The one that got away – HooDoo 500

Short version: I made good time to Escalante in spite of temps over 100, rain and headwinds. After a long night spent trying to ride, between throwing up and taking breaks to try to settle my stomach, I didn’t arrive in Loa until late morning. With a strong headwind and temps again over 100 I made slow time to Panguitch. As I was leaving Panguitch at 9 PM, the race director asked me to wait until morning to ride the last 144 miles. After 6 hours of sleep, I rode into the finish at 3:45 PM, 8 hours and 45 minutes beyond the 50 hour time limit.

I knew when I registered that finishing HooDoo 500 in 50 hours as a Voyager would be difficult. I’m not fast enough to have much cushion for problems that seem to always arise during an ultra event. Also, in the last year, my ability to ride all night without sleep has drastically declined. I anticipated that my riding time would be 40-46 hours so things would have to go nearly perfectly to have any time for sleep within 50 hours.

I did extra bike prep; new cables, tires, rear derailleur. I even replaced my bottom bracket having read that the failure of that part caused tandem riders Pat and Charlie Jenkins to DNF in 2009. Being sick the week before the ride kept me home that weekend, and gave me some extra time to plan and reorganize my drop bags so I’d be able to change clothes and quickly get food and gear needed for each section without having to waste time thinking about it at stops.

I’d learned from my rides in Oklahoma, in temps up to 114F, that on the third day of riding in the heat I was able to deal with it much better. So my plan was to arrive in St George on Wednesday afternoon, do an easy ride that day and another on Thursday afternoon. Riding in the heat helped not only to acclimate me, but to give me a better sense of how my body reacted to the heat.

I sure hadn’t expected much rain in southern Utah in August, but fortunately I’d learned during High Country 1200 that I could ride in the rain without me or my bike melting, and gained some confidence in what clothes I needed to stay warm if it rained at altitude.

I woke a few minutes late on Friday morning. There was a problem with my phone alarm. Fortunately I’d set the hotel alarm clock as a backup. I checked out and headed toward the start line at the front of the hotel about 10 minutes ’til 5 AM along with the last few Voyagers. At “Go,” I dropped off the back to go my own pace, not wanting to waste energy in the “race” that always tends to happen at the start.

I am pretty sure the wind blows from the south and west more than 50% of the time in this part of the world, but Friday morning, as we headed east to Kanab, it was, of course, blowing right into us. The wind wasn’t terrifically strong, but I’d guessed that Friday, when the route went east and north, was our best hope for some time saving tailwind. As Murphy’s Law would have it, shortly before I made the left turn a few miles before Kanab, the wind changed direction and started blowing from the north.

En route to Saint George Wednesday, I’d made a visit to Laid Back Larry’s, the Kanab Time Station. It’s a great little store with vegan lunch, but I saw they had limited services and it would waste too much time to order food there during the race. I also knew I’d need most of a bag of ice to fill my bottles and Camelbak so I stopped at a gas station before I checked in at TS1 to use the bathroom and get ice.

There are plenty of places along the first two sections to get water, but I’d decided to carry my (much despised) Camelbak the entire ride because it saves time to stop less frequently. Even with the Camelbak, the heat after Kanab forced me to stop near Orderville, and again at the intersection of 89/14, for more ice. There were rain clouds ahead. For once, I was hoping it would rain, and it did, for about 20 miles near Hatch.

The Red Canyon Bicycle Trail along Highway 12, was one of the highlights of the ride. It’s not very long, but definitely worth stopping and getting your bike out of the car if you’re a cyclist and in the area. The scenery is stunning and the pavement is beautiful.

At TS2 in Bryce it was raining lightly again and I felt cool standing at the exposed summit. I put on light arm warmers for the descent, guessing a jacket would be too warm once I lost a little altitude. The descent to Cannonville was fun and fast, followed by a nice climb into Capitol Reef National Park. Not long after dark I arrived at TS3 Escalante.

When I’d first looked at the HooDoo route, I thought the best plan for me would be to take a nap in Escalante and again in Panguitch. In the meantime, I’d grown increasingly nervous about the 50 hour time limit. So, even though I’d made good time up to that point and calculated that I could take about 6 hours of sleep time at my current pace, I decided to press onto Loa. That turned out to be a big mistake. I spent one of the most miserable nights of my life struggling up Boulder Mountain. My knees felt unusually good and my legs felt better than I’d have expected at that point in the ride, but I was very nauseous. I’m not sure what caused it. Maybe some combination of the day’s heat, drinking too much water, sleep deprivation, and the soup I’d eaten in Escalante not agreeing with my stomach. Between stopping to puke, I tried riding slowly, walking, sitting and lying on the side of the road to try to let my stomach settle. A mile or two from the summit, I thought there was no way I’d be able to finish the ride and decided to stop and rest until I felt better, then I’d make my way to Loa and figure out how to get back to Saint George. I lay down on a rock and started shivering. So, I pulled out my required emergency bivy bag, that I’d imagined would NEVER be used, and crawled in. After a few minutes the sky started to lighten and a pickup drove into the pull out. I just lay there half hoping they would come offer to drive me to Loa.

The rock was pretty comfortable, but after a few minutes more I was ready to continue. I managed to stuff my now uncompressed bivy back into my bag. One of the sportsmen from the pickup came over to ask if I was OK. While I was talking to him, I saw Kurt Searvogel drive by in his van. It’s a good thing he didn’t see me. If he’d stopped to ask how I was at that moment I would probably have asked him if he could give me a lift to Loa.

I was glad the sun was up when I started the descent. There were lots of cows on the road and many deer flitting across so the going was slow. I stopped at the grocery store as I rode into Loa and finally checked into TS4 about 1.5 hours later than than my slowest estimate. At that point, I hadn’t eaten anything that stayed down in about 16 hours. I figured there was still an outside chance I could finish and decided I’d try to eat and sleep a little in Loa and see if I could go on.

I lay down for only a few minutes without falling asleep and decided if I was going I needed to get on the road. The longer I waited the hotter and windier it would be and sleepiness wouldn’t be a big problem during the day. The climb from Loa reminded me of climbing Holman Hill from Mora towards Taos, only much shorter and not as steep. That was followed by a very short, fast descent to Koosharem Where I stopped for ice and food.

I felt awful, my throat and sinuses were sore from being sick the night before. The wind was picking up, and what should have been a fast, mostly downhill, 70 miles to Panguitch was a struggle against the blast furnace. I kept thinking of John Ellis’ quote about there being a bad part of every long ride, but this bad part was lasting a really long time.

I probably should have left as soon as I arrived in Panquitch, but my main motivation for riding there was the promise of a nap. Again I couldn’t sleep and started worrying about time. I got up and started getting ready figuring if I was going to go, I should leave early enough that if things went well I’d have a possibility of finishing in time. I’d have only 11 hours and 10:15 was the very fastest I thought I could ride the last 144 miles, but I still had my “finish” soundtrack in reserve and the wind seemed to have died down for the day. I changed clothes, got my gear together, and as I was rolling my bike away from the hotel at 9:00 PM, Tom walked out of the Time Station, handed me his phone and asked me to talk to the race director. She asked me to wait until morning to leave. She didn’t think it was worth the risk of a steep descent with of wildlife on the road since I was unlikely to finish within the 50 hour time limit. In one sense it was a disappointment, not to know how fast I could finish, but it was also a relief. I hadn’t slept in 42 hours.

When I left at 4:15 on Sunday morning it was sprinkling, but I thought the rain was just ending, not just beginning. As it turned out I was riding up the mountain into a rain storm and a (surprise) headwind. I knew that at home, a similar climate, the rain nearly always stops by sunrise. The effort of climbing was keeping me warm enough so I kept on through the rain. Shortly after sunrise I made it to the summit of Cedar Breaks. From there is a screaming descent to Cedar City. Unlike Boulder Mountain there weren’t cows or wildlife on or near the roadway, and it was better protected with barriers. A rock slide was starting about halfway down, but I went through in the one clear lane and didn’t stick around to see what happened.

The descent from Cedar Breaks was a blast! I arrived at the Cedar City at 9:30 and loaded up with ice. I could already tell it was going to be hot and the wind was picking up. I was able to bypass Newcastle and stopped for more ice at Enterprise hoping I could get to the finish without having to stop again so I could make it in under 12 hours. Snow Canyon was another beautiful, fast descent. It was a very hot day near Saint George, but most of the remaining miles were downhill and I still had cool water in my Camelbak. I arrived at the finish at 3:45 Sunday afternoon, 8 hours and 45 minutes hors delai.

Photos near Snow Canyon