Thursday, September 10, 2009

5 guys, a minivan, and Francis

Mojave Desert, 2:00 AM, Oct 5 2008 Sunday: At 2:00 AM on this Sunday, Francis has now been pedaling on his bike for almost 20 hours now (save for a 1 hour nap), and has covered about 250 miles. In other words he’s only half-way there.

This is the 508 Furnace Creek Race, an annual ultra-distance bike race through the Mojave desert. The number “508” stands for the number of miles they will bike, straight.

They started out at 7:30 AM on Saturday , Oct. 4, from Valencia CA (near Magic Mountain), and headed for Death Valley in the Mojave desert. They will finish in the city of Twenty-Nine Palms.

Francis isn’t going to win this race. The top leaders will finish the race in a time of 30 hours (the record is 27), while Francis is TRYING to best his time of 43 hours set two years ago.

Like the 300 other entrants who have little hope of placing in the winner’s circle (except of course the elite entrants), Francis is in this to conquer his own personal Mt Everest. Each of them has his/her own mountain to vanquish.

Take for example the story of the pretty female cyclist pictured below. She has a name of course, but her team's name is "Aye-Aye" (a type of lemur, a rat-like creature, native to Madagascar). So during the race we would say , "There goes Aye-Aye."

The support crew in the van that was following Francis was so enamoured of her beauty. But little did they know (until after the race and they read articles about the various participants) about the physical hardships Team Aye-Aye had to overcome.

In her blog, she says she has epilepsy (an incurable disease that causes those who have the condition to suffer unpredictable and uncontrollable convulsions). According to her blog, she hasn't had an episode for perhaps 4 years now, thanks to some wonder drugs that keep the disease at bay. But she never knows when it will strike. (For more about her story, see Doubt-Kills-Dreams. )

That is her Mt. Everest. I guess you can say this race is her way of willing the disease into submission.

Early in the race she "dropped" Francis (in English, she was faster and stronger and raced ahead.), but later Francis caught up and steadily increased the gap on her.

The procedure that Francis established for his support crew, was to stop the van 1 mile ahead of Francis, and wait for him to pass, and wait 15 minutes after he passed, and then leapfrog him again, and repeat the process. That way, Francis was never more than 20 minutes from his support crew.

But because of Aye-Aye, Francis's support van waited and waited longer before continuing on, because they would wait for Aye-Aye. And then they would cheer her on. Only then would they get in the van and catch up to Francis.

Poor Francis had little clue what was going on in the back. "Why is the van taking so long? It's been 45 minutes already?"

(More about her story in a later posting.)

The 2009 edition of the 508 will take place soon (the first weekend of October). Now’s a good time to narrate LAST YEAR’s (October 2008) experience.

So here goes the story of Team Picachu, 2008 Edition.

Team Picachu

Flashback to the evening of Oct 5, 2AM early morning. It is 20 hours into the race. Ricky, who is driving the Honda minivan at the moment, hadn’t been feeling well all day, but it is his turn to drive, while the others catch up on sleep. The minivan is travelling at a steady 18 MPH on an asphalt road in the middle of the Mojave desert.

They are following their cyclist, Francis, who is 4 bike lengths in front of the van, and is illuminated by the van’s beam, while all around it is pitch dark . (To state the obvious, the desert is notable for its utter lack of street lighting.)

The music is turned off. The windows are rolled down to let in the breeze. The person seated in the front passenger seat is awake to make sure Ricky, the driver, does not doze off, lest he run over Francis.

Their team is named Picachu. The other teams have names like Aye-Aye, Bonobo ape, White Rabbit, Carabao, and Doberman, just to name a few. These whimsical names, which the race organizer calls totems, are in place of race numbers. It’s the organizer’s way of saying, don’t take yourself seriously, this is not the Tour de France.

Half the battle is having friends: In the minivan is a crew of 5 guys, buddies really, but of different backgrounds, and therefore the unlikeliest of friends.

There’s a bus mechanic (Ricky, a Filipino, who is close to retirement age, and dreams of biking endlessly everyday upon retirement), a postal worker (Emre, a Bulgarian with only one good eye), a lawyer (Allan, who is descended from a French Legionnaire, and who speaks Italian and French), an insurance investigator (Vince, a Hispanic, who logs 200,000 miles of driving a year in his job), and a business manager (the other Filipino, and the author of this blog).

If you tried to find 5 compatible guys for a crew, using say or e-harmony, on paper you probably wouldn’t match these 5 blokes.

But friends they are, bound by a common obsession for road biking, bound by the same humor and down-to-earth tastes, and bound finally by a common friend named Francis, the cyclist for whom they are the “support crew.”

Nothing fancy. This is not like being the crew for the multi-million dollar America’s Cup yacht race. This is not the Apollo 11 lunar crew. This is just friends supporting their friend in an amateur bike race.

The word “vicar” (a favorite word that this author learned when he was young) means someone who represents. In the eyes of these 5 friends, Francis is a champ, achieving a feat they only daydream about but could never accomplish themselves. They are living vicariously through Francis.

They’ve been cooped up in the minivan for several hours now. If they didn’t get along this would be a disaster by now. Francis cultivated and chose his crew well.

Corny as it sounds, doing this race requires not only extreme physical fitness, but also leadership, to be able to persuade crew members to give up their vacation and family time for this, and to issue instructions to them during the bike race.

Most teams have a crew of two (usually family members). A crew of 2 has to split duties for almost 2 days straight, driving, attending to the cyclist’s needs, with little time to sleep. A larger crew is better.

Now back to Ricky who is driving: At 2 AM , he is getting drowsy. The race organizer has strict rules for night-driving: The van has to have amber tail-lights on the roof, and must at all times be tailgating the cyclist (to protect the cyclist). And no high-beams.

For the cyclist, ideally the team car should be positioned directly behind, so that the road directly in front of the cyclist is illuminated. But Ricky isn't driving that way.

He is self-aware of his growing fatigue. So he does not position the van directly behind Francis, but instead off-set to the left and behind, and he stays further back than normal. That way, if he dozes off, we would drive PAST Francis instead of OVER him. The co-driver notices the situation. It is time to relieve Ricky of driving duties. He tells Ricky to drive up beside Francis. "Hey Francis, we gotta stop and switch drivers."

(TO BE CONTINUED) - (mandy g.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Scouting Ride for the August TDF PALMDALE to BIG PINES

Scouting Ride Aug 9 2009 (Photos by Juliet Agrezor)

SUMMARY: In the grand tradition of the Tour de Francis, this route is challenging! Total elevation gain is 6,400 feet in the first 41 miles. (The return trip back to the starting line is slightly different to make it mostly a downhill trip). Total distance is only 80 miles. It’s scenic and mostly free of cars and motorcycles.

Putting on makeup and shoes at the starting line. (Francis and Ricky)

Desert plants dominate the scenery at the start of the ride.

Cactus & Tumbleweed (the vegetation, not the cyclists) at 106th Street. (Jess & Mandy)

Gradually the scenery is replaced by pine trees and ski trails. (Manny & Jess)

The first 10 miles are easy. Enjoy it. It gets "funner" after that.

Heading toward destiny (Gerald in front; Ricky and Jess follow)

Peloton together for the last time at Fort Tejon Road. When the climbing starts, the group will break up. (Manny, Jess, Mandy, Alan, Gerald, Ricky)

At MILE # 17 you will start the 3-mile climb toward DEVIL’S PUNCHBOWL, an ascent of 1000 feet, with a continuous 9% pitch in the last 2 miles. It's a popular rock-climbing spot, elevation 4700 feet. There’s a porto-potty at the summit, so anyone who didn't get their "morning business" done yet, can do it here.

Devil’s Punchbowl (Alan, Mandy, Jess, Ricky, Gerald, Manny)

While coasting downhill on Valyermo road at MILE MARKER # 25 or so, you will cross the SAN ANDREAS FAULT earthquake line. If you are willing to stop along this downhill to have your photo taken, it’s worth it.

"Don't blame me, not my fault" says Francis

Then you will start climbing BIG PINES HWY, a 15 mile climb leading to the junction of Angeles Crest Hwy where the elevation is 6,700 feet;

Big Pine Hwy with view of Palmdale below (Alan suffering)

Much needed Rest stop along Big Pines Hwy

The final hill leading to the corner or Angeles Crest Hwy features 12% gradient.

The last mile to the lunch stop, a SKI-JUMP parking lot, features gradients of 6% - 12%. The final elevation is 7100 feet.

Last mile is always hard

You will climb to a height of 7,100 feet at the SKI JUMP parking lot on Mile # 41.

The scouting ride was made possible by the following contributions: Juliet and Francis for SAG'ing and donating provisions. Ricky for lending his truck (while he rode on his bike). Gerald (a Palmdale resident) for collaborating with Francis on planning the route. Thanks to the gullible cyclists who agreed to scout the route: Gerald, Allan, Manny, Jess, Ricky, and Mandy. Oh, and you can blame Manny for letting Francis know, at the last moment, about the existence of a SKI JUMP. The mad scientist Francis rubbed his hands with glee as that hill became a last-minute addition to the route.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

The first 20 Miles: 5000 feet elevation

It's fun to read the newspaper after your favorite sports team (let's say, the Los Angeles Lakers) has won a game, because it's human nature to want to reminisce accomplishments.

The impulse to replay the event is especially strong if the event were particularly difficult (like this Stage 2 of Tour de Francis 2008), and you actually rode on the course (as opposed to merely watching a Lakers game on TV).

So to all of you who were there, here's something to reminisce, the first 20 miles.

The first 20 miles is on Frazier Mountain Park Road (FMPR). By the time you reach Apache Saddle Station, the marker at Mile 20 (the first rest stop), you would have gained 5_000 feet of elevation.

No one needs to tell you now what tremendous energy you expended for that kind of effort. Your legs and lungs were telling you that. It's like TWICE climbing "GMR" (Glendora Mountain Road), one our "training hills". In round numbers it's a 10-mile climb with 2_500 feet of gained elevation at 5% grade. (To readers on the METRIC system, such as readers in the Philippines, it's 16 Kilometers long, 770 Meters gained elevation. I wonder how it compares to infamous climbs in the Philippines, like KENNON ROAD in Baguio, TAGAYTAY in Batangas, or BUGARIN in Antipolo.). The difference is that GMR has a constant 5% gradient, whereas FMPR has a mix of gentle slopes and steep slopes in the end. It starts with a gentle 3% slope, then increases to 7%, then in the final stretch it ratchets to 9% (with some sections at 14%). Aray.

At 6:30 AM riders and staffers started to get ready at the parking lot of the Best Rest Inn (Frazier Park, CA).

At 7:45 AM the riders (numbering about 50) gathered for a group photo.

They started rolling on Frazier Mountain Park Road (video here). Here they are at Mile 0. It's quite a beautiful sight to see a huge peloton still tightly packed, in colorful attire.

The first 12 miles consist of 3% to 5% gradient. The morning air was just crisp, clear. In other words, gorgeous.
Right away the peloton gets splintered. Here's a video at Mile 5 showing the breadth of the field, from last to first. About 2 - 3 miles of separation.

Mile 12 is an important marker, because the road splits into 2. Volunteers were set up there to steer cyclists the correct way (veer right, into Mil Potrero Hwy). If you go the wrong way (left to Mt Pinos Rd), it will be a miserable experience.
First to arrive (10:15AM) were the same familiar pair famous already to the TDF: Deo Asuncion (Adobo) and Raffy (MMCC). They did it in 2 hrs 30 mins. The last rider to arrive did so 55 minutes later.

The forest air was cool (65F), the trees were tall. The elevation at this location is over 6,000 feet. It was a great place to have the rest stop.

Volunteers and riders alike enjoyed the camaraderie and scenery. But the day is only beginning. There's 80 more miles to go. Over 3,500 feet of elevation still to conquer. The dreaded "heartbreak" is still to come.

But in the meantime, among the first-timers on this particular course, there's plenty of smiles and laughs to go around. They are still not sure of what's in store up ahead.

Now it was time to continue the course. Check back later.
Here they come, resuming the ride. 20 done (miles, that is). 80 to go.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Roster: TDF Stage 2 (5/31/08 Frazier Park)

Here's the Roster. There are some "blanks" because some of the riders did not get to sign the roster sheet at the start ( but they are in the photos. I see bib numbers that are not in the roster). I'm hoping I can complete the roster with the help of readers.

2 mistakes I hope to avoid next time: We lacked a sign-in sheet at the finish line (which would have been neat so we could get riders' times and finish order) because in the chaos I failed to hand off the sheets and clipboards to the lead SAG that went to the finish line. The other mistake was for the freshly-charged batteries on my 2 pocket cameras to RUN OUT OF STEAM on heartbreak hill. So I don't have everyone's photos on that signature hill. Sorry folks. The look on your faces would be priceless.

Many clubs were represented: MMCC, SFVBC, RiverVelo, Sta Clarita, SoCalBikeForums, and of course AdoboVelo. There were 53 riders and 18 volunteers. It takes a village to pull off this thing. Francis and volunteers donated 60 gallons of water (we purposely planned on one gallon per person, whether rider or staffer), 10 large bags of ice, 5 dozen sodas. Francis prepared 5 loaves worth of sandwiches, and lots of crackers, fig Newtons, etc. Rosalie lent her truck. Volunteers donated their time and gasoline (can you say $4.25, ouch). Egay and family drove in at 2:00PM to deliver the hot food for the finish line.

We missed the presence of some favorite riders: the comedians Dennis Evangelista, Jonas "Jojo Mayabang" & Abe "Kumander Agimat". Then of course our "role models " Mang El, Efren, Ramon, and Roy "Tisoy Viznok" Adeva. Don't forget the steady Kuya Abe. The reliable Albert and Dong. Climber Jesse A (and his wife Juliet who usually SAGs w/a videocam). And so on. We hope to see you next time. Hibernation is over. It's summer time.

One of our fave riders from another club, who gave us a thrilling show in December TDF, Keith Brodsky (SFVBC), wearing a red Barloworld kit this time, was seen pacing riders up heartbreak hill (he would pace a rider up, then go down and repeat with another rider). What a talented rider. (Mang El would be doing that too if he could come, but he was busy at work.)

Three riders did only part of the route. Cheers for their efforts: Jun Grape (the dad of "Pid" Grape) fell behind at the start, so Ricky convinced him to SAG the ride instead; He got in the truck at mile 12. Mike O'Connell had back problems and wisely took a lift at lunch. Lito (Mr Hibernation) Aralar, one of our strongest climbers, had been in hibernation for so long; He was very valiant on this ride: At mile 60, before the lunch stop, he wanted to ride the car; I said lunch is just around the corner, and just right then Rosalie's group rolled by, and Lito followed their wheel and did get to the lunch stop on his own. He took a ride at lunch. (Photo: Lito Aralar, head hanging, and on the verge of abandoning at Mile 60, instead decided to hang onto Louie Rivera's wheel in these rollers 4 miles before the lunch stop. Rosalie Kneebone was pacing in front.)

Tour de Francis Roster, May 31, 2008,
Frazier Park, California
100 miles, 8_500 feet of climbing
Organized by: Francis Marlon Ignacio (Tour Director) and AdoboVelo

# Last Name First Name Age Club Bib #
1 Nepumoceno Mike 43 MMCC 92
2 Guerrero Jerry 46 MMCC 99
3 Ignacio Reggie 47 MMCC 106
4 Daniel Al 37 MMCC 127
5 Tacloban "Agent Al" 46 MMCC 128
6 Soriano Raffy 36 MMCC 129
7 Phetsany Scott
8 De Leon Bong 47 River Velo 154
9 Robles Jose 45 River Velo 155
10 Brodsky Keith 44 SFVBC 15
11 Thomson Jim 51 SFVBC 31
12 Heinolz Steve 57 SFVBC 80
13 Stramat Cathy 56 SFVBC 89
14 Hallam John 54 SFVBC 90
15 Schuler Bill 60 SFVBC 102
16 Shprung Shai 41 SFVBC 103
18 O'Connel Mike 54 SoCal Bike Forum 133
19 Conrad John 38 SoCal Bike Forum 152
20 Rafferty M.E. 38 SoCal Bike Forum 153
21 Fusezi Edina 31 SoCal Bike Forum 151
22 Doplito Pete 41 SoCal Bike Forum 156
23 Shaker Andy 50
SoCal Bike Forum 125
24 x x
SoCal Bike Forum
25 x x
SoCal Bike Forum
26 x x
SoCal Bike Forum
27 Berdin Glen 38 Sta Clarita Velo 107
28 x Desi

29 Xavier Patrick 41
30 Barrera Thomas 46
31 Campued Victor 49
32 Baden Shawn 42
33 x x

34 Abad Rey 32 AdoboVelo 93
35 Aligue William 38
AdoboVelo 160
36 Amit Manny 49 AdoboVelo 149
37 Aragon Ben 39 AdoboVelo 124
38 Aralar Lito 45 AdoboVelo 131
39 Asuncion Deo 59 AdoboVelo 94
40 Claudio Tim 45 AdoboVelo 146
41 Dones Richard 34 AdoboVelo 148
42 Grape Jun 59 AdoboVelo 13
43 Grape Cupid 34 AdoboVelo 26
44 Ibasco Henry 40 AdoboVelo 159
45 Kneebone Rosalie 38 AdoboVelo 122
46 Morente Ed 44 AdoboVelo 105
47 Navalta Louie 53 AdoboVelo 123
48 Primavera Pete 47 AdoboVelo 126
49 Roldan Ryan 35 Adobovelo
50 Rivera Louie 55 AdoboVelo 100
51 Santamaria Jesse 48 AdoboVelo 147

53 Usi Jun 54 AdoboVelo 104
54 Santiago Manny
55 Messara Allan
AdoboVelo SAG
56 Genato Mandy
AdoboVelo SAG
57 Herrera Ricky
AdoboVelo SAG
58 Dakila Victor
AdoboVelo SAG
59 Rivera Mrs Louie
AdoboVelo SAG
60 Usi Mrs Jun
AdoboVelo SAG
61 Usi Daughter
AdoboVelo SAG
AdoboVelo SAG
63 Pacheco
AdoboVelo SAG
64 Udvarde Imre
AdoboVelo SAG
65 Uyan Egay
AdoboVelo SAG
66 Uyan

AdoboVelo SAG
67 Uyan

AdoboVelo SAG
68 Uyan

AdoboVelo SAG
69 Ignacio Daughter
AdoboVelo SAG
70 Ignacio MJ
AdoboVelo SAG
71 Ignacio Francis
AdoboVelo Tour DS