Glenn Hughes and Ron Whitmill completed the Furnace Creek 508, an ultra-distance bicycle race through Southern California’s Mojave Desert and Death Valley, Oct. 6-8.
The 508-mile, non-stop event is revered the world over for its epic mountain climbs, stark desert scenery, desolate roads and reputation as one of the toughest and most gratifying endurance challenges. Competing in the two-man team division, Hughes and Whitmill covered the course, which includes 10 mountain passes with 37,000 feet of climbing, in just under 40 hours.
The race, known as the “toughest 48 hours in sports,” is a world-class event attracting competitors from 10 countries and 19 states. Solo riders must cover the 508 miles in less than 48 hours and teams in less than 46 hours. Each rider on a two-man team is assigned four stages to ride with equal amounts of climbing. Competitors must travel through the night followed directly by their support vehicle for safety reasons.
For Hughes and Whitmill, the ride had a much deeper meaning.
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Using the event as personal inspiration and an incentive for others to donate to two charity foundations, they raised more than $11,000 for disabled athletes and wounded war veterans so they could have the training and equipment to compete in athletic competitions and challenges.
“Being able to bring some visibility and financial contributions to the Challenged Athletes Foundation and the Disabled Sports USA–Far West groups was a great outcome of this event,” Hughes said. “We wish to thank all of our sponsors and individual contributors. A lot of people really came through with support. It will make a huge difference to some athletes.”
Meeting the time cut-off of 46 hours was the primary goal for the pair, with 40 hours being their stretch goal.
The most challenging section for Whitmill was the 99-mile second stage, which began at 7:30 p.m. He covered it entirely in the dark, climbing 7,500 feet up Townes Pass and finishing in Death Valley at 2:30 a.m. Hughes took over and did 7,000 feet of climbing in just 75 miles through Death Valley, ending the stage at 8:30 a.m. in Shoshone.
The support crew that followed them, sending food and liquids out the car window for nourishment, was essential, Whitmill said.
“We somehow got our wives (Jan Hughes and Barb Whitmill) to volunteer to be our support crew,” he said. “They not only kept us on task and fully fed and hydrated, but they also were our biggest fans. They provided incredible support to us that was critical to our finishing in time.”
The race really begins around mile 300, Hughes said, adding that the roads are long, straight, and often into a headwind. There were times when the riders faced stretches of 10 to 20 miles of straight road that was slightly up hill and generally into a stiff headwind.
“You are so tired at this point that it can really break you down mentally,” Hughes said. “Negotiating even small inclines that stretch into what seems infinity is exhausting and it slows just about every racer down. It is a matter of just getting through it.”
Both riders agreed that the most fun part of the competition was riding at night through the desert, that it was beautiful and surreal to be riding at night with no city lights through a relatively wild environment. They saw scorpions, bats, foxes and coyotes along the way.
Getting to the finish line in this prestigious event was what Hughes and Whitmill trained for over the last 10 months. At just before 1:30 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 8, Hughes crossed the finish line in Twenty Nine Palms.
Hughes and Whitmill received a medal and jersey for completing the event, and the memory to have participated in something for a very special cause.