Sunday, October 27, 2013

Death Valley Fall Double Century

You're going to go where, and do what ??

Uphill from Furnace Creek at Elevation 0

Yeah, something like that, is the response when I have told people about these great bike rides that are held in Death Valley, CA.  The events are put on by the same group, Chris Kostman of Adventure Corps, that does the Badwater UltraMarathon.   So needing a challenge earlier this year, I signed up for the Spring DV Double Century.   I didn't do so great on that one, got about 130 miles into it, failed to feed/water myself right and had the longest 3 miles of my life getting back to Badwater where I SAG'ed out.  I knew I needed to go back and "redeem" myself, so I got Coach Jen at Desert Endurance to help me with a training plan, and started putting in some serious ride time for the last three months to get ready for the Fall Death Valley Double Century.

FC is 178 feet below Sea Level    The ride starts and ends here.

Fast forward to Friday evening before the ride on Saturday morning, and my stomach is upset.  Not sick, but not right either.   Couldn't figure out what the problem was, and knew I needed to eat to survive trying to ride 196 miles on Saturday.    Had a smallish supper and killed a bit of time sitting around the gas fire pit in front of the Furnace Creek resort with some of the other cyclists who were doing the ride the next morning.  Most of them seemed to be doing the 108 mile ride ( maybe they know something ? )

Up and back to the buffet for some breakfast at 6 am when it opened.  Nibbled on a bit of french toast, some eggs, some bacon.  Usually I am a serious breakfast person and would go back for seconds, but I just pushed most of this around on my plate.  Now I am worried, I may not have enough calories on board to even get to the first CP at Stovepipe Wells, about 30 miles downroad !   Back to the room, drank a chocolate milk, got my stuff on, and rode the bike up to the starting line.  Watched the fast people leave at 7:00 and it didn't bother me at all, to wait until 7:20 for my start and let a couple of more eager people go at 7:10.

Rolling towards Stovepipe Wells we had a nice long pace line behind a couple of tandems.  But we just weren't going that fast, and my legs started working and the stomach issue evaporated, so I moved up front and tried to lead about 12 people and the two tandems.    I didn't think I was going that hard and could see shadows of at least a couple of bikes behind me, but when I looked around, it was me and two other guys, we had dropped the tandems.  ( They were the slowest of the tandems it turned out ! )

I rode with the Adobe Velo team into Stovepipe.  They're a big Southern California Filipino-American cycling club, just a nice bunch of folks who show up at the Adventure Corps and other California rides.  We moved along pretty good, and I got a good short SAG including bathroom stop at SW, and then headed for Mud Canyon and Scotty's Castle.  I would see the Adobe Velo guys all day long.

The climb to Scotty's is about a 3 % grade, less than Mt Lemmon and just goes on and on.   On the right/east are these huge alluvial fans from the mountains that almost balance the sinking of the entire floor of the valley due to crustal thinning.  I climbed strongly, shared some pacing with two or three other fellows until it got steeper and was passing a lot of century riders.  It was getting warm, we had a water stop about halfway up the climb that had lots of ice to ice your water bottles with ( SWEET ), and after a while I was at Scotty's Castle.

Scotty's was the turnaround for the century riders, and I found a Coke and some chips, and re-iced my water bottles, got a GU, and started for Nevada.  More climbing through Grapevine Canyon on a quiet road until we got to Nevada.  Then we exited the mountains and were on a large plain ( the Bonnie Claire flat ) that has just a tint of downhill going east towards US 95, our turnaround point.   The road surface was a little rough and we had a bit of an east wind.   A few miles into Nevada, we see the first of the early and fast riders who have already been to US95 and are now on their way back.
US 95 checkpoint with an old railroad building in the background - pretty flat out there !

At US95 we were 94 miles into this thing and now get to go back to Scotty's.  And guess what, now we have a westerly wind, so it was still mostly in front of us !   It was so nice to get back to the canyon and catch a 5 mile downhill from the Nevada state line to Scotty's and then to get there and see green grass.   The shadows are getting pretty long for us now, and we pick up our lights and get ready for night riding and then after a bite or two of a Subway, a juice box and a couple of V8's, it's time to head to Ubehebe Crater.

There were a couple of short steep sections getting to Ubehebe, but the crater is pretty awesome.  It was late in the day and the sun is setting over the Panamints and the shadows are contrasting with the black volcanic soil.  Could have spent a lot of time just looking around but it was time to roll.   We finally got away from the crater and back to the Grapevine Ranger Station and now were in for a nice treat of having about a 20 mile downhill.

Some wind and sun, in front of Ubehebe Crater

Long deep shadows at Ubehebe Crater

There are no lights in most of Death Valley.  Period.  None.  We were on a nicely surfaced road, going downhill, tired, just a slight wind and watching the darkness set in.  It was magnificent.  The stars started coming out and we are still riding and as it got darker and pitch black we could see the lights of other cyclists way out in the distance over the hills that we had climbed up and over that morning ( those alluvial fans ).   Over my shoulder I could see the Milky Way and zillions of stars.  It was spectacular.

Finally back to Mud Canyon.    They had Cokes and hot "cup-a-soup" ready to go.   I worked on a chicken noodle soup drinking all of the broth, the Coke and a juice box.   Started feeling human again and now it was time for HellsGate.   The first three miles seemed to go by pretty quickly ( probably at 4 mph now, but it's dark and I can't see my Garmin and I'am not passing anyone and those guys aren't passing me ... it's just a big long chain of flashing bike lights every 100 or 200 yards off into the darkness ).  I catch a glimpse of a sign that says 5 miles.   That means we only have 1.8 miles to go in this climb.   Yeah, "I think I can, I think I can".  And soon, the bike lights stop and we are at HellsGate.  I take on another Coke and am ready for the last 21 miles back to Furnace Creek.    Stopped once to put my wind jacket on, a quick light adjustment and am off and I pedaled pretty strongly for a tired old guy and got back to FC at about 10:31.

So that was roughly 15 hours and 10 minutes to go 196 miles and climb about 9300 feet with some reasonable wind and low 90 temperatures.  Not as quick as I had hoped, but considering how crappy my stomach was on Friday night and Saturday morning, I am super, super happy.

Distance and Total Ascent 

So my next thing ?     I plan to finish up this season's Team-in-Training and get El Tour de Tucson behind us and then start working to have some good lap times for  24 Hours in the Old Pueblo in Feburary, and to do the 50 mile ride at the Whiskey Off-Road in Prescott.    And on June 13, I plan to line up at Antelope Wells, NM for the Grand Depart of Tour Divide.    Hopefully to get to Banff, Alberta in 26 or 27 days on back roads on my mountain bike !

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Cochise Classic

I have been working hard on my training for the Death Valley Double Century.  I have never ridden anything past 130 miles at a time on my bike, and that was last March when I tried Death Valley and got myself a DNF.   So am training hard to make it happen this time.   We have a local event called the Cochise County Cycling Classic ( CCCC ), held in Cochise County, AZ, and Coach Jen at Desert Endurance thought I should do this, so got all signed up and ready to go.

The ride starts in Douglas, goes to Bisbee, then Tombstone, then Benson, up I-10 to Dragoon, then Elfrida and McNeil and back to Douglas, for about 164 miles, and 4600 feet of climbing.  

You have to have your own SAG support and John Mertes agreed to help me out, so the two of us headed to Douglas on Friday, got my signs for the car and we were ready to go.

John, my Crew !

Stayed at the Gadsen Hotel, build in about 1907 or so, old fashioned rooms, big sweeping marble staircase, real gold leaf on the columns, beautiful stained glass, all in the middle of sleepy little Douglas. And Pancho Villa rode his horse on the staircase.

Villa's horse did go up the stairs of the Gadsen

Out the door at 5:30 for a race start at 6:20 right after sunup.   A chilly and very fast start, working much harder than I should have, had to dial it back a bit.   The 92 mile lead group started 10 minutes later and they are really fast, passed me out on AZ 80 near Cochise College.  I was stuck on the wrong side of the rumble strips when they passed.  Once they got by, I tried to get over and onto their tail, but they were smoking it, and I dropped off the end.  Then connected with a couple of other very small groups, but everyone was broken up by the time we started climbing into Bisbee and that was the last of group riding.

Fast climb up Mule Mountain in Bisbee, and at the top, John tells me I am in the middle of the 20 some riders doing the 165.   Then a very fast descent and another climb to Tombstone.   Pretty cool to ride past Boot Hill with "The Magnificent Seven" playing on your ipod.   Waved through the Border Patrol checkpoint, and pretty soon am in Benson with John telling me I am about 11 or 12 out of 23...  Cool !

Now I get to ride with the trucks on I-10, dodging the tire litter and uphill to Texas Canyon, to Dragoon.   I passed a little ranch near Dragoon with a sign that said "Rattlesnake Ranch - All Snakes Protected".   Should have gotten a picture, but was concentrating on where the cattle guards were.   At this point I am showing about 100 miles on my Garmin, and there are a lot of miles left.  Make a right onto AZ 191 headed south, with a sign showing Douglas 57 miles.  Yeah, that's what I signed up for, but really I have to do another 57 miles !

Lots of wind out there.  The first part of the ride was mostly through hills with lots of limestone outcroppings to look at.   This next part is a big flat piece of farmland, looking a little bit like South Dakota or similar, except for the mountains on either side of the valley.   The wind picked up, slowed me down to 11 or so for a while, finally turned into a west crosswind, and John is SAG'ing all the way down the road for me with fresh cold water, and treats from my cooler.   I would gulp down a San Pelligrino, eat a Snickers bar and get back on down the road.

Finally it is right at sundown, and I can see the fairgrounds buildings in the distance.   Mount up a light on my handlebars and ride in the last 5 miles.   I think my time is about 11:10 give or take a couple of minutes and I had hoped for less than 12 hours, so I am happy and think I placed 9th out of about 20 ??


Rolling up to the Finish at CCCC

Next stop Death Valley.  Just have to see if we get to ride in DV National Park, or if we are forced to ride over in the Amaragosa Valley because of the government shutdown.   Either way, it will be quite a challenge, a longer distance and more climbing.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Colorado Rocky Mountain Bike Tour ( CRMBT )

"Something hidden.  Go and find it.  Go and look behind the Ranges -- Something lost behind the Ranges.  Lost and waiting for you.  Go !"

CRMBT is a week long ride in Colorado, billed as "smaller" and "harder" than some of the other rides there.  I don't know if all of that is true, but it was a great ride, and I had a great time.   I heard about the ride through Larissa from BR2012 and she heard about it from one of her cycle club students ( Louis ).  She mentioned it to the BR group, and Gene from BR2012 signed on as bike mechanic and support with Blue Thunder.  Then I signed on, and Todd from BR2012 signed on, and we were off and running.  

I started thinking seriously about all of the climbing that I would have to do, and signed up with Jennifer Lynn at Desert Endurance to give me a training plan that included a nice mix of hard workouts and rest days.  It worked well, as I ended up doing about 492 miles and 36000 feet of climbing during the week.

So, after a month of training, with some 700 miles of riding, I,  Todd and Gene were in Loveland, CO eating pizza and ready to roll out on a cross Colorado adventure the next morning.

We stayed at schools every night.  I chose the indoor camping option and Todd went with his tent.  CRMBT had an arrangement with a chef who went along with the ride supported by his wife and son. They prepared some delicious meals for us all week, so we were well fed !

CRMBT 2013 Route

Day 1  Loveland to Estes Park

Up at 5:30 am or so, when the lights in the gym turn on.  Breakfast followed by a safety briefing by Peter Duffy, the ride organizer, and off we go.  Gene in Blue Thunder and Todd and I and about 200 other riders on our bikes.  We pack our gear and put it on a truck that carts it to the next site for us.  Then we leave whenever we want, being forewarned that the weather can tank close to noon, so it's a great idea to get'er done and get in early.  Some folks who camped outside got wet when the sprinklers came on overnight ( that also happened to us on the Big Ride ! )

We left Loveland headed north, then made a turn to the mountains and rode past Horsetooth Reservoir, and then alongside the Big Thompson River and through a canyon.  Towards the end we had a section of about 12% grade that tested everyone, and then topped out with a beautiful overlook of the mountains around Estes Park.   A fast downhill into Estes Park, with lunch outside an older school area and a very cold shower.  That afternoon Todd and I rode into town for a milk shake and came back by going over a little mountain ( probably not the best idea ! ).

Todd getting up the climb !
Lots of reservoirs

Big Thompson Canyon

Overlook above Estes Park

Day 2 Estes Park to Golden

Todd and I rolled out early and we headed to Golden.  The ride went pretty quickly, we were about the third or fourth people into the first SAG stop, and did pretty good.   Around Nederland, a faster rider passed us and I speeded up and was following him.   I went past one of the volunteers waving an orange flag.  The guy ahead says something like "what was that about" and I say "I think he's telling us to slow down for the curve ahead"....  About 3 miles later consisting of an uphill and a downhill, I figure out that no one is following us.  The faster guy goes way on ahead and I turn around and head back and find the road that the flag guy was actually telling us to take.  About 6 Bonus Miles added to what was going to be a 70 mile day.  I got into Golden after paying better attention to the cue sheets, and we settled into another gym.

Lots of tents.  The Sherpa Outfitters setup the tents that look like a National Guard outpost.

Day 3 Golden to Fraser

This was promised to be the hard day.  We would do Lookout Mountain ( above Golden ), then Squaw Pass, and then Berthoud Pass.  Mt Evans was completely optional.  The day was going to be some 83 miles and 9000 feet of climbing without Evans, and ridiculous with it.  Todd, Mike from Cedar Rapids, and I rolled out before sunrise and got up Lookout Mountain pretty quickly.
Climbing Lookout Mountain above Golden 
 We spotted a doe and two fawns at Buffalo Bill's gravesite park which is up on Lookout Mountain.  After that we had a short ride on I-70 and got to the Evergreen Parkway, then started up Squaw Pass.

Deer near Buffalo Bill's Grave
 We had great SAG support from a bunch of volunteers.
Volunteers setting up the SAG stop.
 I think Squaw Pass is about 10,900 or so.  Some wonderful views of the mountains, my iPhone just didn't do it justice.
View from Squaw Pass ( the 2nd climb )
 After descending Squaw Pass, we get to Echo Lake.  The official ride did not go up Evans, but I started it.  Some local folks ask "where are you from ?" and when I replied "Tucson", they warned about altitude sickness and getting dizzy and such.   I felt pretty confident having trained and done Pikes Peak a couple of years ago, and the sky looked clear enough to get up and down without getting drowned, so up I went.   The climb was not too hard in terms of grade, but the lack of oxygen does make a difference.  I think I got up in 2 hrs 40 minutes including stopping to take a few pictures, and resting a couple of time.
Goliath Trailhead on Mt Evans ( above treeline )

Beautiful ( no rain clouds yet ! )

A nice dropoff to this lake

A little bit of snow and the road going back down the mountain

 The rainclouds are getting darker now.   On the way down I saw Louis and Charlie heading up.  They would turn out to make the summit and get soaked and chilled pretty strongly on the way down.

You can see forever
 So, having made it up Evans, I descended into Idaho Springs, and then on to Empire.  I was starving and got a grilled ham & cheese, a chocolate shake and iced tea at a Dairy King.  It was just about the most delicious thing I have even eaten.   I would not have made it up Berthoud Pass without it, as I had a lot of wind in my face all the way along US40 getting to the pass.
Looking down at Highway 40 on Berthoud Pass
Well, I made it up the pass to the top.  It took a while, and was about 6 pm, so after 100+ miles and 13400 feet of climbing, close to 12 hours,  and with darkness coming and having forgotten my long gloves, I chose a SAG ride down the mountain to Fraser.  I felt really guilty about not doing Every Last Mile, but I did do Evans.   I think about 8 or 9 of us did Evans, and I later heard that only one guy did the whole set of Lookout, Squaw Pass, Berthoud and Evans, and he was a lot younger than me !

Day 4 Fraser to Steamboat Springs

Well, Day 3 took a lot of wind out of me, and I was looking forward to having the next day off.  When we left Fraser, it was really cold, and I was glad to have brought my Woolistic baselayer and face cover, long gloves, knee warmers and the Showers Pass jacket.  It's August after all !
Out of the mountains
 We rolled out of the mountains into more of a high plains area and we went alongside the Colorado River for a while.
Colorado River watershed
We climbed through the Muddy Ears pass, and then Rabbit Ears pass before a long and very high speed descent into Steamboat Springs.  The next day was an off day, and everyone was glad for it.

Day 5 Off

Steamboat Springs is a pretty little town, lots of tourist related things.   I used the time to rest and eat.   Stuffed myself at breakfast, and then we hit a steakhouse with a group of guys and did the "cook your own steak" deal.  I had a buffalo steak and it was delicious.    The lights were on all night in the big hall that they assigned us to, and someone found that they had left a door open to the library, so some of us were in the kids library when the school staff came in and shooed us out the next morning.  ( But they did figure out how to turn the lights off  for the  second night ! )

Flowers at Steamboat Middle School
Hanging above my sleeping bag

Chef Gene

Great bunch of guys, at Steamboat Steakhouse
Day 6 Steamboat to Walden

We rolled out of Steamboat with a long climb up the west side of Rabbit Ears.   It wasn't that bad at all, about 7 to 8 %.   Training here in Tucson by riding up Mt Lemmon is a good thing !

Todd at Rabbit Ears SAG stop
 There are lots of Continental Divide places and this wa
Continental Divide

On the climb up Rabbit Ears
We got into Walden early enough that a group of us went to the Antler Inn and had lunch.  I ordered the large chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes, and then went back to an ice cream place after supper and got myself another chocolate shake.   ( See the repeated references to food ! )

Day 7 Walden to Loveland

Our last day in the mountains was going to be a 107 mile ride back to Loveland.  Another early morning start.  I got up and went outside for breakfast and quickly decided that I did not have enough clothes on, and headed back in to layer up further.  We had a beautiful climb up Cameron Pass and topped out again at about 10276 feet.  Then we had an awesome intense descent.   After the third SAG stop, I got passed by a string of about 7 riders, and I tagged onto the back and became the 8th in a really fast paceline.  We picked up a couple more and continued to the 4th SAG stop.    The ride back into Loveland was pretty hard with some wind coming but it all got done and it was good to finish.   

At about 10,000 feet

Cameron Pass

Rushing water, just beautiful

Gene loading up Blue Thunder while Todd looks on

Post Ride

Gene and Todd and I headed off for pizza, and then they headed north back to Washington, and I headed west on I-70.   I was pretty impressed by the engineering on I-70.  The road goes straight up and straight down and the Eisenhower tunnel is at something like 11,000 feet !    I spent a night in Dillon, CO and then drove to Moab, UT to take a look at Arches National Park.

Eisenhower Tunnel, heading west on I-70
 I got up at 5 am and took a really nice bike path out of Moab up to the park and was there for sunrise.  It was pretty amazing.  The sun went behind a bank of clouds after about 20 minutes or so, but those 20 minutes were pretty special.
Arches National Park at sunrise

My shadow riding along...

Another shadow

Hello New Day 

Next up, I will be helping coach our Team-in-Training El Tour Team, going to the GABA Silver City ride, and the big kahuna will be training to complete a double century bike ride in Death Valley in October.