By Robert Piglet Pogorelz, 2002 solo finisher
There is a place on Townes Pass that makes me smile every time I ride by it. It's not that I'm enjoying the climb all that much, at least not 200 miles into the race, but because I recall at that wide spot in the pavement, the paved apron right before the climb gets really steep, you know… the paved pull-off area right before the climb REALLY gets steep is the place where my introduction to the world of ultracycling began. The year was 1998 and I was helping crew for Gary Kudu Kliewer. He rode strong all day, but that night we let him get too dehydrated and the day's ride caught up with him and began a chain of events that cumulated into a DNF. It was at that place in which I began to wonder what I could do.
The next year, I bought a road bike and began preparing for my own assault on the 508 course. I rode hard all summer and thought I had a plan on how to ride it. Hell, I didn't have a clue. DNF at Shoshone.
Next year, thought I'd learned from my mistakes. Rode hard, had a plan…DNFed going up Salisbury Pass.
The following year…2001, I rode hard all summer and in August I still couldn't make up my mind whether or not to try again. Didn't know if I could handle another DNF. I had been riding well all season, so I would give it one more try. This time I worked on getting my head right into believing I could do it. I had a wonderful crew that worked hard on keeping me on my bike. I rode hard and went into territory that was unfamiliar to me and lost track of the climbs. I thought Granite Pass was the last climb and blew up the climb. Imagine my disappointment when my crew informed me at the base of Sheep Hole Pass that it was in fact the last climb. Bummer man. I struggled up Sheep Hole and some how managed to straggle into Twentynine Palms for a 44 hour and 51 minute finish. Now that I had finally finished The 508 once, my unfinished business was done and no longer felt compelled to ride it again.
In May of 2002, I made reservations at Santa Clarita and at Twentynine Palms. I began training for a new goal…ride as a two man team or attempt a sub 40-hour finish. My training was simple; I would ride every chance I got during the week after work. A lot of my rides were after dark. On the weekends, I would find a club century to ride somewhere. I would mix in a few mountain bike races to help with my climbing endurance. I targeted two events in August to gauge my progress. One was the Rocky Mountain Club's "Denver to Aspen" timed Brevet. I finished in 14 hours and 41 minutes and the other was "The Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race." I finished in 10 hours, 21 seconds to make it my fourth consecutive finish. I was having a good year; I would ride The 508 solo.
I assembled a three-man crew but due to an illness in the family, one crew member had to back out the day we were to leave. Not a good start but a good two-man crew can manage; it just makes it tougher on the crew.
The first few miles of the race, we chatted with old friends and a few new ones and wished each other a safe journey. At the entrance to San Francisquito Canyon, the race was on. The first few miles went just super, right up to the top of the Mojave climb. The windmill banks facing the northeast where churning. Rats...a stiff headwind. This might get tough for this little Piglet.
It is midnight and up ahead I can see amber blinking lights. Each set designates another rider working his way up Townes Pass, the gateway into Death Valley. Behind me I see a string of headlights each with a rider in front of them stretching across the Panamint Valley. It looks surreal, like a string of lighted islands in a sea of darkness, like I am alone on my own-lighted isle, but I have some fine company close by. I take stock of my situation. I have been riding for 17 hours and a little over 200 miles. The wind has battered me and I am fatigued. My left knee has become inflamed, requiring some periodic icing. The wind has made the climbs more difficult and has turned the normal 50-mile per hour descents into 20-mile per hour work sessions. I am depressed and already three hours behind last years pace. What was once a ride to break 40 hours has now become a struggle just to finish. I press on hoping for a break. I have too much invested to think of quitting now.
Daylight finds me at about 300 miles and 23 hours into the race. A long 18-mile climb out of Death Valley is ahead of me, but the wind has subsided. I take an unscheduled ten minute nap. The kind where you sit down just to drink and rest a little and wake up a few minutes later feeling refreshed.
Time station four is at Shoshone. It has taken me 29 hours to ride 325 miles. Somewhere I have made up 25 minutes. I have managed to recover a bit and my spirits have improved due to a breeze at my back. I begin to ride like I felt I could. In the next 150 miles I make up the time I had lost the first day. I attack the last two climbs at a pace that even surprises me. I blow by a few riders, slowing only for hand off of water bottles filled with Brisk Ice Tea from my crew. Afraid to stop for fear of losing the momentum of that pace.
My tank runs empty with about 20 miles to go. A cold head wind develops and I struggle to the finish line. Forty-five hours and one minute and 508 miles later, I cross the tissue paper finish line. I am bit disappointed in my time, but feel great about overcoming this year's obstacles and at becoming a two-time 508 finisher.
A goal is never reached without the help and support of other people. I finished The 508 with the help of my crew, Ron Hensley and "Big Dave" Hitzer, and the support of my wife and family even though at times they questioned my sanity. Not to mention the two best riding partners around, in Randy Balheim and Gary Kudu Kliewer, AKA "Team Jackalope."
Consumed aprox. 15,000 calories. Used a variety of Sustained Energy, Ensure, baked potatoes, Hammer Gel, and baked chicken as I could handle it. The majority of my calories were coming from Sustained Energy. Used aproximately eight gallons of water mixing the use of Sustained Energy,Cyto-max and Gatorade. In the last four hours of the race, I wanted only Hammer Gel and a 12-pak of Brisk Ice Tea.