Last of the summer wine: end of the duros west season

Riding along Chilies Pope Valley in Wine country. The next weekend was to be the annual Pope Valley Turkey shoot. You don’t get to shoot any turkeys, but I believe that they give out turkeys as prizes for the best shots.

Years ago, my mother would take a week off every year around her birthday and stay at home.  Her main activities were sitting around in her nightgown and robe, watching taped PBS shows, and eating stewed prunes.  The prunes part was a key ingredient to this vacation.  One year, when she went back to work, after her week of debauchery, a friend asked my mom how her vacation had gone and my mom responded, “guess what I did every day.”

“You ate prunes,” responded my mother’s friend, knowing my mother well.

“Yes!” my mom replied, still happy and relaxed after her vacation with the dried plums.

Michael, like my mother, likes well-worn goat paths.  He has figured out what he wants to do with his life and he does just that, over and over again. He has decided that the best ride in the world is the pancake/Nicasio/Marshall wall loop and I tend to agree, so in the winter, when he takes over as leader of the Duros West GPC rides, we do the same route every week and eat at the same restaurant every week, the Pinecone, a fine establishment, whose service reminds me every so slightly of Baltimore.

The waitress will come out and ask what we want to eat. We will look slightly offended and ask for menus.  She’ll reply that she thought that we already knew what we wanted.  She’ll divvy out menus, come back several minutes later to take our orders, which are all orders she would have correctly guessed without even talking to us.  I am not quite sure why we all need to have menus in our hands when ordering, but my hands feel naked and exposed if not holding a menu while asking for food.  I always get eggs over easy with toast, having decided long ago that this meal is the best possible meal to eat on a bike ride.  MarkN is ever so slightly less stuck in his ways, so his lunch choice varies occasionally and, if I am lucky, he will order 2 buckwheat pancakes.  Mark is completely unable to eat 2 buckwheat pancakes, so I hover like a vulture and see if I can scavenge some yummy tidbits from his plate.  However, Mark more often than not gets eggs over easy, too.  Michael will likely get banana pancakes (no chance of yummy tidbits from that plate).  Jack, having arrived late after buying bread at the Bovine Bakery, will get the hangtown omelet/steak sandwich, and Bob’s choice varies.  Bob often gets some almost, but not quite, vegetarian lunch.  Repeat again next week until spring.

Bob is the real leader of Duros West and he schedules and plans all the Duros West rides during the regular (non-winter) season.  He chooses interesting locations and changes the routes week to week.  He does use the same routes from year to year, but during the season the routes vary.  In midsummer, we ride a variety of routes in Marin, which the heat of summer does not ever touch.  In the milder spring and fall we go out to Livermore or up to Middletown, King Ridge, Pope valley, or Lake Berryessa, all places well acquainted with the scorching heat of summer, but places well worth visiting in spring or fall.  The schedule runs as though someone gave it some real thought and consideration and we are all better for it.

Bob has decided that this will be the last year he does Duros West and that the rest of us need to step up and lead more of the summer rides.  Michael does not quite believe Bob.  He thinks that Bob will reconsider and do another year.  However, the summer season is now over.  Michael takes over this week as our winter leader and we will be riding the pancake/Nicasio/Marshall wall loop on Thursday.  According to Bob, last Thursday was his last regular Duros West ride as leader. He has been leading these rides for about 12 years.

View as we left Yountville, land of fine dining

Bob, Jack, Dave, and MarkN. Leaving Yountville.

Our ride started in Yountville and  we did a loop along 128 to Lake Berryessa and through Pope Valley.  Mark and I rode my tandem.  Michael did not come, because the drive was too long.  Jack came despite having had a back spasm that week.  Caroline misread the webpage and, when we called her cell phone wondering where she was, she was driving around the Old Nob Hill Market parking lot in Livermore, looking for us.  Dave came, so we were 5.  It had rained that morning and everything was moist and pretty.  The smell of bay leaves inundated the area.  The vines were just starting to turn and the whole ride was beautiful.  We had grilled paninis in Spanish Flat and I believe that these paninis were the best on the planet.  Bob was stung by a wasp during lunch, but seemed happy anyway.

While we were sitting around our lunch table outside, Jack took a large swig of his juice and immediately spit it all out onto the center of our lunch table.  Realizing that an explanation might be needed, he told us that a wasp had been in his drink.  Upon inspection of the rejected liquid, a very wet and pathetic looking wasp was found.  Jack was quite please not to have been stung by the wasp and counted the ride as a success.

As the day wore on and the heat rose, the smell of bay leaves was overtaken by the slightly fetid smell of freshly pressed grapes.

Long horns

View from the dam looking north at Lake Berryessa.  We had just seen an Ospey take off and fly alongside us for a couple of minutes.

Looking back south from the dam

Bob and last view of Lake Berryessa. We were chasing down the Osprey and we succeeded in finding him again and watched him soar.

This loop is lovely tandem territory. MarkN kept wondering why we dropping everyone until he looked at our average speed and realized how fast we had been rather effortlessly going.

Postcard from King City

“Are you ok?” I texted Jason at 1155pm on Saturday night.

“I’m fine,” he politely replied, “How are you?” Netflix had just raised the quality of his life substantially, by suggesting that he watch the British comedy “Black Book.”  Jason had just spent the last couple of hours watching this show, giggling, so was in a very happy and accepting mood when I texted him at the cusp of midnight.

“Earthquake, felt big,” replied I.  I had been asleep in a motel room in King City when the trembler hit and was now anxious and very, very awake. When the quake hit, I thought, “that seems to be going on for a while,” so I walked to the wall next to me to go outside.  It took me a second to realize that the wall did not contain a door, which is good, since a door on that wall would have lead to a quick drop from the second floor to the first.  For some reason this image bothered me, as though in my confusion, I could have found a door in the dark that lead to a 30-foot drop.   I recalled that the door was located on the opposite wall and made my way to the other side of the room. By the time I got to the correct location of the room door, the shaking had stopped.  Worried that the big one had hit the bay area and that our lives may be in ruins, I texted Jason, thinking that if the big one had hit San Francisco or Oakland, I would not get through anyway.

I was relieved that Jason quickly and happily responded.  Alexis was trying to get information on her iThingy, but the USGS site was not showing any earthquakes at all, so we were happy to hear from Jason and learn that our loved ones and our lives still stood sound.

The earthquake turned out to be local to us.  It was a 5.3 magnitude quake on the San Andreas fault about 17 miles from King City.  King City was the closest town to the earthquake.  There was no damage or injuries.

I was on an overnight biking trip with a group of about 45 or so and I think that everyone was awakened by the shaking.  Many people called home, worried as I was.  Michael’s response was slightly different.  He thought that it might be the big one, too, but he was pleased and content.  He was happy to be out of town, safe, comfortable, and warm with his beloved bike in King City, far away from any possible destruction in his hometown.

Furnace Creek 508 2012 ride report: Stage two, the easiest stage

Nancy Yu also has a write up of stage two on her blog.

Closely following Jason. Stage two Furnace Creek 508. California City to Trona, city of bike paths.

Jason and I rode stage two and five on our Furnace Creek tandem relay race. These stages are considered the easiest stages and are often given to the rookies on a relay team.  Nancy and Tim were initially assigned these stages, but Tim is so outrageously strong that we simply had to give them Townes, so he would have something to sink his teeth into, even if he had only been on a tandem 3 times before our “race.”

TAILWIND!

We had a tailwind the entire 72 miles on this stage. Actually we had a bit of a sidewind/downhill at first, but let’s just call it a tailwind.  The stage was ridden faster than the riders.  Riding with a tailwind is lovely.  We had no business riding that stage that fast and we were pleased by our performance, even if we knew it was wind driven. I spend far more time riding into a headwind than I will ever spend riding with a tailwind, so I might as well bask in its glory.

The problem with a tailwind in the desert is eventually you will climb and you will be hot.  Tailwinds are hard on hot climbs.  Neither Jason nor I are good in the heat.  We both insisted on wearing camelbacks, even with a support vehicle, because we wanted iced water available at all times and camelbacks are very good at keeping water cool.  Despite the camelback Jason and I faded fast on the gentle climb on our stage.  Our heart rates plummeted when we hit the climb; we were just suffering from the effects of the heat.  Jason’s heart rate hovered around 125.    Eventually, Jason ran out of water, so we stopped to get more iced water in our camelbacks.  Stopping was so lovely.  We knew we had a tailwind, but we had no idea that the wind would be so pleasant.  On the bike, the air was still, with the wind matching our speed, but when we stopped the breeze seemed cool and Jason and I felt better instantly.  We were able to cool down quickly and then restart.  We felt much better after our little break and were able to put out a more reasonable effort with higher heart rates.  We had just overheated and the break made all the difference.

Bike shadows

We stopped in Randsburg to use the porta-johns.  Luckily we arrived right before a bunch of confused and road-dazed tourists .  They seemed to be having difficulty understanding that other people were using the port-johns, too, and, in general, seemed flummoxed by the whole porta-john system.   A helpful man stood by and tried to explain the situation to them.  Since the situation did not seem to warrant explaining, he was having difficulty figuring out exactly why they were confused and what exactly needed clarification.  When we left they still seemed flummoxed, but we had places to go, so off we went to Trona.

We were required to have a follow car from 6pm until 7am and, since we reached Trona in complete darkness, Jason and I did the last section of our stage with a follow car.  I had been worried about riding with a follow car.  I was worried that its presence would bother me.  I feared I would be overly aware of having an audience and feel nervous.  The car did not bother me at all.  I might have been working a little harder, because I knew it was there, but it never made me anxious.

At one point the car pulled up while we were starting a slight climb to ask if we needed anything.  Jason was distracted by the car, so he backed off pedaling and he did not downshift.  I think that Steve was the one asking us if we were ok and Jason was sort of answering and I forgot how to say the words “downshift” and became very annoyed.  “Something is wrong,” I yelled and then I finally came out with the word downshift.  Poor Steve thought I was angry with them, when I was mostly frustrated at myself for not being able to remember the word “downshift.”  I felt bad for Steve.  I just needed a lower gear and Jason was distracted and not shifting or pedaling as hard.

We arrived in Trona and Nancy and Tim were waiting on the side of the road astride his tandem, ready to leave.  They were not able to leave until the follow car went with them, so they had to wait.  Willy was in no hurry.  He was hyped up and chatting and Jason was not exactly hyped up, but he seemed willing to talk.  Tim and Nancy meanwhile, stood on the side of the road waiting.  I eventually told Jason to stop talking back to Willy, so that he would get in the follow car and go.

My legs straight up hurt after this stage.  We had put out a good steady effort and the wind had been very inspirational.  We had felt good and strong because of the wind and the downhill start and we felt even more inspired to throw down more effort on the road.  We had a good ride and we were both pleased.

Stage 2 profile. Stolen form AdventureCORP site.

Poodles, rain, and bad decisions

I shouldn’t have been surprised when I arrived at Sibley that the parking lot was empty. It was pouring this morning. The wonder poodle refused to leave the car, using all 40 pounds of his poodle might to brace himself against my tugs.  His little furry brain was not going into that rain; it was wet out there.  I spent a couple of minutes explaining to him that he would have fun romping in the rain, but his English is not very good and I did not seem to convince him.  Eventually, he relented, got out of the car and walked alongside me, tail down occasionally looking at me as though he was wondering what he had done to deserve this punishment.

I had decided to take the dog for a hike in Sibley based on the following reasons:

  • It was Monday morning and I always take the dog for a hike on Monday morning.
  • I was awake and ready to go.
  • It was past sunrise.  (Due to the rain and cloud cover, the sky was darkish, but it was past daybreak.)

I knew it was raining, but I figured that the dog would have a good time anyway.  I did not check the radar.  I had already made the decision based on reasons listed above.  I did not need to bring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into the discussion.  As I drove to the park, I realized that I had, yet again, made a bad decision.  It was pouring, not raining slightly, but pouring.  My windshield wipers were going at full speed.

I had brought a rain jacket, not my good one, not one that worked well.  I brought the other one, the one that leaves my arms and neck wet and cold.   I wouldn’t want to wear out the good one by using it to stay dry.  I rarely wear my good rain jacket.  It has become my litmus test for riding my bike in the rain.  If it is raining hard enough or going to rain long enough that I think that I need my $250 rain jacket, I stay at home.  Best 250 dollars that I have ever spent.  I should have also brought my rain pants today. I also bought my rain pants for biking.  I have never worn them on a bike.  See discussion about $250 rain jacket above.  I have, however, decided that rain pants are great on dog hikes done in the pouring rain.

The rain stopped as I returned to the parking lot after the hike.  As I drove home, I could see that the clouds had broken and the sun was beaming down on Oakland.  I like that view.  I was still in the clouds, but I could see the city below, shining in the sun.  Everything looked clean and bright.  I was in full sunshine by the time I got home and, as I type this from inside my apartment, the sun shines brightly through my window.  If I had simply delayed my hike by an hour, the dog and I would have enjoyed a happier and drier walk and the dog might have seen some other fellow furry dog friends.

Sunny view from my desk chair

I had a nice hike today, despite the rain.  The rain gives an eerie quietness to the place.  The rain itself is loud, but it drowns out all other noises and it seems quiet.  I liked the muted colors of the hills caused by the dimmed lighting with the sun blocked by the clouds.  The dog eventually did cheer up and ran around merrily, randomly digging frantically at imaginary critters.

This hiking incident reminds me of a discussion that Michael, Alexis, and I had this past weekend.  Michael, upon looking back at the major decision points in his life, has decided that he made the wrong decisions at each of those points.  I pointed out that he seemed to have been happy for much of his married life, until the divorce, and perhaps that decision was not a mistake.  He conceded that that decision was probably the right decision, but he was not quite happy with anything else.  Alexis thought that she had made the correct decision at each of those points in her life.

I bike.  I bike a lot.  It is what I do.  I spend a huge amount of time and money doing it.  Cycling has turned out to be my main focus of my life.  How did that happen?  It is a tad dangerous, it takes up much of my time, and it does not pay at all well.  Why did I decide to spend my life doing this activity?  I do not really know.  I feel like it is just what happened, which is of course a ridiculous response.  I did not just buy all those bikes and spend all my free time on a bike by accident.  It did not just happen.  Why do I do it and why did I start?  Starting biking could be considered a major decision, being the activity that has most transformed my life, but I certainly never sat down and made that decision.  I started cycling, because we moved further away from Jason’s work.  He was no longer able to walk to work, so he started cycling.  He saw the Oakland Yellow Jackets one day and decided to try riding with them.  I was somewhat jealous of the women with whom he was riding and decided that I would start riding, too, and then I was hooked.  Would I be happier doing something else?  I am not sure.  I like biking a lot.  Could I be more productive and a better contributor to society doing something else?  Most certainly.

(Jill Horner had an interesting blog post recently discussing why people chose the sports they chose.  She encouraged people to consider why they did what they did and to also consider other activities.)

Many of my decisions are made in the cycling manner.  I was not really aware that I was making a decision.  I just went along.  Many of my decisions are also made in the hiking manner.  I decided what I wanted to do and ignored the obvious drawbacks and the obviously better choices.  I do what I want, either ignoring the better options or rationalizing that what I am doing is actually a good idea.

I did not add anything to the discussion with Michael and Alexis regarding important decisions, but I think as Michael does.  Most of my important decisions, if not outright mistakes, were not the correct or best decisions.  If I were to do it all over again, I would do everything differently, except for the getting married.  I would still marry Jason.

tired and dirty dog resting on Jason’s side of the bed. Good dog.

Furnace Creek 508: Stage 4, the hardest stage

Julie’s version of her ride as stoker in this stage is found on Nancy Yu’s blog.

Julie and Steve rode the hardest set of stages.  On paper, Nancy and Tim’s stage 3 ride would seem to be the hardest, since it is the longest and has the most climbing.  The hardest stage, however, is not the century that contains the 2-hour climb and that ends in Furnace creek at 0125; the hardest stage is the 73 mile leg that contains the three hour climb and that starts at 0125 and ends at 0733.

Stage 4. Stolen from the AdeventureCORP site. By Doug Dog Sloan

Humans are not made to drive or ride between 3 am and 6 am.  They are the witching hours.   We did pass a few riders who stopped to sleep in their support vehicles.  508 miles is a long time to go without sleep and a number of the solo riders do bed down along this stage during the witching hours.

Their stage started out very strong as they rode along the valley floor into a slight headwind, picking off half-bikes.  They would see a bike ahead of them and, I swear, double their speed, sprinting past their competition and almost dropping the van.  Julie said that Steve was like a dog, always wanting to be out front.

At Jubilee Pass and Salisbury Pass our joy was terminated. We spent three hours slowly driving behind the tandem and trying not to fall asleep.  Jason drank 3 of those Starbucks coffee caffeine bombs as he slowly drove the van in complete darkness following the climbing tandem, but finally succumbed and had to pull over.  Tim took over the driving and I continued as shot-gun.  Tim had gotten a small amount of sleep in the back while Jason drove, but he hadn’t really slept much.  I thought that someone should be awake other than the driver and tried valiantly to stay awke, but completely failed.  I could not stop myself from nodding off over and over again.  I drank a coke and felt quite buzzed from the coke, but the buzziness did not prevent me from nodding off.  Jason, sensing that the whole car was being overwhelmed by a fog of drowsiness, also tried not to sleep in the back seat.  Tim did a good job.  He stayed pretty far back from the tandem, so that if he did fall asleep or zone out, he would not actually hit our riders.  He never nodded or even really appeared to be sleepy and his driving was steady, but he did seem a little zoned out.  We were going 4 mph, so we would not get very far or get there very quickly if he actually fell asleep, but still, I was a little nervous.  -but not nervous enough to actually prevent me from continuing to nod off.  I spent 3 hours going 4-5 mph following a tandem in the dark feeling buzzed, tired, sleepy, and nervous all at once.

I remarked to the four of us in the van that the only people actually awake were the two on the tandem.

That supposition turned out to be an error.  Julie spent much of that climb trying to keep Steve awake.  Steve said he just wanted to get off the bike and sleep for a little bit.  Julie talked to him, badgered him, and sang to him in order to keep him awake.  Steve had not gotten much sleep on Friday night before the race and really did not need another sleepless night, especially one that involved climbing Jubilee and Salisbury passes by bike.  His stomach was not giving him any pleasure either, so all in all Steve was a really good sport.

I had been wrong, of the six of us, Julie, the stoker, was the only person awake that night and her handlebars do not actually control anything.

Dawn broke and everyone woke up.  Julie called us up to the tandem to yell at us that this hill needed to end already.  Their descent was not much of a descent and they ended up pedaling into the next time station.

Steve and Julie did a fabulous job riding a psychologically difficult stage into daybreak.

Picture of Steve and Julie near the top of Salisbury after dawn. This picture is very over-exposed to be able to see them.

Stage 4: Furance Creek to Shoshone. Stolen from the AdventureCORP site. Map made by Doug Dog Sloan.

Furnace Creek 508 ride report: Stage 3, the queen stage

Nancy Yu’s blog has a first person ride report for this stage.

Stage 3, with the Trona bump and Towne’s pass, is the actual queen stage, topping out with an elevation of 5000 feet on Townes Pass.  Nancy and Tim rode this stage and were outrageously strong on Townes pass, a 3800 feet climb with some stiff bits.  Per the 508 webpage this 100 mile stage has 7538 feet of climbing and Nancy and Tim cranked out this century in 6 hrs and 15 minutes.

Since this stage was ridden in complete darkness, we were required by 508 rules to do a direct follow of our riders with the follow car.  During the day, we are allowed to provide leap frog support with the car.  New national regulations have now made direct-follow support cars for bicycles illegal in national parks without a special permit, a permit which involves a 3 month study/review period.  The law is new and AdventureCORPS was not given enough time to request a special permit and make a study regarding impact of the follow cars, so we were grandfathered in for this year and this year only.  (My version of this story lacks any firsthand knowledge, is likely to contain some errors, and is definitely not the entire story.)  However, the Death Valley National Park was concerned about the dangers of having slow-moving follow cars going up Townes Pass and expressed their concern to Kostman.  As a result, this year, the follow cars were given permission to leap frog their riders on the climb up Townes in order to find a spot to pull over and allow other traffic to more easily pass. I am not sure why the park was more concerned this year than on previous years, but they were.  We directly followed Tim and Nancy the entire climb, except for one quick stop near the top.  The only cars were saw on the climb were other follow cars and the one ranger who was monitoring the event.

Last year a rider crashed on the descent down Townes and needed to be transported out by ambulance.  In the end she was ok, but the ambulance had to come from far away and involved a lot of coordination.  As part of this year’s permit, Kostman was required to hire an ambulance and have it stationed in Stovepipe Wells, near the base of Townes.  This ambulance would be able to help any rider on Townes pass or in Death Valley.  I am not sure how Kostman feels about the extra ambulance, but I was glad of its presence.  Death Valley always feels so isolated.

The tandem 4x teams are the only teams allowed 2 vehicles, since we are basically a traveling circus with 8 riders and 4 silly long bikes.  Jason and I were in the extra vehicle for the start of this stage.  We jumped ahead to before the climb up Townes and waited for the crew.  I liked this part of the race.  The start of Townes pass was in the distance and we could see a string of red lights, all other 508 people slowly climbing the pass in complete darkness. I tried to get pictures of the string of lights in the distance going up Townes, but the pictures, taken with my pocket camera did not capture the situation’s coolness.    We were able to stand around and discuss stars, the milky way, and the Pleiades, and why are rods only on the side of the retina?

We did a vehicle swap and Jason and I ended up in Willy’s van, the follow vehicle, with Willy driving.  Driving behind Nancy and Tim was great; they just went up Townes like it was nothing.  They conquered that hill and just being there to see them and witness their ride was a treat.

Nancy and Tim as they would have looked on Townes Pass, had they done it during the day and had the pass been flatter

The run into Furnace Creek from the Scottie’s Castle turn-off has always seemed disappointingly long.  It should be flat and easy, but instead I feel like that particular leg is interminable.  I have done it a few times as part of the AdventureCORPS Death Valley events.  However, it doesn’t seem long at all when done in an air-conditioned car, even when done at bike speed (or at least at Tim and Nancy bike speed).

We got to Furnace Creek.  Tim and Nancy dismounted, Julie and Steve mounted, Tim forgot to strap down the back tandem wheel onto the truck, Tim lost his helmet, and we were OFF to the next stage.

Stage 3, Trona to Furnace Creek. Stolen from the AdventureCORPS site. Map by Doug Dog Sloan.

Furnace Creek 508 ride report: Before the ride

Why?

Totems!!!

Who wouldn’t want to do a race where you get to pick a totem that’s then yours for life?  I think that Chris Kostman is simply a brilliant man.

The Furnace Creek 508 is a five hundred and eight mile bicycle race across the desert, through Death Valley.  The race is very popular.  (Popular, not in a Levi Leipheimer-Gran Fondo sort of way, but in a 508 mile race across the desert sort of way.)  It is also quite expensive, not just because of the race fees, but because of gas, lodging etc in such a remote location.  I am not complaining about the costs, just pointing out the costs of a race that has been going on for over twenty years, is very popular (this year’s race had 234 racers and a sundry crew) and involves riding five hundred and eight miles across the desert.

Totems.

Who cares how expensive it is?  You get a freaking totem. Who cares if it involves driving a car at cycling speed for five hundred and eight miles across the desert?  Totems are cool.

The other brilliant part of the 508 is that you can do it as a relay.  Signing up for a five hundred and eight mile race across the desert as a soloist is something that only really strong and fast people do.  Regular cyclists don’t do things like that.  However, most cyclists can do 1/4 of five hundred and eight miles.  The relays are a hook.  A bit of a taste and then people want to try for the whole shebang.

Not only do you get your own totem that you can keep for life, you can also be inducted into the 508 hall of fame after 5 events.  Willy just completed his 4th 508: once as a soloist, once as a two man relay, once as a two tandem relay, and now once as a 4 tandem relay.  He is definitely going to do one more event just to get into the Hall of Fame.  In order to be inducted into the California Triple Crown (CTC) Hall of Fame, one needs to complete 50 doubles.  50.  At my rate of double riding, for me to get into the CTC, I am going to need to find me some strapping young man to pull me around on a tandem as I pedal into my dotage.  5 events is awfully tempting and who on earth would want to do all 5 events as a soloist?  (There is an answer for this question.  You can look it up.)  You would want to do some of the events as a relay and then you would be looking for fresh blood and hooking a whole new set of cyclist into the 508 web.

Which is how Jason and I got involved in the 508.

I love riding in the desert.  Jason and I have done the Death Valley century/double a few times and I love riding there.  I ride along and can see forever.  The roads warp and warble and disappear into points on the horizon.  The land is vast and open.  Geology is on display like a textbook.  Mountain ranges miles and miles away seem close enough to touch.  It feels surreal and other-worldly.   I sign up for the Chris Kostman’s Death Valley double every few years, after the terribleness of the 9 hour drive has been forgotten, but the memory of the desert’s beauty still lingers.

I love these views of the road disappearing into the horizon.

When Willy mentioned the tandem relay, it sounded like a great idea.  We would be involved in this cool race in the desert with a lot of people we know.  It would be pretty and it would not be that hard, since 508 divided by 4 is not that much.  Not until much closer to the race did I actually think out the situation.  While the cycling would be fun, most of the ride would be done in a car, traveling at bike speed across the desert and while I like cycling in the desert, I cannot say, in all honesty, that I like driving across the desert.  And where would I get to pee?

When I told MarkN about my plans to do the 508 as a relay, his reply was:

I have to admit the 508 sounds awful but that is just me. Not my cup of tea at all. I have heard that some people like that sort of thing though.  … I think it would be fun to get 4 tandem teams together in Death Valley and ride 60 to 80 miles in the daytime together. Then go to the hotel for drinks and dinner. Maybe a hot tub soak. Repeat the next day. I’m just saying.

Mark is awfully fond of hot tubs, but I still think that he might be onto something.

The driving turned out to be fine.  Driving wasn’t as nice as riding, but it was sort of fun to drive along slowly across the desert and stare at the horizon.

Lodging

Willy wrote to us in March and told us to get hotel reservations at the start and finish sites.  He warned that the rooms would be hard to come by as the event approached.   Jason and I got a room at the start host hotel, but were unable to get a room at the finish host hotel and so got a room at the Motel 6, which Willy had mentioned in his email.  Nancy was really on the ball and managed to snag a room at the finish hotel.

On August 30th, having completely forgotten about his March email, Willy wrote to us again and suggested that we should all get rooms.  He hadn’t looked into getting rooms yet, and was hoping that rooms were still available.  Nancy and Jason replied that we had already reserved rooms. Willy, Steve and Tim were unable to get rooms at the start hotel, but they decided to get rooms at the Motel 6 for the finish since Jason and I were booked there (on Willy’s suggestion).

That motel 6 was pretty much a dump.  When we got to the motel, Willy told us that he would never have stayed there, except that we had already gotten rooms there and he decided to be a team player and book his room there, too.  We had only stayed there on his suggestion, of course, but that was from an email he had long forgotten.  The Motel 6 wasn’t really that bad.  It didn’t have bed bugs, roaches or obvious scurrying rodentia and it was really, really cheap.  I haven’t stayed in a room this cheap in over 15 years.  Our room was dinky and smelled faintly of urine and cigarette smoke, but only faintly.  All in all the room was great; it was cheap, it had no bed bugs or roaches and you acclimated to the smell in a matter of minutes.

Nancy showed up at the finish hotel, to discover that her reservation was for a different day. After a few calls, Deb was able to find a room in town for them.  Their room, apparently, did not smell of smoke and urine, but it was more expensive.

The start host hotel, the Hyatt Regency in Valencia, was fantastic.  The rooms were reasonably priced and very, very nice.

Who?

  • Me and Jason
  • Tim and Nancy
  • Steve and Julie
  • Deb and Willy

Jason, Me, Julie, Steve, Deb, Willy, Nancy, Tim. Photo by Ron Jones from the AdventureCORPS site

We rode under the totem Gray Goose, which is a great totem, since it is a combination of Julie’s and Steve’s last names and they are interested in doing the ride as a solo tandem team or a 2-man relay.

Floyd Landis had been signed up as part of a 2-man team and people were somewhat relieved that he was not able to come, so that the attention would be back on us regular folks.

Deb and Willy have ridden the tandem together quite a bit and they did last year’s 508 as a 2 tandem relay with Steve and Julie.  They were our honored veterans.  Jason, Tim, Nancy and I were the clueless rookies.  Jason and I have ridden quite a bit together, though we don’t ride as much as we used to do.  Nancy has ridden tandems on numerous occasions with various captains, though she, herself, does not own a tandem.  Tim was the odd duck.  The two stages of the 508 were his 4th and 5th rides on a tandem.  He signed up for this event, having never ridden a tandem at all.  He signed up to this event with the understanding that he would buy a tandem in order to do it.  I know couples who have been married for years, but are unwilling to get a tandem, so worried that they might not like it and he bought one, because he was riding with Willy on a brevet one lovely day and Willy told him about the tandem relay idea and Tim thought it sounded fun.  He agreed on the spot to sign up, buy a tandem and ride with Nancy.  Who does that?

I really liked Tim.

Nancy’s willingness to ride a tandem with someone she did not really know is remarkable, too.  All in all, the team was great, except for me, who has a slight tendency for baseline crankiness (especially when hungry and I missed a couple of meals on this weekend due to ride timing).  No one got upset or seemed stressed out and everything went smoothly.

Steve made a rack so he could carry three tandems on his truck.  Willy has a van decked out from previous 508 events for supporting this type of event.  Willy was on one of the support teams that crewed for Joan Deitchman this year in RAAM.  Willy is of the opinion that you can only plan so much for these events.  His main plan is to be flexible, because you never really know what is going to happen.

Willy drove Tim, Deb, and Nancy down to Valencia, but between the four of them, they failed to adequately clamp down the skewer on Tim’s brand-new tandem and the tandem fell over on the roof as they drove down Interstate 5.  Fortunately, it did not fall off the roof or into some other unsuspecting driver’s window.  They stopped, put the tandem back into place, and everything was fine.

Pre Race

Jason and I arrived at the start hotel on Thursday evening, got nice and settled and then went for a nice ride on Friday morning.  We wanted to get there early, so we would be all settled and comfortable before registration on Friday, which started at 11 am and ended at 4 pm.  Willy, Nancy, Deb and Tim arrived in time to finish registration 3 minutes before 4.

Steve designed and made a rack for his pick-up truck to carry the three extra tandems. Steve and Tim on the right

Julie and Steve to the left and me, sitting on Steve and Julie’s truck dressed as a yellowjacket

Nancy and Willy

Jason and I did get a very nice ride in on Friday morning and I was very happy that we had arrived early.  Valencia was a bit odd, but we were able to ride the first bit of stage one, going through San Francisquito Canyon, which was very pretty and interesting.

San Francisquito canyon ride before the ride

See Nancy Yu’s blog for the full Gray Goose Tandem 4x race report.

Click here for Nancy Yu’s video of the weekend.