By Kevin Desert Coyote Van Dyke
Following my successful crossing of the Furnace Creek 508 finish line, there has been the to-be-expected empty feeling. So much time and effort went into training for this event that there is a void now where there used to be training, training, and more training.
I've used some of my new found "free time" to look back on my Furnace Creek experience and what it means and what I took away from it.
First, I felt a little "unworthy" for finishing with such a slow time. I felt I left friends down.
Around these parts I'm known as a fast rider. I am a member of a four man team that set a course record during the '08 Race Across Oregon, went back to RAO this year on a two person mixed team and rode 379 mountainous miles at a 17.1 mph average.
But then it hit me, I chose my totem, "Desert Coyote," telling all who'd listen that I wasn't the strongest, wasn't the fastest, but just like that coyote in the desert, I'd just keep plodding along with my tongue hanging out.
After DNFing last year—due not to physical weakness but to a technical misstep—I came back this year with Eric "Thrasher" Troili's mantra playing loudly and continually in my head, "Focus on finishing, NOTHING else matters." Five Furnace Creek finishes gets one in the Hall of Fame, no mention of the time it took to finish.
I told my crew that with the exception of perhaps a half dozen riders, the 508 is not as much a race as it is a pass/fail test. I told them that I WOULD FINISH. I would pass the test. Last year I was one of two Oregonians participating, and the only Oregonian to not finish. (Greg "Oregon Sasquatch" Olson was the last official finisher) This year I was one of 4 Oregonians participating. Mick Walsh, Race Across Oregon solo champion would be joining Race Across the West finisher George Thomas on a 4 man RAAM team. The Oregon Sasquatch would return as well. I knew that Mick and George would finish and I had seen what Oregon Sasquatch could endure to cross that line in Twentynine Palms, he would finish too. I had me picked as the weak link, the rider selected as the "most likely to DNF," yet at the same time I was committed to finish...crawling across that line if I had to. "Ride if you can, walk if you must, crawl if you have to, but FINISH!"
I approached this year's Furnace Creek 508 as a 509.58 mile bike ride. I told my crew I didn't want to know how I compared to other riders' times, didn't want to know how I compared to last year's time splits, didn't care who was gaining on me, or who I might be gaining on...I just wanted to keep that bike moving toward Twentynine Palms.
I couldn't help however to note comparisons to last year. I DNF'd at mile 279 last year. When I reached that point this year I stopped for a moment and talked with my crew. I told them I couldn't locate the bones of last year's Desert Coyote to pay my respects so we might as well ride on. I also noted that we arrived at that point 3 hours later than I had the previous year...when my '09 crew chief determined that I wouldn't have time to finish. This year I pedaled on, having prepared mentally to ride 48 hours if need be.
I personally knew 8 riders this year. The entire Siberian Husky team that I had crewed for was there, all as solo riders. Niki "Hyrax" was going to join my crew last year then the situation changed and we ended up not having her on our team, and email buddy Andi "Butterfly" was riding as well.
I wasn't sure about Hyrax, but just knew that the rest would finish.
I rode well. Not fast, but well. I was strong, especially in the last 100 miles. I heard a chorus of coyotes calling in the darkness as I climbed up Sheephole, I knew that they were just cheering on a brother in arms!
As it ended up, Butterfly and I were the only ones in that circle to finish. As luck would have it, Butterfly and I finished within minutes of each other. I had ridden with her a bit up San Francisquito but had not seen her again until I passed her just a few miles out of Twentynine Palms.
So what I took away from this years Furnace Creek 508? I am proud to have finished, proud to wear my Furnace Creek 508 finisher's jersey. Proud to have joined the storied list of Furnace Creek finishers.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to participate in the Furnace Creek 508. While it is indeed a life changing experience, I couldn't imagine what it would be like to not have been there.