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Old 11-01-09, 01:20 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: SoCal
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Bikes: 2008 Scott CR1 Pro; 2006 Schwinn Fastback Pro and 1996 Colnago Decor Super C96; 2003 Univega Alpina 700; 2000 Schwinn Super Sport

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Stage IV - Furnace Creek to Shoshone (cont.)

My eyes opened. Everyone in the van was quietly asleep. Bill in the driver’s seat, Rick in front, and Saralie next to me in the passenger seat.

We were at Mormon Point. It had been only an hour and a half since I got blown off the road. But the sky was blue and the shadow of the Funeral Mountains was retreating down the Panamints. The Death Valley floor would soon be in daylight. The world looked different. Different as … well, different as night and day.

I was wide awake. My leg was still a little sore from my encounter with the shoulder, but other than that, I actually felt refreshed.

I could hear that it was still windy outside, but the van did not appear to be buffeting nearly as much as last night.

I didn’t want to wake the crew. It had been a long night for them too, and they needed rest. But after a few minutes, Bill stirred in the driver’s seat. Not wanting to wake Rick or Saralie, I whispered.

“Well, Bill … what do you think?”

The context was clear. Should I keep going?

“I dunno man.”

Despite our whispers, Saralie and Rick soon awoke. At once, we discussed what we should do. We all knew that if the winds had not subsided, we might as well pack it in. Rick had just attempted the 2009 HooDoo, and he encountered winds that forced him to DNF. It happens.

The world looks different in daylight … so much more hopeful.

Saralie had a proposal. I listened.

“Well, it’s daylight. We don’t need to follow you anymore. Why not just start riding, and we’ll head up to Shoshone to check out the winds. If the winds are like they were last night, we can quit. If they’ve calmed down, we can keep going.”

That made perfect sense to me.

At once, I prepared to do battle with the winds again. But I was refreshed and ready to go. The bike was sitting outside like a dead animal. Overnight, the winds had flipped the front wheel over even though it was laying flat on the ground. I half expected it to have been blown back to Badwater.

I opened the door. I dunno how this was possible, but it was at once cooler and less windy than only two hours before. Oh, it was still windy. But not nearly AS windy. This was doable.

“On second thought, why don’t we follow you to Ashford Mills first. We’ll head off to Shoshone when you start the climb.”

That sounded even better. So I mounted up the bike, clipped in, and started riding.

I had done a training ride where I rode 300 miles, slept a few hours, then got back on the bike to ride another 100. And let me tell you, getting back on the bike is not a pleasant experience. Your legs are stiff. Your arse is sore. You’re tired.

But inexplicably, that was not the case here. I was not stiff. I was not sore. I wasn’t tired. The drying scabs on my scraped up leg were noteworthy, but little else.

I have no explanation for this. Maybe I just seemed refreshed, because ANYTHING would be an improvement from my condition the dark night before. But for whatever reason, I was actually eager to get on the bike and start riding. And when I did, I felt great.

I guess all that training was good for something.

Another dawning reality. The wind had died down considerably! Yes, it was still windy … as I approached Ashford Mills, I was peppered with more sheets of blowing sand, much like I was in Stovepipe Wells the night before.

But just like Stovepipe Wells, it was doable. Sandy, but doable. And the wind was more from the East than the South … a crosswind. I got to Ashford Mills feeling refreshed, and had no desire to stop whatever. I kept going and made the left turn to begin my ascent of Salsbury Pass.

I stopped briefly to speak to the crew.

“Follow me up the grade until I get to Shoshone. I don’t care about the winds … I want to make it that far.”

True enough. I had struggled up Townes Pass in crosswinds, braved the sheeting sandstorms of Stovepipe Wells, fought the whipping headwinds all the way to Furnace Creek. Since there was a timesttop there, there was a record that I made it that far.

But now, I had battled my way to Mormon Point, one foot at a time. I had my wheel picked up by the wind. I got blown all over the road, and finally … off the road. If I quit before I got to Shoshone, the official records would show that I made it to Furnace Creek, and that is all. If I made it to Shoshone, at least I would get some modicum of credit for the sufferfest I endured that night.

Resolved. I didn’t care how bad the winds were, and at this point, I didn’t care if I finished the 508 or not. Frankly, I had decided to accept a DNF. But come hell or high water, I would not die in Death Valley … I would make it to Shoshone … no matter what.

I have done the climb to Shoshone several times before … most recently on the Death Valley Spring double century. It’s not steep, but it is a long climb. And as you’re pedaling up the 5% or so grade, it looks for all the world like you are pedaling on flat ground. No switchbacks here … the road heads straight up the alluvial fan. You can see the top from a long way away … a low lying ridge that seems incredibly distant.

I expected the climb up Salsbury to be painful. After all … by then, I would have gone 300 miles, taken a nap, then got right back on the bike. My training rides told me that getting back on that bike would hurt. And I would be slow.

But in fact, it was none of those things. One good thing about my windy sufferfest is that it set a standard for how bad things could be. Climbing to Shoshone on an hour and a half of sleep, even after 300 miles, did not compare. Not even close. Strange as it sounds, I enjoyed the climb.

And I actually passed some riders here. The first was a young woman who was part of a 4x mixed team. I slowed as I approached her.

“Boy, you sure drew the short stick.”

“Tell me about it. Next time, I’m going to do Stage II!”

Stage II was the stage from California City to Trona. The one with that nifty tailwind, and without the climb to Townes Pass and the windy sufferfest to Furnace Creek. It would have been a better choice. Stage III, particularly for a slight woman of perhaps 115 pounds … must have been quite the adventure. Since they were at the same point in the ride as I, I a$$umed they gave up the ghost and decided to wait it out.

The 508 demands that if a rider cannot complete the stage, another rider can complete it for them, but they must start at the beginning of the stage. No way would have been a wise choice for a 4x team. Better to wait out the winds instead.

I said my goodbyes and continued up the hill. Along the way, I passed a few other riders. I was glad to see that I wasn’t alone out there. I have expected everyone to have quit.

One of the people I passed was the gent I last saw on the first climb … the one who said that if he could make it through the winds in 2004, he could do anything. I was genuinely curious … how did last night’s winds compare?

When I got to the top of Jubilee, I asked him. He conceded. Last night was worse. Stronger. And more sustained.

The climb to Salsbury Pass is long, but it seemed a joy next to the night before. In seemingly no time, I was there. I now had a long descent into Shoshone. I let it go, and screamed down the hill to the stop sign at Highway 127. Here, my chance of completing the 508 would be made clear. The Amaragosa Mountains had shielded me from the winds while in the mountains. But now, I was going to be pedaling in the sandy playas between Shoshone and Baker. The predictions were for a strong southerly wind. If that was the case, I was screwed,

I made my turn southward and started pedaling.

Hmm. I don’t feel any wind. Not yet anyway. I passed through the tamarisk stands and found myself in Shoshone. Still … no wind. OMG. Could I be that lucky?
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