Monday, February 28, 2011

Rite of Spring

Stravinsky's masterpiece ballet was a big controversial hit back in Paris in the early 1900's. And it wasn't just because the music is kinda weird and primitive.

The denouement of the performance is when the main character dances herself to death in sacrifice to the gods of the Underworld, in order that Spring may once again return.

Is this, in some archetypal way, the reason why I'm drawn back to Death Valley every February? To ride myself to death in order to appease some Vernal pantheon? When I get home, warm weather typically follows close behind. Hmmm...

Well, I didn't quite die this time, but I assume the Furies, after hitting me with so many rights that I was begging for a left (be careful what you ask for), decided to let me go - for now.

See you next year. Sucker.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

DV Spring Century: The Fury

Saturday, Feb. 27, 2011

The good news is that the rain and cold that was predicted for today must have been canceled, because we woke up to clear skies and mild temperatures. That's all for the good news.

Dave and I got out in time to watch the 200-mile riders go out.We especially wanted to cheer on Tim, who was sporting his 508 jersey for his return engagement to Death Valley. It was so exciting to see the group take off in twilight, especially after hearing Chris Kostman's pep talk: "If it's snowing on Salisbury Pass, think about turning around." YIKES!

I was nervous. After Tim left, Dave wanted a quick breakfast, but I could barely choke down an English muffin. I was ready to go right then and there, and had my bike loaded and waiting outside the cafe. Dave had to run back to the room for his bike (he wasn't nearly as concerned about this day as I was). In the meantime, I took my place in line, and waited for Jill to come up. She looked as anxious as I felt, but we reaffirmed our commitment to this ride and to our ability to have some fun with it.

The countdown began and we were off. Dave missed us by moments, although he claims he saw us making the turn out of Furnace Creek Ranch, and directly into the wind.

This wasn't completely unexpected. But the force of it this early in the morning took us a little off guard (it wasn't yet 7 AM).

It didn't feel good at all to be back fighting a headwind. We struggled. I wondered which was worse: a killer headwind during the first half of the ride, or the last (like last year). I was to find out that there was another option I hadn't considered, an option that trumped the other two.

The route to our first checkpoint at Badwater is mostly flat with a few long downhills. It took us 2 hours to go the 17.7 miles. That was NOT a good omen.

Here's what is tough about a strong, steady headwind:
  • You're in your lowest gears, holding a steady cadence just to move forward. There is no coasting.
  • You struggle to stay upright when the strongest gusts hit. Your arms begin to burn from the effort to hold your line.
  • You can't drink, eat, blow your boogery nose, or take pictures while in motion, because you need both hands on the bars at all times.
  • You don't want to stop for any of the above because you're already crawling at 7 mph, with 80 miles to go.
  • Headwinds are like non-stop hill climbs. And then you come to the hills.
The only bright spot in this entire exercise was the anticipation of the fast 4-mile descent from Jubilee Pass, followed by the delicious tailwind on the return trip.

This thought is the only thing that kept us going. There were at least a couple of really, really hard stretches where I didn't think I'd be able to continue to the next checkpoint at Ashford Mills (mile 45.4).

But we made it, although Jill and I were both pretty burned out and cranky by then. It was good to stop, re-hydrate, pop some Endurolytes, take a break from our sustained misery.

The turn leading from Ashford to Jubilee was almost windless, it seemed, and I attributed that to our direction of travel and increased elevation. I was probably half right. I didn't want to think that perhaps the wind was shifting direction.

We began a slow climb up the 6% grade to Jubilee Pass, about 4 miles away. The road wound into the mountains, and it was absolutely stunning. As I pulled a away a bit, shedding my jacket, a passing car honked and slowed next to me. It was Dave!

He had very wisely turned back at the entrance to Artist Drive, about 8 miles before Badwater. It had taken him an hour and a half to get there, and he thought that was just stupid. So he turned back, covering the return trip in half an hour (tailwind, you know), took a shower, got French toast at the 49'er, packed up for our departure tomorrow, then decided to drive out to find us. It was great motivation to see him. He waited at the turnaround point at Jubilee Pass, and we both cheered Jill as she came in just behind me.

Karen and Steve, volunteer's we met at last year's event, were there for support again, and we chatted with them briefly before turning around. Karen mentioned something about the winds often changing direction, and I thought she was kidding but she looked kind of serious.

Without further delay, we said our goodbyes and told Dave that we'd see him in 2 hours back at the Ranch. It had taken us 5 hours to get to the turnaround point.

The descent was fast, with a few crosswinds thrown in for fear factor, but the view was unbelievable. A quick stop at Ashford (now checkpoint 3) and we were off again.

Averaged about 21 mph for the next 10 miles. Had the good fortune to hook on with a couple of younger guys who worked with us in a paceline. They were too fast, though, averaging 27+ mph, and we backed off the pace because we still had 30 miles left and needed to conserve our energy.

Jill and I were in better spirits - chatty, happy, prematurely congratulation ourselves for sticking with it in spite of the atrocious wind. The universe was smiling down on us.

And then we got to Mile Marker 24.

The road follows the contours of the mountains at the level of the salt pan, winding in and out with a regular rhythm that becomes almost predictable. We turned into the first of many inward-leading curves, and were slammed with a biting, cold, malicious force. The winds HAD shifted. The furies were once again unleashed.

And just like that, our pace, our attitude, our desire to finish just kind of fell apart. We struggled like crazy for the next 6 miles, stopping every so often when we could no longer stay upright. At one point, Jill, in a head-down tuck position, hit another cyclist who was just standing in the road. She went down, but was unhurt - just rattled. We were out in the middle of the desert. There was no cell service, no SAGs in sight, and many miles of pain to endure until we could call it quits.

6 miles to Badwater, 18 from there to Furnace Creek - but it could have been a million. At the pace we were riding, that meant about 3 more hours on the bike. Neither of us had the will to continue.

I thought of Dave napping in the warmth and comfort of the Ranch, and regretted my boldness in suggesting that we would meet him at the finish. So, while stopped at the top of a turn, with the wind screaming in my face and no one to hear me, I shouted at the top of my lungs, "DAVE!".

Jill mustered up strength from somewhere (her 'suitcase of courage', maybe?) to practically sprint the final stretch to Badwater. Lot of cyclists were parked there. Many had already abandoned the ride. Consensus was that everyone was struggling. As Jill said, wind is the great equalizer.

Chris, the guy who picked Dave up from yesterday's windfest, was at Badwater. He opted for the 100-miler rather than the Ultra (150 mile) route, saying that riding in this kind of weather was 'rather silly'. We told him we were done.

Now, how to get back to the Ranch?

The support volunteer told us the SAG couldn't take us, they were too busy picking up those in serious trouble. Oh, and there was no cell service in Badwater. Sorry.

Jill was shivering on the curb, totally spent. I grabbed snacks and went in shameless search of anyone who was going to FC - not because I wanted a ride, but just to get a message to Dave.

I found no one, but Jill did. The wife of a rider who also had had enough agreed to contact Dave when she was within cell tower range. All we had to do now was sit tight and wait.

Not 1o minutes later, Dave pulled up next to us in the Badwater parking lot. How's THAT for Radar Love? He didn't get the call (yet) that we needed rescue, he just had a hunch that we might want some help. Jill and I were in awe of our 'rescuer', and praised him lavishly as we crammed 2 bikes and 3 people into our rental Corolla. We drove the final 18 miles back without regrets.

Jill was nervous about Tim, still somewhere out on the 200-mile course. As soon as we were back at the Ranch, she jumped into her car and went out to find him. Dave drove back to Badwater to see if our boy Chris wanted/needed rescue (he didn't). I took a long, hot shower and was dying for a beer.

When Dave came back, we stood at the finish line to cheer on the intrepid riders who braved the final leg of this ordeal. It was maybe a bit less windy, but colder and getting dark. Most riders came in with their headlights on, including Chris. Jill and Tim drove up just before that. Tim was uncharacteristically happy to have been rescued, said he would have appreciated it 20 miles earlier! He put in 124 miles altogether (nice job, Tim!).

I think that maybe about half the riders who started actually finished, and most of those had probably considered DNF but didn't have the option. I was glad that we DID have the option. We had ridden 85 miles in just over 7 hours.

Anti-climactic ending for this day/trip: I got my beer and some grub, but by the time Jill and Tim were ready for a drink I was completely, stick-a-fork-in-me, wiped out. We said our goodbyes in the hallway of the hotel. Jill and Tim, it was awesome to see you again. Safe travels home, and we look forward to seeing you in Minnesota.

Friday, February 25, 2011


Friday, Feb. 24 2011

It started out as the perfect day for a ride - clear blue skies, mild temperatures. I was psyched for our long-awaited 50-mile ride out to Stovepipe Wells and back.

Jill, even stronger than last year, pushed the pace into Stovepipe Wells: 25 miles in about an hour and a half.

Remembering the windy onslaught that made us end last year's Century ride only 4 miles from Furnace Creek, we knew to expect a decent headwind. There's ALWAYS a south wind in Death Valley, and we know that it picks up in the afternoon. So we figured it would take us about twice as long to get back to FC, with the three of us working together.

Turns out that what happened today made last year's ride look like kite-flying weather. I'm estimating 40 mph wind gusts. We were pummeled. It was tough to keep the bike upright. At one point, a strong gust caught my front wheel, turning me into the center of the highway and into the oncoming lane. Luckily there weren't any vehicles at that moment (it's a 55 mph road, which means everyone is doing at least 70...), but it kind of wigged me out.

Dave was struggling, and Jill was a good sport and tried to wait, but the winds were picking up speed and force, and I convinced her to just go on ahead. Dave and I had to get off the bikes when the gusts and blowing sand got to be too much, and with about 4 miles left to FC we were walking our bikes more than we were riding.

I resolved to finish the ride under my own volition, even if I had to ride/walk all the way in. I turned to see how far back Dave was, and saw him getting into someone's car! One of tomorrow's riders stopped to pick him up (I was happy for it), and they pulled over for me but I waved them on. I figured I could try to make up time, and get back to FC within a half an hour.

But that didn't happen. Nearer the salt pan, the winds were the most ferocious. There's a paved bike path connecting Mustard Canyon to FC, a distance of about 2 miles, and I opted to use it. I figured I could ride safer on the path, because if I was pushed over in a wind gust I would only fall onto some spiky, noxious desert plant, but not into oncoming 70 mph traffic.

I reached the top of a hill, and could just about see the oasis that is Furnace Creek. But then a sand devil caught me, and I had to hop off the bike and turn away from it so I wouldn't get my contact lenses sandblasted out of my head.

At that moment, an approaching car made a U-turn in front of me. It was Jill, and Dave was riding passenger. I threw my stubborn streak out the window and my bike in the car.

I guess I'm a little disappointed that, for the second year in a row, I was forced to cut short a ride within the last few miles, both times because of the wind. There's not much you can do, though, when you're riding into it.

I guess this means that there's going to have to be another attempt next year...

Here's Dave riding through the fury, with me barking words of encouragement:


Thursday, Feb. 24, 2011

Great reunion last night with Jill and Tim! Had lots to catch up on, but mostly we focused on...
Last year, the 25-mile Artist Drive loop was the first ride of our weeklong camp. It was cold and raining, which was bad enough. But the short distance lulled me into thinking that it would be a relatively easy ride.

It wasn't. The first part of the one-way loop climbs for about 2 miles, starting at 4% and ending in a quad-burning 14%. Then it kind of flattens out for a teaser reprieve, which lasts just seconds before the route suddenly turns into a hairy, screaming roller coaster ride. Steep dips, crazy hairpin turns, and descents so fast your hands lock up on the brakes. A sign points out another switchback turn, but not the wall o' 12% that greets you on the other side. End this ride with a steep, straight downhill run back to the highway (with or without car traffic dangerously up your ass, just for the added excitement).

(Photo above is the view when you stop just before the road turns up 14%. It's a great place for a photo op - and a good excuse to catch your breath)

This year was at least warm and dry. Jill, Dave, and I got out early to tackle 'our nemesis' (Tim, Mr. Ultra Endurance Maniac, decided to go for a little jaunt up to Dante's View, which makes Artist Drive look like the bunny hill).

Me at the start of Artist Drive loop. I wore my Summit
Freewheelers kit, just so you guys would have an idea of how COOL it looks in Death Valley (hint, hint). Something to consider for next year?

Dave starts down the first of a series of serious swooping descents.

Below, Jill captures the moment.

I video'd Dave coming up over the steepest part of the first climb:

Arrived in Furnace Creek

Wednesday, Feb. 23

It's really cool to be back here at Furnace Creek Ranch. It's starting to feel like our home away from home, only with more mountains.

Our bikes, which had arrived here late last week, were delivered to our room. Dave got busy putting them together.

I did my part and stayed out of his way.

Been in contact with Jill and Tim, who left Minnesota early Tuesday morning. They'll be in tonight, and we're meeting them up at the Inn for a drink later.

Not as hot here as I had hoped, but for now it's fine. The forecast is making me a little nervous, though: Saturday (Century Day) is supposed to be on the cool, rainy side. I hate riding in the rain, but we've got lots of gear and should be OK.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Back to Death Valley!

For any of you who want to follow me on my AdventureCorps Furnace Creek Century, I'll be posting and loading photos whenever I get the opportunity and a good internet connection.

Here's the agenda for our Death Valley adventure.

Wednesday: Fly into Vegas, drive to Death Valley/Furnace Creek Ranch. Should be there early afternoon. The bikes arrived there last Thursday, and are waiting for our arrival. (It kills me thinking that my bike may be having fun without me...)

Thursday: Meet Jill and Tim Marks, who are driving in from Minnesota. The plan is to ride Artist's Drive, a 25-mile one-way loop with a couple of killer hills. This time, I'll take pictures (last year, when we rode in the cold and rain, I was too miserable to pull my camera out. Or maybe my hands were numb. I don't remember.)

Friday: Longer ride out to Stovepipe Wells and back, about 50 miles total. Yoga out on the FC lawn in the afternoon. Maybe a dip in the hot-spring-fed pool?

Saturday: Furnace Creek Century, the event I've been waiting/training for! Jill and I will ride together, in the same wave. Dave is kinda on his own. Tim is doing the Double Century, so we'll be waiting for him somewhere with a cold drink in hand, presumably.

I sent most of my bike gear with the Bianchi, but I'm packing some extra stuff in my suitcase so I'm ready for anything. Just read in Bicycling mag about why you should carry things like duct tape, safety pins, and rubber gloves on long rides. Any other suggestions please bring 'em on, but hurry as I'll be packed up and ready to leave by Tuesday night.
Check back sometime after Wednesday for updates and stories from the road.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

And the winner is...


Thanks to all of you who took the time to vote in the poll.

I rode the Bianchi one last time on the trainer today. Then I took it down, gave it a bath, and disassembled it for shipping. The bikes will begin their journey to Death Valley tomorrow, via FedEx.

The next time my bike and I will be reunited will be on Feb. 23rd, at Furnace Creek Ranch. I'm getting a chill just thinking about it.

Dave is getting pretty good at this
bike box thing.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Decision, decisions...

Death Valley is less than THREE WEEKS away! Sometime around Feb. 12, Dave and I have to get our bikes ready to ship, so that they'll arrive a day before we do.

Here's my dilemma: Which bike should I bring?

My choices are my Bianchi road bike, or my Jamis CX bike. I need you to help me decide!

Before you vote, consider the details.
  • The AdventureCorps website suggests a bike with clincher tires of at least 25mm wide, and with LOW GEARING at least 39/27.
  • Last year, I brought the Bianchi. I didn't have enough gears for one of the climbs that I intend to do this year.
  • However, the Bianchi was PERFECT for the Century ride last year, and that's the main focus of the trip this year (the 2011 Century is a timed event, the other route mentioned above is optional)
And here's the 411 on the bikes:

  • My steady, tried and true bike, which I ride all the time
  • I've been training on it all winter
  • I'll have to change to wider tires
  • Low gearing is 39/25
  • The highest gear (53) is perfect for flying descents
  • New bike, SRAM shifting that I'm not quite used to
  • Haven't ridden it since my last CX race in October
  • Have to change to thinner tires!
  • Low gearing is 36/32
  • The highest gear (46) is a little weak for those long, flying descents

So now what do I do?

Any suggestions would be most helpful! Please vote your choice in the POLL in the top right corner of this post before I pack it up next week...