Monday, October 15, 2007

stage three – trona to furnace creek

99.2 miles, 7538' vertical

tom was ready to go pretty quick, but we promptly blew our 'lead' when team smoking loon showed their experience with a quick rider change and a crew that was ready to travel. they hit the road as we shuffled bikes on the roof, fueled up the car, bought supplies, and stood in line for the restrooms.

chad tried to recover from his balls-out run to trona, but instead started feeling carsick in the back of the van. we stopped tom on his way up the trona bump to switch drivers. mindy drove as darkness fell, and chad rode shotgun long enough to find his barfaerobic threshold. apologies to basenji, the 2x tandem team keeping their distance behind us... but chad felt a lot better.

after the descent from the trona bump, tom rolled through the panamint valley in the early darkness and set up for the monster climb of the race: 3800' vertical in thirteen miles up townes pass, with grades up to 13% in places. that's a grind, i don't care who you are. i can't even imagine doing it after riding a double century like those solo riders. we are SO not in their league. over the steepest stretch, tom spent, in his words, two hours doing three to five miles per hour... he just kept it turning strong. amazing to watch from the van. mindy complained that she couldn't sleep with the two of us up front muttering, 'wow, look at him go' every now and then. a race is exciting, even in slow motion.

as tom climbed, we caught glimpses of the long line of blinking lights behind and below us. a long, long guardrail bending left suggested a huge panorama, but not for us. riding at night, tom said it's all about the blinking lights. just find the next set in front of you and catch them if you can...

the grade moderates near the top, but there's still a substantial climb ahead. finally, finally, we reached the summit sign and pulled off on the left side to get tom some more layers for the descent. i stepped outside the car into the wind and immediately flirted with hypothermia. it gets damn cold at altitude in the desert. gave tom all his clothes, and he put them all on...

the 17-mile descent from townes pass is an exercise in trust. chad tried to keep the car close enough to illuminate the road in front of tom while preserving an error margin. tough balancing act at 40 mph. and the road didn't help. it dips often, so that as tom reached the edge of a dip, the car behind wouldn't be pointed down enough to light the road, so tom had to drop into the blackness for a second. after a few times, you get used to it, rationalizing that we're not the first bicycle down this road this evening, it must be clear, right?

from the bottom of townes pass, tom still had a 25-mile pull to furnace creek, now into a huge headwind. good thing we had our most experienced double-century rider out there. he pounded it out at high cadence, clawing through stovepipe wells and on around to furnace creek just before 2 am. check the standings: 53 minutes behind smoking loons. even with our long rest stop at trona, they must have put a monster on the road for stage three. tom told me, 'you may feel some wind...' he got that right.

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