If you come across a desert tortoise during The 508, the most appropriate action to take would be to stop until the tortoise has crossed the road and is no longer in the road corridor. It is not advisable to drive past or to take any other actions that might frighten the animal. If a tortoise voids its bladder (a typical reaction from fright), it can die from dehydration.
- Chris Kostman, Furnace Creek 508 email update #4
Yeah, that sounds scary, but hey - in the world of Tortoises, the Pancake Tortoise is a faster, "less-likely-to-pee-its-shell-and-get-dehydrated-in-the-desert" Tortoise. With that disclaimer in hand, enjoy this year's race report.
After several visits to Death Valley in October as both rider and crew, I can tell you that the one thing that stands above all else is: It is damned fun. Before, during and after the race timeless moments accumulate, and each year in retrospect it's hard to believe that so many experiences unfolded over the course of just a few days. Here's a quick recap of this year's 508 for the Pancake Tortoise.
2/3 of the PT crew (Paul and Wanda) arrived on Wednesday for a little R&R before race activities took up all their free time. 1/3 of the PT crew (Lehrin) had work responsibilities that required him to balance priorities and get into Valencia Friday night. The pre-race activities were comprised of meeting up at the home of Gary Brodie "Bear" Baierl (aka "Camp Brodie") on Thursday for van and bike set up, and to sit in Bear's front yard eating pizza and shouting "Brodie" a lot. Good thing Bear has understanding neighbors because we probably think we're a lot funnier than people around us might think we are. Team Pancake and Team Bear worked on final set up; and Team Pancake performed the necessary "modifications for van readiness" to ensure we'd have external music for the race itself (always an entertaining part of the pre-race logistics).
Friday breakfast for some of us was at an Orange County Starbucks near Camp Brodie where I must say, the Starbucks manager was so insanely wired with caffeine that it was like a Seinfeld episode. The dude was saying to every single customer in line something like "hey how are you welcome to Starbucks would you like to try one of our iced or cold coffee beverages today would you they're so great and really go down smooth what can I get you?????" - but when you read it do it at the pace of "peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers" and you'll get what I mean - he was drinking the hi-test stuff, no question. It was the most frantic Starbucks I've ever experienced - living in the Seattle area, that's saying something.
Friday morning we left Camp Brodie we drove up to Valencia; 508 inspectors were out in force, and we were completely ready, inspected, and registered by early afternoon. We then made the customary market run to Albertsons using Paul's GPS - older Garmin software was fun in that it constantly fubar'd which side of the road the destination was on - so the cool part was all the roads around Valencia are like 3 lanes each way - the GPS lady is doing her thing: "destination on right"; which was then typically followed by Paul making the obligatory u-turn to get to the opposite side of the road where the destination actually was. After a while we started automatically just doing the opposite of what she told us and it worked better.
The 2010 Market Run included boat loads of food and drink that you need just in case you need a lot of nutrition options, but inevitably you end up at the finish with lots of stuff...We always get to leave the vast array of leftovers with Bear Baierl each year, which he then in turn brings the following year to Race Across Oregon when we can finally consume it, some of which has the best if used by date well passed.
After the Market Run was complete, we hung out on a grassy knoll outside of the hotel and snacked on some food - we spent a little time with Bob Brudvik and Chris Ragsdale - Bob was pitching the idea of the "Charlie Miller PBP 2011 sub 56 hour plan"... as long as Chris promises to stay at the front the entire time and pull everyone else through the French coutryside for all 750 miles, I told him I'd consider it. Bob's logic was "even if you fall off the back in Brest and have to suffer your way back to Paris on your own, you'll still PR just from the fact that you rode a super fast time to cover the first half..." I like the way Bob thinks, although I have some work to do as my trick to riding with Chris is to leave a lot earlier than he does then chat for a few minutes when he catches me - that's the 'riding with Chris' part...
The pre-race meeting was in a new location but already too small for the racers and crew; even with room logistics being tight, all the important stuff was covered efficiently and we were back at the hotel in good season for a relaxing evening. Pancake crew member Lehrin Morey arrived sometime after 9:30 and PT was already in REM sleep ... We all grabbed a quick breakfast before the start and then I rolled over to the start line with about 20 minutes to spare.
The field gets stronger every year; Bear and I hung out at the back and told "Brodie jokes" for 15 minutes before the start - I wish I could remember them because Brodie B was laughing a lot and I was thinking I had some good material going... I made a feeble attempt after the race to try and remember my best quips, but I couldn't remember what happened 5 minutes ago, let alone a conversation from Saturday morning. We rolled out for the start behind the CHP escorts (I wish I had them for regular bike commutes) and before long we were making the turn onto San Franciscito Canyon. The one thing that I remember about the first 25 miles was how tough it was to carve out some space so you weren't on someone's wheel, or someone was on your wheel. I did a couple of sprints to get some free space that eventually got me some separation. We didn't have the same impressive tail winds we experienced in both 2008 and 2009 through to Trona; it was warm but there was some overcast that kept the temperatures in check. Lots of good racing going on from Johnson Summit all the way to Randsburg - gone are the days of getting out of California City or Trona with no one around you; unless of course your Chris Ragsdale or Terry Lentz - it's lonely at the top.
I just stayed on the bike until lights on before the turn for Townes Pass; the TP climb is always tough, so I just established a rhythm that I could maintain and listened to music - My iPhone had about 15 hours of music on board, but selecting shuffle resulted in it playing the same 15 songs over and over ... that's where a crew earns their Trona Burrito - improvising the song order and connecting their own devices (like Lehrin's killer song collection) to keep the tunes fresh.
No need for stopping at the top of Townes Pass - it was nice weather so we just bombed over the top - going into those dips on the top half of the descent never gets old for temporary pucker factor. Slap a tiny little cateye light on your bars, get yourself up to 55 or so, then drop into a dip that causes the van lights to temporarily (and completely) disappear and you've got a crazy ride going. Things got nice and warm by the time we hit Stove Pipe Wells - we rolled through Furnace Creek and headed on to Badwater (a favorite rest room stopping place along the route).
How about those crazy white mice? I can't remember exactly which section it was - maybe enroute to or just after Badwater? There were bright white mice hanging out in the middle of the road every 1/4 mile or so - they didn't even flinch when we came up on them (which could explain the couple of flat mice I saw)... I also saw 4 scorpions, a shit load of spiders, sasquatch on one of those electric bikes, and a pink giraffe drinking a mai tai - okay - maybe I'm a little hazy on the last two.
We saw a few vehicles at Badwater - we made a quick rest room stop, then headed out for the Salisbury and Jubilee climbs. We passed flamingo just coming out of BW - he had gone down on the pavement - and I think somewhere through here where Mighty Mouse (who we had sort of been trading positions with for a while) finally put the hammer down and pulled away. The Godwit team rode by on the Jubilee climb (Cara Gillis I think? Super fast climber); Jubilee was a pretty good climb; Salisbury was a bit more of a slog, but again - I just got a rhythm - the crew kept me fed, and we did our thing and got over the top. Somewhere around here I was talking outloud to myself to stop thinking "sleepy thoughts" - so I waved the van up for a no-doz; that plus the Starbucks doubleshots kept me reasonably alert.
Following the descent off Salisbury, we headed to Shoshone; we stopped in Shoshone for rest rooms (and I think we got gas for the van?) - then headed out. Wade Baker (Wren) was there at the same time - he left just in front of us, and he totally pulled away on the way to the Apex summit. I felt pretty good heading to Baker (but obviously nowhere near as good as Wren felt) - with a few miles to go before town the crew went ahead to get food; I had a very tasty AM/PM microwave breakfast sandwich (you know how it is - later in the race solid food rules the day) ... I'm not sure what the breakfast sandwich was truly made of - I don't think it had too many organic ingredients - but I read a perpetuem label and I'm not exactly sure what I'm eating so what the hell. It tasted good - sitting on the van's back bumper eating my generic Egg McMuffin, the sun's out - life is good. I made quick work of the sandwich and we headed out for the Kelbaker climb.
I was half expecting Bear Baierl to come up behind me through this section as his riding style is ideally suited for the Shoshone/baker and Baker/Kelso sections.
The skies were clear on Sunday and it warmed up A LOT - I was definitely feeling the heat as we had a very cool summer in the NW; we used the tried and true "tube socks full of ice" to keep cool - which melted sooooo quickly - I just paced myself on the climbs and tried to keep stopping to a minimum (and brief sit-on-the-bumper stops only - no sitting in the van, otherwise the crew turns on you and starts making threats). The descent off Granite Pass didn't seem as bad this year. Well, you ask "Hey pancake, did anything positively suck in the last 100 miles? It all sounds so rosy..." -
Making the left turn out of Amboy to head for the Sheephole (aka "sheep's hole") climb - last year there was what I can only describe as a fabulous tail wind that got us to the climb itself super fast... this year? Well you know what they say about "pay back". It wasn't the world's worst headwind, but I can tell you it definitely took some time to get from the turn to the base of the climb... so much time in fact that I was starting to wonder if I missed a turn, or there was an additional upcoming turn that I had forgotten... when I finally got to the climb I was happy - I'd rather be climbing then dorking along in a headwind on the flats...
The descent from Sheephole was windy, keeping speeds down, and that last 20 miles is a brain-drainer for sure, but we made it to 29 Palms and finished well; SUPER job by a killer crew Paul/Wanda/Lehrin - they were a well oiled machine that made it easy to stay on the bike... and speaking of well oiled...hey crew - how about that Bag Balm, eh? Pretty shiny stuff...
After the finish we went to pizza hut for some solid food; that pizza tasted so damned good - and I almost face planted in my pizza 3 or 4 times - something about Pizza Huts make me sleepy. After dinner we headed back up the hill to watch Bear come across (discussing different race plans for 2011 as he crosses the finish line, and already sizing up aspects of his ride before he came to a complete stop (actually I think he was discussing it while doing a track stand) - if we hooked up an EEG machine to his brain and my brain at the finish, you'd see impressive brain activity on his EEG read out, while on mine you'd be saying stuff like "is this thing on?" or "try it now...".
Monday morning we went to the post-race breakfast - there were some last minute logistics that were delaying the food...and more importantly, delaying the coffee; more people poured in while the restaurant staff had increasingly panicked looks in their eyes... we figured that we should cut back on the demand by rolling out and heading to Denny's - so we loaded up the vans and we moved to beverly - hills that is, swimming pools, movie stars...wait a minute - I'm mixing in a different story here...we went to Denny's...that's what I meant - while there many omelets were consumed and many laughs were had. It also helped that we had a quick witted waitress (highlight - everyone orders coffee except Jun, who orders hot chocolate - so she says "got it - 7 coffees and 1 sissy la-la" - Jun's hot chocolate? 1.59, the immediate crowd laugh from her one-liner? Priceless); we laughed our asses off for 2 hours, along with a few other riders/crews that came in after us. We kicked around plans for 2011, told jokes, and swapped race stories - it was a real "Brodeo" and a great way to end the weekend.
Thanks so much to Team Pancake (Wanda, Paul, and Lehrin, to Tam for supporting me and keeping everyone informed, and Team Bear (and BRODIE!) for the laughs, hospitality, and of course, fun.