Diary of a Mad Support Crew
Early on a recent Saturday morning, 68 bicyclists left Valencia for Twentynine Palms on a nonstop, 508-mile race that takes as long as 48 hours and goes up 35,000 feet. The “Furnace Creek 508,” a qualifying race for July’s “Race Across America,” is a challenge even for ultramarathon cyclists and requires riders to have a support crew to feed them 10,000 calories daily and a quart of liquid hourly. I was one of three crew members for Bernie Comeau, a 35-year-old college professor competing in the race for his fourth time. This is my diary.
Friday, 5 p.m., Long Beach. In our rented Pontiac minivan, we pack 48 cans of Ensure Plus, vanilla and chocolate flavors; three 64-ounce bottles of Mountain Dew; four 64-ounce bottles of Lemon-Lime Gatorade; one large vegetarian Domino’s pizza; six Burger King “Big King” fish sandwiches; four Hostess Apple Pies; 24 cans of Lipton Brisk Iced Tea; three cases of water; one Bianchi and one Ciocc bicycle; four Vittoria Nuovo tires; six Clement tires; 4,000 squares of Scott toilet paper; and six jerseys and three pairs of bike shorts.
Saturday, 7 a.m., Valencia. Race begins. 7:52 a.m., Angeles National Forest. Bernie drops his first water bottle in the dirt for us to pick up. 8:43 a.m. Elevation 3,330 feet. The first bike exchange takes 33 seconds. 10:37 a.m. My lungs hurt (must be the dry air) after I run uphill and ahead to alert Bernie to an upcoming turn on gravel. 11:47 a.m., California City. Bernie is tied for eighth. I am thankful for the Chamber of Commerce’s flush toilet. 11:55 a.m. First crew fight: Who backwashed in the water bottle? 12:55 p.m. We pop in “Disco Classics”; hand off some chocolate Ensure. 1:17 p.m. Second crew fight: Who put the cheese package face-down in the ice-filled cooler? 1:23 p.m. Bernie’s behind on his water intake. 1:44 p.m., Randsburg. At 95.15 miles, Bernie asks for a slice of pizza. 1:45 p.m. Reconsiders pizza; wants a fish sandwich. 2:01 p.m. Wants a Tums. 2:54 p.m. A bug stings me. 4 p.m., Trona. We fill the gas tank. 4:31 p.m. Bernie needs a bandage and hockey tape for an ankle blister. 5:08 p.m. We yell to Bernie that he needs to eat; he has an upset stomach and asks for a stick of gum. 5:43 p.m. The sun disappears. We blare U2’s “The Joshua Tree.” 8:05 p.m., Towne Pass. Bernie stops from dehydration. We give him Mountain Dew and a No Doz. 8:50 p.m. Elevation 4,965 feet. We change Bernie into warm clothes. 11:10 p.m., Furnace Creek. We give Bernie an Ensure. He throws up. After some Listerine, we try iced tea. 11:44 p.m., Badwater. At 269 miles, Bernie stops. The iced tea doesn’t stay down. 11:50 p.m. We try bread.
Sunday, 12 a.m. Try water. 12:01 a.m. Bernie throws up. 12:20 a.m. I give Bernie a back rub. 12:27 a.m. Bernie lies down. His eyes aren’t focusing. 12:47 a.m. We wake Bernie up. He asks for another 40 minutes. 12:55 a.m. We walk down the road to keep warm. Periodically, we see oncoming headlights, and music pierces the silence as we cheer racers who go by. 1:40 a.m. We wake Bernie. He’s out of it and not thirsty. When I ask which bike shorts he would like to change into, he says, “I think my street shorts would be more comfortable.” I take this to mean the race is over. We head home. 5:36 a.m., Baker. Bernie is asleep. The rest of us chow down on hot cakes at Bun Boy. 9:15 a.m., Long Beach. In our driveway, Bernie eats a fish sandwich.
We later learn that 19 men, three women and two tandem teams finished the race; the winner, Dr. Dan McGehee, ended up in the Joshua Tree hospital with pneumonia.