Wednesday, January 21, 2009

2008 Eastern Sierra Double

Eastern Sierra Double

After thoroughly enjoyable rides Solvang Spring Double and DMD I sought to complete my California Triple Crown at Eastern Sierra Double. The ride was in early June and my memory of it isn't so fresh, as seven months have passed since then. This is a brief recap of what I remember.

I drove to Bishop, a cowboy town in Eastern Sierra on Friday. The drive took me through Yosemite. One couldn't ask for better scenery. I stopped several times to look at waterfalls, mountain lakes, cliffs, alpine meadows. There was still snow in the park, creeks were nearly overflowing, and there was much spectacular greenery.

Temperatures in Yosemite were in high 40s. I worried that I hadn't packed cold weather clothes for a chilly ride. When I finally arrived in Bishop at 6:30 p.m. and exited the car I felt a blast of 80-degree, 25-mile an hour wind, which gave me different worries: a hot and windy ride, was I ready for that?

I checked in at my hotel and went to check in at ride headquarters. I picked up my number, route sheet, and other necessary miscellanea and looked for a place to eat. Perhaps ill-advisedly I picked a Japanese restaurant. It was irresistibly convenient, next door to the ride host-hotel. I had tempura and a few pieces of sushi, returned to my room, laid out my ride stuff and went to bed reasonably early.

As is my habit, I woke up in the middle of the night. I turned over and the room started spinning. I lay still and spinning abated. That was weird. I turned back over and it started spinning again. Uh, not a good thing for a pre-double century night. I looked at the clock: 1:30 a.m. I banished my worries and went back to sleep. When I woke up the spins were back. It was OK if I didn't make any sudden movements, but when I turned my head, spins and mild nausea returned.

Do I ride? Is this dangerous on so many different levels -- do I have a brain tumor, food poisoning, would this compromise my sense of balance during the ride? Nah. I didn't drive to Bishop for six hours just to drive back home. I resolved to take it easy on the ride and monitor this condition. I ate my pre-double breakfast of bananas and bagels slathered in Nutella, put on shorts, short-sleeve jersey and arm warmers and went to the start. Cold wind was blowing from the north. It felt like temps were in high 40s. I was obviously underdressed, but I didn't feel that I had the time to return to the hotel to pick up knee warmers. Therefore, riding would have to provide the warmth and drafting would provide shelter from the wind.

At the start, I saw the cast of regulars: Tom, Chris, Lisa, and a number of others I'd seen on my first two rides. It was good to visit and reminisce, which allayed pre-ride jitters.

At 6:00 we were off, with only faintest signs of dawn visible over Nevada mountains. I went with the second group, which was going pretty briskly, but at a sane pace, led by a couple of mixed tandems. The first group went out so fast that its blinky lights soon disappeared in the distance. We rode south and east of Bishop through Owens Valley. It was dark and breezy, but the pace and the temperature were reasonably comfortable. After approximately 30 miles, we arrived at the first rest stop in full daylight. (The first rest stop was the site of first disqualification -- someone was thrown out for urinating in public at a rest stop located across the street from police and fire station.) A few bites of this and that, refill the bottles, find a suitable group and off we go.

After completing the loop through Owens Valley we began climbing out of Owens Valley. I rode with Tom, who was astride his bamboo Calfee, on which every rider we passed commented. It is a fascinating bike that Tom bling-ed out with wheels built on gold Chris King hubs. Nice. After we crested, Tom slowed down to wait for his friend and I jumped on the wheel of a passing tandem. Time for serious wheelsucking. I wheelsucked for a long time until we started climbing toward Mammoth Lakes (8700 feet elevation) and the tandem dropped back. I caught up with a guy on a Cannondale. We were climbing at about the same speed with similar efforts and ended riding together until mile 175-ish. Bill is a Berkeley HS teacher and we found we have lots in common. Miles of incredible scenery passed quickly. We rode through alpine meadows with giant spring flowers in full bloom, past snow-capped mountains, mountain lakes... Vast vistas of Nevada mountains were constantly to the east. Lunch was at Mono Lake. Can't beat that.

I felt relatively fresh by lunchtime. We all had over 100 miles in our legs but pacelines were going at speeds in high teens and most of the climbing was behind us. We still had a major climb up Sagehen Pass to 8400 feet.

The tandem arrived at lunch stop a few minutes after us, so we made sure we would leave with them. Ahead lay a tedious stretch of nearly an hour of riding on highway 395 toward Sagehen. Our paceline grew to about 12 riders, we had a tailwind, and most of the people took turns pulling. Time and distance passed quickly and we turned east off 395 and began the long drag up Sagehen into Nevada. Sagehen climbs and dips and false flats through high desert. We rode through arid pine forests and fields overgrown with brush. Vegetation was completely different from what we had seen just 5 miles to the west. Distance and altitude were taking their toll. Sagehen never seemed steeper than 6%, but everybody was in his/her lowest gear, no one looked fresh, and we all wondered when would finally crest.

Crest we finally did. There was a rest stop at the top and the crest, though beautiful, was disappointing. After a brief two-mile descent, we had about 20 miles of rollers in front of us. That and 20+ miles of road with 2-3" wide expansion joints. Or were they cracks? Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump! Very unpleasant. We'd get half a mile of smooth asphalt, then Thump! Thump! again. Each time I had to decide whether to pedal over a crack or stand and coast to save my hands and butt, then sprint to get back on the wheel ahead of me. Energy sapping and demoralizing. At least I was running 25mm Michelins... The tandem was hammering on downhills and flats. My biggest gear was 50x13, not well suited to closing gaps at 35mph, yet that's what I found myself doing several times, as riders left yawning gaps and I had to go around them to catch back on.  As we rode, Bill and I estimated our arrival time in Bishop.  We figured around 6:30, maybe 6:15 if we were fast and efficient.

At 3:30p.m. we pulled into a rest stop at Benton Hot Springs. I was pretty well spun out and it was finally warm enough to remove my arm warmers. Wind was blowing at ~25 mph -- toward Bishop. As we left the rest stop, the tandem assumed its rightful place at the head of the paceline. Again, I found myself spinning at a frightening rate. With an 11-tooth cog I could have taken a nap behind the tandem, but with a 13 I was working my legs off just to stay in the paceline. After about 5 miles, "psssssst," said my rear tire. "What?" I asked. "Pssssssssst" it replied, "I'm going flat, you fool." "Flat!" I called out loudly and pulled over, glad and sad. Glad because I'd get a break and sad because I would have to ride 23 miles alone on a flat, boring road. I pulled out a giant staple from the tire, replaced the tube and remounted.

Riding behind the tandem I hadn't realized just how strongly the wind was blowing. I was now all laone, expending minimum effort, and riding at speeds in low 20s. Thus, rather uneventfully and very quickly, I was blown back to Bishop, arriving at 5:25. The tandem group had arrived at 5:10!

Headspins continued off and on for another month before finally abating, but never on the bike.