By Joe Petersen
There are adventurers amongst us who seek out obstacles to overcome. Who look for journeys considered too challenging for most. Those who push a little harder, dig a little deeper, and endure a little bit more in order to reach a higher plane of self awareness. Sooner or later, most of these individuals find themselves sitting in Santa Clarita in early October awaiting the start of what has become known as "The toughest 48 Hours in Sports."
In July of 1994 I went from being a 40K Time Trial specialist to being Captain of a 4 man team racing from Irvine, California to Savannah, Georgia in the transcontinental race known as RAAM (Race Across America) It was there that I met the infamous Chris Kostman (Team RAAM Race Director) And it is there that I first heard about The Furnace Creek 508.
With three months to recover from our 3,000 mile trek across the country, it seemed to be the perfect way to wrap up our race season. However just 2 weeks after finishing RAAM, I was racing a Criterium in Santa Maria, California, and found myself at the bottom of a major pile-up of bodies and bikes. When the smoke cleared I found myself staring at my kneecap, literally. It was cracked in two, the bursa was ripped out, and sanovial fluid was running down my leg. The entire patella was not only exposed, but was packed solid with dirt, rock, and debris.
My first Furnace Creek 508 was spent behind the wheel of the van Crewing for my team. Team Buffalo finished first overall with a new 4 man record of 23:51:30. I was hooked. I loved being there for my team, but I really wanted to ride this course. The 508 had it all, monstrous climbs, breathtaking descents, high speed corners, and flats and rollers for miles (a time trialists dream)
After winning Team RAAM in 1995, 96, and 97 (setting a transcontinental record in 1996) I finally was able to put a team together for the 1997 FC 508. Ron Jones, Pam Traynor, Kris Woolsey and myself made up the co-ed or Mixed Team HammerHead. We managed to set a new mixed team record, and took first place overall in the process. 2001 again saw Team HammerHead in action, again placing first, but doing so uncontested. My team mates were Debbie Finn, Rick Hixon, and my good friend Linda Marschang.
My only two DNFs at the FC 508 were both tandem attempts, the first in 1998 with George Thomas (ORCA), and the second in 1999 with Tina Chapa (PEGASUS). 1998 ended tragically due to incompatibility of riders. George is a high cadence spinner, and I'm a monster gear masher, I couldn't spin fast enough for him, and he couldn't push hard enough for me. 1999 was a different story, Tina and I were tearing it up, we flew up Townes Pass, we could taste the finishline. And then her body just shut down, nothing worked, and it became clear that to continue would be detrimental to her health. Two weeks later we found out that she was expecting our daughter Jenny, and it all made sense.
I had the joy of racing with Doug Sloan, Peter pop, and Tim Skipper in 2002. I was a last minute addition, collectively we were Team Poodle, and we gave it our all finishing in 2nd Place with a very respectable time. Paul Biron kept us all in line and focused.
In 2003 Team Pegasus returned with a vengeance. No pregnancy this time, and with us riding as a 2 person mixed team. Together we held off the competition, placed first and set a new 2 person mixed record. We celebrated with our then 3 year old upon arriving back home.
In 2005 I teamed up with Kevin McNulty, Jarret Kennedy, and Johnny Stephenson and we placed first overall and established a new 4 man record. In 2006 Kevin and I decided to switch from a quartet to a duet, and we took on RAAM as a 2 man team. Together we shattered the existing record, and managed to finish ahead of all but one of the 4 man teams, and one 6 man team.
Kevin and I also raced to a new 2 man record and first overall for the FC 508 2006, and then repeated as overall winners and broke our own record for the 2007 Furnace Creek 508. Riding and racing through Death Valley has such a humbling affect on the human spirit. I am in awe at the sheer beauty, and I revel in the solitude one feels surrounded by it's magnificence.
I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to take this journey with all my fellow competitors, the crews, the volunteers, the officials, and with my friend Chris Kostman. To answer the "Call of the 508" we all push a little harder, dig a little deeper, and endure a little bit more, and we are all enlightened and elevated by the experience.