A short prelude:
I have been wanting for years to do one of the long ultra endurance races such as the Hoodoo 500 or Furnace Creek 508. I have a long history of endurance riding having done many double century and century events, but in 1994 I was dealt a blow.
I was diagnosed with an Acoustic Neuroma tumor on my left balance nerve. This is a benign tumor but can cause complete loss of hearing and loss of balance on the side that is affected. I had a fairly large one. I was referred to Doctor Derald Brackmann and The House Research Institute by my ear doctor after my diagnosis. I received fantastic care at the institute. At the time, I did not know if my balance would be good enough to ride my bike again. I had a very successful surgery and here I am today still riding and with over 100 double centuries under my belt.
I have been wanting for years to give back in some way to The House Research Institute and bring awareness to Neural Tumor Research.
I was finally able to resolve some of the physical issues related to my tumor removal, mainly my facial nerve weakness on the left side. A left eye that does not fully blink is a crucial problem when riding a bike in the conditions we sometimes encounter. Wind, cold, and very dry air can cause bad problems!!
All that said and all things straightened out I decided to enter The Furnace Creek 508. I have many friends who have successfully completed this event and at 61 years young with all my experience, I figured it was about time.Well, I picked the wrong year to enter as I did not get into the race due to an overly large amount of entrants.
That is when I heard about The Inyo Ultra 466
Both the Inyo Ultra "266" and "466" are on what is
referred to as a permanent course. The course is open to race on anytime winter
conditions don't force roads to be closed.
I was excited about this format. It enables us to have
a major race that fits into anybody's schedule and doesn't create an event that
encroaches on other road users rights. I
like to call it an “Ultra Time trial” if you will.
At the end of the season all results will be finalized
and posted on the website. www.inyoultra.com
I was the only one doing the inaugural 466 course on this day and Monica Berlin, who is in training for the Furnace Creek 508, was doing the 266 course.
Part one: Bishop to Benton and Benton Crossing Road
We left my friend Victor's condo in Mammoth Lakes about 5:15 am for Bishop which is about 45 minutes down the hill. I usually don’t sleep too well the night before and sleeping up at altitude did not work to good for me so I was worried. In hind sight I think it helped though.
The temps at the start were in the 60’s and real nice. I got fueled up, watered up, slathered on the sun block and my crew had me on my way. I started around 6:45am.
The ride up to Benton on Hwy 6 was just effortless. I had a small tailwind at the start which slowly became a headwind as I started the very gradual climb toward Nevada.
|Profile for the first section: Bishop to Benton Crossing|
|Heading up Hwy 6 into the light headwind|
Since this was my first solo ultra race, my goal was to just pace myself saving something for the end. The event has a 60 hour time limit but my goal was to break 48 hours. The unknown variable about this ride is; although it has less climbing than some of the other ultra races and is a little shorter; the majority of the event is between 6,500 and 8,100 feet in elevation. I was not sure how my system would react to heart pounding climbs for 2 days non stop at that altitude. Not to mention the change in weather conditions at altitude. That alone could be a game changer!!
I reached the little community of Benton at 36 miles feeling great but not yet “in the zone”. I did not feel like I was working hard enough.
|Terri handing me water and fuel|
I got some food and water from my crew and was off for the climb over to Benton Crossing Road.
The climb up and over has a couple of real good kickers, (nasty small steep hills), which are probably close to the steepest sections on the course. My Garmin was telling me that this stepping climb had 3 little sections at or slightly above 12%. The rest was between 6 to 9% there about. It was a beautiful climb with wonderful rock formations.
|Leaving Benton. You can see the road kicking up in the distance to the left, just above the trees in the valley|
It was warming up rapidly as I blazed down the other side to Benton Crossing Road and the start of “THE LOOPS”.
Part Two: Loop one
This event is comprised of four clockwise loops with a ride into the area and a ride back to the finish. The loop is comprised of, first, Benton Crossing Road which takes you over Wildrose Summit at elevation 7,650 ft and Waterson Divide, elevation 7,525 ft. Then you have a nice descent with some kickers, (nasty short steep hills), down to Lake Crowley and Hwy 395. On Hwy 395 you pass Mammoth Lakes. From there you have a gradual climb up to Dead Man Summit, elevation 8,036 ft. After going over the summit of Dead Man it is a real nice blazing descent down to Hwy 120 with a right turn. This brings you around the South side of Mono Lake and the toughest of the climbs, Sage Hen Summit, elevation 8,139 ft. Then it is down, down, down to Benton Crossing road again with nasty headwinds and some real nasty little humps that just kill you along the way.
|This is the elevation profile of each of the 4 loops. Kind of mind altering when you are out there on the bike thinking about it.|
That is the course in a nutshell with the main climbs mentioned. There are plenty of small ones along the way though that are just killers. And as I mentioned before, all up at altitude.
|Starting up the bottom of Benton Crossing Road. Wildrose Summit #1|
My crew and I made the left turn on Benton Crossing Road for the first of 4 assaults on Wildrose. I watered and fueled up for the climb. I found this to be one of those relentless climbs that are just long enough to kick your butt. Although not much of a categorized climb I just decided to pace myself and use my low gears right from the start. I did, after all have to do this one 3 more times in the next 400 miles. The first spin up this one was nice and I reached the summit feeling really good.
|Looking at the Sierra's while descending off of Wildrose|
The descent was fast and beautiful with wonderful views of the Sierras. The road was nice and smooth. I just dropped into my aero bars and relaxed on the descent to conserve much needed energy.
I made a sweeping right turn at the bottom and BOOM! There was a very steep kicker starting the next grade to Waterson Divide. Nice climb, not too bad on the first go around.
Down and down I went on a very fast 40 mph descent to the East Side of Lake Crowley. I had a nice steady tail wind along this stretch as the wind was coming up out of the Owens Valley in its normal Southerly direction. I was soon at Hwy 395.
I turned right on 395 and headed for my next turn on Hwy 120.
For the start of my first loop I had a two person crew made up of my friends Ken Mathis and Terri Boykins. My other friend and the third person of the crew, Teresa Beck, stayed back at the condo for the morning session so she could recuperate from some of her schoolwork which kept her up half the night. She was now refreshed, rested and ready to go.
Ken and Terri went up to the condo to pick up Teresa and get some supplies while I started the assault on Dead Man Summit. I really enjoyed riding this stretch on 395. There was not much traffic during the middle of the week, beautiful views of the Sierras. What more could you ask for!!
|Heading toward Dead Man Summit|
|Climbing Dead Man for the first of 4 times|
I had done part of this climb before while doing The Eastern Sierra Double Century many times. On this occasion, we did not do the Mammoth Scenic loop or The June Lake Loop as in the Eastern Sierra Double. It was straight up and over. I really enjoyed this nice climb and descent.
I was just about to summit Dead Man when the crew came rolling along and that awesome cheerleader Teresa (tiger) Beck yelling at me out the window. I knew from the very start of this race that I could not lose with this awesome, fun and experienced crew, all of whom are ultra cycling veterans. They know what it takes!!
I stopped for a second on the summit and they blasted down to Hwy 120. This was a really nice, smooth relaxing descent in the aero bars. A super wide shoulder on the hwy so no worries about cars and trucks.
With just under 100 miles on the bike I turned onto Hwy 120 and it was getting hot. Only 369 to go....wooohooo!!
The winds were still coming out of the south and pretty strong. It was also getting warm. I had a nice spin around the south side of Mono Lake before starting the stairs steps of “The Sage Hen Climb”. I got an ice sock from Terri and I dropped it in my low gears and spun up the steps to the summit. This time around it was not too bad; in fact, it seemed much easier than the times I had done it on The Eastern Sierra. It’s still a brute though!
|Climbing Sage Hen with Mono Lake in the background|
Mile marker 112 and down the hill I went. This is a very fast descent if the conditions are right. On this first loop they were not. As soon as I reached the section that starts turning to the south, I received a crossing head wind. Once I reached the bottom it was right in my face for the long slog to the start of the second loop. The road surface was nice and smooth the whole way down which made for a relaxing descent despite the wind.
|Climbing the kickers with the White Mountains in the distance|
After a good amount of cussing at the winds, the nasty little kicker hills and the ruts in the road, I made it to Benton Crossing Road to start the second loop. Mile 138 and feeling good! It was about 5pm.
Oh and by the way....for all you who remember the Hwy 120 ruts......they are coming back fast!!!
Part 3: Loop two
The sun was blazing over my right shoulder in the late afternoon. I slathered on another large dose of sun block and put on another ice sock. I kept thinking to myself as I climbed this little beast, “I have to do this 2 more times after this?”
|Two times.......getting later and cooling off.|
Over Wildrose and Waterson I went for the second time. As I descended this second time the wind had switched and I had a head wind rolling northbound around the back side of Lake Crowley. I saw a number of local riders climbing up in the opposite direction before sunset on a short ride. Smoothly I rode around the lake to the green church and the 395 once again.
|Riding around Lake Crowley|
It was 7:36pm, mile 168, and time to put on the warm clothes and lights for the night loop. I put on a base layer that was good from 30-50 degrees and kept my wind breaker in my back pocket. I still did not need the warm gloves yet or shoe covers.
|Getting warm and night time visable|
The temps were in the low 50’s when I reached Dead Man for the second time. I was feeling great and flew down the other side to my turn on Hwy 120 once again. Mile 198 and I have almost completed a double. Now to polish off the last 268 miles!!
I felt absolutely fantastic doing Hwy 120 and Sage Hen in the wee hours of the night. The stars were just amazing. The stair step climb seemed almost effortless. (Maybe it is because I could not see the steps....yah think??)
|Ken got pics of flames coming off me on the climb|
It was 11:45. The crew fixed me a “cup-o-soup” at the summit and I wolfed it down just in time for all of us to cheer on Monica Berlin who was on her final loop and coming over the summit with her follow car in the rear. She looked very strong as we hooted and hollered for her. Great job Monica!!!
I hung out and talked at the top for a while before starting down.
The night had some other surprises in store for me.
Monster....stop in the middle of the road.....mutant....jack rabbits. They would come out of nowhere and attack as I was descending at a fast rate of speed. I am glad I am not the type who startles easily or I would have been done a couple of times.
|This looks like one of them!|
Rolling through the ruts and kickers for the second time I made it to the turn again.
Part 4: Loop three
Mile 236 and I was feeling pretty good starting the third loop in the cool darkness. This time up to the summit of Wild Rose I felt very good in the cool weather but seemed real sluggish as far as getting the bike up the hill. I just did not feel right and could not wait to get to the summit. Going over the other side it was cold. I had to brake a few times to slow down because I was starting to get the chills from being so wet. Once the wind dried me off though I felt much better. I still felt like I was not carrying much speed down the hill like before.
I made the right sweeper and started up to Waterson Divide. Again, I just felt something was not quite right. After I went over the first steep section, I stopped to check my tires. My front tire was low but not enough to cause a bad problem. It was just low enough to slow me down.
I pulled over to swap front wheels. Ken had to pump up the spare wheel but when he went to pump it the valve stem broke. We had to change the tube all together. I just took a break and put another outer layer of cloths on. Full gloves also.
Now I started down to Lake Crowley once again and the temperature continued to drop. As soon as I reached the lake, the temperature went into the 30’s. Then as I got toward the north end of the lake, it was 30.2 degrees according to the thermometer on my Garmin. It warmed up to about 38 by the time I reached the 395.
I sent the crew up ahead to the green church at the turn so they could set up for my sleep break where this cold and shaky puppy soon joined them. I slurped down an Ensure and had some solid food.
It was about 4am and mile 266.
Terri was a stickler about the sleep break. “one hour only.....that’s it!!” I only took off my outer jacket, my shoes and my gloves. I was not wet so it was ok.
I was still shivering from the cold with a blanket over me in the warm car. I must have been tired though because before I knew it, there was Terri’s voice,” its 5am, time to get this show on the road”!
I jumped up feeling totally refreshed. The human body is amazing. We all really don’t know what we are capable of!
Breakfast: One canned coffee drink, two bottles of Ensure, two mini cinnamon rolls and a breakfast burrito with whole wheat tortilla, oatmeal, Greek yogurt and blueberries.
5:15am. I was style’n and felt fantastic. It is amazing what an hours sleep will do when you are totally in need of it. “Only a double century to go”, Terri said. “At your normal pace you should be done before dark”. I laughed but that little comment really made me feel good. I realized it was the next day, I was feeling great and had no issues physically so far. I got this thing!!
Up Hwy 395 I went toward Mammoth Lakes and Dead Man summit once again. This time in cool, calm air I was in full leggings, heavy gloves and shoe covers. I was stripping by the time I got to Mammoth for the ascent. It warmed up quickly on the climb. I kept the leg warmers on and base layer. I was planning to make a complete clothes change at Hwy 120.
At the turn we all stopped so I could change at mile 292.
Off I went for the 3rd assault on Sage Hen. This time was the toughest. I decided to count all the stair step climbs up to the summit. I think I counted around 14, some small, some larger. That was a mistake. It only made it worse but I made it. I did not need an ice sock this time but it was still a little warm.
|Making a cloths change|
|Step up...step up....unforgiving step ups|
|Another nice shot by Ken Mathis|
This time around the head winds were BRUTAL on the back side getting to Benton Crossing. Hitting those kicker hills along this stretch, with a heavy wind in the face, was very reminiscent of The Eastern Sierra Double Century a few years back. The headwinds were terrible that year from the top of Sage Hen all the way back to Bishop. This was not quite as bad. It was more than I usually experienced on that event though
I made it......I made it!! I had only one more loop and then it was back to the finish. I was at mile 336 with only 136 miles to go!
Part 5: Loop four
I was feeling pretty good on this final climb over Wildrose and Waterson grades. I just kept a nice easy pace. The thought that this was the last time I would have to do these little beasts had me smelling the barn a little bit. I had my crew give me a nice, iced down cherry Pepsi in one of my bottles to nurse on the way down. That was the beginning of a mistake that almost took me out.
As I reached the second summit, I noticed the winds were starting to change to the Northwest. I was somewhat slower on the descent down to the lake this time. It was hotter too. It was much hotter than the previous day. When I reached the lake, I had a pretty nasty, hot, head wind that just parched me. I started to get hot foot in both my feet and I started to bonk. I realized I was getting a sugar crash from that Pepsi because I did not eat enough on the descent. I must have been right on the fuel limit. When I made the left turn around the lake, the wind really kicked up and it was gusty. I made it to the green church this time just dragging myself in and not able to put pressure on my feet due to the hot foot.
|Ice on my feet!!!|
I called out ahead for ice and my crew poured out a bunch on the ground. I took off my shoes and soaked my feet in it for about 10 minutes. Oh that felt good!!
|This neck massage from Teresa really brought me back. Thanks Tiger!!|
It was at mile 360. A little over a century ride to go. I downed a large burrito and an Ensure as well as loading up a 3 hour bottle of Perpetuem for the road. The winds were howling out of the northwest.
|I thought the wind was going to blow me off that bridge. Mammoth Mountain in the background|
I was only able maintain about 10mph on the stretch to the Mammoth turn off. That wind was brutal!!
When I passed Mammoth Lakes, the winds were blocked by the mountains and I was feeling much better. The food was kicking in. I had caught “THE BONK” in time!
My crew wanted some real food to eat and wanted me to stop with them at the restaurant near the June Lake Loop. I asked them to just let me pace myself up to Dead Man summit for the last time while they went up ahead for their food and to pick me up a grilled cheese sandwich to go.
I was praying that I would catch a break and not have those terrible head winds going back to Bishop for the finish. That last loop was brutal. That wind going to Mammoth in my face might be a God send, I was thinking on the climb. Oh......that would be nice if it was a tailwind back!
The crew came rolling along just after I summited Dead Man for the final time. I stopped for a break and wolfed down the amazing grilled cheese. I was feeling amazingly good. I guess we were all doing something right!!
I flew down 395 once again to the turn on Hwy 120 and made the turn. It was mile 386. I had 80 miles to the finish and guess what. I had a blazing tail wind coming out of the west-northwest. I smelled the barn big time!! I was going so fast that my crew had wondered what happened to me. They did not catch me until I was almost to the base of the Sage Hen climb. I asked for one more ice sock and I got it. You may not believe me but I felt better on this summiting of the Sage Hen climb that all the previous on this event!! It was very hot also.
|Ice sock all tucked under my jersey and around my neck|
I stopped for a break before the final summit to have some soup. I did not want to stop at the summit. I wanted to roll right over the top just in case it was chilly on the other side so I would not get that rapid cool down and chill on the descent.
|Nice look at the White Mountains again|
I had a tail wind all the way down and my crew did not catch me until I reached the rolling, rutted sections. I was doing between 30 and 50mph most of the way down and maintaining a good clip before I hit the kickers again. Even they seemed much easier on this final section. I was not fighting head winds, that’s why!
|The long slog to Benton Crossing. This time with a glorious tail wind!!!!|
It was still light out when I reached Benton Crossing at approximately mile 424. At this point I noticed that my Garmin had crashed so I thought I was going to lose all my data. We were all sad. I did get the data back with the help of a friend but only for the 418 miles to that point.
Part 6: The return in the glorious tail wind to Bishop
One more climb and it was mostly all down hill to the finish! Up the final climb I went toward Benton and I was just ecstatic. Short of a mechanical or accident, I had done it.
|Benton here I come|
I flew over the final climb, (or I perceived myself as flying because I was so mentally high at this point), and bombed down to Benton and Hwy 6 at mile 431. I stopped for a second to get plenty of water because it was a very hot wind and I was drying out badly.
|Quick stop in Benton|
I made the finish just after 10:15 pm.
A big thanks goes out to Hugh and Kermit of Inyo Ultra Cyclists. Your bad-ass events are awesome!
Thanks to Hugh, Ken and my crew for all the great pictures. I really enjoyed all of them. What great memories we will all have of this!
All the pictures can be viewed HERE
I would like to thank my awesome crew, Ken Mathis, Teresa Beck and Terri Boykins. Without you guys I could not have survived this event. I would like to thank Victor Cooper, the fourth member of the the crew, who donated his condo in Mammoth Lakes to us. The below picture is of all of us at our "rolling crew meeting" in the Santa Monica Mountains a few weeks before the event.
|My amazing crew!|