2009 VOYAGER JOHN FUOCO'S RACE REPORT
I just got back from Utah and the Hoodoo 500: http://www.planetultra.com/Hoodoo500/index.htm. This was my second crack at this event. I abandoned last year after 285 miles, having been riding well, but just not equipped to deal with the cold. This year I came with plenty of base layers, winter gloves, and fleece. I turned out I didn't need most of it but that's ok because I finished! Yes, the was goal number one, two, and three: to finish.
I roomed with Paul Carpenter and Dru Dixon, two excellent ultra riders and now good friends. Together we three composed the 50+ age group in the Voyager division. We were all fit, focused, and well prepared. Despite this I knew that the odds were good that at least one of us would DNF. I say that simply due to this race's history. There were 11 voyagers, including a couple on a tandem. All were accomplished ultra racers and belonged there. My sense in the early part of the race was that this would be the year when most of the voyagers would finish.
By Escalante at 203 miles, 4 had already DNF'd including the tandem couple who had an unfortunate mechanical that could not be repaired. I was not feeling particularly fantastic in the early going but was moving along. The temps were higher than last year during day one, going into the high 80s. The wind was light but largely favorable.
Sean Nealy, an ex-pro, was in our division and was way out front. Paul Carpenter, as expected, was riding well ahead of the rest of us but by Escalante was suffering leg cramps and not looking well. He, Dru, and I left there just before sundown to begin the arduous climb up Boulder Mountain in the dark. The moon was not out but the sky was filled with stars and you could see them all. The Utah sky is dark dark.
The three of us, along with David Goldberg of Colorado, stayed within a shout of each other throughout the climb. I was surprised at how warm it stayed. The temps never dipped below the mid 50s on the same climb that last year saw me get hypothermic.
Dru was climbing very well, I was plugging along, but Paul got into even more difficulty. When I saw him walking his bike well before the summit I knew he was in serious trouble: we weren't even halfway done. The decent into Torrey, and then the Time Station at Loa was harder than I remembered it; but thankfully not near as cold. Still we rode into a brisk head wind between the two towns. Paul got to Loa first but unfortunately he'd gotten a ride with a crew and had abandoned. It was about 4 AM and I was naturally tired in every which way. I got my bike and bottles ready and took a 15 minute cat nap. I didn't get a deep sleep but it felt heavenly on my aching muscles just to repose for a bit.
I left for Panguitch at 4:30 AM fatigued but in good spirits. After all, I was now past the point in the race that I had abandoned last year. There was an initial climb that I got out of the way before dawn, and then expected a fast ride to Panguitch as promised by the flat course profile.
Wrong. Head wind. Strong, 25mph, on wide open plains with nothing to block it. By that point my bottom was too sore to spend much time in the aero bars so I tried riding as much as possible on the hoods. Despite my best effort I was only going 12 mph on the flats. To add to that, the road surface was poor, chip sealed. And to add further to that still, there was heavy truck and RV traffic in the two hours before Panguitch. I couldn't hear them coming and they were moving fast. Lord get me off of this road! **
Finally reaching the TS at Panguitch, 373 miles, just before noon, I was feeling cooked: sore all over, in somewhat low spirits, and drained of energy. I told Brian Bowling, the race director, that I was feeling really spent. But since, thankfully, I had no serious injury or medical problem I was going to continue. He gave me some good advice, encouraging words, and tips on the route in front of me. I took a 20 minute nap, again hardly sleeping but feeling oh so good just to lay down, and changed my clothes. I took about an hour at that time station before heading out to tackle the Cedar Breaks climb, the last significant mountain on the route, cresting at 10,600 feet. At that point I knew that Sean Nealy was still way out in front but knew nothing of what was behind me nor would I get any other information about other voyagers until I finished.
Cedar Breaks took forever. It is not a straight climb. There are some flats and some descents and much of it was wide open, so still exposed to the vicious head wind. I have not mentioned it yet, but I was clearly having problems with the altitude. First off, I could hear myself breathe above 6,000 feet. I don't have asthma but I sounded like it. It sounded and felt like my trachea was swollen. If I breathed thru my nose it lessened the difficulty. I had a dull headache and I was light headed. In fact I was so light headed that climbing stiff grades saw me swerving all over the road. I couldn't help it. By the top of the climb, which took 40 miles and I don't know how many hours to get to, I had dismounted and walked a few of the steeper sections simply because I was fearful of falling over.
On the lower slopes I encounter two brief rain showers but did not need to adjust my clothing. Two race officials hovered around me near the top and were able to tell me that there were two other riders behind me on the climb, but perhaps an hour behind. I assumed one of them was Dru and the other possibly Dave. The officials further stated that I was riding faster that they were! "That can't be possible", I blurted as I gasped my way along at 5 mph. My assumptions about who the riders were was incorrect. They were both solo racers.
Note that there were other divisions in the race. Solo racers did the course by themselves, like we Voyagers, but they had a support crew. Thus they only needed to carry one water bottle and the clothes on their back. So they did not need to carry gear, making their load considerably lighter, and they did not need to mix theirs drinks or ride during daytime with lights on the bike. There were also relay teams who were also supported.
I was truly never sure when I reached the summit, because it seemed to never end. The wind was now cold, and I was so light headed that I was concerned about my safety on the descent into Cedar City. The descent was a real free fall. I was shivering and having trouble controlling the bike. We seemed to shiver in unison. I stopped several times to compose myself, warm up and add more clothing. I finally made it to the Time Station #6 at Cedar City just before dark. There I switched into my night gear and prepared to tackle the final 85 miles.
Now the course profile would lead you to believe this was going to be an easy 85 miles due to losing about 4000 feet of altitude, but it was not like that at all. And you know, I just didn't care. I was at that point just interested in forward motion. So I rode. I rode slow. I stopped often to fiddle or adjust clothing, but I rode. I was aware that there was a 50+ course record to shoot for, but it had no appeal.
I stopped to call in to Deb Bowling at the top of Snow Canyon with 17 miles to go. She said great job, I'll see you in about 45 minutes. One of the nicest things about this brutal suffer-fest is that the organizers make it a point to be up and present whenever you finish. I rode across the finish line at 2:45 AM so slowly that I didn't even break the tape! Needless to say I was relieved to be done and happy to have accomplished my goal, but also somewhat strangely drained of strong emotion.
I guess that's what riding 515 miles in 45:45 does to you. As I type this I feel tears welling up, but at that time I was dry eyed and empty.
** Note from Race Directors: Riders do see a bit more traffic on the stretch of Highway 89 between Highway 20 and Panguitch; but it's a very safe road with a wide shoulder.