Friday, September 23, 2016

2016 Hoodoo 500. "Troubled Utes", 60+, Two-Man takes on Hoodoo.

What can I say about the Hoodoo 500 Ultra Marathon Bike Race?

Well…..this race has got to have the most beautiful course of any race on earth. It goes through or near some of the most spectacular national parks in our country. The only down point is that, unless you are doing the Stage Race option or are a very fast team, you are rolling through some of the most spectacular scenery in the dark.

Riding at night on this course is also amazing. It can be very cold going over Boulder Mountain at night and descending to the high valleys below but it can be spectacular under the stars or like last year, under a super moon so you could almost see everything.

This year I chose to do the event on a two person team with my good cycling buddy Victor Cooper. Vic is a very strong cyclist and has quite a history doing ultra-races. He was my team mate on Race across the West (RAAW) in 2014 and is a hall of fame rider at The 508. He was also my crew chief when I did Hoodoo the first time in 2014 on my solo race. I finished much better than I had anticipated thanks to him and my two awesome daughters Cherisse and Nicole who rounded out my support crew.

Vic came up with awesome team name, “Troubled Utes”. Everyone got a kick out of the name and we had to look the part at race check-in the day before the race when they took our mug shot.

Vic and I with Teresa and Daniel, our crew

Our crew chief for this year’s race was none other than our good friend and very strong ultra-cyclist Teresa (Tiger) Beck. Teresa is a California Triple Crown Double Century series Hall of Fame'r and is also my tandem stoker when I ride tandem on ultra-events. We have done many very long events together on the tandem.

Rounding out our crew is friend Daniel Tran. Daniel is fairly new to Ultra-Cycling and this would be his first time crewing for an ultra-race. Daniel has been riding the double century circuit for a couple years and I am sure he will eventually get the race bug. He is a very strong cyclist.

We had, as usual, a number of friends doing or crewing the race this year as usual. It was like a family reunion at racer check-in as we saw everyone.

There are a number of divisions at the Hoodoo 500.

First you have the Stage Race. On the stage race you start on Friday and you ride the 520 mile race broken into 3 Stages. You ride to Escalante the first day, a ride of about 209 miles. The next day you race to Panguitch. Then the final day you climb over Cedar Breaks and down to Cedar City before racing to the finish in St George.
There is also a 300 mile, two day, version available for the stage race.

Then there is of course the team division with a number of different options.

The solo division has a couple of different options. Solo with crew, or solo in the Voyager division which means you are doing the race fully self-supported. You are allowed to leave drop bags which are transported to the check points for you to pick up your supplies along the way. That is the only help you get in Voyager division. You still need to carry everything you need with you as far as clothes, food and enough water to make it through some very tough and long sections. The weather can swing drastically on this course with temperature swings sometimes of 70 degrees so you need to be very, very careful in your planning. I did the course in the Voyager division in 2015 and I have to tell you that it was most likely one of the toughest things I have ever done in my life. My whole story can be looked at in an earlier blog post.

We got to Saint George on Thursday. We did some shopping for the event that evening and got all the makings for our food during the race.

On Friday morning we wanted to go for an easy warm-up ride to prime the legs for the race. Vic found out that I have never been to Zion National Park so he insisted on driving out there about 50 minutes to the bottom of the park road so we could do an easy 30 mile ride through the park. It was one of the most amazing rides I have ever been on. Cycling in southern Utah is just spectacular. (Following are a few pics from out little stroll in the park)

We went to lunch with the crew Friday and then got things ready for inspections, check-in and the pre-race meeting in the afternoon/evening.

Our mug shot

Dinner and bed were next on the agenda.

The weather forecast was for just a slight chance of some thunderstorms in the Kanab area at about 90 miles into the race the next day so we were not too worried about weather which can be very volatile in this area of the country.
It was nice and clear when we went to bed but somewhat breezy.

Well…..1:30 am brought a major thunderstorm and rain to St. George and it woke me up. Lightning was flashing everywhere. All I could think of were the Voyager racers who would be starting at 5am. I went back to sleep until the alarm went off at 5:30. It was raining pretty hard still but no more thunder so that was a good thing.
I looked at the weather radar and saw that the storm was huge and covered quite an area from West of where we were, to the south and all the way into Arizona including heavy downpours which were between us and Kanab. (The Voyager racers were riding right through the thick of it!!!)

The forecast was for the rain to stop before we started so I was hopeful that it was correct. Victor was going to take the first section of the relay of close to 10 miles to the point where the support crews can join in. I was going to take the baton at that point. We were to start at 8am. The solo riders with crew were to start at 7am.

All racers had GPS tracking devices which were tracking our progress. Team riders would use this as a baton and give the tracker to his/her team-mate when switching.

The course:
Elevation profile for the entire course

Part one:   Saint George to Kanab                                                  0-86.6 mile
Elevation profile for part one

We had a nice dry start for the start of the race. Teresa, Daniel and I got gas in the support van then we headed to the designated meeting point where I would start my first leg.

We got there in just enough time for me to get ready.

Many of the racers did not switch here and kept going for a point up ahead. We opted for the switch here so we were a little bit behind but we knew it did not matter much at this point.

At my age, it takes me a long time to warm up. Starting like this, going all-out, right out of the box, immediately put me in oxygen debt. The entire course is already above 4,000 feet above sea level but that wasn’t the problem. I just needed to get into my rhythm and it doesn’t come too quickly without a warm-up.
After some nice rollers at the start, I came to the first climb .  I could see about 6 riders up ahead and I just got out of the saddle and trudged up the hill. I slowly was catching a bunch of them but then the summit came and it leveled out. I was too out of breath to hammer in the flat so I just recovered at that point until I got to the hand-off. Victor is a much stronger climber than I and I knew he would reel many in.

Vic flying toward Northern Arizona
The assault vehicle

Weather going down hill

We went back and forth like this all the way to Kanab.

Once we got to Arizona, our luck with the rain ran out. It started raining light but steady on and off all the way into Kanab. It was still an amazing and beautiful section of the race though!
I think we were all catching up with the storm. It was supposed to leave that area earlier than it was. I enjoyed it though as long as it was not a heavy rain. I love desert rain. You seem to dry off much faster. Not like rain at the coast where you seem to stay wet all day once you get wet the first time.

I had the stage as the crew checked in at time station one.    .

Part 2: Kanab to Bryce                                                        86.6 – 158 miles

Stage two profile

We had a great ride on this section. It was raining lightly but we had a head wind most of the way which slowed many of the racers down this year. I will take it over the heat of the last couple of years any time. We kept going back and forth with team Yeti which was made up of our friends John, Curtis, Phillip and John.
The rain finally stopped and then it stayed nice and cool all the way to check- point two in Bryce.


Still raining a bit heading to Mount Carmel Junction

I took the final pull into Red Canyon so Victor could do the Canyon bike path. We are required to do this section of the spectacular bike path which goes through the canyon. Vic had never done it in the years he had done the race.
Vic and I switched at the green sign ahead.
I pulled into the parking lot at the canyon and there they were waiting for me. I handed the tracker to Vic and he was off. We rolled up the road for a few miles and stopped at a spot right next to the path and waited for Vic. 
We routed him on then headed up the road to Check Point 2 in Bryce.
Vic cruising toward check point 2 on the bike path in Red Canyon

Part 3: Bryce to Escalante                                                    158 – 207.4 miles

Elevation profile

 I was feeling a little sluggish at this point as I cruised into a headwind up to Bryce which is a few miles up the road from the check-point.
Now came the descent!! I flew down to town for just under 10 miles into the start of another really spectacular section of the course. We now would start the climb to Escalante through the Grand Staircase National Park area.
Vic got to do the climb through the beautiful spires and out cropping’s in the area. Here are a few pics of him climbing through this area.

For some reason, due to the spacing of our relay intervals, Victor ended up with all the tougher climbing sections in this area. I had some climbs but he seemed to get the tough ones. (Everything seems like a climb on this course and there are not many really long descents)

The steep climb toward Escalante  (Photo from last year)

I handed off to Vic just in time for him to take what is probably one of the steepest sections which tops out just above Escalante. It is about 15% and very tough. As we leap frogged up we saw Voyager Racers Luis and Keren. We stopped near the top, got the cow bells out, and cheered them all on as they summited this tough climb which comes at just under 200 miles into the race.

Vic climbing in the Grand Staircase area toward Escalante

Vic came up first, then Luis and Karen. Luis was the racer who did the event and beat me on his fixed gear bike in 2014. What an amazing rider to do a course like Hoodoo on a fixed gear. He was the first and only one to ever do it so far on a fixie. Karen did the Voyager division with me last year. She is a very strong young lady and would be the only one to finish the division this year. (Men or Women)


At the top I took I took up the gauntlet for a hammering gradual descent toward time station 3 in Escalante. With the cloud cover it was starting to get a little dark so I turned my lights on. It was a long descent and getting chilly and I was glad I had put on my warm weather gear before starting the downhill. I handed off to Victor a few miles before town then we leap frogged him till we came into town. We drove in to check-in, chatted a while with team Yeti who had stopped there also to check-in.

Descending into Escalante at sunset

The rules allow for a rider to ride self-supported without a follow vehicle for a while if the rider has two headlights and two tail lights so that there are back-ups. We let Vic go up the road for a while before we got gas and the crew picked up some coffee since we were going into the cold, long, night sections over the ridge-back and Boulder Mountain.

Part 4: Escalante to Loa, Utah                                                         207.4 – 288.7 miles
Elevation profile. Boulder Mountain

We rolled out of the gas station a little after dark and started looking for Victor.

 We got worried. He was either crushing it and going really fast or he had stopped and we missed him along the road somewhere. It is a gradual uphill before descending into the area called “The Bitch-hole”. I was inclined to think he was just flying up this section since he is an effortless climber. Just as Teresa was thinking we may need to go back to look for him…….we saw his very bright tail light way up ahead on the climb. I knew it……Vic was crushing his pull!!

We pulled up ahead and parked where we had a good turnout and I got ready. We again thought Vic had been stuck with only a climb again as I took over. He thought I was just going to get the downhill again.
 Well….low and behold….the steeper part of this climb…..I got to do!!. 
I kept going up for a while then I had the descent down toward the “bitch-hole”. In between there were a few big kickers of 10% before dropping into the canyon.
In 2015 when I did the self-supported division, we had a super moon. It was the only time I got to see this river canyon and it was spectacular. All the canyon walls were glowing orange under the moon and it was beautiful.

I dropped into the canyon and the crew rolled up ahead for the hand-off to Vic. This climb is about 12% getting out of the canyon up to the ridge-back. In 2015 it seemed to take forever carrying all the gear I needed with me. Vic was going to do part of it and I was going to do part.
 He just crushed his section and it didn’t seem to take him long at all.
I took over thinking I would have some steep climbing to do but guess what. About 100 yards into my pull, I saw the lights of Boulder down below. I was climbing but it was not that hard. I yelled back at the crew in the car behind……..”We are at the top already”!! They didn’t think so and they were right actually. I did keep climbing for a while but I was up on the ridge while doing it, seeing the lights of Boulder down below up ahead the entire time.

I started the descent into Boulder knowing that now was coming the section of the race which is known for causing most people to DNF (did not finish) on the race. 9,600 foot Boulder Mountain!

It can get very cold and lonely both ascending and descending this mountain in the wee hours of the night.

I saw the crew van with the flashing lights way up ahead at the top of a very steep hill getting ready for the trade-off. Wow that looked steep in the dark. I dropped it into the granny gear for the first time and hammered up for the exchange.

Vic now took the first pull up the mountain.

I have to tell you……it seemed like with us changing off every 30 minutes while climbing Boulder Mountain …..That we made it to the first false summit in no time. Our plan was to start our 1 hour pulls once we made it to the bottom for the long slog into the early morning hours so we could sleep a little.

I took it again from Victor, this time at the top of the false summit, which was over 9,000 feet. You now descend some which is very deceiving and it makes you think you are off the top. It is very deceiving and before you know it you are climbing for a long time again and have about 900 feet of gain still until the 9,600 foot summit. That false summit drops you down a bit and you have to climb back to the actual summit.
Boulder summit

The descent off the top is not all down. There are at least 3 climbs in the middle. I went for a little longer on this section since I wasn’t cold and brought it down to a point just above the town of Torrey for Victor.
It seemed to take forever to get down to that point where we switched.
Victor took it for a little longer now too. There was not much wind but it was getting cold.

 I think this section is where I started getting a little behind on my cold weather nutrition. I would find this out in a couple hours just before sunrise.
 (I should have started pumping down heavier, fattier, food at this point knowing what the next section could be like. What is wrong with me. I was sitting in the van and could have eaten a huge meal!!!)

I took over from Vic some distance out from the next check-point for a very lonely and cold section. Just me, the bunnies, owls and deer out there on the high plains. It was the start of our longer pulls so we could rest.

I rolled on by the check-point quite a bit earlier than I had in the previous years.

Part 4: Loa to Panguitch, Utah                                                        288.7 – 379 miles

Elevation profile

I started the long climb out of Loa, Utah and heard something behind me. All of a sudden there was a rider saying hi along the side of me asking how I was doing. He was a sight for sore eyes and it really perked me up since I felt more burnt out than I did doing the race solo the last couple years due to the pace we were keeping.
It was solo racer Shaun who had been resting at the check-point. He is a local boy out of Utah and as it would turn out, he would be the only solo (with crew) finisher at this year’s race. He is a really nice guy and is the owner of a local company that makes really good Chamois Cream called Podium Chamois Cream

I met him the last couple years at the race but I did not realize it was him since I had never seen him in cycling clothes before on a bike.

At the top of the first part of the climb I handed off to Victor so I could take a long attempt at a nap. I was starting to get cold and was not feeling all that hot.

This is a very deceiving climb as it stair steps up with many false summits to about 8,400 feet. ( you can see it on the profile above.) 
I remember it well because the top never seems to come when you are on the bike.
I remember hearing Teresa talking to Daniel while I was resting. “Oh……there’s the top….oh wait….that’s not it”. I think she said that about 5 times…..or I was just delirious.

Finally we rolled over the top and then we drove down to mark the turn for Victor. We would then drive over to Koosharem where I would take my 1.5 hour pull.

The temp was about 37 degrees when I started. I had two wool base layers on, my ski gloves, one pair of long knee warmers, a pair of leg warmers over them and my shoe covers. I was nice and toasty but very tired since I could not really sleep. I rode the entire stretch of flat to rolling hill through this long valley until just before the turn to Panguitch.

I was about 2/3 of the way through my section when it happened.

I was riding with a bar mounted headlight and a very strong helmet mounted light. Victor and Daniel were snoozing in the van while Teresa was driving when it happened. At first I thought I was hallucinating but I wasn’t. A gigantic owl with a huge wing span, buzzed me, just in front of my lights, so close I could have hit it. Amazing!!!  I took it as a good omen.

We stopped for the exchange a while up the road and we took a bathroom break out in the darkness. First thing out of Teresa’s mouth was…….”did you see that”!!!!!!  I said the same thing to them about the same time.

The stars were just amazing out there. It was still very dark and we were way ahead of my time from the last few years, of course, since we were going at such a fast pace. We started 3 hours after my start time of last year.
We were really hoping that we were ahead of the nasty head winds going into the town of Panguitch. I had no wind on my stretch so we were hoping we had beaten it.

As soon as I got in the van I started getting the shakes and was really cold. I started eating right away but I know I had something going on. I cooled down too fast and was wet under my jacket. My engine was not regenerating any heat for my body. Although I felt pretty good and strong on the road, I knew at this point that I was behind on my caloric intake and that in itself takes a while to recover from especially when its cold.

My neck was in bad shape too as well as my shoulders. This was all due to the crash on the tandem back in May. My upper back and neck have been out of whack ever since and I think the cold really effected the musclesWhatever was going on was also hindering my breathing. It sucked.

We caught up to Victor as it was just starting to show first light on Hwy 62 heading toward Centerville.

We had the most amazing crew!!

Teresa immediately jumped in the back of the van and covered me with a big blanket which helped as I was shoveling food in my mouth. She then gave me 800mg of Advil. She then gave me a pillow and ordered me lean forward with my head in the pillow. She then proceeded to massage my shoulders and neck with her secret weapon analgesic cream. WOW……did that feel good and I almost immediately stated feeling much better. Then after I stopped shivering she used the ball roller (torcher device) on my legs, just digging into all the right places.

Did I mention we had the most amazing crew? I did not expect any of this! Thanks Tiger……you saved me!!

By the time I switched with Vic I started feeling much better. And guess what? Victor said there was no head wind yet!
My neck and shoulders were completely better as the sun came up and warmed my body. Vic just crushed his section as it again took us a while to catch up with him.
I was still feeling a little sluggish. I had a little head wind start to come up while leaving Centerville and riding up the canyon toward Panguitch. I was thinking…..oh crap….here it comes. I just kept it steady and laid in the aero bars pushing into the mild wind waiting for it to rear its head like it usually does.

We then handed to Vic and started 30 minute pulls again. When he got off we only had about 10 miles to the check-point. Vic said there was now NO WIND!!! Wow what a miracle!! It took me almost an hour and a half to do the last 10 miles into Panguitch in that blasted wind in 2015. Yes it was that bad!!!

We switched just before town and then drove up to the time station to check-in. It was now a little after 8am. We made it there pretty quick. I went into the bathroom and changed out of my wet clothes and into a new kit with only a thin wool base under my jersey.
We checked the leader board while at the station and saw that Cat and Jeanine had gone through over 2.5 hours before us!!

They went through around 5:30am……WOW!!

Part 5:  Panguitch, over Cedar Breaks, to Cedar City, Utah       379 – 437.4 miles

Now comes the really tough but beautiful part of the race. The very long climb over Cedar Breaks. 10,600 feet.

This climb starts off with some pretty tough gradients right out of town. Victor was on those by the time we started the drive out of town. The crew was keeping really good time on how long each of us was on course and he was about 5 minutes over his 30 minutes by the time I took over. I took over and did a couple more of the kickers and then Vic took it up to Panguitch Lake.
Panguitch down below

Starting the steeper section above Panguitch Lake

Vic on the Cedar Breaks climb

After leaving the lake area, it really is unforgiving all the way to the summit. It just seems never ending but we just paced ourselves all the way up. It actually went by pretty quick being able to rest at 30 minute intervals. It was much easier than doing it solo but tough just the same.
Almost to Cedar Breaks (10,200 ft)
Almost to Cedar Breaks (10,500 ft)
We did really good and made it to the top before noon. I was to take the descent while the crew stopped at the Cedar Breaks Monument for a little bit. The descent from the summit has a few false summits before the final drop to Cedar City. Elevation 10,660 down to  ft. Cedar City. What a bomb of a descent.

This year I found it really scary. For some reason there was a lot of people with trailers descending really fast and passing me at very dangerous moments. I lost my helmet mirror so I could not see what was coming up behind me and it was pretty scary.

I love descents but I found myself on the brakes way too much and was kind of skittish. My hands were going numb from braking too much. I couldn’t relax. I did not even realize that my crew vehicle was back there behind me for some time. I got down toward the bottom and Victor took over just before town. We guided him through town and past the check point as we checked in.

Part 6: Cedar City to Snow Canyon                                                   437.4 – 507 miles

It was great on the climb past Iron Mountain and over to Newcastle. No headwind and not too much traffic. It was a nice gradual climb. We switched a few times on the climb and descent.
For some reason I really came back to life big time at this point. It was really hot and it didn't seem to bother me, in fact, the back and breathing issues I had earlier in the race due to the crash on the Central Coast Double seemed to melt away. (I think the heat maybe helped relax the muscles that were injured...not sure.)
I took the final kicker before the cruise down to Newcastle. I made the left turn at the bottom where so many have got lost at times.
Everyone warned me about the dog on this little stretch leaving Newcastle and how the growling dog had chased them or their rider. I had never experience this dog in my two previous solo races.

I was flying past all the little ranches when I saw it.......there it was standing in the road up ahead.....crap.....I was ready to really spring into action....but wait!?!.......As I got closer I discovered that this mean monster of a dog on this day was in fact a tiny little Chihuahua!! He just smiled at me as he stood in the middle of the road

That was that and I continued up the hill for a switch off with Victor just before the turn to Enterprise.
Home stretch and Vic cranked it to the turn for home where Hwy 18 turns in Enterprise. I now took this climb up to the summit and felt fantastic. Better than I did at the beginning of the race but not quite as strong.
Clouds west of Enterprise

Climbing out of Enterprise Utah
Hammering toward Veyo Utah

Now we had a head wind all the way to Snow Canyon but that didn't slow us down at all. We cranked it to Snow Canyon knowing that we were really on the home stretch now and we would finish with lots of daylight to spare.

At Snow Canyon the final Check Point. Ready to roll to the finish together

Part 7: Snow Canyon to Saint George                                    507.2 – 521.6 miles

Snow Canyon. 2014 morning picture taken by Victor while I was doing a pre-ride the day before.

Our crew called in at the final check point. As a team, we are allowed to ride the final leg together and finish together. It is all down hill and flat except for a little climb at the end. Vic and I bombed down through this amazing canyon down into Saint George. As soon as we got down to the bottom it got really blazing hot, it got to me, and I had a hard time keeping up with Victor. We were pushing pretty hard so we backed off a little and went at a good steady pace to the finish. Our amazing crew was waiting there for us as we broke the tape together.

Woo hoo.....we are done!!

Vic and I with our awesome crew at the finish

What a great time I had with Victor on my very first two-man team race.

Compilation Video

Our crew was absolutely amazing and we could not have done it without them. Thank you Teresa Beck (our fantastic crew chief) and Daniel Tran (the amazing newbie)!!! You two did a stellar job and I will not soon remember this great journey. 

I believe the conditions were perfect as far as temperatures being rather steady without a gigantic swing during most of the race. We did have rain for some of the race but it made for a spectacular race after it cleared up. The temps on Boulder Mountain were more regulated by the cloud cover so it didn't get as cold as past years on that section. It did get cold after Loa but that was due to no wind and sinking air which turned out to be a plus when riding to Panguitch which usually has terrible headwinds.
After one year solo with crew, one year solo Voyager and this my third year doing this event....for me....the conditions this year were the better of the three, even with my little episode getting cold. (that was my fault)

*Thanks go out to Deb and Brian with Planet Ultra for again putting on a great event. I love this event!!

*Thanks to my buddy and crew mate Victor Cooper. Vic really crushed his pulls on the course and was a much stronger climber than I. We made a great team though and had a great time.

*Thanks Daniel for doing such a stellar job supporting us. For someone who had never crewed an ultra race like this, you sure nailed it!!

*Thank you to our friend and buddy Teresa (Tiger) Beck.  Teresa you have no idea what this meant to us. You and Daniel made it all so much fun for us and anyone you came in contact with. Our neck and leg massages really helped. You seemed to know exactly what we were in need of. (It was like torcher at one point but you knew we needed it....bwaahaa!!)

*Thank you to Rex at Vuelta Wheels for the wheel sponsorship. The wheels worked great both in training and on the event as they did last year.

*Thank you to Q's Nguyen and all those who have helped with the GoFundMe Support site. I could not have done this race and the ones to come without your help. I owe you all big-time and will never forget it!!

Congratulations to all our friends and others who completed this very tough race.

Last but not least, I would like to thank my Wife and family for being so understanding and supportive of my ultra race and training schedule.
This event always falls on our wedding anniversary and I always feel bad leaving on this particular weekend . I plan, in the near future, to make this an anniversary trip with Ginny when the situation at home allows so she can see the splendor of this amazing course.

Race stats:

Age TS1    TS2   TS 3  TS 4 TS 5 TS 6 TS 7  Finish  Place   Elapsed Time    Comments
60+ 12:56 17:40 20:31 2:18 8:43 13:16 17:32 18:19    2         34h 19m     COURSE RECORD

Here is the track video from "Trackleaders". We are #1723 in the light blue for 500 mile teams:

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