Conquering Ghosts and Demons

By Stuart Nanosaurus Nibbelin, 2001 solo finisher

This is the story of my successful completion of the Furnace Creek 508 ultra cycling race. I am the Nanosaurus.


The last story written about this race and me was written by my crew chief after I failed to complete the race stopping after 496 miles…yes that's right, 12 miles from the finish. I was accosted by ghosts and demons (bad hallucinations) and ultimately lost my mind completely. I didn't get to tell that story because I had very little memory of the events from the arrival of darkness Sunday night until I woke in the motel room Monday morning. I left Twentynine Palms that day with a very empty feeling that later turned into a burning desire to finish this course. I'm not sure what lessons I took from this failed attempt.

Shortly after the '98 race, I started traveling a lot on business. But I still felt compelled to come back to do this race again in '99. I felt strong enough from the riding I had done in the few months leading up to the race. But my training was severely hampered by the traveling. I brought a great crew (Bubba Jeff and Julie) out to help me "tame" the course. But after the first 110 miles or so (the top of the Randsburg climb to be more precise) I stopped being able to keep any food down. I continued for another 144 miles to Furnace Creek without much in the way of calories before deciding (after consulting with the crew) to quit before doing serious damage to myself. I pretty much hammered the section of the course from the top of Townes Pass until Furnace Creek. It didn't take long for me to recover and I was able to eat a BIG breakfast in Shoshone before we headed up the course helping other racers and crews along the way. Lesson learned…don't quit over a little calorie deficiency when I am otherwise riding strong…just figure out what will stay in me and eat that!

The business traveling continued 100% of the time. My projects were all on one coast or the other (and I live in the Dallas area). So, even though I still had that fire burning in me to conquer the course, I decided to forego another attempt in 2000. I had gained a significant amount of weight and even my week at PCT proved to me (and everyone else) that I was out of shape. In late August, I mentioned to Chris Kostman (FC508 race Director) that I wasn't racing but would be interested in participating in the race (I really love this race). Before I knew it, I was asked to crew chief for the Longhorn (Rick Kent). So I followed Rick around the course and observed (much to my surprise) that he was having some of the same problems that I had on my previous races…including the hallucinations.

So I finally had all my answers about how to race this course and finish!

Training and Buildup for the Race

Now I needed to get back in shape. I had stopped the constant business travel in July of 2000. So when FC508 ended, I consulted with John Hughes and asked him to get me ready for the 2001 race. He started by helping me set achievable goals on losing the extra pounds. We had a mild winter here in Texas so I had no problem doing centuries regularly (usually with Judith Jolly and/or Larry Schwartz). In March the training got more serious as evidenced by my stellar performance at Hell Week Texas. But I experienced trouble and found myself unable to complete the longer brevets that I was counting on for endurance training. Then I failed to do the 24-hour race at Davis settling for a rather weak 12-hour effort. I now had concerns about whether I had the early season miles to make another attempt at FC. Pacific Crest Tour put those concerns to rest. I was a bit slow on the sustained climbs…but my stamina was there. There was discussion with the coach after PCT about me doing the UMCA 24 Hour in Iowa instead of FC508…and I thought seriously about it…but I had been preparing mentally and physically for FC way too long to change races now. I felt I needed more climbing before FC so I went to Oregon (thanks Tracy) on two separate occasions to put the finishing touches on my training. I felt ready when I finished a century the Saturday before the race like it was a short weekend spin. I remember telling Judith that I wished the race were actually going on right then.

FC508 Pre-race

I arrived in Valencia late afternoon on Thursday. Getting there on Friday hasn't been working so I tried changing it up with an earlier arrival. Somewhere during the course of my training, I had discussed crewing for me with Larry and Judith…and they had accepted the gig. They even drove my van out to the race start (then home from the finish). Having my own van seemed to be a lift for me. They arrived at the motel about an hour after I did Thursday. Friday we teamed up with Tracy Froggy Fawns and her crew chief to do some race shopping. There was a brush fire raging out of control in the hills just outside town and the smoke was with us, on us, around us (well, you get the picture) and stayed with us all through the day and evening. When we returned from shopping, Ron Bobb was at the motel. I had somehow talked Ron into crewing while riding with him on PCT in July/August. It is great to have at least one person on the crew that has raced this course. The banquet and pre-race meeting was longer than usual probably because there were 96 registered racers (largest crowd ever). Sleeping turned into nothing more than tossing and turning and very little sleep or rest.

The Race

It was dark and the air was crisp and cool. The parking lot was buzzing with crew activities. I downed a bottle of Sustained Energy and ate a Poptart while getting dressed and attempting to wake up. I noticed a layer of ash from the fire had settled on the vehicles in the parking lot and was wondering to myself what damage it had done to my lungs. But I quickly dashed those thoughts opting for the total positive mental attitude that would be required for the race ahead. The wind had almost ceased…THAT was good news to me.

The starting line for FC508 is a major social event. The scene is awesome. I exchanged conversation and good luck wishes with Tracy. Chris announced that we were going to be able to use the designed course out of town (road had been closed until the wee hours of the morning). The race started and the socialization continued right into the rollers leading to the San Francisquito canyon climb. But I knew that it was imperative that I back down to a manageable climbing pace because hey…I was only a few miles into the race. I tried to peel my windbreaker off while still pedaling and got a sleeve hung in my rear brake. Had to stop momentarily but this is not a problem. Top of San Francisquito and the Nanosaurus is feeling GOOD.

After a shorter downhill and a couple of big rollers I descended into the valley and started the lengthy section of mostly flat terrain. I am in my element…so I am cruising. I could not find my regular odometer and had tried mounting and using the backup instead. It had not worked from the start…but I decided I was better off not using it. My pace would be easy enough to calculate for the crew.

Oh-oh…something didn't settle well in my stomach and I lost everything and I'm only 40 miles into the race. OK…no problem. Been there and done that and know I can work through it! Must have been the chocolate Poptart. The crew switches me to Ritz crackers and Sustained. The change works.

The Windmills climb was beautiful as usual. I am taking in the scenery as I climb. The climb is over quickly enough even though I feel like I am a bit slow. Not I am in the aerobars going fast, FAST to Mojave. The crew is showing concern for my calorie and fluid intake. I feel GREAT!

The crew leaves me for a short time in Mojave but I am on cruise control all the way to California City (time station 1). Ah, finally a potty break. I am getting concerned about not peeing enough (meaning borderline dehydration) but I quickly dismiss this concern because I still feel so good. Crew feeds me a turkey/cheese rollup and sends me on my way. It is another 12 miles or so of gradual downhill before the turn on Randsburg Rd.

I am working on my mental state now because the Randsburg climb has always given me trouble. I decide to switch bikes before the climb (the CoMotion has a triple chain ring…cool!). The crew is already aware of my past history with this climb so they are checking in with me more often and feeding me Saltines (and Sustained). Gee the climb wasn't so bad this time.

OK…now I am getting severely tested. The pavement on Trona Rd has been grooved with deep cuts. There is not a smooth area anywhere. So I lighten up my grip and just concentrate on finding the least bumpy line (yeah, right) and deal with it. I am passing others that are NOT HAPPY. The road would smooth out again but then go back to this torn up road surface for the decent to the next turn (what a way to screw up a perfectly good decent). Still no problems for the Nanosaurus but my feet are now beat up.

I stopped in Trona (time station 2) to reward myself for spending less than 15 minutes off the bike in the first 150 miles of the race. No really, I needed my feet fixed…my big toes were cramping like crazy. Judith, you just saved my race here…thanks! Time to put on the lights and prepare for dusk when my van would start following me for the remainder of the race.

I take off and (oh no) lose the contents of my stomach while still in the town of Trona. I am hoping that nobody saw this. But I STILL feel GOOD! The Trona bump isn't bad this time. But it is dark by the time I reach the top. I am behind schedule. The crew is still showing great concern for my nutrition and hydration so I eat (not nearly enough) knowing that there is a nice downhill coming.

The ascent out of Panamint Valley seems slow…but steady. And I didn't seem to be losing any ground to the other riders near me. Townes Pass climb doesn't even feel that difficult. Hmmm, must be those extra low gears.

I add layers at the top and commit to making up time through Death Valley. Hey, there's Rick Anderson in a tie…sharp looking, dude. Is that the new course marshal uniform? The decent seems unusually fast. I am told later that I was cruising at 52mph for part of that stretch. The Nanosaurus loves to descend. A quick stop at Stovepipe Wells to take off the extra clothes and I'm on my way to Furnace Creek. I'm making good time now but my feet are bugging me again.

We stop at the Furnace Creek (time station 3) and I get another foot massage. I'm halfway through the race and still feeling fine. I down a couple of pickles and some Sustained and I'm on my way. It's a fast ride to Badwater then the road starts trending up to get me out of Death Valley. There is no moon to speak of so there are no hallucination issues like I had in '98 (I'm guessing the full moon in '98 contributed to the hallucination problems in '98). I'm riding strong through Death Valley…just like I wanted.

The Froggy's crew van passes. I am in such a "zone" that I mistake it for my own van and holler to them to "drop back…there is a car back." OK…so maybe I don't have it totally together…but it is about 4:00 in the morning, what do you expect? The side door of the Froggy van pops open and I am relieved to see Tracy. She said she would see me at the finish…thanks for the encouragement Tracy! Chris Kostman passes taking photos and offering encouragement.

I was planning to be all the way up Salsberry by dawn…but dawn shows up as I am barely started on Jubilee. I'm going extremely slowly on these two climbs. It probably has to do with my lack of calories and the fact that I have been on the bike over 24 hours now. The crew is now begging me to eat. I am just trying to survive this climb.

I stop and change bikes at the top of Salsberry (back to the Litespeed for the rest of the race). I'm feeling OK…but very sluggish. As I am descending, I lose everything again (at 40mph this is not a pleasant experience). I find out at Shoshone (TS4) that the crew had observed the puking this time. Now I have all the sign of being totally trashed.

The crew goes to work on me. I check the standings board then Larry informs me that some notable participants have already dropped out. This gives me a lift. They feed me the previously planned cinnamon roll (thanks Dr Barr). One racer is talking to me (no names) that has already changed out of his bike clothes having DNFed and another is sitting in his van not looking so good. I'm taking all of this in and feeling pretty good about my chances (I don't think there was ever a doubt anyway). I have a final word with Charlie Liskey and Bubba Jeff and I am on my way.

By now I am realizing that my chest is full of infection…no worries, the Nanosaurus has worked through this one before. I don't seem to be having any trouble breathing. I'm starting to get my hydration level back to where it needs to be. Calories are still lacking though. I have developed a craving for the turkey and cheese rollups…GREAT NEWS! The crew is still concerned about my calorie intake. Bubba shows up to give me a little (needed) coaching (thanks Jeff) on the change he has suggested to my crew on diluting my Sustained formula. The change works and I am consuming more and more as the hours progress.

It's a cruise control ride into Baker (TS5). The crew has a plan to take me off the bike, wisk me off to the convenience store across the street, clean me up and change my clothes. And, oh yes, another foot massage (how can she stand the smell?).

NOW I'm pumped for the final push. There are only about 120 miles left to go! I want to GO…so I say "see you up the road" to the crew and head toward the Kelbaker climb. It is heating up and Kelbaker is a long, gradual climb that hurts at 400 miles. Larry gets into the Nanosaurus comfort act by spraying me down every few miles with a peppermint oil and water mixture (thanks Tracy)…ahhhh, how comfortable can I possibly get.

Larry calls out the 400-mile point and I am REALLY psyched. Just let me go. I am noticing that another competitor (or more) is always either just ahead or just behind me. This is motivating me.

My voice is gone now…but I don't care. The road is chewed up going down to Kelso. I am grumbling a bit…but I am descending so the crew can't hear me. I'm thinking that it is SO NICE to know this course so well.

I reach Kelso and it is still daylight. I mention to the crew (this was tough with no voice) that I think I am about two hours ahead of my '98 pace. The crew feeds Sustained to another competitor (again no names) who ends up finishing a few minutes before me. But we're all in this together.

I'm starting to see Rick Anderson again now (but I'm not hallucinating…I really am climbing the Granites with my full senses intact). Rick is pumping me more.

I reach TS6 and whisper "Nanosaurus" without stopping because I know this climb isn't over for another three miles or so. It is getting dark now and the crew is pleading for a driver change…but the Nanosaurus doesn't want to stop. I ask them to wait until I reach the top. We stop after I cross the cattle guard and accept another turkey/cheese rollup (mmmmmm, good). I tried putting a jacket on, but took it off deciding that it wasn't that cool. Then it is back on the road.

The lengthy descent off the Granites isn't as smooth as I remember but is a welcome relief from the sustained climbing. The descent goes on forever and the Nanosaurus digs it. With the finish all but assured now I change my tactics. I am determined to parlay how good I am feeling in to a pass but don't be passed philosophy.

The road to Amboy is a total disaster. The crew was bugging me severely (thanks guys…I needed it) eat the Sustained and drink. But the holes and bad pavement were coming fast and furious and I didn't want to go down in a heap now! I'm going through headlights like crazy too (what's up with that). We stop to change my headlight after the turn to start the Sheep Hole climb.

I'm cruising now. I guess the climb really hasn't started yet because my pace is way up and I'm passing people. This road is chewed up too…but I am not deterred from my up pace. Rick passes again offering encouragement but also barbs about the nighttime desert scenery and hallucinations…but the Nanosaurus isn't going there this time.

I still have some work to do. The last mile of Sheep Hole seems a heck of a lot steeper than I remember and I am on the Litespeed out of lower gears to shift to. There is something in the distance that is playing games with my head…but I hang tough (no hallucinations now please). It turns out to be the elaborate signs for TS7.

I don't stop at TS7 because I know that it is only about a mile to the top. The crew checks me in and picks up my lei. The descent off Sheep Hole is fast and I pass another competitor. I feel emotions starting to well up inside me. But I know I still have some work to do. I am anxious to finish. I'm asking the crew regularly for distance to the next turn…probably way too often.

Hmmmm…possible problem. No, it IS a problem. The seat drops down making it necessary to stop. Larry jumps out of the van and gets the seat repositioned and I'm on my way again. I am concerned about being passed so I am going hard. Uh oh…the seat drops again. Now I am getting frustrated. So I raise the seat higher than it was before just to get me to the finish.

I am seeing designs carved in the sand on the side of the road. Was I hallucinating or were there designs carved in the sand? Did anybody else see this? Larry calls out 500 miles. I am on top of the world grinning from ear to ear. I am still wondering where my turn is. I have done quite a bit of climbing since Sheep Hole.

All right! The turn on Utah Trail. I am very close now. My sweatband is falling in my eyes so I stop at the turn on 29 Palms Hwy to remove it. The crew gives me a hard time about wanting to look good for the pictures. I am just SO happy right now. One last torturous hill and a short little climb to the motel...I have done it!!!

Crossing the finish line felt SO MAGNIFICENT! The feeling is beyond description!!! I had done it. I finished this very tough but very beautiful course in 41 hours and 34 minutes.

After the Race

Charlie Liskey was the first to greet me (Lizard…thanks for your support and encouragement on the course). Then it was Chris offering his congrats…and the finishers medal. Then Bubba Jeff who presented me with a pair of his Bubba Shrimp socks (thanks bro). Then the crew passing out handshakes and hugs. I can't say "thank you" enough Judith, Larry, Ron. You guys know I wouldn't have finished this without you. I am getting emotional writing this…THANKS!

After pictures and official medal presentation it is off to get cleaned up and some well deserved sleep. I was painfully aware that breakfast is at 8AM and it was going to cut my sleep short. Hmmm, the room is on the second floor. I thought I was fine…but Judith has to practically carry me up the stairs (legs are so rubbery). Tracy helps me get situated for my short sleep break (thanks again T). Before I know it there is a knock on the door meaning time for breakfast. Geez, did that much time really pass?

Special Thanks

I know there were a lot of people pulling for me in this race. I will just say "thank you" to all that offered encouraging words and thoughts. IT WORKED! There are several folks that I especially want to thank: