Hoodoo 500 Voyager Race Report

The alarm clock goes off at 4 AM on Saturday August 26th and I get ready to face a very long and arduous bike ride in Southern Utah called the Hoodoo 500. I chose to ride this in the Voyager category which was non-supported other than 4 drop bags sent ahead to aid stations containing food, warm clothing, lights and anything we thought we would need to get through this ride. I had failed in my attempt at this ride the previous year due to being cold and exhausted and had worked hard all year on a plan that would keep me warm, fueled, and able to finish. I road to the race with a fellow voyager Steve LaChaine who had DNFd the Voyager twice and was as motivated as I was to finish this ride. We both dressed and gave our bikes one last check and head over to the starting line in the pitch black. We were the last guys to get there a couple of minutes before our the start. After a photo or two, the countdown began. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 go. We took off in the dark streets of St George Utah and road through town in a pack. One rider Russel Stevens took off immediately which was surprising as we could ride in a pack for the first 10 miles or so. The rest of us road at a pretty fast pace outside of town towards Hurricane. My goal was to keep my heart rate under 150 for the first 85 miles or and even though I could not see my bike computer, I knew I was failing at this goal as I was already struggling. I was pretty annoyed at myself, but more angry that I was already struggling 15 miles into the ride. Were these guys this strong, and I this weak, or was I sick? I did not feel sick, but I was already questioning everything. A rider flew by me who I later figured out was Joel Sothern. He passed me so fast it was comical. In previous years the Voyager division was a mixed bag of rando guys, comic adventurers with gas cans of water attached to their handle-bars, but not a deeply talented group. For some reason, 2010 brought out a strong group of riders and I was already feeling this as I was riding in last place 20 miles in with a heart rate well above 150. We hit Hurricane and then climbed up Hwy 59 into a head wind. I was still feeling pretty lousy at this point and pushed toward the Arizona border. I saw Steve at a gas station on the border that was supposed to open at 8 AM but was a bit late. Steve was waiting for them to open, but I am way too impatient and grabbed a bit of water from the tap and took off. He looked pretty good, but I was feeling lousy. Its pretty discouraging at mile 50 of 519 mile ride to feel like crap. Steve talked alot about "fixing yourself" when things were going bad. I had never heard of that term, but I really liked it and decided it was time to relax a bit and work on fixing myself as I headed toward time station 1. The combination of the fast pace and altitude must have put me in a a bit of trouble and it was time to really calm down and take it easy. Luckily the winds started to shift a bit and my speed picked up and I started riding stronger. I crossed back into Utah and hit time station 1 in Kanab at 10:15 AM. It took me 5:15 to cover the 82.2 mles of stage 1. My average speed riding was almost 17 mph, yet I was 45 minutes behind the top rider Joel Sothern who was flying with Adam Bickett and Stevens right on his heels.

I loaded up my drop bag and started the long ride up hwy 89 North toward Bryce Canyon National Park. I was taking in the calories with no problem. My main fuel was a home brew of 2 parts maltodextrin, 1 part fructose, and a bit of lemonade flavoring. I had heard a podcast from Asker Juekendrop, a well known sports nutritionist who promotes the advantages of ingesting fuel with a 2 to 1 ratio of glucose to fructose. I have been experimenting the last six months with this and decided to use it as my foundation fuel for the Hoodoo 500. So far, so good as I was doing well as I passed the century mark in Mt. Carmel Junction. Steve passed me looking strong I followed him at a distance to a rest stop at about mile 118 where we both pulled in and rested. He mentioned that he slept at this aid station in the past two rides, but he must have been feeling good as he took off after a few minutes. I followed him out and he dropped me on the climb to Hatch. I saw Tim Carroll another voyager on this section, and I knew Rick Jacobson was a bit behind at this point. We had a nice tail wind to Hatch and I took off down the descent towards Bryce with a wicked tail wind. I was flying for the next 15 miles or so before the right turn towards up hwy 12 towards Bryce Canyon. We hit the Red Canyon bike trail which parallels the freeway and I cramped up so bad in my quads I felt I was going to fall off the bike. I screamed in pain and managed to calm them down. I popped a couple of s-caps knowing this would fix the issue. One thing I realized is I did not put any salt in the home brew which probably was a mistake as most sports drinks have at least some sodium in them. I saw the first soloist crew for James Good which was much later in the race than last year which made me feel happy. I did not get passed by him until time station 2 at the Chevron gas station near Bryce. Last years winner David Holt's crew was waiting for him there and Steve came in a minute or so after me. Steve believes Subway is the ticket to riding success and I was feeling tired enough to follow him to the Subway in Bryce for a 15-20 minute lunch break. Normally I am too impatient to take breaks like this, but I figured it would be good in the long run to take it easy. My face was covered in salt and I was pretty tired. This was only mile 155 or so but I was 1:10 faster this year than last year, so things were going ok in that regard. I tried to chill out but felt my heart beating in my chest due to the high altitude (almost 8000 feet). I only ate 1/4 of the footlong and brought the rest with me. I loaded up the bottles with Dr. Pepper and Coke and took off on a nice descent towards Tropic which leads to a nice climb in the Grand Staircase National Monument which is an incredible place to ride as its drop dead gorgeous in every direction. We still had a nice tail wind as I summited the last climb before the long descent into Escalante which I pulled in at 6:45 and under 13 hours of riding time. Pretty fast, but I was in second to last place This was one tough group I was riding with this year.

At the motel in Escalante I loaded up my gear, put on the lights, and changed into warmer clothes to face the 5000 feet of climb up to Boulder Mountain Summit. Last year I took a shower, but this year I did not want to get too comfortable. Steve left before me and I talked with Tim Carroll and Rick Jacobson who arrived a few minutes after I did in last place. Since I froze in 2009, I decided to go overboard and pack heavy snow pants and a full down jacket that weight 3 1/2 pounds. This combined with my rack, bag, food, and other gear brought my bike to way over 30 pounds. It was a calculation I had analyzed for months and determined it was better to be safe than sorry. The weather was still wam, however, and I was doubting that my decision this year was going to be necessary, but you never can tell whats going to happen. I took off from the aid station and grabbed 4 5 hour energy shots and some ibuprofen just in case carrying the heavy loads up the hill would cause any pain. Its a fantastic ride in the red rocks which I luckily got to start in the light for the first time. The road pitched up in 12-15% stinger grades which were very difficult with such a heavy bike. I just ground it out until the descent into the town of Boulder. I stopped at a restaurant and 3 nice women loaded up my bottles with coke for free. They mentioned Steve had just passed by a few minutes before. I called my wife and let her know how things were going. It was great talking to her. I was pretty optimistic at this point and pushed on to the 9600 foot summit The climb was pretty consistent until false flats at the top. I was passed by the 8 person tandem team and they gave me a big cheer which pumped me up to the top. I noticed a rider at the side of the road and it was Adam Bickett, a very strong guy who was having stomach issues. He was pretty messed up unable to talk that well and clearly hurting. He was way ahead of me at the previous aid station, so must have been really sick to lose so much time. Tim Carroll was talking to him and I took off At the 9600 foot summit, I put on the ski pants and jacket and road a very toasty descent into Torrey. There were annoying hills at the bottom of this long descent which sucked in the heavy gear. I took off the heavy gear in Torrey and realized I did not really need it this year, but the insurance was worth the money as I could drop it off in Loa and I really had no way of knowing. The next miles into Loa contained some climbs and false flats and were very cold. I pulled into the motel in Loa a few minutes before 3 AM. My stomach was starting to feel bad, but I was happy with my time.

Steve was laying in bed when I arrived. My instincts were to get in and out fast, but I was pretty tired and figured a little rest might do me good. I laid in bed next to Steve who like Old Fathful, was farting in a perfect rhythm of 1 per minute or so. The room was stinky as their were no windows. I guess we did not have the presidential suite, but the bed was ok. I started to immediately shiver uncontrollably in the bed. This was not good. I had done this at the end of Race Across Oregon, and last year on the Voyager. Past a certain level of exhaustion, I get cold and cant seem to pull out easily. I was going to have to Fix myself as I laid in the stinky room and contemplated my next move. Adam Bickett and Tim Carroll then pulled in. Adam was still very sick and laid on the ground . Tim was a bit sick as well and talked about wanting to puke. Rick Jacobson then pulled in. 5 guys in room without windows with Old Faithful pumping methane into the thin air at almost 7000 feet in altitude was turning me green as well. How as I going to fix myself? I was too sick to even rifle through my bag, but I knew I had to do something. Luckily my bag was right near the bed and I reached in and found some Whole Foods Organic Turkey Slim Jims. I love a good Slim Jim on a ride and I figured these healthier version would be good. But, would they send me to the puke house, or solve my problem? I ate two of them and waited. in the mean time, Adam scampered up and threw up all over the floor near the bathroom. This sent my stomach into a spin, but I started to notice my shakes abating and I was feeling a bit better. Adam was looking bad I figured he would DNF, but little did I know that this guy is made of steel and nothing can break him. It was close to 5 AM and I had been in this room for 2 hours. I was feeling worse than those Chilean miners stuck below the earth in this smelly cramped room and decided to hit the road. Rick and Tim took off at about 5 and me 15 minutes later. Steve was planning on leaving around 7 and Adam was going to stay as long as he had to to recover. The next section is a very long gradual climb to 8200 feet. I started it in the pitch black and finished it as the sun came up. It was pretty easy, but tedious and the descent to Browns Lane was very fast and I hit just under 50 MPH before Brown's Lane. I hit Koosharem and was immediately hit with a strong head wind. I had 25 miles or so to go to my next turn and knew it was going to be a painful ride. 30 MPH winds for mile after mile hit me and I kept my head down and stuck to my aero bars as much as I could and ticked off the miles. I never got too upset, as I have enough experience to know that you just have to engage and embrace the wind otherwise you will be defeated. If you look down at the ground for a minute or so, you will be surprised how much ground you can cover. I finally got to Otter Creek State Park where the road turned rightward into a beautiful canyon and the wind was not an issue for 12 miles or so until I hit Kingston. Now the wind was whipping up with a vengeance. I viewed it as payback for the nice tail winds yesterday and enjoyed fighting it for the next 31 miles into Panguitch. I visited a practically deserted trailer park in Circleville that had an almost empty store in it, but luckily it did have a few v8 and cokes I could buy . The place was for sale, and I could see why as this looked like a ghost town in the making. The gas station that was open last year closed without notice the week before. I started listening to the Brothers Karamazov on the ipod and it took my mind off the 35-50 mph gusts. I was losing myself in the novel and was looking down at the grey road moving by not getting discouraged and defiantly asking for more wind. You can't beat me, I was thinking. I would finish this race if it took me 72 hours, but I was not going to quit. A few strongs gusts hit me that almost knocked me on the road, but I could see the big mountain ahead that led to Cedar Breaks and I knew that once we started this massive climb, the winds would be blocked somewhat. About 10 miles from Panguitch, I saw Rick Jacobson and Tim Carroll who had left the Loa motel 15 minutes before me. Rick was pretty dejected about the wind and was talking about quitting. Tim seemed to be ready to quit as well. I told Tim this was "posion" and they had to keep going. Out of pride and defiance, I picked up the pace and dropped them for a couple of miles. The though of quitting scared me and I was worried I could get pulled into that negative vortex. I wanted to stay away from it. Part of me wanted to convince them to keep going, but I knew that they would have to face their own questions at this point of the race. At about 2 miles from Panguitch, Adam Bickett passed me. I was shocked to see the guy as I assumed he would DNF after his illness, but he was looking very strong. He complained little about the wind and had no intention of quitting. I was happy to see him and feel his positive energy as we punched through the wind. We pulled into Panguitch together at 2:07 PM which seems suspicious, but there was no drafting going on. It was truly just luck we all pulled in at the same time. It took me over 9 hours to cover the 90 miles from Loa on which should be a fast section. That included 2 hours in the pain room, but still, that was one tough section.

I loaded up the bags, changed and head out pretty quickly from Panguitch. I really wanted to descend Cedar Breaks in the day time as its a long 5000+ foot descent. The climb up from Panguitch starts with some steep bumps and I pedaled as smoothly as I could. A 5000 foot climb at mile 385 can be discouraging and the only way to face it is to just focus on the here and now. I took it easy and hit Panguitch Lake . A tourist told me about 70+ mph gusts at the summit of Brian Head and I hoped this was not true, but kept pedaling up and up. There was a huge flock of sheep at a meadow near the top which was cool. The climb never seems to end but finally you hit the 10,600 mark near Cedar Breaks. I managed to summit before dark and raced to Cedar City before I needed lights. It was getting colder and colder and I was freezing down the scary descent. Cars were passing me the whole time and it took a long time to get from almost 11,000 feet to under 6,000. I called into the race hq and let them know I was at Time Station 6, Cedar City at Mile 433.9. I was pretty excited to say the least, as I for the first time was starting to think about actually finishing this race. Adam Bickett came in 3 minutes after I did. I found out Steve did not check into Panguith before Adam left and I was hoping he was still in the race. I really wanted him to finish as well.

I grabbed 4 items from Taco Bell and took off towards St. George. It was dark now and luckily the wind was dying down! This was fantastic news for us as if we had to face hours of head winds it might have ruined us. I was riding pretty strongly and climbed up a 1000+ climb pretty fast sweating heavily. I was riding alone for so many hours now that I was used to it, but one thing i could not get used to was not knowing 100% if I was on the right road. There was no signs telling you what hwy you were on. I felt I was on the road to Enterprise, but I got neurotic and started thinking I was off course. I could only keep going as my anger and frustration and fears rose until I saw a small sign telling me I was in fact on the right road to Newcastle. I pulled into Bench road was chased by 2 very fast dogs. I had to sprint like a mad man to escape them. Every rider I talked to had the same experience. Nothing like a hard sprint this last in the race. I pulled into Enterprise and faced another 1000+ climb, our last big one of the ride that would lead us eventually into Veyo and our final destination of St. George. The night was beautiful and it was about midnight as I climbed. I had no hallucinations this ride which surprised me considering the lack of sleep, but I was not complaining as I knew I could find the Mastodon some other ride. I faced a very long 15+ mile descent into Veyo that was cold and lousy in 2008 and just as bad this year. It was freezing cold and you could not get a good reflection off the chip seal road with the lights so instead of flying down it, I took it somewhat easy, mindful that a crash would ruin everything I have worked for. I was freezing cold as well, but too lazy to put on a warmer shirt or gloves. Finally, Veyo showed up. I faced a 500 foot climb than false flats to Snow Canyon. I started to get excited as I knew I could finish know even if I had to walk in. The last 10 miles to Snow Canyon were fast as I stood up for a lot of the riding. I called in the race HQ and let them know I was in the final stretch. Its all down hill through Snow Canyon and St. George and it took me 53 minutes to pull in with a total time of 46:10. I was 5th place and Adam Bickett had managed to hold me off with a solid 4th place.

I was so happy to be done. What a ride. Almost everything worked out from the food strategy, to the lights, to the clothing, to the mental prep. I grabbed a motel room and crashed out in minutes. I was hoping that Steve would make it in as he really deserved to finish this. I could not imagine having to come back for a 4th try at this and and hoped he could not finally knock it out. I heard he only had 6:30 hrs to finish as he left Cedar City after midnight. i crashed out. At about 5:45 Steve knocked on the door and also made it. He suffered like a dog in the winds, but hung in to finish. Amazingly 7 out of 9 voyagers finished. Only 5 solo riders managed to finish with many bowing out to head winds. Joel Sothern is God. He finished the race in 34+ hours which is remarkable for this category. i dont know if many people in the country could pull that off as so many variables conspire to slow your down. David Holt repeated his victory for the solo division which is amazing as he is 58 years old, but still riding extremely strongly. I was bummed to hear Rick Jacobson DNFd in Cedar City, but he is a very strong guy and I have no doubt will come back next year to knock this one off his list.

When you plan for something for a long time and execute on the plan, it often seem easy. I was just following a script last weekend. I had emotional blinders on the entire weekend. I never got too high or too low. I never got angry, or sad, or too happy either. It was just one minute followed by another minute, which turned into an hour and a day and finally I was done. I managed to Fix myself when I needed to along the ride. I would like to think I can take this experience and fix the things I need to in other parts of my life. That may not happen, but this will go down as one of the best experiences of my life.

Race Results

James Good Race Report
Russel Stevens Race Report
Adam Bickett Race Report


Congrats on finishing! I enjoyed reading your report
mthead said…
Epic, congrats Chris. Hope you don't mind, i am going to share this on my facebook, a good story and good work on the preparation side of things. some great thoughts and ideas.
Chris O'Keefe said…
Np Mike. The more the merrier.
nrmrvrk said…
Nice report. Glad you're happy with your race and that the outcome was good. I don't know how you can have such patience in the wind.
James E Good said…
AWESOME!!! Oh crap does that mean I have to try voyager

Well done sir on the finish!!!
Adam said…
It seemed easy? Maybe I'm just overly dramatic about these rides, but I found it somewhat challenging!

Your description of the Loa scene was spot on... I was going to let Steve slide, but man is "Old Faithful" right...

Dostoevsky on the windy section. Nice choice...definitely had some existential musings of my own on that slog.

Solid ride. See you out there.
Chris O'Keefe said…
Easy in the sense I was not surprised by anything out there and was prepared for what the course hit me with.