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.