2009 Furnace Creek 508 – 2X Team Sandhill Cranes
50+ Mph Winds Fail to Ground the Female Bird
At the RAAM parade start in 2007, Isabelle Drake said to me: “Dan, in 2009 you’ll be 64 and I’ll be 56. How about doing the Furnace Creek 508 as a 60+ Mixed 2-person relay team? We shook on it, and that’s how we got to the start this year. Isabelle is a wonderful ultra rider from Laguna Beach. For crew, we recruited Jim Cook, an ultra promoter and distance cyclist, and my daughter, Danielle, who recently graduated from UC Santa Cruz and who is now staying with me, to my great delight.
Santa Clarita to California City (Dan’s leg): The local police gave us a lead-out that included stopping the cross traffic all the way to the left turn on Francisquito Canyon. How fun for a start! As we turned up the canyon, a small group stayed together all the way to the beginning of the False Summit climb. It was cool, and the anticipation of the start kept me with the lead group until this point. After cresting over the real summit, and the descending down to Elizabeth Lake Road, I turned right on Johnson Road and dropped my empty bottle that I’d drained, picking up a new one from my daughter, before summiting over Johnson pass 7th out of the 38 teams that began the race. I’d later pay for this exuberance, but in the meantime I was enjoying being toward the front. I flew down the descent to the high desert flats with a tailwind blowing me along. As I crossed the flats of the high desert, the wind began as a crosswind. I drank another bottle across the flats, then got a new one as I began the climb up the windmills. The wind turned to a headwind, as I climbed and it got increasingly strong as I approached the pass (there's a reason they place the windmills there).
After I crested, I dropped my empty bottle at the right turn to Oak Creek Road. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a replacement for me. Neither was the crew able to give me a bottle during the descent as I was flying at 40-45 mph or so. I finally got a bottle at the left-turn stop at the bottom of the descent, but it was too late. I was already starting to cramp. This is the third time it’s happened to me, at the same spot. You’d think I’d learn … Duh! While I unclipped one leg, then the other, allowing it to dangle, while I tried to shake it our, and peddle with the other leg, a number of riders passed me. By going easy, and drinking as much as possible, I managed to fend off the worst of these cramps, and never had to actually stop. But I lost several positions during this bit of cramping trouble. After a short wait for a passing train before Highway 58 (business), I turned left and eventually made it to California City and began my rest and recovery. This was the only time cramps threatened my riding.
California City to Trona (Isabelle’s leg): Isabelle took over and powered north. It’s very hard on the “B” rider, because there’s a huge amount of anticipation that builds up over the morning, but without any outlet. Now Isabelle had the chance to let out some of that energy and positively flew north. I tried to lay down and rest. She summited over Johannesberg (seemed to me after only a very few minutes), then turned north toward Trona. By this time the wind had changed to a tailwind, and she cruised along with ease at a very fast speed. She averaged over 20 mph for this leg. After the rollers, we drove forward to get ready for the next exchange.
Trona to Furnace Creek (Dan): I headed north while the crew put Isabelle’s bike on the top of the van. They then used the restrooms, before continuing north. In the meantime, I came upon another train crossing, and had to wait a couple minutes. After I rode a few miles north I felt a big bang as I pushed down with left leg and everything broke loose and something heavy hit the ground. I almost fell as a result, but luckily I was sitting at the time. I looked back, and found that my left crank-arm had come off completely, and was laying in the road behind me. I got off the bike, walked backwards and picked up the crank-arm. I realized almost immediately what had happened. A couple weeks earlier, I had replaced the bottom bracket bearings, which had failed. I had an FSA K-Force Light crank with ceramic bearings in the bottom bracket, and they had failed a few weeks before. I had ordered and installed a new set, but when I didn’t use locktite when installing the crank-arm. The original installation had been done with blue locktite, but it was very hard to get the crank-arm loose, and I thought that the locktite residue in the threads would be enough to hold things together on reassembly. Now, looking back to the crank laying on the road, I realized how wrong I was. I didn’t have tools to reassemble the crank, and stood there wondering what to do. Another rider, solo I think, came by and saw me in extremis, and tried to use a walkie-talkie to ask his crew to find my crew (both crews were still at Trona), and come forward to help. I needed an 8mm allen wrench to install the crank-arm. He wasn’t successful in getting the message through. I thanked him and told him to ride on, since my crew should be coming along before long. After waiting, to no avail, for several more minutes, I put the loose crank-arm in my jersey pocket, mounted my bike, and began riding one-legged. I figured some speed was better than none, and I had nothing better to do. It wasn’t too long before I saw my crew approaching. When they overtook me, I told them to go ahead and get my tools out. After we stopped, I looked through my tools and at first thought I might have left the 8 mm home. But then I dumped all the tools on the ground and found it. It took only a minute or so to install the crank, and I resumed the climb out of Trona. It wasn’t too long before I found that the crank was coming off again. This time I asked my crew to find a small tube of blue locktite that was with my tools, and we stopped a second time to reinstall the crank-arm, but this time with the blue locktite. I was worried that it might not have time to dry, and would come off again, but it stayed together for quite a long time.
I continued approaching Trona Pass, and a strong tailwind pushed me up the climb. I eventually crested the summit, then descended the windy road down from the pass. After the windy part, there’s a very long gradual descent to Panamint Valley, and the tailwind pushed us along very fast. It became dusk somewhere in the bottom of Panamint Valley.
I almost missed the left turn toward Townes Pass Road, but luckily there was another van at the turn waiting for their rider, and I saw it in my peripheral vision and turned left. Otherwise I don’t know how far up toward Emigrant Pass I might have gone. As I continued north, I felt the very strong tailwind pushing us north, and I realize we were going to have a very tough return toward the south.
We made the right turn on to Townes Pass Rd at about 7pm. I now had a very stiff crosswind or quartering headwind. I had a similar situation in 2004, so I figured that the wind would become less as we got closer into the canyon of the pass and got some shelter from the mountain itself. But it was quite awhile before that happened. It was pretty tough for at least the bottom third of the climb. I recall seeing the 3000’ elevation sign and thinking that I still had almost 2000’ to go and that it would take a very long time. But it wasn’t too much after the 3000’ sign that the direction of the road up the pass changed to a north-east direction and the wind became a tailwind. Before I knew if we were at the top, and I stopped to get some extra clothes for the very long descent into Death Valley. I did this descent in 2004 under similar conditions, but then I was riding solo, and it was earlier. I did the entire descent in daylight. This time it was dark, but I knew it would be very fast with the tailwind. Jim was driving, and he knew to stay very close behind me so I wouldn’t drop into the blackness created by headlights too far behind. With this confidence, I was able to let the bike fly. Jim told me later that for much of the descent I was going between 60 and 65 mph. I believe it because I passed
I eventually rode through Stovepipe, and continued a more gradual descent for another few miles. Eventually we began to climb again and to swing toward the south. That’s when the winds began to really get my attention. First it was a quartering headwind, then a direct headwind as I turned south. The next 20 miles riding into Furnace Creek was really a strong headwind; not as bad as 2004, but still a steady 25-30 mph or so. Furnace Creek was a very welcome sight, when I arrived at about midnight!
Furnace Creek to Shoshone (Isabelle): Isabelle was also at the 2004 508, crewing for Wade Wren Baker, so she thought she knew what to expect, but in reality the 50 miles between Furnace Creek and Ashford Mills was much worse this year than in 2004. But initially I was oblivious because I promptly fell asleep after leaving Furnace Creek was sawing logs for about a couple hours, though it was fitful. At some point I woke up and realized that the wind had strenthened. I eventually sat up and tried to take in what was happening. Isabelle would sometimes take a short break from the bike to rest her back. But the wind was so strong that when she began riding again, she wasn’t able to just clip-in and peddle. She simply couldn’t get going that way. Instead, she’d go in back of the van while it was stopped, and clip-in behind the van, get up some speed, then edge around the van and then continue down the road as the wind blew her back and forth across the lane. .
I worried about Isabelle’s suffering out in the wind, and at one point I told her that if she decided to pack it in and head home I wouldn’t be disappointed. It was just so hard watching her struggle out there. I could hardly open the door to get out of the van the few times I did so. But her reply was that when the sun came up (it was about 5 am at this point), the wind would die, and that she wasn’t about to quit; no way!
And sure enough, when we got first light, then daylight as she passed by Ashford Mills, the wind slowed significantly. It was then a long slog up and over Jubilee, then Salisbury passes, but she was very pleased to have the long, hurricane-like night behind her.
Shoshone to Baker (Dan): It took Isabelle about 10.5 hours for her typhoon-leg, but it gave me 10.5 hours of rest. I picked up at Shoshone and felt very strong riding south. Before long I crested the Atlas climb and flew down the long descent that followed. It was mid morning by now, and after the descent, my crew handed me a repair kit, then sped forward to Baker to gas up and get some eats. I followed, with a pretty strong crosswind buffeting me around. On the way I came upon solo-rider George Vargas, who had taken some sleep during the night. We visited a bit before I moved on, having had plenty of rest during the long night. Later, I also came upon solo rider Jon Snoopy Schellenbarger, who had stopped for awhile to rest. He asked if I needed anything, and I said, “Yes, I need Baker”, and continued riding. This stretch didn’t take too long, but it seemed like a very long time, and at one point, while I was riding alone and hadn’t seen anyone in ages, I wondered if I had somehow gotten off course and was lost. I thought I might see 29 Palms around the corner! But I eventually saw the giant thermometer, and pulled up to pass the baton to Isabelle.
Kelso Climb (Isabelle): While I had 10.5 hours rest before the leg I just finished, Isabelle had only 3.5 hours rest after struggling 10.5 hours over the night, so she had to be very fatigued. But she looked fresh, and was ready to go when she took over. After she left, I got a Mad Greek hamburger and rested in the van while the crew visited with other riders and crew. We eventually drove forward and saw her well along the climb to the top of Kelso. She eventually crested and began the long very rough descent from the top. I got out at one point and laid the camera on the road surface and took a picture of her coming toward the camera with the very rough, rocky road in the foreground.
Granite Pass Climb (Dan): One big reason I prefer to be the “A” rider is that by Sunday almost all of the A riding is done. The only one left is the short 35 miles over Granite Pass. The climb was cool in the late afternoon and I finished before it got really dark. There’s often a headwind on the descent from the Pass, but this was late enough in the day that I wasn’t slowed down much on the descent. In fact, I motored right down to the bottom at Almost Amboy, then passed the last stretch to Isabelle, who still hadn’t got much of a rest..
Almost Amboy to 29 Palms (Isabelle): The climb over Sheephole Summit isn’t bad, and the descent to the bottom went pretty quickly, but then there’s a very lengthy and arduous slog uphill to the southern end of 29 Palms. This section always takes a very long time, and tonight was no exception. Riders’ reactions are typically something like: “I just want this to be over!” It was about midnight by the time we eventually arrived at the finish, but we were all smiles after the ordeal was in the past!
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