By Glenn Stevens, crew for Dean "Crocodile" Crothers, 1999 solo finisher
Melbourne, Australia to the desert of Death Valley, California—quite a journey. My Aussie mate, now based in Reno, Nevada, was planning to race his bike through Death Valley in an endurance race call the Furnace Creek 508. I put my hand up—"Sure" I said. "What a holiday!" I thought. How wrong I was!
The Crocodile had assembled a crew which provided skills in each area but relatively no first hand experience of what the Furnace Creek 508 would be like. The Croc's girlfriend, Susan, was our crew chief and also the only person with crewing experience with the Croc's previous twenty four hour races. This experience was helpful early on in the race for showing the new boys the ropes however experience breeds familiarity and poor Susan caught most of the heated comments from the hot and bothered Crocodile on the first day. Paul Kingsbury had flown out from New York as our bike mechanic and general cycling expert, so he told us! I flew out from Australia on the junket to be driver and general dog's body. The easy job…or so I thought.
The race began very well for the crew…we didn't see the Crocodile for the first twelve miles! This is where we gained our first inkling that things will not be easy….his first refusal of drinks for the day. This was to become common place!
The crew settled into a routine of leapfrogging the Crocodile throughout the first hot day…trying to get him to eat and drink. As the heat was getting to him, it became a crew competition to guess what he may like at any given second. I say second as he quite often would not know himself to the last second! The hardest part of crewing was not following or even preparing but following our best prepared guess on what the Crocodile would want at each stop. And given that it seemed a split second decision on his part to accept or deliver a caustic comment, preparation meant nought!
Not that we didn't understand the fluctuating emotions of the Crocodile. He was pushing himself to the limits that we as crew could only imagine…and it was definitely hot in the car! Our job was to make him take his supplies as regularly as possible. We decided that Susan the crew chief was looked on by the Crocodile as Susan the girlfriend and it was easier to say no to her. So Paul and I were the crew to give the orders…and he generally followed them on the first day. The second day everyone was fair game!
These constant emotional changes were a source of frustration and amusement to the crew. The caustic responses to our questions of "can we get you anything?" were ingenious in the circumstances. Here was the Crocodile riding a bike in 100-degree temperatures and he still had the presence of mind to deliver a barb or two! Our job was not to take it personally as 30 seconds later he could ask for the same thing that we just offered. As the Crocodile was riding a fantastic race, we were spurred on to get the best from ourselves and thus the best from the Crocodile.
Our personal favourite moments came on the second day of the race as the tiredness factor was kicking in well and truly. The second morning produced one of the most magnificent sites in marathon racing I am sure. Against the backdrop of the desert mountains draped in the morning sunshine sat the Crocodile, sitting on his porta-potty on the side of the road, doing his business eating an ice cream. Totally oblivious to the passing traffic as he sat visible by traffic for miles down the road, so tired that he didn't consider this not to be normal behaviour!
The hardest part of the race was without doubt Sheep Hole. The hardest for the rider as well as the crew. We had passed the Seal before Kelso and as we were travelling across the salt flats toward Sheep Hole, the Crocodile told us to go back to the start to see if anyone is behind us.
"The start?" we asked.
"Just bloody do it!" was our order.
"Uh…okay then." Was our reply hoping he wasn't talking about Valencia!
We travelled back two miles to the Seal and duly reported our findings to the Crocodile who didn't seem to care by then!
Within ten minutes we then passed Goshawk who had stopped on the road shoulder. After we passed him, the Goshawk started again but Crocodile was putting the distance between them. We were aware of both the increasing traffic and also the closeness they were getting to the Crocodile so we decided to stay behind rather pull alongside when we had the chance. However, we were getting in the way of the wind so were we ordered back. The Crocodile mentioned later that he thought we were "taking it easy" by not leapfrogging very much but understood our decision to protect him from the traffic. This was by far the toughest part of the race.
We decided to make a stop to make some running Crocodile repairs. As we drove past we yelled out that he had pulled well away from Goshawk and generally encouraged him to keep going. At the stop we copped an almighty Crocodile blast…"You guys are telling me nothing. Where are the riders behind me? I'm riding on an island out there!"
I guess we could've had an electronic scoreboard mounted to the back of the car!!! I guess that is where loud speakers are handy. Although we did tell him two minutes earlier! Hence why we had many Gilligan's Island jokes at the Crocodile's expense!
All in all the Crocodile had a sensational race, finishing equal 5th mens solo rider and equal 6th solo overall (Aussie Cassandra Lowe in 5th overall), finishing together with his training partner from Reno, Abalone, which was a nice touch. Quite honestly, the crew had an absolute ball and the Crocodile's achievement was one of the best individual efforts I have seen. (That goes for all the riders for that matter)
The first rookie…with the first rookie crew tagging only.