All photos from hoodoo500.com. Hope to have my own photos up soon.
Sometime around midnight I was descending off of a mountain in Utah and looked down at my computer and saw 48 MPH. The support van was behind me, the air was crisp, but not cold, the roads were smooth and we were finally descending after a long climb up and over a mountain. My first thought was that this was a great way to spend a Saturday night: With friends in a beautiful area, on my bike speeding down a hill, chasing after the first place team in this inaugural 500-mile ultra-cycling race. My second thought was that I probably shouldn’t be looking at my computer while going that fast at night.
When we first heard about this race in the Spring we knew we had to get a team together. Brian, Jack and I were down and we asked newest Swarm! member (and successful triathlete) Nicholas to be on our team. Unlike the Furnace Creek 508, this race offers unlimited rider exchanges. At least one racer needs to be on the course at all times, but all four can ride together and can switch out at any time. Also different from the 508 is that at night the support vehicle does not have to follow at all times as long as s/he has two front and rear lights. This way the vehicle can drive ahead and the next racer can be set up for an exchange without losing any time.
We drove up to St. George on Thursday night and met up with Nicolas and his wife McCall, who would be our other support crew member with Megan (who was on Morgan’s support team for 508 in 2005 and the Bonobo fixed gear team last year). Like Nicolas, she had no ultra-distance experience, but was a quick learner. We could not of asked for a better support team then the two of them. At the pre-race meeting Deb from Planet Ultra, who knows us pretty well by now and referred to us as the tattooed vegan team, asked me what I thought our fastest time could be. I told her 24 hours. Jack and Brian are both training for solo 508 and are all-around strong riders and Nicolas is a fast road rider. I have experience with ultra-distance, but after a tough summer and a lot of traveling, I was the weak link of the team. How frustrating that is! Deb informed us that Team BHB was thinking around 25 hours and considered us their fiercest competition. Deb went back and told them our prediction and the race was on.
Brian in Panguitch
Race time for four-person teams was 11am Saturday, which gave us time to sleep in and be prepared. From the gun Brian set a brutal pace. Jack rotated in with him so they could paceline awhile, then Nicolas and I did the same. At one point we had about five miles on them. Then our inexperience with the terrain and the format cost us some time. We kept Brian out for too long. We had multiple riders out at some points where one rider would have been just as fast. We were passed and tried to hold on. Team BHB were the locals; Deb told us they had ridden the course four times together in preparation. Most of the course was above 6,000 feet and the highest point was almost 12,000; obviously to their advantage. Previous to Friday night we had no ambition of winning, so we easily reverted to riding our own race. We enjoyed the beautiful course and rode the best we could. We had only one support vehicle, an extended cabin pick-up truck, where five people could sit comfortably, but sleeping was not so easy. Except for a few minutes of shut eye, I think our entire team was awake for the 28 hours it took us to complete the 519 miles. Amazingly we all got along and worked well together sorting out who had what responsibilities.
- Brian ate raw the entire time.
- The lowest temperature was 36 degrees.
- No flats or mechanicals!
- Nicolas had some nausea late Saturday night, but bounced back into the rotation after a few hours
- I was happy to ride a lot of miles through the night on the B-team while the A-team (Jack and Brian) could get some rest.
- Utah is beautiful. I was reminded of the descriptions in Monkey Wrench Gang and of the Wile E. Coyote cartoons.
- A car chase passed us at about 2am; a mini-van going about 120 MPH followed by a succession of cop cars. Apparently two kids from a foster house stole the van and tried to make a get-a-way.
After the Altitude Sickness at 12,000 feet and the headwinds on the last 60 miles, we rolled back into St. George in 28 hours and 29 minutes. Team BHB beat us by about 100 minutes (or 20 minutes per 100 miles), but we had second place locked by almost 3 hours. The first solo rider came in around 35 hours. It was a tough course under tough conditions. At Monday’s banquet we each won some prizes from the raffle and were able to hang out with the other racers. Jack and Brian got some great experience for the 508 (October 5th), Nicolas had said he would never do this again on Sunday, but after a full night of sleep was already talking about how we could beat them next year, and I was just happy to be a part of such a great team. We may do a road race at the end of October, but for the most part this is the end of my season.