Tuesday, June 7, 2011

2011 Eastern Sierra Double Century

This has to be the most beautiful of cycling events! The High Sierra Mountains of California are natures playground for many. Epic Alp-like views and diverse climate changes make it just an amazing event.

This year it was just beautiful as usual although somewhat challenging at the end.

I had some business to do for work Friday in the morning so I did that on my way out of town. The weather was nice but the forecast was for some pretty inclement weather up in the Sierra's. I was hoping for the best as I drove north up the Owens Valley. I had a strong tailwind blowing me in my car all the way so I was somewhat nervous about the event. Nothing new!! All the events this year have been challenging due to weather. Mother nature is really making my century quest hard this year!!

I stopped along the way to see my old friend Hugh Murphy whom I have known for years. I first met him while doing his events back in the early 90's. My Wife, Kids and Sister in law used to work the events while my brother in law Vince and I did them on the tandem. We did all the Doubles on the tandem back then. Even before the Triple Crown came about.
I will never forget Hugh sitting in the back of the support van with his legs dangling, at 50+ mph, taking pictures of Vince and I descending off Jubilee Pass on the tandem at breakneck speed on one of the Death Valley Events.
Hugh let me try his trike

I reached Bishop, Ca. at about 5pm and the winds were just howling out of the south.
I checked in at Browns Town Campground and got my van ready for my night. Then I got my bike and gear all ready.
I went and checked in for the mornings event, got some dinner, headed back to the camp, set my alarm for 3:30am, then hit the sack early at 8pm. The wind let up quite a bit at night so I was not too worried.

A couple of cups of coffee in the morning and I was ready to go. The wind was not too bad when I arose.

I drove over to the start, talked awhile with some friends and waited around for the official start at 5am. We watched as a few people started early.

It was a fantastic morning as we started the event. First light in this area is just spectacular. Especially out in the open air riding in it.

Chuck Bramwell on the left

We headed out of Bishop in a clockwise loop to the East on East Line Street before turning South then West on Warm Springs Road. We then crossed Hwy 395 and headed North toward Round Valley to the North-West of Bishop. I rode this first section with my friend Chuck Bramwell, (the Triple Crown Guy). He is the founder and runs the California Triple Crown Double Century Series. We were in a good size group and had a nice tail wind once we headed North.

The weather forecast was for snow showers up in Mammoth Lakes and June Lake where we were headed so we all were really weighted down with extra cloths and gear. I must have had 5 extra pounds of stuff with me just in case. (you can always strip but if its cold and you don't have enough gear, you are done for the day.) video

I had plenty of food and water for over 50 miles, the climbing to come, was totally in a good, "zone", so I opted to skip check point one at Round Valley School.

Onward I trekked toward the first and one of the longest climbs of the day, Old Sherwin Grade. I love this climb!! You feel like you are in the Alps as you climb against the backdrop of the  looming Sierras.

Sherwin Grade in the distance

For those who are familiar with the area, Sherwin Grade is the long climb as you drive from Bishop, North to Mammoth Lakes. You get to the summit of the grade when you are around Crowley Lake area.

We climbed that grade on the old road to the West of Hwy 395.

On the way up we went through one of my favorite little communities, Paradise. This area has one of the best views of the Sierra's. It is an artsy place. Some people display their artwork in their front yards.

Artwork on someones lawn...Paradise.

Just past Paradise

2/3 of the way to the summit of Sherwin...looking south-west

I felt fantastic as we reached the summit of the grade at mile marker 39.6. Then we had a little more climbing through Lower Rock Creek before we made a left turn on Hwy 395 North.

We stayed on 395 with hardly any traffic until we made our left turn and headed up Crowley Lake Drive to Check Point #2 at Crowley Lake Park.
I stopped for water and stocked up on more food. My plan on this ride was to stay in my comfort zone so I would not have to stop again until lunch at mile 104.5.

Hwy 395 to the right in the distance

Off we went paralleling 395 until we turned on to it at mile 52.3.

Now it was onward on the Hwy for about 6 miles into the Mammoth Lakes area.

Check the wind sock....wheeew...tailwind
Our old Cessna 402 on another trip to Crescent City
We passed right by the Mammoth/Yosemite Airport along the way. I have great memories of landing at that airport in my Dads Cessna 402 for ski trips.
I will never forget buzzing the mountain once on a nice clear day while flying up for some skiing.
Oh the great adventures we had with Dad in his planes!!
That is a really tricky airport to come into if you don't know what you are doing. The runway is on a hill and is not totally flat. While taking off or landing, it looks like you are running out of runway but you actually have more runway over the horizon. There is also a small mountain on the South-East end of the runway so it can be real tricky in IFR or poor visibility conditions. Not for the faint at heart!
Past the airport we went. I noticed the wind sock was pegged to the North with the tailwind I had to my rear. This made this first stage of the ride nice but did not look good for the finish into Bishop because the winds usually intensify in the afternoon up the valley floor.

Mammoth Mountain
At mile marker 59 or so we made a left turn for a 4 mile climb into Mammoth.
Now the altitude really kicked in. I was somewhat used to some higher altitude from doing Heartbreak the prior weekend but those summits were around 6,000 feet. We now had three summits to do over 8,000 feet and I was feeling it!

I made the climb up to Minaret Road in Mammoth feeling somewhat light headed. I knew it was just the altitude but it really slowed me down. Down into the granny gear I went and I just spun my way up. We went one mile on Minaret and them made the turn on to The Mammoth Scenic Loop at mile 64.

Up we went into the snow zone to the summit on the scenic loop. Then came the reward. The road was newly paved and just wonderful for the 48mph descent down to Hwy 395. It was cold though. Glad I was prepared. No storms yet as predicted.

I turned left on the highway, rode a little under 2 miles, then waved at the guys at Crest view Rest Area. I was happy as I went by feeling really good, still with plenty of food and water.

Deadmans summit ahead
Now came the second 8,000 ft. plus summit. DEADMAN SUMMIT. It is about a 3.5 mile climb. Not too steep but the altitude makes it feel worse than it is. Only about 4-5% grade but it felt like 9% at times with the lack of oxygen.

I stopped at the summit and took a few pictures. The smell of the pine tree is amazing up there!

Down, down now I dropped to my next turn 3.9 miles down the hwy....The June Lake Loop...one of the most spectacular places to ride or vacation.

The June Lake Loop is a 15 mile loop that takes you around 3 lakes at the foot of the Sierra's before you come back out on the other side by Mono Lake and Hwy 395.
Here are some pictures on the loop.

Taken by one of the SAG drivers. Whats wrong with this picture? ITS JUNE!!!

Getting rained on here for the first and only time

We turned left on 395 at mile marker 94.4 for 10 miles to our lunch in the Lee Vining area of Mono Lake. We passed the turn-off for Yosemite and Tioga Pass and it said it was still closed. I was told it most likely wont open until August due to all the snow this year. Amazing!!!

Terri and Tony at lunch....Mono Lake
I saw my friend Terri there. She was staffing the lunch stop.

I gobbled down a subway sandwich, had a coke, used the facilities and then hit the road with a couple of guys I met on the last leg to lunch. Brian from Fresno and Brad from San Luis Obispo. Both strong riders and both doing the Eastern Sierra for the first time.
Mono Lake after lunch

We now had to head Southbound on 395 which meant we would find out finally what the winds were going to be like of the return trip to Bishop.

Southbound we went on 395 to our turn on Hwy 120 ten miles down the road. We had about a 20 mph headwind but not too bad. (yet)

We made a left turn on hwy 120 for the long trudge to the second highest point on the ride....Sage Hen Summit 8,139 ft.
Brian climbing Sage Hen
It seemed to take forever to get there on this stretch. Lots of steep rolling sections of about 10% as it kept kicking up. We saw the highway patrol many times out there and hardly any other cars. I think they were out there just to try and catch one of us doing something.

Brad climbing Sage Hen

It was nice and cool for a change on this climb as we made it to the summit through the pine trees. A nice cool breeze from the south. In years past it was blazing hot on this section with no wind at all.

Brad and Brian reaching the top
Brad, Brian and I made it to the top together, stopped to fuel up and headed out.

The wind at the top was fairly calm. I thought it would be howling up there because the forecast was for winds gusting to 60mph in the mountains of the area. I was excited.

We now had close to a 3000 foot descent and some 30 miles with some small climbs, (some tough), in between before we made it to Hwy 6 in Benton Springs.
Heading toward Benton

As we started the descent the winds were nice and calm and we were cheering!

We came around one bend and BOOM!! We got hit by maybe some 40mph crosswind gusts that dropped our speed from 39mph down to 15 almost instantly, (on a steep descent). Now we were pedaling hard on the descent and working out butts off when we thought we would finally get a reward after that long climb. We really had to fight our way down off this summit. We could see large dust storms in the distance toward the direction of Benton. We knew at that point we were in for it big time on the return from Benton to Bishop.
The head/cross winds on this stretch before the last climb into Benton were not the only problem.
We all thought we were going to break out bikes on the large ruts in the road. This section has always been notorious for these 5+" wide ruts in the road. As long as I have done this ride they have been there and they don't fix them. Even on one of the new paved sections where they paved over them, they are coming back in the same places. I think the old road on this area must have been concrete, separated at the expansion joints and they just paved over it. No way to fix that unless they tear the whole thing out and start new. That is the only thing I can think is happening.

I started to feel a little low on energy and thought I was going to bonk so I let Brian and Brad go ahead while I pumped down some food and slowed down some. I just paced myself over the bumps and into the wind as I climbed and cursed those hills in the middle of the descent. Small ones, seemed steeper into a strong headwind and no relief on the descent having to pedal down the hills instead of resting. ARGGG!!

I finally made it to the final climb before the descent to Benton. I could see Brad and Brian climbing the hill up toward the top.
I hammered up, hoping that I could catch them on the downhill. It is a fast descent into Benton!!

I had some strong cross winds right at the start of the descent then I turned north some and was just flying at close to 50mph with a tailwind.

The descent to Benton. All that haze is dust!! Brad up ahead
 I should have just relaxed instead of trying to catch those guys because when I made a right turn for the final little drop to Benton I got hit with a crosswind that almost blew me off the road. Good thing I have fast reactions.
I slowed down some then I saw Brad up ahead just almost stopped. He was just burnt out with only about a mile to got to Benton. The SAG car came by and he stopped him. I thought he was going to call it quits with only 37 miles left. He was just asking the driver where the checkpoint was.
We both rolled in to the check point in Benton at a little after 5pm I think. The wind was howling and getting stronger.

We fueled up and rested for a little while. Myself, Brad, Brian, a guy named Gustavo from Davis, and another rider John all decided to team up and finish the ride together into the wind. We were all going to take no more than 1 minute pulls at the front of the line then drop back to the rear. This way we could get back much faster than if we rode alone with no drafting effect.

The last 36 miles took over 3 hours and it was a mind altering experience.
The last time I did this ride in 2009 I had a tail wind on this last section and it took me slightly over one hour as I got blown back to Bishop.

Here is a video that gives a small idea of the wind conditions we faced.
Children do not try this at home. Professional driver on a closed course. (trying to take a video while trying to hold the draft in a pace line.....nuts I know!!)


Rest #1 for a breather

Rest #2

Left to right. Gustavo, Brian, Brad, Me and John.
We only averaged about 10mph with a group of 5 riders on that last section. The winds were gusting in such a way that it kept trying to blow us out of the line so we would lose the draft and have to sprint back in line.
In the end we all worked together as a team and we made it back just slightly before dark.

Start time: 5am
Finish time: Sometime around 8pm.
Time on bike; 14:16
Overall time: 15:18
Altitude gain: From my VDO computer: 10,610 ft
Average climb: 3%
Maximum climb: 13%
Results: http://www.planetultra.com/easternsierra/Results/2011%20results.htm
All the Pictures can be seen at: www.stephenpaul.shutterfly.com/cycling

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