Archive for September, 2009

Knoxville Fall Classic Double Century 09/19/2009

| September 27, 2009 7:02 am
Knoxville Fall Classic Double Century 09/19/2009
by Clyde Butt


After a 19 month absence from riding in California Triple Crown series events, I’m glad I chose to do this one. A long term period of unemployment forced me into survival mode – I simply could not justify or pay for the events. Praise God, I landed safely at Brocade last month (08/10/2009), and of course, one of my first actions was to check the calendar for all the doubles still going on this year!

My brother and his family live only 8 miles from the start. Having not seem them for a while, I made arrangements to stay with them and visit a while before the big ride day. Brother Doug and family just returned from a vacation to Sweden. Wow, the pictures were incredible, perfect weather for that part of the world. A must see for me, someday.

I arrived at the start location nearly an hour before check in time and to my surprise and delight Albert Kong showed up early, too. What a delightful guy. Always smiling and showing his enthusiasm for cycling. He was still recovering from doing the Last Chance 1200 in Colorado less than a week ago! What a stud! Later the next day at the awards breakfast, Albert was inducted into the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame after completing his 50th double century!

Instead of checking in and taking off for some much needed rest, I decided to stick around and help check in the riders. Albert took care of A-L last names while I managed the M-Z crowd. It was a lot of fun meeting everyone, checking their names off, and giving them their ride numbers and route slips. Volunteering is always a blast. You gott’a try it sometime, if you haven’t done so.

I still managed to get to sleep and log about 6 hours down time. This has always been a challenge for me the day before a big event. I guess the excitement kind of takes over, even after several years of doing these types of rides.

The Event

I “slept in” and got up at about 3:30am, ate a big cranberry wheat muffin and banana I purchased at Trader Joes before leaving the bay area. Got to the start and saw my friend Kitty G. about to start. At 4:37am my wheels were rolling and I caught her about 30 mins down the road.

I left all my cold weather clothes behind, save my long fingered wool gloves. Even though it was mild at the start, I remember Mt. George from 2007 where I froze and couldn’t feel my fingers or toes in the 36 degree temp on the descent!

Well, I didn’t need ‘em. In fact, I descended with arm warmers rolled down around my wrists. Conditions were perfect, about 58 degrees and the wind at the start had dissipated. What a pleasure to pace line with Kitty G., Karen Huber, Isabelle Drake, and a few other very experienced ultra-cyclists. In fact, after 4 hours on the course, I noticed that we were averaging 18.8 mph! At this rate, I thought, I’ll be done in 13 hours or so.

Karen Huber; one of only 3 women that finished Alta Alpina in 2009, the #1 hardest double century on the circuit

My what a difference the heat can make. 6:16 mins ride time to complete the first 100 miles and over twice as long to get the second 100 done! By 11:30am, I was probably down about 1 liter of water. I have difficulty forcing myself to drink when the temp is cool like it was that morning. I think this set me up for what was about to take place…

As I came up to the pre-lunch water stop at mile 97, both of my hamstrings started to twitch…an all to familiar feeling for me. I knew that cramps were about to hit. No matter how much I hydrate and take endurolites, Tums, and eat bananas, something has happened over the last 3 years as I entered my 50s. Heat induced cramps? Age-related? Could my bodily systems be changing and not producing the right amount of elements needed to avoid these debilitating cramps? I don’t know, but I’m sure going to try and find out.

For the next 6 hours, I suffered. Must have walked a total of 5 miles or more…on the bike a minute or two, then cramps would start, off the bike to walk them off…over and over again. I even got a little “short” with a rider that came by like so many others asking if there was anything I needed. I said, “NO, I’m all over it!” Needless to say, I was getting pretty agitated by the whole ordeal. After all the walking, the front of my feet, right around the ankle joint, were getting really sore.

But I was determined to not quit. Must of had something to do with the fact that my personal goal for the second half of the year was to finish this ride. A DNF would have put me in jeopardy of not getting paid some of the potential incentive bonus I’m eligible for at Brocade. What a great company, they are actually going to pay me for completing this ride!

I missed the turn to the lunch stop and continued on to climb Siegler Canyon and Cobb Mtn. Two pretty tuff climbs, especially for me in the condition I was in. I could not ride any of the inclines without cramping! All I could do was walk and coast on the flats and decline sections.

Thank God for SAG support. Ernesto came along at just the right time with cold drinks, and other supplies. I downed a coke, took some more endurolytes and started out again, only to find myself cramping again.

I sat down at a paved driveway to stretch out my hams and it seemed to help me ride a little farther before cramps set in again, so I kept stretching them out, even while on the bike, hoping I could overcome this problem before it overcame me.

About 5:30pm as I was climbing Pope Valley Rd., I had a terrible bout with cramps in my hamstrings and quads. I was hobbling to try and walk them off. At this point, I was seriously thinking that I was done, stick a fork in me, I may not be able to continue!

Oddly enough, as the sun got low in the sky and the temps began to fall, no more cramps, not a single bout for the rest of the ride. They must be heat induced…gott’a find out about this before I do another long ride.

I was so glad they were over, I got very pumped up, reinvigorated to make up for the slow, agonizing afternoon.

After Rest Stop #5 as twilight was coming on, I came across a lone cyclist, Nancy. She was doing her third double century and going for the triple crown jersey (only riders that complete 3 in a calendar year can buy it). I asked her if she would like me to buddy up with her during the night hours and she welcomed the idea. Always do this, folks. Two sets of lights on the road are always better than one.

As we rambled on down Hwy 28, we realized that it was even more important to stay together. It was Saturday night and we were in vacation camping country (Lake Berryessa). A few trucks with their trailer rigs loaded with jet skies came dangerously close to us. We know what they had been doing – how do you spell drinking & driving?

I wasn’t as concerned about it as Nancy. I guess since I always pray before every ride that God will dispatch guardian angels to watch over us, I figure that when my time is up on this earth, nothing, no matter how cautious I am will keep me from entering into eternal life, but lets not rush it, either :)

At about 8pm Nancy and I came up to the next turn on our route slip. We were to make a left at the junction of hwy 28 and hwy 121. Hmm, Scott and his team of volunteers had done a good job of marking the course at every turn and I saw the Kx left arrow at just the right mileage on my computer, so we turned at the store. Little did we know that had we gone just another 30 yards up the road, we would have seen the real left turn to make!

7 miles and about 1500′ of elevation gain later, we came to the end of this wrong turn road. Some people were having a pool party with loud music at the top where there was a small community of homes and so I crashed the party. I must have looked like an alien walking up to them…miners light strapped to my helmet and reflective ankle bands and other reflective stuff showing. Chris, with his buff shaved chest full of tattoos informed us that we had to go all the way back to the store 7 miles away to get back on course!

Nancy was not exactly happy about this. In fact I distinctly remember hearing some expletives shouted into the air!

Now it didn’t really rattle me. I was really enjoying the balmy temps and beauty of the outdoors. However, I did feel bad for Nancy. She wanted to get to the finish a lot earlier than when we would tonight. As we got back to the store, I called Scott and told him what happened (I tried to call him at the end of the road 7 miles away but there was no network coverage). He explained that the turn is further up the road where the stop sign is, and sure enough, as we talked, I looked up and saw what he was describing. It was kind of comforting to hear him say that he has made the same wrong turn, too! We climbed Steele Canyon all the way to the top. That little out and back amounted to 14 miles and about another 1.5 of riding!

Lesson learned; always preview the route slip before the ride. Had I realized that the left turn was a left to keep us on hwy 128, I would have been looking for markers to confirm we were on that hwy!

Hey, Scott, just the same, please place that road marker AFTER the turn onto Steel Canyon! Thanks!

Scott also told me during our phone call that 4 riders had just made the left turn onto hwy 28 about 5 minutes ago and there were still 3 riders behind us. He assured me that even if we got to the finish in Vacaville after midnight, we would not be “awarded” a DQ for missing the cut off time. Ah, that was nice to hear.

I delivered Nancy to the group of 4 where Scott was driving his van behind them to provide more light and security up the gentle hill climb we were on. As we got to the group, I decided to turn on the afterburners and cook it to the finish. After a quick stop at the last rest stop, I pumped it up and arrived at Pena Adobe Park, the finish, at 12:05am.

The second 100 miles took me 13:32 to complete! Totals for the day = 218.9 miles, 16:48 ride time, 2:20 in stop time (only 28 minutes off the bike in the first 100 miles). The 18.8 mph average from early morning fell to 13.0 for the day, and a fast 45.9 max speed on the descent of Mt. Howell.

Oh, about Howell Mtn. I got a little too cocky on that descent. Sometimes it happens when I’m with a group of riders (there were about 6 of us) coming down from the summit, I was feeling over confident in my descending skills and decided to cook it. Forgetting that a few hairpin turns were coming up, that was a really bad decision.

On one of those that banked to the right, I got very close to the center line just as a big ole pickup truck was coming up on the other side. He too, was hugging the center line. My life didn’t flash before me, but when I saw him coming, I tried to ease off and not brake to hard and just maintain my line. As I nearly kissed his left fender, I could feel the wind rush by my left ear. We were only inches apart!

I heard several of the guys I was with, shout out the big WOE! Bashar, a Jordanian guy that I swear looks and talks more like an Italian pro climber, came up to me in the flats and gently put his hand on my shoulder and kindly encouraged me to be more careful. We road together with Victor for the next hour or so and had a great time climbing up the longest stretch of the course just before the lunch stop at mile 107. It really helps your mental attitude to climb the long hard ones with others. It gets you out of thinking about you, and the time and work seem to go by faster and easier.

The after ride meal put on by The Quackcyclists, was a great feast, catered by Pietro’s #1 in Vacaville, we were treated to several different pastas with maranara and cream sauces, bread, salad, baked chicken, and ice cream, lots of ice cream (I had 3 chocolate covered vanilla bars :)

More later when I return with a post about the awards breakfast Sunday 9/20. What a great time it was. The stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things will inspire you. Guaranteed!

The awards breakfast Sunday 09/20/2009:

After only 4 hours sleep, I jumped out of my sleeping bag and headed back to Pena Adobe Park to get in on the breakfast and ride stories of all the newly inducted hall of famers. Wow, we were treated to huevos rancheros! I had 3 big burritos of scrambled eggs, refried beans, sour cream, and guacamole, hmm, hmm, good!

11 riders were inducted into the California Triple Crown Hall of Fame this year. They had to complete 50 double centuries in order to be eligible. It was so delightful to see friends walk up to the podium and tell their stories. Albert Kong brought is two youngsters with him and Kitty G. accepted on behalf of Betty Berka who could not be there.

I sat next to Kitty for breakfast and the presentations and watched her autograph a book that one of the riders brought along. It was a book about the race across America (RAAM). There is a photo of Kitty from 1987 riding the course followed by her support crew vehicle. Her crew had mechanical troubles with the car along the way. It forced Kitty to abandon the ride somewhere in Utah. Sometimes it’s not the rider that gets into trouble!

I got to see Lynn Katano receive a special recognition award from Chuck Bramwell (The Triple Crown Guy who started the ride series). Lynn is the premier volunteer and quintessential hostess for these events, giving of her time and resources to support the riders and all the teams of volunteers. I met Lynn and her photography guy in Arizona in April 2007 where we were riding PBP qualifying events. Chuck pointed out that Lynn has completed 91 double centuries! WOW, I didn’t know that! Her award was quite unique. A rock from the Tom Simpson memorial monument near the summit of Mt. Ventoux

The most moving story of the morning came from a woman who was inducted into the hall of fame and had an impressive list of accomplishments to her credit, include numerous ironman competitions. Chuck mentioned that she hopes to compete again at that level one day. As she walked up to the podium to speak, I couldn’t help but notice a limp in her stride. Saturday she completed her 50th double with a prosthetic foot. Several years ago she was struck by a motorist while on a training ride and the bones in her ankle were crushed beyond repair. Eventually, the only option left was to amputate. Not only is she back to riding again, she swims 3500 meters a week and has started running 45 to an hour. I have no doubt she will do another ironman.

I will always remember this double century and awards breakfast as a time of re-uniting with friends both on the bike and at rest stops where I saw people like Doug, Tim, and other familiar faces. There were new friendships made, old ones renewed. A truly great time, even with all the suffering I went through. Kind of like life condensed into one day on a bicycle.

A big heartfelt thank you to Scott Halversen and all the Quackcyclists and volunteers that made this a well supported event, including all the SAG support along the way – those guys have an uncanny ability to know when to come along side you and offer assistance. A special thank you to hall of famer Lee Mitchell for blasting old time rock and roll from his mini-van roof mounted speakers. At one point, I remember hearing some Elvis Presley as he was sweeping the course – instead of giving Lee the thumbs up sign that I was okay, I just raised my hand in the air and started snapping my fingers along to the tune. He knew I was okay and enjoying it! Oh, and I must not forget to thank the crew at rest stop #5. Those chili dogs and soup really hit the spot!

Blessings. Safe and fun riding to you all!


P.S. My ride number for the event was #36. One of those serendipitous things…when you had 3+6 it equals the number of double centuries I have completed now! (I am 9 for 10 – my only DNF was Mulholland in 2008).

DNF = Did Not Finish

(*)/ (*)
“Fortitudine Vincimus – By Endurance We Conquer”

I’m feeling much better…… Hoodoo 500 Report

| September 18, 2009 8:20 am
I'm feeling much better...... Hoodoo 500 Report

I want to say thank you to everyone who sent words of encouragement over the past few days. They have really helped me get through this week and help me gain the perspective that a DNF after 350 miles in <22 hours is more of an accomplishment than a failure. There are infinite outcomes that could have actually been serious and worthy of feeling devastated. I emerged safely and uninjured. That is all that matters. Thank you so much to everyone who was thinking of me and praying for me while I was on the road. I believe a large part of the reason I emerged safe and sound despite all my difficulties was because you were all with me in spirit.

I also want to say a very sincere thank you to everyone who made a donation in honor of my father to the American Cancer Society. 101 donations were made so far (including personal checks), raising $7738.60 to fight cancer. This is completely amazing and far exceeded any expectations I had before starting this fundraiser. I am totally blown away and I am extremely grateful to all of you for your support.

If you are still reading, here is the Reader’s Digest version of what happened.

The HooDoo 500 course is a 519 mile loop that starts and ends in St. George, Utah. The ride goes through amazingly beautiful country including portions of Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. I was one of 13 solo riders who started at 7 am on Saturday. Solo riders are allowed to have a support vehicle during the race. The support vehicle provides “leap frog” support during the day which involves stopping along the road to provide the rider food, water and whatever else they might need. In a race situation, riders don’t want to loose time stopping to get food or water. The picture below shows Sheila and I doing a rolling water exchange at the top of a hill with the support car and the beautiful scenery in the background. Still photos do not do justice to how flawlessly my crew handled exchanges when I was moving 20 mph faster than they were. The other photo is of me climbing a particularly steep but gorgeous stretch of road.

More photos taken by Franz Kelsch can be seen here:

At night, the support vehicle follows with special lighting and signage to protect me from traffic and make sure I am doing ok. One of the most surreal moments of the ride occurred at approximately 9 pm on Saturday night. A mountain lion jumped from the hillside on the right side of the road and crossed just 15-20 feet in front of me in the pitch darkness. Amazing.

I had one of the best support crews I could have possibly hoped for – Sheila, Franz Kelsch and Paul Vlasveld. Not only did they come with tens of thousands of miles of cycling experience between them, but Paul also came with a fully equipped van! I can’t adequately express my thanks to these people for supporting me. Even though they didn’t get to pedal a single mile of the course, they were right there for me (with very little sleep) every inch of the way.

The race started extremely well. I predicted beforehand that my biggest competition would come from David Holt. David is a very accomplished, RAAM qualified rider who had previously placed 2nd and 4th as a solo in the Furnace Creek 508. He also holds a Furnace Creek two-man team record for his age group. Despite David’s abilities, I found it relatively easy to keep him in sight for the first 200 miles of the ride. Maybe not as easy as the next photo implies, but I was in my element. I probably could have passed him earlier, but I was determined to not go off the front too early in the ride. Too many rookies fail that way. I like to think all the other riders were thinking, “Who is that guy – how can he go that fast wearing sandals?”

After about 100 miles, the only problem I had was a mild case of cramping. I kept this at bay by liberally taking salt and electrolyte tablets. I also noticed I was really thirsty and drinking a LOT. We had a scale in the van to weigh me during the race. During long training rides, it was not uncommon for me to loose a few pounds if I did not drink enough. However, when I stepped on the scale at mile 115, I was about 7 pounds heavier than I was at the ride start. I was confused by this, but not concerned because it seemed to indicate that at least I was not getting dehydrated. Plus I was feeling great! I was a few minutes ahead of my spreadsheet predictions, and still keeping pace with the leader. Maybe the cheap bathroom scale fell out of the support van one too many times.

Around 6 pm, the lead rider stopped to switch bikes and I suddenly found myself in the lead. Then the serious climbing started and I just kept inching ahead. I made it over the 9600 foot summit of Boulder Mountain, and by 12:15am on Sunday morning I was leading the race by almost 30 minutes. Not bad after 285 miles and 21,000 feet of climbing. However, even at this point I knew something was wrong. Despite keeping ahead of the competition, I knew my climb rate was far below where it should have been. I was also developing difficulty eating and drinking. Had I stopped at this point and given myself time to recover, it might have been an entirely different race. However, I was unwilling to give up the lead. That is where things really started to go downhill. Everything that is, except the road.

The next 5 hours proved to be extremely difficult. In all endurance events, it is extremely critical and difficult to ingest enough calories (~ 300 calories every hour), water and electrolytes while continually pushing your body to the extreme. I kept getting weaker and basically stopped eating and drinking. When I tried I just got too nauseous. Somehow I kept telling myself I could work through it if I just kept moving. But one thing that never happens on an endurance ride is improving your performance without food or water. Finally at mile 300 I stopped and my crew convinced me to sleep for 15 minutes. However, this was too little too late. I actually managed to ride my bike another 50 miles very slowly, eventually getting passed by the rider I had followed for so many miles. Finally, I just couldn’t go any further. When I got off my bike at that point, I immediately started shaking and the crew got me into the van with blankets. They tried to get me to drink small amounts, which led to much throwing up. After sleeping for an hour and a half, I awoke still shaking and still throwing up. I honestly can’t remember anytime in my life when I felt physically worse than I did at the city park of Circleville, UT at 6:45 am. I really didn’t know what was wrong or how to solve it. We had brought Cindi Staiger’s phone number along and had the presence of mind to try and call her for advice, but of course we had no cell phone signal. At this point, the crew and myself were very concerned with my medical condition and were not willing to risk my health or life just to finish the ride. That is when we decided to abandon the race and get ourselves closer to medical options.

So what went wrong? While I may never know for sure, I have some very good theories. First of all, I am almost certain I ingested too much salt and water early in the ride. I have spoken with my doctor and he concluded this is the only reasonable explanation for my weight gain during the ride. Next, I failed to keep eating. While my loss of appetite was almost certainly caused by my electrolyte imbalance, my real mistake was choosing to continue pedaling after this problem occurred. I’m reasonably sure that the lack of food led to hypoglycemia, which led to the shaking, weakness and vomiting that eventually put an end to my race.

In hindsight, I might have been able to recover by sleeping in my support vehicle for several more hours. By the time my support crew returned me to the hotel at 8:30 am, I was already feeling slightly better, but I was still overweight and visibly “puffy” – Sheila said I looked downright beefy. Over the next four hours, I alternately slept and peed until I was almost back to my pre-race weight and feeling almost normal. Had I been on the course, I would have likely gotten back on my bike. I had ideas of asking my crew to take me back to the point I abandoned, but Paul had actually left with his van and went hiking in Zion for the afternoon. Sheila called it “devine intervention”. We went out to the finish line at the front of the hotel, and I found it a bit difficult to be in the St. George heat. Could I have still biked? Who knows? David Holt finished at 5:30pm. By 7 pm when we went to dinner, I was able to eat and drink and really wanted to be on my bike.

So what did I learn?

  1. Keen sandals are awesome. I was so worried about my feet being the weakest link for high mileage. My feet never hurt. Yes, you can do real cycling (and touring, and walking and commuting) in sandals.
  2. It is really not appropriate or intelligent to attempt to win an endurance event at a mileage you have not previous attempted. Trying to win this race caused me to make a number of bad decisions. I took too much salt instead of just slowing down when I started to cramp. I didn’t stop to rest when I could no longer eat.
  3. Never ever change your nutrition the day of a big ride. I had only used SaltStick pills sparingly during previous long rides. This ride I probably took more than 15 in a 10 hour period. Pay attention to your body. I felt something was wrong at least 5 hours before I abandoned the race. I should have stopped to figure it out rather than hoping it would magically work itself out.
  4. You cannot think clearly after 300 miles on the bike. All of this seems ridiculously clear now, but none of this seemed obvious during the race. As a team we should have known what our primary goal was (winning vs. finishing) and how we would tackle certain situations. We had never seriously considered the possibility that I would not finish. Thus, we were completely unprepared to deal with that situation and come up with alternatives.
  5. If you are having serious problems during a ride, get help. If you can’t think straight, rely on your crew. If you have a doctor or experienced friend you can call, do so. If there is a checkpoint nearby, go there and see what they have to say. There will be more resources there (and probably cell phone coverage) to help you decide if waiting, abandoning or going to the ER was the best course of action.
  6. Don’t be so quick to give up. Two hours stopped on the side of the road seemed like an eternity to me. But in reality, even after that rest I had still covered 2/3 of the course in 24 hours and still had 24 hours left to do the last third. If you really can’t think of anything to do to solve your problem, but still have time, then try doing nothing. A lot of the time your body will sort it out itself.
  7. All of the above rules go out the window if you think your life or health is in jeopardy. In this case do whatever you have to in order to get medical attention.

Although my hopes of finishing (and possibly even winning) the race were dashed, I accomplished a personal best for miles and feet of climbing in a 24 hour period. Luckily, by Monday morning, my electrolytes recovered fully. Then I got an unexpected chance to go home with some added sense of purpose.

At 6 am, I suddenly woke up and felt the need to go to the finish line at the front of the hotel. I found out that the final rider was likely lost on the last section of the course, a portion that goes through a park where support vehicles are not allowed. This section usually takes less than an hour and the rider had already taken over 1.5 hours. I asked the Race Director if it was ok to go out on my bicycle to look for the rider. I got permission and quickly rode off into the darkness. About 4 miles from the finish line, I located the rider who was moving very slowly due to fatigue and confusion. I gave him a pep talk and told him he did not have much time to beat the 7 am time cap. After I finally reassured him that I could lead him and wouldn’t let him get lost, he suddenly found renewed energy and fought toward the finish line. I escorted him to the finish line with a mere 7 minutes to spare. So although I did not finish, I did get my picture taken at the finish line with a very appreciative Jeremy Frick. Ultimately, only 7 of the original 13 solo riders finished the race.


It was incredibly disappointing to not finish, but success in ultra-endurance races often boils down to experience, learning from mistakes and learning how to recover during a ride. At 40, I like to think of myself as a very young rookie. The overall winner, David Holt, is 57!!!

In the end, was the race worth everything I had to sacrifice to get ready? Probably not. Will I try it again anyway sometime? I probably will. I just need to find a way to tackle these events without them coming in the way of the truly important things in life. Things like getting a good night’s sleep, truly enjoying the path to get ready, and always making sure my wife knows she is more important that even the most serious bike ride.

One more thing I learned: Unless you get paid to ride, there is no such thing as a serious bike ride. If it is not fun to get ready for or to do (or to blog about it afterwards), it is probably not worth doing.

Thanks again for your support and encouragement before, during and after this ride.

Russ Stevens
Click the link below to view my fund and tribute page to my dad, Wayne Stevens.