Monday, March 14, 2011
Sunday, March 06, 2011
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
I happened to mention the signup for this race to a friend and was surprised to see a few months later that he was in. I quickly decided to go too and talked another friend in for the ride.
We flew in to Las Vegas and spent the day there, all the time obsessing about the weather forecast. Snow, rain and cold featured heavily! The wind in Vegas was strong and it was chilly there too. I took the chance to stock up on shoe covers and chemical heaters and we drove out across the desert, via In and Out Burger for some fuel.
Once we got to Death Valley the wind was insane at Zabriske Point. You could lean against it and almost sit down and be held up just by the sheer force. But the ride wasn't until the next day, so we weren't too concerned about that - just the forecast cold and the storm front we could see building ever higher over Telescope Peak. Spent a bit of time assembling our bikes and getting ready then had an early night. Dawn came pretty quickly and things looked good. A little breezy, but clear skies, no apparent rain and I sent Amanda a message saying 'Weather looks good just now...'. This would come back to haunt me later!
The ride start was at 7am. We lined up and were off at a fairly casual pace. Turning out of Furnace Creek ranch I got to quickly realize how sheltered we'd been from the wind at the start. There was a fairly brisk headwind almost immediately and as the sun came up it quickly picked up to around 20-30 mph sustained, in our face. It was cold in the morning and I found some times I was on a significant downhill, peddling hard to just keep rolling with gravity! I got to Badwater, 17 miles down the road, in about 2 hours! Luckily right around that point I got into a group with two other riders, Andy & Mark, and we started working well together. We rotated, working along the valley, but still only making a consistent 10mph average into the wind. At this point the course is entirely flat. There's no shelter. Typically, you'd expect to be trucking along about 20-25mph in a group and we were giving it everything we had to hardly move!
On we slogged. Eventually, we made it to the start of the only climb. 5 miles straight up to the pass and the turnaround point. We are all pretty tired by this point and the main thing keeping us going is knowing that the way back is going to be so much easier! The noise of the wind had been wearing us down, my arms were sore from fighting the bike trying to blow across the road - but we were going to fly back!
The hill climb wasn't too eventful. The wind died down, the sun came up and it got warm, but I plodded up the climb and made it to the turnaround point in just over 5 hours. 52 miles. In 5 hours. The last century I rode took me about 5.5 hours to do the whole 100 miles! This Death Valley ride was possibly even flatter than that previous ride and here we were, only half way. Time for payback for all the work we'd put in getting here! The next hour was glorious. Firstly, a long, fast descent back down the hill, hitting 40+mph and getting cold. Then we were back on the flat roads, with the wind at our back - and we were flying! Working as group we were riding along easily hitting 30mph. I'm thinking I'll be back home in a couple of hours, ready for a beer. Further down the valley I could see a strange haze rising above Badwater but I thought it must just be dust getting kicked up by the wind that was blowing us so quickly back there.
Then we got closer to it. We crested a slight rise and our pace went from 30mph back down to 12 mph in the space of a few minutes. Some crazy way the wind had switched around on us! What had been such a strong tailwind a few minutes before was right back to an even stronger 35mph sustained headwind. I couldn't believe it - we still had 30 miles or more to go and the wind was stronger than it had been all morning and right back into our faces. We struggled on back to Badwater and lunch. 17 miles to go and it had already taken more than 7 hours to ride 88 miles. 12.5 mph! Probably the slowest average speed I've ever ridden a bike. By this point I started noticing more and more bikes on the SAG wagon. The two guys I'd ridden so far with had some mechanical issues and the wind was getting even stronger and it blew apart our little pace group. I was back on my own and still had about 15 miles to cover. Then it started to rain.
There's a point were things get so ridiculous that you just start laughing in the face of it. I rode on as the clouds built up ahead and the valley put on a great show of what amazing weather can be seen there. Clouds lit up with sunlight, towering black thunderheads, back-lit rain and dust storms blowing past. Beautiful in a primal, humbling way - particularly when you are fighting to push a bike through it, exhausted after a whole day battling the weather.
Somehow I found enough legs to make it back to Furnace Creek Ranch. The last downhill stretch was certainly a gift! 9 hours and 41 minutes after I'd started, I got off my bike and started eating the free pizza. Sure tasted good!
The next morning dawned warm and sunny. No wind. A perfectly beautiful Spring day in Death Valley - great for a bike ride! Out of the 400 people that signed up for the ride, 324 actually even crossed the start line (I think partly due to the snow, rain and cold weather forecasts from before and the wind on the race morning) 124 people are listed as official finishers.
Such a fun day!
Location:Airport Pkwy,San Jose,United States