TandemHearts

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!

June 5th, 2007

On June 2 I rode the Eastern Sierra Double Century. This ride features some of the most amazing scenery and the worst roads I have ever ridden on. Out of the five double centuries I have completed, it was the hardest for me. This ride starts at 4,000 feet and climbs up to 8,100 feet. Most people notice the thin air above 8,000 feet. The area is also extremely dry. I thought where we live was dry – 30 – 40% humidity is our norm. But in the Eastern Sierras the norm is 10 – 20%. The low humidity and the elevation really made this ride difficult for me.

The official start time was 5 AM, but at check in you could choose to start an hour earlier. I told them I would be starting earlier and got rolling at about 4:45. This slightly early start gave me a chance to warm up at my own pace and not get sucked into going too fast too early. It was still dark at 4:45 so I had my small Vega headlight and my tail lights on. We had a full moon or nearly so and it was gorgeous to see it with the mountains as a backdrop. I even called Thom to see if he could get out and get a picture, but he was still in town and didn’t have a good view.

About 12 miles into the ride I was caught by the first two groups of fast guys. I hung on with one of them just long enough to wish my friend Jay, who lives nearby, a good ride. I was passed by a steady stream of people at this point, including Rick and Anna Stewart on their tandem. We chatted a little bit and then they pedaled on by. Jesse passed me in his truck and offered me a Red Bull, but I declined. Red Bull before 6:30AM is too early, even for me. I did draft a few groups and was drafting a tandem when I arrived at the first rest stop. Thom was SAGging the ride and the car was there, but I didn’t see him at first. I got some more Sustain energy mix and filled my water bottles. I decided to take out some of the food I was carrying and threw it in the car. And that’s when Thom suddenly appeared. The line for the rest room was long and I asked Thom to get me a banana while I waited. The banana was very green. I peeled it and tried to eat it anyway, but it was nasty. I got a Red Bull from Thom; my first Red Bull at 6:45 AM!

After 13 minutes I rolled out. We had a little bit of flat and then the first climb, Old Sherwin Grade began. The first half of the climb wasn’t too bad. We rode around a very tight left hand turn and the mountains suddenly appeared. It was stunning! We rode through a housing area and one of the houses had some very unusual lawn ornaments, including one that looked like a dog tipping over a cow. A mile or so later we passed a SAG guy who was taking pictures. I had hoped he was at the summit. No dice. We climbed and climbed and climbed. This climb should not have been that hard. It’s an average grade of about 5%. We did have a head wind and the road did ascend up to about 6,300 feet. I declared this “the climb that went on for freakin’ forever”. As I neared the top, I noticed that off to the right there was what appeared to be a narrow canyon or a wide gully. I knew we were going to have to go to the end of that gully. Stupid gully! It should have ended earlier. I was passed by many more riders through here. I was thrilled when the summit finally appeared, but the downhill was way too short and we started climbing again. That gully I had seen terminated into the valley I was now climbing out of. There is a mountain bike trail that climbs up the valley, crossing the road with signs on the road saying Bike Crossing. I thought that was pretty cool and that they must take their cyclists seriously in the Eastern Sierras.

I was riding along, climbing out of this valley, singing Bowling for Soup songs in my head, when I thought I recognized another rider. He was wearing a Bass Lake Double jersey and riding an Orbea. I couldn’t see his face, but I figured it must be Curtis from BikeJournal. I yelled something dorky like, “Hey, is that you Curtis?” And sure enough, it was. We rode together for a little bit. Thom passed us and took our picture. I decided I needed some more water and ice so I pulled over to get that from Thom. Curtis kept going. I saw him repeatedly throughout the day. He was at the rest stops when I pulled in. Sometimes I’d leave before him, and he would pass me. He’d be at the next rest stop when I pulled in…and so on.

I finally made it back out to Highway 395 and continued on to the next rest stop at Crowley Lake. There was a nice downhill and then a rolling up. I stood to accelerate up over this bump and got a little lightheaded. Note to self – do not stand to accelerate at elevation. Jesse was manning this stop and he gave me my second Red Bull and filled my bottles with ice. All day long I was amazed at how much water I was drinking. The rest stops were about thirty miles apart and I don’t usually run out of water, but I came close at two different points in this ride. After leaving Crowley Lake, the route once again got on Highway 395 for a little more than 5 miles.

We exited the highway on to a little road and again Thom pulled up beside me. I still had on my knee warmers and I told him I really needed to take them off. He pulled over, so I could sun screen my legs and arms again. It doesn’t take much time in the sun for me to burn, so I try to be vigilant about the sun screen. I also got more ice and water. Three or four riders passed us while I was stopped with Thom and I joked that I would have to pass them all again. I was really glad I had taken off my knee warmers. I just seemed to pedal better afterward. The route was now heading up toward Mammoth Lake. I felt great through this section. I actually did pass the folks who had rolled by while I was getting my sunscreen. I tried to tell all of them to flag Thom down if they needed anything – like sodas, V8 or ice. Jesse had told me that he thought the climb up to Mammoth would be the worst. But this and the next little climb up to Dead Man Summit (8,041 feet above sea level) were where I felt the best all day. I did worry that I had missed a turn climbing up Mammoth and the mapping feature of the GPS came in very handy, no missed turns.

The descent off the Mammoth Scenic Loop was pure heaven. Finally, the descent I had pedaled 64 miles for! As I was descending a mountain biker was coming up. He must have turned around at some point because I suddenly heard, “Excuse me! What’s this ride you’re doing?” I explained about the ride, continuing to descend at about 30 MPH. But then the hill got a little steeper and I accelerated up to 36 MPH and began pulling away from him. I felt badly that I couldn’t talk more, but I was worried about being close to the cut off time at the next checkpoint. I knew I had been off my pace on the first climb and hadn’t made up for it in the intervening miles.

I arrived at the third checkpoint with about 15 minutes to spare. Gee, good thing I started 15 minutes early. I refilled my water bottles and was on my way again. I still felt really good and climbed up to Dead Man’s Summit well. This was followed by a nice descent down to the June Lake Loop. There are actually four lakes on this loop and all of them are very different. The first lake – June Lake has a town on it and seems kind of ritzy, expensive looking homes, quaint little shops, some nice looking restaurants. It’s very green with lots of trees and plants. There’s also a waterfall, which I didn’t see on the ride. At the place where I would have seen it, I had my head down, watching the road, as I descended at around 30 MPH. On the drive home on Sunday, Thom drove the June Lake Loop so I could see what I had missed. We also stopped at a great bakery in June Lake for some pastries. When you burn over 11,000 calories doing a ride, I think you deserve pastries!

Next comes Gull Lake, it is very small,but the surrounding area is still very lush and green. The third lake is Silver. There were a lot of fishermen here. The area around it seems more arid, but there are still some small, scrubby plants and a camping area. The final lake, Grant, doesn’t look quite natural. It’s larger and resembles a giant puddle in a dirt driveway. There were almost no plants on the far side. Still there were a lot of people either in boats on it, or hanging out on the sandy areas around it.

After the Lake loop, it was back onto 395, through the town of Lee Vining to the lunch stop at Mono Lake Park. I have wanted to go to Mono Lake to see the tufas since 1994! Tufas are calcium-carbonate towers and bumps formed in Mono Lake. The tufas form when the freshwater evaporates, leaving behind the salts and minerals. I really want to go back to this area again. There is so much to see. I was too tired on Sunday to really want to get out of the car and explore, so we need to go back.

On the descent into lunch someone from across the road called my name. It was Brandy from TE. She had been keeping an eye out for my Amici Veloci jersey all day. That was pretty cool. She was climbing out of lunch as I was flying downhill toward it, so shouted greetings were all we got. Lunch was a quick affair. I was in and out in 18 minutes. One of the guys that I had passed on the Mammoth Lake climb, Foster, thanked me at the lunch stop for telling him about Thom. Foster had flagged Thom down and gotten a cold drink. I later discovered that Foster had ridden a fleche on his tandem with Bernie, from the Central Coast Double, as his stoker. This world of insane people really is pretty small.

I had been dreading the climb out of lunch all day. Thom and I had driven it on Friday and I thought it would be awful. It actually turned out to not be that bad. The headwind we had once we crested the hill and the road flattened was worse. I was riding with four or five guys. I’m sorry to say I only remember Mike and Foster’s names. Thom had put some of the later ride into the GPS as waypoints. When I finally remembered this I was thrilled to find I only had 1.3 more miles to our next turn, which I hoped would get us out of the wind.

Oh boy did it get us out of the wind! It is a great thing when an ugly headwind becomes a tailwind! Twenty miles an hour and zero effort! We had a couple miles of this and then a really fun descent. I was head down, tucked as much as I could be. I wasn’t really watching my speed, but I saw 50.4 MPH on the GPS, a new personal best for me. I might have eked out a little more, but the wind started buffeting me as the road turned and I gave the brakes a quick squeeze. We then started the climb up to Sagehen Summit, the highest point of the ride. For the first couple of miles I felt fine. I was climbing well, but I was running low on water. Eventually I could see what looked like a couple of vehicles. I half hoped it was the summit, but I knew it was way too early. I decided it was probably hikers or bikers and tried not to get too excited. I was elated when I finally got to the vehicles to see it was a water stop. Water and more ice went into my bottles. The climb continued and I began to feel crummy. My speed dropped and I was just slogging it out. Thom passed me and told me I had some insane number of miles still to go to the top. I think he said five, maybe it was three. At that point I just wanted to pack it in. It was too many miles to go and I felt like a stretched out elastic, no oomph. But I kept going.

At long last, I arrived at the rest stop. Jesse handed me a Red Bull, took my bike, filled my bottles and I rested my sorry self in a chair and ate some pretzels. Curtis was here and we chatted. I was sitting next to a guy named James. He chomped at my pretzels so I gave him some. He later said he’s not usually so rude but they looked so good. At this point, we had ridden 130 miles and climbed about 9,000 feet total, so everyone was hungry by now. I was working at keeping my rest stops as short as possible, so after 8 minutes I was back on the bike. In fact, I left before any of the people who were already there when I arrived.

We did have a pretty nice descent and Curtis and James both passed me. This is where the road turned ugly. Now I have ridden some pretty nasty roads, filled with potholes, patched and re-patched lumpy roads. But I have to say Rte. 120 is the King of Vicious Roads. They get snow and freezes in the Eastern Sierras and to handle the contractions and expansions of the road there are expansion joints. Big, ugly gaps in the pavement that the bike does not glide over. KACHUNK, KACHUNK, KACHUNK! Mile after mile of expansion joints, they went on and on. The GPS decided that this was too much, and kept turning off. These expansion joints so rattled the bike that the batteries would not stay on the connectors. It would blink out, I would turn it on. Fade to gray and it was off again. If I was lucky, it would stay on long enough for me to check how many more miles to the finish. I was riding with my butt slightly lifted off the saddle, so my hands and feet were the only connection points to the bike. My wrists and ankles were a little sore when I woke up Sunday morning.

Not only was the road vile, I was also beginning to feel a little nauseous. Once off the descent we had some fairly steep rollers and every time I managed to creep to the top of one I felt like vomiting. As long as I wasn’t exerting too much I felt all right. But these rollers were steep enough that I had to work to get up them. We had four or five of these steep rollers. I figured I couldn’t vomit if I didn’t stop, so I didn’t stop. The guys who were coming up behind me were all great, very encouraging. They would ride with me for a little bit and chat and get me to the top of the next roller. Eventually I could see what looked like a cheese hill sign. Yes! Three miles with a 7% grade, good bye upset tummy, hello descent!

I arrived at the last rest stop, in Benton, and Thom was there. He gave me another Red Bull, filled my bottles and I ate a couple of packages of fruit chews. I turned on my tail lights and put my ankle reflectors back on and took off with Foster. It was 33 miles of mostly descent back to Bishop. Foster and I talked for several miles and then got passed by a couple whom we started drafting. We stayed with them for a few miles and then Jesse passed us and pulled over. I stopped and Foster kept going. Yes, I got another Red Bull. Jesse asked me if I had been looking at the scenery. Well, I really hadn’t been. Now that I was on my own and didn’t feel like I was going to die, I started looking around. The sun was beginning to set, giving the sky a rosy glow. The clouds in the sky were flamingo pink. The mountains off to my left were a shimmering red. It was beautiful. I slowed down and enjoyed that sunset.

When the show was over, I turned on my headlight and rode the last few miles into town. There were a lot of riders still hanging around and they were cheering each rider in. That was nice. Curtis, Foster and Jesse were all still there and each one told me I looked great and had finished strong. I guess salt looks good on me, since I was pretty encrusted. My arms were white with it, as was my face and neck.

My total time was 16:03 with a ride time of about 15 hours. Initially I was a little disappointed with that. Now that I have had some time to reflect, that doesn’t seem so bad. This was a pretty arduous ride. Will I do it again?

Maybe…

  • Veronica and Curtis on the second good climb.
  • Mystery rider, but the view is nice.
  • Veronica looking good, but not looking at the view.
  • A little change in scenery at 7,500 feet.
  • I'm not dead yet.

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