The Bald Eagle's view of the 2008 Furnace Creek 508

By Bill Bald Eagle Ellis

Well, I'm actually able to sit normally again! What an epic ride. I think this year had much more variety of weather than I've ever seen. I'll try to recap a bit of it for you now.

We started off with very cool temperatures and thick fog. The fog got thicker as we made our way over the first climb prior to Elizabeth Lake. Since we started at 7:00 AM, many riders did not have lights. I had bar end lights however that I turned on, which eased my mind a little. Once out into the Mojave the fog cleared and we started to get the wind.

The wind was a factor for most of the race. Fortunately favorably! My average speed from California City to Trona was 20 mph! My overall time was just under 40 minutes faster that my time 6 years ago! At other times though, you'd feel the strength of the wind when you'd make a turn and have it in your face or to your side. The final stretch to the start of Townes Pass was very slow because of that. We were sailing along through Panamint Valley, made the right turn towards Townes Pass and wham! Descents seemed to be hampered as well, at least for me. There were numerous gusty crosswinds on the descents which made it feel as though you were going to be swept off the road. I ended up needing to use my knees on the top tube to stabilize the bike, so my position on the bike was awkward which eventually caused my lower back to become quite uncomfortable, especially later on in the ride. The wind also created several sand storms which we got to ride through...

However having mostly favorable wind caused me to climb Townes Pass in daylight! That was quite a treat as this climb is usually done in darkness except for the fastest riders. I reached the summit at dusk and then started the descent in dark. Here we were treated to an awesome lightning storm! The descent was on wet roads and I could feel a slight sprinkle, but nothing to heavy.

By the time we got to Furnace Creek the heavy rained had already passed through and I got again only a slight sprinkle but the roads were soaked, so my bike ended up looking pretty trashed!

The winds through Death Valley seemed to calm down a bit for the night. At times I think I even had a tailwind, but maybe not. Somewhere along the way I started to develop a raw butt. I had also changed my shoes and the new fit was not fitting so well causing the outer ball of my left foot to really hurt. By time I got into the Jubilee Pass and Salsberry Pass climbs at the south end of Death Valley my butt and feet were starting to cause me problems. My crew was awesome, experienced and prepared however, and we made adjustments by changing back to my original shoes and by managing the butt problem effectively, so that it never became a serious issue.  My ride seemed to be a roller coaster of ups and downs, physically and mentally. My crew was there with the right answers and encouragement during my low points and they were there during my high points cheering even louder!

My diet was fortunately never an issue. My calorie sheet in review was rather boring, with around 3/4 of the ride done on Perpetuem! I also drank a few Ensures and had some solid food: a couple Larabars and Nectar bars, a couple eggs, some pasta salad, but mostly it was liquid and mostly it was Perpetuem.

Leaving Death Valley and descending Salsberry Pass towards Shoshone was when I started getting really tired. Once we finished the descent and rode into Shoshone's time station and checked in, I decided to take a much needed 15 min nap. When I woke we were able to get back on the road fully energized and feeling good!

The sun rose on the way to Baker which is always an energizing feeling. I felt good at this point which was good because after Baker you start a 20 mile climb. The first part is the worst. The pavement is horrible and the grade is around 1% or so for what seems like forever. Finally you get to where the grade goes up a little and you feel like you're actually climbing. I felt pretty good from that point on. I actually seemed to do best on the real climbs. The descents were plagued by winds and I seemed to slump on the flat or 1% stuff. But put me on a real climb and I was happy!

Near the end of the ride around 50 miles or so from the finish, as you drop down into Amboy (a 20 mile descent!) we experienced our next bit of weather. We finally got some heat! It was actually quite warm too! But climbing over Sheephole Pass, it cooled off again.

I was feeling pretty good going up Sheephole and at that point where it gets its steepest I decided to see what was left in the legs! I got into a pretty big gear, got out of the saddle and put it all out there. I reached the summit, descended and kept the effort up on the final 22 miles of 1% into 29 Palms. I again got out of the saddle for this short but steep little bump about a mile from the finish, and then kept it going into the parking lot of the finish hotel, where I waited for my crew to park before we all crossed the line together.

Graham Python Pollock was there at the finish line to hold my bike for me. We got to visit with friends and of course do the photo thing. It’s a funny thing to finish an event like this. On the one hand you’re glad to finally get off the bike, especially this year! On the other hand it’s somewhat sad. This thing which occupies your life for around a year is done. I guess that’s why so many people return to either ride again or crew or help with the event. 

I think I’m attracted to this event not only because of the physical challenge, but the mental focus that is needed. This year I had to learn pretty quickly when and how to differential between being able live in the moment and when to focus away from the moment, depending on how that moment was going! When I was doing great, I’d relish in the moment. When I was not doing so great, I’d re-focus to something down the road that I found enjoyable. For example, there are several climbs and views on this route that I particularly enjoy. When I’d hit a slump, rather than focus on that moment, I’d imagine this great climb or view that was just down the road a ways.

Thank you to everyone who offered encouragement and support along the way and for those who made a contribution to my Cancer Research fundraising effort

I also would like to give a huge thank you to Ron and Sharron Bates who offered their van for us to use! That was extremely generous of them.

And finally my deepest thanks to Evelyn Ellis, Bob Bradan Redmond, and Paul Muddy Mudskipper McKenzie, my amazing crew. Thank you!!!

Pre-race Video Interviews

By Bald Eagle's crew person, Paul Muddy Mudskipper McKenzie