Death Valley Spring Century, 2/26/2011
If anybody had made me bet on the likeliness of one day riding a century with my daughters, even just two years ago, I would have lost all bets. Not that I didn't believe they could do it if they wanted to; but that they might want it appeared to be extremely far-fetched. Well, you may remember that I proudly titled a blog post "High Five to my Daughters!", a year ago, and that Valerie also completed the Fall Death Valley Century up to Scotty's Castle, last October. Even better: she then said that after those experiences as stoker on the tandem she now also needed to complete a century solo. This was all the more remarkable that Valerie doesn't even have a bicycle of her own and that she didn't ride a bike (other than on the backseat of the tandem) since childhood. Her younger sister Fabienne already had more solo miles under the belt and trained on indoor bikes; but her health is fragile and she missed out on the Fall Death Valley Century due to illness. So, both were signed up for this year's Death Valley Spring Century, again. Together with their elder brother Sebastian and myself, we certainly had the biggest family contingent in the event!
Due to the usual (Valerie is in a demanding full-time job; Fabienne's schedule is highly unpredictable) and some unusual constraints, training and preparation were less than minimal. So, participating in the 103 km option of the "Mega-Monster Enduro" as a dress rehearsal two weeks before the big event became absolutely mandatory and appeared to be a big enough challenge in itself. Fabienne still had trouble with the occasional annoying knee pain, and Valerie had accumulated, all in all, less than two hours' worth of practice on a borrowed bike that I adjusted to her needs as well as I could. I promised myself that I would not push them and rather encourage them instead to take it easy and turn around early if just ignoring the lack of preparation didn't work.
The conditions were rather favorable for the season, but the miles went by a little slower than planned (not a big surprise). Also, because I had changed the rear derailleur on Valerie's bike (to accomodate a MTB cassette for the steeper uphills), the derailleur cable needed to be re-adjusted after some time: the gears didn't change properly any more. After a couple of more miles, I asked her if shifting worked OK now. She said, somewhat grumpily: "Yeah, the gears are shifting OK; but I still don't find any one I like."
Several times, I suggested to cut it short and turn around earlier; but they didn't want to hear anything of it (stubbornness seems to run in the family). And so we arrived at the Bitterwater checkpoint and had our picture taken:
The return trip was easier because of a flattering tailwind (except for the last ten miles) and the loss of altitude. This (together with the marvelous scenery) explains the big smiles:
I encouraged them to take little rest stops - in particular when we arrived at unexpected places like Brigadoon in the Scottish Highlands:
All this did cost a little extra time, but it was worth it. Of course, a "racing team" is supposed to try to win and to save each and every second; but given that we were the only starters in our team category of "Father and Daughters", we took first place no matter what!
One week later, Valerie and I even managed to bring my fairly new son in law along for a training ride on the Coyote Creek Trail.
Granted, he turned around early (he didn't like the saddle of my old mountain bike that I loaned him) and probably was impressed by the sign that pointed out that we were in mountain lion habitat. But it was a start! And I made Valerie a compliment after our sustained 2-hour ride: if she rode similarly well on the following Saturday, the century would be "in the bag" for her.
Finally, the weekend of our traditional Spring family reunion at the Furnace Creek Ranch was there. Ghislaine and I arrived early on Friday afternoon, Sebastian came with his two toddlers accompanied by Fabienne from Los Angeles soon afterwards, and Valerie with Roman joined us a little later. The bad news: a) Fabienne was sick again and unfit to ride; b) a horrible wind made it a challenge to get out of the car! Despite keeping my mouth shut (already difficult enough for me in itself), I couldn't carry the luggage from the car to the hotel room without getting sand between my teeth. Of course, we had followed the weather forecast over the last days (it promised very low temperatures and rain!) and prepared our equipment and our mental selves accordingly. I reassured Valerie that the upcoming rain would bring the wind down - and that we didn't fear the rain.
Well - no rain overnight, and no rain at the start. Instead, a clear, crispy (even chilly) sky with gorgeous views to Telescope Peak:
(from the AdventureCorps web site)
Instead, we had to fight a headwind as I had never encountered it before. Recall that Valerie really didn't have many miles on a solo bike at all, and that consequently she was still not adept at taking advantage of somebody's rear wheel. I figured that this would be the day where she would learn it, and I was somewhat right, eventually. Until then, I puffed my little frame up as much as I could to increase the shelter for Valerie, and turned my head every two seconds to check if she was still there. If not, the wind had instantly blown her back so far I had to turn around to pick her up again. It was one of those situations where the difficulty turned into ridicule. When the first 40 km under these conditions took us 3 1/2 hours, I knew I needed to look for a "plan B." Diplomatically, I convinced Valerie that we would make it a metric century and turn around at km 50; this would be "hard enough." - Little did I know!
It is true that right after our turn around, we had an outrageous tailwind for about an hour. But we were still so exhausted from fighting the gale that we just let ourselves get pushed, without barely ever turning the pedals. And when we arrived at the Badwater rest stop, we were in no hurry to get back on our bikes for the last 18 miles. Now we didn't want to arrive too early at the finish and we could maybe even wait for Sebastian. He had left us shortly after the start to join a paceline of stronger riders, and I figured he had a good chance to catch up with us even after riding 40 more miles which included the climb to Jubilee Pass.
We should have hurried up! There was a wall of grey air between us and the finish which moved towards us. It represented the collision between the wind from the South which we had enjoyed during the last hour, and the wind from the North which was about to try to prevent us from reaching the finish!
(from the AdventureCorps web site)
We needed nearly three hours for the 18 miles, at some point even walking the bikes for a quarter mile (after the wind had blown us off the road while on a slow uphill). We saw other riders being sagged in by the dozens; several of them then climbed into their cars to come back and help sag in even more riders. Only two or three miles from the finish, one of them even offered to pick us up as well; but Valerie was the first to decline. We wanted to complete our "metric century" which was harder than a full century under "regular" conditions. And we did.
Note that we kept our jackets throughout!
Alexandre is complimenting his Grandfather to a memorable ride ...
... and enjoying a ride in the rocking chair, the next morning.
Sebastian (left) finished in 9h49 - the slowest Century finishing time of all my children.
He had hoped for a time under seven hours; but under the conditions, 9h49 was good for rank 21 out of 73 finishers!
True to family tradition, we celebrated with a Sunday brunch at the Furnace Creek Inn (Julien in the middle). I had pushed the grandsons there, for some recovery cross-training: