Archive for the 'Russ Stevens 2009' category

Hoodoo 500 – Russ Stevens

| September 6, 2010 12:48 pm
Hoodoo 500 - Russ Stevens

I think you learn less when you succeed than you fail. Thus, this ride report might not contain quite the wisdom of last year’s. However, I think I still have a good story to tell.

Was it worth it? I don’t know. I can say that having failed last year, it was definitely worth coming back and finishing. I simply had to overcome my prior failure. But was it worth trying it the first time? I am not sure. If I had known that this race would completely dominate two years of my life, cost me thousands of dollars, stress my marriage, jeopardize my health and bring almost unbearable levels of stress into my life, I would never have signed up in the first place.

That said, I am awfully proud of my accomplishment. I don’t know if I will lever try anything like this again, but I will certainly never forget finishing. It is something I will be proud of for the rest of my life. So, what can I say about the race?

First of all, I am very glad I did it Voyager (without a support vehicle or crew). That class definitely matches my style. Most people thought I was crazy to try the race without a support vehicle. However, not once during the ride did I feel lonely or wish I had people following or helping me. I really liked being in control of everything that affected me and not having to depend on anyone else. Plus, in my opinion nothing ruins a perfectly good bicycle ride like a vehicle.

I had the ride very well thought out. I was allowed to send 4 drop bags ahead to pick up along the course and I carefully planned everything I needed in those bags as well as everywhere else I could get supplies along the way. I never felt like I was missing anything I needed. I may have carried a few more things than I needed, but as one race official told me, “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” If I ever do this ride again, I will certainly do it voyager again.

Second, this year’s race was blessed with nearly perfect conditions. It was sunny and warm during the day, but never hot. There was a monster tailwind from Kanab (mile 82) to Escalante (Mile 203) resulting in several periods when I was able to coast at 30+ mph on nearly flat roads for long periods of time. Despite 30-50% chance of thundershowers, it never rained on me. Despite some predictions of 30 degree temps at night and at the 10,500 ft peak of Cedar Breaks, I never experienced anything below 48 degrees. Despite reports of 25 mph headwinds in the canyons between Loa (mile 285) and Panguitch (mile 375), I saw no wind at all for 2/3 of that stretch and only a mild headwind after that. There was some pretty severe wind in the last stretch from Cedar City (mile 433) to St. George (mile 518), but it was offset by some climbs that offered protection from the wind and an otherwise mostly downhill profile. It may have just been because I was expecting the weather to be so much worse, but I was extremely happy with the conditions on this ride.

Third, just like last year, I still made mistakes and things still went wrong. I guess it is hard to do a ride of this magnitude without any problems (or at least without a lot more experience). In fact, my challenges were very similar to last year: altitude and nutrition. I tried so hard to solve my problems in these areas over the past 12 months. However, it is really hard to experiment with altitude when you live at sea level and it is really hard to solve nutrition problems that manifest themselves after 300 miles without actually riding more than 300 miles (several times). Dealing with altitude and nutrition on this ride really boiled down to my lessening their impact as much as possible and then just dealing with the remaining effects. The only real difference between last year and this year is that this year, I refused to give up. I worked through my problems on the road, before they became irreversible, and found a way to keep moving toward the finish.

Before I started the ride, I put four rules in place. These rules were based on what I learned last year and will sound familiar to anybody who read last year’s report:

  • Rule #1: Don’t try to win. Just focus on finishing. Trying to win on a ride of this magnitude before you have the sufficient experience just leads to bad decision making.
  • Rule #2: Don’t change your nutrition on the day of the big ride.
  • Rule #3: If you have a problem, stop and work it out. If you don’t know how to work it out, then try to get help. If no one can help, then just sit, listen and let your body solve the problem itself.
  • Rule #4: Finish no matter what. Do not leave the course for any reason unless you have reached the finish line, you have a life threatening injury or the time has expired.

5am Voyager start (Photo by Sheila Stevens) A very determined bunch - six of these seven would finish, with one stopping only after 433+ miles.


The ride started out really well. The first 250 miles were basically enjoyable. I employed rules #1 & #2, riding my own ride and regularly taking in calories and water. As a result, I never felt exhausted, sore or tired. I kept my heart rate around 125 and my power around 200 Watts. Two of the other voyager riders quickly went off the front, but I did not let that bother me. By the time I got to Escalante at mile 200, one of those riders was 1.5 hours ahead of me. However, the other rider was lying on the bed at the checkpoint hotel looking like he wasn’t getting up anytime soon. I never saw him again. He did cross the finish line, but only several hours after I did.

The highlight of my first day was climbing to the 9800 foot peak of Boulder Mountain. Last year, I did that climb entirely in the dark (having started as a solo rider 2 hours later than I did this year). I reached the top of that climb this year just in time to watch the sun set over the grand staircase – a truly magnificent sight.

Those of you who read my ride report last year know that as I was climbing Boulder Mountain in the dark in 2009, a mountain lion ran across the road in front of me. This year, just as I approached that exact same spot a bear ran across the road! Luckily, I was a little bit further away from the bear that I was the mountain lion, but it was still pretty exciting. At that point, I decided the bear was going to be my Hoodoo totem. Bears may not be the fastest animals, but they are not the slowest either. They are strong and unstoppable. I knew that no matter how slow I had to go, I was going to be as strong as a bear and finish this race.

Thank God I had at least gotten over Boulder Mountain before my first problem occurred. After descending the other side, I lost my appetite right on schedule at ~275 miles. I kept pedaling anyway and made my way into the Loa rest stop. Then I employed rule #3. I called people for help. I called my wife, Sheila, I called my coach, Susan Forsman and I called my good friend and someone who knows more about ultra cycling than anyone I know, Cindi Staiger. I waited an hour, but when my appetite still did not return, I decided to just keep moving, following Cindi’s advice to just plod along slowly eating small amounts of food. I also decided to take a NoDoz, hoping that the caffeine might wake up my metabolism and my stomach. Miraculously, this worked. Within about one hour, I felt much better and within two hours I felt almost normal. I called Sheila to tell her I was feeling better and that I was being a bear. I might not be moving quickly, but I was still strong and I was going to finish. Onward to Panguitch.

The 90 mile stretch from Loa to Panguitch was long and dark. However, there were several nice things about this section of the ride. First, it was mostly flat. Second, it wasn’t too cold. Third, there was almost no headwind until the last 20 miles (I was expecting 20+ mph headwinds through this whole section). Finally, the sky was clear and the stars were out, which was beautiful.

I arrived in Panguitch without incident at about 6:15 a.m., just as the sun was coming up. My original intention had been to sleep for a couple of hours in Panguitch to make sure I had enough energy to climb the 4000 feet necessary to get over the 10,500 foot peak of Cedar Breaks. However, I had already lost so much time trying to recover in Loa and on the road afterwards that I felt I could not afford to wait around in Panguitch. I was in a rush to keep moving forward, so I got back on my bike.

I sensed that I had made a mistake the moment I left town and started to climb. A nagging voice told me I did not have 4000 feet of climbing in my legs. But by then, it was too late. The rules specifically prohibit turning around on the course, so there was no going back to the Panguitch checkpoint. There was nothing to do but go forward.

The first 29 of the 32 miles to the summit went surprisingly well. I slowly climbed up to 9000 feet. The whole time, I kept passing and being passed by the sole 8 person 4x tandem team, including my friends Rick and Anna Stewart. They kept shouting encouragement and telling me I was doing great which kept me motivated.

I don’t understand what happened next, but I suddenly lost all my energy. Afraid of repeating the eating problems I had in Loa, I had stopped eating solid food and switched entirely to Spiz, a high calorie powdered drink. Perhaps drinking the Spiz in the slightly chilly conditions caused me to ingest too much fluid, diluting the salt in my bloodstream. Perhaps it was just the altitude. Perhaps it was the 30 mile an hour wind gusts I was fighting to climb up the final grades. Whatever the cause, I felt terrible. I was crawling up the hill, moving slower and slower. I desperately wanted to stop, lay down and recover, but I knew for certain that stopping in the cold above 9000 feet was a recipe for disaster. I felt I had no option but to get to the next checkpoint at the bottom of the hill.

What a relief to finally get to the visitor center at the 10,500 ft peak of Cedar Breaks! I escaped to the warmth of the restroom to refill my water bottles and add some layers for the descent. Despite how horrible and weak I felt, I really thought I had made at this point. I would recover on the downhill, and then it was only 90 mostly downhill miles to the finish.

I was so wrong. The descent was anything but recovery. For the first few miles, I had to pedal with all the strength I had left just to move downhill into the 30 mile an hour headwind. Then, despite my many layers, I started to get cold. Luckily, I was not too cold to control my bike. However, it just took a long time and a lot of energy to get down that hill.

Finally, as I got near Cedar city, the temperatures rose and I got more comfortable. I was dreaming of a chicken sandwich and some fries and decided to stop at the McDonald’s in town. Unfortunately, as soon as I walked into the restaurant, I knew things were about to get worse, not better. I felt a wave of nausea sweep over me. I ran to the restroom just in time. I felt sorry for the people who happened to be in there.

I thought that throwing up would make me feel better, but it really didn’t. I called Sheila. Thinking I might be dehydrated, she suggested I order a large sprite and just sip it, which I did. But that did not make me feel better either. After about one hour, I thought I would just keep moving despite how I felt. However, as soon as I got outside into the hot sun, I knew I could not yet continue.

I sat down on the grass outside McDonald’s just as David and Deb Hoag arrived (2x Team Turbodog). Although I was slightly disappointed they had caught me after starting four hours after me, it was very nice to see familiar faces. I chatted with them and with their crew, Franz Kelsch and Ken Holloway. I tried to pretend I was going to be OK, but I don’t think I fooled anyone. I’m pretty sure Franz was convinced I was going to quit once again. Franz was on my solo crew last year.

Rule #4 was ever present in my mind and I was absolutely determined not to quit. However, I knew I wasn’t going to solve my problem out in the heat in front of a fast food restaurant. I needed a place I could rest and regroup. Although the cheap side of me loudly protested, the practical side of me won out and I rented a room for $65 at the Motel 6 on the edge of town. I called race headquarters and told them I would be off the course for a little while. They asked me if I was abandoning and I told them a forceful, “No!” I said I was just resting and that I would let them know as soon as I started riding again.” I lay down on the bed, but was too uncomfortable and sick to really sleep or rest. I called Susan for help again. She suggested I just keep rolling, which seemed hard to imagine. I remember that when I was in Loa, Cindi had suggested I eat some saltines, which were unavailable in that little town at 11:00 p.m. But now, I knew I might be able to find some. I decided to walk to the nearest convenience store. It was a test. I figured if I could walk to the store and back and actually eat a few saltines, then I could do everything I needed to keep riding.

I passed the test. Not only did the convenience store have saltines, I was able to eat them and I was able to successfully walk a few blocks required to obtain them. If I could both eat and expend energy of the sun, then I could move forward. Four hours after arriving in Cedar City, I checked out of the hotel, called race headquarters and got back on the road.

I was immediately confronted with about the worst headwind I have ever experienced. The stretch of road leading out of Cedar City is flat and wide open with absolutely no protection. The wind was brutal and it was all I could do to move 10 mph. When the climbing started, I got even slower. I tried hard not to think about how many hours it would take to ride to the finish in St. George at this pace.

Then, my left knee started to hurt. I looked down and noticed that my legs were kind of puffy and bloated. Suddenly, I knew what was wrong. Thanks to all of my research on my problems from last year, I knew I was suffering from bloating hyponatremia. I had too little salt in my bloodstream and was retaining water as a result, causing my legs to swell and my knee to hurt. Even better, I knew how to fix it. I had to slowly ingest salt and stop drinking water.

To avoid water, I had to stop drinking Spiz, the high calorie drink I had been using as my primary source of fuel. I made a quick stop to look through my bags and take out all of the solid food I had left. I went for the salty stuff first: the bag of fritos I had been carrying for the past 100 miles. I ate a handful of those and a very interesting thing happened. I suddenly had to pee so badly I thought I would explode. I ran to the bushes. I felt better. I ate more Fritos. This continued for the next 6 hours and 90 miles. I peed about eight times while drinking almost nothing. Within 50 miles, my knee no longer hurt and my body was no longer puffy. The treatment had worked. I knew I had it made.

The only good thing about getting really sick and working through it is that it forces you to rest. By the time you recover, you usually feel pretty good. When I called race HQ and my wife from the top of Snow Canyon 15 miles from the finish, I felt positively stellar.

The sun was just setting and it was all downhill to the finish. I flew around the corners through Snow Canyon admiring the colored cliffs in the setting sun. I made my way through the streets of St. George and dreamed about the Dairy Queen blizzard I knew that Sheila was buying for me. I thought about the Hoodoo jersey I was finally going to wear.

I broke the finish line tape at 10:06 PM, just over 40 hours after I had left the same spot. I pedaled for 32:30 of those 40 hours while traveling 518 miles and climbing 28,000 feet. I saw temperatures between 46° and 83°. I burned 21,000 calories while eating 9500, meaning that I left over 12,000 calories or more than 3 pounds of myself somewhere on the road in Utah. Along the way, I saw some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. I ate my blizzard and marveled that after two long hard years, I had finally reached the finish line.

Russ being congratulated by fellow Voyager Jared Fisher (Photo by Deb Bowling)

A very reflective Russ at the finish line (Notice the Keen sandals and Arkel bag and rack) (Photo by Sheila Stevens)


Russ with a Dairy Queen blizzard at the finish line ~9:15pm Sunday. (Photo by Franz Kelsch)

I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me to finish this ride. Thanks again to al the people who made contributions to the American cancer society in memory of my father, Wayne, last year. Thanks to my fabulous 2009 crew, Paul Vlasveld, Franz Kelsch and my wife, Sheila, for all you did for me last year and for understanding my need to try it without you this year. Thank you to my coach, Susan Forsman. You taught me that no matter how tired I am I can always to choose to move forward (and thank you for making me practice that many times during my training, despite my complaining). Thanks to ultra cycling goddess, Cindi Staiger, who fielded my phone calls during the race and gave me advice that kept me going. Thank you to Keen for making the best sandals and most comfortable biking shoes ever. Thank you to Rick McCaw for loaning me his awesome Arkel rack and trunk. That may be the vest voyager/brevet bag system ever. Thank you to my new friend and second place voyager finisher, Jared Fisher, who played leap frog with me for 400 miles and eventually beat me by always pedaling slower (on platform pedals no less). You are a wise one, Mr. Tortoise. Thank you to all of my friends and family who sent such encouraging and uplifting emails and Facebook posts before, during and after the ride. I was truly touched by all of your prayers and support. Thank you to God for keeping me safe on the road and for indulging the crazy amount of preparation time required to get ready for this ride even when there were clearly better ways I could be serving you with that time. And most of all, thank you to my wife, Sheila, for supporting me in every way possible. I love you dearly, and I could not have done this without you (no matter how self sufficient I like to think I am).

I finished the Hoodoo 500! Finally!

Well, that was not how it was supposed to go….

| September 13, 2009 10:51 am

We once read a Chris Carmichael quote that said: “If there is not a significant chance of failure, it is probably not a very good goal.” For those following the HooDoo webcast you know that we had to pull out of the race at about 350 miles.

Russ was not able to finish, but wow, what a crazy ride with incredible highs and ultimately an unrecoverable low. Russ raised over $7000 for the American Cancer Society in honor of his dad. Our crew was fantastic, the ride was well organized and the course amazingly beautiful. The weather conditions were really favorable. Russ was marking the race favorite’s pace for ~200 miles, and then Russ was in the LEAD! From the follow car, we watched as a mountain lion crossed Russ’ path in the pitch dark. His feet didn’t hurt. His back didn’t hurt. All the things we were most worried about didn’t materialize. With so much excitement, we didn’t fully appreciate some physical problems early enough to find solutions on the road. However, it really is difficult to get everything perfect for 519 miles.

Russ gained several pounds of water during the race and finally was so sick he and our crew all agreed it was medically time to quit. Russ finally summed it up when he slumped his shoulders and said — “I can’t fix this. Not out here.” He is slowly feeling physically better and is recovering. Emotionally, this has given us quite a whallop. However, we always say, one of the reasons we do these challenging events is that you always learn something.

As anyone who has ever failed at an event to which they devoted an inordinately large portion of their physical and emotional self can attest – its difficult to find words to describe what we are feeling right now. It is even harder to find the energy. It will take a while for things to settle down and for us to return all the well wishes. Please understand if we go a little radio silent for awhile.Check back for more updates . Too much happened to not share (eventually).

Thanks for being the great community of friends and curious onlookers.

Sheila (and Russ) Stevens

Isolated Sprinkles

| September 12, 2009 1:35 pm

Cloudy and 78 degrees. Very nice biking conditions.

Gaining

| 1:05 pm

Russ is gaining on the climb. Even after a 2 minute maintenance stop Russ is less than 3 minutes behind leader.

Radio Problems

| 11:27 am

Bought some new radios in Kanab.

Entering Fredonia

| 10:25 am

11:27 am. Slightly ahead.

Arrived Hurricane

| 7:28 am

Russ is right behind race leader.

Ready Set Go

| 6:33 am

Russ is off at 7:00 am. The crew is waiting at first rendevous point.

Almost started

| September 11, 2009 4:05 pm

We are now in St. George.  The van is ready.  Russ is ready. The crew is ready (hopefully).  The HooDoo staff assigned Paul as the crew chief.  Sheila had already claimed the title crew “Queen” earlier, so there was no dispute. Russ’ bike numbers are 48 and 49.

It is 100+ degrees this afternoon.  Stinking hot. Lucky for Russ, he will immediately start climbing to cooler elevations right away at 7am. Trying to put a positive spin on everything.  Everyone anxious to get on the road.

Hope to report in when we can.

Crew "chief" Paul getting the van inspected at the starting line.

Crew "chief" Paul getting the van inspected at the starting line.

Ok, maybe one more easy ride…..

| September 10, 2009 5:08 pm

Sheila and I rode from our hotel to the end of the Zion Canyon Loop (~8 easy miles). Then we hiked 1 mile to the place where the trail ends and you just start walking up the river towards the Narrows. Not your typical tapering ride. Sheila wore her Keen cycling sandals all the way. I opted to keep mine dry and used my old Tevas.

We then cruised back downhill to round out a 18 mile ride with 4-5 miles of hiking.  Serious thunderstorm rolling in at 6 pm.  Hoping the rain is all out of the area by Saturday!

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