508 race report

By recumbent rider Jim Shrike Kern, 2003 solo official finisher

Why would anyone choose to ride 500 miles in the lung searing heat of the desert anyway? Well I couldn't really answer that question but I guess its because I never asked it. I was just having a good year biking and training for the Paris-Brest-Paris 1200K ride in France. I was doing the Davis Brevet series and assorted other rides in preparation for that event. I'd never seriously thought of doing the 508 as I considered it a Big Dog race and something well out of my league. I'd always considered anyone who had done the race a class apart from the rest of us mere mortals. So on to France with a very good performance being the second recumbent to finish and at 66 hrs. Tim Woudenberg, who I'd trained with earlier in the season and I started talking about the 508 getting more info about it from his friend and 508 veteran Graham Python Pollock. It actually sounded doable even though half of the racers never finish. The thought started to gel.

After PBP we started training for the 508, which was two months away. We were both getting coaching on how to train for it and a bit of what to expect during the ride. Preparation for the 508 has been described as preparing for a lunar launch and I was finding that to be accurate—especially the part about being lunar! Crew and equipment were being decided on and this whole thing started sounding serious. First on board for Crew 'Shrike' was Ron Bobb who was also a recumbent rider and is a 508 veteran. He has also crewed for the 508 and was instrumental in organizing the gear. He graciously donated his van for the event. Next on was Peter Morrissey, a fellow Botanist, who is also an ultra rider and with his science background had an excellent knowledge of nutrition issues. As time drew nearer, Nicole, who I sometimes ride to the Coast with, found that she could make time in her otherwise hectic schedule to come out for the event. She may even ride it next year. This is Nicole's first year of double centuries and so far she's done Solvang, Davis, Terrible Two, Eastern Sierra, and Knoxville. The organizing phase was almost complete.

Everything was packed and ready for a Friday AM departure to the starting line in Santa Clarita. I had not been sleeping well and was hoping to get a good night's sleep Thursday night when I got a call from Ron that something came up and that he needed to get to the Cardiologist for a noon appointment and might not be able to crew. We were to leave in about 12 hrs and after about a dozen calls came up with an alternate plan which would keep Ron in the loop if in fact he were OK and was able to crew. I had already left and was on my way to a 4PM vehicle check at the starting line when I found out that, thank Buddha, Ron was OK and was on his way with Peter and Nicole. They would get in around 10PM, reorganize the van, go out to buy additional food, water, and ice before retiring. Up at 5AM to eat and do last minute stuff we got ready for the 7AM start. There were some official instructions and comments, a few pictures and we were off. I was one of the last to roll off the starting line.

The beginning of the race can get congested so support vehicles are required to move up the course 25 miles and wait for the racers. I rolled without a route sheet as I expected that, because there was a pace vehicle, we would roll at a reasonable pace. My heart rate was in the 160's trying to keep up and I thought maybe it was a big mistake assuming that a recumbent was appropriate. There ended up being a couple of others that feathered off the back and once we got to San Francisquito Canyon rd the route was pretty straight forward. The climb was fine, nice grade, we crested (false summit) and crested again rode some more and there was the van. There were only a few vehicles left as most had already connected with their respective racers and moved on but Nicole and Peter were out there asking if I needed anything. I whizzed by with just enough time to say 'I'm fine.' At the bottom of the descent into the Antelope Valley there they were again and again I just whizzed by. I think they were starting to get confused as to what their purpose was since we had not set up the radios yet or fine-tuned a support plan. The next time I saw them I thought I should stop. I got reprimanded, got the radio, took a pee and took off again. Now we could talk and go over our plan. Saturday was roadside handoffs only so we radioed what was to be next when we passed each other. In addition to the hammer flask we were using Cytomax, perpetum, and chocolate soymilk as the main source of calories and hydration. Iced Pepsi and Ginger Ale also made it into the program on occasion. Handoffs went smoothly, even Nicole's first one which was at 25 MPH! We were starting to get into a groove and things were rolling well.

One of the photos on the 508 website is of the windmills bisected by a broad flat road. I was looking forward to getting there and actually riding through but when I did, found out that it wasn't flat. In fact there is no flat out there though the gentle grades are just as often downhill as uphill. I was rolling well and eventually caught up with Tim 'Werewolf' and Kevin 'Wolverine' Walsh who I crewed for in last years Davis 24 hr Challenge. We all took turns passing each other and yelling words of encouragement (usually). Somewhere outside of Jo'burg our van got stuck in the sand and the Werewolf van was there to help get us out. I rolled on and got the story later. Our pace was good and we would occasionally pass another rider and not see them again. Trona came up at just after 3:30 that meant we were averaging almost 18MPH. That was way more than the 15MPH that I was optimistically aspiring to but my heart rate was well within the target zone my coach had suggested so away we went. At the beginning of the big climb, Townes pass, we had to turn on lights and the van now had to follow. I felt sorry for them as I was in go-slow mode for this 3800' climb. Stopped somewhere on the way for a shoe change (I would need to do that about a dozen more times) as my feet were hurting. We heard the boom boxes of the Werewolf rig coming up on us. Tim passed us as we pushed off and I tried to climb fast enough to keep within earshot of the great music selections that were being played. Near the summit, Tim & company pulled off the road and we passed just in time for this outrageous descent. Two hours to climb and 12 minutes to descend—Que bueno!

There's something magic about Death Valley under a full moon. Maybe it's the ghost-like effect of the ridges surrounding you or maybe it's the feeling of riding through the center of the Beast of Fire and Wind, which at that moment, is sleeping. In any case it is something special and I had always wanted to do a night ride here. So here we all are in 70 F heat and with 70 miles to go before the 3000' climb out to Shoshone. We got to the Furnace Creek time station and found that there were only 12 bikes ahead of us. We were jazzed! I took a shower, of sorts, changed shorts, shoes and we took off again. The flashing roof lights malfunctioned and we spent 10 min trying to figure out what the problem was. Not finding it we got back on the road and kept working on it. Eventually, we ran into the race organizer, Chris Kostman, and he had an extra set that he was able to loan us. Climbing was getting slower, the summits seemed further off than they should be. We plugged along slow on the climbs then Peter would have to drive like hell to keep up on the descents and provide light for me. It must have been exciting back there! We got through Shoshone, crested another climb and rolled in toward Baker.

Baker at 6:30 surprised all of us. As it was not officially daytime, I had to stay with the van as we gassed up and got stuff. It was 7AM before we put out again and my body must have thought that the ride was over because it didn't want to move. This ride wasn't fun anymore. We were starting a 20 mi 3000' climb into the rising sun and the 24 hours of riding really hit me. The crew was probably wrestling with both sleep deprivation and cabin fever, though they didn't show it. With a bloaty stomach I couldn't consume very much and my output suffered. My stomach just started to settle when out the window came another bottle and an update on hydration and calories. We all knew that for the ride to continue, this had to happen. Dragging my sorry butt up the Granite Mtn I heard some music. Up the hill came tunes of Werewolves of London! Tim was at my heels and that sparked me to kick over the summit and open a gap while catching my breath and hoping my stomach would come back. It didn't and somewhere before the Sheep Hole climb we had to stop while I emptied from all ports above and below. It was not a pretty picture but many extra points for my crew not just driving off! Nicole, being the resident vomit coach, got me through the above board episode and we were straightening up just as Tim rolled by. I was able to yell something at him though I don't remember what it was. We rolled out slowly and I was drinking ice water a few sips at a time. Things started improving and we were doing dilute perpetuem and trying to get electrolytes happening. The Sheep Hole climb, though only 1500', was hot and I was a bit weak. We crested, though, and rolled the last descent into the valley. Twentynine Palms was another 20 miles of a gradual climb but I was feeling better and moving faster. It really felt great to be in the home stretch and even better to ride up into the finish line. Coming in 20 minutes behind Tim at 4:43 meant I was 7th soloist in at 33:43 and broke the recumbent record by 1 hr 43 min. A phenomenal crew, favorable weather, and a gut that wouldn't quit—what a weekend! Thanks to everyone who made this event possible!