The Hoodoo 500, put on by Planet Ultra, is the biggest RAAM qualifier (the Furnace Creek 508 has pulled out of RAAM qualification due to political war with UMCA/RAAM or it would be the biggest). With 519 miles and 30,000+ feet of climbing all of us were going to face a tough challenge. Having done the Furnace Creek 508 in 2006, I had the advantage of knowing how to prepare and plan for the event, but their is no way to completely prepare for something this big as too many variables of the physical and mental will emerge to throw all your plans into a chaos. The race starts in St. George Utah which was the fastest growing city in the US between 1990-2000 and I could tell in the first few miles as we passed mall after mall after mini-mall which sprawled in the desert. We started at 7 AM sharp and rolled very slowly in a neutral start to the outskirts of town being led out by the head of Planet Ultra, Brian Bowling. Official racing started and we head out to the town of Hurricane, Utah. The strongest riders Philbrick, McNulty, Sothern, Koenig, and a few others took off and I found my self alone behind them and ahead of the back of the pack group. I was crusing at 20+ MPH on the flats and enjoying the early morning. The first climb went pretty quickly and I cruised along and passed into Colorado City, AZ at about mile 50. This town is famous for being the home of Warren Jeffs of the FLDS Church. We passed quickly through the capital of US polygamy and radical Mormonism and never looked back. I was averaging 17+ mph by this point and was riding well. I passed the first Voyager rider of the day. Considering he started two hours before me, he was clearly having a tough day out there. I noticed my crew had left the back of the van open as they passed me at 50 miles an hour. I yelled at them to stop and luckily we did not lose the entire contents of the coolers along the road. I passed Urs Koenig at about mile 65 or so and that scared me considering the guys skills. I was riding pretty hard for such a long ride, but feeling ok. We pulled into Kanab at mile 83 at 11:54 AM which gave me an avg pace of 16.8 MPH. I was feeling slightly over-cooked and Granger and Duc set me up with a nice smoothy and sent me on my way. It was maybe 85-90 degrees out, which was not too bad, all things considered, but I was a bit over-heated as I took off North on Hwy 89 now back in Utah.
Stage 2 started with a long moderate 17 mile climb up hwy 89 heading to and then a nice 5 mile descent into Mt. Carmel Junction at mile 100. The climbing was pretty easy if not tedious along the East fork of the Virgin River. We passed through Orderville , a town that was involved in Christian Communism in the 1870's, into Glendale UT, and then Long Valley Junction. We passed into Hatch Utah at 6900 feet and had hit a right turn on Hwy 12 at mile 142. We were about to enter Red Canyon which was a beautiful section of riding. I was starting to get knee pain on my left knee and had the crew swap out my pedals to Look Keo's but we could not get the pedal removed. Turned out that Speedplay pedals are not standard in the direction they are removed so I stuck to the Speedplay's for the Red Canyon Bike Path which was awesome to ride on. The crew took off up SR-12 and I relaxed up the nice and mellow climb into Red Canyon and Time Station 2 at mile 154. I had been leap frogging a solo rider this entire section and was expecting to be passed but never saw the rider. Turned out he bailed out the end of this section. I would not see another solo ride for almost 200 miles.
Section 3 started from Red Canyon and had a great descent for almost 20 miles. I was looking forward to the descent to rest my knee, but was getting pretty worred as a knee ache is one thing on a double century, but on a 500 mile ride, it could ruin the trip and cause a DNF easily. We passed incredible scenery on this descent. Were were very close to the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park and saw many Hoodoo's on the descent. It was incredible cycling as we passed Tropic, Ut, Cannonville, and then Henrieville where a 12 mile 2000 foot climb awaited. The climb was drop dead gorgeous as it was in the Grand Staircases-Escalante National Monument. My left knee was crying out so we swapped out to the Keo's on the Purple Time Trial bike. I immediately realized that the Keo's would not help so I swapped back to the Scott bike and raised up the seat 1 cm. I noticed a bit of relief as I continued to climb up the hill. We finally crested the hill and had a nice 20 mile descent into Escalante where time station #3 was at mile 202 which I hit at 8:22 PM. This was 13:22 Double with just under 12,000 feet of climbing. I would compare it in difficulty to the Knoxville Double and I was pretty happy with that time considering the knee pain which wasted time changing out pedals and put a damper on my mood.
Stage 3 started in Escalante UT and headed up to Boulder. While I was riding at night, the scenery in this section was spectacular. Gigantic boulders, tight carved canyons, rivers, and a fantastic empty road. This section of Hwy 12 needs further exploration as it was one of the most fantastic roads I have ridden on. We climbed and climbed until a wonderful descent among rocks and dropped into Boulder Utah. The real climb began after Boulder that took us from red rocks into Aspens and high mountains. The climb was 15 miles long and took us to 9600 feet. Granger and Duc kept the high beams behind me as we climbed into the summit. It was now in the high 30's. By this point my right eye had become completely blurry and useless. I got something in it and could not flush it out. I had to ride squinting the right eye. This made the long 20 mile descent into Torrey less fun than it should have been and a lot slower. While Torrey is the gateway into Capital Reef National Park, we did not enter the park and quickly left town heading towards Bicknell, Lyman, and timestation 4 at Loa. I fought a hard wind into Bicknell and Lyman and rode slowly into Loa. I was losing my energy and was frustrated by my useless right eye. We hit Loa at 4:11 AM and I tried to clear out my eye in the aid station which was the small Snuggle Inn motel room's bathroom, but no luck. Still 100% useless. The aid station people were friendly, but we had to hit the road.
I was at a low now and was facing a 1500 foot climb in the next 10 miles. The climb was pretty easy, but I had to sit in the car for a few minutes. I wanted to quit, but I pushed my self out of the car and continued to climb, much faster than before. I hit the summit and loaded up on heavy clothes for the descent. It was now about 32 degrees and I needed several jerseys, ski gloves, and a balakava to make it down the hill. It was 5:30 AM or so, pitch black and we hung a left on Browns Ln towards Koosharem. I passed Alex Isaly at this point who was sleeping at the side of the road in his van. This was the first solo rider I had seen in more than 12 hours. The temperature was now 28 degrees. The sun started to come up and finally warmed me up. The riding in this area should not have been tough, but I was not riding very fast and the miles were plodding by. I might have been down on fuel, as this section was miserable. We rode down hwy 62 as it turned a hard right into a beautiful section with red rocks on on one side and farms on the other. We hit Kingston and the hwy 89 at mile 345. We had a 31 section of on this road that looked real easy on the race guide, but took me forever. I was in my lowest mental point at this part as the scenery was not that great, my eye completely trashed, and the fun was waning. I finally pulled into Panguitch, aid station 5, at mile 376 at noon on Sunday.
I badly needed the bathroom in the makeshift motel aid station. One older Voyager, Ray Ruppel, wondered if I was ok in their and I had to let them know that I was A OK. I dont think they understood how grim it was in there, and that the whole adventure took a gruesome toll on me, but in 500 mile bike rides under extreme duress and sleep deprivation, you lose your sense of time and space.
We left Panguitch and headed towards what might be one of the most evil climbs one could face. A 36 mile 5000 foot monster awaited us. Could I make it? At mile 377, I had a ton of doubt if I would just cramp up and end up in the fetal position on the side of the road. We found out that Kevin McNulty, my pre-race favorite gave up at Panguitch, not willing to take on this climb even though he was only 1 minute behing Kenneth Philbrick. He must have known something. The first 3 miles were pretty tough with a lot of 8-10% sections but I managed to keep a decent pace up it. Out of the blue, Duc mentioned that the people at Panguitch thought I "DNF'd" as they told him that was what was up on the official web site. Thats all I needed to hear at this point. I lost it and asked him "WHO said I DNF'd!!!!" I was pissed, morally outraged, and ready to fall off the bike as this was the one bit of news I could not take. Did I hallucinate this whole fricking ride? Maybe I DNF'd and forgot. At this point, I was not sure what was up and my will sunk down the drain. Luckily, Granger and Duc sensed how bad this was and immediately called the race director to see what was up. He advised them that all was ok and that I had not DNFd. When they told me, I was still not 100% convinced, but luckily the RD came by in his car and confirmed the good news. This was what I needed because I was suffering from knee problems and could not handle any mental cracks or I would break down immediately. I hit Panguitch Lake at mile 392 which was quite desolate and kept climbing in what seemed a never ending road towards the summit at Brian Head. I knew if I could somehow get over this climb, I would make it to the end. I had to stop every couple of miles on this climb and finally hit the 10,000 foot level. Slowly, painfully, we summmited at 10,600, the higheset I have ever ridden. 36 miles of climbing done and now a massive 28 mile 4000 foot descent faced us. We hit Cedar Breaks National Monument and descended towards Cedar City. Granger saved the day by getting my some Visine earlier which helped clear up my eye. The descent into Cedar City was horrible as it was Sunday afternoon at maybe 5:00 PM, so every weekend warrior wanted to fly down the hill and had no love for a cyclist like me. The team was following me for much of the descent as I was fried and not sure I could descend safely. It was horrible as people would pass us and honk and flip us off. I thought drivers were bad in CA, but these guys were prime asses. I did not bother showing any emotion and kept descending towards Time Station #6 in Cedar City at mile 433.5.
We hit the Station at 6:35 PM which was a Chevron station. Granger called up the RD and I took off while the crew loaded up on gas and food. I took off on SR-56W alone and noticed it was pretty easy going for the first few miles. The guys caught up to me as we headed towards Newcastle. Their was a 1000 foot climb which surprised me as I did not notice it in the race literature. I was swapping places with a two man RAAM team with Fred Boethling one of the RAAM head honchos. They were being crewed by Lee Mitchell who anybody who does Doubles or Ultras knows as he is at every single race crewing somebody, or doing a private SAG on the Doubles. I was surprised to be holding pace with the two man team, but figured that would not last. After the crest, we had one of the smoothest descents I have ever experienced into Newcastle. The road was absolutely perfect and descending at full speed at night with sketchy car light following me seemed normal and not one bit scary. I was feeling good at this point. We hit another climb from the town of Enterprise which I also managed to not read in the route description. It was maybe 1200 feet long and I pushed really hard up it after I was advised it was the last climb of the Hoodoo. All pain had left me and I was crushing it up this hill. This victory was short lived as I realized I had a 25 mile "descent" to get to Snow Canyon. The road was fine, I should have enjoyed the descent, but I was mentally breaking down and complaining and bitching about this descent. I had to stop several times, and whine about it, and then we had to change lights which always takes too much time. We hit a nice hill in Veyo at mile 495 which I did not mind as I preferred climbing to descending. Finally we hit Snow Canyon. Strangely, in the Hoodoo 500, you leave the cocoon of your support and are forced to face the void and ride into the finish line soloe for the last 15 miles. While maybe being a bit poetic, the task of facing this section in a remote steep canyon made me a bit nervous. It should have been a fast descent, but I kept checking the route sheet, convinced I would get lost and somehow blow this ride. I managed to stay on route and head into downtown St. George. I crossed the finish line in 42:50. It was a very rewarding and tough ride.
I had to battle freezing cold, knee pain, a ruined eye, but thanks to my crew members persistence and dealing with me, the finish line was found. The race management of Planet Ultra put on a great ride. I would recommend this ride to anybody who wants to jump up the next level into 500 mile RAAM qualifiers. This ride was tougher than the Furnace Creek 508 for me, due to altitude, cold and longer climbs. I would imagine this ride will grow quickly as FC508 becomes harder to get into and the number of people searching for challenges grows. It took me 5 days to feel somewhat back to normal after this as I was completely exhausted afterwards. But the experience continues to grow on me as I remember more of the details. Another great thing about this ride is the beauty of the area. Its like taking a vacation through national parks, monuments, and state parks in 48 hours. I want to come back and explore this area with a bit more time to check out the scenery.