1997 > Death Valley Double > Lisa and KenS's Report
Team Bikeaholics completes the
Average riding speed 16.7 mph
Highest temperature - 95° F
Number of Camelbacks consumed = 7 per person
"I'm sure we'll make it to the top soon" (voiced at least a million times by Team Captain, Lisa, from the back of the tandem on the 20 mile climb up Salsberry Pass at 4 mph in the 95 degree heat, in a futile attempt to cheer up Martian team members Ken and Thomas).
"I can't hear you!" (Morale Officer/Tandem Pilot Ken's response to Lisa's desperate request to slow down while descending Salsberry Pass at over 50 mph).
"Can I have your water?" (late-arrival, Don, kneeling at dinner table in Longstreet Casino, eyes glazed, face covered with salt).
Hardened double century and ultra cycling events Team Bikeaholics members Lisa Antonino (Team Captain/Tandem Weapons Officer), Ken Straub (Morale Officer/Tandem Pilot), Thomas Maslen (Foreign Affairs Advisor) and Don Bennett (Sergeant-at-Arms) gathered in front of the Longstreet Casino on Nevada SR 127 at 4:45 am on Sat. March 22 to begin this epic 200 mi. journey that traverses Death Valley and includes scenic rest stops at Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek, Badwater, Ashford Mills, and Shoshone. The early morning air was suprisingly cold as we pulled out onto the road towards Death Valley Junction with our glowing Night Rider lighting systems. Our minds were filled with thoughts of anticipation. Would we be able to finish the ride this year and erase our 1996 DNF? Would the temperatures soar in the afternoon and turn us to toast? Would we be plagued with gastrointestinal distress, as in previous doubles?
We reached Death Valley Junction, 7 miles down the road, and turned onto Hwy 190 towards Furnace Creek. There was a short, gentle climb up to about 3000 ft. followed by a delightful 15 mile descent into the valley. The barren landscape was gradually illuminated before us as the sun arose from the Funeral Mountains. There was a small rest stop at Zabriskie Point, where we were surprised to see Lee, our riding companion from the Grand Tour last June. He didn't recognize us at first because we were on a tandem, but once we reminded him of the Grand Tour and the ride from Point Hueneme to Malibu, his memory returned. He broke into rolling laughter as he recited Ken's famous line from last year's Death Valley Double, "It's the only ride where grown men are allowed to sit on the side of the road and have a good cry". After a brief bio-break and refueling, we headed back onto the road and continued our descent into Furnace Creek. The temperature was warmer, but still very comfortable, and the valley and surrounding mountains were clearly visible. Captain Lisa proclaimed that it was, indeed, a beautiful view, and insisted on burning this image into her mind to focus on later on in the day, when the temperature or scenery might not be so favorable. Teammates Ken, Thomas and Don seemed not particularly interested in the scenery, as evidenced by their silence; however this behavior is often misinterpreted by Venusians (editor's note: Teammates Ken, Thomas, & Don were in fact tying to catch up on their sleep during the lengthy 15 mile descent, having figured out that, since the ride ended at the same place it started, there would probably be a lengthy 15 mile ascent somewhere during the afternoon.).
As we approached Stovepipe Wells, we began to see riders coming back who had started the ride earlier (as early as 3:00 AM!). We waved to Larry Bolander (riding with Milo and Tom), Marc Nix (Bikeaholics Security Officer), and Dick and Roxanne Robinson (rival Team TNT members). New Bikeaholic recruits Tom Lawrence and Craig Robertson were also sighted on this stretch.
We were momentarily disappointed to find ourselves so far behind the early bird riders, then contemplated the effects of a 1:30 am wake up (Team Bikeaholics had spent the night in a variety of locations, some as far as a 45 mi. drive from the start) and decided we were satisfied with our starting time after all. Along the road we saw such Death Valley landmarks as the Devil's Cornfield, Salt Creek, multiple signs proclaiming we were at Sea Level, and the Sand Dunes. We reached the ranger station at Stovepipe Wells, mile 68 of the ride, in good time. Peanut butter sandwiches, dinky yellow cookies (see the 1996 Eastern Sierra write up for details) and bananas were eagerly consumed, while Lisa busied herself with Tylenol, Albuterol and Sudafed. We then rode down the road to the gas station for a pit stop, and headed out back to Furnace Creek. By this time it was 8:30 AM.
On the way we met tandemeers Donna and Margaret, introduced to us by Foreign Affairs Advisor Thomas, who found out they had done Davis Brevet rides in previous years. We had acquired a small, pleasant paceline of riders, with the tandems taking turns at the front. Before we knew what had happened, we found ourselves in Furnace Creek. It had definitely warmed up, but it was still pleasant. The next destination was Badwater, and as we got to the junction of Hwy 190 and 178, we began to see the 100 mi. century riders on their way to and from their turn-around point. They all had fancy bikes and colorful lycra, just like the double riders, but we speculated that they were either smarter than us or perhaps hadn't trained as much over the winter. Who does a double century in the middle of March, anyway? The road along the eastern side of the valley seemed to go on forever. We started off with a slight downhill, then found ourselves going up and down an endless series of rollers. It was about this time that the dreaded tandem-induced saddle sores intruded upon our otherwise relatively pain-free ride - this in spite of the extra padded cycling underwear we'd purchased the week before.
The rest stop at Badwater was a bustling place with both century and double riders. We again saw Lee and his riding companions, as well as TNT members Julia and Roy. Unfortunately, by 9:15 the rest stop had run out of peanut butter! Imagine eating a jelly-only sunbaked bread sandwich - but it was better than nothing. They also had pretzels, viewed as carbos and salt with bike nutrition eyes. We filled our Camelbacks yet again, and downed some Pepsi (non-diet). The 34 miles to Ashford Mills would be long, hot and hilly, but the broad salt flats and steep mountain ranges bordering the valley made for an incredible view. The snow covered Telescope Peak was always in sight. Although we left only shortly behind Tandem Donna-Margaret, we found it difficult to keep them in sight, as we were definitely slowing down. About 10 miles before Ashford Mills, however, we encountered a stiff headwind, and were somehow able to cut through and pass their tandem and several riders on singles. Team Bikeaholics had kept in tight formation up until this point. Tired, hungry, and saddle sore, we anticipated a relaxing lunch stop.
We found out that Ashford Mills was not prepared to be a real lunch stop, or much of anything else for that matter. Warm packages of processed turkey/ ham, packets of mustard and dried out mini blueberry bagels just didn't cut it for a sandwich. There was a seemingly endless supply of no-calorie Diet softdrinks, which seemed a little out of place given the energy requirements of a double century. The only redeeming attribute of this rest stop was the large supply of ice-cold Popsicles. There was a campstove with a pot of soggy boiled potatoes and a tea kettle for boiling water for the Cup of Noodles. We elected for the noodles, AKA "salt-in-a-cup". Larry, et al. were just about ready to head out, and they took the opportunity to pose for a group photo. At some point, Lisa decided to make a "run" for the outhouse. This involved hobbling 1/4 mi. in Time cleats along a gravel road (she was not amused by this). This particular outhouse was probably the second most disgusting one ever encountered on a double century! The walk back was slow and tedious, and Ken was waiting impatiently with the tandem, waving his arms in the "let's go" pattern. Team Bikeaholics, at this point reduced to the tandem & Thomas, headed out. Don elected to linger a bit at Ashford Mills, apparently working on his tan.
The route at this point ascends Jubilee & Salsberry passes, climbing a total of 3500 ft before descending into the Amargosa Valley and the town of Shoshone. The climb, while a fairly gentle grade, goes on FOREVER. The valley had begun to heat up, and the air was quite still. The ride organizers had thoughtfully provided caches of water every few miles by the side of the road, and Team Bikeaholics availed themselves of the opportunity to stay as hydrated as possible. On the way up we passed TNT'ers Dick & Roxanne, and chattd briefly. After what seemed like hours, we finally reached the top of the pass. After a quick refill of our Camelbacks, we started down the long descent into Shoshone. During the climb up, Team Captain Lisa had extracted from Pilot Ken a promise to "take it easy on the next downhill", and Ken attempted to comply. However, the scenery, good road surface, Martian hormonal drives, and general Martian impatience all conspired against said promise, and we soon found ourselves hurtling down the hill, considerably in excess of 50 mph (editor's note: in deference to Lisa's nerves, the exact terminal velocity that was achieved on this descent remains a closely guarded secret). Thomas, in a remarkable demonstration of drafting, managed to stay with us all the way down by keeping his front wheel approximately 2 inches off of the tandem's rear wheel.
This exhilarating descent was followed by a slower, 20 mph sweeping turn onto Hwy 178. At this point we were able to experience a feeling of mortality, when, accompanied by a startling BANG, the tandem's rear tire blew out. Much to our surprise we were able to control things and bring it to a halt without dumping the contents of the tandem onto the asphalt. The rear tire was completely shredded and unrepairable, having blown through the casing in a rather spectacular fashion.We entertained a variety of thoughts, ranging from "Gee, what do we do now, in the middle of the desert with no spare tire?" to an unspoken "I'm sure glad that didn't happen at 50+!". As we evaluated our options (such as walking through the desert to Shoshone in Time cleats), rescue arrived in the form of a SAG van. The driver asked us what we needed, and promptly threw us a slightly used but serviceable 700 x 28C tire, and after repairs we proceeded to the rest stop at Shoshone.
Shoshone was finally what a rest stop was supposed to be, as they had real food in reasonable quantities. After a turkey sandwich and (real, not Diet) Pepsi, we rested a while, retrieved our lights, and began to move out at around 6:00. As the sun went down it began to get quite cold, but we were buoyed by the prospect of less than 30 miles to the finish. We were also rewarded with a marvelous view of Comet Hale-Bopp in the cold, clear desert sky. We stopped briefly in Death Valley Junction for a bio-break and a chat with tourists waiting for the Amargosa Opera to open, and then we made the final 7 mile run into Longstreet. We arrived at about 8:15 to the cheers of other riders and the support crew. An element of the surreal was provided by the non-bike activities underway in the casino, which included an Elvis-look-alike contest. The regular casino-goers stared at us with at least as much interest as we started back at them!
A post-ride review was then held by Team Bikeaholics and TNT'ers Dick & Roxanne in the casino restaurant, and a final denouement was provided by the slightly late arrival of Bikeaholic Don, who showed up at about 9:30, looking somewhat dazed and salt-encrusted. He had apparently decided to rest on the climb out of Ashford Mills, and found a rock that provided some shelter from the sun. Once it cooled down, he proceeded on impulse power to Shoshone and then onto the finish. He seemed in good spirits, although his conversation was limited to repeated requests along the lines of, "Can I have your glass of water?".
This year's DVD route was somewhat different than in previous years, and avoided the always-windy northern return from Badwater to Stovepipe Wells. Wind conditions were in fact greatly improved over previous years, with only modest headwinds on part of the ride between Badwater and Ashford Mills. The scenery, as always, was spectacular, and ride support good (extra plusses for water caches and tandem tires, minuses for limited food at key rest stops). Still, given last year's brutal conditions, we can't help feeling that this year's "perfect" conditions were a matter of luck and not a kinder, gentler Death Valley!