September 3, 2015/ Maria Parker
Early on Monday morning I completed the 520 mile Hoodoo 500 in southern Utah. This challenging and incredibly beautiful race had been attempted by recumbent riders but never finished before this year when 3 Cruzbike racers finished it. The race has more than 30,000 feet of climbing and most of it is above 6,000 feet with two points on the race near 10,000 feet. I’ve never felt so good about an event for which I fell so far short of my goals. The Hoodoo was another reminder that in an ultra race, anything can happen – finishing is not a given. It was also a reminder of how crucial a good crew is to have any possibility of success.
I actually pedaled the bike, but my crew, Lucia Parker, Gary Christopher and Michael DeMarco get credit for my finish. Somewhere about halfway through the race I was ready to give up and was pedaling so slowly and feeling so sick that it just didn’t seem like there was any way I could finish. I pulled my bike over to the side of the road and told my crew, “I think I’m finished.” I had been riding without being able to take in any food or water for the last 12 hours. I was severely dehydrated, dizzy and my stomach cramped so horribly that I was in tears.
My crew chief, Lucia, gave me two bottles of water with dextrose and electrolytes and told me to just sit in the back of the Suburban and drink them down. I protested. Each sip made my stomach roil and cramp. After just a tiny bit I belched and gagged, but she encouraged me to keep at it. She said, this is our “hail mary pass.” We all knew if I couldn’t get something in me, there was no way I could complete the remaining 220 or more miles. So we all sat on the road, and I kept sipping with the crew encouraging me. I was able to keep those bottles down and got back on the bike feeling slightly better.
Over the next 20 hours my crew cajoled and encouraged me. When I vomited they rubbed my back and wiped my mouth, when I stopped to rest they encouraged me to get back rolling and brought me whatever they thought I could hold down. They talked me through the scary descents and yelled and clapped during the difficult ascents. They made sure the bike was safe and well-lit when necessary and that the brakes and derailleurs were working. They made me laugh and forwent meals and sleep for 44 hours to see me safely over the finish-line. This finish belongs as much to them as to me.
The morning of the race started just as planned. I took it easy during the first 100 miles and my nutrition was working. I started at the back of the solo riders and was slowly making my way up through the ranks.
The race started just as planned.
I was enjoying the climbing and getting more comfortable on the descents.
Bryce Canyon was beautiful and I loved riding along the quiet and beautiful route 12 into the sunset. Sometime after mile 200, we stopped to take a short break and change to night riding clothing and to put lights on the bike. I ate some reconstituted beef stroganoff which tasted delicious.
When I got back on the bike, I started doing some climbing and my stomach started to give me trouble. I finally stopped riding, threw-up the beef stroganoff and felt better for about 15 minutes, but soon my stomach was in a tight knot. It felt like it had shrivelled in on itself and shut the door tight. I was having trouble getting any food or liquids in. I stopped again and threw up again, ending in dry heaves. I asked my crew if I could just lie down on the side of the road and rest. They were worried about me. I had 9 miles of climbing to get to the 9,600 foot summit between Boulder and Torrey. They got me in the car for a short rest. The 9 miles to the top were some of the hardest I have ever done, and the following descent was not much easier. I was not drinking or eating anything, I couldn’t hold it down. Despite the presence of a full moon, the course seemed really dark and scary. I began praying in earnest for the person I was riding for, a young mother in Virginia, recently diagnosed with stage four brain cancer and was able to keep pedaling until another break in Torrey, and more vomiting.
Finally I got to the point where I didn’t think I could go on anymore, just past time station 4, about 300 miles into the race. That’s where my will and desire to finish the race ended and my crew, especially my crew chief, stepped in and made it possible for me to finish.
Getting back on the bike after the “Hail Mary Pass.”
After I was able to drink the two bottles, we continued. There was a relatively flat section and then the biggest climb, up to Cedar Breaks, still ahead, but we took frequent breaks and my crew just kept encouraging me to drink whatever I could. Eating was out of the question. I had one more episode of vomiting between Time station 5 at Panguitch and the top of Cedar Breaks, but overall the climb went well. I was short of breath and wheezing from the thin air, but reaching the summit, just at dusk was a huge success that I again owed to my wonderful crew.
Geared up for night riding and beginning the steep descent to Cedar City
The steep descent into Cedar City would have been more terrifying if I had been less tired, but I felt safe in the beams of the follow vehicle with my capable crew. The last 100 miles seemed to take forever and even the long descents were no longer fun. I again spent a lot of time praying for families impacted by brain cancer.
Finally we reached the top of Snow Canyon and I left my crew for the 14 mile solo section. Riding through the deserted streets of St. George was eerily beautiful. I had been having hallucinations for the last 100 miles, but the street lights of the city made me feel safe and comfortable.
Crossing a finish line is always wonderful. I felt as though I’d won the race even though I had finished more than 7 hours later than I had hoped. I hugged my crew and thanked them. I would not have finished without those particular three people.
My crew at the finish line. Left to right: Gary Christopher, Michael DeMarco and Lucia Parker
It is also unlikely that I would have finished without the many others supporting me quietly in their thoughts and prayers (especially my Mom and Dad, who don’t get it, but pray for me anyway.) My wonderful husband bathed me and put me to bed for a few hours before the awards ceremony.
We woke just a few hours later for the awards ceremony and breakfast banquet with lots to celebrate – three of three Cruzbike racers finished the Hoodoo 500, setting the bar for recumbents in one of the toughest climbing races in ultra cycling. I’m grateful to Deb and Brian of Planet Ultra for welcoming us to this great event and to my fellow Cruzbikers Lief Zimmerman and Ben Tomblin. I am so lucky to work, ride and race alongside some of the best people in the world.