My last post was all about training for AdventureCorps' CorpsCamp, in Death Valley. But really, it could have been about training for any early season event just about anywhere.
A cycling event in Death Valley is a little different than a cycling event in most other places. There are things about riding a bicycle through the desert that you simply can't train for.
For CorpsCamp, a good off-season training plan is critical because it prepares you for the things that are within your control, like endurance for long miles and strength for big climbs. For the things you can't control, you also need to work on power and mental toughness (always the most-neglected aspect of training). An honest knowledge of your own abilities, combined with some humility and a healthy sense of humor, might also be things you'll want to pack along for this trip.
Death Valley never fails to deliver on challenges that are outside anything you can train for. Here are a few that I've come to expect:
Temperature changes: The dry air and lack of cloud cover ensure that you'll freeze every morning, and then melt in the afternoon heat. Layer smart, expect to peel off clothing during the day.
Brutal sun: There's no shade here. When you're out on the road for hours and hours at a time, sunscreen is your friend. Particularly the spray-on 80+ SPF kind that you can carry with you in a back pocket. Find a good one that is both water- and sweat-proof.
Nonexistent water sources: If you don't bring enough, or if you don't have a support van or a water cache to look forward to on your return trip, you're asking to be condor bait. Bring way more water/electrolyte then you think you'll need. I underestimated my water needs last year on a 75-mile solo ride, and I'll never do that again.
Warm water: I prepare my electrolyte bottles every evening, and freeze them overnight. Within a couple of hours, they're completely thawed out. An hour later, they're warm as swamp water. Live with it.
Lack of cell phone service: Having issues? Need help? Too bad! Death Valley routes take you to places that are of no interest to positioning satellites. Know your limits. This would be a good time to learn to be entirely self-sufficient.
Rain: Death Valley is the hottest, driest location in the United States, receiving an annual average of 2 inches of rain. The first ride day of my first year of CorpsCamp, I expected hot and dry. What I got was a steady rain and bone chilling cold, and I was simply not ready for it. When the roads get wet, they get silty and slick as ice. Be ready for anything and everything, because that's exactly what you're gonna get.
Wind gusts: I saved the best for last! Here's the deal with Death Valley: it's long and wide, a low and flat salt pan surrounded by huge mountain ranges. Without any shade, the salt pan reflects the daytime heat that builds throughout the day, and by mid-afternoon that heat gets converted to energy that fuels the notorious spring wind storms. A gentle breeze early in the day can turn into a steady 35+ mile, in-your-face maelstrom. This usually happens at the exact same moment you decide you're ready to call it a day, and you're now mentally going through the cold recovery beverage selections that await you at Furnace Creek. There's nothing more discouraging than being only 5-miles away from a cold beer, and then looking down at your computer to see that you're going 5 mph into a quad-killing, spirit-crushing headwind. Not to mention the blowing sand and knock-you-off-your-bike cross-winds. There's not a lot you can do about it.
Here's a video of Tim Marks, 3-time Furnace Creek 508 finisher and a BIG, POWERFUL cyclist, with less than a mile to go in the 2012 Spring Century: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho54yxBjieg&feature=youtu.be
What's it like to ride in Death Valley? The only thing you can know for sure is that it won't be boring.