Team Falcon: Secrets to the Team 508
By Jim Ryan, 2001 team finisher
Some stories talk about the spiritual journey that riding in Death Valley provides. Others talk about the emotional and physical challenges that you face when riding 508 miles in the desert. Not this story. This is all about bringing together a team of riders and crew who were not completely assembled until two hours before race time, and with feeble plans and squirrelly minds, started pedaling when the gun went off in spite of our logistical immaturity.
Who is Behind Team Falcon?
- Gary "Bear" Baierl – FC508 2000 solo finisher – Los Angeles, CA
- Thomas "Tommy Nooch" Berube – Member of Chicago Polar Bear Club - Chicago, IL
- Paul "Triple crank" Kingsbury – Bike shop owner – Elmira, NY
- Jim "Spill the Cytomax" Ryan – Fat guy – Denver, CO
- Colleen "Get me outta here" Conroy – Innocent bystander – Pasadena, CA
- Stuart "Where's my poptart" Kroonenberg – Ebay shopper – Highlands Ranch, CO
- Tom "I brought 3 novels" Hushen – Roof rack rat – Evergreen, CO
- Rob "Look at that fritter" Schaller – Pull my finger – Chicago, IL
- One Toyota mini-van with roof racks for 3 bikes
- One Ford 15 passenger van (certified at less than 78" wide) with 2 seats removed
- Bikes representing: Eddy Merckx, Kestrel, Principia, Serotta, Some obscure Italian brand from Chicago, Waterford, and Huffy (just kidding)
- Satellite dish affixed to Park repair stand complete with cable box and TV (not kidding)
- Assorted food, tools, banners, CDs, speakers, and clothing
The Story Behind the Story
Team Falcon managed a respectable 2nd place finish in the four-man team relay. We finished a distant second to Team Armadillo, who completed the event in just over 23 hours. With a finish time of 26:46, we were able to hold off the 3rd place team. We battled constantly with Team Duke Energy Morro Eels—we traded places for the first 350 miles or so, adding to the stress and excitement of the race. Our strategy evolved over the race, with pulls ranging from seven minutes to over an hour depending on how logistically wacked we were or how big a cramp Jim "Spill the Cytomax" Ryan had in his hamstring. All in all, this is one of the most gratifying, challenging, and hysterical events that you could be a part of.
At the close of any event like this, you learn many things. Things that are worth sharing with other prospective teams, so that they can better prepare to compete in events like the 508. I know that we'll return, applying what we've learned, to constantly improve our results. So, with the apprehension that goes with divulging competitive advantage, here are the top ten secrets to completing the team 508.
- Bring a Satellite TV dish, receiver, and TV. There's nothing that warms the heart of a tired rider who just completed a grueling pull up Townes Pass more than climbing in the van with his baba and binky and settling down to watch the Stooges. The downside to this is the brain-draining noise that the receiver continually makes (bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp bomp) while Rob "Look at that fritter" Schaller is trying to align the dish. Some crewmen were on the verge of going mental.
- Bring a GPS receiver. You may think that this is overkill, but here's a hypothetical: Let's say one of your crewmembers has ridden in the National 24 Hour Challenge 11 times, and he put each of his mileage pins on his 24 hour challenge baseball hat. Then let's say, while following a rider, that he leaned out the passenger side of the van for some not to be mentioned reason, and his hat blew off into the desert at 1:00 in the morning. The let's say that without missing a beat, the crewman marks the spot where the hat fell out as a waypoint on his GPS. Then we switch vans following the rider, and go back five miles to scour the desert for his prized hat. Also, after the 508 you could try to convince your friends to go find the "Brady Bunch House" which you've also marked as a waypoint. A crucial piece of equipment.
- It's a bad idea to split up the food between the two vans by product. For example, it doesn't work too well when you put all the bananas in van A, all the Ensure in Van B, Poptarts in Van A, Water in Van B—you get the picture.
- If you get your van configured with external speakers to play music for the riders, you may want to consider having a separate volume control so that the sound plays outside but not in the Van. When you have to turn the volume "up to 11" (reference: Spinal Tap) so the rider can hear the music, the crewmen and riders inside the van are held captive by whatever's playing (luckily this year we did not bring the Sammy Davis Jr. Candy Man CD).
- You can avoid transitions that result in one van carrying two crewmen, a couple of bikes, and no riders, and the other van carrying three riders and a couple of bikes by adding a mathematics Ph.D. to your crew. We were not aware at the beginning of the event just how much math and science was involved in driving two vans across the desert following a guy on a bike—a real brain teaser!
- If you end up spilling a lot of food all over the floor of the Van in the middle of the night, don't panic. Inertia and gravity are your friends. Riders: simply let the driver know that you're hungry—the driver will then brake abruptly, at which point food will slide forward up under the driver's feet—the crew then reaches down and scoops up a nutritious bounty. Typically you'll get M&Ms out of this, but occasionally you'll hit the jackpot and get a poptart.
- If you're racing to catch up to a rider in the daylight and moments later come upon the rider at a fork in the road, standing next to his bike, pointing at you and screaming something about "Mark my $#@$#!#$ turns next time" — do NOT get out of the van under any circumstances.
- If you drink orange Cytomax as a part of your hydration strategy, please be careful when mixing new bottles, and don't forget to push the mouthpiece back down on the water bottle when getting in and out of the van—there's something about orange Cytomax that makes it a permanent fixture of carpet, upholstery, and clothing—the good news? It glows in the dark like a niterider digital headtrip.
- Team building: If your team leader is a former solo finisher with a very high-tech diet of hydrafuel, ultrafuel, massfuel, and phosphate tablets, and he has a tendency to get you to drink the stuff when you let your guard down, it's a great team building experience before the race to stand in his garage with everyone except him, next to his beautiful German sports coupe, eating a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts with the box sitting on the hood of the car—Mmmmm Mmmmm Good!
- Don't let your look cleats wear out to little red nubs before FC. First, you'll get ridiculed incessantly by your teammates for having shoddy equipment. Second, late in the race while you're tired, "clipping in" becomes a source of constant amusement and laughter from your teammates and crew. How do you correct it? After you've returned to LA on Monday, Take a nice ride to the beach…before you do, replace those ratty old cleats with some shiny new ones, and hide the old ones in Gary "Bear" Baierl's toolbox!
All kidding aside, you will not have a more fulfilling experience physically, emotionally, and mentally than you will doing the Team 508. Do it once, you're hooked. There are very few things that bring together so many great people and fun experiences in such an amazing setting—get riding, and we'll see you next year.