Wednesday, February 27, 2013
If the wind doesn't kill you, the climbing might...
Yesterday was the first day of CorpCamps, and the usual ride is the innocent-looking but leg-busting Artist's Drive loop. This route has become my nemesis. It never gets easier, I just know what to expect. And I know that I can do it although it always feels like I can't.
There are forces at play here in Death Valley, some that I have power over, and some that I do not.
I have power over most weather conditions. I have learned the hard way that conditions can change here without warning, and in directions that are completely unexpected. But if you know to be ready for anything, then you will be.
Wind is a little different, and I have some power over it but there are limits to that, as you certainly know if you follow this blog.
Climbing, I feel I have some power over. I love to climb, and I brought along a bike that has a couple extra gears for exactly the kind of terrain you get out here. I have some power over elevation grades.
But what I'm finding I have ZERO power over is my ability to say NO to Tim Marks when he suggests something that may otherwise seem crazy. Like when he mentioned to me that he was planning on climbing the road to Dante's View the next morning (the same day as the planned Artist's Drive loop), I weighed it out carefully in my mind (50 extra miles, unpleasantly steep grades, cold and windy at the summit) and recklessly agreed. And, actually, I didn't exactly agree to anything, because Tim didn't exactly invite me to join him. He simply mentioned it, and I invited myself. Or, maybe he dropped the gauntlet, but I think he knew I would pick it up.
Dante's View is, according to Tim, one of the 10 most difficult climbs in California. It rises 5500 feet in 25 miles, with the last 4 miles averaging around 10%, with a set of even steeper switchbacks as you near the summit. There are vehicle size limits imposed because of the steep, tight turns. The National Park Service stopped allowing AdventureCorps to include this route as an option because of the tough terrain and narrow roads. And of course, I've always wanted to try it - kind of an American version of Alpe d'Huez, I guess.
And since Tim suggested it, I was going to do it.
It was a tough climb, of course. It took us 3 hours to cover the 25 miles from Furnace Creek to the summit (it was a relentless uphill the entire way). That set of switchbacks toward the top had me thinking I might be walking my bike to the summit (which I didn't). The descent was terrifying. The thought of having to tackle the climbs on Artist's Drive a couple hours later weighed heavily. But the satisfaction of having climbed Dante's Peak - thanks to Tim, and to Jill, too, of course - is more than I expected for this adventure in Death Valley (and I have a lot of expectations for this trip).
I guess I should be grateful that I can't control every little part of my life. Otherwise, I might miss out on once-in-a lifetime opportunities like these.