Friday, June 5, 2015

2015 Eastern Sierra Double Century

Looking back at Round Valley from Old Sherwin Grade

June Lake

All I can say about this event is that it is, by far, the most spectacular as far as scenery is concerned. Riding in the majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains near the White Mountains to the east just “takes the cake”.

This event is no stranger to me. I first did the event back in 1996, the first year it was added to the Triple Crown Schedule. I did it on my tandem with my brother in law Vince that year and a few other times. For the first few years our family came along to do SAG support and man a rest stop. It was my wife and two girls and Vince’s wife Mardjie.
I still remember those early years when my kids were playing together and flying kites at the rest stops with Chuck Bramwell’s kids. Everyone had a great time. Those were the days. Those days really made an impression on my girls I think as they both ride bikes today. My oldest daughter did the Grand Tour on my tandem with me in 1998 while she was in high school and my youngest rides also. She is racing endurance mountain bike races now! Still haven’t talked her into doing a double century yet though.

This year I was doing the event on the tandem once again but with a new double century stoker for this event, Teresa (Tiger) Beck.

I car pooled up with Teresa and our friend Rob Kelly who is new to the double century circuit. He has done some really tough ones with us this year though and is a very strong rider and stage racer. We stayed up in Mammoth Lakes at our friend Victor’s condo. (Altitude about 8,000 feet).

After eating a huge meal with our friends in Bishop, the altitude really affected my sleep. I didn’t sleep a wink!! That really sucked!!

Part one:   Bishop to Round Valley Check Point.                                 Mile 30

We decided to start at 6 am instead of the early start time to get a little more sleep. We figured we could catch up with some of our friends later in the ride.
  I noticed the lack of sleep immediately as I was in oxygen debt right away trying to stay with the fast guys without any warm up.
Rolling eastbound out of town

Craig and Lori flying    (I had a little fun with the photoshop program on this one)

 Since I have gotten a little older, it takes me longer to warm up so at the first little hill while riding out of Bishop, we got dropped by the group. I was really feeling bad right out of the start on this one. (Something was off!).
Now I was really wondering if we would catch up with some of the 5am starters.
I began feeling a little better as we rolled into the first check point. We made a bathroom stop and topped off with water and were on out way.
Rolling through Round Valley.  ( Teresa handed my camera our friend David)

Part Two: Round Valley....up Old Sherwin Grade to Lake Crowley area.       Mile 51

Now came what I feel is one of the most spectacular parts of the event; the climb up Old Sherwin Grade.
 Sherwin Grade is the long climb that you make on Hwy 395 when you climb from Bishop up to the Lake Crowley and Mammoth Lakes area. The old grade is just to the west of the hwy and winds up through the town of Paradise with a spectacular view of the granite peaks of the Sierras and of the Round Valley in the Bishop area down below. Its amazing!!
About 1/3 of the way up.......looking down at Round Valley

From the bottom it’s about 11 miles to our turn on to Hwy 395. It tops out at about 7,000 feet at the summit. There is a little descent into a river canyon about 2/3 of the way up but then you have to climb out of that canyon to the summit. Elevation gain on this segment is about 2,500 feet.

It was a grunt going up this climb and the sun was baking us since it was rising to our right. The view made it all worth it.
I was really feeling the lack of sleep and really struggling on this first climb. I was in a mental fog. I just took it easy.
Despite this, we started to make up the time on the 5am starters at this point by starting to pass a few of them. We also saw the remnants of the Paradise fire which happened in the winter when power lines blew down in ferocious winds. Nothing could stop it as it hopped through the area.

Round Valley below

Ron climbing Sherwin Grade

The White Mountains to the east of us. Can you believe the amount of snow for the end of May?

The descent into the canyon came just at the right time and it was very welcome.
The climb out was not too bad as we made the left turn on Hwy 395 and rolled into the Lake Crowley area.
We stopped for water and ice at Toms Place store since Teresa wanted ice and she thought they would be out of it at the check point since we were running behind.

We rolled passed the check point and waved at our friend Tony as he took a picture of us.
Rolling past check point two.  Photo by Tony Musorafite

Part 3: Lake Crowley....through Mammoth Lakes...and to the 395 rest stop. Mile 74

We paralleled Hwy 395 for a few miles then got onto it. We rolled past the famous green church and Mammoth Airport before making the turn to Mammoth Lakes. This section was really nice with a tail wind and we were again starting to make up time on the 5am’ers.
Mammoth Mountain and the Minarets in the distance

Now came the toughest part for me on the ride, the long slog through Mammoth and the Mammoth scenic loop.
The way I was feeling......the long gradual climb just seemed endless. I was in the doldrums early and didn’t get it. Teresa was doing great all this time and got me through it!!!  I also started to get hot foot again at this point which made matters worse. I was not my usual happy self at this point and Teresa probably wanted to whack me on the head due to the way I was acting!! It was totally out of character for me.

We reached the summit on the scenic loop and then got a great reward and the worst of the climbing on the ride was over. Only one more major climb left and that would be after lunch.

We flew back down to the 395, made a left turn and, in no time were at check point 3 at the rest stop.

  It seemed like it took forever to go 74 miles. Its really slow climbing at altitude on a tandem.

Part 4: Rest stop 3.....Over Dead Man Summit....June Lake Loop....then lunch in LeeVining.   Mile 102.8.

Over Dead Man Summit we went. I was really familiar with this climb. I climbed it 4 times as part of the Inyo Ultra 466 in 2013. Not a bad climb and not steep. It’s always just the altitude that makes it harder.

We stopped at the turn on Hwy 158 at the June Lake store. Teresa went in and got us a couple of Cokes. I gulped down the soda and......PING......I snapped out of my doldrums and started feeling better. I don’t know if it was the caffeine or just the jolt of sugar that turned me around but I was feeling 100% better once I got on the bike again.

We rolled over the hill to June Lake

The June Lake Loop is one of the most spectacular places to ride a bike in the summer. Its just beautiful. (Click on the hyperlink above to see some amazing pics of this area)

Here is a compilation video of the loop. It really doesn't do it justice though. You had to be there!!

We really started to pic up some time now as we rolled around the loop. It has a good deal of descending and then a gradual climb past two other lakes. Then there is a blazing fast descent back down to Hwy 395 near Mono Lake.
We flew through this section and made it quite fast past the other lakes which were very low due to the drought.
We made it down to the bottom very quickly and made our turn on 395.

We just flew north on the 5.5 mile section of the 395 into Lee Vining and lunch making it in 15 minutes. We arrived at the park and saw most of our friends there relaxing and having lunch. We had finally caught up to them.

We sat down and had a sandwich. We took about a 30 minute break before heading back south-bound.

Part 5: Lee Vining to Sagehen Summit.

We rolled out of the lunch stop feeling really stiff and now we had a stiff head wind heading to our next turn on Hwy 120. We slowly caught up to the group and could see they were in an echelon formation with the wind coming from the front and to the right.
We pulled up behind them for a second and then took the lead to help out. A tandem bike is much heavier and with two people, can push into the wind much easier. (Not to say its easy though!)

Molly, Willy, Nicolette, Vic and Curtis cutting the wind as we catch up. (I was having fun with the photo program again)

Margaret, with Curtis, Vic, Nicolette and Molly in our draft. Dave Slaton was there somewhere too.
We made the left turn on Hwy 120 toward Benton with one big mama hill coming up.  We lost a few people in the wind so we hung back on the tandem until they caught up. We had a small rise to climb before a great descent. I took it easy up the small climb after pushing pretty hard to get there with a tail wind. Once we reached the top we had an incredible view of Mono Lake. We were on the south side of the lake.

Here is the little video from Hwy 395 and Hwy 120  leading into the start of the Sagehen climb.

We didn’t have much time to enjoy the view as we started the descent to the foot of the Sagehen Climb. We dropped super fast at about 58 mph and caught up with everyone, then we passed them. They had gone up ahead as we slowed down and waited for a few people then took it easy on that climb. We made it up very fast though.

Nicolette with Willy and Molly behind near Mono Lake

Mono Lake

Now we started the tough one. Sagehen has about 15 different “stair-steps” on it and they each get progressively worse. I know this because I counted them on The Inyo 466 since I did this climb four times. (I wish I hadn’t counted them though)
The foot of the Sagehen climb with David, Margaret, Willy and Victor

The foot of the Sagehen climb

We just took our time and put it in the low gear. Our friends all passed us again and we just took it easy until we reached the summit.
The summit of this climb is the highest on the course at 8,139 feet.

We saw our friends Julie and Steve Tiede at this stop. They were manning the first stop and this one.
Thanks for your support Julie and Steve!!

Part 6: Sagehen to Benton                              Mile 154
Our fun group on Sagehen Summit with the Sierras in the background
Now we had a real e-ticket ride.

The descent off of Sagehen is just epic if there is not too much wind. We had a little wind but we were up to speed very quickly and made short order of the drop. We passed a bunch of people on the first section and then dropped through the lower canyon before hitting just under 60 mph.
  (You can see some of this amazing descent in the compilation video at the end of my story)

The next part is always tough; flat for miles with about 4 kicker hills of about 14%. They are short but they kill you!!


We fought a little head wind through this but made it to Benton Crossing just fine; one more substantial hill before dropping into the check point in Benton.
Cresting Benton Crossing Road. A really fast descent from here. (I only wish my video camera was working at this point)

Down.....down we went into Benton. I think that was the fastest I had done that descent. We made it to the check point with my feet killing me for a quick soda before heading out.
Teresa always smiling.  (You can see the foot agony in my face).   Photo my Tony Musorafite

David and Margaret with our good friend Tony Musorafite in Benton

Part 7:  Benton to Bishop

There was hardly any wind when we started the final 36 miles to Bishop. This section of the course is notorious for having nasty headwinds coming up the Owens Valley from the south.

We left with our friends David and Margaret in tow.

 Margaret is winding down her training for this years RAW (Race Across the West). 860 miles from Oceanside to Durango Colorado. She is doing it on a four person team like I did last year.

Tony was our crew chief last year and Margaret was our awesome navigator. Click here for my blog post on the event last year.  We are all life long friends after that epic ordeal!!!

It was just a nice easy stroll in the park as we went over the first little rise leaving Benton.

Margaret and David before the wind got can tell because they are both smiling!!

We had a nice gradual descent now with a mild head wind which wasn’t too bad.
My feet were really killing me so I just took it easy and mainly coasted on this section. As we got to the flatter section we could see the second little rise way off in the distance. The wind really started to kick up now and our speed went down from about 25mph to 17mph. I was just spinning a lower gear due to my feet and was able to easily maintain this speed until we reached the rise.

The wind kept getting stronger and stronger. I had seen much worse on this stretch in the past but this time it was tough due to my feet. I just couldn’t push a big gear and had to keep taking my feet out of the pedals to shake them out.

We stopped and took one break about half way back and then continued.

Now we started reeling people in that were stuck in that wind. One by one we passed. We slowed down and asked them if they wanted to join us but most did not have the energy to stay with the three of us in our draft.
We were about 10 miles out of Bishop when we came up on a group that did stay with us to the finish and we caught another group just before the finish.

We rolled into Bishop still with a little daylight left and I was toast; mainly due to the pain in my feet.
I sat on the wall......a spent man. After eating a snack at the finish I started feeling better.

Here is the compilation video I made of the whole ride. Its a little long but well worth it. 

We got a nice surprise because somehow we were the first place tandem out of 4 that started.
The ride was a little under 190 miles due to some road construction on the course but it was close enough for me and I was just glad to be done.

Thanks to Deb and Brian of Planet Ultra for another great event.

Thanks Victor Cooper for putting all of us up at your condo in Mammoth Lakes and the amazing recovery ride/tour of the area Sunday morning. Your the greatest!!! Recovery ride pics here.

Thanks to Teresa (Tiger) Beck for getting me through those doldrums climbing through Mammoth. I know I wasn't an easy person to be with at that point.

Link to my The Eastern Sierra Double pics here.

Here are the stats:

Distance:187.80 mi
Avg Speed:15.0 mph
Elevation Gain:10,686 ft
Calories:7,062 C
Avg Temperature:79.4 °F


  1. awesome write up as always dude! one of these days ill make it back up there for this event!

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  3. What a great account of this wonderful adventure, Steve. Thank you for putting it together.

    I'm sending a link to all my friends and family who ask me why we do these rides. Your write-up captures the answer to that question so well.

    P.S., And thank you and Teresa one more time for that incredible pull on the past segment. It was about the best highlight of my ride that had so many highlights.