Archive for October, 2008

Amtrak Buses

| October 26, 2008 5:57 pm

by Jerry Schonewille

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Many bicyclist are familiar with Amtrak trains and some use them in their tours but few know about Amtrak buses. Buses serve as connectors between outlying cities and cities that have train service. They can get you to Reno or Lake Tahoe or Las Vegas but other than these excursions into Nevada they operate only within California.

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For a solo bicyclist Amtrak buses can be the cheapest and fastest way to get around California. I emphasize solo because you place your bike in the cargo hold under the bus and there is room for only one or two bikes. You do not need to box your bike and that by itself is a time and money saver. Also, unlike trains, buses tend to run on time and they run more often.

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There is just one problem. You can’t buy an Amtrak bus ticket. Well – you can – but you have to jump through a few hoops. California state law requires that you can only ride the bus if your trip also includes a segment on an Amtrak train. This is fair as Amtrak is subsidized by taxpayers and it would not be right for them to be in direct competition with Greyhound or other private bus companies. It might be that you will find a sympathetic ticket agent that will sell you a bus-only ticket but no way will you succeed if you book online.

To get around this requirement you need to tack on a train segment at the beginning or end of your bus trip. This is not unlike people booking a round trip airline ticket when all they want is one-way because it can be cheaper that way. It will take some research to find the best deal. For example, I recently took a bus trip from Martinez to Ukiah. Martinez is a major hub for Amtrak and there are several train options to tack onto your bus trip. I found the San Joaquin train from Stockton to be the cheapest. The San Joaquin, like the Capitols, is a commuter train. That means tickets are non-reserved and once you buy a ticket it is good for 1 year. So even though you won’t be using that ticket that you tacked on to the bus trip it is still good for a future train ride. At least that’s what they tell me – I haven’t put it to the test yet [UPDATE 11/10/2008: I have now used previously orphaned train tickets with no problem].

I try to schedule mid-week mid-day as these are the least used buses. Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday are best, Friday is worst. Holidays are always a problem. By problem I mean there is no place to store your bike and you won’t get on the bus. I’ve seen this happen but so far it has not happened to me. If it is absolutely 100% critical that you get to your destination NOW then the bus may not be for you.

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Sometimes Amtrak uses their own fleet of buses, sometimes they contract to a private tour company, and sometimes they use a county bus. At one point I was looking into taking the bus from San Jose to Monterey but learned after a phone call that this uses a Monterey County bus with a rack for two bikes on the front of the bus and no place to store luggage (panniers in my case) [UPDATE 11/10/2008: some of these buses do in fact have luggage compartments that can hold panniers] . The bus I ended up booking is one that goes all the way to Santa Luis Obispo (maybe all the way to Santa Barbara?) with a stop in Salinas. I then rode my bike from Salinas to Monterrey, a nice trip including back roads of Ford Ord so this turned out to be a good thing.

Sometimes the driver is a smoker and will drive really fast to the next stop so that he or she can get off the bus for a cigarette break. Some passengers might join the driver.

Another feature about buses is that since they serve as train connectors they will not leave before the train arrives. That can be good if you’re on the train wanting to make the connection, or bad if you’re on the bus and want it to depart on time.

— jerry schonewille (aka vagabond jerry)

Argonaut Death Ride Redux, October 25th, 2008

| 2:09 pm

by Mark Pryor

Team Alameda-ites and ACTC Argonauteers:

Truly an EPIC, EPIC day…as much total climbing in a “hard” century in half the miles, and with three very uncharacteristic climbs with steep, steep pitches that I would holler “Assassins” if an organizer put any one of Bohlman, Montebello, or Sanborn in a century! (You are an excellent student of Tour de France history if you know that reference).

Yesterday’s route was the reverse of this spring’s Argonaut Death Ride that I cooked up, and I was glad Bohlman came first. Equal numbers of ACTCers and Team Alameda-ites started–18 in all. The last time I climbed Bohlman was on this spring’s version of this ride–I had managed to avoid Bohlman during my Argonaut after-work rides all season with well-placed business trips, and for this trip I had my VDO MC1.0 which gives an every-five-second readout of the percent grade. The real nasty stuff (20 – 21% grades) are liberally spinkled throughout the first 3 miles of the climb, and now I am wondering if the left turn to On Orbit (a very consistent 15 – 18% grade) is easier than the “all Bohlman” option with 21% pitches for decent stretches before On Orbit hooks back up again. Anyway, I was glad we did that MoFo with fresh legs, and the last 1.3 miles of rollers along the ridgeline have you arrive at the road end in pretty perkie fashion. Glad to see Melne (Team Alameda) setting the pace for Brian (TA) and me up Bohlman–she has really come on after her unfortunate accident–but more on her later.

And you begin to appreciate the steepness of the climb when you descend Bohlman–“for Christ’s sake, I just climbed this?!?!? No way!” Two ACTCers peeled off for home at the bottom of Bohlman, and, after watering up at the cemetary at the bottom of the hill, we tackled Highway 9. Highway 9 is an absolutely magnificent descent–one of the best in the Bay Area–but on weekends the climb gets quite choked with motorcycle and car clubs using it as the main conduit out of the San Jose area out to the coast. And, without catalytic converters, motorcycles stink, and when groups of 20 – 30 pass you when you are seriously climbing (Hwy 9 is 7+ miles with very consistent 6 – 8% gradient), you take in quite a bit of that crapola in to your lungs. On weeknights, Hwy 9 is quiet and makes for a nice climb–weekends is a different story. BUT, and here is the big but, the traffic is all going out of Saratoga, so a bicyclist can pretty much have the road alone to pop off a magnificent descent…which I did. Of course, offering to lead the descent so I could make sure everyone made the turn on to Sanborn, I had a wonderfully swift, car free descent to Sanborn–about 5 miles of descending bliss, with only a brief touch of the brakes at the top few switchbacks. Everyone came down pretty much in a group, but once everyone started up Sanborn, I hadn’t seen Melne or John (TA), so I waited, and waited, and waited. I was starting to get worried (and with no signal on my cell phone in the remote hills) when they came down to the intersection and we three started up Sanborn. Turns out John got cross-chained so bad as he started the descent, he had to pull his rear wheel off to get the chain freed up.

Sanborn has two very steep pitches, but they are short and have nice “flat” zones to recover from each effort, and I told EVERYONE to turn right at the 1 mile point up Sanborn and go up to the hostel, where my lovely wife Janet had offered to bring up water and food for a nice snack break. We were all gathered round the Hostel parking lot when Lais said, “Hey, where is Stan? ..and Brian? … and Death Ride Dan?” Well, Sanborn Road continues straight from the hostel turn off and climbs a bit more to Sanborn County Park, then dead ends, so I figured the boys would realize their mistake eventually, remember something about “hostel” and follow the signs back to us. Lais, feeling peppier than I was at that point, rode down the hill and found our lost sheep and brought them up to our rest stop. Ice cold water, bananas, and ClifBars were most welcome, and we all rested in the deep shade of the redwood forest surrounding us. Luckily, as the day was warming up, most of our climbing was in the deep shade and mostly nice and cool for a day that topped out in the mid-80s.

A couple more ACTCers peeled off at that point, so the remaining group descended back to Hwy 9, then popped over Mt Eden/Pierce to get over to Montebello. Stan (TA) took an early left and got lost for a little bit, so he and I carried a six minute handicap as we started climbing that final beast. Knowing that he’s a much stronger climber, I told Stan to “go ahead, take off” and all I got was “I can’t–I’m tired” so we both struggled up the 5.3 mile climb together. Just past halfway, after a short respite of relatively flat terrain past the Montebello School, I got a rousing cramp in my left quad, so I stopped and worked that bad boy out. Yup, it was one of those days–once we got to the top, I heard many stories of leg cramps, so I know the group had a good, tough workout–I had done my job as a ride leader! I usually climb Montebello in 45 – 50 minutes, but 62-plus minutes was the best I could do. And Stan was my constant companion, sqeaky chain and all. So, the remaining riders posed for a shot from John’s camera phone, and imagine my surprise when I heard that Melne was one of the first batch to hit the top. As we were talking about this ride, Mel originally said that “she’d give a couple of climbs a go, but she’d probably bail after that,” but there she was, proudly standing at the summit of Montebello, beaming, fully recovered from her nasty crash and BACK ON THE STREETS AGAIN.

Definitely my “Comeback Player of the Year!”

We busted off a fine descent and stopped at the rider memorial on Stevens Canyon Road before heading in to the flats of Cupertino and Saratoga back to the Argonaut Center. What a day–everyone was spent, but happy, and my legs, despite heavy doses of Endurolytes, are still pretty stiff from all that nasty climbing. Great Day; Great Weather; Great Riding; and Great Company from TWO GREAT CYCLING CLUBS!

My Polar Stats: 50.4 miles, 7520 feet of climbing (ouch!), a little over 5 hours saddle time, 9.9 mph average speed.

Team Alameda Five Pass Finishers!
Brian Aldrich
Death Ride Dan Debard
Warren Elliott (aren’t you glad you didn’t have to work today?!?)
Kirk Rivera
Melne Murphy
Lais (sorry, I don’t know your last name)
Stan Layson
John Williams
Ride Captain Mark Pryor

ACTC Five Pass Finishers!
Brian Birkeland (having two Brians on the ride is confusing!)
Patrice Courtier
Argonaut Ride Leader Mark Pryor (so nice I had to say it twice)
John Pugliese
Bill Young
Ehud (Udi) Yuhjtman

Team Kites The Furnace Creek 508 Race – 2008

| October 21, 2008 10:50 am
Team Kites The Furnace Creek 508 Race - 2008

By Louise McCracken

The big event of the year for many cyclists is a premier ultra marathon event of 508 miles and 35,000 feet of climbing.  A spiritual odyssey where participants experience an unparalleled personal achievement called the Furnace Creek 508 race. A total of 211 bicycle enthusiasts took part in this endeavor. This consisted of 128 people in two and four person relay teams and 67 solo riders.  91 rookies (first experience with the race) and 120 veterans from 19 states in the US and eight other countries (Canada, France, Italy, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, Morocco and Switzerland).

Team KITES  consisting of Rob Kraencke, Triathelete; Anna Luo, Triathelete; Richard McCaw, ACTC and Louise McCracken, ACTC.  This team had its difficulties with its riders.  Anna replaced a member from last year as they decided to participate in the event as a solo rider.  I was able to replace one member who suddenly could not participate with the event under circumstances beyond their control.  Another member had surgery on their hand and the replacement rider was struck by a car during a training ride.  Thus, Richard stepped-up to the plate and was able to complete the team about three weeks before the event.  Rob was the only Veteran as the remaining members were Rookies to the 508.  None of us have ever cycled together and relied upon each other’s confidences to do their part on the team.  I offered to be rider “A” to cycle Stage One and Five.  Anna offered to be rider “B” to cycle Stage Two and Six.  Rob and Richard debated between rider position “C” and “D” and made their decision en route the day before the race started.  Richard took rider “C” to cycle Stage Three and Seven (the most climbing of all the positions) and Rob took rider “D” to cycle Stage Four and Eight to the finish line.

We arrived in Santa Clarita Friday afternoon before the race. We found the parking lot of the Hilton Garden Hotel a buzz of excitement. Everyone was preparing their vehicles and bicycles for inspection to pass safety features and requirements.  As we checked-in with the officials, we were given a bag of handouts, a team photo taken and a book entitled “The Guy on the Bike” personally signed by the Author, Michael Seacrest.  Anna’s husband, Dan Sauers, a solo rider and his support crew joined us for dinner to load-up on carbohydrates and go over the details of the course.  The Olive Garden serves a very tasty Italian Margarita, yummy.  The mandatory pre-race meeting was overflowing as the audience paid close attention to the announcements involving the rules and requirements of the race.  Much emphasis was made on safety as weather conditions were consistently changing throughout the course.  Group photos were taken of all the riders on stage as the meeting adjourned and everyone returned to their respective accommodations for the night.

Solo riders started two hours ahead of all the teams at 7:00 am.  The California Highway Patrol was gracious enough to escort riders for the first five miles out of town.  I had been advised by Veterans that the left turn on San Francisquito Canyon Road was considered the official starting point of the race.  Nervous and excited all at once, I was about to start our team with the race.  Anna called Dan’s support team to get a final check on the weather.  Heavy fog and winds, it’s cold and wet climbing over the hills.  Wearing my rain jacket, I felt prepared and ready to go.  I like the camaraderie of all the participants as we wished each other well before the national anthem, last minute announcements and our escorted departure from the hotel.


As much as everyone would like the mass split in two groups as the elite rider pace was at least 30mph as I did my best to keep-up with them at 25mph.  The other group maintained a comfortable 20mph as cruisers and motorcycles scrambled along with us to stop traffic at signal lights and stop signs.  Sure enough, that famous left turn and everyone took off to mark their place in the race.  I kept a moderate-brisk, but comfortable pace to save my energy for the 6176 feet of climbing up ahead.  It was overcast, but no fog in sight.  I was overheating and stripped my rain jacket at the stop sign near the Ranger Station before the first mountain section of the course.  I was about 14 miles from the designated point where I would meet the rest of my team members and the leap frog routine would begin.  Before approaching Johnson Summit, team Kites were at the sidelines cheering me on.  I handed them my rain jacket.  The crosswinds at the climb were noticeable, but manageable.  I was impressed to find race officials at adjacent corners when approaching stop signs.  They are very serious about abiding to the safety rules.  As many may know, I tend to be geographically challenged and get lost on rides.  Thus, I was very pleased to see course marshals at the turns with most of the course.
The second mountain section of the stage is called the “Windmills Climb.”  It was very scenic providing a Holland appeal of windmills along the road.  Alas, the name of this segment of the course was there for a reason-WIND!  It would have been nice if it were tailwinds, but this is a race, I was dealt with headwinds.  I also noticed the fog I had been previously warned about, it was lifting and the moisture was barely noticeable.  After the climb and starting into the descent I noticed some sprinkling of rain.  Making a right turn at 4060 feet of elevation, the overcast was darker, but the rain was still light.  The Team was at the sidelines and offered to return my rain jacket.  “Nah!” it’s not raining hard enough, I’ll just get overheated again.  Moments after passing them, the rain started to flow and I was getting wet.  Wiping my glasses off with my fingers, I was happy the team was at the side of the road shortly thereafter and helped me with my rain jacket.  Should have known this was going to happen, Murphy’s Law.
Finishing the descent and rolling into Mojave, one of the most talked about required stops of the course, the railroad crossing.  If you happen to arrive as the train approaches, it is known to be up to an hour wait for the train to cross.  As I arrived to the area, everyone was stopped and the train was gong through.  Just as I approached the support vehicle, Rob yelled, “Just in time, the train is almost through.”  Shoot!  It was dry and I needed to shed my rain jacket again.  My team members were gracious to retrieve my jacket again and I was off to finish Stage One of the course.  I enjoyed the tailwinds and I was focused to maintain 30 mph for the last 15 miles of the segment.  Anna was getting into her cleats as I arrived at the timing station in California City.  Here you go, I am so happy to pass the baton and climb into the warm cab to find food and drink.


Anna started her 70.25 mile section with 4,212 feet of climbing.  I was envious as she dealt with tailwinds and crosswinds, lucky puppy.  You could tell she was enjoying the ride as her smile glowed every time we passed her in the leap frog.  There was one occasion where we parked on a soft shoulder of loose gravel and got stuck.  Luckily Rob took the shovel and was able to dig trenches so we could get the momentum to roll ourselves out of the mess we got into in the first place.  It was amazing how fast she completed the stage in Trona as we welcomed her with high accolades.  “That was the longest ride I have ever done!” she exclaimed as she passed the baton to Richard.


Richard knew he had 30 minutes to ride leap frog before we converted to following him on the road.  He had the toughest part of the course with 99.2 miles and 7,538 feet of climbing from Trona to Furnace Creek.  Anna decided to drive the truck, and I commanded Rob to lie down in the cab and get some rest – call me Sergeant Louise.  Anna and I observed the dark clouds and lightening just beyond the mountains into Death Valley.  Just as we were discussing the potential of a delay in the race resulting from a lightening storm did we realize that Richard missed the turn on Panamint Valley Road. We didn’t go to far off before we turned around and got back on track with the course.  Richard was maintaining an excellent pace with the rolling hills.  There was one occasion on a descent where we were frightened with concern for him as the crosswinds caused his bicycle to oscillate vigorously.  We stopped and checked his bike to see if anything was loose, all was tight.  Thus, Richard concluded he needed to ride slower as the combination of elements was probably causing the problem.  When we made the right turn on East Furnace Creek, an official of the race announced that the lightening storm had passed and the roads were wet, so use some caution.  Anna expressed that she has night vision and uncomfortable driving, so I took the helm of the truck.  This was the toughest climb of the course up Townes Pass.  We were astounded how Richard likes to rabbit chase other riders.  I lost count of how many we passed.  What amazed us the most was a renegade rider on a mountain bike was on the same road.  As we passed him, we noticed that he had a plastic grocery bag with an extra water bottle.  All of this excitement passing riders and alike was causing Rob to get up as I barked for him to lie back down and get some rest.  Not only did Richard pass many riders climbing, he also passed many of them on the descent as well.  There was one occasion where he was coasting and kept up with a support car.  Why was he costing?  He had the potential to pass the cyclist up ahead.  He signaled us to pull over when there was a safe place on the road.  Once we stopped, we realized that he threw off his chain.  A ha!  Rob was up and anxious to drive the rest of the way to Furnace Creek.  I decided to take over the back of the cab and get my rest.


I can not write much of anything about this stage to Shoshone of 73.6 miles and 6,744 of climbing since I was sound asleep throughout the duration.  The next thing I knew, Anna was telling me, “Okay Louise, you’re up!”  Huh?  Oh shoot!  Richard and Anna got my bike together as I scrambled to get my gear and ride on the course.  It was still dark in the early morning hours and the gas station, with bathroom facilities, was closed.  There was no need to wear my jacket as the temperatures remained in the 70’s.  This was when I noticed that team Prairie Dog was briefly behind us and Franz K. was mounting his bike.  Great!  Here I am groggy from being a sound sleep and I have to ride with one of the most experienced cyclist I know.  I am going to get blown away.


As I peddled on the 56.3 mile course with 2,186 feet on climbing, I did not have much energy and grabbed what I had stuffed in my bento box.  Rob did his best, but he was not following close to me as I was following Richard when I was at the helm of the truck.  I waved at Franz as he passed me about a mile into the climbing.  That was when I realized, where are my gloves?  Ah shoot!  I could see the end on the climb ahead with the flashing lights of other support crews.  It wasn’t until I was descending when I could see a decent place to pull over so I could get my gloves and a cliff bar.  The sun had rose and support crews were able to leap frog riders again.  I was done with the climbing and dealing with more crosswinds.  Luckily they weren’t as strong as they were the day before on the first stage of the course.  Riding into Baker was delightful, I stood on my pedals to finish strong and Anna was geared-up and ready to ride as I approached.  The passing of the baton was quick and smooth; Anna was off to catch Prairie Dog team ahead.


The Restaurant at the corner of the timing station had a full menu.  Rob mentioned that their strawberry milkshakes are good.  It may be something o’clock in the morning, but a strawberry milkshake with fresh strawberries sounds irresistible.  Talk about something going down easy.  I was done, grabbed a change of clothes and freshened myself up in the bathroom before the guys were done with their breakfast.  Hey!  Come-on let’s go!  We don’t have that much time as this section is only 34.9 miles with 2,920 feet of rolling hills.  Anna is going to need fresh water bottles or something soon.  As we drove down the course, the roads were horrible!  The worst I have ever seen.  Chopped-up, worn out, patched and re-patched we were all concerned Anna would get a flat for sure!  When she passed us, she was rolling just fine, didn’t need anything, but expressed how the road conditions were so terrible.  Again, I was envious with the tailwinds as she was passing riders along the route, including team Prairie Dog.  When we approached the timing station in Kelso, Richard knew he was up again Franz K. and there wasn’t much of a lead.  Another quick and smooth passing of the baton and we were off racing.


Richard had some rough road, but not has horrible as what Anna had experienced.  His 33.8 miles course had a small climb of 2,280 feet and the route description cautioned of cattle guards on the descent.  Anna decided to take the helm of the truck and I encouraged Rob to sleep again.  You could tell by the look on his face that Richard was working hard against the winds as the weather was getting warm.  I am sure he wanted to do his best because Franz would not be far behind.  As we approached Almost Amboy, we were still ahead of team Prairie Dog, but not my much.  Rob was ready to go; we had the passing of the baton down to a science.


We were concerned with Rob as the day was getting warmer and the winds were starting to get stronger.  There was 58.2 miles and 4,170 feet of climbing until the finish line.  The last stage and we were all getting excited to complete the course.  We really did not know how much time had passed and we had to remind ourselves what day of the week it was.  It was if our internal clocks were disoriented, but the focus was to finish this race.  Richard was meticulous about checking in on Rob every five miles to see if he needed more fluids or food.  Rob did well to keep hydrated as he asked for a fresh bottle of water every time.  After the first two exchanges, I got the pattern down and had the water ready as opposed to twice to catch a water bottle and stopping again to pass a fresh water bottle.  When he made the famous left turn unto Utah Trail marked the six mile point to the finish line, team Prairie Dog parked their vehicle off the road close of ours.  When Rob approached, Paul V was close behind.  As we exchanged water bottles, Rob turned to me as asked “Should I pass this rider as the whipped dog that he is?”  I quickly responded, “Oh Yes!  By all means… Absolutely!”  A resounding “HEY” came from Shelia S. support crew of the other team.  As the two rider took off, we all encouraged them to press on the best they can (both of them).  When we made the turn onto 29 Palms Highway, the winds grew stronger and my heart sank.  This was going to be a tough stretch and another hill to climb.  Some may think of it as a speed bump.  But it was bigger than an overpass and after so many miles; it was going to be tough.  We slowed down to keep Rob in our sights before we drove onward.  As we gathered to the finish line, other teams and support crews were there in wait for their respective riders.  Team Prairie Dog was there as an official with binoculars was providing up-to -the-minute updates of the riders.  I voiced my concern as the official was describing Paul V. jersey was ahead of Rob, but he was mistaken.  As I expressed a sigh of relief, Shelia S. replied, “You told him to whip him…”  I rebutted “He asked me for my permission.  What was I suppose to say?  This is a race, so I felt it was best to encourage him.”  We all were full of loud cheers and applause as Rob crossed the finish line.  In the spirit of the event, we did the same for Prairie Dog as both Paul V and Franz K arrived together moments thereafter.

Team Kites broke last year’s record with 32:15:16.and set a course record for mixed 4-person team in the 50+ category.  As team photos were taken after we were given our medals and finishing jerseys, numerous features of the event remained fresh on my mind.  We were all happy we had completed the race with no flat tires and no injuries.  As we were talking about the wind and the rain, Rob mentioned that “Louise took one for the team.”  A number of things were learned along the process.  There has to be some attention from other team members to make sure the rider coming up is preparing themselves at least 30 minutes before their stage begins.  Teams ought to do some training rides together to ensure the best riders are designated for specific stages.  Better communication on the needs of the rider during the course.  This was this biggest highlight ever imagined to end my first year in cycling.  A spiritual odyssey indeed.

Furnace Creek 508 – Team Prairie Dog

| October 10, 2008 8:00 pm
Furnace Creek 508 - Team Prairie Dog

This past weekend, Paul and Franz competed as a two man relay team in the 25th Furnace Creek 508 bicycle race (see Prairie Dog Team Website). We were lucky to have Russ and Sheila crew again for us. We started on Saturday morning at 9:00 am and finished on Sunday afternoon at 5:17 pm, for a total time of 32 hours, 17 minutes.

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We started the trek on Friday. After loading up the van with bikes and supplies we headed down to Santa Clarita.

We had a few mishaps on the way down. The first one was Paul seeing in his rear view mirror that one of his spare wheels had bounced off the top of the van. We were on a freeway so we had to go to the next exit several miles down and back track. It was hard to figure out where the wheel was, so we stopped at a rest stop and searched. Sheila finally found it, still in good condition.

The other mishap was some exploding coke cans. We had put them near the dry ice to cool them fast, but they froze and exploded.

After arriving, Russ and Paul worked on getting the signs on the van and then we had the inspection.

Saturday morning it was up early and get ready. Since the start hotel was not that far from where we were staying, Franz decided to just bike over there instead of try to put his bike up on the top of the van.

Start Line

It was a lot of fun to have so many friends at the start doing the race on other teams. Franz, Gary F. and Joe F. were at the starting line.

Eight Stages

Franz did the “A” rider stages again this year so he started out with the first stage from the start to California City.

We had a police escort for the first 5 miles. The support vehicles have to drive out to the 24 mile mark and wait for the rides.

The 84 mile ride over to California City was fast with both a tailwind and a cross wind at times. Franz arrived at 1:25 pm and made the hand off to Paul. He then headed to Trona.

Paul made very good time on this state, averaging 20.3 mph.

This year we were doing much better which allowed us to drive the support vehicle on to Trona and wait. Last year we had to go into the follow the rider mode at 6 pm. Since we could get to the time station before 6 pm, we could drive ahead and be ready before Paul finished the stage. Franz decided to switch to his bike with the triple since he would be climbing Townes Pass.

Paul arrived at 5:27 PM, and Franz made my way towards Townes Pass as the sun was setting.

One stage that Franz didn’t feel like he did well on last year was this stage 3, from Trona to Furnace Creek. This year his time was 6:03 compared with 7:17 last year, so nearly a 45 minute improvement.

It was now dark as Franz started to climb up Townes Pass. Unlike last year, it was much warmer, but there was a strong headwind. Once he reached the summit, Franz switched to his other bike, which had the bright light on it. It was then a 5,000 foot drop down into Death Valley, then the long ride over to Furnace Creek.

At 10:56 pm, Paul took over and started the stage to Shoshone. That involves considerable climbing, up out of the Death Valley.

He arrived at 5:27 am, so we needed to do a night time switch, which meant Franz could not get out of the car and get the bike ready until after Paul reached the time station. It was still dark as Franz left for Baker. After 7:00 am, the support van could go ahead and get to Baker in time for Paul to enjoy a milkshake before Franz arrived.

Franz came flying into Baker at 8:53 am.

The stage to Baker was slower than last year but there was a headwind instead of the tailwind Franz had enjoyed previously. He was glad to get off the bike, if he could only get his leg over it! But when he did he found they had bought him a cheeseburger and fries. Wow that was great.

Powered by the milkshake, Paul made his way towards Kelso.

At 11:30 AM, Paul arrived at Kelso and Franz took the hand off and headed to Almost Amboy.

Being his last stage, Franz took off fast with the plan to ride this 33 miles as fast as he could, despite the climbing. Besides Franz had that power from the cheeseburger that he had eaten in the van on the way over.

After the 2,200 foot climb, it was a very long descent down to Almost Amboy. It was not as fast as last year when we had the tail wind but Franz still was able to average 18.9 mph. Paul then started the last stage to the finish.

The Finish

Just before the finish, as is customary, Franz got back on the bike so we could cross the finish line together.

It was really the effort of the entire team, both riders and crew, that made this such a rewarding experience.

We were happy we finished 69 minutes faster than last year and within 7 minutes of our target (See Results).