In a year with a multitude of national and regional catastrophes, all that “Flamingo” wanted to do was get his tenth race in and go home.
Earlier this month — 508 dust- and smoke-strewn miles later, Reed Finfrock did just that.
The 74-year-old Sequim ultra marathon bike rider with the bird nickname joined about 90 other brave souls to take on the Silver State 508, a bike race that starts in Reno, Nev. The competition sees participants climb mountains and endure deserts. Founded in 1983, the race is recognized as “The Toughest 48 hours in Sport.”
Finfrock, a veteran of ultra marathon races, clocked in at 43 hours (43 hours, 37 minutes and 2 seconds, to be exact) for his tenth — and final, as he sees it — Silver State race.
“It was one of those situations nothing seemed to work out right; you just have to keep going,” said Finfrock, who wound up having to walk his bike at certain parts after his arms seems to tire beyond usefulness.
Finfrock had a bit more motivation this year, an Olympic Peninsula-based one, for his 10th Silver State: the Captain Joseph House Foundation.
For the Gold Star families
Founded by executive director Betsy Reed Schutz, the foundation is the first of its kind respite house in the nation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation created to lend support for Gold Star Families. The organization looks to create a home for families of military members who have died in combat.
When the program becomes operational, the house in Port Angeles will accommodate as many as three Gold Star families at a time for a maximum of 16 people per week. Families who have had immediate family members killed in combat since Sept. 11, 2001, are eligible.
Schultz’s is one of those families. Her son, Army Special Operations Capt. Joseph Schultz, 36, was killed May 29, 2011, in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device while on patrol. Two of his team, their Afghanistan interpreter and their canine, also were killed that day.
The house and the foundation are named for Capt. Schultz.
Schultz renovated the former bed and breakfast at 1108 Oak St. to the home, which is set to open when enough funding is established, and when coronavirus health guidelines allow for family respites.
Finfrock, who had donated some items to rise money to the foundation over the years, said he recalled seeing fellow race competitors with messages or signs on their jerseys promoting one fundraiser or another.
“I thought, ‘I can do that, too.’”
Finfrock comes from a military family: his father was a tail-gunner during World War II, while his father-in-law handled landing crafts and served at Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal, and his brother-in-law served the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
He began wearing stars and stripes gear at the start of the first Gulf War as a tribute to our troops, and to veterans of all wars, and has continues to wear the patriotic garb.
So the fundraising for Captain Joseph House seemed like a natural fit.
“I just thought it was a really wonderful thing to do; the sacrifice made to change her business, her B&B, into a (home) for Gold Star families, is an unreal sacrifice on her part.
“It was the most worthwhile local thing that I could think of that I would like to help.”
Those interested can still contribute in Finfrock’s fundraiser or the foundation in general (see box).
Finfrock said he rides a good amount on the Olympic Peninsula, motivated to get out into nature and help stay fit.
“A lot of my routes are pretty remote,” he said. “I get to see wildlife that changes every day.”
An ultramarathon bicyclist — to Finfrock, that generally means 200-plus miles — he often ties in rides in Death Valley, Calif., and mountain climbs in the Mammoth area in California to his vacations.
“Ride, eat, sleep, ride, eat, sleep: perfect,” Finfrock said.
But he only came to two wheels later in life. An athlete for much of his life, Finfrock said he started with the standard sports such as football, basketball and tennis, then really got into running and, eventually ultra marathons (anything past the standard 26.2-mile course).
But by the mid-1980s, when he hit his mid-40s, injuries caught up with Finfrock, and on physician’s advice he turned to another sport that allowed for long-distance routes.
“Bicycling was the obvious alternate,” he said.
The 100-mile “century” rides became 200-mile rides, and one day he found a 500-mile race had its start just a few minutes from his front door.
”That was a whole other world,” Finfrock recalled. “I stuck with it and learned. My first goal was to just finish one of those races.
“The stakes just kept going up and up and up.”
He went on to tackle some of the toughest races, including the Furnace Creek 508 (a Death Valley race since discontinued in lieu of the Silver State 508), Race Across Oregon, a half-dozen 24-hour races and, in 2000, the cross-continent Race Across America, of which he won his 50+ age group.
It was during one of the Furnace Creek races that a race director came up with a lighthearted change to race protocol: instead of numbers he was assigning racers “totems,” with animal names corresponding to the first letter of their last names replacing the digits.
“At first … I was (hoping for) falcon or ferret or something more vicious,” he recalled. “But I took it and ran with it.”
Finfrock said he figured he had one more Silver State 508 race in him, but something seemed to be thwarting that chance: events across the nation were being cancelled with the coronavirus outbreak, and in the days leading up to the race’s start on Sept. 17 smoke from wildfires were clogging the air and even shutting down some major highways.
Undeterred, Finfrock got to the starting line where, just the day before winds, blew the smoke away. Unfortunately, he said, the smoke stayed right in the riders’ path, so they wound up riding through it anyway. When it wasn’t smoke, riders were dealing with lightning strikes — some as close as 100 yards away, Finfrock said — plus heavy winds and at times a driving rain.
Finfrock was riding unsupported; meaning, he didn’t have assistance from a trailing vehicle to provide physical or mental relief during his 500-mile sojourn.
“Whatever the environment serves up you have to deal with with, (but) we all had with the same thing,” he said.
Finfrock wound up walking some of the hills after his exhausted triceps couldn’t keep him from collapsing over the handlebars.
“I’d remount, go for a ways, (then walk again); that was just maddening,” he said.
“I figured I’d never be able to come back and do this again. It’s a relief.”
Finfrock said he and his wife moved to the Sequim area about 7-and-a-half years ago after years with sweltering heat; his job as an insect ecologist meant the beneficial insects he raised had to be close to customers, and that typically kept his family in hot climates.
“I just told my wife — she didn’t like heat either — when we retire, we’re going someplace where it never gets hot.
“We found it.”