Taking a “break”

I took a fall off my bike the other day, which has forced me to take a break — literally. Back tire got caught up while going around a corner in some uneven construction, which slammed the bike down hard to the right. I now have more “hardware” on my right side.

A few months of recovery and I’ll most likely be able to ride again. The question is, should I? Do I even want to?

As far as recreation is concerned, cycling is the thing I most enjoy doing. I can’t imagine not doing it anymore. I also can’t imagine crashing again and landing anywhere on my right side

Is it time to find a different form of recreation? How to keep all the fitness built up from many, many miles ridden the last ten years? Swimming? Not having full range of shoulder motion limits that somewhat. Running? I doubt my knees (and now hip) could handle that. What else? I already do a lot of yoga (a great complement to cycling, by the way), and do enjoy hiking. But none of these alternate forms of recreation have the appeal that cycling does. Part of that appeal is the social aspect. I’ve met lots of great people out on the road. I’d really miss riding with them.

On thing that’s helping: yoga. It’s not just the poses and stretching. It’s the mental discipline developed. I’m not doing any excessive worrying about my recovery process, or about what will come next, nor am I playing any “what if” mind games. Several friends who visited me in the hospital have commented on my cheerful spirits. I’m able to approach the whole recovery thing with calmness. All the yoga practice has had a big part in that.

They say life is all about being presented challenges. We get to solve these challenges one by one, only to have more present themselves.

I guess I’ve found my next challenge, and now must reconsider the question asked in my last post.

64,000 mile question

Q: Why ride 64,000 miles on your bike?

A: Because you can!

Recently, I passed the 64,000 mile mark on my bike, as recorded since 2004, over the course of ten years. This means I’ve averaged 6,400 miles a year, most of this on my Trek 5000 road bike. Looking back, that’s a lot of miles!

In the 2005-2008 time frame, I averaged 8,000-9,000 miles a year, and in 2008, I completed 24 century rides (an average of two a month), and twice had monthly mileages of over 1,100 miles.

That’s a lot of miles, too!

Too many miles, I concluded back then.

All those miles didn’t make me that much stronger. (Though I must admit, looking back, I was at my fastest in 2008). I didn’t lose any additional weight. All those miles seemed to do was make me tired all the time. In retrospect, it seems crazy to have spent so many hours on the bike, though I certainly do love riding.

Since 2008, I have purposely backed off and have ridden fewer miles. I don’t have the speed I once did, but ironically, I have more endurance. I think that’s the trend of most people as they get older.

Here’s looking to the next 64,000 miles!

Surya Nama “Scars”

Lately, I’ve been making a real effort to go to yoga class consistently, at least twice a week or more. Sure, I could do yoga at home, but it’s not the same. In a group setting I do far more poses – and harder ones at that — than I’d ever do by myself.

The yoga class I usually attend — a vinyasa (flow) class at the Yoga Pura studio in north Phoenix, features warm temperatures (not hot like Bikram Yoga – but warm enough.) Those warm temperatures are one of the reasons I go to this particular class, for it really helps loosen up muscles and ligaments, and allows me to stretch a lot further than I would be able to otherwise. It’s been particularly helpful for my right shoulder, injured a few years ago and still lacking full range of motion.

A big part of vinyasa class involves sun salutations, (see this link for a basic version of this sequence of poses called Surya Namaskara A). Lately in class, we’ve been adding a bit of a challenge to our sun salutations by keeping a block between our thighs during the poses (forward bend, plank pose, chaturangas, downward dogs), and also by placing another block at the top of the mat, which we use as a ”stop-check” during chaturangas — we only lower down enough to tap the block with our chest, and then go into upward facing dog.

modified chaturanga

A modified form of chaturanga dandasana with block helps you ease into chaturangas with proper form, as suggested on the website “The Daily Bandha.” To further help with your form when doing this pose during a Surya Namaskara sequence, try holding a block between your thighs. It’s a bit of a challenge!

By lowering just to the block during chaturangas, you can focus on proper form (elbows bent by your sides, back straight), rather than sloppily going all the way down to the mat. Having a block held between your legs also helps facilitate proper form, as it forces more use of your core muscles.

Doing chaturangas this way (during the sun salutation sequence) asks a lot of my healing right shoulder. It’s led to a lot of popping in said shoulder – scar tissue loosening, I’m guessing. I treat that as a good thing, and I have jokingly renamed the block-aided sun salutations Surya Nama Scar.

I’ve decided to continue with this modified form of sun salutations. It appears that by using the blocks, along with consistent yoga practice in a warm room, I’ll someday get to near full range of motion with my shoulder. I’m already seeing a slight improvement after each class now.

Cycling doldrums

Long term goals or no, my cycling has lately been in the dumps. I seem to have no strength or power, and get out of breath way too easily, even on the flats. I have trouble staying with the slowest of riders. Am I really that out of shape? Or is it something else? My power output has been falling steadily the past year (despite completing two doubles), and is now at a pathetic new low.

It’s my brakes! They’re rubbing! That must be it …

Too bad it’s not.

Anyway, I’ve been slowly adding more weekly miles, and today went on my first real Tri-Scottsdale ride of the year, on their Tuesday morning Lafayette loop route – at 5:30 am. It’s hard to get up that early when it’s still dark and cold, and I had been going out at 6:30 every now and then for short baby rides by myself. But I was nudged by one of the Tri-Scottsdale riders that I met coming down from Fountain Hills last Sunday, when they asked why I hadn’t been out for the weekly rides.

It’s their fault I got up at 4:45 this morning and rode down to the start. Their fault entirely. :)

I struggled today for sure, but it wasn’t as bad as anticipated. Though I was dropped badly on the traditional Lafayette sprint, way off the back, the “B” group riders waited for me at 44th St, and I was able to hang the rest of the way, on the hillier part of the route.

I guess that’s a good sign.

Lotoja 2015?

Lotoja is a 206 mile race from Logan, UT to Jackson Hole, WY, held every September. My friend Scott and I are thinking of doing this race next year, in 2015. It’d be a stretch for both of us. The problem isn’t the distance or the amount of climbing, but rather, having to finish before sundown (giving us 12-13 (?) hours to finish). I know for me, personally, I’d have to train fairly hard to get in the kind of shape needed to do what would essentially be two back-to-back 6 hour centuries with climbing, seeing’s how my best time for a double was just over 13 hours during the Spring Solvang Double in 2008, on a relatively flat route.

For this year, 2014, I have no major riding events on the horizon, and that has led to very little riding and a whole lotta weight gain. Having not done much of anything in the cycling department since the Fall Death Valley Double, I seriously need to get back to riding.

Even if ultimately I don’t end up doing Lotoja, having it as a goal, even if a year and a half away, will give me the motivation to keep riding.

Fall Death Valley Double 2013

Fall Death Valley 2013

Fall Death Valley 2013 Profile

The Fall Death Valley Double route: Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells, then back northwest along Scotty’s Castle Road, turning northeast up Grapevine Canyon to Scotty’s Castle, northeast along Bonnie Claire Flats to Highway 95 in Nevada, back to Scotty’s Castle, then out to Ubehebe Crater, and then back southeast down Scotty’s Castle Road to “Mud Canyon” – the climb to “Hell’s Gate”. A fast 10 mile descent precedes an 11 mile flat romp to the finish. 197 miles (the above profile is off for some reason), 9,500 feet of climbing according to my GPS.

Furnace Creek, Death Valley, October 26th, 2013

It seems like only yesterday that I was here last year, on what was then my third attempt at finishing a double century in Death Valley. I’d been thwarted for various reasons in the spring of 2010 and the spring of 2011.  Last fall, in 2012, was particularly frustrating, as I had to abandon at the top of the last climb, just 21 miles from the finish. I was no longer able to steer the bike and thought it unsafe to continue.

In terms of actually riding the event, today is my fourth attempt. But if you count crashing during training for the 2011 fall ride, (yes, I was in effect thwarted twice in 2011), you could say this year’s ride will be my fifth attempt at finishing a double in Death Valley.

Will Death Valley foil me again this year? Will I find myself weaving across the road on that final climb up Hell’s Gate?

Not if my riding companions for the day, Jim and Kim, have anything to say about it! They have made it their mission to pull me around the course. It was Jim’s theory that I expended too much energy last year riding solo, in the wind, by myself. He was sure if there was someone to help get me through the winds of the Bonnie Claire Flats, on the Nevada portion of the ride, that I’d have enough energy to make it up Hell’s Gate.

Seems like a good strategy …

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Me, Jim, and Kim, all looking ready to go at the start line in Furnace Creek. We are set to leave with the 7:10 am wave. Everyone looks reasonably well rested. I know I got a decent amount sleep.

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“Come again soon,” the sign says. Well, we hope so, though it may be a “wee bit” later in the day.

Mile 0, 7:10 am. Perfect weather greets us.

With starting temps in the upper 50s/lower 60s, and a projected high in the mid 90s (in the lower elevations — 70s for the upper elevations), this was shaping up to be a great day. As we leave Furnace Creek, Jim and Kim have me ride up front, telling me to go whatever I deem a comfortable pace.

That’s around 18 mph, and I eventually latch on behind another rider going that same pace, and the three of us draft off him for many a mile. We make the turn onto the road that will take us to Stovepipe Wells, our first checkpoint of the day.

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Early morning light as we curve southwest towards Stovepipe Wells. In the clear sunny air, Death Valley is quite striking.

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Here, we have a fast 3-6% descent for a few miles. The temperature is quite nice at this point. Jim had told me earlier that there’s a spot along here where the air is always chilly. I hadn’t noticed this last year, but indeed, that did occur a mile or so from where this picture was taken. Yes, Death Valley is a strange place.

Mile 23, Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes

As we approach Stovepipe Wells, Jim has the idea we should stop at the sand dunes parking lot and use the toilets there.

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The famous Death Valley sand dunes, as seen from the sand dunes parking lot. We stopped here to partake of the toilets, which proved to be a good idea. We saved time by not having to stand in line at the porta-potty’s at Stovepipe Wells, and as a bonus, I had time to compose a picture of the dunes.

Mile 24.5 Stovepipe Wells. Fastest Rest Stop Ever!

We stop at Stovepipe Wells just long enough to get our number tags marked and to wolf down half a banana. We are at the checkpoint less than two minutes, max, for my fastest rest stop ever.

Our strategy is to top off our water supplies at the next rest stop, just eight miles away. Due to the projected heat today, we had all decided to wear camelbacks, which would prove later to be a good decision.

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Jim and Kim riding northeast on the way out of Stovepipe Wells. We’ll be riding left along those mountains in the distance shortly.

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This is for my friend Scott, who’s always looking for pictures of light and shadow on stark landscapes. He likes to turn these photos into paintings.

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Scene at the rest stop at mile 32. This comes only 8 miles after the Stovepipe Wells rest stop, but this stop is here for the century riders that don’t make the side-trip to Stovepipe Wells. It’s 36 miles from here to Scotty’s Castle, and a large chunk of those miles involve climbing. Like last year, I don’t take many pictures beyond this point. I’m focused on struggling up the climbs.

Mile 50. The climbing begins in earnest.

We have mostly flat riding for a while, with occasional ups and downs, the general trend being upwards, and then at mile 50, the climbing begins in earnest. It starts out at 2% grade, and then ramps to 6% and beyond.

It’s starting to get hot. I’ve learned from past doubles that I tend to get queasy if I start out cold. So I decided to wear a base layer today, knowing I probably would not need it very long. No problem, there was plenty of room to store it in my camelback.

Wanting to take off the base layer proves prescient, and by the next water stop, I waste no time getting rid of it. This leads to …

Mile 55. Idiot moment #1.

We stop for water, and I remove my base layer. As I put my jersey back on, I forget to pull up my bib straps. They dangle on my butt. I get on my bike and ride for at least five miles before trying to stand out of the saddle, finding I can’t. Something’s keeping me down. It’s my bib straps which are hooked onto the saddle!

Jim says he noticed something odd earlier about my riding but couldn’t quite put his finger on it. I pull over to rearrange my straps, feeling like an idiot. As I click back into the pedals and head out, the straps don’t feel right. Oh, well, I’ll correct that at Scotty’s Castle, now just 10 miles away.

This would lead later to another idiot moment …

Mile 65. The Grapevine Ranger Station.

The road swings from northwest to northeast as we make the ranger station. Jim and Kim stop for a breather. I elect to ride on. I know steep climbing looms, and just want to get it over with. Rather than stop at the ranger station, and then have the other guys have to wait on me on the climbs, I figure I’ll get a head start. I know they’ll catch me easily.

The grade ramps up here to 6% and beyond, reaching 11% in spots. But this year I’m expecting it, so it doesn’t seem as bad. Nevertheless I feel my energy waning, with exercised induced asthma coming on.

Halfway up the climb, Jim and Kim catch up, and then just before we reach the castle, there’s a steep little hill. That little hill, partly at 12% grade, just about does me in. I’m wheezing and gasping for breath.

Mile 68. 12:15 pm. Scotty’s Castle.

Just like last year, I roll in to Scotty’s Castle with my back killing me. I quickly hop off the bike and go stretch in the grass. A few minutes of this seems to solve the back problems.

I feel completely wiped out. I could easily take a 1/2 hour nap here. That’s what I want to do. But that cannot be. If we don’t keep moving, we’ll never make the cutoff for the next rest stop, some 27 miles away – and with 6 or 7 more miles of steep climbing.

Idiot Moment #2

Just as we get ready to leave, Jim notices that my bib straps are on the outside of my jersey. No wonder they felt weird earlier! I once again have to take off my jersey and set things right, feeling like an idiot all the while.

Miles 68-74, Grapevine Canyon, Bonk City, U.S.A.

We depart Scotty’s Castle at 12:32 pm. The next rest stop closes at 3:30 pm, so we have three hours to ride the 27 miles it will take. Seems entirely doable – except there’s more climbing to do before we reach the flats. And I have no desire to do said climbing. At all. Quite frankly, I feel like shit. Light headed, weak, and very tired.

I don’t remember this part of the climbing being so steep last year. It’s nominally 6% grade, ramping to 8-10% in spots. It’s relentless.

A few miles up the climb I’m forced stop. I don’t have any power left to push the pedals with. I pause for a minute or two, hands on the handlebars, head down, gasping for air. Jim asks me if I’m dehydrated. “I don’t think so,” I tell him. I’ve been drinking regularly and going to the bathroom at every rest stop. I’ve had clear water each time.

A mile further I have to stop again. Jim asks me if I’m overheating. I say no, I don’t feel hot at all.

What’s going on? Has the Death Valley Vortex caught me firmly in its mysterious grasp? Is Death Valley going to thwart me once again? Say it ain’t so!

I have to stop a third time, and this time Jim notices I’m wearing a bandana, and has me take that off. “Having that on your head can’t be helping,” he says. “Won’t you feel cooler without it?”

This is true, but I don’t think heat is the issue. And looking back on it now, a week later, it’s clear what the issue was: I was bonking! I did not give this possibility any credence during the ride, for I was eating and drinking my usual amount, the magic formula having been worked out over many long rides.

There’s a lesson here: The formulas don’t mean diddly squat. If you feel like you are bonking, you probably are! In hindsight, I should have been sucking down extra gel at this point.

Instead, I just struggle onward. I know the top is only two more miles, and then we’ll reach the plateau and have 20 miles of riding on the flats. Surely my legs will recover then.

Surely.

Miles 74-95. Echelon formation does the trick.

At Mile 74 we reach the top of the climb, at some 4,100 feet in elevation, and are of course now riding into a headwind. Jim’s up front pulling, Kim spelling him from time to time. I’m having a hard time holding a steady cadence behind them. Pedal, coast, pedal, coast. I can’t get into any sort of rhythm. This is annoying, frustrating, and tiring.

Somewhere along the way Jim makes the astute observation that I should ride just behind him, to his left. Of course! The wind has shifted into more of a cross-wind, and the “echelon formation” is just the remedy for that.

I move into position and feel instant relief. I’m able to hold a steady cadence now. My legs recover at least 50% in just a few miles. Under Jim and Kim’s pulling efforts, we pass quite a few people. This boosts my spirits, and by the time we reach the Nevada turn-around, my legs have recovered almost 100%.

Looks like Jim’s strategy is working!

Mile 95: 2:45 pm. The Nevada turn-around.

Last year, I reached this point at 3:15, just 15 minutes before the rest stop closed. This year, we’re a half-hour ahead of that schedule. So far, so good.

They are giving out ice at the rest stop. I fill my camelback completely full of ice, and top it off with water. That icy cold water would taste especially sweet later on.

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Scene at the 95-mile Nevada turn around. It’s 2:45 pm.

Miles 95-116 - The road to infinity

We leave the rest stop and head back southwest. In a fair world, we would have a tail wind now. Ha! This is Death Valley! Of course we have a head wind going back too. The wind gets stronger as the miles progress. Jim sets a pace around 16-18 mph. Last year, I was zooming along here at 20 mph plus.

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Kim plows through stiff headwinds as we ride southwest along Bonnie Claire Flats. Here, the road seems to stretch into infinity. We’re 105 miles in.

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Bonnie Claire Flats.

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Just six miles to go before we begin our descent down Grapevine Canyon.

Mile 121, 4:45 pm. Scotty’s Castle

The descent down Grapevine Canyon is a lot more pleasant than last year. Back then this descent consisted of sketchy gravel on washed out roads. Now we are able to zoom down the hill at speed, the only problem being the sun in our eyes from time to time. We reach Scotty’s Castle – past burned out vineyards (what a tragedy!) – by 4:45 pm.

The park grounds and picnic tables are closed, so we eat a sub-sandwich out of the sag truck and down a couple cans of V-8 and are soon on our way.

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Scotty’s Castle in the late afternoon light, 4:45 pm.

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Scene down the Grapevine. The road is fairly steep along here.

Miles 121-130, 5:50 pm. Ubehebe Crater.

After resting at Scotty’s Castle and then further descending down the Grapevine, I’m feeling good, and find myself out ahead of Jim and Kim, spinning down the road towards Ubehebe Crater. There’s more climbing here, and Jim and Kim catch me just before the climbs. Even though we’re back to 6-8% grades, it doesn’t seem to bother me. The sun is now descending over the mountains, but the air is still warm – actually, perfect is more like it. I settle into the saddle and patiently spin up the climb to the crater.

Unlike last year, my bike is not drifting off to the left as I make the 9% grade to the crater. That’s a very good sign.

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Looking into the bottom of Ubehebe Crater. This volcanic formation is 600 feet deep and 1/2 mile across.

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Another scene from the crater.

Back to the ranger station, 6 pm.

We descend from Ubehebe Crater and make our way to a  low spot, before climbing again to the ranger station. My legs do not suffer on the climb at all. We arrive at the main highway and the ranger station by 6 pm.

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Twilight settles in, looking southeast from the Grapevine Ranger Station. We stopped here to top off water bottles and prepare for night riding. It’s just after 6 pm, and we’ll have a glorious descent from here for 32 miles.

Miles 136-169. A glorious twilight descent.

Now comes the best part of the day, the descent down Scotty’s Castle Road, heading southeast back towards our final destination. Even though we’re descending at a pretty good clip, and could just coast, Jim’s up front, constantly pedaling. I’m barely pedaling at all, and have a good 10-15 miles of rest along this stretch.

Jim eventually slows down and soon I find myself up front, doing the pulling. This is the first time today that this has happened. I don’t mind – in fact, I want very much to pay back Jim and Kim for all of their pulling.

With skies darkening, the temperature somehow remains warm, and this, coupled with the slight downhill now, (0 to -2 % grades) leads to perfect riding conditions. I feel very energized.

I escape for a while by me lonesomes

My pace seems a bit fast for Jim and Kim. Unbeknownst to me, they are tiring. Well, why shouldn’t they be? They spent an awful lot of time in the wind today. It isn’t long before I notice they are no longer right behind me. Their distance alternates between getting closer and getting further away.

Last year there was a water stop somewhere along here. I figure that’ll be a good place to stop and wait. But the water stop never comes. All I can think about is that the sooner we make the bottom of Hell’s Gate, the more time available for doing the climb. We can all take a good breather at that second-to-last rest stop.

I climb a small ridge and roll down the other side and suddenly there are no other bikes around. I’m alone now with my own thoughts, in the deep dark that is Death Valley on a moonless night. It’s nice to have a few moments of peace like this. I get caught up in these moments. In retrospect, I should have slowed completely down where I was and waited for the others to join me.

I catch and pass several riders along this stretch. Yes indeed, my legs are feeling awesome! I’m not riding all that hard, though. My heart rate’s in the lower 120s, in the lower aerobic zone for me. I can continue this pace indefinitely.

Mile 169, 7:57 pm. Bottom of Hell’s Gate

I pull in to the next-to-last rest stop, at the bottom of Hell’s Gate. I have just enough time to fill a water bottle when here comes Jim and Kim.

We sit for a while and drink a Coke and eat a cup of noodle soup.

Jim says, “It’s in the bag. You’re going to make it.”

I don’t want to make any such proclamation myself. I remember quite well what happened last year. But I have to admit, the prospects look good. Unlike last year, I’m not stumbling around, barely able to walk. Unlike last year, I can still steer my bike in a straight line.

Miles 169-176. The climb up Hell’s Gate.

We depart for Hell’s Gate at 8:12 pm. We have almost four hours to make the next 28 miles. Surely, that’s doable.

Surely.

Hell’s Gate is a 7 mile climb, 2,100 feet elevation gain, or thereabouts. It features a lot of 6-8% riding, perhaps even steeper. It’s certainly a challenge after 170 miles of riding.

The climb begins. Jim and Kim have me out front, to set whatever pace I deem comfortable. I drop down into my triple’s granny gear (30×27) and spin as consistently as possible. I try to go into yoga zone, the in-the-moment-relax-into-infinity zone. To much relief, I’m able to steer the bike properly this time around.

The relaxing-into-infinity mindset works past Mile Marker 2 up the climb, then Mile Marker 3, 4, and 5.

Almost a mile too far.

A some point along the way Jim asks what the gradient is. Now, there’s a bit of history there that makes this funny. Earlier in the day I was constantly calling out the gradient as we made the climbs. The others wanted me to shut up about it. “We don’t want to know what the gradient is!” they remarked. “You’ll just make the climbing seem harder.”

And now here’s Jim asking for the gradient. I turn on my light and glance at the GPS.

“Eight percent,” I say to Jim.

Eight percent. That’s a bit steep for this late in the day, I tell myself.

For some reason, I psych myself out with this. My power instantly drops.

Actually, I’m not sure what happened. Later it was realized that a headwind came up about this time. But whatever the case, I find myself beginning to wheeze, unable to stay with Jim and Kim. The wheezing gets bad enough I have no choice but to get off and try to recuperate. I don’t stop though. I walk the bike. I remember Jim saying throughout the day, “Keep the bike moving!”

Eventually my breath recovers enough to get back on and ride for a while. Jim and Kim are quite a ways up the road.

Mile Marker 6 passes by. Just a little more to go.

But a half mile from the top my legs cramp up something good. I’m forced to get off the bike again. I’m forced to walk into the last rest stop – the top of Hell’s Gate.

As I clop along in my (mountain bike) shoes, that last half mile seemingly takes forever. I’m not worried, though. There’s still plenty of time to finish.

Mile 176. 10 pm. Hell’s Gate.

I reach the rest stop. Jim and Kim say they are glad I made it. So am I, of course. Last year, this is where I had to abandon. But now, barring any unfortunate incident, I will finish this double! I top off my water, down a few fig newtons and a packet of salt. I want these cramps to go away. The salt should help. So should the upcoming 10 mile descent.

Miles 176-197. A steep, fast descent, followed by easy riding to the finish.

The other side of Hell’s Gate is steep. I don’t know how steep. I just know that within a few seconds, I’m going 20 mph! Both Jim and I have dual pairs of Ayup lights. These allow us to the see the road quite clearly, even though it is pitch black out there.

And I mean pitch black. If you turn your lights off, you can’t see anything except stars. Wonderful, fabulous stars. Too numerous to mention.

Kim’s got only one pair of Ayup lights, so he descends at a more “leisurely” pace, (under 20 mph) to avoid outrunning is lights.

Me and Jim? We are flying down the road! Later, I would see from my GPS data that we were doing 30 mph for at least 5 miles down that hill. It was exhilarating, if a bit scary. We reach the bottom and wait a full fifteen minutes before Kim arrives.

I worry about the ride back to Furnace Creek. Though it looks flat on the profile, I do remember descending quite a ways on the way out, earlier this morning. How will my legs react to those climbs on the way back? Will my legs cramp up?

The answer is no. Those little climbs are not a factor. Soon the lights of Furnace Creek come into view.

I can’t believe it! I actually am going to finish! And it has not been a death struggle these last few miles. Quite the contrary, my legs feel awesome.

Well, not exactly awesome. Kim realizes at this point that if we hustle, we can finish the day just in under 16 hrs. I climb out of the saddle to make this a reality, only to have my legs say:

Er, excuse me! This sprinting here at the end is not in our contract! We are going to get you to the finish, and that’s all!

I settle back into the saddle, and roll with Jim and Kim into Furnace Creek in fine form. It’s just after 11 pm.

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We roll into Furnace Creek around 11 pm. We don’t look to be in too bad a shape, given the 197 miles we’ve ridden. And yes, I finally, finally finish a double century in Death Valley.

We’ve finished. The Death Valley Curse has been lifted. Woohoo!

Many thanks to Jim and Kim for pulling me around the course today. I don’t think I would have finished without them.

Stats for the day:

Clock time: Officially, 15 hrs and 49 minutes.

Saddle time: 13 hrs, 45 mins

Time off the bike: 2 hrs, 4 mins

Avg speed (on the bike): 14.4 mph

Average riding heart rate: 124 bpm

Heart rate zones:

Below zone 1: 42 miles

Zone 1: 79 miles

Zone 2: 65 miles

Zone 3: 11 miles

Zone 4: Never

Zone 5: Never

Miles and Miles

Carefree Ultra Century

Carefree Ultra Century Histogram

A 226 mile weekend: 152 miles one day, 74 miles the next. Basically the Bicycle Ranch route 2X including Carefree towers, Dynamite / Jomax / Hidden Hills, and then Fountain Hills / Gilbert loop. 6,000 feet of climbing on Saturday, 1,000 feet on Sunday.

Every time I’ve done the Death Valley Double Century, I’ve included a 150-miler in my training, usually three weeks before the ride. This pre-event training has usually included Carefree in one form or another. This time, I chose to do the Bicycle Ranch loop, and then ride it again, adding some extra hills afterwards. My goal was 150 miles or 6,000 feet of climbing, whichever came first.

I met that goal: I was out for 10 hrs of bike time, and 12 hours overall, for a 15.2 mph on the bike average, and right at 6,000 feet of climbing. Even though there were strong headwinds on the climbs, I felt good at the end, which bodes well for the upcoming double.

But this year I added a twist: I went out for a ride the very next day, leading the Los Coyotes group on a route I concocted last year, which goes out to Fountain Hills, down the Beeline to Gilbert Rd, and then south to Gilbert, looping west to Mesa / Tempe, and back to north Scottsdale. It turned out to be a 74 mile day for me, which meant 226 miles for the weekend – the most I’ve ever ridden in two days.

Hopefully this kind of training will pay dividends when I do the 197-miler in Death Valley in a few weeks. It sure has built confidence that I can complete this difficult double. My legs appear to be in top form.

Flats R Us

In the past week, over the course of 300 miles of riding, I had, six, count’em, six flats.

One was due to bad luck with glass. Two were due to debris on very wet roads. But the others came down to one thing: bad rim tape.

Velocity A23 Rims, designed for tubeless

Since destroying two wheels in a crash in June, I had the existing DT Swiss hubs rebuilt with new rims and spokes. In this case, Velocity A23 rims with DT Sapim spokes.

I love these rims. They are very wide — well, 23 mm wide anyway, and that coupled with 23 mm tires means flush sides. And that combined with the slightly aero shape to the rims means efficient, all around wheels that descend very stably and quickly.

These wheels are actually designed to run tubeless, though I ride them with normal clincher tires and tubes. Due to the close tolerances of these rims, they need very thin, but very strong rim tape.

The guy who custom-built up these rims, (Dave Thomas from Speed Dream Wheels), used Stans No Tube Rim Tape. This is a yellow, thin, plasticky, very strong tape, two wraps worth.

And that worked for a month or two.

Electrician’s tape to the (non) – rescue.

But one day I had a flat on the front and noticed a hole had been punched through one of the spoke holes. I didn’t have any of the right kind of rim tape handy, so I patched the hole using plain old black electrician’s tape, and quickly forgot about it.

IMG_2075My Velocity A23 front wheel with DT Swiss hub. I run a cambered Velocity A23 rim on the back with a DT Swiss hub as well, and these make excellent wheels. Not too costly ($750 range for a custom build-up) and fairly light and stiff for the price (1400 g or thereabouts, total). Don’t try the black electrician’s tape repair trick, though. It won’t work!

Later in the summer I had the aforementioned series of flats, three of them on the front. Finally it dawned on me to try and figure out why so many flats and that’s when I noticed the electrician’s tape had been worn right through, exposing a spoke hole and sure enough, causing a leak in the exact same location on each of the three flat tubes.

Apparently, electrician’s tape is not strong enough for this task! (Should have used the tried-and-true Nebraska answer to every repair: Duct tape!) I went out and bought some more Stan’s No Tube Rim Tape and rewrapped the rim. So far, that has solved the flats problem.

Why the hole?

Later, I wondered why the spoke hole in the first place? How did a hole manage to wear through on the original rim tape?

I think I have the answer: Probably when changing a flat earlier in the summer, I’ll bet I had put the tire lever right in line with the spoke hole, and poked right through the tape as I pushed the lever into service.

So take this as a warning should you use Stan’s Rim Tape: Be careful about your tire lever placement when you change a tire. Don’t place the lever in line with a spoke.

Labor Day Weekend Rides

Babbling Brook Century

Babbling Brook Century Profile

Three rides, three days, 214 miles, including a century on the first day.

Spent Labor Day weekend riding my bike. A lot.

The Babbling Brook Century

On Saturday I went out on a Los Freeloaders ride, winding my way down to the start in south Scottsdale, and then with the group down to the roads of Awhatukee, on a route concocted by one of the members. I thought I knew all the roads in that area, but the route leader had us on a few I’d never seen before. We even rode by a “babbling brook” at one point, on a bike path near the Phoenix Zoo.

Later that day, even though it was hot and muggy, I rode up north to the outskirts of Carefree, using Westland Dr as my turn around road. Ended up with 104 miles for the day.

Fountains Hills Circuit

Sunday had me out on the Los Coyotes ride where, as leader, I took the group on a circuit through Fountain Hills, climbing Shea, Palisades, Desert Canyon, Eagle Ridge. Lynsey had said earlier on the ride that she wanted to climb the hills of Via Linda after doing Fountain Hills, but funny enough, she wanted no part of it when the opportunity came. Neither did I, being quite tired from riding a century the day before. I ended up with 46 miles for the day.

Cesar Chavez route plus additional

On Monday, Labor Day, I rode down to the southeast valley, intending to ride with Scott in the south Gilbert area, maybe even do Usery Pass. It was a glorious ride down to Mesa at 4:30 am, the temperature perfect, the moon in a sliver, and the stars of Orion twinkling in the night sky.

I stopped to talk with Scott on the phone at one point, and we changed plans and I redirected my route and headed for Kiwanis Park in Tempe to do Phoenix Metro’s ride – a loop they call the “Cesar Chavez” route, which heads west in southern Phoenix to the 35th Ave area, where Cesar Chavez park serves as the turn-around.

By the time we reached Cesar Chavez park I had ridden over 50 miles, and had almost 200 miles for the weekend. My legs, which had felt fine up to this point, suddenly turned into lead. I struggled along Dobbins Road, barely able to pedal 13 mph. It was hot, and extremely muggy. Probably the worst humidity of the summer. My companions, Scott and Court, had ideas of climbing South Mountain on the way back, but by the time we made Central Ave and Dobbins I wanted no part of South Mountain. I was feeling miserably hot and tired. I stopped at the Circle K on the corner and went in to rest in the air-conditioned store. Scott and Court took off for the climb.

They were back in no time at all – they got to the ranger station and decided there was no way they wanted to ride any more in the heat. We made our way back to Tempe – but not before Court crashed into a pole along the bike path south of Baseline. Snapped off a handlebar in the process. Fortunately, he did not snap off any bones, and though skinned up, seemed otherwise okay.

About that time an unusual dust storm came rolling over the hills of South Mountain Park. Not that dust storms are unusual for Phoenix, but that early in the day? Yeah, it’s unusual. We got back to Kiwanis Park and I had Leslie come pick me up, just in time for dust, wind, and rain.

I had toyed with doing a full century, which would mean 250 miles for the weekend. But Court’s crash, the heat and humidity, and the dust storm had me cutting the ride short to just 66 miles, meaning 214 total for the weekend. It’s the most miles I’ve done in a three day stretch, as far as I can remember.

A ride along Lake Huron

Was up in Canada this August, spending time with my wife’s family. Just before this trip, I had been doing a lot of riding, training hard for a double century in Death Valley coming up in October, and my legs were in top form – only to have this two week hiatus.

I did manage to get in some riding while on the trip. I rode my sister-in-law’s indoor trainer one day, and then while spending time along the shores of Lake Huron, I got to ride my brother-in-law’s “beater bike” around the area, and went for a couple of short 10-15 milers.

Here are a few photos taken on of those rides:

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A typical scene in the Inverhuron area, along the shores of Lake Huron, just north of Kincardine, Ontario.

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Managed to catch a seagull in flight while pausing to take in the view of Lake Huron.

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I know, just an ordinary picture of a garden. But we don’t see green like this back in Phoenix.

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A neat little cabin in the woods. The lake is just on the other side.

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Every time I go to Canada, I see more and more solar panels planted in the rolling farms of southwest Ontario.

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Massive power lines with several gigawatts of power coursing through them, courtesy of the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant – a major employer of this area.

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My only hill climb of the trip, just outside the Bruce Power Plant.

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The other growing source of energy in the area – wind turbines. These are quite controversial in these parts, courtesy of what in my opinion is a lot of fear-mongering and underhanded politics, where major players are exploiting people’s natural fear of anything new, spreading lots of misinformation and stoking controversy for their own nefarious personal political gains. </rant off>

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A dirt bike path in Inverhuron Provincial Park. A pleasant place to go riding!