Wednesday, October 21, 2009

2009 508: A Night to Remember (AKA Titannic Wind)

The 508 Solo Team “Rottweiler”
0700 Saturday, October 3, 2009 to 0202 Sunday, 4th
David Hunter-Inman, Crew Chief; Ralph Jacobson, Racer; Steven Jacobson, Crew; Bruce Moore, Crew

You can read my first two 508 stories from 2006 and 2008 here:

We finished the first two years four minutes apart. This year we Did Not Finish.

I was in OK, but not great shape this year. David rented a nice new Dodge Minivan that had incredible storage in the floor. We put 20 gallons of water under the seats! Bruce had recovered nicely from his fall in the race last year and had good movement in his wrist. The Friday before the race we were in good shape packing for the event. We went to the pre-race meeting, this time at the hotel, rather than the other location across town. We decided to get dinner at Wendy's since the hotel was a mob scene, and I am lucky to live in town where the race begins, Santa Clarita, CA. My wife, jackie, made a great breakfast for the crew the next morning. I was ready to go.

It was a perfect day, as opposed to the foggy, wet, cold day last year. Before the start, my new bike friend and neighbor, Paul, showed up to wish me well, as my did my pool boy, David! he's a great cyclist and got a few pictures taken by the AdventureCORPS cameras. The crew took off a few minutes prior to the start to head up the road to where I meet them 25 or so miles away.

At 7 am we start, and I am feeling good. I see Alpine Ibex struggling with his derailleur only a couple miles out. Furtherup the road I pass Emde when he is broken down on the side with the neutral support helping him out. 30 minutes or so later, he passes me by like I'm standing still. I wish him luck and he cheerfully says, "Thanks!". Knowing that he had won the last three years, I knew he would have a monumental task to win this one.

I met the guys at the first place they could support me and stopped for a minute and asked that Bruce perform the first bottle hand off... so we can put the disaster of last year's broken arm behind us. Several miles later, I cam up to Bruce looking for my fresh bottle, Steven had the camera going, and we completed the hand off flawlessly. Ahh. Thank God.

We had a nice tail wind again this year. I pushed me all the way to California City. I was flying. I didn't push so hard this time, as I did last year, so I would hopefully conserve some energy. I got into the first Time Stop ahead of last year's best time, so I was pumped. I started down Neuralia and continued to have the tail wind.

Coming into Trona, and heading down a huge descent several miles before the next Time Stop, I started gaining "Ludicrous Speed", like in the movie, "Spaceballs". The guys said they were doing 65 mph in the van and I was pulling away. At somewhere around 70 mph, my bike starts to completely freak out. The entire frame is shaking side-to-side witha violent vengeance. The handlebars are wobbling completely out of control. I frantically slam on the brakes.... BUT NOTHING IS HAPPENING!!!!!


I truly start thinking I am going to wipe out and the van will run me over at 70+ mph. I am thinking I am not coming out of this alive. I am going DOWN.

By some divine intervention, the brakes begin to slow down the bike. I come to stop and the crew runs to me. Steven said, gosh, Dad, you're such a wimp. How can you be shivering cold on such a nice day? Umm, WHAT??!! But David and Bruce knew exactly what happened: "Harmonic Resonance". I had never heard nor experienced it before. Some quirky combination of the weight distribution, wind, speed and the alignment of the planets, for all I know, cause this intense vibration. They told me to squeeze the top tube of the bike with my knees and push hard forward on the drops of the handlebars if this happens again. OK. Cool. I survived and my son didn't have to live with having run me over. Very nice, indeed.

We made it safely into trona, the bombed-out Bagdad of a town ahead of schedule. We were feeling GREAT! I head out towards Townes Pass, and I know we were doing well since the day had not yet gone dark and I had full view of the mountain. We make the turn to head up The Pass, and it starts. The wind is no longer our friend.

The huge tail wind has now become an intense crosswind. I end up stopping four times going up Townes because the wind is just relentless. We get to the top. I change clothes, and get on the bike to go down the 17-mile descent. the I say, "Oops, we forgot to put on the bright headlight!". I was all packed up and ready to go, otherwise, so I said to forget it, and I headed down Townes pass with only my smaller bike headlight. Well, that could've been a serous mistake. It was now nighttime and I couldn't see around the first several turns, as I could in the past years with the big light. The van's headlights couldn't follow me to closely at the speed I was going and be able to avoid me if I went down. so, I went went "blind" for the whole descent. The road finally straightened out, but the dips in the hill made it impossible to see much ahead, so I just hoped the road didn't have any more turns. We started gaining big-time speed again, but I pushed forward on the handlebars and the bike never shook. Cool.

We are now on the long, gradual climb (some say descent, but I could see the taillights of the other crews ahead of us and they were higher than us, dammit) to Furnace Creek Time Stop. The wind now was coming more directly in front of us. It was a very difficult journey at this point. I was going noticeably slower than I remember at this point last year. For the last climb into the Time Stop Station, Picachu, who had always ridden at my pace in the past two races, zoomed ahead of me up the hill with a fantastic sprint. I knew we had pulled in front of him while getting back on to the road a while back after a brief stop, and perhaps we cut him off. I hope we didn't make him mad.

We finally check into Furnace Creek, and I am tired. The wind is really blowing hard now. Constantly, not just gusting. After a long rest, we head out to Badwater, the lowest point in North America at some 300 feet below sea level. We make a right turn to take the long road there, and the Gates of Hell open in front of us. A dead ahead, 40-50 mph wind storm is blowing directly in my face. You have GOT to be kidding me. At Furnace Creek, we were still ahead of last year's pace, even though I slowed significantly. However, this situation has now become ridiculous. I shifted to granny gear and put all my 220 pound on each pedal stroke. This is just now working. I stop. Steven tries to get out of the van, but he cannot open the driver's door, due to the wind. We have gone seven miles out of Furnace Creek and it had taken us TWO HOURS. That's 3.5 mph. OMG.

We really wanted to press on ahead. I stopped a couple more times. Everyone on the crew is supporting me. Steven was motivating me to keep going, but this was getting tougher by the minute. I decided to put on my gym shoes and start walking the bike. I don't know what I expected to happen. I had some 50 miles to go to Badwater. And 250 miles to go in the race. We had passed Picachu earlier. He was resting. So I was walking. I don't know what the guys were saying in the van as they followed me, but I'm thinking this is not making sense sense anymore. I cannot walk these distances and complete the race in 48 hours. If I push a couple more miles riding the bike, will this wind die down? Will I have the strength to climb the 20 miles up Jubilee / Salisbury Pass? Bottom line, no I will not be able to do that.

The guys stopped the van and got out to talk. We did a lot of soul searching. If I was in better shape, yes I could do it. But that was not gonna happen now. David and Bruce have lived in the desert for decades and they both said they would expect the wind to continue throughout the following day. Butterfly passed us walking her bike. We went about 259 miles and threw in the towel. It was about 3 am. In the middle of nowhere. A billion stars in the sky. I got in the van. We stopped to shake hands with Butterfly and Picachu. They and virtually everyone in that section at that point in time DNF'ed. At the top of Towne Pass, Rock Rabbit (and crew) had taken shelter from the wind and cold in their small vehicle. Many items had been removed from the car and placed on the side. Rock Rabbit was among the front-runners into California City and Trona. But he blew up climbing the pass, unable to keep anything down. He slept for several hours, there at the summit, then pushed on. He was one of very few behind us to eventually finish. He is in an entirely different class of athlete than I am, for certain.

We had to drive Bruce home to Twenty-nine Palms, the finish line of the race, so the fastest way to get there (there ain't many roads in Death Valley) was to drive the rest of the race route. We stopped in Badwater for me to change into street clothes. A tandem 2X relay team was there and asked if we had water to spare. We gave them several gallons and drove home. We passed a lot of riders, and I started thinking about my decision. We got to Baker and stopped at the Mad Greek for breakfast.... about 4-5 am. I had always wanted to eat there, but was still riding the bike, in past years. We all had gyro omelets and they were amazing. Like, really amazing, like walk-on-water amazing. A couple race officials came into the Greek and we talked about the wind. We continued to drive and the sun came up. A little outside Kelso, we saw the two leaders, Alpine Ibex and Ram. Two incredible athletes. Now, I'm not gonna take anything away from Ram having won the rac this year... HOWEVER, I gotta tell ya, with Emde breaking down early in the race and having to play catch up the whole time, in this crippling wind storm, for him to actually pass Ram at least once in the race. Now that is truly unbelievable. the energy Ibex has to push through 508 miles, up 35k+ feet of climbing in the greatest headwind the race has ever known in its 26-year history. My hat's off to you, Mr. Emde.

So, we continued home. I didn't feel sorry for myself, but I am second guessing my decision. Big time. It just doesn't seem like I couldn't go on, now thinking back. But the wind was incredible. That I know. My crew has been supportive of the decision. But I know I'll second guess myself until I try this beast again.

Steve, my son, said it best. "Dad, you finished the first two times you tried this race. If you did it a third time, you'd think this 508 is no big deal." He's right. I have been truly humbled by Mother Nature. I am insignificant compared to her.

My pride is swallowed. Let's see what happens in the future. Stay tuned.....


  1. Hey Rottweiler

    See you out there next year? e didn't get to 29 Palms until 4:45, so there was no pizza for anybody this time.


  2. Protoceratops! I am truly amazed by your determination. You're more of an animal than I. I hope to see you there again!

    Thanks for reading!


  3. Most unforgiving experience I've ever been a part of. Don't beat yourself up over this DNF. I was on a 2x team that barely finished after an 11-hour slog on that stage from Furnace Creek to Shoshone. 11 hours!

    See you out there again, I hope!

    1 of Team 2x Thrasher

  4. Thrasher, thanks for reading! 11 hours, UGH! When I went 7 miles in two hours, I figured that stage would take until November!