THIS IS EASIER TO READ IF PRINTED OUT FIRST
The final two doubles on my schedule for the year came up in succession on 10/21/06-Solvang Fall and 10/28/06-Death Valley Fall. Since I had not previously done back to back doubles I decided that I should maybe hold back at Solvang (an unknown new course) and then put all my efforts into finishing Death Valley with the best overall time.
SOLVANG: My buddy Stan decided at more or less the last minute to do the Solvang ride with me, I had only pleaded with him to do the ride for 6 months. So the plan was set. I would ride a little slower with Stan and save my energy for the following week. As a side note we decided we would try to finish the 200 mile ride with 10,000 feet of climbing in 12 hours or less, so as to give Stan a challenge. The weather report in Solvang called for 53 degrees in the morning, so of course my bike computer said it was 43 about 5 miles into the ride. We stayed with the lead riders and everything was fine until I flatted at mile 15.6. Stan decided to keep going and I agreed I would catch him. Easier said than done. I changed my rear flat with no problem; however, my chain came off and was lodged in the front derailleur. With some time and luck I extracated the chain only to have it fall off again as soon as I pedaled. I replaced it again and was on my way, only to notice that my speedometer was not recording my speed. I stopped again to adjust the sensor, but I couldn't get it started. I assumed that the battery must have died on the transmitter. If you've read my reports before you know that I ride strictly by the numbers and without a speedometer I don't know have fast I'm going, my average speed, or most importantly, how far I have gone.
By now I had lost at least 10 minutes and was most likely the last of 200 riders on the road. I got back on the bike and started catching people as fast as I could, asking each person I passed how fast they were riding so that I had an idea how fast I was going. That didn't help much and all of a sudden the speedometer started working again about 10 mile later. Whew! That's the long part of my story, I zoomed along and finally caught Stan at around mile 58 on a long uphill. The remainder of the ride was pretty uneventful, but the course was much harder than I anticipated. The organizers added Prefumo Canyon as one of the new climbs on the route and the last mile of the climb had grades of 14+% for extended sections and peaked at 21% three times on my computer. The ride goes out to San Luis Obispo inland and comes back along the coast primarily, which means that there would usually be a lot of tailwinds on the final 90 miles or so. The Santa Anas were blowing that day down in LA and for some reason, maybe that, there were exactly zero tailwinds all the way to the finish. As a result, the second half of the ride took everyone a lot longer than the first half. My average at 100 miles was 19.3 mph and I finished with 18.6 mph. At the halfway point I asked who was in first and when they arrived, and I was told Marc Patton was in first and arrived in 5 hours, a 20+ mph average. I found out later he finished in third place in 11:34, so the second half took him 6:34 hours. The first half took me 5:47 and the second half 6:38 for a total of 12:25.
After I caught Stan, I continued along at my own pace to each rest stop and then waited for Stan. It was more comfortable for both of us this way. It soon became apparent that due to a lack of tailwinds, we wouldn't finish in 12 hours and would get in after dark, so we tried to keep the pace up. We reached the finish at 7:10 pm and learned that Jeff Landauer and his friend finished in 10:58 and had gotten lost at least once. Jeff is probably the fasted double rider in California and I hope to catch him someday. My bike time was around 10:50 and with the flat and my normal breaks I would have likely finished in around 11:20 -11:25.
DEATH VALLEY: I had never been to Death Valley previously and I was excited about the trip. As a added plus the driving route to Death Valley, after Mojave, follows virtually the entire 508 route form mile 100-250. As you may recall on the Tour of Two "Fires" in September I had the opportunity to ride the first 100 miles of the route and I am considering doing the 508 mile Furnace Creek 508 Race in either 2007 or 2008. To say that the route is desolate is an understatement. You do not want your car to break down on these roads, as you are miles from civilization and cell phones tend not to operate. The only solace was that I had a bicycle, a camelbak, and lots of water and food; so I could ride my bike to the nearest town in case my car broke down.
I arrived at Furnace Creek at around 6pm, checked in for the ride, ate my favorite pre-double El Pollo Loco burritos, got the gear ready, and went to bed at 10:30. At sign in I asked Chris Kostman, the ride organizer, how to make sure to start at 7am with the fast group ( Adventure Corps starts the double riders in 3 waves at 7:00, 7:10, and 7:20) and he suggested getting to the start early. In the morning the temperature was in the low 50's and it was clear with a slight breeze. Since I was there early I ended up at the front of the riders for the start in my polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey and my red Phonak bib-shorts (my preferred and most comfortable bib-shorts). Chris was standing in front of us and I asked him if Eric Wilson, my new nemesis, was also starting at 7:00 and he pointed out that he was two riders behind me. You might recall that Eric Wilson is one of the three riders that finished ahead of me at Tour of Two "Fires". I turned around and introduced myself and told Eric that I chased him all day at ToTF and was 9 minutes behind him and that I did not intend on losing him today. He looked confused, but shook my hand. He was the rider that I figured I would have to beat if I wanted the best time.
We started at 7:00 sharp and I was near the front. The pace was slower than normal and at the first roller at mile 1 I took off up the hill to see who would follow me. No one, thats who. I held the lead solo all the way to mile 3 when one guy with a camelbak bridged across the gap and asked if I planned on riding all alone in front all day. I replied no that I figured that at least 10 riders would come with me and just then on the downhill a tandem and 40 other riders blasted past us. So much for the lead. I worked my way back to the front 10 riders and we flew to Stovepipe Wells. At each roller a few more riders dropped off and by around mile 15 we were down to 10 lead riders. This group stayed together to the first rest stop at mile 23 at Stovepipe Wells. We were in and out in 1-2 minutes and we were now down to 8 riders. The pace was fast and furious until mile 50 where we had climbed 1180 feet ( all rollers or short climbs), had an average speed of 22.1 mph and were now down to 6 lead riders. During this time a rider pulled up beside me and asked my first and last name, which I told him. A little while later I figured that I should ask his name and it was Wade Baker. Wade Baker, a name I have seen repeated in results of doubles, the 508, and the Race Across Oregon. Wade finished in 5th place twice in the 508, including this year, and finished third in the 538 mile Race Across Oregon in 2006. Somehow I overlooked his name on the list of riders. I now had two riders I needed to be concerned with not losing.
Mile 50 is where the ride changes. Mile 50 is the start of a 25 mile climb that is not too steep, it is relentless and doesn't look like a climb, but it is indeed a 4000 foot climb. The pace at this point dropped to around 16 mph and everyone kept the paceline and took their pulls at the front. A guy in an insurance company uniform and I seemed to be having the most problems hanging on, I tried to wait until he dropped off before I did, but I blinked first at mile 53. I knew I couldn't keep up that pace and figured I was better off at my own pace. I looked up to watch them ride away and to my surprise the insurance guy fell off right after I did. As I rode up to him we noticed that two more guys fell off and that only Wade and Eric were still in front. Right here on the side of the road at an unannounced location was a surprise rest stop with a port-o-potty and I had to urinate, so I stopped to drop and take on water. Riders 3-5 also stopped for water, but no bathroom break. Wade and Eric kept going and it looked like Wade was trying to drop Eric. I was in sixth as I pulled out of the rest stop and Chris Kostman took the opportunity to rib me about my jersey and said " You need to catch up to those guys up there to earn your King Of The Mountains Jersey" with a large dose of sarcasm and ridicule. For those not familiar with cycling, a polka-dot jersey is usually only worn by the best climbers around or specifically the single best climber at a particular event. My polka-dot jersey was for participating in and completing the Planet Ultra King of the Mountains competition, although I finished in 18th place. I wear the jersey because it matches my shorts in color and it has big pockets to hold all my food for the double. I replied that I would do my best and went on my way. As an aside, last week at Solvang, while riding all alone a car of guys told me my polka-dot jersey looked cute and laughed at me, so I can take the ridicule.
I was not too far behind 3-5 and I quickly got into a rhythm and caught insurance guy, he grabbed my wheel and we caught 3 (Bruce) and 4. I was climbing much better than they were so when it became steeper I attacked and tried to grab third all to myself. I pulled away for about 2 miles and then just Bruce managed to bridge the gap. We traded the lead and he struggled to hold my wheel for around 10 miles until I finally pulled away about 4 miles before stop #3 at Scotty's Castle. As I pulled into the stop Wade and Eric were pulling out. I got food and water and Bruce arrived about 2 minutes later and went into the restroom. I didn't want to have to drop him again so I left on up the remaining 6 mile climb to the top about 4-5 minutes behind the leaders. I forgot to mention that the climb averages less than 4 percent and is mostly not too steep. I figured that I could climb it at around 15 mph but was only averaging around 12 mph. The reason was the slight headwind that started at mile 51 and continued until mile 121. Not a strong wind, but enough to annoy you and slow you down up hill. I seemed to be in a nice rhythm up the hill and it curved back and forth. After around 3 miles I noticed only Eric off in the distance and after a couple more turns I realized he was closer. And then closer until I realized I could probably catch him. I alternated standing and sitting and finally caught him just before the top of the hill at mile 75.
Just ahead about 1/8 mile, I now saw Wade. Eric picked up his speed and grabbed my wheel and we caught Wade in short order. This was the point where I came to the realization that I might actually finish first, as I was climbing much faster than either Wade or Eric. I knew there were only two significant climbs left, a 3-mile climb to Ubehebe Crater at mile 127 and a 7-mile climb up to Hell's Gate at mile 169, and I realized that it would be next to impossible to drop these two fine riders without hills, so I decided to stick with them until the final climb. We rode across mostly flat road to the turn around at Highway 95 in Nevada on a rough annoying road into a headwind and took our pulls. We stopped at the turn around and heard over the radio that someone had fallen and broken their clavicle or collarbone near Scotty's Castle and we ate, drank, and talked a little. We were expecting a tailwind back across the flat and down to Scotty's Castle, but the wind turned around at noon and we had a head wind all the way back. I noticed on the way back that I was averaging 20-21 mph on my pulls, Eric 19-20 mph and Wade 18-19 mph and this reinforced my thought that I was the strongest rider left at this point. We hit the 6-mile downhill to Scotty's and like guys will do, we each tried to pull away from one another down the hill to no avail and we pulled into the rest stop at Scotty's at mile 126. My average was down to 18.4 mph at the 100-mile mark.
Chris happened to be at the rest stop and I pointed to my jersey and told him I caught them like he asked me to, he didn't seem impressed. We stayed about 5 minutes and headed back down the hill into a traffic jam of cars, century riders and a coyote. At the bottom of the hill we turned right to go to Ubehebe Crater. The road to the crater is awful with huge cracks and nasty bumps. First you go down hill and then back up 3 miles to the top. About 1 mile to the top I took off to test the climbing strength of Eric and Wade, I pulled away by about 30 seconds and Eric was second with Wade a distant third. I knew we had to stop at the top to get our numbers marked, so I wasn't trying to pull away, but Eric accused me of being an opportunist anyway. I guess he forgot that he dropped me at the bottom of the first long hill, that opportunist. I asked the lady marking the numbers to put a number 1 next to my mark so Sarah would know that at least I was first to mile 130, she did. We zoomed down the hill and back up the hill to the main road and dropped Wade off the back. There is a Ranger Station and water spigot just after the turn where we are asked to pick up water since it is 40 miles to the next rest stop so we stopped and waited for Wade since there was mostly flat or downhill to the next rest stop.
Around mile 150 it turns to flat terrain with an occasional roller. I hammered up all the rollers and took a lead and them waited for them to catch me on the downhill. At each successive roller, I pulled a little further ahead and they took a little longer to catch me on the flat. Finally at around mile 163 there were several consecutive rollers and I pulled ahead until I could barely see Wade and Eric behind anymore and I led alone again until the rest stop at mile 169. My average to mile 150 went back up to 19.1 mph. I visited the restroom and got some water, food, and ibuprofen and Eric and Wade arrived about 2-3 minutes after I did. Eric sat down and relaxed and saw I was ready to go and suggested I keep going and not wait for him. I declined and said I would wait a little longer, since I wanted him to know I was a good sport and because I was 99% certain I would easily beat them up the 7-mile 2000 foot climb. I waited a few more minutes and got ready and asked both Eric and Wade if they were going and they said no. I had driven up the climb to Hell's Gate as this climb is called, on my way in the night before. I knew by use of my Polar computer that the climb was around 4-5% for 4 miles, then 6.5% for 1 mile, and 8.5% for the last 2 miles. I figured it would take around 42-45 minutes at 9.5-10 mph average. The climb started great and I alternated 1/2 mile standing and 1/2 mile sitting for 3-1/2 miles at around 11-12 mph, but then the road turned a corner and there was a 1 1/'2 mile straight away climb at 8.5%. Some of you know switchbacks are my favorite climbs and straight away are my least favorite because they seem to go on forever and you cannot tell by sight how steep the climb looks. 3% and 15% look the same, so the only way you can tell is by how slow you are going. Additionally, there are no breaks on straight aways, while on switchbacks there are breaks between each turn. I slowed down to around 7.5-8.5 mph and went into my lowest gear 53-23. I had the great idea of changing my rear cog to 11-23 from 12-25 so I could go fast downhill on this ride, not knowing I would only get headwinds on the downhills and underestimating how hard a 2- mile 8.5% climb would be at mile 175. You go boy!
I continued sitting and standing, except that it was now 0.10 mile duration and I was wearing out fast. I spend virtually the entire time staring at my odometer trying to will it to turn faster, only breaking to look back down the road to see if anyone was coming. I checked several times and never saw anyone, but I was paranoid that someone would come out of the blue. At long last I reached the last check point at mile 177 and asked the lady to note on my number that I was the first one there in case I flatted or crashed on the way downhill and back to the finish. I ate an Oreo, a pretzel, and drank some water. It took 44 minutes to climb the hill, not too bad. I was convinced I was home free and yet I was also sure there was plenty of time to screw it up somehow. I noticed that my total time was 10:02 and that I had 21 miles to go. I realized I still had a chance to beat 11:00, so I took off down the hill. I reached the bottom at 10:23 with 11 flat miles and a couple of rollers to go. I put it in overdrive and stayed between 21-22 mph except on the rollers and I reached down to turn on my tail light with around 5 miles to go. You might recall the mighty tail light from ToTF where it helped to cause me to get dropped, well the light was up to its old tricks. It wouldn't turn on, which was not totally unexpected. When I arrived and unpacked, I noticed my tail light was turned on, but I couldn't be sure if it just turned on or if it was on the whole drive over. The light still looked bright so I guessed it had just turned on while unpacking. Nonetheless, while at the general store later in the evening I tried to buy AA batteries and replace them in the tail light, buuuuuuuuuuuut they didn't have any.
I reached the finish at 5:54pm in first place with a total time of 10:54, a ride time of 10:22, an average speed of 19.1, and 9200 feet of climbing. Yeee Haaw! I was the only rider on the double that finished in time to not need lights, even 15 minutes later and I might have been disqualified for no rear light, I guess I was lucky. I was greeted at the finish by none other than Bill Walton, former UCLA, Portland TrailBlazer, and current Clipper announcer. He had just finished doing the century ride with a bunch of his friends. He introduced me to all his friends and his wife and seemed to be a genuinely nice person. However, I was tired and hungry and he wouldn't let up with the interview until the second place finisher arrived 16 minutes later. I was quizzed on my training and everything I did from the time I left Chatsworth to the finish of the race. All the while I was holding a piece of pizza in my hand that I wanted desperately to eat along some of his other pizza friends. I will admit it was nice to meet Bill and he seemed genuinely interested in everything about how to ride a double fast, but I guess I should have told him it was important for me to eat quickly after the ride.
Eric came rolling in 16 minutes later in 11:10, followed by Wade at 11:18 and Seth just behind him. They have not posted the final results yet, but Bruce said he finished 6th at 12:11. I asked Eric and Wade and they said they left the rest stop around 3-4 minutes after I did. I had the timekeeper put a note next to my number on the time sheet to let Chris know that the polka-dot guy earned his King of the Mountains jersey today. I opened my big mouth for the last two weeks and told anyone who asked that I planned on winning Death Valley period. I feel fortunate that everything went well and I was able to follow through on my promise. Also, when I left work on Friday Sarah said I couldn't come home if I didn't win. I wanted to come home.
Thank you all for your support.