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: