Thursday, March 26, 2015

Wind happens

This won't be a ride report, I promise - but today was a pretty cool ride.

The plan was to ride from Furnace Creek (191 feet below sea level) to Hell's Gate (2400 ft above sea level), and then on to Rhyolite, NV, over Daylight Pass (4300 ft). A long, steady climb from CA 190 via Beatty cutoff,  with a delicious descent back to FC Ranch.

But, of course, Mother Nature doesn't ask your permission before she changes your plans.

We headed out into a steady 10 - 20 mph wind, with predicted gusts of 30+. All of those gusts happened during the climb up Beatty Cutoff - the 10 miles of 8% average ascent.

By the time we got to Hell's Gate, we all decided we'd had enough of her shenanigans. The winds were whippy, the corkscrew up through Daylight Pass was another 4 miles or so of in-your-face slogging, and we were all looking forward to that wind-assisted descent back into the Valley (in which Heather would reach a ridiculous speed of 50.8 mph).

We learned our lessons here over the years. We learned the hard way. We don't mess with the winds. We may alter our plans. But days like this make for the best memories.

The Three Amigas with our usual pose at Hell's Gate!

Our crew just before leaving for Hell's Gate

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Caught up in this desert whirlwind!

It's been non-stop action since we arrived in Death Valley on Saturday afternoon. 

We start our days early, pick a direction, ride through miles of jaw-dropping landscapes, tuck into the slipstream of a friend to cut down on the headwind drag (there is always a headwind out here somewhere), grind it out to the top of the climbs and scream down the descents like we have wings.

Later, after we've Recoverite'd and recovered wrong, we may go back out to run through a canyon, hike to distant sand dunes, marvel at how stunt kites look like living things dancing in the sky under the expertise of their masters. We bask in the blazing hot afternoon sun, seeking shade.

Our small group likes to hang out together in the evening, gathering on the green lawn of the Furnace Creek oasis, devouring pizza and talking smack until the sun dips below the Panamints and the stars become the brightest things you've ever seen in any night sky.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Survival is a helluva lot more compelling than Strava

By noon, it's 90 degrees and the winds are starting to feel like something more than a gentle breeze. The desert pulls the moisture from everywhere it can find it, including you. Back home, an 'easy' 35 mile ride may not require more than a bottle or two of water, but here, you have to be careful.

We rode out to Badwater Basin, out-an-back on rolling hills to the lowest point in the US. We left just after sunrise, and by the time we got back (in time for pancakes at the 49er Cafe) the day had settled in.

Later in the afternoon, under welcome cloud cover, we would ride out again, this time doing the challenging but luscious "Artist's Drive"loop (one of our faves, with it's own nickname, if you're a regular reader of this blog).

At the breakfast table, Georganna (who is supporting our rides all while training for her next ultra-endurance running event) told us how she couldn't resist running on gravel side roads here in the park. They just lured her to explore. I scolded her, telling her that we would NEVER find her if something happened: no cell service, no water, far off the beaten path, in a place that is thousands of acres of desolation.

And that's when it struck me why I love this place so much, and why I feel it's necessary to come out here to ride. It's all about survival out here, about self-sufficiency and conservation of energy. It's a welcome and preferred escape from those artificial Strava segments, hammerhead group rides, Facebook brags about mileage and extreme and 'epic'. My definition of 'epic' is quite different, I suspect.

And so we are off again today, picking another direction to ride in this land of few roads and many climbs. And we will push ourselves, pace ourselves, take on challenges that we can't get anywhere else.

We will be epic.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Waiting for the ice to crack

Somewhere along the road near Red Rock Canyon, on the way from Las Vegas to Death Valley.

Time to get back to where I need to be, on so many levels.

It's been another long slog of a winter, with all kinds of changes. The dark days and long nights and the frozen-to-the-bone stillness forces me to 'go underground'. It's a reflective time, for sure, and necessary to recharge the batteries.  But now, something about spring - the lengthening days, the ice finally cracking - pulls me out from hibernation and forces me to start again. 

And there is no better place, in my opinion, for a ceremonial start to life above ground than in the middle of nowhere/center of the universe.

If connectivity and time permits, I'll post photos and stories from my week here in Death Valley. But now, I gotta get ready: we ride early, as soon as the sun comes up.