EPIC. That is how I'd describe the Hells Gate Hundred for 2012. This was my 4th organized ride I've done, and certainly one I'll not soon forget.
Festivities friday night started out with a beer (and/or girly drink) and pasta dinner with CalamariChris and Idoru+lovely wife. Apparently afterwards even more drinking ensued, along with a bit of smack talk. You know who you are! Ended up meeting and chatting with George Vargas for a half hour, and thanked him for turning me on to these AdventureCorps events out in the desert with his detailed blog posts. This is also what has got me to write up my long rides...hoping I too can get more to join into these events in the future.
Saturday morning, I rolled out to the start line on my brand new 'fancy' bike that had 1 mile on it. It usually is a pretty bad idea to ride a totally untested bike for what I was considering an important event, but I figured I could push through any discomfort I might have for the 6 hours I'd planned.
The new bike: S-Works Roubaix SL3
I started in the 3rd wave at 6:50am, which is 80th place 20 minutes behind the leaders, because I wanted people ahead of me to use as markers or goals.
Wave 3 (I'm dead center in the photo):
Within 2 minutes of the word 'Go' I was alone, and a 10-20mph headwind was already in my face. I got down on the aerobars and just worried about watts until the steep Artists Pallette climb. At mile 9, the climb I'd been excited about was here and I started up into the beautiful canyon. I saw a girl on a fixie mashing up this thing...of course it turns out its one of the least impressive things she's ever done. By the top of the climb I'd started to see bibs that were marked from the 6:30 wave so I knew I was making good time. I headed down back to furnace creek, and with a tailwind all I could hear was tire on pavement as the sun rose up over the mountains. I was high off the scenery (and the tailwind).
Climbing Artists Palette
Soon enough I began the 16mile trudge up Daylight Pass. It's roughly like riding up GMR, except its 16 miles instead of 9 miles, so I knew what my agressive-yet-conservative pace should be and I stuck to it. I could see there were hardly any people ahead of me, and I was probably in about 10th-12th place at this point. I only passed about 4-6 riders on this stretch, and by Rhyolite I found myself in 6th place, about dead even with George Vargas (once you account for the 20min start gap). I was finally up there in the front pack with people who actually cared about finishing well. I was cramping, and had downed about 15 endurolites at this point, and was forcing myself to drink more water than I thought I needed. Desert air sucks the moisture right out of you.
On the 16mi climb up Daylight Pass
After Rhyolite, reality hit everybody hard. Wind. It was starting to really pick up with the afternoon heat, and while getting up the backside of Daylight pass was easy, going down it was a whole different story. The cross winds at times would seemingly go from 0 to 50mph without warning. I ended up taking the full lane and tried to tuck not to go faster, but to avoid getting knocked over. Right before the Hells Gate rest stop I nearly ate the pavement with more suprise gusts. I stopped at the rest stop to chat with Idoru a bit and resupply for what would end up being a nightmare.
I'd planned to be weak and spent by this point, and I was. Originally I figured I'd cruise down the 4000ft and enjoy a quick sprint back to the finish, but mother nature was seeing things differently. Down on the valley floor I could see pockets of hard blowing sand, and a huge dust cloud off to the north of Stovepipe Wells. This was gonna suck! I started on the descent, sometimes standing and mashing my way down the mountain into the crazy winds at single digit mph speeds. The road curved quite a bit, so often we dealt with cross winds blowing us all over the road. After an hour of descending something that normally takes 20minutes, I ran across a group of people by the final water stop at mile 90. Morale in the group of riders there (everybody there had turned back early) was the lowest I've ever seen. I tried to convince a few to stick it out...that they'd driven all the way out here for an epic ride and now they had it, but only one guy bit. I tried drinking a soda, and somehow managed to spill some of it on a guy 20 feet down wind. OOps! We got a chuckle out of that.
The dust bowl that was the valley floor
Finally, me, the guy I pep talked, and one rider that showed up right after me decided to make our way the last 10 miles to the finish line - directly into the head wind. In a way it was a blessing, as the riding was much safer. The downside is that the pace got even slower. We all spaced out by about 50 yards and started pedalling. Putting out all the watts I could muster, down in the drops, I was maybe hitting 8mph. About every 2 miles I had to stop for a break, making sure my bike was aimed directly into the wind so that I didn't blow away. 4 miles in, the pep talk guy got in a truck and called it quits, but the soldier behind me was still at it and so was I. For the next few miles we probably had 15-20 people stop and ask if we wanted a ride back. The temptation to quit was strong and constant, but we both toughed it out. At mile 98 we entered into an area of blowing sand, and I found a stone wall to hide behind while I put on my swim goggles and face mask. The last 2 miles I simply stared at the pavement and trudged through the sand storm which let up right before Furnace Creek. I pulled in, was instantly handed a beer from Idoru, and was as happy as could be. I was so happy I didn't give up, I came out there to finish something and I did.
Road conditions near mile 98 of the course:
Results were finally posted, and it looks like 2 or 3 people in front of me DNF'd, putting me in 3rd place with a time of 8:22 - 20 minutes behind 1st place George Vargas (Vireo here on the forum). 111 of the 130 people that signed up DNS'd or DNF'd, 9 in total did the full course. To be clear, this event is not a race, but the people off the front are trying to "do well". I'm also proud to say that there was not a single second where I drafted anybody this time around. 100% solo effort.
Strava link: jmX HGH 2012
More events from Adventure Corps: http://www.adventurecorps.com/index.html
Me, with my swim goggles and face mask at the finish
What a way to break in the new bike and test out my winter training!
PS...I beat the smack talker.
Pics are from Chris Kostman / Adventure Corps, me, and Ben Jones