Team Iraconji’s 2011 Furnace Creek 508 Race Report….Finally!!!

Posted: November 23, 2011 in The 508

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

                                    Robert Frost
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

As many of you know racing the Furnace Creek 508 has been a dream of mine for some time. After crewing the race 5 rimes for my friend Steve “Desert Duck” Teal, 2011 was my year. Well it was mine and David Figgats year as I thought the best step to tackling the 508 would be on a team. And if not a 4 person team like we had talked about then a 2 person team.

As we drew closer to the race, and time became more precious I was worried, and wanted to make sure I was ready and would not forget a thing for Team Iraconji’s first time racing the 508. It all started the week before we needed to be in Santa Clarita, California at the starting line. Plastic bins with tires and tubes, tools and lubes, supplements and medical supplies, especially pain medication, it was 509 miles on a bike, it’s going to hurt. With several checklist it would be a snap and we wouldn’t forget a thing, right? Wrong!

“Where’s the tire pump? DOH!!!”

Team Iraconji race check in.

The trip to Santa Clarita was uneventful making a stop in Riverside to pick up our crew chief Chuck Clements. Chuck and I work together and have known each other for the past 7 years. In that time we’ve crew Steve including the 508, the Badwater Ultra Marathon and a triple Ironman triathalon. Next stop would be near LAX because I misread the rules and needed to pick up  a reflective magnetic sign for the back of our support vehicle. We made it with plenty of time to spare, signed in and went through vehicle inspection and bike inspection. We decided an early dinner would be the ticket and then head over to the pre-race meeting for a little info. Made it to the store fairly early, purchase and organized the food and in bed before 8:30, yes it actually happened that way, perfect.

David getting ready for the start.

We woke up early to perfect weather outside. Our start time was 9:00 AM, so we had plenty of time to eat and fuel up since David had to make it through the first section of the first leg before he would reach us in the support van some 30 miles down the course. We got to the starting line and David got ready, Chuck readied his bike. The rules state that the crew needs to head out before the start of the race so as to get through San Francisquito Canyon before the riders, we wished David good luck and headed out. It took the riders about 1 1/2 hours to make it to the staging area where we waited just before dropping into the California desert. He looked great as he came up the road towards us.

David just after the staging area.

He dropped his water bottles picked up a new one and away we went, from now till the end of the race the support vehicle and the rider would be together. David made great time as he dropped down into the desert then climbed up through the windmills in Tehachapi only to drop back down to California City. That’s what this course is all about, with 35000 feet of total climbing it’s a never ending roller coaster of ups and down’s You would have a bomber 50 MPH decent only to climb up the other sides 10% grade at 10 MPH.

Dave at the top of the Randsburg climb.

Rolling into California City I was ready to hit the rode. David rolled up handed off the baton and I was gone. Telling myself “pace yourself, pace yourself, you have a long way to go”. The long flat road out of Cal City was great and I settled into a pace while the crew loaded up with fuel, ice and Subway’s.

They caught me about a hour down the road as I was making my way through the rollers heading for the climb to Randsburg. The climb up to Randsburg is a steady 7 mile grind with an elevation gain of 1500’ After that it drops down to Highway 395 and over to Trona road for another series of rollers, bigger rollers. Shortly after making the turn onto Trona road I started getting cramped in the left thigh, “this should not be happening with only 36 miles under my belt”. I worked on trying to keep stretched out but I suffered thru the remaining 35 miles and made it to time station 2 in Trona 1 minute before the lights needed to go on. Not to bad on time just not quite as fast as I wanted to be. Once in Trona we made the transition got the support vehicle ready for the night and off we went.

David did a great job of making up time that I lost and in no time he was down the road and up and over the Trona Bump at 170 miles into the race. Entering into the Panamint Valley it was now dark and David was cruising along. This is a section that can be very windy sometimes but we were lucky, the night was clear, cool and completely still, it was going to be an awesome evening of racing and we were totally amped to be here. While David was putting it down on his way towards the base of Townes Pass I was working on stretching, hydrating, eating and trying to get some sleep since I was going to be up all night.

David on the summit of Townes Pass

David continued to make great time and really worked on making sure he was fueled before he made the climb. He rounded the turn at highway 190 which is the start of the climb and headed for the summit 13 miles away at 4956 feet, a 3800 foot gain from the base. The most difficult climb of the race, it took David 2 hour 15 minutes to reach the summit, he later said he should have gone with lower gearing to tackle the 10% to 13% grade on Townes.

After reaching the summit it is a 17 mile 4900 foot drop down to Stove Pipe Wells in Death Valley. It can be a hair raising decent in the middle of the night as near the top, the road will drop away while you are riding in your support car lights. With your eye adjusted to the bright car lights you quickly come up and over a rise at 30 mph before the car lights get there, total darkness! The decent can be tiring too due to taking such a long time to make it to the bottom.

At night time the support vehicle has to follow its rider at all times. If the rider stops the support vehicle stops, if the support vehicle stops the rider has to stop. Once at Stove Pipe Wells we made a quick pit stop and were back on the road with 25 miles left till time station 3 at Furnace Creek. David did an amazing job. A couple miles down the road I noticed he was swerving a little, when we pulled along side him he said he was getting sleepy, but with about 12 miles left to go he managed to catch about 3 more riders. Way to go David! We rolled into time station 3 at 1:21 AM.

After serving a time penalty of 30 minutes (more about this later) we were back on the road and moving along well. I took it easy at first, being cautious that my cramping and stomach issues might return but by Badwater, 17 miles down the road I was feeling great and had a great rhythm going, making my way to the base of the next big climb. As I made my escape from Death Valley I would have to do it over 2 passes. The first is Jubilee Pass, a 5 mile 1400 foot climb. After reaching the top of Jubilee I would get a 1 mile decent and then start up again to Shoshone Pass a 9 mile 2200 foot climb. I ate and drank all the way up to the base of the first climb, 47 minutes later I summited Jubilee and 1 hour and 20 minutes later I was over Shoshone as the sun rose in the east. What an awesome sight to ride through the night and watch the sunrise come up over the mountains.

Dave after pulling an "All night'r" up Jubilee and Shoshone Pass

With as great as I felt on that section I have to mention that funny things happen in the night, especially when you haven’t slept. As I was making my way up the climbs I was really concentrating on the task at hand, making it to the next time station ASAP. With my head down, riding in the lights of the support vehicle I would stare at the road about 10 feet in front of my bike. Before too long I was noticing that the lights around me looked different and not like they looked before. It was like I was being followed by a spaceship with a spotlight on me. No noise just this light surrounding me. The small desert bushes that grow along the side of the road in Death Valley are about a foot tall and round, they are also a very light white or carmel color, this added to the effect. I would lift my head to look around and there was nothing, the effect would disappear but before long I would be spacing out again and the spaceship would be back, so very strange. This went on till the morning light started to show itself.

Once it was 7:00 AM the support vehicle did not need to follow so they went ahead to Shoshone so David could get ready for the transition.

I rolled in to time station 4 just after 7:00 AM and was elated, I had made it through the night and had ridden up and over the passes faster then I had anticipated. David was ready to go when I got there. A quick pat on the back a hug, pass the baton and away David went toward Ibex summit and beyond to Baker. We milled around for a couple minutes getting my bike on the rack and using the facilities. Once we caught up with David he had a funny little story for us.

David heading towards Ibex Summit

A couple miles before we caught up with him he had passed George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas. When David caught up with him he pulled along side of him and said “Hey, you’re George Vargas, you’re famous” George said “Ya”, laughed and waved and David rode off. George was riding the 508 solo, he is a really strong rider and this was his 6th time riding it, once was on a fixed gear bike. David’s comment made reference to to remark that George made to my wife once upon a time while she was in Nytro Cycleslooking at bikes. He introduced himself to her and asked her if she had heard of him? She answered “no, should I have?” He then said to her, “I ride the 508 and I’m kinda famous” She loves telling that story but also says he seems to be a really nice guy.

So after David’s little story we settle in to following him and leap frogging. I ate, drank and tried to take a little nap again since I was unsuccessful that night, while Chuck drives and Robin and Stephanie take care of David. Once up and over Ibex summit there is a long downhill towards Dumont Dunes. A rise up the other side then it flattens out till Baker. It is a 56 mile long leg that has a 1200 foot elevation gain so it is one of the flattest legs and usually pretty fast too. David made quick work of this leg riding it with the fastest average of any of the legs at 19.5 MPH and covering the 56 miles in 2 hours 53 minutes. In fact he was going so fast that by the time he made it to Baker I was not quite ready to go. He gave me a rundown on that section, passed the baton and I was again on my way.

Passing the baton at time station 5 in Baker

Chuck and the crew decided to send me down the course on my own while they bought ice, gas and some hot food. They caught me about 45 minutes later as I kept up the gradual climb to the top. This climb is not steep at 2500 feet in 20 miles, but it never flattens out. It keep pitching upward towards Kelso Peak as the day starts to warm up. At about 2 miles from the top of the climb the road condition turns to the absolute worst you could imagine. It’s basically a packed dirt road with sections of broken asphalt. The dirt sections has all these rocks sticking out of the surface by about 1/8” to 1/2”, and this goes on for about 12 miles. When you reach the top it still just as bad and the decent is steep enough to hit 30 MPH, you just have to pick your way through this mine field. At the bottom of the decent you cross the railroad tracks in Kelso and see the Mojave National Preserve Visitors Center on the right and the booming sands of the Kelso Dunes on the left, I was happy to be off the bike at this point.

Stephanie trying to get some sleep after a rough night of support.

David was on his way again for the 4th and final time, this would be the last leg of the race he would ride. While he was on his way we were telling war stories at the time station with Chris “Flying Fish” Frost who has ridden the 508 twice and finished the Badwater Ultra Marathon an incredible 8 times. In case you don’t know, the Badwater Ultra Marathon is billed as the “world toughest foot race” I have crewed for it 3 times and I’m here to tell you it is also the world toughest race to crew. A 135 mile running race that starts at the lowest spot in the western hemisphere, Badwater, Death Valley 280 feet below sea level to Whitney Portals, at 8300 feet it is the gateway to Mt Whitney the highest point in the continental US. And all this in July when the temperatures in Death Valley near 130 degrees, sounds fun doesn’t it?

Meantime down the road David was hammering away like he had just gotten on the bike for the first time. The 7th leg is the shortest of all the legs at 33 miles but is by no means easy. It is usually a hot middle of the day section and climbs 2000 feet in the first 14 miles. It then flattens out on the top and then for all your work you get a 16 mile downhill to Amboy, the last time station.

Now I’ll tell you about the bad news. We had accumulated 30 minutes worth of time penalties during Saturday. One for David rolling a stop in California City and the other for our crew pulling up along side me to talk to me while the race director was directly behind them. Fifteen minutes for each penalty so  the total would be 30 minutes. The time penalty would have to be served out at time station 7 before we would be allowed to leave on the final leg of the race, but here’s the problem. Early Sunday morning as we pulled into time station 3 in Furnace Creek we were approached by Ian Kelly a race supporter who was originally at time station 1 earlier in the race. Ian stated that he was aware of our 30 minutes of penalty and if we wanted we could serve out the penalty right now. I said we would, but only if he was sure we would not have to serve it later, he assured us we would not. I asked him that same question again as did David and Chuck, he again assured all 3 of us that he would be making his way down the course and would make sure that the penalty was recorded showing us having served it at time station 3. Great, we would sit in Furnace Creek for 30 minutes and then head out when he said we could go, which is exactly what we did.

Jump ahead about 14 hours and to time station 7 in Amboy.

We leave David out on the road with about 2 to 3 miles to go before he reaches time station 7. When we get there the time station workers let us know we have a 30 minutes penalty to serve before we can go on. “WHAT, wait, we served our penalty at time station 3” We explain what happened at time station 3 in Furnace Creek and that Ian said he would take care of it. They never heard from Ian and they knew nothing of our 30 minutes we spent there paying for our penalties. They tried to call Ian but were never able to get ahold of him.

As we wait out our 30 minute penalty...with happy faces on.

They then called Chris Kostman, the race director, and he said “As stated in the rule book, all time penalties have to be served at time station 7. And that Ian Kelly had no authority to have racers serve time penalties at other time stations”. I was pissed and David was furious. I had Chuck talk to Megan at the time station and again explain what happened. She said it was out of their hands and that we had 2 options. Either we sit out the 30 minutes, which they had the clock running already since David had rolled in or we continue on and risk DQ. Well it was a no brainer, since we had already been racing for about 30 hours there was no way we were going to risk a DQ, so we stayed.

Thirty minutes after this whole fiasco started I was back on the bike and it felt good….for awhile anyways. It seems that this last section is always windy and warm, and it was no different this year. As I made my way east down National Highway to the actual little town of Amboy I was working hard but very excited that this was the final leg and soon we would be rolling across the finish line. Once in Amboy I made a left heading into a headwind and then I heard the “ding ding ding ding” of a crossing gate. It was a train track with the gates coming down and a train approaching from the east, a BIG train. If I had been there about 20 seconds sooner I would have made it over the tracks, instead I coasted to a stop and pulled up next to our support van. Since we had time I had Chuck get out and help me take off my aero bars on my bike since they had been driving me crazy the last 100 miles or so over the rough roads. I was sick of listening to them rattle and since this leg has a long climb I figured I would not be needing them for the remainder of the race, I was right.

The finish line after 509 miles.

We removed them with plenty of time to spare since the train went on forever. Once the train passed I was on my way again. Passing through this area I remembered how exciting this always is when you’re in the support vehicle because you know it won’t be much longer. Passing the areas that salt is harvested from it is a reminder of really how harsh it is out here. Once the road leaves the salt mining area you start the climb up towards Sheephole Summit, 1500 feet in 10 miles. Once you get towards the top of the climb it starts to get steeper and the road has only sandy shoulder so the support vehicle has to hang out in the highway and follow at a little distance behind the rider because the other traffic on this road is flying by. Most of the drivers on this road are using it as a short cut coming home from Las Vegas or the Colorado River and they seem to be in a very big hurry. I would swear that a couple of cars that passed us that afternoon where going close to 90 MPH!! It’s a little unnerving sharing a 2 lane road with people driving so fast.

At the finish with Chris Kostman the race promoter.

The crew did a great job staying behind me the whole way and shielding me in case something were to happen. E was really glad when that section was over as I crested the top and headed down a 5 mile decent to where the road turns west and stays that way for the next 18 miles. It is so hard to stay focused because you know you are so close yet it’s also hard to tell how much further till you make the turn into town, I hated this part, luckily we had a slight tailwind. Once into town it’s kind of flat except for one last small climb. After that climb you can see the hotel where the finish line is. At about 1 mile out from the finish David got back on his bike with me and we rode over the finish line together. I was totally elated and so happy to finish.

L to R. Stephanie, David, Robin, Dave and Chuck our crew chief.

What an incredible adventure to be able to participate in. I feel so fortunate that I was able to share this with my wife Robin, she did an incredible job of supporting us during the race and celebrating with us at the finish. It was also great to have my good friend Chuck Clements as our crew chief, he has so much experience doing race support and I can’t think of anyone else I would rather have in the driver seat. And a big thanks to Stephanie Figgat, for being so patient and caring, taking care of David and me when we were on the bike, I loved the way she just kept offering food to me to get me to eat, thanks Steph, without you I would have run out of juice. Lastly, I am so grateful to have a teammate like David. He was such a great inspiration to me, he is so strong that it is truly amazing the way he can turn over the pedals mile after mile. He gave 110% and our finish time shows it.

Team Iraconji’s 2011 Furnace Creek 508 finish

509.6 miles in 34:33:15,

We had a great time and a great race, Adventure is worthwhile and I can’t wait till next year!

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Comments
  1. Chuck says:

    Your crew chief looks all swollen up.

  2. Steve Saeedi says:

    Great report! Team Spotted Ass was also bit by spending 30 minute penalty at Furnace Creek and also at Amboy. Boy, were we pissed, but then we decided it wasn’t worth fighting, so we had fun making fun of life and people in general!

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