Friday, December 01, 2006

Death Valley Double Century Attempt: October 2003

I had a request for a synopsis of the Death Valley Century and Double. There were a few of us from Las Vegas who attended this event. All in all, it appeared that 4 of us attempted the Double and 2 or 3 of us attempted the Century ride. I must say that this was quite a learning experience, especially for those of us going for the California Triple Crown in 2003. Planet Ultra is the main organizer of this event and they put forth a lot of professionalism in their organization. I will focus mainly on the Double since the Century followed basically the same routing.

The event started with a mass start at 0600 for us Double wannabees and 0615 for the Century riders. The weather was superb: Clear skies, no wind, and temperature in the high 40's. As with all rides I've attempted, the atmosphere was energetic and motivating at the start. Mass starts can be fun, but they can also be a bit precarious until the giant peloton thins out. As we pressed South out of Furnace Creek it was fun to see all the "rabbits" take off. I couldn't help but think that it would be difficult for them to keep up that pace for 200 miles, and as it turned out I was right. I saw the vast majority of them again at most of the rest stops along the way.

If you haven't been to Death Valley, I highly suggest a visit. It is the closest experience you will have to being on Mars or the Moon. Cruising along the relatively flat road en route to Badwater, the sun started peaking over the mountains providing us with a great picturesque view of the peaks to the West. Stepheny, Ed and I were lucky enough to tag onto a large peloton with a tandem at the helm. It was great being sucked along at 25 to 30 miles an hour with a heart rate in zone 2! That wasn't to last, however. I've always said that if you loose the Tandem draft, you won't get it back! At least not at a cost. Ed decided to pull over at Badwater so we dropped off the peloton with him only to realize that he then decided not to stop! His decision to continue was more timely than ours, however. Fast Eddy managed to regain the draft, but Step and I lost out and ended watching the train go off in the distance. The experience reminded me of those old Western movies seeing the cowboy sitting on his horse watching the train go off in the distance. The only difference was that we wanted to be on the train and we had to peddle our horses!

Anyway, Steph and I worked together on our way to Ashford Mills, the 2nd rest stop at about 45 miles. Once off the back, I couldn't help notice how quiet the desert was with no one else around. It is almost an eerie feeling, especially after living in noisy Vegas all this time. About 10 miles out of Ashford Mills, the Bullshifters from Phoenix caught us and we hopped on the back of their peloton. (I'd like to digress here abit and discuss teamwork. During this whole experience, I noticed that this club worked together the entire time. There were about 15 of these guys/gals and they all stayed together, sharing the draft and encouraging each other the entire 200 miles. It was quite impressive to see the same jerseys, arm warmers, and obvious teamwork going on here. Watching them really drove home the fact that cycling, especially in these types of endurance events as well as others, is truly a team sport).

Oh well, back to the route. If you haven't seen the middle of no where, I suggest you take a trip to Ashford Mills, especially by bicycle! It fits the definition in its truest form. The largest building I saw out there was the modern day outhouse built by your friendly park rangers. And not to be out done, the tallest bit of vegetation might be the scarce sagebrush scattered randomly across the ground. Nonetheless, we were greeted by cheerful Planet Ultra volunteers dressed up as a "stinger bee" and a "goblin." Given the season, I guess they wanted to get into the spirit of things.

At this point, I remembered my reading from Ed Pavelka's book, "Nutrition for Cyclists." A quick ONE word synopsis of the book is: EAT! So, that is exactly what we did, EAT! What I didn't know was the PB&J sandwich I was eating would be the first of about 10 I would consume throughout the day. Tanked, fueled and still motivated we started the arduous climb up to Jubilee Pass. This is about the point when the peeling of clothes took place. The sun was starting to climb high in the sky and warm the air all around us. I must say that this part of the climb wasn't too bad. The grade was reasonable and the perceived distance did not appear to be too bad either. That was to change, however. One thing about climbing. You don't really pay attention to how bad the road conditions are as you roll slowly over them at 8-10 mph. More on that later during the descent. As with most climbing, riders seem to seek out those with the same ability. I slowly pulled away from Steph and decided to meet her at Jubilee Pass, 10 miles up at about 1400 feet and the Century riders turn around. Again, if you haven't done this ride, I'd take a look at the elevation map: The map is pretty accurate and will provide a good feeling for the 2nd (and most fun...NOT!) part, of the ride: The grind to Salisbury Pass, as I came to know it. This was a true and seemingly never-ending grind. It made Potosi seem like a speed bump. The thought kept creeping into my cranium that I still had well over 100 miles to go! About 150 to be accurate. Anyway, where there is a road that goes up, there is a road that goes down. Upon arriving at Salisbury, I paused to catch my breath, rehydrate and look for Steph somewhere back over my shoulder. The view from this point is really pretty spectacular. I was amazed at the vastness of this valley and beauty that it oddly bestows. What caught my immediate attention, however, and jerked me back to reality was seeing the endless winding road in front of me. That was it, just road! Where was Shoshone I thought? Surely it has to be down there someplace. I squinted for better vision and scanned the horizon looking for a hint of civilization, but all I could see was what looked like the Great Wall of China heading off towards Tibet someplace. Undaunted however, I pulled up the arm warmers to preserve a little body heat for the long descent and pressed on my way. By this time, Fast Eddy had flown off the front with the speedsters and Steph, unbeknownst to me, was battling a bum knee behind me. So, I was someplace in the middle and all by myself (a bad thing on a Double Century!).

On the long descent, this was about the time you see the serious Double contenders returning from the turn around point at Shoshone. Believe it or not the first of pack was a tandem, a very fast tandem indeed. As it turnout, these folks won the Double in just over 10 hours, if there is such a thing as winning a Double. Anyway, I saw Greg Sciabinca cruising up the hill back towards Salisbury shortly followed by Fast Eddy mashing big gears and conquering Death Valley all by his lonesome. I managed to tag up with a nice tall gentlemen on a vintage Bianchi who graciously pulled me the rest of the way into Shoshone. A realization came over me at this point: Always find out where the lunch stop is! To my grand disappointment, it wasn't at Shoshone. After 2 hours and 20 miles of climbing, you get mighty hungry. So, I downed two more PB&Js, a couple of bananas, followed by a few powerbar pieces. One thing I noticed and thought peculiar was the ever present bottles of Ibuprophen, E-caps, and this and that type pills. I thought, "why would they have all that stuff around." I soon found out why. More on that later.

Getting anxious to start again, I hopped on my steed only to see Steph cruising towards Shoshone. I quickly turned around to join her, because we made a pact in the beginning to finish this thing together. As we talked, she told me she was having knee problems and that I should press on without her. At this point, I was sure she was done and would SAG back. I found out later on both counts. The climb back to Salisbury Pass was a heck of a lot harder than it seemed from Death Valley up. I thought that 1600 feet of climbing would be easier than 3600 ft of climbing but as it turned out I had not ridden 80+ miles earlier. Again, I ended up alone and by myself on this climb. Another bad thing on a Double. On the upside, I had some great conversations with sage bushes who mocked me all the way up; and, I even told God how I felt a few times about his magnificent creations. Although I was feeling pretty good and marveling at my accomplishment thus far, I started to develop a throbbing headache. Not really a bad one, but just that kind of nagging headache that doesn't want to go away. I found out later that it was probably caused by caffeine withdrawal. A good reason not to change your morning habits before an endurance event like a Double if you can avoid it. I decided at this point to just put my head down and grind up the rest of the way while at the same time looking forward to a very long down hill run. A side note: I don't know if it is just me, but do they jack up the grade on purpose just before the summit of these climbs? I don't know, maybe it was just my imagination. Nevertheless, Salisbury Pass conquered for the second time filled me with a great sense of accomplishment. I looked over my shoulder at the "Great Wall" fading away from me and felt very good that I would not be seeing that again anytime soon.

It appears that the Forest Service doesn't spend too much money on their roads in Death Valley. The descent that I thought would be effortless and enjoyable turned out to be somewhat different. I guess the extreme Summer temperatures take their toll on the asphalt in this part of the country. I spent the better part of 30 minutes and 3600 feet of descending dodging pot holes, cracks, and gravel. The relentless bouncing caused by the uneven road did not do much for my headache as well. The road conditions didn't seem to bother some people, however. A tandem with the same tall gentlemen on the Bianchi in tow came wizzing by me at about 50 miles an hour. I did not see them again until the 100 mile mark at Ashford Wells. The same cheerful volunteers in costume met us once again supplying nourishment and providing moral support. It was here that I learned about those E-caps. I saw one guy take literally a handful and choke them down with a large swig from his water bottle. The "killer bee" dude told me that endurance riders take these to replace electrolytes. I also witnessed riders taking handfuls of Ibuprophen and choking them down as well. A SAG vehicle stopped by just before I was getting ready to leave and I was hoping to see that Steph was among the passengers. As the vehicle parked, I saw two guys get out and kind of wonder around in the brush. It looked to me that they had some serious "bonk" on their hands and were definitely done for the day. As I looked at them, I realized that I still had another 100 miles to go and was determined not to look like that...I ate yet another PB&J just to make sure.

Like I said, the forest service doesn't seem to spend much on their roads, especially in and around Ashford Mills. I can't think of a better way to describe the road in this area in any other way other than to say it sucked! Cracks, potholes, gravel, rocks, you name it. After about an hour of this jarring and induced double vision, I realized my cranium ache was not going to go away and I doubted that I would finish the ride. You see, the organizers conveniently made the 150 mark the same as the start point, a very tempting respite indeed.

The sun at this time of day starts working its way down on the other side of the mountains and the temperature starts to drop a bit. I was lucky to cruise up on two guys from the Sacramento Wheelmen, Steve and Bill. I kindly asked if I could get on their wheel and they in turn graciously granted me permission. Our little peloton was just what the doctor ordered. My headache seemed to subside abit and watching the back of someone else's wheel seemed to make the miles flow by faster. Steve and Bill informed me that lunch was at Badwater, about 23 miles down the road. That motivation kept me going as the thought of another PB&J sat heavy on my mind. Steve and Bill were Double veterans. I couldn't help but notice their smooth pedaling and exact pace. These guys road at exactly the same speed for what seemed like hours. I was truly impressed and greatly appreciative of the pull. At this point I did not even care what the mileage readout was. All I wanted was food and a place to take a break. We basically blasted through the Century barrier with barely a notice. About an hour and a half later we turned the corner into Badwater for what was my next final stop of the day. After 123 miles it is amazing how good a turkey and cheese sandwich tastes with a sugar laden cola. Steve and Bill tried to convince me at this point that I should keep going for the whole 200, but I wasn't all that comfortable making the decision at this point. I told them that this was my first attempt and that my headache was going to be the deciding factor.

Leaving Badwater the sun started to drop lower and lower behind the mountains. We donned our clear lenses and mounted our lights. I'll say this for lights. If you have one of those rear ones that flash red, don't turn it to flash with someone riding close behind you. I watched Steve's "two" red lights flash alternately for well over an hour. If you have even the slightest headache, watching those things for an hour will make you want to puke! I felt somewhat guilty about sucking their wheel for so long so I decided to pull my weight for a change and get out front. As it turned out, we captured a group that blew past us earlier and road their wheel for about 5 miles or so. The great thing about a Double is that it brings home the Tortoise and Hare story. The three of us basically caught all of those who blew past us earlier...a great feeling especially after a long day of riding!

For me at least, it was a great thing seeing the lights of Furnace Creek in the distance. As things turned out, I finished 150 miles in 9 hours and 47 minutes of riding time. I took 1 hour worth of breaks to refuel and hydrate, just what I had planned. All in all, it was a great experience and one I will definitely learn from. Here are a few lessons learned.

1. Most importantly, find a riding partner. 200 miles is longer than you think!
2. Eat and drink constantly. I burned 5775 Calories in just 150 miles.
3. Train more than you think you need to, especially on long climbs.
4. Don't cut up your powerbars. They fuse together into one big dog turd in your bag!
5. Carry a camel back until you can store water like a camel. Constant hydration is key!
6. Use Hammer Gel. It really works. Tastes funky but it is good for the long haul.
7. Keep a sense of humor going and don't think about the finish line until your wheel crosses.
8. Say "thank you" to all volunteers. It is the nice thing to do.
9. Eat a steak and have a beer when you are done. They taste great!
10. Always ask to suck a wheel. It is proper etiquette.
11. Don't ride alone at anytime! It sucks.
12. Don't be in a hurry. After all, you have all day!

1 comment:

George said...

Half the field DNF'd that day. I finished but it was touch n go for a many hours. The heat that day was well over 110 degrees.