Monday, August 25, 2008

I had a lot of fun as co-volunteer coordinator at CCC100 this past weekend, assisting Charlie where he needed me most. It was fun to get out on parts of the course I haven't been to in a while. What fantastic views there were, especially up at French Cabin and No Name! I apologize for some blurry photos but I guess it must have been all the caffeine to keep me going throughout the night:) The last 20 are what I took with my blackberry, while wondering around in the night, hanging glow sticks or delivering goods to aid stations.
Great job to everyone who finished or gave it their best shot out there! You all are an inspiration to me and I always am so pleased to be apart of this race! I am very pleased to see Kris and Herb finish strong in their first 100. They've been training so hard just like everyone else, and it was so great to see them having fun with everyone else out there, no matter how bad it might have been at times! Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers who we couldn't have done it with out all your support!

See ya all next year!

John Pearch

Here are all the photos I took of CCC this past weekend.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Race Across Oregon...a true test of enduring beyond the limit!

John’s Journal of his Race Across Oregon 536 miles Bike Race

Start at 5:00 am July 19, 2008 near Portland International Airport

Finish at 2:21 am July 21, 2008 at Timberline Ski lodge on Mt Hood

Race website:

The Aftermath
Well, as most of you know, I finished Race Across Oregon in the early morning of Monday July 21 riding my bike in 45 hours and 21 minutes…and it was truly the hardest thing I’ve ever accomplished in my life! Most important, I felt strong the entire way, no stomach problems and absolutely NO bike mechanical problems…not even one flat! There were some tiny little things that accumulated over time, and they almost made me drop with only 40 miles to go!

I have so much to say about this race but I thought I would start off this story by expressing my gratitude and thanks to my crew for everything they did to get me to the finish. It’s one thing to crew for an ultra, but my crew put up with me for literally 45 hours through the hot, hilly desert countryside of Eastern Oregon and were awesome and positive the entire way, 100% of the time!J I thank my crew members Brent Warner and Linda Huyck, who were driving my Honda Element following/leapfrogging the entire way (with almost no sleep) as well as Cris Matthews and Paula Ehlers in the secondary car who drove ahead and bought ice, water and other supplies. Everyone did a good job feeding me food and fluids, putting up with my whiney attitude in the later part of the race and pushing me. no matter the pain, to the finish. Also, thanks to Heidi Perry for giving some good pointers in my nutrition, and to Laurie Davies for lending supplies and other moral support. You were also a big part of my successful finish. No effort worth making belongs to a single individual, but involves the working together of the entire team. Thank you all for making my dream yours, and my goal your reality.

Crew “coach” Linda, called me just a couple days after I finished. Listening to her message sends chills up my spine and really makes me think deeply about what I really did. Recounting the race in this journal form might help you all understand just what feelings we had after riding and crewing a 536 mile bike race.…

Linda’s message
“Thanks for the messages and congratulations on your reward. Glad the banquet was fun! I have to tell you…this event, I mean, I know it wasn’t my physical achievement, but it’s one of those things, that I just can’t wrap my mind around it yet, even though I was there. What you did was so amazing …and God every time I think about it I’m moved…It would be great to get together and talk sometime and maybe see if I can find the words. Maybe …recounting that would help but... I just have to tell you…I don’t think anybody who wasn’t there is going to understand just what you went through and that’s part of what is so difficult to express. You accomplished so much that people took it for granted that you would finish. You know those hours that last night in the dark when things got so extreme, so desperate…there was a time where it looked like that this might not happen…there was a time there where the goal was going away seemingly, soundly so!! And then for you to come back and to find that inside and to accomplish what you did to pull this off…I just don’t know that people could possibly understand how great of an accomplishment this is. Sure you went 536 miles but the reason it happened during those miles is what I can’t express. I’m really glad I got to be apart of it. And I thank you for that! I have to recover myself <laughing> before I could go through something like that again. Wow…I’m just proud of you and thank you for letting me be there. Congratulations again John on everything, and we should get to together and chat…and I want my T-shirt <laughing>!! Kind of like a big marathon accomplishment, “I want the t-shirt for proof!” Anyway, Congratulations John!”

Hearing such kudos from a Marathon Olympic Trials qualifier makes me feel honored. I also realize that what I accomplished has positively influenced my crew and everyone else that has heard about my success. Thank you again, Linda and crew, for everything you did for me.

So where did I get this insane idea to go ride 536 miles?

How did I come to enter Race Across Oregon (RAO), which a lot of people claim as the toughest 536 mile organized bicycle race in the world. It’s been almost 5 years since I ran my last 100 mile endurance run at Angeles Crest and Western States. You know how I’ve tried to rehabilitate my knee to continue running. What made me want to even think of signing up for such an event? Well, to be honest, had I known what I was really up against, I might have thought twice about it. But what a challenging event to pursue. Where else could I push myself further then any ultramarathon endurance run event but in a 48 hour time trial bicycle race, climbing over 40,000 feet of elevation gain, across the vast high desert of Eastern Oregon to a last climb to Timberline lodge!!! What does Race Across Oregon compare to? Try 4 times of RAMROD (Ride Around Mount Rainier) with more elevation gain in less miles! In other words, if you do the simple math, there’s about 10,000 feet of elevation gain on average every 134 miles at RAO. In reality, there’s even more elevation gain crammed into 5 relentless mountainous sections that makes you realize how tough this really is!

In 2005 I started biking seriously when I did Seattle to Portland in one day (204 miles) for the first time. I ran into Brent during this ride and told him I had almost no training…and he and 2 other friends (Sean and Steve) from Olympia, were there to help push me to the finish (along with Linda to crew). In 2006, we all did STP again in one day in much better shape. We all rode together to a strong finish, taking about an hour off our time from the previous year…thanks to me actually not slowing up the pace like in 2005J. Brent and Linda were good to have on my crew since they both knew about my ultrarunning and biking experiences and also have experience crewing or riding STP and other longer endurance bicycle events. Both Brent and Linda are high school cross country and track coaches that I knew would be a positive contribution to the crew...and sure enough it showed on how supportive and strict they were when I really needed it! Linda was also a fellow training partner of mine during weekly track practices, back in 2001-2003, during my peak ultrarunning days and while she trained for the Olympic marathon trials! I knew I would be in good hands!

Only 1 week after I rode STP in 2006 I bought a last minute RAMROD ticket, and finished it strong, which provided the motivation for further mountainous cycling events. 2007 training became more serious, completing all 5 mountain passes of Sierra Nevada’s Death Ride as well as completing all 4 mountain passes in the Shasta Super Century that includes the a 4500 foot climb up part of Mt Shasta. Good friends and co-workers of the Department of Ecology, both Cris and Paula both gave me the inspiration to ride these tougher mountainous rides that later volunteered to crew me at RAO. It was so good to have Cris and Paula there as well, since they new about me and also had the experience after riding Death Ride and Shasta Super Century. Cris was also very familiar with bike mechanics so it was good to have him there to check on my bike throughout the race. The entire crew was a perfect bunch to have out there for me and it showed in many ways. After finishing Death Ride and Shasta, I felt the need to try something even more extreme…RAO! Now coming to realize…perhaps the most extreme event out there…next to Race Across America (RAAM). More on RAAM later…

From RAO Dream to Reality

I first found out about Race Across Oregon when pursuing entrance to the Furnace Creek 508 (The 508) in Death Valley. Monica Schultz inspired me by conquering both The 508 and Badwater 135 in the same year…In checking the 508 website Race Across Oregon was suggested as an ultracycling event. To make a long story short, I refocused myself on the RAO.

Fast forward 4 and one-half months and I was signed up for this major race, training up to 300 miles per week on the most extreme terrain in east Oregon and spending at least $10,000 on biking gear, a second bike and all kinds of other stuff for this race. Then, I was finally there…the week of race. It was quite nerve racking, yet a most exciting time in my life. The race directors Terri Gooch and George Thomas were both enthusiastic about my participation in the race and looking forward to seeing an ultrarunner give it a try. I must say, it was overwhelming learning all the rules for the race, but overall, they stuck in my head. My crew would say I was almost fanatic about not breaking any of thee rules and receiving a penalty.J But some of most important rules to know is there’s no drafting (well only 15 minutes), must obey all traffic laws, your crew must be equipped with a vehicle with all the proper safety lights and signage, the crew must also follow directly behind you during the night. I would say a lot more rules for the crew to follow then for the rider and my crew did an awesome job at doing that!

One month before the race I developed some intense back pain after so many long hard training rides. I decided to go to a chiropractor (thanks to Alison Hanks for recommending Russell Chiropractic where she used to work as a masseuse in Tumwater). I learned my previous back problems were related to things that had compounded over my entire life and were coming back to haunt me. I had 10 chiropractic adjustments in about 3 and half weeks and was that worth it…absolutely!! I never felt better!

I again entered the Seattle to Portland bike event supporting Team Parkinson’s, since my brother-in-law was recently diagnosed with this disease. I was able to raise $450 for Parkinson’s and appreciate your generous support for this cause. Even though I only rode halfway, to Centralia, I was still honored to be a part of this ride. I wore the race jersey on Race Across Oregon, which showed my continued support to Parkinson’s. And it was good to ride part of the way with my friend Ashley Birmingham and her mom and uncle. Thank you again all for your support!

Race Week Arrives

Fast forward to the start of the event at Portland Holiday Inn near the Portland International Airport. I was ready to go, and so were my crew, my bikes, and my car all stacked with supplies and safety equipment, and of course myself, filled with excitement, anxiety, and even fear in the final hours before the race.

Oh, What a Glorious Morning: Portland to Maupin (start to 122 miles)

We all toed the line at 5:00 am outside the Holiday Inn. There were 20 solo riders, and about 15 teams (both 2 and 4 person teams). I was feeling good and well rested regardless of a restless night.

The gun went off, but for the first 11 miles, everyone was required to follow the Race Director on his bike, as we left Portland and crossed the Sandy River. It was good to ride easy at the start of this epic journey and reflect on what I had done to get to this point, feeling incredibly good about what was ahead, (even though I had no idea what really was to come.) I had talked with Georg from Austria, who was using RAO as a training race for Race Across America (RAAM), which he’d already qualified for in a 400+ mile race in Switzerland.

As we got closer to that 11 mile mark, I could feel the competitiveness starting to settle in everyone’s faces and I could feel myself holding back, hanging on for dear life…for the ride of my life! And as we crossed over the Sandy River, the race began very suddenly from an easy going 15 mph pace to an intense 24 mph pace and faster. But once I reached the hill climbing up out of the Sandy River, I stopped to pee and let everyone go. And the leaders were gone and I never saw them EVER AGAIN (for very good reasonsJ). I tucked into a comfortable zone and knew to just hang at a 17-20 mph pace would be good enough for now on the flatter foothills.

Linda and Brent met up with me on Hwy 26, the point they began as crew. They handed my Ultimate Direction vest filled with food that I could wear temporarily and feed on the flatter sections until I reached the climb up to Government Camp. My crew were required to leapfrog (i.e., wait and hand me stuff along the roadside, then drive past me to next safe spot to pull over to crew). This continued the first 190 miles, until Fossil, after which they could crew me immediately from the car. I was in good spirits and focused on eating, drinking and not going to hard. It was actually raining lightly along this section and I hoped it wouldn’t be worse up at Government Pass. I had everything I could ever need, want or have, with a great crew, a great bike, a great positive mindset for this race. Cris and Paula joined in the leapfrog crewing and it was good to see them.

As I climbed up to Government Camp the clouds start to lift and the sun came out…for the rest of the day! My stomach was feeling strong, (always a concern in my ultrarunning days) but was probably a little over hydrated, as I was peeing 4-5 times an hour. As I crested Government Camp pass, I didn’t even look at the turn off to Timberline and the end of the race. I still had about 40 hours before I would come back to this dreadful climb to the finish. I descended down to Hwy 35 over the White River and climbed up to Barlow and Bennett Passes feeling strong. By now my peeing was a problem as it was starting to burn.…ouch! I told my crew at the top of Bennett Pass about my “issues” and they told me…ease off on the electrolytes, DUDE!!

I descended Hwy 35 to the Forest Road 44 (Dufur Valley Rd) turnoff, and then felt pretty good on the climb up to the pass on this road. I looked up at Hood and it seemed pleasant and I still had good feelings about everything yet to come. I focused on getting to Maupin in good time. Thinking in sections is key in a race like this, so one doesn’t try and do finish the race in their head, long before the reality of where you are riding. It's all about focusing on the present hill...The Power of Now! Just concentrate on getting to each time checkpoint! That’s what I continued to do, and it helped! I descended the 15 mile hill into Dufur, and then it started to warm up as I entered the dry high desert country. (Shades of things to come)

Shade, shade, my kingdom for some shade
My crew was there at the turn on Hwy 197 and knew where I needed to turn. I probably annoyed them with my reminders about the turns, but I gradually relaxed, put my trust in them and let them do their thing... It warmed into the upper 80’s by Dufur Gap Road and back onto Hwy 197. By the time I got into Maupin it was hot, probably lower 90’s but not too bad. My crew was at the time checkpoint waiting for me with all the food I could ever want. Cris cleaned off my chain and checked the bike. I was only in the checkpoint 17 minutes. This was my first real stop since the start, beside pee breaks. At this point, only a few people had passed me and I was in a good position, only about an hour and 10 minutes behind the leaders.

Maupin to Fossil (mile 122 to mile 193)
I was ready for the next section, one of the hardest sections on the RAO course. It would start with a long climb up the infamous Bakeoven Road that climbs about 3000 feet in 25 miles, followed by 2 other big 2,000+ mountain passes to climb before reaching Fossil. All of these passes are about 4,000 feet in elevation and typically in the open high desert, sparsely vegetated with the occasional sage brush or juniper. This section has over 8500 feet of climbing in about 68 miles and where I had focused a lot of my training.

As I climbed up Bakeoven Road it was pretty hot, but I was cooled by a sock filled with ice, that my crew graciously wrapped around my neck. The ice cold water dripped down my back and front and kept my core cool! I was delighted to see my crew at the top of the first pitch of Bakeoven climbing out of the Deschutes River canyon. I felt exposed and vulnerable in the open hot high desert, but strong, well fueled and hydrated. I backed off the electrolytes a little and took ice water and that eased the burning sensation, thank God!!

I arrived in the little town of Antelope (mile post 158) and got out of the saddle for a quick 4 minute stretch. Then it was up and over Antelope Pass and down into the John Day River canyon. The road drops some 2500 feet into the John Day River Canyon, and I think it’s one of the coolest descents on the entire course! In my out and back training, I had to climb this bitchin hill after 100 miles with major headwind and I was glad that didn’t happen in the race. But no worries, I still got my fair share while climbing to Fossil Pass on race day (I named these passes myself since they don’t have names to themJ).

It was in the mid 90’s by the time I got to the Fossil Pass climb and I knew I was in for a long climb before the summit, and I started to realize my goal of a 40 hour finishing time was probably unrealistic. Now there was a major headwind, and major heat and a climb just kept going. Even though I still felt strong, it was time to back off again and concentrate on getting to Fossil.

Reaching Fossil Pass, I could think of the next step. My body needed a break, so I stopped just outside of Fossil, letting my body and heart rate chill out, and eating some cold chicken soup. I weighed myself after taking a dump and weighed exactly the same I did at the start! I realized I should go easy on the electrolytes and food consumption. Maupin to Fossil took me 5 hours and 40 minutes; only about 1 hour slower than in training. So, I stopped a full 28 minutes for refueling and cooling.

End of the First Day: Fossil to Long Creek (Mile 193 to mile 272)

This section of the course starts off with a short 700 foot climb up to the Butte Creek Pass and then descends into the John Day River canyon, leveling off for 45 miles and then climbing about 2700 feet up and over to Long Creek This is where I would face the cold night.

Continuing on towards Butte Creek Pass, we put all the lights on my bike and the car. Cris and Paula ventured on to find a campsite (near Dayville) to be backup drivers later the next day. It was a sight to see with the bright yellow flashing lights on my car, like a UFO from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” After all, the salesman who sold me these lights said they were certified in the state of WyomingJ

Night of Day One Brings New Problems
This next section was not as bad as the previous one, but, it was night and just about anything could happen. I rode this entire section during a training ride, so I knew what kind of climbs lay ahead. I was still in the game and as I approached the summit of Butte Creek Pass, I felt ready to take on the night. The road descended to Service Creek and I decided to push on to Spray before stopping. The route returned to John Day River canyon, but this time it was cooler and quite beautiful as the sun set on the canyon walls above me. Darkness settled in and my body gradually faced fatigue as the night wore on.

A couple teams passed me in this stretch and one solo rider (Dru Dixon) passed me as well. I felt the urge to pee again but as I needed to make up more time I mastered the art of peeing off the bike while ridingJ Wow, that was pretty easy…and were Brent and Linda impressed when they saw this…or maybe they have a different description?? J

In Spray, I had a desire for a Coke or other caffeinated soda. I purposely didn’t have any soda in my car so I wouldn’t overload on the sugar. Everything in town was closed, so I asked someone sitting outside of their hotel room if they knew where a pop machine was. They generously offered a variety of different sodas, but nothing had caffeine. Deciding on Squirt, I realized something’s trying to tell me something…no Coke for John on this journey!!

Brent attached my secondary light to my bike during this hopeless quest for a Coke, so it wasn’t a stop for nothing. I actually never drank that Squirt, but I did drink some frappucinos throughout the night! In Kimberly, where we split off on Hwy 402, I told Brent and Linda, I needed an honest to God rest stop. This was a good stopping point before the major climb to Monument in 14 miles. I laid down and tried to close my eyes for about 15 minutes, but a million thoughts kept going through my head, like, “what the #$%& have I gotten myself into!” Linda and Brent were good about forcing me up and going in a reasonable time…like “John, get the “F” up and get going!!”

As I got started, the lead women passed by. Jill Damman was looking really good and fresh, as well as another 2 person team. I soon caught up to Jill and we leapfrogged for a while before I pushed ahead to catch the 2 person team. I leapfrogged with them to Monument, continuing to the top of the Pass. This climb was relentless, and I could see the other RAO crew car lights on the climb way above me. It was good to see more racers out there, but striking that I rode all day hardly seeing anyone and here were 5 or 6 to racers to meet up with and work with in the dark…very motivating indeed!

I still felt strong on the climb up Monument Pass, and caught another team. I noticed puke stains in the pavement right before I passed him. He looked pretty wasted asking me if I was on a team, and I responded I was solo. He was surprised that I passed him so fast, although I was only going 7 mph. I continued to the top of the false summit and down into Hamilton where I realized how cold it was. Continuing to the true summit I reached the top, feeling so good I started screaming! It was such a good feeling for me and I was able to make good time on the long downhill into Long Creek.

As it felt cold, I put my arm warmers on. Long Creek was the half way time station (mile mark 272 miles) and I was only about an hour and 15 minutes off my predicted pace, arriving there at 1:15 am. Dru was there resting and taking it easy, but by this time I really didn’t care about my time or the placement of the leaders. All I cared about was pushing on and getting over the next climb! I lubed up and was ready to go in short order. I was feeling regretful I didn’t lube up much, earlier in the day, as I could feel the saddle sore really kicking inL. I’m gonna really pay for this tomorrow!

The Long Dark COLD Night: Long Creek to Dayville (Mile 272 to mile 323)
This section started off on Hwy 395 with a 5 mile, 1500 climb up to Long Creek Mountain Pass that is about 5,000 feet in elevation…the highest part of the race, besides Timberline. A long steeper descent takes you down into Mt Vernon to a gentler descent along the upper John Day River valley into Dayville.

The climb up to Long Creek Mtn Pass on Hwy 395 felt long with no one else was around, except for one rider stopped by the side of the road who I never saw again. I wasn’t as energized on the Monument climb, but still felt strong enough to keep going. Reaching the summit of Long Creek Mtn Pass, I thought I could ride down into Fox without my jacket…bad idea!! The valley of Fox was freezing cold! Linda handed me my jacket and I tried to put it on while riding…which was a failure. I finally stopped, put on my jacket but was still freezing. I continued up the second pass, beyond Fox, without too much trouble, but as I descended down towards Mt Vernon, it started to really get cold. I stopped, put on my tights and winter bike gloves, and wished more clothes wouldn’t add so much bulk. While passing through the Valley of Fox, the moon came out and created an awesome night sky. With a full moon out, it kept my mind from wandering off into the stars! My mind was in awe…I think recounting about this section after the race, this made me realize why I do these endurance events…all at the same time I felt exhilarated, vulnerable, isolated…I felt closer to God!

I descended down into Mt Vernon without shivering off my bike and got off the bike for another quick rest and a cold can of chicken noodle soup. I stretched out a little but I couldn’t nap. Linda and Brent again pushed me on. Dru passed me again while I was in Mt Vernon. I think another team caught me, but just a few seconds "after" I pulled my pants up from taking a dump in the middle of town…oh the joy of ultracycling!

I continued on towards Dayville on Hwy 26, still cold, with all my cold riding clothes on. This was the first flat stretch since Monument and it felt good to do some easy spinning and not push too hard. No one was around me, but I continued to eat whatever Linda or Brent fed me. I also continued to pee off the bike while riding which seemed to save some time. As I approached Dayville, I pleaded with Brent and Linda for one more rest stop because I knew I needed to have something in the tank for the next full day.

In Dayville, I laid down in a nice grassy park, and this time, took an honest to God nap! There were sprinklers going already and it was just getting light (about 5:15 am). They let me sleep for 15 minutes, but I was so scared that Brent would pour ice cold water on me, and so I think I woke up abruptly in 14 minutes! But when I did wake up, it felt like I had slept for an hour and I was ready to push on for the next climb!

Sleep Deprived and Ready for Day 2: Dayville to Prineville (Mile 323 to mile 405)
This section was also another relentless mountainous section with one of the longest climbs on the course. I had traveled it in a training ride, but then I was well rested. Now, I had no idea how my body was going to react at Keys Creek Pass, or the steeper 2200 feet Ochoco Pass, 15 miles long, later in the day. The climb up Keys Creek Pass is 25 miles long and starts about 8 miles west of Dayville, in a very beautiful section of the John Day Fossil beds and John Day River canyon. The spectacular scenery and geology kept my mind focused and now that daylight was upon me, I was reenergized.

This section also is where one particular training ride paid off. Backtracking to one month before the race, I rode the Native Plant Classic bicycle tour that starts in Winthrop, WA and climbs up and over the North Cascades Highway, climbing over 10,000 feet in 128 miles. Perfect training ride for RAO! But what made this ride so much more? Well, thanks to my good friend James Varner, he inspired me to start this ride at 2:30am and work on sleep deprivation. James rode with me for the first part of this ride also practicing sleep deprivation for Hard Rock 100 miler. I rode about 48 miles prior to starting the actual ride up and over the North Cascades. I not only learned how it feels to ride all sleep deprived but also what nutrition is most appropriate for riding throughout the night. I realized that keeping about 400 calories/hour was adequate and taking in as little simple sugars as possible, would prevent me from feeling so tired. And because of this ride (and a few other pointers from many others), this really paid off to be ready for how I would feel after riding over 24 hours.

Back to the race…As we approached the area where Paula and Cris were supposed to camp, there was no sign of them. But just as we started to wonder where they were, they showed up. It was good to see them. Brent and Linda were also very glad to see them, as they drove behind me all night, taking care of me in so many ways. I’m sure they can tell you the gory details I can hardly rememberJ

As I approached the first climb, I shed my cold weather gear and started towards Keys Creek Pass. This 25 mile climb is actually gradual as it only climbs about 2000 feet…and kind of rolls up. The further I got into this climb, the faster I traveled and the more energetic I felt. I felt on top of my game! I was riding 18 mph on parts of the climb…just hauling ass and feeling fantastic! Reaching the summit, I encountered a recreation bicyclist not in the race. He said that the next racer was only about 30-45 minutes ahead of me. Maybe I’m still in this race after all, I thought. Little did I know what I was about to confront.

As I headed down into the town of Mitchell, I could feel the air starting to warm up and knew that I was in for some serious heat! In Mitchell my crew was getting breakfast, but I pushed on. They caught up to me a mile or two into the climb towards Ochoco Pass. Now this is where it finally got hot again. I was starting to feel the heat and even though my stomach was strong, it was rather picky what it digested. Linda gave me a half a slice of turkey and it tasted good, but I gagged on the second half. At least I didn’t puke…Thank God! I just needed to sip my nuun and water and have a few more gu to get me up this climb. When I did this climb in training, it was at the end of 3 long days of riding. I thought it was a good simulation of how I might feel on race day…NOT EVEN CLOSE!! I started to really fatigue, my back was sore and it was really hot! I pushed to the top of the pass, stopping only a couple times. But once I did reach the top, I felt spent and wasted. I may have pushed too hard over Keys Creek pass and was spent by Ochoco.

My crew tried to push me on, but I told them I needed at least 10 minutes to rest. I can’t remember what they fed me, but it tasted good and the look on my face was memorable one…just wasted. At the same time I arrived at the summit, a 4 person recumbent team caught up. Their crew was really supportive and cheered me on. As I left the car, I heard everyone cry out: “John, John he’s our man, if he can’t do it no one can!!” I was flattered, but also kind of grumpy, still wasted and trying to get myself motivated. Linda kept telling me, it’s all down hill, you earned this. I knew it wasn’t all down hill but had many flat sections on top of which ODOT was so kind as to chip seal the f’n road for us just in time for race day on the hardest descent on the entire course (about 20 miles of ungodly chip seal)! And to top that, a fierce headwind developed all the way into Prineville.

Spirit Comes in Many Forms
About a mile down the hill from Ochoco Pass, a beautiful women from the 4 person recumbent team came running towards me…and flashed her boobs at me! All these negative thoughts went away just like that.J I waved and said “Thank you very much…I needed that!!!” I continued down the hill and told my crew what I just witnessed, but they jokingly claimed that I was just hallucinating. Maybe I was hallucinating by now…well, was I…was I that desperate? More on her later…

And I Thought Yesterday Was Hot!
The heat of the day was upon me as I pushed down this long descent as hard as I could go. Brent and Linda sped ahead to Prineville with my car to fill up on gas, while Cris and Paula stayed back to crew me. They were so enthusiastic, yelling, “Dude, you’ve ridden 400 $%ing miles, you’re awesome!!” I arrived on the flat with 7 miles to go but with traffic picking up. I reached Prineville at 12:42 pm feeling a lot better but really hot! My crew had me change into another pair of shorts, lube up with chamois butter (oh, by now there was a whole lot of burning and chaffing going on L), put on sunscreen and wrap in an ice cold towel. I worried I missed a spot with sunscreen and would get a sunburn. The sun was so strong and powerful….I felt like I was going to melt! While resting in Prineville, Jill and Dru flew by with only a brief stop. I didn’t care. From here on out, it was all about finishing. By now half the solo field had dropped, but I was ready to push on, no matter my time, or my pace. And no one but me (with my crew’s unfailing support, of course) was going to get me to that finish line.

And The Day Wore On, And On: Prineville to Pine Grove (mile 408 to mile 495)
In this section I would experience the hottest and most exposed ride, across the high plain on Hwy 26 to Madras and Warm Springs Reservation. The course takes a turn off Hwy 26 on Agency Hot Springs Road and climbs 2 major steep 1200 foot climbs on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Reaching Wapanitia, the course takes a left on Hwy 216 up to Pine Grove, at the base of the Cascades and the approach of Mt Hood.

I left feeling well stocked with the ice sock over my neck and Gu in my jersey. Linda was really good about stocking my jersey with Gu and Clif blocks and whatever else I tried to eat more solid food so my stomach wouldn’t blow up on me. Cold cantaloupe, cold bananas and salted potatoes were good, but I must have sounded desperate by this point. Linda was so good about keeping track of my calories, keeping me honest about what I needed to eat. Brent was good about urging me on and pushing me. He told me later their strategy was to stretch the umbilical cord out as far as it could go…by driving the support “mother” vehicle ahead, out of site, to get little Johnny to reach further for mommy! STRATEGY STRATEGY!! Brent and everyone on the crew agreed that “we gotta get John to decide what he wants to do, and make him work for that finish.” And they were right. It kept me going and prevented me from stopping in this ungodly stretch from hell. The thought went through my head what David Horton said while running the entire PCT. “If I did stop, I wouldn’t die, I’d just suffer more!”

Just When I Thought It Couldn’t Get Worse
Smoke from forest fires and a crap load of fertilizer that blew in my face (just gnarly!) increased the hellish feeling.… And to top that off, Hwy 26 was extremely busy with traffic making it hard for my crew to pull off and I had to focus on keeping my bike as straight as it could possibly go. I started to feel burned all over, like I was melting! Linda gave me some more sunscreen which I poured it on my arm while riding. I felt like I couldn’t get enough. I looked down on my bike and saw I kind of missed my arm and it was all over my bike frame! I didn’t care; I was desperate for sunscreen, like I was on drugs or something.J The inside of my mouth felt burnt now and though I tried to breathe with my mouth closed, that was hopeless. By the time I reached Madras it must have been in the upper 90’s. I stopped and peed in some bushes right in the middle of town. I didn’t try to pee while riding because the traffic was so bad.

Climbing the hill out of Madras and it got hotter and hotter. Reaching the descent into the Deschutes, Linda tried to put an ice sock around my neck but I knew it would just fall off while descending at high speeds. It was like descending into a furnace, approaching 100 degrees. They were waiting for me at the bottom and several people, not affiliated with the race, joined in cheering me on. I had gone about 452 miles and now it was the hardest and hottest part in the entire race! As I climbed up out of the Deschutes canyon and turned onto the Warms Spring Ka-Nee-Ta Hot Springs Road, I was relieved to find my crew waiting there for me to take a break. They got me in the air conditioned car for about 10 minutes and had me eat. It felt so good, but I couldn’t let myself get too comfortable. While I sat in my car, Cris worked desperately to clean my bike. He said he had to clean layers of sunscreen, Gu and chamois butter in order to clean the chain! I was completely out of it at the time, but after the 10-minute cold break was ready to go. I wanted to stay in the saddle and keeping riding…no matter what!!

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Outta the Kitchen…
I got to the first climb and it actually didn’t feel bad at all…but it was only about a 700 foot rise. I guess my crew was glad I didn’t want to hang around since there was some women cat fighting along the roadside…and if I remember, I almost rode into the middle of it all! I descended the steep hill into the Kah-Nee-Ta Hot Springs, at least 10% grade or more. As hot as it was, I was glad my brake pads didn’t burn through…thanks to my new rims rebuilt by Derek Archbald at Joy Ride!! I got to the bottom and started the infamous Hellgate climb…appropriately named!! But now I had a new problem. My right Achilles started to ache, so I had to take it easy on the climb…a whole lot easier, as the pain intensified. But my crew kept me going and I reached the false summit in good spirits. I think I said something like “bring on the hills,” before the reality of Hellsgate climb sank in! By 6:30 pm I was up and over the top but there was the sun, still high on the horizon and hotter than ever. It was as if it was painted permanently on the horizon. Also, the northerly winds were stronger than ever and I found myself fighting through some of the toughest headwinds on the entire course.

I finally got to Shimnasho where Cris and Paula were waiting with a popsicle! I admire Cris and Paula for so graciously being there to support me, in ways that Brent and Linda couldn’t be. I have to say, it was so good to have a second car there as it made it a lot easier for Brent and Linda. Cris ran up the road for awhile and told me he and Paula had to go home since Paula had to work early the next day. I had known they had to leave early, so I told Cris not to worry. I knew I was in good hands with Brent and Linda. Cris didn’t want to leave but I promised him, I would finish no matter what! I know how hard it must have been to leave, after all what they had done for me. They were so good to me and Brent and Linda were glad they stayed as long as they could.

Continuing up the second big climb of the Warm Springs section, I felt strong and believed I was going to finish this race, no matter what. But the reality was an aching Achilles and I was going really slow…I mean 5 mph slow, and the Wapanitia climb, that I thought was easy going, turned into one hell of a climb. It kept going on FOREVER! I pointed out to Linda and Brent… “look there’s the top” and another set of hills appeared on the horizon…ughh! This happened about 4 or 5 times. My mind was overwhelmed. I never felt so completely vulnerable and useless. My stomach was strong and stamina high, but I had to go slow because of my Achilles. Linda and Brent tried to keep my mind off the climb. Linda told me some funny stories about some of the crazy high school kids she teaches…that was refreshing to hear and made me laugh! Finally reaching the summit, I was so relieved this climb was over. As I descended towards Wapanitia, there was a cattle guard crossing, and I just stopped and walked over it (just like all 4 or 5 other cattle guards previously in this Warm Spring section).

The sun was finally setting as I approached Wapanitia. But I happened to look up and there it was, the one thing I’d been riding to for 40 hours now…the one place that was so close but yet so far away. It was Mount Hood and it looked like Mount Everest, as it peeked above the haze of the forest fires where the sun was finally setting. I was still feeling strong but still going too slow, even on the flat section leading up to Pine Grove. I think it took me an hour to go from Wapanitia to Pine Grove, which is only 5 miles.

Night 2 and Hitting The Wall: Pine Grove to Timberline (mile 494 to mile 536…the FINISH)
This section of the course climbs about 1500 feet up on Hwy 216, takes a right on Hwy 26 for about 3 miles then twists on some gnarly forest service roads 43 and 48, descends about 500 feet into the White River valley and then climbs 1500 feet to Hwy 35. The course descends on Hwy 35 down to Hwy 26, where you climb 2300 feet in the last 8 miles, to the finish at Timberline, just under 6,000 feet in elevation, the highest on the course! I knew how hard this section would be, as I had done it a couple times in training.

Pushing Beyond the Limit
Several people had called during the day to see how I was doing. It was so good to hear that everyone cared about my race and wanted to know how I was doing. I remember hearing Linda talk to someone, saying how well I was doing and heard numbers like, “he’s got 40 miles to go.” Starting the climb out of Pine Grove I felt intense pain in my Achilles and became really concerned. I looked at my watch. It was now 10:00 pm, giving me 7 hours to the 48 hour time limit. I did the math in my head and yelled to Brent and Linda… “5MPH IS NOT FAST ENOUGH…I NEED TO GO FASTER AND I CAN’T!!”…I started to yell “5 times 7 = 35 won’t get me there in time!!” I knew about this section. I rode it several times in my training and knew though it wasn’t all uphill, it was mostly uphill and it was ALL HARD UPHILL! I started to panic, and to spiral down into a mental hole. I was desperate and the goal I had worked so hard for in the past 41 hours was slipping away.

Soon Brent pulled up beside me and said, “yes that’s great math John and 6 x 7 = 42 and 7 x 7 = 49”…He seemed to be hinting there was still hope, if I had something left still in the tank. I was in shock, felt I couldn’t push through this and if I pushed I might never bike, run or walk again. All kinds of bullshit thoughts went through my head that pulled me deeper into a mental abyss. Even though I was only a few hours from victory, I was seconds away from pulling out of the race!

Brent pulled up beside me again and asked me, “Are you concerned about injuring yourself more or do you still want to finish this race?” He made it my decision, though I hardly remember because I was in so much pain. All I really remember is pushing harder and harder up the hill yelling….I WANT TO FINIIIIIIIIIISSSSSHHHHHHHH!!!!!! I began to sprint at 10mph up the hill just making up as much ground up as I could, grunting and saying PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE over and over the whole way up the climb. Oh, I forgot to mention, Linda had already passed me the ibuprofen that was kicking in. But the pain was still there. Brent kept telling me, “you can do this, you just need to put some time in the bank and you’ll be fine.”

And Finding the Courage to Dig Deep
I got 6 miles into the climb out of Pine Grove in 45 minutes. On some descents I made even more time. I can’t remember everything; but Brent and Linda had what I needed to do down pat. I finally reached Hwy 26 with a huge 2 mile descent in pitch blackness (even with my bike lights and follow vehicle lights on me), and with trucks screaming by me. I finally turned off on Forest Road 43 and put on my head lamp for additional light. I knew I made up time, but still needed more in the bank. I took a small piece of uphill on 43 and then headed down into the White River valley. I am sooo glad I trained here during the day, because even with all the lights in the world, I knew how long this descent would last and to be alert for all the damn potholes. Just ride it out and hold on tight!!

Things Go Bump in the Night
When I got to the White River, some big animal was rustling in the trees beside me (probably an elk or deer)…but in my mind I thought it was Big Foot or perhaps even T-Rex or something worse... Brent shouted, “it’s more scared of you and there’s nothing to worry about!” Soon I was at Forest Road 48. Brent told me I needed to ride hard for about 15-20 more minutes which would get me all the time I would need for the final climb up to Timberline. I didn’t question them, I just pushed as hard as I possibly could and amazingly it paid off. Road 48 proved relentless, with chip seal that made it difficult to speed on any of the downhill portions. As I climbed Road 48 I kept seeing this bright light on the horizon of the night sky that kept appearing in and out of the trees. At first I thought I was hallucinating, thinking it was a UFO. But then the reality finally settled in and yelled to Brent and Linda, “I think that’s the chair lift at Timberline!!”

The Bank Pays Dividends
It felt good to see something that was physical evidence of the finish! Finally after pushing for about 3 hours, I finally reached Hwy 35. Now it was just a small climb, a long descent and then the final climb to Timberline! It was freezing going down Hwy 35 and extremely rough with potholes everywhere. I almost went down but thank God I rode right through those craters in front of me. I was so cold and shivered all the way to Hwy 26. Once again I had the urge to pee and just let it all out. I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t sore anymore I was just focused on that finish! I finally got to Hwy 26 and what a relief…the climb to the finish began! When I arrived at Timberline at 1:20 am we called to the finish on the cell phone. I paused to catch my breath. We were all so relieved that I had time to spare. Remember, I was at Pine Grove at 10 pm and completed that hard uphill 35 mile climb in 3 hours and 20 minutes!!

I pushed on, feeling good on the road to victory, up to Timberline. I would stop every ½ to ¾ of a mile to catch my breath. It was so steep that I just hung on at a 5-6 mph pace. One time I stopped to catch my breath, went to clip in and fell right over on the road. Linda felt bad she couldn’t get out of the car fast enough to catch me, but I was ok…I was just delirious and fatigued; it actually woke me up to fall over.J

And as I approached Timberline, Mt Hood rose over my head into the night sky. Nothing ever looked so beautiful before, nothing ever looked so calm and peaceful; nothing ever looked so good to see so close! I was there, the top of the world in my heart and in my soul. I had accomplished everything I came out here to do and I started to yell and scream louder and louder. I was finally there….I DID IT! I FINISHED!! It was 2:21am, 45 hours and 21 minutes, with over 2 and half hours to spare before the 48 hour cutoff…not bad for a rookie!

Immediately after I finished, I was in awe and couldn’t believe what I just did…I couldn’t even get off my bike, I was in shock. Brent and Linda came over and helped me get my bike unglued from my swollen and pain stricken body. I was so relieved. Everything let go; all our feelings poured out and they gave me a huge hug. We were all so relieved but also too tired to cry! After I calmed down, the race director, George, greeted me with a nice finisher’s medallion and also told me that I had qualified for RAAM, to which I responded… “OH NO!!” Then I made a mistake and told George how proud I to master peeing from the bike.…It was good ammunition for embarrassment at the awards banquet!!J

Coming Down From the High
Brent drove me and my car back to Portland and Linda followed in her car. Brent stopped a couple times to get out and try to wake up…and I immediately got out and puked clear fluid…It tasted like ibuprofen…uh oh. I drank water the whole way back and kept hydrating. We finally got to the Holiday Inn and crashed in our cars. We didn’t bother to get a room since Brent and Linda had to leave in a few hours for work. They were so dedicated to crew for 2 days straight and then drive back to Olympia to go to work…I couldn’t even think of doing something like that! I think Brent ended up showing up to work and then going back to sleep for a few hours.J But I slept in my car until I felt good enough to go drive to a friend’s house in Portland, where I rested up, took a long shower and returned to the awards banquet at the Holiday Inn at 6 pm. While recovering at my car in the parking lot, I also got to chat with Jill Damman who was so inspirational to talk to. It was great to hear about her experiences on what she did in training and what she experienced out there. I admire her efforts, especially the fact she helped a guy with a flat with only 8 miles to go! Now that is true sportsmanship in so many ways I can’t even come close to describe! A nice article tells Jill’s story of RAO:

At the awards banquet they presented me the award for the second rookie to finish and also qualify for RAAM, getting within 15% of the fastest Rookie, who was Jill Damman. I was also awarded the “little stinky award” for being so proud of peeing off the bike and wetting myself near the finish.J I was a little embarrassed, but really didn’t care, since I didn’t know anyone and was just glad to finish! I hung out afterwards and talked with Al Smudz, the winner of the race, to find out what he did to win …I think he said he was only 16 minutes and 50 seconds out of the saddle the entire race…now that’s awesome! I think I was 3 hours out of the saddle.

Later, after the banquet, I found out I wasn’t hallucinating on top of Ochoco Pass. The gal that flashed me came up after the awards banquet and apologized and hoped that I wasn’t married or something. I told her I was single and it didn’t matter; it was just what I needed at the time! She was also telling me how she was crew for RAAM and also inspired me to go crew at the 508!

And Now You Know the Rest of the Story

So there you have it! How I survived all 536 miles, 40,000 feet of climbing…the hardest bike race in the world (in my opinion and many others)!! It was an awesome adventure and I still can’t believe what I was able to do to get to that finish. It’s a relief to put it into words, and helps me to comprehend and you, as well, to see what really happened to me out there…Life is just too short not to try an epic adventure like this. So will I do this again? Absolutely! I think it’s great to hear that they have plans to change the course to avoid Portland starting in Hood River and going on roads in Eastern Oregon (and avoiding Hwy 26…thank God). But for now, I am letting my body heal. It’s been 4 weeks now and I finally did one 20 mile ride. It feels good to finally get back to my normal life, although the sense of accomplishment for this type of event is still upon me. I was nice of the Olympian Newspaper to also have a nice article on me. See article:

There are so many people who helped me finish this race. I am forever indebted to my crew, my family and all my trailrunning, cycling, co-workers and friends who gave so much to support me…it is truly the inspiration of a life time!! You are all so awesome and I will never forget this moment in my life. And now you can all see, it’s not about your time or your place…but just finishing this race is worth it all!!!

And finding out later from my crew how worth it was…Linda and Brent were both driving to Minnesota a week after the race and as they pulled up into some rest stop in Montana in the middle of the night, Brent woke up asking Linda, “Where’s John, is he still riding?” This story makes me laugh but also makes me realize how much not only Brent, but the rest of the crew worked so hard…that the race was still apart of them! Thank you crew for everything!!