On paper, this is my favorite stage. I simply love Death Valley. I’ve had my best and worst rides on this single stretch of road, and it’s the only stretch on which I truly never know what to expect. I love the changing colors and conditions on the valley floor. But during The 508, cruising along in the middle of the night, this is the stage where the reality of the race really starts to set in. In Spring of 2009, I rode in 5 hours to Shoshone from Furnace Creek during the Spring Death Valley Double Century. In the fall, it took me 11.5 hours to cover the same road. Nobody could have expected winds like that. In 2007, I watched the sun rise in the valley floor. In 2010, I saw just how many racers stop to rest and sleep, and how others shine when the sun goes down.
Mistake 1: Dark Thoughts
It’s obvious on this course just how long and hard it is. After Furnace Creek, the physical challenges take a turn. When the sun sets and the dark of night settles in, racers have pushed beyond “double-century” distance and physical issues and into “ultra-marathon” distance and physical issues. In 2009, I was demoralized by the winds. I really did just sit down in Badwater and cry before my crew (who said later they wouldn’t have blamed me for quitting) got me back on the bike (actually, I walked into the wind, because I wasn’t able to clip in) and at least moving.
In 2010, the difference between those who were doing well and those who were struggling (this is a sweeping generalization, mind you), was positive attitude. One of my friends, Western Wood PeeWee, was climbing out and smiling on Jubilee. Butterfly was enjoying the course much more than in ’09. Jaguar was riding briefly with another cyclist and sharing some experience. Attitude is everything.
Mistake 2: Forgetting The Plan
At this point in The 508, it really stops being about the other racers (with notable exceptions for those in the front of the pack) and starts being an “individual effort.” Even though those blinking amber lights look close, they’re often well up the road. There’s no right or wrong way to handle the night. Some of my friends plan on sleeping a couple of hours. Others plan on pushing through to hit Shoshone by dawn. And others are going to wait and see how it goes. I would prefer to not get off the bike to sleep, but I have no way of knowing how I’ll feel once I’m out there. The only thing I know is that I’ll do what’s best for me. If I need to sleep, then I’ll sleep. And if I can get up and over the exit passes in the dark, then that’s fine, too. The fact of the matter is that I still have a double century to ride even though I’ve put 300 miles on my legs.
Mistake 3: The Silent Treatment
The crew is in full-on follow mode, but they still need to be coming up and checking in. It’s easy to get inside your head and question everything: training, planning, distance, speed. Doubts skitter across the mind like the scorpions on the road (Yes, there are scorpions. Lots of them.). In 2009, I was thankful every single moment my crew pulled up to just check on me and give me 15 seconds of conversation. I couldn’t have done it without their encouragement.
Mistake 4: The Silent Treatment, Part Deux
And while I’m talking about crew, here’s where your coherent decisions to choose the right people to sit in that van really pays off. I’m hard headed. I think I know it all out there. “Gels? Nah. I’m good.” It’s easy to be on good terms with the crew in the opening stages. Much different is that conversation in the middle of the night when I’m miserable. I don’t want to eat? Too bad. I think I’m going smooth and don’t need to take 5? Too bad. I think I’m taking in enough fluids and electrolytes and can skip this bottle? Guess again. I have to communicate to my crew. And when I’m not communicating with them, they need to be able to do what they know is right, even though I might be babbling an argument to the contrary.
Mistake 5: That Sinking Feeling
Go back through and read the blogs of 508 Finishers. Read the blogs of those who DNF’d. And read the blogs of those who, like me, barely made it through alive. One common element is stomach issues. It’s amazing how the body just shuts down and says “Yeah, I think we need to be done now.” That relatively civil statement, in my case, was expressed through vomiting and dizziness. Not so much fun. Pay attention to the body. I had been complaining of stomach discomfort for quite some time up Jubilee Pass, but when I descended that short mile off the back, my body just quit. I didn’t want to eat anything at all (sound familiar?). My crew, though, finally convinced me to try a single bite of a Hammer Bar.
Turns out a lot of my “distress” was just being hungry. I’d get sick again (and not just a rumbly tummy from hunger) before the end. But it’s safe to say that expecting the unexpected from your body is a safe bet. As my coach is fond of saying: it’s better to sleep it off and finish in 46 hours than it is to give up and take a DNF.
Mistake 6: Satisfaction
Hey, the “tough part” is over, right? But there are still 200 miles to go. Around Shoshone, I thought it was good to start realizing what I’d already accomplished. I drew determination from what I’d already conquered. After the winds of 2009 in Death Valley, nothing was going to keep me from finishing. Still, we hadn’t finished anything. Ibex Pass isn’t a leg breaker, and if you can make it through Furnace Creek without stopping, you can do the same in Shoshone. Seriously. Just get to Baker. From there, you really can start thinking ahead… a little bit.
(To Be Continued…)