By Janet Osprey Christiansen
I confess: I really did not think our rider would be able to complete the 508. Considering that she's pretty young for ultra endurance events (only 23 years old), has never been to the desert let alone done a cycling event in such an arid climate, and lives in a city which is snowed/rain in about 80% of the time I thought the odds were pretty long. Hubris of the young, I figured. Not burdened with self doubt like us baby boomers.
I cannot of course relate the experience of doing the 508 as a fixie, nor even tell you what Ms. Archeoptyerix endured to get through it. Only she can. But as one of her crew member I can make these observations:
First, the obvious question: What the h*** is an Archeoptyerix? I quote Ms. Archeoptyerix, Professor Emeritus:
"It's Archaeopteryx, dammit. And it was the earliest fossil discovery (found in 1861) that demonstrated an evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds. People argue somewhat over whether it's actually an intermediate form, or 'missing link,' or not, since by some definitions it's really a bird already."
Oh. Moving on to less obvious questions: What on earth possessed her to consider riding a fixed gear for 508 miles over 35k elevation through some of the harshest terrain in the United States (does 508 miles not seem hard enough as it is??) I suspect the following are the primary causes:
Notwithstanding my earlier remark about "hubris of the young," it was obvious early in the 508 she had researched into ultra endurance ride experiences from other fixies and applied what they have learned. Like wrapping towels around your bars and using a Gelco saddle for the worst road surfaces (e.g. once out of the Hilton parking lot). That lessened the hardship, at least a little tiny bit.
Less apparent was her game plan. Instead of pealing out of the Hilton parking lot and screaming thru the first five time stations, only to take 12 hours or more to get to the last two (kind of like yours truly, Ms. Osprey), Ms Archeoptyerx applied a sensible regimen including generous rest stops (up to 1 hour) and short naps in between.
Not realizing she had it pretty well figured, I started fretting to the other crew that her chances of finishing in the next 24 hours were slim and none. The first 24 hrs into the 508 we were, I think, about fourth to last, and had scarcely covered 250 miles. We were far back of the rest of the field. On a positive note, she was at least very steady if a bit conservative in pace (~14mph) and showed no signs of mental or physical breakdown.
Leaving Baker a little before 6pm Sunday afternoon the crew decided we had to get really strict about time off the bike in order to reach 29 Palms by 7am. But it turns out she was way ahead of us. The legs suddenly started turning up the after burners, and it was all we could do but marvel at her relentless pace up the 21 Mile, Granite and Sheep Hole Passes. It was easy to forget the *extra* discomfort for a fixie of riding on bad road surfaces or having to spin 100+rpms down every descent watching her ride instead of coasting and recovering. If she was suffering she sure hid it well. I think she only stopped once to switch chammy lube regimens (Bag Balm, a technology developed by Vermont farmers and their dairy cows ("Mooooooo-Do you have to rub so hard?!?").
The highlight of the whole 508, besides finishing of course, was the sprint off she had with the other fixed gear rider in this year's 508, Sabertooth Salmon. She caught and passed him on Granite Hill, then had to relinquish her lead while the crew had to fiddle with a technical problem with the bike. She caught and passed him again on Sheep Hole. Only he suddenly streaks past her and we could see him saying something to her as he passed by. It turns out he was challenging her to this sprint-off. So now they both go 'supernova' up a steeper section of Sheep Hole and both crews are waiting for them to collapse in lactic acid-precipitated rigor mortis/end organ failure. She doesn't. Hmmm. Slows a little, and resumes her climbing rhythm. Poor Sabertooth Salmon blows up after his erstwhile impressive burst of speed, and was last seen falling farther and farther back…
This is not to say that there weren't some, well, bumps in the road, so to speak along the way. Like the crew navigator (ah, I think it was me) sending her the wrong way on Neutralia Ave (oops) right before TS #1. Or watching her suddenly lean over her bike and paint the side of the road with regurgitated V8 juice on the way to Baker. Here Ms. Archeopteryix recovered nicely and was back on her bike within 20 minutes. At none of these times did she lose her composure (the same could not be said of the author) and was not once impatient or grouchy to the crew, although she did nearly break my ankle with an errant water bottle toss in the early going. "Hmm, I don't think she likes me very much."
Both my 508 experiences reduced me to tears, temper tantrums, and nearly giving up at one or more points along the way. Photos of me at the finish line reveal to me what I will look like after a nuclear holocaust. In contrast, Ms. Archeopteryx looked like she was in the middle of one of her weekend club rides, maybe a little bit of dark circles cresting Townes Pass Saturday nite. I swear she looked better with each passing hour Sunday evening into Monday morning. Never once complained, cried, or swore. I only saw her grimace at the head winds at the top of Johannesburg Pass and the summit of Townes Pass.
The crew in turn made every effort to supply her with whatever she wanted, and did whatever we could think of to make this happen. We played Italian 17th Century Baroque music on the van speakers at 2am, gave up our cozy sleeping positions so she could nap, served up her specially brewed Boston coffee without helping ourselves to any, and performed stunning athletic feats on the side of the road during leapfrog support to keep her inspired. Jake, her boyfriend, crewmember and Michelangelo of the photojournalism world took Life magazine quality shots of rider and desert landscape for posterity. OK that's my plug for our crew. Way to go, crew!
We even performed ritualistic sacrifices to the Death Valley gods to spare our rider impossible heat and wind conditions. And they delivered. But with four hours to spare, and plenty of energy reserves at the finish, I am not sure Ms. Archeopteryx needed this dose of good fortune. Chris Kostman made her sprint up the driveway at the finish twice till he could get a decent video clip which no doubt we will see at next year's pre race meeting. Each time she obliged, I think getting quicker each time. She actually wanted to wait up for Sabertooth Salmon to cross the finish line. Fixed gear solidarity I guess. Unfortunately her exhausted crew bailed out on her.
She emailed me a couple days after getting back home to Boston. Remember, she does not own a car or have a driver's license so she really *has* to ride everywhere. She did admit she was a bit tired Wednesday coming home from her job.
So what is the key to such a splendid 508 debut? OK you read this far so I'll tell you. She drank a lot of this frothy 'dreamsicle' flavored stuff called Perpetuem. Turns out a lot of people like it. I, um, well moving on…what is next for Ms. Archeopteyix? Graduate school (music), outdoor concerts, and maybe another 508-like adventure somewhere down the line.
So I guess Bostonians don't think much of our coffee out here…