Sunday, June 7, 2009

EASTERN SIERRA "DEATH VALLEY WARM DETOUR" DOUBLE-2009

(June 6, 2009) EASTERN SIERRA REROUTED DOUBLE, solo in rain, snow & hail. 189 miles, @11-12,000' climbing, 14.6mph. 5:00-7:28 including numerous stops to put on and take off rain gear, take photos, and get my annual nap in the desert. 54th of 176 starters (top 30%)--only 103 folks finished (59%)

Prelude
A few days before the event we get an email from Planet Ultra, the double organizers:
"The weather forecast for Saturday is...June Lake-high 37 with 30% chance of rain...The event will be held, rain or shine, warm or cold...Be advised that it's NOT POSSIBLE to SAG 225+ riders...Do not start the ride thinking that you'll ride part way and get a ride back if you're cold. We're not equipt for that. NO event organizer could be."
Typical Planet Ultra--typical lawyer bs language-- they haughtily argue about pissing in public and then on their ride--when they spend no money for outhouses--it's OK.

This is typical Planet Ultra. Of course any other ride organizer would get everyone sagged in. Instead of reasonably indicating that mass sags may lead to a delay of 1-3 hours getting someone back to the start, due to logistics, they basically say "screw you." (Ironically on event day Planet Ultra did a good job sagging riders in.) No wonder a couple of clubmates who do doubles have sworn off Planet Ultra rides. Only Professor Dave on the recumbent is also signed up for this--and with the climbing front end of the course and fast end of the course we'll have trouble riding together.

Apprehensive going into the event as 1) last year blew up on Sagehen, last climb of the day, 2) weather forecast. By midweek:
Bishop (ele 4198') 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms, mostly cloudy with a high of 78
Lee Vining (7652') 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms after 11am. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 57.

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For details of the route please see last year's ride report. Briefly it starts in Bishop and heads north to Mono Lake (Lee Vining), taking numerous side loops whenever possible, and gets to 8000'. Then the ride goes SE and SW through desolate high valley. In any event after the rain-soaked Santa Rosa Wine Country Century--I ran out and bought a decent cycling rain jacket, rain pants, waterproof socks and gloves. (Capo Mortirolo jacket--highly recommended!!)

The good news is Donna going with me to see this incredible area. It is SO DIFFERENT than anything else, she had to see it. So different as the 4,000-8,000' valley is seemingly at sea level, as surrounded by snow capped 14,000' mountains. You can go miles in some areas (including the main roads) without seeing anyone. Bishop, the BIG town in the area is like the town that time forgot, with a big main street filled with mom & pop stores--it is almost like a museum piece for anyone who wants to see what small town USA looked like in the 1950's.

Two reasons to go to the Bishop area--Mono Lake and Schat's Bakery.Mt. Whitney and Death Valley (highest and lowest points in continental USA) both to the South, and I've never been South of Bishop. Wondered what the area South of Bishop looked like. I'd get my wish.

In any event took my "rain bike" down to Bishop, put back on a rack to carry my brevet bag (which is a modified Adidas Cleats bag) and a front fender.

Friday's forecast was slightly worse than Saturday's and after waiting until 10am Donna and I took off for a bike tour of the area. It was sunny over Bishop but heavy clouds, some black, way to the North. On the Eastern Sierra Century, after circling the ranchland on the outskirts of town you head North and climb up to a subdivision featuring "The Farside House" (see photos from last year.) We started on the "heading North" stretch expecting to get wet but it stayed sunny and calm--the only time we got wet is when we had to ride over the watered down sand on a road under repair, with me thinking I hope Planet Ultra knows about this/ and warns everyone about this tomorrow. Donna was amazed how we were surrounded by gigantic snow capped mountains you could almost touch and there wasn't any people or any cars in sight. We'd pass isolated buildings (eg. fire station, schoolhouse) but all void of life. We finally saw a couple of cars close to the subdivison and then it was fast back to Bishop when we connected with Highway 395 and rode on the shoulder--passed by a car every 30-40 seconds. We only had 45 miles when we got back to Bishop. Still sunny though ominous to the far North, so we then did the Eastern Sierra's initial circling of the ranchland around Bishop. First time I had ever seen it in real light, as usually illuminated by moonlight and just a hint of the rising sun when we start at 5am. Our day before warmup ride in Bishop started out with overcast skies, with mountains hoovering all around. Quickly out of town and into nearby ranchland--the mountains always nearby, and the sun broke through by the time we got to the Far Side House. We then did the E. Line-Warm Springs flat loop around the outskirts of town, still desolate-so Donna and I did the first @45 miles of the regular route, unfortunately tomorrow would be highly irregular.
Get to checkin and see Nevada Doug who 1) loves to start doubles, and 2) loves to give Planet Ultra shit for things like not providing ice on 90 degree days...He tells us that they are changing the route for tomorrow. I go in to get checked in; I'm getting checked in by Brian who I later learn is the co-director. The route has been changed as they are worried about black ice problems on the Northern Hills. Planet Ultra is going to send us South on Hwy 395 to a place called Big Pine then towards Death Valley while the road remains paved. Then we're going to come back on Hwy 395 to Highway 6 and do and out and back to Benton, which we always come in on.

I have no clue where Big Pine is and want to know more about where the rest stops are and the route to Death Valley, but Planet Ultra doesn't yet have a route sheet. I'm trying to get some essential information from Brian but Doug is on the line next to me demanding a route sheet, wondering why this is the only event that doesn't give out numbers, protesting a bunch of boring out and backs on Highways. Brian's ADD kicks in, and he'd stop talking to me and starts arguing with Doug while I try to bring him back to the conversation. If I knew where this ride was going the Doug/ Brian interplay would actually be funny.

Meanwhile get a call from Professor Dave who is going to meet us for dinner before his attempt of his 3rd Double for his initial Triple Crown. His message "Hi-I'm in...Walnut Creek" Turns out Yosemite Pass to Bishop was closed and Sonora Pass was also suddenly snowed in, so after being stuck all day Dave turned around and went home. Little consolation the real route wasn't being done and what we thought boring was substituted in.

The Ride
Early wake up, its not raining but rain not due till after 11am. At the start we get a 1/2 page cue sheet with thankfully few turns (19 in total) --but rest stops NOT marked. We do the usual 12 mile circling of Bishop but head South on Hwy 395 for 12 miles. Then head out 29 miles on a road toward Death Valley and then come back on it. We'd get back to Bishop and then head out the 34 miles to Benton, go 7 miles past, and then return. So two out and backs.

Mass start adrenaline kicked in under the moonlight. Last year was quickly dropped into the second group so this year determined to stay with the leaders. I did hang on the back for the fast trip round the valley and became much happier when the sun peaked through. And it was a slight peak, sky was heavily clouded and the clouds were dark. Usually the area is very dry but lots of moisture in the air this morning which had me hacking away. Uphill before hitting Hwy 395 helped break up the pack even more and we had a very good paceline shooting down 395.

Ride photos from Steve Meichtry photo gallery. (1) Early morning shooting down to Big Pine, what the F am I (blue jersey rear left) doing following a recumbent--hasn't Dr. Dave taught me anything. (2) Sleet when approaching the summit into Death Valley (3) Snow covered hills on the return trip.

I was happy when we finally reached Highway 168 turnoff as this had been too much of a mashfest just like the end of Davis. Pack slowed as a rest stop set up about 1/4 mile down the road--we had covered the first 26 miles at 21 mph. Also slowed because the godawful expansion joints Hwy 120 was famous for was also on Hwy 168. But as pack slowed a familiar hunched over camelback wearing rider HAD TO BEAT everyone to the rest stop, and with me riding close to the right side of the road he shot by WITHOUT WARNING on the right. My adrenaline was sky high and out of character I yelled at him "how about saying on your right" and as he didn't say anything I then threw in some Bronx language. He did acknowledge that, and said "I'm just riding" and I did apologize for the extra stuff (though Ward would have been proud) I had thrown in, but I'm amazed how clueless some people are. His "just riding" can wipe out lots of people.

Planet Ultra rest stop 1--where are the fn restrooms???. Planet Ultra doesn't rent porta-johns, usually putting their rest stops at parks with limited bathrooms, and then threatening to DQ you for needing to go on the road. Well, this year their rest stop workers said "go behind a bush"--apparently it is only bad to go in public when you need to go, NOT when Planet Ultra wants you to.

Now it was onto Gavia Pass--oh, I mean the 30 mile Death Valley/ Wacuba Road. The road started gradually climbing and there was no summit in sight, but I was happy as the road was nicely paved with no expansion joints. I'm usually warm on climbs but here my vest and arm warmers were welcome, it stayed dark grey overhead and a slight cross/headwind became more and more apparent as we kept climbing. Tandem royalty was on this ride--a couple who had done Devil Mountain on a tandem, another with Terrible Two jerseys.

5 miles in, then 10, then 15--never any steep sections but the road always went up--surrounded by rocks and brush and getting cooler and windier. It started sprinkling at one point and I put on light but useless PI jacket so I stopped again to dig into brevet bag and put on new rain jacket and cap. Rain got a little serious, after 10 minutes it stopped but feet were damp. After rain stopped I left jacket on, it was cold, and I stopped again to dig out glove liners--which were new waterproof ones. Very very strange, now bundled up and being overdressed wasn't bothering me, in fact still cold. Someone later said it was 34 degrees. Getting close to mile 20 of the climb and still going up--when suddenly THE SKY OPENED UP AND IT STARTED HAILING--HARD. Of course this is when the road stopped going up and suddenly had a few steep downhill sections before permanently going downhill. Not only was road wet but soon after downhill began the nice pavement changed into pavement mixed with rock, so it was bumpy and hard to see if you were going over sand or solid road. Rode brakes real hard, so did most other folks except for a few people shooting by. Suddenly surrounded by odd looking cactus but with hail and hat slung over eyes hard to admire.

Hail stopped when final steep/ long downhill section started but road very wet. After 10 miles saw valley floor with a van, which marked the turnaround. Bathrooms meant trudging through the sand (which got a few people stuck in their cleats) to tumbleweed in the desert. Only two water jugs and people shivering like crazy ready for a drink. Only food were bananas and Power Bars which worker was cutting in half--I grabbed a whole bar before it was sushied, and quickly turned around so I could warm up on the climb.

The climb out was steeper than the initial climb in, but thought the sky was black it still wasn't raining so all was good. I rode awhile with a guy in a Mapai kit, where we decried all the attention paid to Lanciepoo by American sports fans who nothing about the classic races. To my surprise an armada of vans were coming into the valley--in a little while we'd see them coming out filled with cyclists sagging in. Pulled out cellphone to take a few cactus photos but unfortunately cell phone now decided not to save photos.

I stopped and took about a dozen photos with my cell phone, ironically carried to call Donna in case of an emergency. However, there was NO cell phone coverage on almost all of the ride--and the camera crapped out and didn't save any photos. Below are a few I borrowed that mimic photos that I took.

(above) Here is a non ride photo that a Frank Farmer took of desolate Death Valley Road. In the morning, when going down this, we were hailed on. Later, coming back, sky was still considerably darker than photo , road was wet from another brief rain, and where I was heading snow was covering the hills about 200' higher than we were. It would have been great if we had this weather.

(below) Another non ride photo by a David French of Joshua Trees in winter. On the ride the Joshua Trees in the middle of nowhere were amazing--the snow wasn't this low but hills like the ones in the background were covered.



(above two) Photos from Vic who I later rode uphill from Benton with. First is from early in the day from the Death Valley floor. The other is near the end of the day of me putting on for the millionth time a rain jacket before the long downhill back to Benton; it's not raining but its cold. Notice the sky is always threatening. Someone wrote that I might write the longest ride reports, I'm pleased to report that the length of Vic's detailed report match mine. Check out his website for a good perspective on the ride and more great photos.

On one of the rollers transitioning between the uphill and downhill sections lots of cyclists still coming in. I yelled at one--"is it still raining?"--he yelled back "its snowing about 5 miles back" OH SHIT.

Luckily, though had to later ride through a slight band of rain before getting back to the top--there was no snow and rain was manageable. But scary moment-jet fighter flew up from behind and sudden sonic booms sounded like thunder.

When I got to the downhill sun was now peaking through but I still left jacket on--good move. It was a very pleasant 20 mile downhill at @33MPH (compared to the 18mph on the steeper but chilled/ rain slicked downhill earlier). Got back to rest stop #1, now rest stop #3 and sun was out full bore, no porta potties yet (don't hold your breath). Now 11:52, mile 88, average speed had tumbled from 21 to 13.7 mph from when I was here earlier.

Now it was so warm that knee warmers and vest could come off for boring but fast 16 miles back to Bishop. Lunch was at check in motel--Donna waiting for me--she had heard about hail and snow and all the riders that had sagged or turned around, and as I hate the cold she thought I'd do the same. Seeing her was great. Skipped Subway Sandwich lunch which in years past was tolerable a picturesque Mono Lake Park--couldn't even use motel restroom so it was off to a gas station. I had downed a cereal bar, in hindsight I should have eaten more.

Now 34 miles along Highway 6 shoulder to Benton, was familiar with this route as real Eastern Sierra finishes on it in the opposite direction--it is usually a fast back. But now we are going in the opposite direction and apparent why the other direction is fast--we are now in a strong headwind and climbing-1200 in 34 miles isn't much but a 20mph headwind is blowing.

In short I started out with a 3 man paceline, we passed lots of people, and half way up I got very very cold. It wasn't that cold out at that point, and I thought I hadn't eaten enough. I got off the three man, put on my vest, but was really tired so I did my favorite thing on this ride, I pulled off and just laid down in the desert for 10 minutes (at least not the 30-40 I did last year.) Ate, bundled up, which was good as some more light rain soon hit.

It was a real pain getting to Benton and once there had to continue for 7 miles on 120--oh no--usually a fast downhill in to Benton but this was going to be a slog in the other direction . Yep-7 miles of short steep uphills sections. Luckily joined by Vic--a 508 rider (unusual for some 508 riders--he actually wore another jersey beside a "508,") and we rode the uphill bs'ing about long distance cycling, rain jackets, taking photos and real estate. Vic had a handlebar bag which seemed easier to dig stuff out of instead of my bag on a rack. Vic started wondering were the turnaround was--he knew the area and thought we should be done. Luckily I kept the route sheet and we had bypassed the turnaround by 1/2 mile--fully expecting someone to be there to check you in, or at least a road marking. That's Planet Ultra!! When going back people in the opposite direction were yelling out wondering where the turnaround was--we'd let them know but Vic, being a nice guy, would include "there is no one turning around/ checking in riders." Heck, knowing this people could have instantly turned around.

The 7 miles back to Benton was fast. (mile 155, 5:42, 13.5 avg) I tried to call Donna to let her know my ETA but no cell coverage. Now 34 miles back to Bishop, I started off solo, now with a tailwind to my back. I never passed a rider--one two man paceline caught me but it had just started briefly raining (again) and spray from being behind a wheel wasn't to my liking and I dropped off. About 10 miles to Bishop I stopped to take off rain jacket--looked down the road--didn't see anyone coming up.

Donna waiting at finish which was fantastic--she though it was a faster course than usual instead of a harder one and I'd finish at 6:00 instead of 7:30. Route sheet was also by 5 miles (Vic and I had the same odomoter miles in Benton), and it was 5 miles longer after lunch than advertised. Usually on a double there are lots of people milling around cheering, even in past years at the motel down the street with the patio there'd be people sitting around all night but at the new motel without a patio area, and loads of riders sagging earlier, only a few people were out. And as a Planet Ultra ride no postride dinner where riders trade war stories.

As mentioned previously I think Planet Ultra did a good jobs with the sags and a first half interesting emergency course. Rest stops all had Heed, Perpetuem, Sustained Energy and Jug Water--and the usual premade Peanut Butter/ Jelly sandwiches and cereal bars. On the other hand Planet Ultra did neglect a few basic things. Only ride with no numbers, who do you know who is on the ride?? Brian had snapped at Doug that "numbers are not required!," but all other doubles have them. More importantly, when I mentioned my surprise that there was no person checking in riders at the turnaround that many people missed as they expected a checkpoint, ride director Deb said "I never SAID there would be a checkpoint." And they never said there would be bathrooms either--and there were none for 135 miles.

So lifetime Double #21, another triple crown for 2009, and made up for Nancy Riding (see Diablo Scott) for pulling in during Santa Rosa rains. The ride was much harder than I expected, clock really didn't matter to me as a once only course, but Death Valley part was great. If they could get rid of the Hwy 120-Benton portion of the regular route, and do the Death Valley to June Lakes portion they' have something--and rent a few porta potties instead of tumbleweed-potties.

(As it turns out--in the Mammoth/ June Lakes area, it was 52 degrees at 10:30am and calm with the sky clear until 11:50--and it looks like it never rained up North--but PU told someone it had snowed at Sagehen.)

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good account. I bailed at 6600' when it started hailing as I didn't have full-out rain gear and the thought of 2-3 more hours of that seemed potentially suiicidal.I also did thew Wine Country Century in the rain. Check ed out of my hotel, drove north through beautiful weather and climbed Tioga Pass with no rain!

The route change was really stupid as the one place you don't want to be in that kind of weather is on the west flank of a mountain heading into total wilderness!

The black ice issue was totally bogus - the original rote would have been much safer.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I believe this claim from PU, especially as the temp was 40F at the top of Tioga at 9900 and 53F at the base at 2pm, but this was their repsonse to my feedback claiming that the original route would have been safer:

"However, in spite of your comments that it was clear towards Mammoth in the morning; it's simply untrue that the original route would have been better/safer. There were freezing temperatures above 7,500' ALL DAY and in the late afternoon it was indeed snowing on Sagehen. The snow was STICKING - and ultimately that would have been completely IMPASSABLE."

Jay said...

Good point--heading North we would have been close to civilization and sheltered to a point, here we were as far away from help as could be and out in the open. This might be the greatest ride ever if the Santa Rosa Cycling Club or Quackcyclists put it on.-j

Jay said...

I have no basis for agreeing or disagreeing with Planet Ultra—who seeminly say anything that puts them in good light. Looking at the weather forecast for 14 miles ENE June Lake (8197’) through Friday the temperature range is 60-36 degrees with NO snow mentioned among the thunderstorms. As a way of comparison snow is mentioned in other areas, but at 9000’ feet. Unfortunately NWS doesn’t give a weather history for Sagehen.-j

mjj said...

(was Anonymous) My main beef with PU is the abysmal communication. They claimed, in their response to me, that they know the area/weather very well, in which case (a) they should have known the Eureka Valley was high risk and (b) they had ample time to produce an alternate route and make it available to us at checkin. I've heard of several people, including me, who went out with less gear that they would have done on the original route, on the basis that the alternate had been chosen to minimize the probability of bad weather.

Still I am stunned and impressed that a hundred riders finished the ride. I just wasn't emotionally invested enough in the alternate route to stick it out and my UK background makes me very fearful of the combination of water, cold temps, wind chill and inadequate clothing.

Are you riding the Alpine Challenge and/or Terrible Two? (I am).

Jay said...

Thought about possibe alternate route today to avoid June Lake & Sagehen if frost was a problem--wonder if starting on regular route then detouring us onto Benton Crossing Road (so wouldn't have gone higher than Mammoth) would have worked, and then extra miles to South of Big Pine late in the day. In any event, you hit the nail on the head, piss poor communication from PU--even if they have a "Minister of Communication."

Good luck on the Alpine Challenge. I have no fun riding at night when its cold and you can't overrun headlights and look around, and like the area when the roads are closed--so I'm doing the "fun ride" aka The Death Ride. I am doing the Terrible Two, you'll see me off to the side stretching my back on the 18% climbs. But the enthusiasm and support from the ride organizers make it all worthwile.