what no sleep will do to you. Finally the magic words came out "see that hotel on the left? That your finish line!" What music to my ears as I pedaled as hard as I could to the finish line. And what a treat at the finish line, a ribbon for me to cross through and people to cheer me on! Thanks to everyone who was there!