Archive for September, 2010

Knoxville Double – Triple, September 24-25, 2010

| September 23, 2010 11:21 am
Knoxville Double – Triple, September 24-25, 2010

by Cristin Sohm

Part of the ride was a total suffer-fest (lots of hills with extreme heat and not being able to eat). Part of the ride I thought the world was conspiring against me (flat after flat after flat). Part of the ride was scary as could be (riding alone in the pitch dark with rattle snakes rattling at me and a bobcat running in front of me). Thankfully there were other parts of the ride that were truly amazing (friends on the ride and friends volunteering for the ride). Then there was the part of the ride that was simply magical (my daughter Mellissa there with me the whole time and encouraging my crazy idea to make the ride longer than a double).

I’ve always wanted to do a quad, especially after how good I felt doing the triple in June. I knew this was my last event of the year, so this was my last chance. I figured out all the logistics, trained hard, bought extra supplies and then stressed hugely over this crazy idea. Then Mellissa offered to be my support and I knew everything would fall into place and it was my chance and I decided to go for it.

Mellissa came to pick me up on Friday for the drive up to Vacaville. She laughed when she saw that I had packed enough supplies to last a couple weeks out on the road! Later we would realize that the tons of food was useless, but we sure were thankful for the tons of tubes, extra tire and floor pump that I had packed!

We arrived in Vacaville and drove straight to the start location at Pena Adobe Park. I changed into my cycling clothes, filled bottles, loaded up the bike with supplies, got some kisses from my wonderful daughter and started riding on Friday afternoon. My plan was to ride throughout the night to finish 200 miles in about 16 hours and meet Jon Kaplan & Art Cruz at 4am and start the next 200 miles then.

My heart was racing with how nervous I was, having little confidence in my ability to actually pull this off. I just reminded myself that Mellissa was there and that was hugely comforting. Lane Parker sent me the tcx file of the Knoxville Double course, so I felt secure with the directions and Mellissa honked the car horn when I went off course. As I was riding, I came across two guys and I caught up to them. They asked if I was doing a training ride and I told them of my crazy plan. We chatted for a bit and then they dropped off. One of them caught up later and said I was too fast. Ha!

At mile 22 it was 96 degrees and my average speed was 16.3. At mile 29 I sent my mom a text message saying that Mt. George was so easy-peasy that I thought Mellissa lied that we were at the top. Average speed 15.8. At mile 37, with an average speed of 16.1, I hit my first obstacle. I heard my back tire make a big swoosh sound. I got off the bike and thanked my lucky stars for the 3 hours of trying to learn how to change a flat the night before. Mellissa said that the first rest stop was just around the corner, so I decided instead of changing it in the blasting sun on the busy street, I would carry my bike to the rest stop. I changed my first official flat tire by myself and was beaming with pride. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it quite as much if I had realized what was in store the rest of the day!

At mile 58, I had just finished the 7 mile climb up Howell Mountain. It was blasting hot and I couldn’t eat because my mouth was too dry. I was feeling shaky from the lack of food and I was feeling a bit out of it. Mellissa offered lots of different types of food that I had packed, but I didn’t want anything. I choked down a Power Bar and I happened to feel my front tire and found that it was almost flat. Several of my cycling friends have crashed lately because of a front tire flat on a descent, so I’ve been trying to get in the habit of always checking my tires before descending a hill. I changed the front tire (flat #2) with no problems and started on my way again.

At mile 70 my average speed had dropped down to 14.4 after the first 2 hills. After the Power Bar digested, I felt a lot better with some food in me on the hot ride. I stopped at the port-a-potty that would be rest stop #2 tomorrow and then I made my way to the long, long climb up Knoxville (about 31 miles).

It was now pitch dark and I was climbing Knoxville with all the wildlife. I counted no less than 8 rattle snakes, 1 bobcat and lots of other sounds that I didn’t know what they were. Knoxville in the night was like climbing on the moon with big craters. I felt fantastic the whole way during the climb now that I had the Power Bar in me. Unfortunately I hit one of those craters hard and my tube exploded on impact. I put the bike in front of the car with Mellissa’s bright lights on and I changed flat tire #3.

At one point, Mellissa asked if I minded if she stopped to get a drink out of the back of the car. I asked her if she minded if I kept going and we left each other. It seemed like forever until I saw her again. I was extremely spooked by the dark and all the wildlife sounds. My light worked great, but it was really scary knowing I was the only crazy cyclist out at night attempting to double the double century. When Mellissa finally caught up, she said she was really worried because she couldn’t find me and she worried if I went off some ditch or something. She said that she couldn’t believe how far I had gotten. I guess my fear had those pedals turning pretty quickly!

We came to the top of the long climb and saw all the signs saying Rough Road and I thought about all the emails that had gone out about water bottles flying out and water bottle cages coming loose and how really rough the descent was. I had thought I would be fine, but then I started having images of something going wrong and Mellissa having to figure out what to do in the pitch dark and in a city we didn’t know. I decided that it wasn’t worth my safety or leaving Mellissa feeling responsible and I made the difficult decision to abandon my effort for the night. It was pitch dark and I’ll tell you, I was pretty darn upset about climbing forever and ever and not getting the fun reward of the descent. It probably wouldn’t have been much fun at that time of night anyway though. I think I made the right decision.

I was disappointed that I wouldn’t have the quad that I really hoped for, but I changed 3 tires by myself, I rode in the pitch dark while everyone else was snug in bed in their hotel rooms and I ventured out far beyond what I thought I could do. I had ridden alone for an extra 101 miles the night before a double century and I was happy about that.

We drove back to Vacaville, found a last minute hotel (since I had planned on riding all night long, I had canceled my hotel) and got in bed at 1:30am. I tossed and turned going over the events and worrying about the next part of the ride and then the alarm went off at 3:30am to go meet Jon & Art.

After less than 2 hours of sleep and riding just over a hundred miles, I muddled through getting ready for the ride and filling my bottles and getting out the door. Mellissa and I arrived at the start location, but couldn’t find Jon & Art anywhere. I waited and tried calling him several times, but no luck. Thankfully I found Clyde Butt and he offered to ride with me. God sent an angel and I couldn’t have been more grateful. After one more call to Jon, we started rolling at 4:55.

Clyde and I picked up another cyclist named Laura who was doing her very first double. She was a sweetie and we enjoyed talking with her. Everything looked very familiar as I had just done the course hours earlier and I felt very comfortable with the directions – for once!

Deb & Dave Hoag came up and rode with me for a bit. They are so insanely fast and strong. Deb was the only person that I had told my full plans of what I was secretly trying for. I trusted her judgment and figured she would tell me honestly if it was out of my ability range or a crazy thing to attempt. She flew by me, but David slowed down to chat for a bit and I guess that Deb had told him what I was up to because he asked if my night worked out the way I hoped. I told him that I abandoned the ride at the top of Knoxville, but did the first 100 miles of the full course and felt proud of that. He was overly kind and supportive and he then gave me the best compliment of the day “If you do the 508 or HooDoo, I would crew for you”. Wow. You have to know Deb & Dave and their incredible ability to understand what that meant for me. I am a small peon in our cycling group and they are the stars along with Russ & Sheila Stevens, Barley & Susan Forsman, Ken Emerson and some others. To receive that kind of compliment from one of the super stars, was such a confidence boost!

At mile 121 (with the extra 100 for me) we hit the first climb of Mt. George. Thankfully, it was just as easy as the night before. We made it to the first rest stop at 7:25am, at mile 137 and I told Clyde that I was already feeling a bit tired and cold and if I didn’t keep up, to go ahead without me. He stuck with me anyway. It was weird that this part of the ride was so blasting hot the day before and now was cold. We also missed out on seeing a lot of the sights that I had seen the day before (day vs night).

At mile 150 we climbed Howell Mountain again. I had pretty much bonked on this hill the night before, but felt fine this time around. It was another easy climb. We descended into the 2nd rest stop where Jason Pierce had brought a big Sprite soda for me and it was delicious after losing so much sugar with the climbs. I thought that my front tire felt a bit odd toward the bottom of the descent and when I pulled into the rest stop, I noticed that it had gone flat. Mike Deitchman jumped in and changed flat #4 for me so that I could grab some grapes and cantaloupe from his wife, Joan Grant Deitchman and use the port-a-potty before heading out with Clyde & Laura again. I saw Steve Saeedi at this rest stop and he was the first person that I told what I had done the night before. It was pretty fun to see his smile at my crazy effort. He encouraged me and helped Mike with the flat and they got me on my way.

We headed out to climb Knoxville – again. This time at 10:41 am at mile 170 and I remembered how very long this climb was last night and worried that it was going to be difficult in the blazing heat. Steve had filled my bottles with ice water and they lasted me throughout the climb. There were some volunteers with water midway through the climb, but I was okay with water and didn’t want to get off the bike. Clyde & Laura were somewhere behind me so I rode at my own pace and enjoyed seeing what Knoxville looked like during the day – what a difference from the pitch dark and the sounds of the wildlife! I came along a guy and stayed with him for a bit and then went around. Much later in the day I found out that his name was Sean and he was riding a FIXED gear bike. Insanely strong guy to be out on those hills with a fixed gear bike! I hadn’t used any of my granny gears yet in the almost 200 miles, but I still had an awful lot more gearing than what he was pushing up those hills! I can’t even imagine. Toward the top of the climb, when I felt like my skin was going to melt right off my body, I looked at my Garmin to see the temperature. It was 107.4 degrees! Insanely hot. Painfully hot. Melting hot. We got to the top and I saw that Mellissa was there. My world brightened. She had been back at the hotel and slept the last however long that I rode 92 miles, so it was wonderful to see my angel back. She gave me a Sprite and the volunteers at the mini-stop sprayed us down with icy cold water that felt like heaven. Clyde & Laura came in just a short bit later and we filled our water bottles again and headed out for more torture in the hot sun.

We made it to the lunch stop at mile 207 somewhere around 2:30 and I still couldn’t get any food in me. Everything tasted like a fistful of sand. Mellissa made me a sandwich of a slice of cheese and lots of lettuce and insisted that I eat it. It took me a very long time to get it down. I felt so bad for Clyde putting up with me. Others were so excited to have food and I couldn’t choke down a bite. The volunteers crowded around me trying to get me to eat this or that and this one lady was very mom like and wouldn’t let up. It was very sweet and I really tried. Clyde got a massage from a volunteer and when he was ready to go, I told him that she is very pretty and he should just relax a bit longer 😉 I finally got ½ the sandwich down without it coming back up and I had a glorious ice sock around my neck and had taken some endurolytes and we were ready to roll. I got on my bike and realized the back tire was very low. I’m thinking God hates me at this point! I decided to try to just pump it up thinking that maybe it’s just from all the extreme heat. Mellissa heard the air coming out of the tire. One of the volunteers checked the tire closely and noticed that it had a pretty good rip in the tire. Darn. I had just put the new tire on a few weeks earlier specifically for Knoxville and a brand new one on the front a couple days ago. I thought that I had done a good job in putting on new tires for this event, but when I got home and checked my spreadsheet of when I had changed the tire, I realized that even though it was only 4 weeks old, there were 940 miles of riding in those 4 weeks. Not as new as I had thought. Thankfully I had brought a spare tire. Clyde, always the gentleman, jumped in and changed the tire and tube. Unfortunately Laura had already left since she expected to be slower on the climb and since we were stuck longer with the tire issue, we never caught up with her again. Yes, that was now flat tire #5! We left the lunch stop somewhere around 3:00ish.

After the lunch stop, we only had one major climb left. The whole day had LOTS of rollers, but pretty much 4 substantial climbs (Mt. George, Howell Mtn, Knoxville, Loch Lomond). Clyde said that we would do fine since we had time for our food to digest while changing the flat tire. Always the optimistic guy! At mile 209 we made our way to the rolling hill of Siegler Canyon before getting to the Loch Lomond hill at mile 213. Loch Lomond was really tiring. It was 14% grade for 3 straight miles and another mile of rollers. I know that I was really tired and worn out, but I have to tell you that when I saw all the SAG vehicles going by with tons of bikes on them and people waving to me as they abandoned the ride, I actually cried tears. It broke my heart that they got so far and then had to stop. I completely understood because the heat was such an energy zap, but it still was terribly sad to see. At 4:16 I finished Loch Lomond. Clyde was somewhere behind so Mellissa went into a little store and bought me a fresh, cold smoothie. It was heaven. We waited quite a while for Clyde and I was starting to get worried, so she went to make sure he was okay. She came back just a short bit later and Clyde arrived at 4:27. Unfortunately Clyde was having trouble with leg cramps due to the extreme temperatures. Like Jon Kaplan though, Clyde just kept on going. Never giving up. He was amazing.

I thought we were done with Loch Lomond at that point, but we actually had to cross the highway and continue for some more climbing, but not nearly as bad as Loch Lomond. Clyde thought he was feeling better, but his leg cramps were still bothering him and he told me he was going to walk up the hill. I continued on at my own pace. At one point I hit some gravel and came very close to losing control of my bike. There was no one else around and that scared me, but I was able to straighten out and get my bike back under control. I guess God didn’t hate me quite as much as I had thought with all those flat tires! I was now at about mile 229 and my cell phone battery was almost dead, so I stopped sending messages to my family. Thankfully Mellissa had been sending texts without me knowing so they weren’t as worried as I expected.

At rest stop #4 we were at mile 234 and Jason Pierce met me with another Sprite soda. Absolutely delicious. These sodas really saved the day for me! Everything got easier after the ½ sandwich at the lunch stop. We got to see Steve Saeedi at this stop too and Clyde and I sat down for a bit here. I was able to get down some corn chips for salt. We also met up with Sean on the fixie bike again.

We then rode out Butts Canyon and Pope Valley and we were riding faster to make the cut-off before rest stop #5 closed at 8:15. I was feeling fine and ready to go and finish up the day.  We were at mile 260 and I could start to envision the finish line. Clyde stopped for some Cup of Noodle soup and I think the salt helped along with the setting sun and lower temperatures. I had a hot cocoa to help recover my muscles and prepare for the night riding.

With all the issues of the day, we had to watch our time because we were now barely making the cut-offs for the rest stop end times. We were now in the full dark as we made our way to the last rest stop at mile 287. Clyde and I got separated again and I descended a hill in the dark and came upon a gal named Denise that had gotten a flat tire in the pitch dark. It scared me to think of her out in the dark alone. I pulled over to help her and Mellissa was right behind me with her bright lights. Mellissa was able to help her with the flat tire and help to get her on her way.

We pulled into the last rest stop and had another hot cocoa. I think Clyde had another soup. Mellissa brought out the cookies I had made and gave them out to the all the volunteers and the cyclists. That was fun to be able to thank them for all they had done for us. We had 14 miles to go and it was in the pitch dark so we buddied up in a bigger group. We started out with 4 of us, me and Clyde, Sean (fixie) and a tall guy named Mike. Mike was trying to pull on his arm warmers and ended up crashing right in front of Mellissa. She handled it like a charm and poor Mike kept apologizing thinking he probably scared her. Everyone was fine and it wasn’t a problem. We seemed to take on more people in our group. I think at one point we had 9 of us together. Some were slower than others and Mellissa was struggling with figuring out who to shine lights for since we weren’t able to stay together as well as planned. I think she ended up going around the others that were dropping back and she stayed up front with me and Sean and Clyde & Mike. There were more rollers straight out of the rest stop, but nothing was hurting or tired at that point. I think we all just saw the finish line coming.

We ended very strong riding in at 18+ mph. I later found out that Mellissa sent a text to all my family saying that she couldn’t believe I was pulling all the guys in those last several miles at that speed. That felt good to know my daughter was proud. It was a rough day for sure, but it was great to finish it feeling great. 301 miles with 21,053 feet of climbing. I had hoped for 400 miles, but I’m proud of the way it worked out. I’m especially proud of Mellissa helping SO many people. She was there for me, but ended up touching so many other lives in the process. She was a super star for sure! Thanks to everyone that sent the text messages encouraging me during the long day and night. I loved the one from hubby saying “Are you really having any fun? Just come home!” J oh.

  • Miles – 301
  • Climb – 21,053 feet
  • Avg speed – 13.2
  • Time in saddle – 22 hours, 54 minutes
  • Max heart rate – 176
  • Max temperature – 109.4
  • Flat tires – FIVE flats and one wrecked new tire
  • I’ve found you find strength in your moments of weakness.

And by the way… I earned the California Triple Crown!

Hoodoo 500 – Team Turbo Dog (2 person mixed 50+)

| September 6, 2010 12:46 pm

by Deborah Hoag

The Hoodoo 500 is an ultra-marathon bicycle race. The route passes through or around three National Parks, three National Monuments and several Utah State Parks. The scenery varies from majestic cliffs and striking red rock hoodoos to aspen and pine forests and high mountain meadows. The race follows a course starting in St. George, and traveling through Hurricane, Colorado City, Kanab, Carmel Junction, Bryce, Tropic, Escalante, Boulder, Torrey, Panguitch, Cedar City and back to St. George. It’s a loop course on wonderful, well-maintained, quiet roads with little traffic and breath-taking scenery. 519 miles with about 30,000 feet of climbing with a 48-hour time limit Most of the race is above 6,000’ and reaches 10,000’. Solo, Tandem and Relay Team Divisions are offered. Crew control who is on the bike and for how long.

Franz, Ken and Deb before start

David at Start

This race was a team effort. We plan on finishing in 35 hours to 40 hours worst case. Our main goal was to have fun. And we had a blast together with our crew. David and I can never repeat the fun again. We rode the race and our crew Franz Kelsch and Ken Holloway kept us on track with food, the route, and pull times. We started off with 3 hour pulls, but right off the bat, Franz said we need to cut our pulls. So, David pulled for the first 2 ½ hours and I pulled for the next 2 hours.

David taking Deb's Photo

Deb

Deb headed toward Escalante

David late Saturday, now at altitude

Then we went to 1 ½ hour pulls and through the night, we went to 1 hour pulls. Sunday morning we moved to 30 minute pulls. The worst part of ride was at mile 378 climbing Cedar Breaks (5,000’, 30 miles) with headwinds and climbing up to 10,000’ level. I had to stand on my granny gear to reach 3 MHP. And I was sick from the attitude.

Once we finished the climb at mile 408 and started the descend, my stomach was fine. I was putted back on the bike at mile 432, while the crew talked to Russ and ordered food at McDonalds. And I left on my bike. At mile 442, Ken, David and Franz caught up to me to do another change. We realized that we could come under 35 hours. We did not know how the winds would be. However, this is where it became a real team effort. David rocked. We came to the conclusion that Franz was a major general in his past life.

Deb headed toward Snow Canyon

We needed to get mile 502 by 6:30, but we did better than that and reached it at 6:06. At mile 502 our crew had to leave us, David and I rode the last 15 miles together with our balls to walls, thinking of our crew and breaking 34 hours was on our minds. It was the most painful part for me. We averaged 20+MHP. Turbodog set the course record for 2 mixed, and beat the 2 man 50+ by 1:21 for a time of 33:50.

David and Deb at Finish

We also beat 40+ mixed team by 2 hours.. Going into a ride like this, either the riders and crew come out being better friends than ever or there are problems. David and I both came out having very fond memories of Franz and Ken. They were the best. Let us not forget Anne Kelsch who was supportive and Susan Forsman our coach.

Hoodoo 500 – Russ Stevens

| 12:14 pm
Hoodoo 500 - Russ Stevens

I think you learn less when you succeed than you fail. Thus, this ride report might not contain quite the wisdom of last year’s. However, I think I still have a good story to tell.

Was it worth it? I don’t know. I can say that having failed last year, it was definitely worth coming back and finishing. I simply had to overcome my prior failure. But was it worth trying it the first time? I am not sure. If I had known that this race would completely dominate two years of my life, cost me thousands of dollars, stress my marriage, jeopardize my health and bring almost unbearable levels of stress into my life, I would never have signed up in the first place.

That said, I am awfully proud of my accomplishment. I don’t know if I will lever try anything like this again, but I will certainly never forget finishing. It is something I will be proud of for the rest of my life. So, what can I say about the race?

First of all, I am very glad I did it Voyager (without a support vehicle or crew). That class definitely matches my style. Most people thought I was crazy to try the race without a support vehicle. However, not once during the ride did I feel lonely or wish I had people following or helping me. I really liked being in control of everything that affected me and not having to depend on anyone else. Plus, in my opinion nothing ruins a perfectly good bicycle ride like a vehicle.

I had the ride very well thought out. I was allowed to send 4 drop bags ahead to pick up along the course and I carefully planned everything I needed in those bags as well as everywhere else I could get supplies along the way. I never felt like I was missing anything I needed. I may have carried a few more things than I needed, but as one race official told me, “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” If I ever do this ride again, I will certainly do it voyager again.

Second, this year’s race was blessed with nearly perfect conditions. It was sunny and warm during the day, but never hot. There was a monster tailwind from Kanab (mile 82) to Escalante  (Mile 203) resulting in several periods when I was able to coast at 30+ mph on nearly flat roads for long periods of time. Despite 30-50% chance of thundershowers, it never rained on me. Despite some predictions of 30 degree temps at night and at the 10,500 ft peak of Cedar Breaks, I never experienced anything below 48 degrees. Despite reports of 25 mph headwinds in the canyons between Loa (mile 285) and Panguitch (mile 375), I saw no wind at all for 2/3 of that stretch and only a mild headwind after that. There was some pretty severe wind in the last stretch from Cedar City (mile 433) to St. George (mile 518), but it was offset by some climbs that offered protection from the wind and an otherwise mostly downhill profile. It may have just been because I was expecting the weather to be so much worse, but I was extremely happy with the conditions on this ride.

Third, just like last year, I still made mistakes and things still went wrong. I guess it is hard to do a ride of this magnitude without any problems (or at least without a lot more experience). In fact, my challenges were very similar to last year: altitude and nutrition. I tried so hard to solve my problems in these areas over the past 12 months. However, it is really hard to experiment with altitude when you live at sea level and it is really hard to solve nutrition problems that manifest themselves after 300 miles without actually riding more than 300 miles (several times). Dealing with altitude and nutrition on this ride really boiled down to my lessening their impact as much as possible and then just dealing with the remaining effects. The only real difference between last year and this year is that this year, I refused to give up. I worked through my problems on the road, before they became irreversible, and found a way to keep moving toward the finish.

Before I started the ride, I put four rules in place.  These rules were based on what I learned last year and will sound familiar to anybody who read last year’s report:

  • Rule #1: Don’t try to win.  Just focus on finishing.  Trying to win on a ride of this magnitude before you have the sufficient experience just leads to bad decision making.
  • Rule #2: Don’t change your nutrition on the day of the big ride.
  • Rule #3: If you have a problem, stop and work it out. If you don’t know how to work it out, then try to get help. If no one can help, then just sit, listen and let your body solve the problem itself.
  • Rule #4: Finish no matter what. Do not leave the course for any reason unless you have reached the finish line, you have a life threatening injury or the time has expired.

5am Voyager start (Photo by Sheila Stevens) A very determined bunch - six of these seven would finish, with one stopping only after 433+ miles.


The ride started out really well.  The first 250 miles were basically enjoyable.  I employed rules #1 & #2, riding my own ride and regularly taking in calories and water.  As a result, I never felt exhausted, sore or tired.  I kept my heart rate around 125 and my power around 200 Watts.  Two of the other voyager riders quickly went off the front, but I did not let that bother me.  By the time I got to Escalante at mile 200, one of those riders was 1.5 hours ahead of me.  However, the other rider was lying on the bed at the checkpoint hotel looking like he wasn’t getting up anytime soon. I never saw him again.  He did cross the finish line, but only several hours after I did.

The highlight of my first day was climbing to the 9800 foot peak of Boulder Mountain. Last year, I did that climb entirely in the dark (having started as a solo rider 2 hours later than I did this year). I reached the top of that climb this year just in time to watch the sun set over the grand staircase – a truly magnificent sight.

Those of you who read my ride report last year know that as I was climbing Boulder Mountain in the dark in 2009, a mountain lion ran across the road in front of me.  This year, just as I approached that exact same spot a bear ran across the road!  Luckily, I was a little bit further away from the bear that I was the mountain lion, but it was still pretty exciting.  At that point, I decided the bear was going to be my Hoodoo totem. Bears may not be the fastest animals, but they are not the slowest either.  They are strong and unstoppable.  I knew that no matter how slow I had to go, I was going to be as strong as a bear and finish this race.

Thank God I had at least gotten over Boulder Mountain before my first problem occurred. After descending the other side, I lost my appetite right on schedule at ~275 miles. I kept pedaling anyway and made my way into the Loa rest stop. Then I employed rule #3. I called people for help. I called my wife, Sheila, I called my coach, Susan Forsman and I called my good friend and someone who knows more about ultra cycling than anyone I know, Cindi Staiger. I waited an hour, but when my appetite still did not return, I decided to just keep moving, following Cindi’s advice to just plod along slowly eating small amounts of food.  I also decided to take a NoDoz, hoping that the caffeine might wake up my metabolism and my stomach.  Miraculously, this worked.  Within about one hour, I felt much better and within two hours I felt almost normal.  I called Sheila to tell her I was feeling better and that I was being a bear.  I might not be moving quickly, but I was still strong and I was going to finish. Onward to Panguitch.

The 90 mile stretch from Loa to Panguitch was long and dark. However, there were several nice things about this section of the ride.  First, it was mostly flat.  Second, it wasn’t too cold.  Third, there was almost no headwind until the last 20 miles (I was expecting 20+ mph headwinds through this whole section).  Finally, the sky was clear and the stars were out, which was beautiful.

I arrived in Panguitch without incident at about 6:15 a.m., just as the sun was coming up.  My original intention had been to sleep for a couple of hours in Panguitch to make sure I had enough energy to climb the 4000 feet necessary to get over the 10,500 foot peak of Cedar Breaks. However, I had already lost so much time trying to recover in Loa and on the road afterwards that I felt I could not afford to wait around in Panguitch.  I was in a rush to keep moving forward, so I got back on my bike.

I sensed that I had made a mistake the moment I left town and started to climb.  A nagging voice told me I did not have 4000 feet of climbing in my legs.  But by then, it was too late.  The rules specifically prohibit turning around on the course, so there was no going back to the Panguitch checkpoint.  There was nothing to do but go forward.

The first 29 of the 32 miles to the summit went surprisingly well.  I slowly climbed up to 9000 feet.  The whole time, I kept passing and being passed by the sole 8 person 4x tandem team, including my friends Rick and Anna Stewart.  They kept shouting encouragement and telling me I was doing great which kept me motivated.

I don’t understand what happened next, but I suddenly lost all my energy.  Afraid of repeating the eating problems I had in Loa, I had stopped eating solid food and switched entirely to Spiz, a high calorie powdered drink. Perhaps drinking the Spiz in the slightly chilly conditions caused me to ingest too much fluid, diluting the salt in my bloodstream. Perhaps it was just the altitude.  Perhaps it was the 30 mile an hour wind gusts I was fighting to climb up the final grades. Whatever the cause, I felt terrible.  I was crawling up the hill, moving slower and slower.  I desperately wanted to stop, lay down and recover, but I knew for certain that stopping in the cold above 9000 feet was a recipe for disaster.  I felt I had no option but to get to the next checkpoint at the bottom of the hill.

What a relief to finally get to the visitor center at the 10,500 ft peak of Cedar Breaks! I escaped to the warmth of the restroom to refill my water bottles and add some layers for the descent.  Despite how horrible and weak I felt, I really thought I had made at this point.  I would recover on the downhill, and then it was only 90 mostly downhill miles to the finish.

I was so wrong.  The descent was anything but recovery.  For the first few miles, I had to pedal with all the strength I had left just to move downhill into the 30 mile an hour headwind. Then, despite my many layers, I started to get cold.  Luckily, I was not too cold to control my bike.  However, it just took a long time and a lot of energy to get down that hill.

Finally, as I got near Cedar city, the temperatures rose and I got more comfortable.  I was dreaming of a chicken sandwich and some fries and decided to stop at the McDonald’s in town.  Unfortunately, as soon as I walked into the restaurant, I knew things were about to get worse, not better. I felt a wave of nausea sweep over me.  I ran to the restroom just in time.  I felt sorry for the people who happened to be in there.

I thought that throwing up would make me feel better, but it really didn’t.  I called Sheila. Thinking I might be dehydrated, she suggested I order a large sprite and just sip it, which I did.  But that did not make me feel better either. After about one hour, I thought I would just keep moving despite how I felt. However, as soon as I got outside into the hot sun, I knew I could not yet continue.

I sat down on the grass outside McDonald’s just as David and Deb Hoag arrived (2x Team Turbodog).  Although I was slightly disappointed they had caught me after starting four hours after me, it was very nice to see familiar faces. I chatted with them and with their crew, Franz Kelsch and Ken Holloway. I tried to pretend I was going to be OK, but I don’t think I fooled anyone. I’m pretty sure Franz was convinced I was going to quit once again.  Franz was on my solo crew last year.

Rule #4 was ever present in my mind and I was absolutely determined not to quit. However, I knew I wasn’t going to solve my problem out in the heat in front of a fast food restaurant.  I needed a place I could rest and regroup.  Although the cheap side of me loudly protested, the practical side of me won out and I rented a room for $65 at the Motel 6 on the edge of town.  I called race headquarters and told them I would be off the course for a little while. They asked me if I was abandoning and I told them a forceful, “No!” I said I was just resting and that I would let them know as soon as I started riding again.” I lay down on the bed, but was too uncomfortable and sick to really sleep or rest.  I called Susan for help again. She suggested I just keep rolling, which seemed hard to imagine.  I remember that when I was in Loa, Cindi had suggested I eat some saltines, which were unavailable in that little town at 11:00 p.m. But now, I knew I might be able to find some. I decided to walk to the nearest convenience store.  It was a test. I figured if I could walk to the store and back and actually eat a few saltines, then I could do everything I needed to keep riding.

I passed the test.  Not only did the convenience store have saltines, I was able to eat them and I was able to successfully walk a few blocks required to obtain them.  If I could both eat and expend energy of the sun, then I could move forward.  Four hours after arriving in Cedar City, I checked out of the hotel, called race headquarters and got back on the road.

I was immediately confronted with about the worst headwind I have ever experienced.  The stretch of road leading out of Cedar City is flat and wide open with absolutely no protection.  The wind was brutal and it was all I could do to move 10 mph.  When the climbing started, I got even slower. I tried hard not to think about how many hours it would take to ride to the finish in St. George at this pace.

Then, my left knee started to hurt.  I looked down and noticed that my legs were kind of puffy and bloated.  Suddenly, I knew what was wrong.  Thanks to all of my research on my problems from last year, I knew I was suffering from bloating hyponatremia.  I had too little salt in my bloodstream and was retaining water as a result, causing my legs to swell and my knee to hurt. Even better, I knew how to fix it.  I had to slowly ingest salt and stop drinking water.

To avoid water, I had to stop drinking Spiz, the high calorie drink I had been using as my primary source of fuel.  I made a quick stop to look through my bags and take out all of the solid food I had left.  I went for the salty stuff first: the bag of fritos I had been carrying for the past 100 miles.  I ate a handful of those and a very interesting thing happened.  I suddenly had to pee so badly I thought I would explode. I ran to the bushes.  I felt better.  I ate more Fritos.  This continued for the next 6 hours and 90 miles.  I peed about eight times while drinking almost nothing.  Within 50 miles, my knee no longer hurt and my body was no longer puffy.  The treatment had worked.  I knew I had it made.

The only good thing about getting really sick and working through it is that it forces you to rest.  By the time you recover, you usually feel pretty good. When I called race HQ and my wife from the top of Snow Canyon 15 miles from the finish, I felt positively stellar.

The sun was just setting and it was all downhill to the finish.  I flew around the corners through Snow Canyon admiring the colored cliffs in the setting sun.  I made my way through the streets of St. George and dreamed about the Dairy Queen blizzard I knew that Sheila was buying for me.  I thought about the Hoodoo jersey I was finally going to wear.

I broke the finish line tape at 10:06 PM, just over 40 hours after I had left the same spot.  I pedaled for 32:30 of those 40 hours while traveling 518 miles and climbing 28,000 feet.  I saw temperatures between 46° and 83°. I burned 21,000 calories while eating 9500, meaning that I left over 12,000 calories or more than 3 pounds of myself somewhere on the road in Utah.  Along the way, I saw some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. I ate my blizzard and marveled that after two long hard years, I had finally reached the finish line.

Russ being congratulated by fellow Voyager Jared Fisher (Photo by Deb Bowling)

A very reflective Russ at the finish line (Notice the Keen sandals and Arkel bag and rack) (Photo by Sheila Stevens)


Russ with a Dairy Queen blizzard at the finish line ~9:15pm Sunday. (Photo by Franz Kelsch)

I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me to finish this ride.  Thanks again to al the people who made contributions to the American cancer society in memory of my father, Wayne, last year.  Thanks to my fabulous 2009 crew, Paul Vlasveld, Franz Kelsch and my wife, Sheila, for all you did for me last year and for understanding my need to try it without you this year.  Thank you to my coach, Susan Forsman.  You taught me that no matter how tired I am I can always to choose to move forward (and thank you for making me practice that many times during my training, despite my complaining).  Thanks to ultra cycling goddess, Cindi Staiger, who fielded my phone calls during the race and gave me advice that kept me going.  Thank you to Keen for making the best sandals and most comfortable biking shoes ever.  Thank you to Rick McCaw for loaning me his awesome Arkel rack and trunk.  That may be the vest voyager/brevet bag system ever. Thank you to my new friend and second place voyager finisher, Jared Fisher, who played leap frog with me for 400 miles and eventually beat me by always pedaling slower (on platform pedals no less).  You are a wise one, Mr. Tortoise.  Thank you to all of my friends and family who sent such encouraging and uplifting emails and Facebook posts before, during and after the ride.  I was truly touched by all of your prayers and support. Thank you to God for keeping me safe on the road and for indulging the crazy amount of preparation time required to get ready for this ride even when there were clearly better ways I could be serving you with that time.  And most of all, thank you to my wife, Sheila, for supporting me in every way possible.  I love you dearly, and I could not have done this without you (no matter how self sufficient I like to think I am).

I finished the Hoodoo 500! Finally!