The Triumph of Wisdom and Spirit at the Furnace Creek 508

By Chris Kostman

You might think that after doing something nineteen times over the span of eleven years that it might get a little old, a little predictable. Been there, done that, like some stick in the mud, right?

Not Furnace Creek 508.

The latest incarnation of the original RAAM Qualifier (formerly known as the John Marino Open and then RAAM Open West) was held October 22-24, 1994. It traversed the same course as its done since 1989 from Valencia to Twenty Nine Palms via Death Valley and the Mojave Desert. The course included 35,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain and 510.52 miles of unparalleled traffic-free cycling. 29 men, 4 women, 3 tandems, and 5 relay teams renounced their worldly attachments for the weekend in order to experience this spiritual odyssey, even abandoning their legal names for animal totems chosen for them in a special ritual performed by the race director. (George Thomas became Timber Wold, for example.) It was a transformative experience for all, a stark display of the human spirit. It was also a monument to wise racing.

The event was about three weeks later this year than normal, in order to not conflict with the Great California Land Rush, Cochise County Cycling Classic, Death Valley by Moonlight, or Ironman Hawaii. This is the scheduling system that we'll use from now on, so look for the 95 race on October 21-23. The later date no doubt contributed to the previously unheard of overcast conditions. It barely broke 80 degrees throughout the weekend and the sun almost never shone directly on the racers. The nights were a bit chilly and it did shower a bit the second night, but overall the extremes weren't too extreme.

Conditions were even more palatable at the pre-race banquet, where racers, crew, and staff enjoyed a quality carbo feast together and got to meet RAAM and 508 founder John Marino and fitness guru and former RAAM racer Johnny G. G is the creater of the revolutionary stationary bike fitness program called Spinning, as well as a highly sought out personal trainer. In his charge at this 508 was Stephanie Badger Barry, a 28 year old neophyte cyclist who had only been cycling since last Thanksgiving. In tow with G and Barry were Shape Magazine and a TV film crew headed up by Hollywood director Tim Newman of ZZ-Top video fame. They would document Barry's experience for a major feature story in Shape and for a one hour television documentary.

Some found this media machine entourage a bit annoying, perhaps at odds with the lone, solitary, ho-hum cycling that most have come to expect at ultra marathons. But in the bigger picture, this media frenzy, which focused its attention on a single, ordinary women out to attempt something extraordinary, is probably the best thing to happen to our sport in a long time. It's no secret that there's been little growth in this sport for almost a decade, largely because (I believe) so few know anything about distance cycling, let alone understand or endorse it. But by taking Barry's story to one and a half million women readers of Shape, and to the uncounted television masses, we may finally see some major interest in this sport. The quest known as ultra marathon cycling is about life experience, after all, not bicycle racing, and that's what will make our sport interesting to all. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Also representing ther media at the 508 were reporters from the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register, Winning, and Velo News. Adding to the celebrity buzz were some famous folks who left their bicycles behind to serve on 508 support crews for friends, such as Paul Solon, Seana Hogan, Muffy Ritz, Tom Davies, Mhyee, Hugh Murphy, plus that guy who's famous for crewing, of all things, Lee "Fuzzy" Mitchell.

The top guns of officiating were out in force, starting with the new UMCA Top Dog Nick Gerlich, joined by RAAM vets Roger Mankus and Cindi Staiger, plus Pat Enright of the International Support Crew Association, along with Roger D'Errico, Dennis Brown, Glen Tebo, David Reese, Phyllis Cohen, Sherrie Freitag, and professional triathlete Ruth Hunt of Hong Kong, who came over to scout the race before participating next year. What a great staff!

Among those partaking in the cycling was Steve Beaver Born, a two time RAAM finisher who had just completed the Fall PAC Tour and was hungry to do something substantial with his fitness. Well, he's fit, fast, and oh-so-approachable. It's not ego that drives Born, rather a simple quest for self-improvement on and off the bicycle, a desire to ride and live better. His first major victory came at this 508, and I, for one, am proud of his effort, for it proved that victory (in any definition of the term) comes to the fit AND wise.

This wisdom was out in force at the 508, evidenced by a simple glance at the time station splits. You see, the typical experience at the 508 (and most other races, I'd say) is that the maniacs go out hard, too hard, then pay for it later. Often, they're able to pull it off and still win or place high, because they've built such an insurmountable lead. But sometimes, the accolades come to those who lay low, race smart, and wait, ever so patiently. Such was the case at the 1994 Furnace Creek 508.

Case in point: through time station one (mile 84 at California City), Born rode in 6th place, a full 16 minutes behind the leader, Dieter Wolverine Weik (of Team Kern Wheelmen, that placed 4th in the 94 Team RAAM). At TS#2 (mile 155 at Trona), Born was in 4th, 20 minutes behind Weik. At the halfway point of the race in Death Valley's Furnace Creek, Born still rode in 4th, 39 minutes back. But by TS#4 (mile 327 at Shoshone), Born had taken the lead from a faltering Weik, who commented after the race that "I was sure, just sure, I could go without sleep." By the finish, Born had put 4 hours, 9 minutes on Weik and won with a decisive time of 31:09:22, a near record time.

I could write pages about this Wisdom Factor, but let me just point out a fascinating fact: For the first half of the race, the eventual top five finishers were sitting back in 6th to 10th place, or even further back. By the end of the race, this second group of five had essentially swapped places with the first group of five front-runners. However, I'd like to give ample credit as well to these hot shots who set the pace for the first half of the race, for they didn't just burn out their flame and succumb to the Wimp Factor. Instead, they hung tough, regrouped, pressed on, and finished. Bravo to BOTH groups of five!

Meanwhile, Emmy Kangaroo Klassen rode a consistent race from start to finish, never surrendering the lead. By the finish, she'd shaved over three hours off of her 1993 performance and become the first two time female winner of the 508, with a time of 40:19:25. (Her animal totem is now very permanent, having been tattooed on her leg, by the way.) Holding onto 2nd place and proving that the will is as important as the resume, G's Barry, with 14 person entourage in tow, rode over the finish line under her own power after 45:32:41. Klassen's wisdom was to never doubt herself (she dropped out of RAAM 94) and to be consistent. Barry's wisdom was to bury the ego (she never had any to start with) and not be afraid to let the cameras document the baring of her soul. She set her sights on the finish line, all but ignored the cameras, and let her light shine for all of us. I'm especially proud of both of these ladies.

The team race was brutally fast this year, with Team Buffalo / Action Sports / Kern Wheelmen eclipsing the Canadian Geese record with a time of 23:51:30. The Buffalo included David Wiggins and Tim LaFromboise, 4th place Team RAAM teammates of Dieter Weik. Second place Team Weasel included former 508 and RAAM solo racer John Williams, and finished a mere 26 minutes behind the Buffalo. George Thomas' teammates at PacifiCare, the 93 Team RAAM champs and 94 Team RAAM 5th placers, took third, improving on their performance from last year at the 508.

Other notes: Men's course record holder Eric Hedgehog House returned this year and set a recumbent record of 35:24:29, saying at the finish that he expected to hurt more after his recumbent ride than after his upright blaze to victory in 1992. Rick Hyena Heiss demonstrated a major triumph of the will by finishing the race, once and for all, on his seventh and first successful attempt. Not only did he finish, but he placed 8th with a time of 35:34:58 and qualified for RAAM 95! Second place went to Rob Muskrat Morlock, who had never ridden more than 200 miles, but had gained a lot of meaningful insight after crewing for Paul Solon in the last two RAAMs. Also impressive were George Timber Wolf Thomas and George Trout Toberman, both of Team RAAM fame (Team PacifiCare and Team Bally's, respectively), who finished comfortably in their first solo ultra marathon endeavour. Thomas even placed third, proving he's more than ready for a solo shot at RAAM. Tandems, unfortunately, fared poorly, as often happens here. All three tandem entries dropped out, leaving the Ken Bell / Sue Doss record intact.

All in all, it was a class act at the 1994 Furnce Creek 508. I'd like to thank all who participated for for letting me share this glorious weekend with them.

1994 Furnace Creek 508 Official Results

Men's Solo Division
1) Steve Beaver Born, 31:09:22
2) Rob Muskrat Morlock, 31:41:28
3) George Timber Wolf Thomas, 31:53:15
4) James Duck DeCaro, 31:58:57
5) Reed Flamingo Finfrock, 32:26:37
6) Kaname Sea Lion Sakurai, 32:29:20
7)Deiter Wolverine Weik, 35:18:37
8) Rick Hyena Heiss, 35:34:58
9) Chaz Flounder Fetrow, 37:12:27
10) Ron Sparrow Shepston, 37:47:47
11) Rick Anteater Adolf, 38:12:03
12) Ken Elk Eichstaedt, 38:25:49
13) Mark Panther Patten, 38:44:47
14) Matt Foxhound Ford, 39:12:31
15) Scott Mule Martinmaas, 39:49:50
16) Bill Puma Peschka, 44:29:31
17) Bernie Cow Comeau, 46:44:20

Robert Stingray Stone
Jeff Brown Bear Bell
Bill Antelope Albers
Keith Frog Fraser
Scott Turtle Townley
Robert Gilles
Tom Narwhal Nieman
Frank Gazelle Goulard
Paul Flying Squirrel Fabish

Mens' 50+ Solo Division
1) Erik Newt Nordenson, 40:19:25
2) George Trout Toberman, 45:32:41

Women's Solo Division
1) Emmy Kangaroo Klassen, 36:10:01
2) Stephanie Badger Barry, 45:32:18

Suzanne Mink McNeil
Merial Jackrabbit Jackson

Men's Solo Recumbent
1) Eric Hedgehog House, 35:24:29

Mixed Tandem Division
Skunk: Lanie Smith and Rose Smith, DNF
Lynx: Chuck Lepovetsky and Ramona Pierson, DNF
Hippo: Charlie Lupo and Susan Hall, DNF

Mens' Relay Team Division
1) Kern Wheelmen/Actions Sports Buffalo: Kerry Ryan, Tim LaFromboise, David Wiggins, and Norm Hoffman, 23:51:30
2) Weasel: Mike Morrill, John Walrus Williams, Dan McCluskey, and Dave McComos, 24:17:03
3) PacifiCare Armadillo: Steve Horne, Michael Olstad, Will Klein, and Ric Ramos, 24:43:00
4) Central Coast Velo Rhino: Jeff Lafferty, Greg Lafferty, Scott Gibb, and Perry Louck, 25:57:20
5) Woodchuck: Michael Whale Wilson, Rob Steelhead Satterthwaite, Rick Amoeba Anderson, David Monkey Moore, 26:23:22