Furnace Creek 508- 1996

by John Gower, Crew Chief

Our rider, Peter 'Penguin' Pop is up early. Up before dawn even though the race begins at 7. We're eager for the start: Steve 'Sleeping Beauty' our master mechanic, Linda 'Iron Legs' his SO, Eric 'Hot Wheels' and me, John 'Snores Like Bear'. It's dark and calm but the parking lot in Valencia is a beehive of activity. As the dawn breaks the wind begins to pick up. We estimate 20-25 mph out of the NW. We also note that the temperature seems to be dropping (was ~60 now ~50.)

Peter pigs out with E-Surge, Steel Bar, bagel, banana before going to the starting line.

The day is dawning and the wind in definitely gong to be a major consideration.

We record the start at 7:04:01. (Being an anal computer geek, I've set up a Pentium laptop to record the FC508. We'll have exact times, food intake, bike changes, passing/passed times, etc. that will be permanently stored unlike RAAM where we did everything on scraps of paper and managed to get pretty disoriented at times.)

10/19/96 8:30:18 AM ODO CHECK 22.7 Miles San Francisquito Canyon SUMMIT

Peter's doing good. We've been leap-frogging since the ranger station. He's anywhere from 3rd to 6th place but riding strong. There's one guy on a red Kestrel, Klaus somebody who's tearing up the hills. I've climbed this route before and watched others do it before, but this Klaus is a mad man. He's going to burn out if he keeps up this pace. We all applaud him as he goes by but I don't think he knows what he's in for. Hog (Adrian), complete with fake pig nose, has classic pedaling style and seems to be running a good pace except he seems to be stopping to change into and out of his neon yellow jacket at every climb!

10/19/96 8:38:13 AM ODO CHECK 25.6 JOHNSON SUMMIT

10/19/96 9:03:17 AM ODO CHECK 33.6

We pass Hoopoe (Seana) and notice that she seems to be going rather slowly (for Seana...) What the hell is going on! Then it becomes too apparent. The wind is coming in from our left at 90 degrees at over 25 mph and it's cold! Everyone is canted into it like sailboats on a lake. Peter asks (and gets) his long-fingered gloves, but it requires a stop. All riders seem to have 'death grips' on their bars and 'death stares' on their faces. There's going to be no changing clothes on the fly. Everyone will stop when changing clothes, eating, etc. when normally they might take a running hand-off. Early stages of a race are supposed to be a little laid back but the wind isn't hearing of it. (I'm a little concerned that Peter's hands are now put to an extra challenge since he rode, and finished, RAAM just two months ago, his hands are not up to full strength. Having to grip the bars so tight may come back to haunt us later in the race. I don't want to bring this up to him now.)

10/19/96 9:18:05 AM ODO CHECK 38

The BIG CHASE-DOGS at 38 miles-The same place every time!?@#?@. You'd think the owners would keep their dogs tied up occasionally but they're always loose at this farmhouse. Some swerving and horn blowing and the dogs seem to relent. "Mario/John" to the rescue-dog is spared!!!our hero is safe!!!!! I really get pissed when dogs are allowed to run loose. I don't blame the dogs. They're just being dogs. But the owners ... oh, well.

10/19/96 10:36:29 AM ODO CHECK 56.8 TEHACHAPI SUMMIT

The field seems to be bunched pretty tight. Cindy and Mark and the other tandem duo seem to be handling the wind better then the rest...? or is it my imagination. The windmill fields are roaring with activity. The downhill, and downwind, into Mojave is a scream. We pass Peter and pull ahead at about 50 mph. I look in the rear view mirror and he's back there a half-mile. I pull over and he's by us almost immediately. He's got to be going close to 50 mph himself!

10/19/96 11:30:27 AM ODO CHECK 82.2 First Time Station



PANDA 11:21



HOG 11:31

I still can't believe Walrus and King Crab are riding at this pace (19.3 mph average), especially with the climbs and this wind. Amazing! The next leg of the race will be mostly quartering and tail winds. The Randsberg 'rollers' should be a blast for everyone going through at this time.

10/19/96 12:49:15 PM Start Randsberg climb; Peter, Seana, Patton/ Steiger, Bull, and Adrian (Hog).

10/19/96 1:16:24 PM ODO CHECK 115.7 TOP OF RANDSBURG GRADE

10/19/96 1:41:28 PM ODO CHECK 125.2 4805 CALORIES (AVG 711 CAL/HR)

10/19/96 2:14:23 PM ODO CHECK 140 SR 178 (CHINA LAKE RD)

10/19/96 2:44:13 PM ODO CHECK TS 2 AT TRONA



PANDA 2:28



HOG 2:42




BULL 2:49

10/19/96 3:04:19 PM ODO CHECK 160.2

Since we have to leap frog we spend a lot of time looking in the rear view mirror to make sure Peter's OK. We have a heart stopping moment. We've gone ahead about a mile and notice that Peter's stopped. In fact Linda says he looks like he's staggering, maybe dropped the bike. Oh, shit! We pull a first rate Highway Patrol u-turn, (Eric driving and eating his supper, hot dog purchased at the Trona TS, John shifting gears; reverse, forward; go, go, go!) speed up the highway and since no cars are coming we cross the road and go to the shoulder where Peter is...not in trouble but rather trying to get some privacy for a well deserved leak Instead here comes his crew and van in a four wheel slide head on invading his privacy. Oh well, ULTRA riders can't be modest...!

10/19/96 3:36:57 PM ODO CHECK 169.4 elevation 3320 feet, total climbing so far 10150 feet at top of Panamint Valley overlook

10/19/96 4:01:27 PM ODO CHECK 181.0 tar strips and ROUGH road. Who's the IDIOT who decided that this was a cost effective way of maintaining a highway. Even with the suspension on his bike, Peter's getting tossed around like a mt biker on the downhill washboard section outside the HUB in the Santa Monica Mt.

10/19/96 4:54:34 PM ODO CHECK 200.2 We ride ahead about 4 miles to get the 'climbing' bike ready. Peter is onto the Spectrum for the climb up Towne Pass. We get the lights onto the Otis Guy so that the switch at the top of Towne pass can be accomplished quickly. One of our first goals has been met. Peter wanted to make the top of Towne Pass during daylight (save dragging lights and batteries up at least one major climb!) It looks like we should do this barring any problems.


10/19/96 5:28:50 PM ODO CHECK 205.9 Slow moving vehicle triangle onto back Began pacing behind Peter. Still daylight but becoming dusk. Peter wants some Wagner on the tape deck. It really is nice; beautiful vistas, monumental music and world class racing. What a country. I've been up this pass several times but never with this much daylight. Peter is slowly gaining on Seana and eventually goes around ~2000 feet. Climbing is Peter's strength (one million feet per year) and he slowly builds a lead.

10/19/96 6:17:01 PM ODO CHECK 211.7 Top of Towne pass 14230 feet gained at this point. One tough double century behind us and we're not even at the halfway mark. Stopped to change bikes, eat, get arm warmers, etc. We time the gap between Peter and Seana. She rolls in 2 minutes behind Peter. Now we learn first hand one of her secrets. She's in/out of the stop in about two minutes, we take eight minutes. The hard earned 2 minute gap that Peter worked on going up Towne Pass is wiped out by her fantastic 'pit' stop. We're still scurrying around getting clear glasses, gloves, water, food and Seana's off and down the road. FANTASTIC!

10/19/96 6:25:25 PM START Now Peter is five minutes behind Seana. He's not upset but our crew is. He worked so hard to gain some time and then we seemed to give it back at a 'pit' stop. The reality of these ULTRA events is again apparent. Time is of the essence. Stopping looses the race.

We get into Stovepipe Wells and the wind is atrocious. It's reminiscent of winter snow storms in northern Minnesota. The sand is blowing horizontally, vertically and actually making our van shake! We have the windows shut tight but there's an occasional gust of dust and sand into the INSIDE through hidden vents and cracks. Everything is covered with a fine dust. It's an uncomfortable, miserable situation but one look outside seeing Peter fighting through without any protection brings it all back into focus. We have to be careful with the tape deck as there are quiet zones throughout Death Valley. We carefully watch the ODO and adhere to the quiet zones.

The wind seems to lessen and the stars indicate we have a clear night sky. At this point the race took on a magical twist. The terrain of Death Valley and the clear night allowed the entire race to stretch out before us. Since all vehicles have flashing 'slow moving vehicle' lights and since there's not a lot of traffic in Death Valley in the middle of the night we could spot the competition ahead of us. At many points we could count the support vehicles for all six riders ahead even though the front runner was maybe 20 miles ahead! It was a hypnotizing scene; almost phantasmagoria. The flashing lights appearing, then disappearing as we, or they, rounded a bend, went behind a rock outcrop or whatever. It was a light show of the first order. Peter seemed to be driven by the scene and he slowly but surely began to catch up to the front runners.

10/19/96 10:00:45 PM ODO CHECK 285.1 Passed HOG (Adrian) who has been our number one competitor throughout. He's a powerful classic rider but now seems to be hurting (like who isn't?)


10/19/96 10:49:11 PM ODO CHECK 300 START UP Jubilee Pass. Two riders are ahead about mile and seem to be riding at almost the same pace. One of the problems with this night riding is identification is impossible until you're very close. Since we have to stay behind Peter at night we can't 'spy' by riding ahead (or back) to check on the competition.

10/19/96 11:01:33 PM ODO CHECK 302.1 Turns out that the two riders were Hoopoe and Walrus. As Peter closed, Walrus must have caught a second wind because he took off like a shot. Seana must be hurting because Peter's closing on her very quickly. Passed and she told Peter that we were in a quiet zone. Checked book, it said quiet zone begins ahead about 25 miles. Turned tunes back on.

10/19/96 11:19:49 PM ODO CHECK 304.7 JUBILEE PASS SUMMIT

10/20/96 12:23:57 AM ODO CHECK 313.8 Passed Walrus near top of Salsberry Pass


10/20/96 1:04:12 AM STOP ODO 326.8 TS#4 (SHOSHONE) CREW CHANGE-LINDA DRIVES, STEVE NAVIGATES. We all take a leak break and admire the beautiful night. We know we're in good position but we're not sure where everybody else is...one of the weaknesses of ULTRA racing; lack of good information as to everyone's location. In the end it doesn't matter a lot since you just have to ride the bike, ride the bike...

10/20/96 1:53:14 AM ODO CHECK 341.6 SUMMIT - IBEX PASS

10/20/96 2:27:20 AM ODO CHECK 357.6 PASSED MANDRILL!!! RUNNING 2ND!!! Big celebration by the crew. Peter retains his stoic outlook. Maybe that's why he's riding the bike and we're in the van. The precariousness (is this a word?) of his position is all too apparent to him, but to us it's as if he just won a major race.

10/20/96 2:58:22 AM ODO CHECK 366.2 Battery change for bike lights and warmer clothes

10/20/96 3:58:06 AM ODO CHECK 383.3 TS#5 (BAKER) We occasionally glimpse lights from Klause who is 28 minutes ahead. The standings at this time station show how close the pack is with 120 miles still to go.





HOG 4:46


10/20/96 6:18:35 AM ODO CHECK 406.8 TOP OF KELSO SUMMIT. The calorie count is still running about 700 per hour. We still continue to nag Peter about food and drink. I learned during RAAM that you don't ask Peter, "do you want something to drink?" You ask, "do you want a 3 scoop E-Surge?" and if he says no, then "how about an iced coffee?" The point being if you give him an 'open' question, he says no. We basically have to go down the list of what we have, and nag him about it, until he says yes to something. We try to keep it in check and only do this if we notice the calories per hour are trending in the wrong direction. So far, so good on the calories. We shouldn't have a repeat of last year's BONK.


What a beautiful sight. Sunrise in the desert, few cars, little civilization, weather that's just perfect.


10/20/96 9:23:57 AM ODO CHECK TS#6 457, Amboy. Little civilization. No FC 508 folks around. We cruise by an elderly gent leaning against his car and ask if he's the time station support. He looks quizzically at us and asks if we have any jumper cables! We don't but tell him others will be coming through in short order and they might have jumpers. He says that another bike fellow went through about an hour ago...! Oh no. Might as well hang it up if Klaus has that big of a lead. At least Peter didn't hear this as he's on down the road toward the dreaded Sheep Hole. We stop at the local cafe and get a milkshake for Peter. We hit the road again, about 15 minutes after Peter went through. No one is in sight. We keep looking back as we leave Amboy. Still no one. We're feeling pretty good. Looks like Peter has at least 20+ minutes on third place.

10/20/96 10:22:31 AM ODO CHECK 472.3 START OF SHEEPHOLE CLIMB. We're a little drifty now. Peter is the only one who seems to remain in complete focus. We've tried limericks (homemade, dealing with bikes, ULTRA, etc.), jokes, threats of Rock-n-Roll over the PA but nothing phases Peter. He just keeps grinding away. I don't believe he's been off the bike more then 30 minutes to this point. Steve has been busily video taping most of the interesting parts of the race. Iron Legs has come up with a use for some old paper bags. She's cut the paper into a pompom arrangement and as Peter starts up Sheep Hole we're on the side of the road with Linda giving her best impression of an ULTRA cheerleader complete with 'give us a P...P, give us an O...O, etc.' (Hope Steve got this on video!) We finally get a smile from Peter. With only 50 miles to go, the focus doesn't seem to matter a whole lot. Short of a major failure, Klaus looks like the winner; and Peter looks like second place is his. Time to kick back and wrap it up.

But suddenly we catch a glimpse of what we think is a rider behind us. Could be one of the teams. Or, could be...? Chris Kostman drives by us and goes up to Peter and drives beside him for a minute or so. When Chris leaves, we go up to see if Peter wants anything. He doesn't but he found out that HOG (Adrian) is behind us about 12 minutes and that Klaus is ahead of us over an hour! Suddenly we have a new race. Instead of looking forward in hopes of catching Klaus, now we're looking back to see if we sight Adrian. As we climb Sheep Hole, there's a long (~3 mile) straight-away section. We keep looking back. Sure enough, we see lights and are sure there's a bike in front of the vehicle... We still don't know if it's a team, or Adrian but Peter's not slowing down to check.

10/20/96 11:18:43 AM ODO CHECK 482.6 AT TOP OF SHEEPHOLE SUMMIT. Glasses, food, clothes change. We finally have this under control. This 'pit' stop was done in 45 SECS!!

10/20/96 12:53:24 PM Downhill with a few rollers to go. Should be a piece of cake. The rider behind is still gaining but very slowly. We figure it must be Adrian since a team would be closing much quicker. Now I know how Butch and Sundance felt in that movie when they kept looking over their shoulder and asking, 'who are those guys?' Peter is flat out but the wind is kicking up again and Adrian is closing. Who'd have thought that a 508 mile race could come down to a sprint finish?! We're about four miles from the finish. Peter could do this blindfolded. We tell him to go ahead. We're going to stay behind to confirm who the rider is who's closing. We find out more then we want to know. The rider is Adrian and he's riding strong. Stronger then Peter is at the moment. He's also about a mile back. This is nail-biting time. One missed turn, one traffic light, one flat tire (or thank goodness one slower 'pit' stop back up the road) can make all the difference now! We catch up to Peter and tell him the situation. He continues to grind away. We turn right onto 29 Palms Highway. The finish is a traffic light and a small hill away. We continue to look back to sight Adrian. As Peter crests the hill it looks like Adrian has conceded second place, or that Peter has turned on the heat. The gap seems to be increasing.

Finish @ 1:07:57 SECOND PLACE!! Peter pulls into the parking lot, breaks the ceremonial toilet paper banner and receives congratulations from the throngs of well wishers; all three, or four of them. It's somewhat disappointing that more people aren't here but that also is part of ULTRA racing. Small groups of fans, little if any media coverage, etc. Adrian comes in, complete with HOG nose, about four minutes later. Klaus, the winner, comes over to congratulate the finishers and I congratulate him on a stunning ride. Peter seems to be in good shape. He's tired and in need of a rest but he looks OK. Klaus on the other hand must have pushed over the limit. He looks like he's been through the wringer. He has the 1000yard stare. His eyes are red and bleary,... but he's moving. We take pictures of the finish line, the team, the van and congratulate Peter and each other for a having a grand time.


The Crew: Eric, John, Penguin, Steve, Linda

Peter and crew at finish of Furnace Creek 508










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