Some 508 Race Memories
By Jeff Brown Bear Bell, crew for Tracy Tigger Colwell, 1998 solo finisher
Some memories from the 1998 Furnace Creek 508 bike race:
- Arriving moments after Michael Lion Lau went down because of gravel on the turn off from 395 to Trona. Shaking and bloody on his knees and elbows, you could only imagine how difficult it must have been to regain his composure to continue on for another 370+ miles to the finish line.
- Hours of seeing the incredibly fit figure of Cassandra Llama Lowe comfortably riding with the leading men, in fact taking the lead at points, until stomach problems evidently suddenly starting getting the better of her somewhere around mile 130. The DNF beside her name in the results doesn't tell enough about her story.
- The epic visual experiences. Lots of themes of survival going on at the 508 too, things that live out there are spread out on the landscape like dashes of salt. Cactus and desert shacks. Pace van lights beautifully dotting the curves of the shores of the salt beds out around Badwater. Giant soup of stars overhead. The weird rough road in Panamint, the heart stopping darkness on the back side of the dips on the 50-mile-per-hour, 5,000 foot descent into Death Valley. The X-files vibe of Trona. The beautiful rock formations, gigantic escarpments. The late afternoon view of the spectacular, uninhabited desert expanse from the rim of the Panamint Valley.
- The extremes. Our rider, a very gifted and fit Tracy Tigger Colwell, effortlessly cruised for hours, jamming through a warm evening in Death Valley, only to switch to battling cold, tiredness, and loss of appetite a few hours later on the monotonous stretch of road to Baker. At the high points in the race, he would be bubbling with enthusiasum about how he felt, at the low points his voice would tail off from word one and compacted to the minimum necessary amount of talk.
- Drama. In the final hours, Tracy couldn't eat anything solid and overheated a couple of times, but still worked long and hard, especially on the final climbs. He wouldn't threaten the lead tandem or close much on the men's leader Dan Mountaingoat McGhee, who had carved out a 45-minute lead overnight, but he held off Noriyuki Macaw Miyamoto who pulled into the finish just three minutes behind us. For the last 100 miles we had heard reports that the Macaw was about ten minutes back, but he was never within visual range. We were well armed for a sprint finish; for fun more than anything else, Tracy pushed it up to 30 mph as he came off the flat onto the final small uphill going into the finish.
- It amazing how a few words from the volunteer course officials shape the ultra race experience! It breaks right through the rider/crew bubble that develops over all those hours. Even just seeing an official's vehicle out there on the course in the middle of the night somehow makes a moment that you remember.