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More on Death Valley (long)(9 posts)

More on Death Valley (long)PseuZQ
Mar 3, 2003 6:36 PM
So I finished the Death Valley Double, my first ever double. Yay!

This ranks as one of the most epic rides I've undertaken, for its length, for the sheer beauty of it and for the elements. Actually, I thought the conditions weren't that bad except for that 50-mile or so stretch above Scotty's castle. That part was, um, interesting.

Pulling out of Furnace Creek I was able to join some random pacelines and make quick work of the first 24 miles. This was good, because at first I got passed by what I thought was just about everyone, and I was left thinking, great, here I am, dead f*&*%g last yet again. As a newbie to this, one of the things that struck me was how well everyone rode, unlike some really large organized rides where folks are squirreling around all over the joint.

After the first checkpoint we had a long, gradual climb up to Scotty's Castle. So, up we go then! At this point, the weather started getting weird. I'm convinced there was some sort of vortex there, because it was really cold there on the way out, and on the way back in. A lot of folks were talking about rain and snow, and how it's only gonna get colder the higher you go... I heard some people talking about turning back. I thought no freakin' way am I gonna give up this early and I decided to take my chances and go for it: A seven mile climb, plus 20 miles of flat, then back again. What followed were some amazingly brutal head/cross winds. I really could see squall after squall blow across the flat, and got pelted with a little hard snow and hail (no toads or locusts, thankfully). I just hunkered down and kept going and tried not to get angry or demoralized about the wind. After finally hitting the turnaround at 95, my efforts were rewarded with a nice tailwind and descent.

After the second stop at Scotty's we jogged off to Ubehebe crater, which was really cool. I kept getting confused about the grade, though, and thought I was battling another headwind when in actuality I was climbing. I found the ride to be very deceptive that way. The road leading to and from the crater had a bunch of heaves in it, and a passing SAG driver told me that a tandem just ahead of me busted some spokes on their front wheel descending and decided to pack it in. After that dogleg, there was a long, fast descent back to the valley floor. Another thing I've learned about riding in the desert (Tucson, Joshua Tree, now here): Think basin, like riding in a giant, shallow bowl.

Lights: Glad I did my homework here. I used both a Cateye EL300 and a NiteRider Trail Rat (which I was reluctant to spend the dough on but I'm glad I did). The EL300 was my cruise-along light, and the Trail Rat was my descending/go-fast light. Note: After I purchased my white EL300 I read about problems with light pollution out of the unit, then forgot about it until I was actually riding. It definitely became an issue. I wound up covering the top with duct tape and that helped. And by the way, I have never seen dark like a desert under a new moon dark.

The one part that really got to me was the 2200 foot climb at the end. I wound up stopping and resting a couple times on the way up, but hey, I got up. Then bombed down the hill back to Furnace Creek (that's when I was really glad I sprung for a relatively spendy light). A little flat stretch later, and Bob's your uncle, I -- was -- done! It totally rocked. It was super, duper fun and I am now convinced that everyone should try doubles and do this ride.

One thing that was an issue for me leading up to this ride was mental preparation. I kind of knew what to expect, yet at the same time I had no idea. Did I train enough? Did I do the right kind of training? My longest ride before this was 120 miles. (I did a lot of back-to-back long rides with a lot of climbing so I must have done something right.) Reading other ride reports, seeing the course description and the profile helped enormously. Another th
Congrats -- I was a DNF . . .ms
Mar 3, 2003 7:36 PM
I signed up for the double century (I had not done one before) but was not up to the task. By the time that I reached Scotty's Castle, I knew that I did not have 200 miles in me. So, I turned around, did the ride to the crater and then went back to Furnace Creek for a ride of 130+ miles. The parts of the ride that I did were awesome. As another rider said to me early on the course: "This is like riding on the moon." The weather changes also were like nothing I had experienced before. When I started the climb to Scotty's castle it was 75 degrees and sunny, by the time I reached the ranger station I was in the midst of heavy sleet. The light in the valley changes constantly -- the colors in parts of the valley looked very different on the outbound trip than they did on the return. Photogragraphs and descriptions do not do Death Valley justice. You have to see (or better, ride) it to really experience it fully.

My preparation for the ride was shot to hell by the winter weather on the East Coast (I was in California for the weekend because my wife had a conference in Long Beach -- it was a good enough excuse to get me to the West Coast). Although I had done countless hours on the trainer, I had not been outside on the bike for three weeks before the ride. Also, a six hour flight on Thursday and a five hour car ride on Friday did not help. But, so much for excuses. I just need to do more preparation for the next time.

Yesterday, I drove the traditional southern course on my way back to Long Beach. I think that I would have liked the southern course better -- but it is hard to compare a car ride with a bike ride. In any event, I definitely am hooked on Death Valley and plan to come back again, although it is not likely that I soon will have as good an excuse to come to California as I had this time.

I did a Planet Ultra ride last summer when I was in LA on a business trip (Mojave by Moonlight Century). I was impressed with Planet Ultra's organization and support on both the Mojave ride and this weekend's Death Valley ride.

My hat goes off to everyone who finished the double century. You certainly have my congratulations and admiration. Good job.
The old course was more "classic" Death Valley...Lon Norder
Mar 4, 2003 10:17 AM
..with Badwater, Devil's Golf Course, etc. But the new course was a nice change of pace. Maybe they should alternate between the two courses.

I'm glad you liked Death Valley. The place really grows on you. This was my fourth trip there from the SF Bay Area in the last two years.
The old course was more "classic" Death Valley...DougSloan
Mar 4, 2003 11:20 AM
The old course had the Jubilee/Salsberry climbs (between Death Valley and Shoshone), which are a part of the 508. You hit them around 270 miles. I'd be interested to hear what you thought they were like when you are relatively fresh...

I think they only did the new route this year because of some road construction. If you like the route, you should let Chris Kostman know.

Wow, I do like to yap. Here's the rest:PseuZQ
Mar 3, 2003 8:58 PM
Another thing that helped given the wind and weather was having an attitude of being game for anything and having done training rides and commutes in the rain and other crappy conditions. (Note: I live in SF, so take that with a grain of salt, as it never gets too bad here.) I really thought I was going to feel worse than I did. As I mentioned in my previous post, I never felt sick or completely beaten down. My accommodations were fine, too. I stayed at the Stovepipe Wells motel, for $50 a night. (Don't believe the AAA guide, which refuses to rate it because it "doesn't have locks on the doors" or some nonsense.) It was perfect for my needs. (Read: Clean sheets and running water.)

Two final things, that I truly believe helped, and you"ll probably think they're corny as hell. First, my mom called me before the ride to wish me luck, and she said, "Don't think of anyone but yourself." I took that not in a selfish way, but not to get distracted. See, I tend to get a lot of negative chatter going on in my head if I think I’m out of my depth on a ride and it really messes with my confidence. And here's where the other corny thing comes in. The very last thing I read before bed Friday nite was Fred Rogers's obit in the LA Times. It discussed the origin of a famous line of his: "You're special just by being you. I like you just the way you are!" So, this was rattling around my brain all day, and every time I felt my confidence wane I'd think, I'm gonna finish, because Mr. Rogers thinksI'm special and wants me to finish." And that's my story!
congrats on first DC, and thanks for a great report! nmJS Haiku Shop
Mar 4, 2003 6:37 AM
good jobDougSloan
Mar 4, 2003 8:10 AM
Sounds like a good ride.

You tend to find better riders in doubles, as they are more experienced and maybe more mature than some of the typical club rides or even road races. I've seen very few idiots, like someone riding in the middle of a paceline on his aerobars.

Planet Ultra is run by Chris Kostman. This is his main job, his career, in fact, so he does a really good job of putting on events. He does the 508, too.

One thing about doubles is that you have to go at your own pace, whether it be 10 hours or 19 hours. Many don't get that, though, and go out far too fast. That's why so many may have passed you early on. You probably passed many of them later on the road or at food stops. I've done the Central Coast Double three times, and I was within 10 minutes of my best hammerfest time when I just took it easy the first half and actually rode a negative split, averaging faster in the second half. It's a lot more fun that way, too, versus blowing up and suffering for half a day.

Glad you liked it, and welcome to the ultra club.

Chris Kostman is supposed to be working on his PhD :-)PeterRider
Mar 4, 2003 2:34 PM
... well, I'm supposed to work on it too, instead of reading RBR

Congrats on doing your first doubleoutofthesaddle
Mar 4, 2003 9:03 AM
It sounds like you got your money's worth and more with the weather. I really like your approach to meeting the challenges (wind, weather, hills, etc.) that inevitably come with long rides - just keep on riding within yourself and every turn of the cranks gets you closer to the finish.

Congrats on joining the ranks of the double riders.