By Chris Kostman
Little could be predicted as 28 bicycle racers (22 solo men, 4 solo women, and two men on a tandem) lined up in the pre-dawn hours for the start of an epic 508 mile bicycle race known as the "Furnace Creek 508." Ahead of the racers was not only the grueling 508 miles, but also 35,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain and all the mountains, deserts, rough roads, and climatic variation that Mother Nature (and the race organizers) would choose to throw in the cyclists' path.
At 6:30am on October 17, 1992, the race was officially underway as the racers headed out of the Ranch House Inn of Valencia, CA. The course wound across the San Gabriel Mountains, then down and across the Mojave Desert, passing through California City, Mojave, and Trona. From here the racers rode up the Panamint Valley to infamous Townes Pass, the monumental entranceway to Death Valley. As the sun set with some 200 miles completed, 22 racers pressed on into the Valley of Death, while six dropped out, succumbing to stomach problems, sore knees, bronchitis, and other maladies. Not all survive the race popularly known as "The Hell of the West."
The top riders were still closely bunched as they entered Death Valley, with Eric House of Palo Alto, CA, descending into the darkness first, followed by six other riders less than an hour back. To the amazement of many, the first woman over the pass, Muffy Ritz of Ketchum, ID, was just 30 minutes back and in 4th overall. By the time the racers exited Death Valley, much had changed. Six more riders had given up their quest for glory, personal satisfaction, or transcendence, while Muffy Ritz had moved up to tie for 2nd overall with Gerald Tessmer of Bramschke, Germany, the two of them trailing House by just 17 minutes at the 327 mile mark in Shoshone.
From here it was a race of mind over matter as the determined athletes ground their way through Baker, Kelso, and Amboy en route to the finish line at the Best Western Gardens Motel in Twenty Nine Palms. House, a software engineer at Apple Computer, dug deep and held on for the victory, breaking the men's course record by five minutes and eight seconds, setting a new standard of 29:54:37. To the amazement of all, and the consternation of at least a few men, Ritz placed 2nd overall, just a mere 59:59 behind House. In so doing, the spunky ski coach (and two time PAC Tour rider and '92 RAAM Open Midwest winner) shaved an incredible 1:53:24off the women's record. The new women's standard is thus a mind-boggling 30:54:36. The German cyclist Tessmer, who entered the race on a lark at the conclusion of a three month internship in the California Bay Area working for a surveying and photogrammetry firm, placed 3rd overall with a time of 34:55:55. Famous crew members along at the race included former 508 winner Beth Dawson on House's crew, Aussie RAAM standout Gerry Tatrai on Ritz's crew, and International Support Crew Association Director Pat Enright on Tessmer's crew, among others.
By the conclusion of the race, just six more riders would make it to the finish line, proving once again that this event is truly one of North America's toughest open long distance bicycle races. (Interestingly enough, this event had perhaps the best conditions in the history of the event, but the lowest finishing percentage. The '91 race had the worst conditions ever, yet exactly twice as many riders finished.)
1) Muffy Ritz, 35, Ketchum, ID - 30:54:36
1) Eric House, 30, Palo Alto, CA - 29:54:37
2) Gerald Tessmer, 26, Bramsche, Germany - 34:55:55
3) Rick Adolph, 33, Sunnyvale, CA - 35:23:33
4) Frank Goulard, 40, Beaverton, OR - 35:40:45
5) Ron Shepston, 45, Fountain Valley, CA - 38:49:27
6) Brian Stark, 44, Paso Robles, CA - 40:17:30
7) James Byrnes, 24, Laramie, WY - 41:25:53
8) Barry Martin, 40, San Diego, CA - 43:48:36
Tandem: Tom Davies & Tom Davies, Jr.