Monday, March 2, 2009

Weekend in Death Valley

Over the last years, we developed a family tradition of spending up to two weekends a year in Death Valley. Ghislaine really likes the desert - and the swimming pool at the Furnace Creek Ranch. Also, our weekends always happen to coincide with either the Spring or Fall Death Valley Centuries and Double Centuries; and so it's a win-win situation.
Not only that, but the daughters Valerie and Fabienne, although several years apart, have their birthdays on February 27 and 28 - a perfect match for the Spring event; and Ghislaine's birthday is close enough to the Fall event. As a result, I was able to collect five Death Valley Double Century finishes in the last four years. Due to mostly random circumstances, four of them covered the northern route which is now always in Fall; I finished the southern route only once, when I completed my very first Double Century in 2005. Understandably, I had in mind to add another "southern double" to my statistics for 2009.
Towards the end of 2008, the youngest son Florian (21) suddenly asked if I thought he could do a century. This came as a complete surprise to me, because he had never touched a bicycle since the age of four when he learned to ride - he doesn't even own a bicycle. But who am I to dissuade him? The only question was which century to pick - and you can guess the answer. He would borrow his big brother's West-coast bike (Sebastian lives in New York) and start training; and I was there to provide guidance and advice.

Of course, we would ride together - and I am embarrassed to admit that I planned to just accompany him for the first half of his century. At the top of Jubilee Pass, he would turn around and finish on his own, while I would continue over Salsbury Pass down to Shoshone and complete the double century route. I only came to my senses after I missed the cut-off for double-century riders on Jubilee Pass. 
So, that's the background and set-up. For the rest, I invited Fabienne to do some "guest blogging", so we can look at that weekend from a different perspective!

~~~ Fabienne's Guest Blogging ~~~

The evening before our departure to Death Valley, I got a Facebook Wall post:
"Guess what you get to do on your birthday?! DRIVE MY ASS AND STINKY CLOTHES TO A DESERT!"
Yup. That's my little brother for you. But it was all in good fun, and everybody knows I would do anything for my little brother...

When we got on the road on Friday afternoon, he was pumped - completely euphoric and ecstatic. "I can't wait to do this! Four months of training in the gym for the big challenge!"  He told me that he had been thinking about what he should do if he ran into a snake stretched out across his path. "Swerve into traffic to avoid it, or go over it as fast as I can? What if I'm going uphill and it bites my tire and I have to stop to fix the flat and it attacks?"

He was giddy, energetic and could not wait to get his borrowed Specialized on the road. We stopped at The Mad Greek's Cafe in Baker and he had a gigantic gyro,  fries and water. This time, he wanted to take the wheel into the desert. He was impressed by the dark shadows and was glad he would finish his ride in daylight.

None of us slept much that night, after over-eating at my fancy birthday dinner and with the anticipation of Florian's big day. We got up at 5 a.m. and watched our two cyclists prepare for the road.

At the start, it was cute to see Florian focus and concentrate on the last minute instructions, rules and regulations while Dad looked like the bad boy playing with his camelpack and squirting water into his mouth. They left at 6:30 with the first wave of century riders. It was such a beautiful morning, Mom and I lingered and took in the scenery and fresh air.

At noon, Valerie and Roman found us and we set out together to meet the cyclists on their way back at the last rest stop, Badwater. I sat on a bench with Mom and waited to take my perfect picture. A tourist came out of his car and yelled: "So where's this shitty water?"

Our cyclists arrived at 2:15. We looked more excited than them. And while Dad did his usual smiling and chatting with everybody, Florian swallowed an entire turkey sandwich in 25 seconds. We had to remind him to sit down in the shade for a bit to rest, but he just wanted to leave and get this over with as soon as possible. He still had 18 miles to go.

We left shortly after the cyclists, but made a detour to see the "Artist's Palette." We caught up with Florian climbing the last lengthy hill alone. He was still strong enough to tell us that Dad was ahead amusing himself. A minute later we saw Dad smiling ear to ear descending the hill back to Florian. He had been going back and forth for some "training fun."

They made it quickly to the finish line together. Flo walked straight to the check-in table, had the paperwork done, and then walked over to the pizza table to grab a well deserved slice. I watched people cut in front of him, but he still waited patiently, and then sat on the curb by his bike and gobbled his slice in silence. He wanted an immediate shower and barely made it into fresh clothes before passing out on the bed. Dad had to wake him up later for our second celebratory dinner: Val's birthday and Flori's first century finish. He gained his energy back with a barbecue plate and a well deserved beer.

Sunday afternoon, I was fortunate enough to drive back to Los Angeles with our freshly minted cycling athlete. Dad had recommended we drive south over the century route to get out of Death Valley. I was able to get into Florian's mind and heart about his experience,  feelings and thoughts from the day before.

He had the best time the first two and a half hours enjoying the majestic scenery against the sky, the hills, and flowers. He had a great start, felt strong and simply loved it. He was excited to experience all that was still to come. Until hour three. Then things quickly changed when he started to get hungry, and when the discomfort became harder and harder to tolerate. But he knew that he was not going to throw in the towel until he bled. On the 5-mile climb to Jubilee Pass, he confessed that he wished he had trained harder every single day; but he also admitted that he could not commit to more with his classes, exams, projects and homework. While the Prius was suffering on the way up to the pass, Florian relived his exhaustion from the day before. He did not like the rough, hard roads which caused much of the pain in his hands, and the deceiving turns of the road that hid and revealed ever more unending uphill stretches. He was very happy to have Dad with him who knew which was the last turn before the top of Jubilee pass and the turnaround point. Finally.

Florian expressed his gratitude at the 20-minute descent after the turnaround. He could not believe how long it was. Like a ride at Disneyland, he expected it to be over too soon. But this one kept going, and it was a welcome relief until the next rest stop. He told me it felt really good to see support and people waiting for him which was very motivating, even though he did not have the strength to acknowledge them much. He was glad Dad rode with him the whole way and said it would have been much harder without him. He got emotional at the end of the ride ... and his story.

Florian said he would never look at a road the same way ever again.

The ride back to LA went by fast, and Florian was still humorous and energetic about his experience. His facebook Death Valley album is filled with funny tags this morning. And before heading back to school he told me: "it's an accomplishment everybody should do at least once in their lifetime, because the feeling is indescribable!"

I'm so proud of Florian and what he accomplished on so little training in his sneakers. And yes, I would do anything for my little brother. Even sign up for the next century in Death Valley.

1 comment:

  1. "Dad did his usual smiling and chatting with everybody"...
    Ah, je te reconnais bien Joseph!...
    Quelle belle famille tu as. Bravo à Florian pour son Century et à Fabienne pour son récit touchant...