By Istvan 'Mascka' Makk, 2000 finisher
Well I figured I better write down my version of the Furnace Creek 508 before I forgot that I even rode it or worse yet you might hear the truth from some transient coyote.
I was born a poor white Hungarian immigrant's son... ooooops wrong story :).
The night before the ride we all gathered in the dinning hall and had a great dinner. I think I had about four pounds of everything. I can remember feeling on edge, nervous I guess, and I really didn't want to talk to anyone. I heard all the chatter and laughter but I felt too uncomfortable to participate. I just wanted to go to my room and try to sleep.
Finally the introductions began. Each rider was called by name and totem: Fabio from Italy "the Bunny" (third place at RAAM 2000); Blowfish Bohannon (multiple 508 and RAAM finisher); Kaname "Sea Horse" Sakarai; my partner Jeff "Jaguar" Martin and so on. When it came time for my introduction Chris Kostman hesitated. I'm familiar with that "I can't pronounce your name" pause. "I've been waiting to meet this guy, 'Is Ta Von Macska Mack' that's Hungarian for cat" he says. With a bit of challenge and almost a taste of sarcasm he adds, "Yea Istvan has been tearing up the doubles circuit this year." I smiled, stood up and turned sundown red. As I sat back down I realized I was in for the duration.
The next morning came restlessly, neither Nonni or I could sleep. We tossed and turn till finally we got into separate beds so as not to keep beating each other up. At 5:30 we stood up and realized that D-Day had arrived. Quietly, methodically we got ready. Nonni was dressing and packing while I was taking a barrage of vitamins and protein supplements. I use to get up and toss a cliff bar in my jersey and go, now I was putting a half pound of cold A&D salve in my shorts and dancing the marengay while chanting the cyclists mantra—oh ah oh ah oh ah." "Let's go!"
The morning was cold and there was too much time to think. I started to go inside my head which was like going behind enemy lines. Rory came up behind me and put a jacket over my shoulders. People were asking if we were ready and all I could manage were glib little quips, "I hope so" "Better be." Where was all that profundity. Finally we all got up to the starting line, lights flashing, cameras rolling, last minute hugs, last minute prayers. Synchronize those watches, oh oh, too late go go go!
And off we went like a herd of turtles. People trying not to fall over before mile one. Jockeying for position two minutes into a 508-mile race. Some just talking, renewing old acquaintances and starting new ones that will last a life time. I was trying to check out other bikes and nonchalantly look in their eyes: no not this one, nope, now this ones trouble and my god this guy is nuts and on a single speed to boot. Then all of a sudden someone yells out, "It's a race it's a race!" My mind went blank.
The first thing that re-entered my head were Steve Born's words, "Don't push too hard on the first climb because there is another one right after it." Sage advice from a champion. Then I got to thinking, there is going to be another climb right after every climb for the next two days. Things that make you go hmmmmm. So I figured what I lacked in experience I could make up for in stubborn ignorance. I mean what the heck, George my crew chief and trainer said, "Always keep the leaders in sight, oh and don't get off the bike." Of course this from the guy in the 250 horse power sag van. Hmmmmmmm.
Time to get to work. The preparation Nonni, Rory, George and I did for the ride was scientifically calculated to the Nth degree. If this, then that. 400 calories per hour, 24 ounces of water. Solid foods, vitamins, electrolytes, etc. Even down to the musical choices. My crew had charts, graphs, maps, route sheets even a ouija board I think. They were beyond ready. I've heard it said, if you want to make God laugh make plans. He's still laughing.
As we made our way up the first hill there was a stop sign and a left turn. I was in the lead clump of about four or five. One of the riders was trying to get an exchange of something and as I went by all I could hear was yelling and foreign cuss words. This guys toast I thought, way too early to be screaming. Even this rookie knew you have to save that till later or at least smile when cursing. Onward. I was just getting the hang of the multiple leap frog support; crew leaping rider, other crews leaping rider and crew. It was like a ballet. Kaname's crew was the most animated and supportive next to mine. Every time they went ahead, they stopped hopped out with cameras in hand and snapped off half a dozen shots while yelling, "You go go go!" Things seemed to be going great at about mile 70. We were descending after the second hill. I ate a banana I had in my pocket. I started eating my cliff bar and choked down a couple of dry bites and started to wash it down with my power drink. Right hand turn, turn head right and wala; a cyclists best friend, projectile vomiting. Clean shot, not a speck on me. All I could hope for is that no one saw it. Not a word from my crew. I'm cool, I'm bad, just keep pedaling fool. I came to find out that the crew saw it all and they were hoping I was spiting out 24 ounces of water at one time. Denial, what a powerful tool.
Things seemed to stabilize but I had fallen back to second place somewhere between check points 1 and 2, it was in the desert I believe. My crew was trying to get me to eat and drink more. All I could think of was that I was way too full. Then climbing the hill to Johannesburg I started getting mild cramps. Our system was great but I wasn't using it, so basically I was scaring them to death. They thought I was going to blow up. Thank God for cool heads and resourcefulness. George reached for the tums and had me eat a handful. It worked and just in the nick of time. They went a bit ahead to pee and out of nowhere a great big dog came rumbling after me. I turned and barked at the mutt spitting broken bits of tums in his face. Tums, not just an antacid but relieves cramps and repels dogs too. No rider should be without them.
Rolling into Trona we me up with the guardian angel of this year's 508, Steve Born. Knowing I was way out of kilter with my electrolyte intake we got some Endurolites from Steve and used these throughout the rest of the ride. It made the difference between success and failure. My crew was also right on the ball and bought cantaloupe, grapes and other liquid filled food/energy sources. Though one thing was slightly disheartening. After the check point my team was going to speed ahead and fuel up. As I reached the end of town they went flying passed me in the other direction. No gas station. Good thing I didn't need gas because I wasn't turning around for anything.
Over the "bump" and to grandma's house we go. Panamint Valley was by far the worst section for me. The road was like hammered dog poop, there was a head wind, I had to stop and do a number two (LFMD; Lenny Fieber Memorial Dump), more projectile vomiting but this time all over my right side and I got caught by a Blowfish. The up side was I had 300 more miles to go. More miles to go then I had ever previously ridden before at one time. Actually there was another visit from the angel, as Steve drove by on his way to his next stop he reminded me to stay in touch with the spirit. That truly is a vital key to balance in any of life's trails. Direct support as well as music started here and that was a tremendous lift too.
As I made the right turn to head up Townes Pass I forgot about Blowfish right behind me, in fact the whole race slipped away to some distant far off place. I could feel the energy of the mountain envelope me. The challenge was set: mascka vs. mountain. The first few miles were almost surreal. It was like a whole different dimension. I felt a renewed purpose a revitalized drive. Reality check; Blowfish came by me like he was riding down hill. "You're riding real strong," he shouts being careful not to knock me over in his vapor trail. "You too," I panted but I think he was to the top by then and couldn't hear me.
Everything came rushing back. I was in a real race and we were fighting a tough hill. About 2/3 of the way up I had to stop to reload my shorts with A&D. Were we very clever we would have figured out how to automate this process and injected the stuff by the tub (good chain lube too).
Finally we made it to the top. My crew worked like a white tornado; I was standing there stripped naked, being fed, massaged greased up, descent bike ready, new clothes on, someone patted me on the back and there was a collective "Ready go." I could have sworn I heard the click of a pit crew stopwatch and cheering as I zoomed out of the turn out.
Zoom. What a blast, 57 mph. Ten miles of ripping down hill went by much too fast. Now I'm not sure if it was because I have ridden through Death Valley several times before or it was the full moon but the miles flew by. I remember Rory telling me that the red lights in front of us were getting a bit closer. I kept looking over my shoulder and worrying that the head lights behind us were getting too close.
To the top of Jubilee, lunch and lube. Salisbury came and went. We zipped through Shoshone. On the road to Baker Chris "Race Director" Kostman pulls up next to me and gets the cameras out. I started getting all puffy and cool looking for the shots. Then right before they take off says "Your light's burned out." Oh great, I'm thinking time penalty for sure but the official gods smiled on us and he let it slide.
We pulled over to change the light and pee, something I must credit my crew on again here is how they kept this stubborn old camel hydrated. Wooosh a rider came flying by. We were all in shock. None of us even saw them coming. Rolling along further we came across another vehicle with bikes on it. It turned out to be a team that had passed us at warp 8. You could hear the collective sigh of relief from the van. It was then that I was reassured that I was never alone in this endeavor. It was truly Team Mascka.
As the sun rose and the sky filled with Gods luminescence I could see a car pulled over ahead. Hmmmm. Riding by we heard the familiar "You go go go." Sea Horse had pulled over for a power nap. We were in second place into the Baker check point.
One hundred and twenty or so miles to go and starting up "forever hill". At some points I could have sworn there was a road crew in front of us laying more asphalt. The only reason I knew this was a hallucination is that the pavement was like the surface of the moon. Half way up Chris came by again at which point I said "There has got to be a shorter way to get from Valencia to Twentynine Palms."
"Yes" he said "but then it would only be 200 miles." Touché.
Over the top and into Kelso. The original "nowheresville". We stopped to pee again; we're in the road in front of some railroad tracks. No one around. Nonni is squatting behind the van and am next to it in the road. Suddenly George calls out to Rory "Drive over the tracks, there's a train!" I'm thinking what the... and the van takes off across the tracks. Just as it takes off, almost as if from an alien space ship two cars pull up and drive by as Nonni and I are left peeing in the street. God certainly has a sense of humor. We all heard his laughter over our own. The train was parked and not running.
On to check point six. Riding up the hill it was becoming evident that the A&D was not nearly as effective anymore. I had to start standing for longer and longer periods of time. My legs were getting dangerously overused. As we reached the check point we were told that the top was a little ways and then there was a 20-mile down hill. We got to the top and found that the descent started with a half mile climb. There is a profound paradox there and it sums up the entire 508: everything is uphill.
Shooting down into the valley I was grateful to rest my legs and just coast. The van pulled up next to me and George leaned out the window,
"Kanami has crested and he's on his aerobars gaining fast."
"This is all I've got George"
"I know," he said. "Let's just get you home."
And as competitive as our entire team was there was a new resolve a bigger challenge facing us all. At mile 450 we decided to buck the odds and beat the course. As Kaname roared by we all yelled, "You go go go!" Truly a spiritual awakening.
The next 58 miles were the longest of our lives. The crew members anguishing with every pedal stroke wishing they could held. Me wishing that my butt would fall off and be done with it. We would stop and I would sit on a block of ice for a minute while the crew would ice down drinks and massage my legs. Back on the bike I would be able to sit for about a mile then stand for about six. We repeated this process over and over again till the finish. What a great crew.
One irony was, as we approached the 7th "Luau Penalty" stop I saw the volunteers crossing the road with a lei in their hands. Me being the eternal optimist thought it must be a time penalty. By the time I got to them I was seething, ready to argue. They just put the lei around my neck, congratulated me and cheered us on. What a relief.
The last five miles were action packed in suspended animation. We made a left turn and faced the straight uphill road to Joshua National Monument. It took he crew a few minutes to stop my sniveling and convince me that we were not going up the hill but would soon turn right. I know they all wanted to slap me around a bit by now but cooler heads prevailed (theirs) and they sat me on my ice block. Looking back on it now I think that cooled off my head too because at the end of the ride I seemed to be storing mine down there.
At last the hotel was in sight. I kept repeating to George "I'm not climbing that hill. I'm not climbing that hill!" George and Rory kept reassuring me that I didn't have to but I think God got bored with my whining and at 508.25 miles, a quarter mile from the finish, my rear tire went flat. The perfect distraction. The crew had the wheel changed in a flash and we rolled over the finish line with a time of 33:47. First rookie in; 3rd solo rider overall. Our time set the RAAM qualifying mark. What a team! What a great crew! Nonni, George and Rory, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and my bottom thanks you too:) By the way George, the crew can win it, you guys are the proof!
Also Congratulations and thanks to Jeff "Jaguar" Martin and his crew for their great finish and all the love and support they provided throughout training as well as the race. What an event, truly much more then I expected.