Furnace Creek 508 :: Persian Onager :: Course Recon, 2 September 2013
I unfurl my yoga mat onto the cool concrete of the patio. I assume Thunderbolt position, sitting on the tops of my feet, and I take a deep breath.
To my left, my road bike, a gear bag, tool bag, backpack filled with electronic devices, cooler bag filled with bottles of Skratch and rice cakes, and miscellany stacked in wait for my crew and team to arrive. Balasana (Child’s pose). Adho Mukha Svasana (Down dog). Trikonasana (Triangle pose). Breathe.
The crew and team are heading to Death Valley to recon the Furnace Creek 508 race course. The 508 race is one month away. The big race, and it still doesn’t feel real. I wonder if my reticence shows, I’ve been here before. Ready to race, but no team with whom to race. Perhaps this time will be different. Perhaps I will actually race the 508. I’m almost ready to race. I need the extra month of intensity and preparation, but I feel ready. My team mate is Noah Kanter, and we’re doing the 2 person relay. The race is comprised of 8 stages, we will ride 4 stages each. The race begins in Santa Clarita and winds through the Mojave Desert, through Death Valley and ends in Twentynine Palms. It’s not an easy course, race, or style. This is suffering.
View Larger Map
My team and crew arrive, finally, and the adventure begins. I’m trying to be easy going, but we’re starting our day awfully late, and all I really would like at this point in time is to be on my bike. I can think of nothing I’d rather be doing than riding my bike. Ron captains the desert-going vessel as we begin our day long adventure.
Crew: Ron Matty. Ron is a father, an amazing athlete, a trainer, and a Greystone trained chef. This is oversimplifying Ron Matty, but suffice it so say that he is a man of giving, a man of heart, courage, great strength and knowledge of ultra endurance events. He is a pacer for some of the best runners in the Angeles Crest 100 mile running race. He is the perfect support for the race such as the 508.
Crew: Laura Smart. Laura Smart was graced with being Milly’s spouse and partner in crime for eleven and a half years. Through that time she supported Milly through various distance events with an emphasis on attitude and optimal food. Laura is currently training at Living Light Institute and hopes to make a career out providing chef services and nutritional to support to athletes and those health challenges. Laura, with her good energy and nutritional know-how, is an essential crew member and will be making up a great deal of the Skratch recipes for the racers for the 508.
Now, we’re on our way to Santa Clarita. Coffee in hand and sunscreen applied.
The group’s enthusiasm drives us forward in spite of not knowing where we’re heading. A quick detour to buy baked potatoes at Wendy’s for Noah gives us time to locate ourselves in relation to the race course. San Fransisquito Canyon is my first leg, and the descent makes my mouth water. I want out. I kit up and ride a portion of the route. It’s well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and I’m pacing myself. I wonder. Am I strong enough? Fast enough? Fit enough? I pedal on with the support crew leapfrogging me– driving up a mile and waiting for me to pass. I’m trying to imagine what it will be like with so many racers and support vans on the course with oncoming traffic and heat and nerves. My imagination can’t keep up, and it’s time for me to crawl back in to the van, rehydrate, eat and plan for the next leg.
We pass through the magnificent valley of windmills– the Tehachapi wind energy project that delivers power to Los Angeles. The massive windmills spark images of Don Quixote and Rocinante charging fast headlong into the field of windmills. I feel like Don Quixote at this moment. These windmills will fight me to the bitter end as I charge through, lance at the ready, to fight the wind and lonely Mojave desert.
As we approach the end of my stage and the beginning of Noah’s first stage, we stop for Noah to get his legs moving. His big job is to cross Highway 395 and ride through the ghost-town-like Randsburg and in to the not-so-bustling metropolis of Trona.
My thoughts always roam to Spike, Snoopy’s Uncle, who lives in the desert. It’s a hard life out here. It’s hot, desolate and lonely. I was conceived in this desert, linking an inexplicable connection between this desert and me. I do not love it here. But I seek the hidden messages in the rock, sand and sun baked hills.
Noah makes it across the 395 and we’re approaching Trona, the beginning of my next stage. We ice up and pit stop. Now for the long flats leading up to the ever-looming Towne’s Pass climb. It’s about 10 miles with grade sup to 13%. Nothing I haven’t done before, but after 5 or 6 hours of riding and an additional few hours of sitting in a car, and at night, the climb poses new challenges, challenges which I do not have the experience to know.
The long, flat lead-in to the climb is ahead and we are stopped by a blockade. The road is closed. We see other trucks on a side road chatting, we drive over for beta. The road has been damaged by water, the road was acted as a wash during recent rainstorms and has buckled, washed away and generally become impassable for super cars. Minivans may be able to pass, so we cut around the blockade, which is a giant pile of rock and gravel across the road, and drive on. It’s eerie out here. The earth has washed out from under the road and the road collapses, falls away. We make it through the worst section and head up Towne’s Pass just as the sun is setting. I ride the upper section of the climb and fly down into Stovepipe Wells in the dark at speed upwards of 50 miles per hour. It’s a fast, scary descent with whoops and oncoming traffic, sand in the corners and a darkness that sucks light, a veritable black hole for light.
Alas, the race in on a New Moon, so we’ll have that abyss taking our light during the race.
I jump back in the van and we drive on to Furnace Creek. It’s a balmy 110 degrees Fahrenheit or so. I walk into the convenience store and circle the gondolas and call Alex. It’s the only coverage I’ve had in several hours, and he’s expecting me to be home when he arrives home from Mammoth. I’m at least 5 hours out. That means a 2:00 am ETA.
The plan is to head home. Noah wants to ride parts of one more stage of his, but I am ready to go home. I am the captain-apparent, apparently, so I say, no, let’s go home the fastest way. Noah is an attorney, so he comes back after some time, iPhone in hand, and delivers compelling evidence as to why we should see the rest of the course. It’s only a few miles further, and it’s the only part of the course Noah hasn’t seen or ridden, for the most part. I know everyone else wants to go home as well, but I put it to a vote. We’re going to recon the remainder of the course.
As we make the right hand turn which carries us to the remaining climbs, we see that sign again. “Road Closed”. The team is not prepared for another minivan adventure in broken roads, so we reverse course and take the 7 minute faster way home. Luckily, we rejoin the course as we approach Baker, so we see even more of the course. As I fall in and out of sleep, I worry not about the course, but simply about getting home to sleep and recover before work in the morning. I know we have what it takes as individuals and as a team to make it to the finish line, strong, fast and healthy.
I wake up in San Bernardino and am awake for the remainder of the drive home. It’s bonding time for the team and crew, this early morning, this long drive, this journey, for Milly.
A special shout out to some of our sponsors: Sport Chalet, Adventure Medical Kits, Jetboil stoves, Handsome Coffee, Oakley, Salomon, Deuter, Skratch Labs. More to come!
We are riding to raise awareness for the Bahati Foundation, more information to come on this as well.