Thursday, October 18, 2012

Furnace Creek 508 - Northern Spring Peepers

A companion race report to Paul Kingsbury’s eloquent piece regarding the assembly of this year’s record breaking mixed 50+ 2 tandem team, and a race report for the even-number stages ridden by Jeanie “where’s my zip lock baggie” Tomkalski and Jim “here’s the proper way to make a pickle cheese turkey wrap” Ryan, aka Pancake Tortoise.

Northern Spring Peepers Paul Kingsbury, Wanda Tocci, Jeanie Tomkalski, Jim Ryan

Team history and race preparations:

The team started to take shape during the winter months following the 2011 508.  Paul Kingsbury and Wanda Tocci – crewing for my solo efforts the last 3 years, were hoping to either 1) ride or 2) not answer the phone when I called in 2012.  Thankfully they asked if I’d be interested in riding in a two tandem team with the expressed intent of setting the 50+ mixed tandem record set the prior year by Willy Nevin’s team.

I have a tandem…in my garage…hanging way up in the rafters; so although I have ridden one occasionally, I am by no means an accomplished tandem rider.  What could make that a little more entertaining?  Well, how about convince some poor unsuspecting cyclist 3000 miles away to be my tandem partner, sight unseen – and we would meet for the first time at the 508.  Enter Jeanie Tomkalski – a daring willful co-conspirator who in addition to all those daredevil qualities, like me, has a healthy lack of judgment and common sense. To add to the intrigue, we will ride a borrowed tandem that I’ve ridden once, in March, for 2 hours, and my tandem partner has never seen.  For icing on the cake let’s make it a co-motion tandem with the periscope setup and S+S couplers so it weighs a shit load.

Dana Davidson (Wanda’s brother and pretty much the Mayor of Calais Maine) and Colin Bailey (the clean cut, non-cursing gentleman tootsie roll pusher / physicist from NY) were recruited as crew, videographers, and photographers.
Peepers and crew at the local Chipotle on Friday - Hay caramba!

 Each year Gary “Bear” Baierl opens his home to us for race staging and prep, and this year was no different.   Having said that, since Gary was riding solo, and we had 2 tandems plus team, we had 10 or 11 people (riders and crew) taking up every spare spot in Gary’s house and camper.  It was exactly like the VH1 Woodstock documentary by the time Friday morning rolled around.  We’re going to make breakfast in bed for like 200,000 people,  maaaaaan!

Bear's house looked like Woodstock by Friday morning

We unpacked our gear Thursday at Bear's house and Paul (a co-motion dealer) and Wanda roll out their custom co-motion with a fancy paint job, custom 508 decals, belt drive and other secret “only dealers get this” crap on it…I don’t even know what it was made of – some space aged material that makes the tandem float in the air when it’s not moving…meanwhile Jeanie and I unearth “Titan” aka “Steamroller” aka “Super tanker” aka “Old ironsides” – for the rest of the article I’ll use “Big Bertha” - from Gary’s garage, and we start the process of putting a couple of lighter weight components on it so I could actually roll it forward.  We added drop bars for Jeanie, saddles and pedals.  Paul added some new tires and we were ready to take a test ride.

I was a little rusty on that test ride – probably because I’d only ridden a tandem one time this year – in March – and this time it was rush hour in busy Orange County, so that kinda spooked me. 

Jeanie was a trooper during those first miles as I tried to stay out of traffic and not tip over.  I only heard her mumble “oh Jesus” or “I’m okay…I’m okay” a few times – pretty good for our first time out riding “Big Bertha”.  We got the basics down pretty quickly and deemed ourselves “ready to win”.
While training up in Seattle I was able to get valuable pointers from tandem czars Mick and Martha Walsh – their advice rang in my head throughout the rest of the 508 (Thanks Mick and Martha!) – stuff like “stand a lot” and “the stoker chooses the gear” – words to live by (at least eventually, like Mile 400 for example).

After a Friday morning run to Starbucks and Albertsons, we came back to Gary’s house for some most excellent oatmeal then we were on the road to the start hotel.

This year the start line hotel has moved to the Hyatt Regency – a huge improvement all the way around for racers / crew and I bet the AdventureCorp crew putting on the event.
NSP Van at inspection

We got the van inspection completed no problemo – Wanda and Jeanie worked on additional signage for the van, and we test rode the bikes in the parking lot to make sure everything was in working order.  After inspection by 508 veteran Rick Amoeba Anderson, we hit the market for food.  It’s been 8 508s for me, and this year we set two market run records:  the biggest food bill dollar wise, and the longest receipt in length – over 40”.  We had enough food for a platoon.

The pre-race meeting was at the hotel, with Chris Kostman refreshing everyone’s understanding of the rules and acknowledging all the racers.  This year, no driving to the meeting required; how sweet is that?

Dinner that night – a nice walk down to the corner bakery with a big bonus – Wanda batted her eyes a few times at the manager and we all got free cake!

Race day start

We all got up in time to see the solos take off; Gary Brodie “Bear” Baierl, and lots of Seattle Randonneurs in the roster this year – Chris Ragsdale, Bob Brudvik, James McKee, Mike McHale, John Pearch were all riding – plus a bunch of randonneurs on their crews - great to see the NW so well represented at this year’s 508.

Something brilliant being discussed between the two Brodies (Pancake Tortoise / Bear at the solo start)

Solos off (including Gary on his insanely tricked out Carbent recumbent – his first 508 riding a bent) and we hit the gas station one more time.  Before we know it it’s go-time, and Paul and Wanda hop on the Stealth Co-motion, while the rest of us climb in the van to head to Johnson Road for the first bottle exchange.

Stage 2 | California City – Trona

My team skills are a little rusty, as I was in the rest room at the VFW hall when Paul and Wanda rolled in for the transition J.  Regardless, Jeanie and I got on Big Bertha and headed out.  The stage is a good first stage for two people who haven’t ridden together – good flats for 25 or so miles and we were able to lay out the communication plan for fine tuning our riding going forward.   

One thing about Big Bertha – you get the bike going, and it rolls forever – we carried great speed from the Cali City start to the T-intersection at Randsburg Road.  The rollers on the approach to the Randsburg climb were fun, as we were able to maintain our pace and then some on the approach to the climb.  The lower part of the climb is pretty gradual, then steepens near the top – we stayed in the big ring up front for the duration of the climb and rarely fell below 10 mph even on the steepest portions – not bad for a couple of newbies on a heavy rig.  Of course, that meant we were working kinda hard – and since we hadn’t done any standing on the bike yet, our asses were tired…but we didn’t care, as long as we kept getting all that tasty food and drink out of the van we were happy.

Looking fast as we get ready for a bottle exchange
The rollers out of Johannesburg can be kind of an energy sucking affair, but the temps were moderate this year so definitely not bad – it helps having two people powering through them on one bike!  The Trona descent was freaking awesome on that crazy tandem.  I’ve been blown off my bike here solo in a big cross wind – no danger of that with Big Bertha hauling ass down that hill – pretty sweet.  We used the aerobars here for the first time and it added a few MPH to the speedo, and rode super stable.
The run into Trona after the descent had a bit of a headwind, and didn’t feel quite as fast – I think we were both working hard to get to the time station before lights on; we missed it by 10-15 minutes, stopping just outside the entry into Trona for a minute to tweak the lights and get the follow going.

We rolled into Trona, switched bikes, did a quick bio break, and then Jeanie and I climbed into the van and started checking out all that fooood!  Oh, and Jeanie had trouble finding a misplaced zip lock bag with some shit in it.

Stage 4 | Furnace Creek to Shoshone.

I like all the climbs in the 508 – even Townes Pass – but for some reason I really like Jubilee and Salsberry.   This year I kept mentioning to the rookies on our team hat on the approach to Jubilee at night you tend to see a lot of white mice and spiders in the road that are illuminated by the van lights. 
Did we see any mice or spiders this year?  Nope.  Did we see a shit load of white moths flying into our eyes and mouths, attracted by the van lights?  Hell yeah.  Crazy desert.  

Rolling out of Badwater we ran up along Gary Bear Baierl and his crew; Recumbent guru Keith Kohan, the legend Steve Teal, and Vicki Tyer from the awesome state of Texas; We exchanged wise cracks, I told him how heavy his tandem was, he told me he took a nap, and I told him that Colin Bailey on our crew introduced me to a new thing we call a “special” – a mini tootsie roll with coffee beans squished into it; I’ve had about 32,500 specials since then (don’t tell anyone – it’s our secret recipe…wink wink).  I told Colin I was going to throw a pair of Chuck Taylor converse sneakers over the power lines in front of my house and start selling them in baggies.  Which reminds me – I’m pretty sure Jeanie will misplace another zip lock bag after this pull to Shoshone is over.

Tootsie Roll and coffee beans...who knew? Colin, that's who.

Jeanie and I climbed like monkeys on this stage, and we maintained a good pace – Jeanie asked for a lighter gear and a higher cadence, so we dropped it down and spun up Jubilee…near the top of Salsberry we started to grind it out, and she reminded me that there was a third ring on the front – something I’m not used to having; if she didn’t remind me I still would have been stomping on the pedals!   

The Salsberry descent was fast and stable; when we made the right turn to Shoshone we picked up a wee bit of a tail wind, so we agreed that we should “hammer in style” into the time station and rolled at over 30mph into town.

We rolled into Shoshone, switched bikes, did a quick bio break, and then Jeanie and I climbed into the van and started checking out all that fooood!  Oh, and Jeanie had trouble finding a misplaced zip lock bag with some shit in it.

Stage 6 | Baker to Kelso

This is a stage that I always need to improve upon during my solo efforts.  There’s something about climbing out of Baker in the morning after riding all night that is tough, and it’s important to push yourself or you’ll lose valuable time to the competition.  

Before we left we asked Colin to pick up some breakfast potatoes at the mad Greek that we’d eat later – more on that soon.  On the tandem, we had a really solid and consistent climb up Kelbaker.   
Tandems are never fast (I've been told since I barely know myself whether they're fast or not), but I felt good and Jeanie was climbing well; we did more standing through this climb and it 1) felt sooo good to stand and 2) we were getting more stable on the bike with each effort.  

The top of Kelbaker has the infamous ass-chewing pavement – on the tandem it was easier to endure; as we hit the last cattle guard crossing and rounded the top we started rolling for the descent.  
Riding the rough pavement on Kelbaker
There are a few sweeper turns at the top with slightly better pavement, then when the descent straightens out, we start to see the really chewed up road surface…after a cautious start, I just dropped into the aerobars and we positively bombed the descent – we blitzed into Kelso ahead of schedule, and Paul and Wanda got ready for their last stage.

Rolling into Kelso for the exchange - I sense a missing zip lock bag about to happen!
 After rolling into Kelso, we switched bikes, did a quick bio break at the rail museum, and then Jeanie and I climbed into the van and started checking out all that fooood – we ate our breakfast potatoes with peppers, onions and shitloads of ketchup and I WILL NEVER FORGET HOW AWESOME THEY WERE THANK YOU COLIN AND MAD GREEK CHEFS.  Oh, and Jeanie had trouble finding a misplaced zip lock bag with some shit in it.

Stage 8 | Almost Amboy to 29 Palms

What can you say about stage 8 other than “Sheep’s Hole”.  It was pretty warm as we jumped on Big Bertha for the last and penultimate stage.  Up to this point, I had still been pushing the big ring more often than I think Jeanie would like – I know this because the more two people ride together, the more open the stoker is about suggesting some things.  Probability that I was going to roll Big Bertha up Sheephole in the big ring without Jeanie mentioning it to me?  Um, how about zeeero!! 

One thing that always gets me about this section is how long the run up to the climb actually is.  The one awesome thing about this year’s 508?  Traffic was way down.  No giant F350s pulling 40’ moto trailers, or RVs pulling wranglers, or Pickups with in-bed campers with canoes on top, pulling a boat with dog beds flopping around inside the boat.  

Jeanie was working through some hydration issues on the climb, and kept the crew hopping with special drink orders; after a quick break for a back massage and ice sock, and she was back in form and we put the sheep hole climb in the done column and headed down for the run in to 29 Palms.  

Jeanie using the complex series of hand signals she worked out with the crew to request different drink mixes...

I know how mentally screwy it is to want to be done, but have that slight uphill 15 mile run to the turn on Utah Trail, followed by the intersections and last hills you have to navigate before the finish. 

That familiar slog up to the turn onto Utah Trail!
Jeanie asked me a couple of times about the finish line and our proximity to it, and I gave the very informed and mathematically correct response “Don’t worry about it”.  As we neared the turn to the Burger King and the frontage road, I said “I can see the finish line, but I am not going to tell you where it is until we get there so you don’t stop pedaling”.   

We stopped at the frontage road so Paul and Wanda could climb aboard their lighter than air fancy pants stealth tandem, and we cruised up the hill to the finish.

Teaming up for the ride up the hill to the finish
A two tandem team with a whimsical totem – one tandem with a couple who met and fell for each other while crewing for Pancake Tortoise at the 2009 508, and the other tandem comprised of two riders on borrowed equipment who never met until race time - lays down the mixed 50+ tandem record.  Put that and a couple of “specials” in a zip lock bag and lose it!

Peepers crossing the finish in 33h 15m

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