The Orange Cat Experience: Tales from a Two-Person Team

By James Norton

Well here is the Odd Orange Cat's view on the 508—Although because of the detour I want to call it the 512 this year.

IT WAS FUN! I would love to do it again. It was just really expensive! I had a lot of fun with the 508, it was a challenge. I won't say that it was easy but it was not a grueling torture fest—that is for the solo riders. I'll be a solo rider some day, just not yet.

Notice how the trees and power lines are tilted from the wind.

Your van should not look like this.

Your crew may end up looking like this without enough rest.

A little about me. I'm 33—so yes, in the ultra distance world just a baby. I have grown to accept that. I completed my triple crown two years ago and again this year. I ride a Specialized Allez comp with a triple. This year I did three doubles, two road races, five criteriums, the Death Ride and a few centuries prior to the 508. I actually only went into the 508 with 4200 miles on the year. I really think that was a little light on miles, but it worked out okay.

What did I like about the 508? Getting to run fast with a crew to support me. It was nice not needing to stop to refill a bottle or get food. It was nice to run for 2-7 hours and then be able to get off the bike and rest 2-7 hours.

What didn't I like? Well, Townes Pass—duh. The wind—duh. Townes pass is just hard, and with the wind at night it was worse. I never thought of quitting, but the thoughts could have entered my mind on this pass. I overheated before I hit Townes pass. It was not hot but I was running really hard and the liquid I was taking in was van temperature. We all know about eating to avoid bonking and drinking to avoid dehydration. When riding in the desert, cold liquids help your core temperature from getting too hot. When my core gets too hot, my stomach gets upset and I have a hard time performing well.

The wind was there throughout the whole ride. Once in a while it was at my back. I think that is how I hit 56 coming into Mojave. Most of the time the wind seemed to be a cross wind and it just got to me after a while. I had breathing issues from all the crap in the air and my eyes were red for a few days after I finished the ride. Basically the wind was a pain in the butt.

So what did I learn? Lots! Like feel sorry for the rented van when you pick it up and it only has three miles on it. This was one hell of a break-in period. I think the most important is organization. Our whole team lacked that. Our van lacked good storage and containment for stuff. There was "stuff" everywhere and no one really knew where things were. We knew the food was in a box. If it was small it was buried in the box but it was in there. After the bag of trail mix got spilled, it was in the box buried under an inch of trail mix. We brought way too much food. Did I mention WAY too much. So organization and containment fields for all the stuff is essential.

Flashing amber lights are required by the rules. We had the rotation yellow ones—they work but try to avoid them. After 12 hours they start to grind and will drive anyone in the support vehicle crazy. A PA system is great so you can play music and talk to the cyclists but in 13+ mph wind, when the cyclist is going over about 25 mph they can not hear a thing you may say over the PA system. Two-way radios are good, but the cyclist needs to practice with them ahead of time. My wife/teammate could talk on hers; I had issues. By the end of the ride my communication consisted of waving the van up if I needed to ask something or request food.

Liquid: just hold the empty water bottle out and wait for the van to come and get it. During the first day there are hand-offs. Yeah, the team did their best and could pull off a hand-off really well after a few learning experiences on both of our parts. As a cyclist, I learned that I might have to slow down. There might be a way of taking a full water bottle at 22 MPH but I am not that good, yet. Below 10 mph the person handing off does not ever need to move just stand there and hand off.

The area we were weakest in was changeovers at the time checks. We lost a lot of time at these, even the ones in day light. At night it is more complicated, you have to get the bike and rider secure before the new rider can take off but not in the daylight.

And always remember to smile!

Some teams that beat us were much better at the time checks. The team car needs to be at the time check in enough time to get the new rider's bike off and prepped so that when the tired stinky rider comes up they hand off the totem and the new rider stashes the totem and is off riding. Worry about the complications of stowing stuff, talking about stuff and miscellaneous other BS later—get the rider on the road.

At night I would recommend following the racecar formula. Everyone on the team has a specific job. Especially a person to deal with getting bikes on and off the bike rack. Also have one person double-check the bike so you don't have to stop a mile down the road when you realize you didn't turn on the tail light.

Then there is the whole thing of two vehicles or one? How many crew members do you bring? Do you do a crew change? If so how do you do crew changes? I am still a little fuzzy on what I would do different or the same on this. We had two vans both with way too much stuff in them. We did great but there is a lot of room for improvement. I personally think that 4 crew and two vehicles is the way to go. But when we go back I'm not sure what the plan of action will be. One idea is two vehicles on the course. One for getting supplies and crew/rider rest. The other is a crew change somewhere in Death Valley. Part of me is leaning toward the crew change in Death Valley. Yet we had the rest vehicle this time and were able to rest, some. That is a question best left to the individual teams.

So I basically thought the 508 was great. Train hard and realize that a lot of doing well will be training off and on the bike. How well can you or your team fill bottles on the fly? Will anyone know where the tums or spare tubes are? Yeah little things like that. The even Orange Cat might have some other tips and pearls