Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ride Report: Death Valley makes a mockery of my ambitions.

 The week before the race, a friend of mine gave me such a good pep talk, that I almost thought I had a chance of completing the 150. "It'll be great!" I told myself. "I just have to ride like hell for the first half, and then I can coast!"

Needless to say, I didn't finish the 150, but I did manage to go 100 miles (Yay me!), plus I learned a few things which will come in handy for Rachel vs. Death Valley, the Rematch.

After picking up my rental bike (steel may be real, but I needed a lighter bike) and tent, I got on the road about 11 am. Since Death Valley is about a 5 hour drive from Los Angeles and I really needed to get to the campsite and get the tent set up before dark (my idea of roughing it is a hotel with no room service, so I don't have a lot of experience with tents), I drove like hell, figuring I could stop and enjoy the scenery on the way back.

I got to the park, got my campsite, and miraculously, managed to get the tent assembled with minimal pain.

Houston, we have tent. Note rocks as the ground is way, way too hard for tent stakes. 
No one warned me about rental tent smell. Pee-Eeew. If there's a next time, I'm bringing some Febreeze.

After said tenting, I drove over to Furnace Creek Ranch to check in and pick up my ride packet, which consisted of directions and a lip balm.

I then purchased a shower/pool pass to the pool and went swimming before showering. The pool at Furnace Creek Ranch is fed by a warm spring, so there's no chlorine and it's about 82 degrees. Awesome.

After a shower and dinner at one of the overpriced eateries on the ranch property, I headed back up the the tent to get some sleep.

Little did I know that the Texas Spring campground is apparently Death Valley party central. The noise died down after 10 (thanks to our awesome campground host), and I got my revenge at 5 am Saturday morning when my very loud alarm went off.

I drove down to Furnace Creek Ranch, got the last of my stuff together, and lined up for the start.

The fast riders. Note that I am not among them.
   Although I'd hoped to be in wave 2, which left at 6:20, I ended up in wave 4, which left at 6:40. There were cutoff times at each of the aid stations - of course, for the 150 ride, those cutoff times required a much higher speed than did the century course. After hearing tales of gale-force winds from people who had done the ride before, I got a bit nervous, but the wind seemed to be holding off, so all seemed fairly well.

It was in the 40's, and my legs were so cold that, for some reason, my leg warmers kept falling down. I had to stop at the first aid station to drop my seat a bit (that's what I get for not doing a test ride on the bike) and pee.

Badwater aid station. With toilets!

 The rental bike (an aluminum Fuji) seemed just fine - it did very well over the rough-ish roads, but the first 40 miles of the course were 'rollers', low hills, and it became apparent very early that this bike wasn't really geared to climb. I was averaging a decent pace on flats and downhills, but was slowing down on the hills. Still, though, no winds, so all was well.

Most of the pacelines were going way too fast for me (that's not the bike's fault, it's my legs), so it was just me and the empty roads and the silence. Since I live in a large city, silence is something I'm not really used to, but it was nice.

Not a good place to break down, but impressive! 

 Then, just as I was feeling confident, the wind picked up. Not gale force, like the horror stories from last year, but a good steady 16mph.

Just enough to slow me down to the point where, when I got to the second aid stop, I was warned that I might not make the time cutoff.

Then, I started the first climb. It became apparent very quickly that rental bike was SO not geared to climb. My heart rate soared and my speed dropped and dropped and dropped until I was going at about walking speed. A very, very old man on a beach cruiser (I think) passed me, as did an ambling coyote, and at one point, a snail.

So, it wasn't much of a surprise at the Jubilee Pass 50 mile marker I was told that I'd missed the time cutoff and would have to turn around.

I said "oh, darn", but inwardly I thought "Yay!". That first climb was tough, and the second climb, I'm told,  was worse.

I turned around, rolled down the hill (but kept braking as I'm still to scared to go much over 25 mph) and turned back, into a headwind.

The wind, while I was climbing, had shifted 180 degrees, and I'd have a headwind in both directions.

Thanks, Death Valley, thanks a lot.

The entire way back was all about fighting the wind and the rolling hills, and the fact that I now urgently needed a restroom. Over each rise, each curve, I kept looking for Badwater and it's welcoming toilet, but each time I'd just see more desert.



It's a bunch of damn rocks. I no longer care. Where's the freakin' toilet?
The wind, of course, never let up. The pacelines were long gone, so it was still just me, fighting the wind and really needing a restroom.

Badwater, thankfully.

This is my "It's mile 75 but I feel so relieved" face

After the second Badwater stop is when I really started to hurt. I wasn't cramping up, I was just sore and tired, but since this particular ride won't SAG riders in unless there's some sort of catastrophic injury, my only option was to keep riding.

At one point, I stopped, got off the bike, bent over and tried to stretch out, but this alarmed anyone passing so much ("are you okay? Do you need help?") that I didn't do it again. Plus, it didn't help. My butt hurt, my back hurt, my feet hurt, my neck hurt. Hell, even my hair hurt. I can't imagine the suffering of the poor bastards who tried to cross this desert in a covered wagon (and eventually on foot after the livestock died for lack of forage).

After what seemed like an eternity, the end finally appeared:

Oh, thank God.
The last blissful mile was all downhill into Furnace Creek. I coasted into the ranch, checked in and informed them that I'd dropped down to the 100 miler, and finally got off that damned bike.

Between the winds, the hills, and the general unprepared state of my legs, my official time for the 100 mile ride was 9 hours 20 minutes. That stinging sensation - it's my pride.

I'm not all that fast and I know it, but NINE hours? Were my neck not so sore, I would have hung my head in shame.

Instead, I limped over to the car, threw the bike in the back, grabbed my swimsuit (and some fresh clothes), and headed for the pool.

After floating and stretching, I showered and limped into the restaurant, where I rewarded my self with a plate of undercooked risotto and a beer.

It was easy to spot the cyclists. We were all limping. I chatted with a few fellow riders, and then headed back to the campground, where I stayed awake long enough to brush my teeth and then fell fast asleep despite the noisy campground.

I wish drivers in LA were as courteous as the drivers were in Death Valley. Seriously, all the drivers were incredibly nice.

What is this booth thing with the phone?

The next morning, I got up, limped around, packed the car and then went back to Furnace Creek Ranch for a recovery swim in the pool, since the last thing I wanted was to get back on the bike.

I swam a few laps, stretched, had breakfast and then headed out. I stopped a few times to check out the scenic views and whatnot.

Of course, on the drive out of Death Valley, there were no winds. Not even a breeze, and the temperature was 78 degrees. Just Death Valley saying "Next time, take the car". 

Borax Works

Info sign

Wait.. what?

So, for the Rachel vs. Death Valley rematch:

#1. Compact crank and geared for climbing. I made the mistake of assuming that light weight would equal speed. So not true.

#2. Suck it up and pay for the hotel room. Camping sucks ass.

#3. Bring a bike with aerobars. That wind is a bitch.

#4. Get in an earlier start wave.

On the bright side, I didn't cramp up, I didn't have dehydration issues, and I still managed 100 miles.


I have to give credit to AdvendureCORPS, who put on a very nice race. The volunteers were wonderful, the aid stations were wonderful,  the route was wonderful, and despite my not making my cutoff, I'll definitely be back.

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