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Old 11-04-09, 11:29 PM
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Join Date: Sep 2007
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Bikes: 2008 Scott CR1 Pro; 2006 Schwinn Fastback Pro and 1996 Colnago Decor Super C96; 2003 Univega Alpina 700; 2000 Schwinn Super Sport

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Stage VII - Almost Amboy to the Finish

“Almost Amboy” is called “almost Amboy” because it is literally in the middle of nowhere. As a matter of fact, for most people, Amboy itself is nowhere. Amboy lies on historic Route 66 … the same road taken by Oakies escaping the dust bowl in the 1930s … and the same road taken by my family when we moved to California more than half a century ago.

In its day, Route 66 handled a significant amount of traffic, but no longer. The road is dotted with the remains of roadside diners and abandoned motels, and some of them in Amboy. But what were once welcome mirages are now strange curiosities.

“You should eat.”

I looked at Saralie. I kinda didn’t feel like it.

“How about another fruit pie?”

We now regressed to conversation I’m sure I had with my mother countless times.

“Only if you have something else first. How about some chicken and stars soup?”

I had become quite enamored with the Cup-O-Noodles served on most double centuries. So much so, that I purchased a 12 volt, plug in thermos that would warm water to boiling in a matter of 5 or ten minutes … just so I could have Cup-O-Noodles if I wanted to.

Saralie had warned me she wasn’t going to be little miss chef out there in the Mojave desert … even if that meant simply boiling water. I brought the thermos anyway. But out there in “Almost Amboy” I came to see the wisdom of eating lukewarm Chicken and Stars soup. Poured into a water bottle, it can be downed like a thick milkshake, and takes no time to prepare.

“Ok, I’ll have some soup first.”

In truth, I was in no hurry. I spent damn little time sitting down inside the van on the entire 508 … pretty much only to change shorts. But there was a chill in the air, and I wasn’t eager to wait for my repast outside.

While I was waiting, I downed another Mountain Dew. Yum.

Before me was the last stage. Although I had done the 508 in 2006, I had watched Saralie climb it and new what to expect. Once the turn is made at Amboy, the road climbs pretty much straight up a long alluvial fan and over Sheephole pass.

Since this road appears to go from nowhere to nowhere, you might guess that it is lightly trafficked. You would be wrong. While inching her way up this grade in 2006, Saralie was passed by countless roaring trucks, most of which were towing large boats. Apparently, the road from Amboy to Twentynine Palms is a major arterial for people going to and from the Colorado River.

Ah, the soup is on.

Ugh. Cold. But pleasantly salty. And that is one of the reasons to drink it. I downed it in a few gulps, and moved on to the fruit pie feast.

It was time to go. The last stage.

The first step was to get to Amboy itself, a mere 5 miles away. The road was dark, and it was empty save for a few riders within my view.

I got to Amboy in pretty short order. I was hoping to get a glimpse of “Roys Motel and Cafe” even in the dark, but I didn’t see it. Maybe I was just tired.

I crossed several railroad tracks, made a sweeping turn and started across the whitewashed playa of Bristol Dry Lake. I was making a pretty good speed … keeping pace with those behind and in front of me. But little by little, the road steepened, and little by little I caught and passed the riders in front of me.

The road wasn’t busy, but it was busy enough so that I didn’t dare linger next to the other riders to chat. And that is a pity … we had so much to talk about. I wanted to hear all about what the others thought of our windy night in the hell of Death Valley.

I was nearly to the top of the climb, when the van pulled along side of me.

“We need to take a pee break.”

Fine with me. I thought it a good idea to put on my brighter headlight again anyway. The summit was coming up, and the last thing I wanted to do was crash on the last descent of the race.

The motion to stop for a pee met with such general approval that we turned it into a regular pee party out there on Sheephole Summit. Some of the people that I passed on the way up the grade were catching up, but frankly, I didn’t care. At this point, my mind was on finishing.

I noted that my headlight holder was loose. Rick obligingly tightened it.

While we were waiting Rick told me that the top of Sheephole had a few false summits. The actual summit was further away than it looked. I’m glad he told me that, because he was right. But the grade was not long or severe, so I just settled down into the climb.

And there it was … the summit. I had completed the last big climb of the 508. Zipping up my jacket, I hunkered down for the descent. One concern with fast descents in the desert is the possibility of striking some kind of wildlife. Even something as small as a rabbit could cause a crash. With that in mind, I had no intention whatever of bombing down this thing … I wanted to safely get to the bottom so I could finish the ride. I kept my speed down.

About halfway down the grade, I beheld a horrible sight. A jackrabbit, it’s hindquarters crushed and motionless, its front quarters sitting up, and it’s ears up. The hapless creature was sitting right on the center line, staring at approaching traffic, but unable to get out of the way. Doubtless, it was also in a great deal of pain. Literally only half alive.

I flew by him at perhaps 35 MPH, so the image passed quickly … it was there and it was gone. But it stuck in my mind. It still does.

The descent was over fairly quickly, which left only a straight shot into the finish in Twentynine Palms. In my mind, the race was pretty much over … there was just the little matter of this short jaunt into town.

Saralie had done the 2008 Furnace Creek 508 solo, and I drove out to Twentynine Palms see her finish. She made great time … much faster than she or anyone else expected and by the time I arrived in Twentynine Palms, she had already descended down Sheephole and was making the milk run to the finish.

I drove out to see how she was doing, and in what seemed to be no time at all, found her and her support crew, making the ride to the finish. The distance from where I found her to the finish seemed to pass in a matter of moments. So at this point, I expected the ride to Twentynine Palms to be quick.

I was wrong.

In fact, in making the last 20 or so miles to Twentynine Palms, was gradually uphill. In fact, by the time we got to the finish, we would have climbed just 150 feet shy of the top of Sheephole Summit. To make matters worse, we were now heading into a light headwind. No, it wasn’t much, but it was enough to scrub a couple MPH off of my speed.

And there was more. Those that ride regularly in the desert know that apparent distances can be very deceiving. It is common to see lights enough for you to conclude that you are a mere mile or two out of town … when you are, in fact, 20 miles or more away. Even so, the distant lights are something to aim at, and something that tells you that you are nearing your destination.

Not so with the 508. The lights of Twentynine Palms did not appear at the base of Sheephole Summit. They didn’t appear after an hour of riding uphill either. All there was was mile after mile of dark road in front of me.

Now and again, I’d have a steep whoopdedoo to ascend, and I would do so … expecting to finally see some lights at the top. But there were none. This patter was repeated again and again. To be frank, it became annoying. Where the heck was Twentynine Palms?

Inexplicably, I felt a sharp pain on the outside of my right foot. I tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t. I stopped.

“What’s wrong?”

“The outside of my foot hurts. I have no idea what that would be happening now.”

Now knowing what else to do, I took my shoe off and put it back on again. That seemed to cure the problem. Perhaps it was all psychosomatic … the result of my frustration.

“Where the hell is the end, anyway?”

“Utah Trail Road. Don’t worry … we won’t let you miss it.”

I knew that. But what I wanted to know was …

“How far is it?”

Yes, I was violating the sacred rule of endurance cycling … counting the miles until the end.

“I dunno. Five or ten miles.”

Sheesh. Well, I knew I was getting crabby and decided not to ask whether it was five miles or ten. Whatever it was, it was. I resumed pedaling.

More whoopdedoos. More blackness greeted me at the top of each one. In some ways, I think this last section of the 508 is the toughest.

Finally, it was there … Utah Trail. A left, a few miles, and a right on Twentynine Palms Highway … the road that would lead right to the finish. I passed through the stoplights of town, for the most part, shut down for the night.

Glancing ahead, I noticed a light was about to change. I was in no mood to wait for a red light at this point, so I stood up and honked through the intersection as the light began to change. Trouble was, in doing so, I left my support van waiting for me at the light. It made no sense to go this far only to be DQed for a technical violation, so I pulled over and waited for the light to turn green.

A car with a couple of teenagers passed. They yelled some obscenity out of their window, calling my sexual preferences into question. Small potatoes next to a crotch rocket passing within inches of you, but still annoying.

But I got a nice little present out there in Twentynine Palms. A present in the form of the local constable, roaring off after the miscreants shortly after they passed. With any luck, the constable was gay and did a specially thorough job rousting them. It isn’t often that justice is done at all, let alone so swiftly.

Oh, and here is a nice little quiz for you. What is the steepest pitch on the Furnace Creek 508? Well, my vote goes for the little hill just short of the finish line. My guess is that it is at least 13% or so. I’m sure there are a lot of cuss words uttered here. I shrugged it off and honked up the hill.

And there it was. The finish line. While training for this ride, I speculated often how I would feel rolling across that line. For the most part, I expected to arrive exhausted and overjoyed to cross it.

For much of the race itself, I didn’t expect to see it at all. I had resigned myself to defeat at Mormon Point and thought I had an outside chance of finishing at best until I arrived in Baker.

But here I was, arriving at the finish line. Finishing after all. And I wasn’t exhausted. I wasn’t overjoyed.

I suppose it is like many moments in life that seem to pass by like any other … their significance only cognizable after the passage of time. Graduation. The birth of a child. It happens. You’re there to witness it, but it’s apparent significance in your life is small in the now and long in the later.

A final push, and I was across. The time was about 1:30. I had finished about six and a half hours before the cutoff.

What did I have to say after riding 508 miles? All I could think of was this:

“Those winds in Death Valley were absurd!”

I’m sure I wasn’t the first.

Mr. 508, Chris Kostman, greets you at the finish, and there is a small ceremony. You’re handed a Furnace Creek 508 jersey (something only 508 finishers can buy), and given an official finisher’s medal.

“Look up at the camera.”

A camera poked itself in our faces.

“Geez” I thought. “He’s awful close.”

The photographer in me never really quite shuts off. I knew that at the distance he was taking the pictures, the lens was set to a wide angle focal length, and that would make us look like hell. I even thought about mentioning it, but I was too tired to care. Maybe you’re supposed to look like crap after a ride like that. In any case, here is the result.

And the result with Team Skink.

Just then, I noticed Vireo. I hadn’t seen him since the Trona bump, and had no idea he was just ahead of me. He must have passed us while we slept in the Death Valley hurricane.

Both in 2006 and in 2008, we finished off the 508 with a triumphant meal. Well, it was at a Denny’s, but that’s about all that is open that time of night.

But this year, I wasn’t hungry, and the crew was more sleepy than hungry, so we headed out to our hotel to get some well-deserved rest. Now that I was off the bike and not pedaling. I felt just as tired as you’d expect I’d be after going 508 miles on an hour and a half of sleep.

Next: The Epilog.
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