By Connie Beal, Crew Wife for the Seal, 1999 solo finisher
Friday October 8th, 1999 was a day of getting ready, packing, making sure Sam's bike bag was organized correctly so that the crew could find his clothes, butt butter, and sunscreen. I had many checklists for each item needed for the support Van and crew. I like everything organized and have many checklists to help me stay organized. Check list for car bag items taken from the article in Ultra Cycling magazine, The Support Vehicle, written by Lee Mitchell and Rick Anderson. Checklist for food, ice chest, water, paper products, Hot Pot (more information on this product later), etc. Checklist for Sam's many bike items, ex: lights, triangle (thanks to Lee Mitchell), clothes, Revenge, E-caps, ibuprofen, hammer gel, viviran, etc… I also had a box with his lights, extra bike parts, extra batteries, and bike glasses, clearly marked on top. I had a box with all of his liquid powders, E-caps—Endurolytes, Cardio Caps, xobamid, Endura caps, Liquid Energy and Revenge powder. I had a Seal Feeding Log, which was very helpful for a rookie crew. It helped us know what Liquid Energy drink Sam needed throughout the course, so he wouldn't get dehydrated. I had organized a binder with Furnace Creek info, the course, detailed course taken off of the web, crewing articles from the Ultra Cycling magazine by Lee Mitchell, John Hughes, and Rick Anderson. Equipment list articles in the Ultra Cycling magazine, by Lee Mitchell, Rick Anderson. Article on First Aid Considerations—Ultra Cycling July 1999, written by Rick Anderson and Andrea Gravatt. One mistake I did was in not reading this article carefully; Sam developed mouth sores from drinking liquid food. Had I read the article I would have known to prevent this is to have him use mouthwash periodically. This article is very helpful it has a checklist for the Medical Box. Of course I had a checklist for this also.
We had a meeting two weeks prior the ride, to help us get some idea as to what our job was going to be. One meeting is not enough for a rookie crew. What is needed for a rookie crew is the three "P's". PLAN, PREPARE, and PRACTICE (Donna pointed out that had we practiced following Sam as a support van, we would not have made the mistakes like we did).
Sam was working hard the week prior to the ride, so he did not have time to get a good music system set up. He used two speakers used from our computer and connected them to a Sony Digital recording MD Walkman that was plugged into the cigarette lighter. One item that is very important is a vehicle with at least three cigarette lighter plugs. We used one for the flashing amber lights in the back, one for the music and one for the Hot Pot. He removed one of the passenger seats to make room for the two-ice chest, food items, and Sam's energy powders.
Once we arrived at the Ranch House Inn we began to get the van and bike ready for the next day. The Seal Crew relaxed for a bit, needless to say the next day was a little stressful and hectic. We went to the banquet to have dinner and get our last minute instructions from Chris Kostman, the Race Director. I took the Race Magazine sent to us and my binder. Sam said why are you bringing that binder, you will not need it. I took it because it was like my bible. I was worried that I might forget any important detail, and it was my responsibility to guide the crew toward success. I took notes, but forgot to write down the most important note. The meaning for the abbreviations in the route directions. Most Important: Remember TL at Mile 505.74 means Traffic Light. That night I did not sleep well, I am a very light sleeper and the freeway noise did not help. I awakened at 5:20 and was very nervous thinking about the set up in the van. I thought to myself you are a sick person, thinking about organizing the content items in the van when you should be sleeping. So of course I reorganized the van that morning. Sam prepared to get ready and was checking through his bike bag for his arm warmers (he thought having each day's items in separate bags was crazy). The arm warmers were no where to be found. He blamed me for the mistake. I mentioned to him if he had looked through his clothes checklist and marked off each item, he would not have forgotten. So remember: double-check the rider's equipment before leaving.
I wanted to make sure I took lots of pictures at the start of the race. So I took a digital camera, and two 35mm cameras, with color and black and white film. At the count down I was nervous and excited he was doing this ride.
Donna, Ken and I got in the van and we proceeded down the road. It was decided Ken would drive, Donna would navigate, and I would prepare the water bottles and camel back for the hand off. We would alternate these jobs throughout the ride. Our first hand off we thought went well. Ken was up the road, I would get his water bottle that was empty, and Donna would hand off the new bottle. One item Sam forgot to tell us at our meeting was that we were to be behind him and not several miles in front during the leap frog section. The reason for this is that we would not know whether he had any bike trouble. We logged in the Seal Feeding Log what he drank and ate. I told the crew that the most important job we had was to make sure he was not dehydrated and was getting plenty of calories every hour. Plus to finish the ride, luckily Sam has never DNF any bike race. A pace vehicle and crew is primarily responsible for providing a cyclist with food and drink, change of clothes, navigation, light source at night, and protection from motorists in certain situations.
At TS #1 he was hungry so he ate half a turkey sandwich. I made the mistake of making it with mustard. He later said this was also a mistake on his part also, because he never eats solid food right before a big climb. On the climb to Randsburg he began to feel sick at his stomach. He slowed down a lot, and managed to keep from throwing up. Needless to say he didn't want the rest of the sandwich Donna offered him at the top.
The descent gave his stomach a break and he was feeling good when we reached Trona—the crew's first real break. It was planned for him to rest a bit and change clothes. It is a good idea for the rider to change shorts and jerseys to get refreshed. Sam also put some Butt Butter on the shorts ahead of time (I packed these in a plastic bag, separate from his clothes) and added some more prior to wearing them to prevent sores. We put gas in the van and I even bought some chicken burritos for Ken and myself. As Sam was ready to go, I noticed that his back tire was flat. We used the tire from his second bike and he was off. We were looking forward to playing music for Sam. We played rock music going up the ten-mile climb mostly 6%-10% up to 13% grade toward Furnace Creek, the other riders gave us a thumbs up sign on our choice of music. I bought a pot called "Hot Pot"; it is a pot that plugs into the cigarette light. It heats 4 cups of water in about 15 minutes. It saves time having to stop and heat water from a camping stove. This pot was to be used to heat water for his noodle soup and for making coffee. This pot is available by calling S. King Company, 1-888-892-2547. I also bought some Victorian House concentrated coffee. He especially enjoyed it mixed with his bottle of Espresso Ensure when we stopped at the Scenic Point. He was also getting muscle cramps, he said due to lack of calcium. So I gave him a massage with some Dul-X warming cream and he took some E-cap electrolytes for the muscle cramps. Rested and filled with a bit of caffeine, he was ready for his decent down Townes Pass. Ken was selected to drive, because I asked for a driver that had nerves of steel. It was a good thing, because Sam had instructed him to drive on the left side next to him (which was the lane of on coming traffic). The next 17 miles down I was sitting in the back with my eyes closed and ears covered so I could not hear Ken and Donna talking about the drive down. At one point I looked up and saw Sam at what seemed inches away from the front of the car. Sam says that by driving on the wrong side of the road, he would get more light going down. After we finished riding Townes Pass Roller Coaster, Sam commented, "That was fun, we have time to go up and come down again!" Of course he was joking, I then thought to myself he is seriously crazy! Ken and Donna enjoyed that part of the course. Ken appreciated the fact that Sam trusted him in his driving skills.
It was around 9:15 when we reached Shoshone. I mentioned to Ken that it would be a good idea to change drivers and to get some rest while Donna drove. He slept for what he thought was at least 2-3 hours, but actually it was 1 1/2 hours. As we drove by Furnace Creek Inn, I mentioned to Donna and Ken about the Martinis Sam and I always have there when he does the Death Valley Double. As we made the turn toward Badwater, Sam commented, "It is 11:00 p.m. the bar is still be open, we can have some Martini's, take a nap, then continue". We all had a good laugh and knew Sam was still going strong, considering he had not slept. We stopped at Badwater for Sam to have soup and Vivirin at 12:20 a.m. Again we changed drivers, Ken drove and Donna was able to rest. I wanted her to rest, so when she awakened at 2:00 am. I told her to sleep some more. I was getting sleepy about 3:00 a.m., so while the car was moving Donna and I change positions, and I went to the back set to get some rest. When we got to Shoshone at 4:47 a.m., Donna talked Sam into a break. He did not rest much, only about maybe 15-20 minutes. I kept waking him up, because I was looking for my shoes to go to the bathroom. He ate his soup with lukewarm water and was ready to continue. I then told Ken he needed to get some sleep, since he only had slept 1 and had done a lot of night driving on Vivirin and Mountain Dew to stay awake.
The route to Baker was the hardest for Sam. The route book says gradual up/down terrain between 600 and 1000 feet for the next 29 miles, but it seemed like it was all up terrain. Our odometer in the van was not working and we forgot to reset it at the start. So we were not sure how far it was to Baker. He was now going about 5-10 miles per hour. When Sam passed a sign saying 17 miles to Baker I wished we had a video camera because he flipped the bird toward the sign. We all got a big kick out of that and we knew he was in good spirits.
After Baker it was very hot and Sam needed to get cooled off often with a garden sprizter I had bought at the last minute at Home Depot. Donna also told Sam it would be a good idea to wear an item called "Cool Thing" (Danscott Enterprises, 914-273-4090) on his neck while riding. It is a long tube like material that has expanding gel evenly throughout the tubes and stays cool several days without refrigeration. We kept it in the cooler with ice. I should have remembered the article in Ultra Cycling about heat related problems. Donna mentioned this to me on the way back after the ride, get the rider out of the sun and begin cooling; ice packs along the base of the neck (we did that) and under the armpits (I forgot I had the ice packs in the bike bag).
I was also trying to be a wise guy and was doing Jumping Jacks as Sam approached the van for handoffs. I was trying to let him know I was there to cheer him up and keep him going. Since I was going with only two hours sleep, I may have been going bonkers along with my crazy husband doing this incredible ride. I wanted to let him know that if I can do Jumping Jacks in the 107-degree weather, he can finish the ride! I know it is silly, but you have to keep your sense of humor sometimes, when you see your husband suffering in the heat.
The climb to TS #6 1:24 p.m., which was described as "Right in the Middle of Nowhere: Historic site of the old dirt road section". At one point the Scorpion was in front of him and we thought Sam would want to pass him up. We joked with the Scorpion crew and yelled out, "The Seal is going to slip by the Scorpion!! Ha! Ha! I was getting a bit cocky knowing that Sam was in 9th place at this point. The Scorpion crew drove by holding up a rubber scorpion and yelling "the scorpion is going to sting you!". They were going up this steep hill so slowly that Ken commented, "This is like watching snails racing", we all laughed. I told Donna to pull up beside him so I could yell out to Sam an incentive to go faster, "bam, kick it up a notch!" (ala Emeril Lagasse—from The Food Network).
Sam knew from crewing last year that the next climb, ten-mile climb to Sheep Hole Summit would be difficult. It was more than just difficult, it was unbearable. And it was very dangerous with speeding cars whizzing by. At one point a car passed us and cut into our lane and just missed hitting Sam. I was trying to take a nap and did not see this narrow escape, thank goodness. Sam then thought it would be safer to ride on the white line further to the right.
When he got to the top of Sheep Hole Summit (El 2368 ft) 5:00 p.m., he was drained. Donna and I immediately spritzed him and poured cold water on him. I gave him some encouragement by saying, "You are doing great, it is o.k. you can do it". He rested a bit and continued, knowing it was a 5.5-mile decent.
The drive through Yucca valley was straight into the sunset. After many hours of biking Sam kept asking where the turn was to Twentynine Palms was! We told him it was up ahead and we made the left turn toward Twentynine Palms. We were worried he needed some more calories so Donna asked Sam if he wanted some more Ensure. Due to the fact that we were traveling 20 miles an hour, and far away from Sam, he could not hear what Donna was asking him. It is a good idea when talking to the rider to be close to him. Another good idea is to have a bull horn or use the Motorola Walkie Talkie's. We were going to use them, but Sam decided not to at the last minute. He yelled back at Donna, "Where is the turn to Twentynine Palms?". So I thought he was irritated from the heat and the difficult climbs he had just finished that I told Donna to switch seats with me and I will deal with him. Sam later told me he could not hear what Donna was yelling at him, again due to the noise of a traveling car.
At check point 105, right turn on 29 Palms Highway, communication to Sam was difficult, he was yelling again where is the hotel, I was yelling at Ken to go in front of him to lead the way. I later was told by Ken, that he thought we would be penalized if weren't behind the rider. So he was afraid to get in front of Sam to lead the way. Donna was trying to navigate and made the mistake of telling Ken turn left at Adobe. Unfortunately we forgot that TL means traffic light, So we turned left and Sam was upset, because we led him down the wrong road and had to turn back. He was of course very tired and did not appreciate our mistake especially .76 miles to the finish! We made another left turn onto 29 Palms Highway and finally got to the hotel in front of Sam in time for me to snap a picture of him at the finish, 6:42 p.m.! I then got the champagne bottle out to shake it up and spray Sam with it.
I would like to thank the rest of my crew for a great job, couldn't have done it without them. Donna Wilson for driving and helping me take care of Sam when I needed her most. Ken Holloway for having nerves of steel while driving down Townes Pass and for being so supportive. Although we were a rookie crew, we all had one goal in mind, to have Sam finish the ride and to have some fun along the way. What an experience! RAMM 2001 here we come!