Death Valley Double

| March 2, 2009 10:38 pm
Death Valley Double

by Louise McCracken

It was a crisp morning with temperatures in the mid to high 50’s and no wind that morning at Furnace Creek Ranch to begin the Spring Death Valley Double Century. Groups of 50 were set off for the ride every 10 minutes starting at six o’clock.  Recommendations of faster riders were preferred for the first group and the slower groups thereafter.  I was surprised to find Gary F and Franz K in the same group as I starting off at 6:10 am.  They teased me the night before over dinner as they expressed that they were going to make this a leisurely ride and watch me fade in the distance on the climbs.  Yea right, I could not ride fast enough to make it a leisurely ride you guys, give me a break.  When I expressed my astonishment of their position, they quickly informed me that the max number of participants had been reached for the first group before they arrived.  Regardless, we wished each other to do well on the ride with high hopes that the Wind Goddess will be good to us.

The sun had not peaked over the mountains yet, but it was light enough to see the road.  Light requirements were marginal. As we arrived to the first rest stop at mile 17 at Badwater, the group was still spreading out and most riders were still finding groups at their pace to work together.  The group I rode with consisted of about five, but individuals were dropping and popping into the pace line.  As we were a mile or two out of the rest stop the pace line remained consistent with four.  Got to know two of them, Joe and Gwen from the Marin Cycling Club.  I was amazed how Gwen was able to stand on her pedals through every climb. A gentle breeze was noticeable as we arrived to the second rest stop at mile 45 at Ashford Mills.  I needed to refill a bottle, top-off my camel bak and grabs some munchies the climbing was shortly ahead.

Remembering the Century ride from last year, I felt that the summit of Jubilee Pass came up quickly.  Yahoo!  I was happy, but knew a tougher climb to Salsberry Pass was ahead.  What a climb, gradual but steady, I had to concentrate on my form as I pushed forward.  I was so relieved to see the Water Stop at mile 57.  The support crew was happy to fill my water bottle for me so I would not have to get off the bike.  The summit was three miles ahead “then it’s all down hill and flat” I was reassured.  Happy to hear the news, it felt like a very long three miles until I was able to coast and light pedal down on the descents.

A few rolling hills before arriving to Shoshone rest stop at mile 74 and the turn around point of the ride.  The table was nicely stocked with fruit and other goodies including ice for bottles and camel pak’s.  I had trouble clipping my left cleat into my pedal when I left the rest stop.  Pulled over and noticed that I stepped in some bubble gum.  I cruised back and tried to clean off the gum with a paper towel-futile.  Then I saw a leatherman and had trouble flipping out the tool I needed to clean out my cleat.  One of the crewmembers noticed what I was doing and helped me clean out the cleat.  I should have pulled out my camera for that, it was a unique Kodak moment.

Leaving Shoshone, I knew climbing back over Salsberry and Jubilee Passes were going to be a challenge.  The wind had picked-up as it started to remind me of the grief of last year.  Nevertheless, I remembered conversations I had with others days before about these climbs.  I was reassured that the climbs were shorter, but steeper in some areas.  “Don’t worry, you can make it, they are easy.  The toughest part of the Double is already done at that point.”  Going through the climb back over Salsberry Pass was as strenuous as expected, but the climb back over Jubilee Pass was tougher.  I felt like I performed a miracle when I reached the summit.  An easier climb, I don’t think so!

Arriving back to the Ashford Mills rest stop at mile 103 was a welcomed sight.  My legs were telling me they were tired and I needed to stretch to release the pressure in my lower back.  The camel bak was empty with the exception of the ice and I was working on my second bottle.  Snacks at the table were not as plentiful; this rest stop took care of the Century riders too.  I made the most of the situation as I filled my bento box with pretzels.  Filled my water bottles and camel bak and I was ready to venture off to find a pace line.

Much to my delight, the wind lighter, but consistent.  I found a pace line with a recumbent at the end.  When I approached, the recumbent was gracious enough to let me in behind the next rider.  After a few miles, the group approached three more in a pack that joined the group.  Moments later, I found myself slipping away as the group was pulling faster.  Pushing harder, I could not hang on much longer and fell back.  The rider on the recumbent was encouraging me to press on and keep up them.  I shook my head indicating that it was too much for me.

As the riders moved on creating a larger gap, I saw the recumbent talking to the last rider of the group.  The next thing I knew, he was falling back to ride with me.  That was so sweet, he didn’t need to do that.  When I was able to approach him, I expressed my gratitude.  He responded “Riding a Double alone makes it a very long ride.”  True, so true indeed.  As I agreed with him, he admitted that the group was getting too fast for him anyway.  I thought he was just saying that to be nice, but I quickly learned that he was getting tired.  As we took turns pulling each other, we were running low on energy and ready for lunch.  There were moments where I was having doubts if I was able to finish this ride after all.

When we approached the sign that read “Badwater vista point ¼ mile” my partner yelled “Yea!” with delight.  He stopped at the restrooms as I coasted to the tents at mile 130.  I could not get off my bike when I arrived.  Leaning over my handlebars in a stance, a crewmember asked if I was okay.  I put up my hand indicating that I needed one minute to answer her.  She asked if she could bring anything, I asked for a banana.  She offered orange wedges since they were out of bananas.  I shook my head in agreement as a quart size bag of orange wedges was in my face moments later.  She was patient and gracious handing me piece by piece as the oranges disappeared quickly.  Another crewmember grabbed a chair for me and offered a Subway sandwich and a soda as I dismounted my bike.

My bike was put aside for me as I sat in a chair with a sandwich in one hand and a soda in the other.  Just like the orange wedges, the sandwich disappeared in no time flat as I started to feel sub-human again.  My riding partner was behind me finding his drop bag so he could put his light on his bike.  I turned to him as asked, “You think we can finish this ride if we work together?”  Without hesitation he replied, “It would be my pleasure!”  Excellent!  I had confidence that I would complete the Double Century as planned.  Filling my bento box with pretzels and taking some endurolytes, I was ready to roll.
Arriving to Furnace Creek at mile 148 felt great, my partner advised me that he wanted to grab another light from his truck before we continued.  It was dusk and lights would be necessary soon.  When I approached the table to refuel, I heard a “Hello Louise” behind my left shoulder.  As I turned, it took awhile to recognize who was talking to me; it was Joe.  He was not wearing his helmet.  Isn’t it funny how you can’t recognize people right away without their cycling gear?  I greeted Gary F with accolades as he arrived moments later completing the ride.  Joe agreed to ride with us for the rest of the course when my partner came back with his light.  During the introduction, I learned his name was Andrew.   Joe had trouble with his lights working and told us not to wait for him any longer.  We needed to leave so we could finish the ride before the official cut-off time.

Regardless of the overcast, Death Valley was beautiful as the sun disappeared into the mountains.  Andrew and I started talking as we rode along the course together.  It was startling to find out that he works with Barry Swartz.  Furthermore, we both grew up in Santa Clara, but attended different High Schools.  Small world, isn’t it?  Andrew had joined ACTC a few months ago, but has not attended any of the LDTR rides.  I told him about my experience and advised him to meet Franz and Gary.  Andrew’s lights were very bright!  Whether I was pulling or not, I had no trouble with visibility of the road.
When we arrived to the last rest stop at Stovepipe Wells, it marked the completion of 171 miles.  It was clear, dark and getting cold.  Cup O’ Noodles was served, but I did not have the appetite.  Drinking another soda, we were happy to sit in a chair and slipping into our arm and leg warmers.  Andrew turned to me and said, “It doesn’t matter now, and we know that every turn of the pedals brings us closer to home.”  He is so right and it certainly gives you a great sense of vitality to finish the ride.  I found out later that I was more revived than Andrew as we started the last leg of the route.  Every now and then I would look up and see the stars shining brightly over us.  With the glow of taillights and headlights of other cyclists and vehicles, there was a sense of awe to be in Death Valley.

I could feel the coolness of the air hitting my face happy I was wearing my arm and leg warmers.  At first I wondered if I needed to pull over and wear my jacket.  But moments later, I felt it was not necessary.  Pulling along the course, I noticed that Andrew was starting to struggle.  I was concerned that I was probably riding too hard too soon and not have enough energy to complete the course.  When Andrew announced that there were three miles left, I replied by indicating that it was going to be a long three miles.  He advised me to go ahead.  I rebutted by indicating that I was “low on gas,” but he quickly replied by indicating that he was lower.  “Are you sure?” “Yea Louise, go ahead, I’ll be okay.”

As I arrived to the final stop at Furnace Creek, Gary and Franz were there to greet me.  “Hooray! I finished! Thanks for being there guys, you’ve got to meet Andrew!”  He arrived moments later and introductions were initiated after he checked-in.  Eating another Subway sandwich went down easy.  Taking a shower in the hotel room made me realize I was sunburned on my neck, arms and legs!  That’s Death Valley for you, now for the road trip back home to the cold and the rain.  Yes!  The Wind Goddess was nice to us that day, what a ride!  I have initiated muscle memory for stage four of the Furnace Creek 508 later in October.

3 Responses to “Death Valley Double”

Deborah Hoag wrote a comment on March 3, 2009

Great Job. David and I were thinking about you and the ACTC crew.

Alison Chaiken wrote a comment on March 3, 2009

Great job, Louise! Ben, Seh, Millie and I drank a toast to you and Franz on Saturday night, thinking about you still out there riding. I’m glad the wind stayed down and the ride was pleasant. I look forward to welcoming Andrew, who sounds like a nice guy and a strong rider.

Louise wrote a comment on March 3, 2009

Thanks everyone. Andrew is a great addition to the club and the long distance riding group. He plans to do the Solvang Double next month, so it sounds like I have my riding buddy for that one too. 🙂

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