Monday, September 28, 2009

White Mountain Double

This double intrigued me since, like the Alta Alpina 8-pass challenge, it was new to CTC this year and also claimed great views of one of my favorite places, the Sierra Nevada. Plus, one of my new biking friends, Becky, had ridden the test ride last year, and recommended it.

It's a long drive to Bishop from the Bay Area and my memories of June's ill-fated Eastern Sierra double still linger. On that drive, I had to go over 88 instead of Tioga Pass, as the latter was closed for snow. This time the temperatures threatened the other way, with a forecast high of 97F in Bishop on ride day. This could mean triple digits for the desert areas we would be riding through in the heat of the day.

Traffic was light, as the tourist season is winding down, and it was a pleasant drive over the Tioga Pass. I usually like to have a short warm-up ride the day before so, although it was getting late, I stopped off just before Mammoth Lakes and rode around the June Lake loop, a nice 20 miler, with a fun descent down 395 to get back to the car. This meant that it was already dark by the time I got to Bishop and checked in.

This was a timed ride and there were two start times, 4:15 and 5:15, with strong encouragement to take the earlier time for all but the fastest riders. That's not me, so I was ready to go at 4:15. In the pre-ride briefing, the organizers made a big thing about not switch-backing on the White Mountain climb, due to faster riders descending. The suggestion being that the climb was going to be uber-steep.

About two thirds of the riders, who numbered 96 in all, started at 4:15. It was pleasantly cool in Bishop and, knowing how hot it was likely to be later, I was just wearing a sleeveless vest and no arm or leg warmers. I almost regretted this as the temperature dived noticeably as we left the town limits and got progressively colder as we climbed. First, however, we had about 15 miles to go down 395 to Big Pine. There was almost no traffic but at one point a police car came by and told us all to move onto the shoulder. Not legally required, of course, and only a few people complied partly as you had to cross the nasty rumble strip to get onto the shoulder. Of course, in normal traffic, it makes perfect sense to ride on the shoulder but it seemed quite unnecessary at this time.

Soon we were turning left onto 168 and starting the climb. We quickly passed the turn to Death Valley, where we had gone on the Eastern Sierra ride, and settled in for the long climb of over 6000'. This would be my longest and highest climb on a bike. It's quite hard to tell the grade in the dark, but it didn't seem overly hard anywhere. Mostly I was concerned about how much colder it was going to get! At one point I heard a rider in front of me evidently talking about the Gold Rush Randonnee, and then I realized that he was talking to Kerin Huber, who I have met on several doubles. So I pulled alongside and introduced myself. It turned out to be Chris Hanson, a name I recognized as he is also a friend of Becky. We rode together up to the first rest stop, at a left turn off 168 that heads up to the Schulman Grove, the top of the climb. Chris announced that it was 45F at this point. The good news was that the sun was just starting to touch the hillside ahead so I knew that we would feel its warmth very soon. However, I could have used a hot chocolate at this point rather than iced water! Anticipating hot conditions, I was wearing a Camelbak for the first time ever. Normally, I hate things on my back when I am riding, but the small Camelbak wasn't bothering me so far, and it was a convenient delivery mechanism.

Kerin and Chris had rushed off, so I climbed the second phase solo. The climb certainly had some steep pitches but they tended to level out quickly before picking up again. So it didn't have that relentless grade that makes a climb really tough. There was another rest stop midway, and I loaded up with a few more calories.

Sierra Nevada from White Mountain Climb

The final 1000' was quite tough and it was good to crest over a rise and see that there was a short descent to the grove and rest stop. We were given a bit more weight to carry at this point, by way of a spent CO2 cartridge, with a White Mountain sticker. Supposedly we were to hand this in at the finish as proof of reaching the summit.

Bristlecone Pines at the Schulman Grove

The descent was somewhat technical, with a sharp drop off to the right side at first. The 5:15 starters were coming up the lower section as I descended and many of these would overtake me as the ride progressed. The rest stop at the base was all packed up and ready to move on but they said it was all downhill to next stop in the Deep Springs valley. The ensuing descent down 168 to the valley was really fun, twisty, but clear sight lines and no traffic. It eventually started to flatten out and you could see the road streaking straight as an arrow through the valley floor. We were definitely in a new environment now, extremely dry, flat, valley floor, with alluvial fans flowing from the mountains flanking it. No sign of human habitation anywhere.

Descent to Deep Springs Valley

The rest stop was at the far end of the valley where I met up with Kerin again. The staff were being very hygiene conscious and I almost got my wrists slapped for helping myself to a potato; they insisted on serving us. Kerin and I rode off together towards the short climb through Gilbert Pass, which was followed by a long downhill into another valley called, ironically, Fish Lake. We were going to be in this valley for quite a long time, including the lunch stop outside a bar called Boonies in Dyer. Lunch was at an early 89 miles, as opposed to the more typical 110. Not much choice really, as this was essentially the only habitation on the entire route. On the way to lunch we crossed into Nevada. For a while we rode two abreast but I was having trouble keeping at Kerin's pace, so in the end I drafted her into lunch, which was very agreeable! Fish Lake valley actually has some agriculture, hence the human habitation. They must be pumping water from an underground acquifier.

After lunch it was more of the same. We tried to guess the distance to landmarks, which looked close but were typically five miles away. Eventually we started a gradual climb out of the valley, and reached a welcome water stop, as it was pretty hot by this point. Although the road continued onto Bishop, we had to get our 200 miles in, so we turned right, up a short climb, and then down past some very colorful hills into, yes, you guessed it, another valley, this one even bigger than the previous two. The valleys and ranges just go on and on in Nevada; you can go all the way to Salt Lake City through endless terrain like this.

The Road to Nowhere

This valley was a little more busy with traffic as Hwy 6 runs through it from Bishop and connects with Hwy 95 that heads to Las Vegas. To make the mileage we actually turned right on 6 and continued to the junction with 95 and the famous "smoothie" rest stop. They were good, made with fresh peaches. I was getting concerned about sun exposure at this point and was disappointed to find that there were no public supplies at the rest stop; fortunately I was able to "borrow" some from one of the volunteers.

The Smoothie Rest Stop

It's always good when you reach the turnaround point in a long ride and this was it. All we had left to do was the 78 miles on Hwy 6 back to Bishop. The bad news was that it was now the hottest part of the day and we had a long climb ahead of us. Riding on the flat in the valleys provided a breeze just from the bike speed but as we started to climb that disappeared and it started to get uncomfortable. I had been drafting Kerin on the flats and holding my own on the hills but, as the grade crept up slowly towards the climb, I couldn't hold her pace and had to let her go. The grade increased steadily; since the road is dead straight, you can see it rising, seemingly forever, in front of you, which is mentally tough. On a typical twisty climb, you don't quite know what's coming, which allows for a more optimistic attitude. After all, it could end just around the corner!

There was another welcome water stop midway and then easier going to the real rest stop at a junction just before the final climb to Montgomery Pass. I was tired enough to sit in a chair for a while, eat a PBJ and drink a V8 and a Coke. Then off to tackle the final climb. I mistakenly thought we had to climb to 7800', another 1500', so I was very happy when I saw the summit at 7100'. The descent from here to Benton was memorable, ten miles long, initially a few bends but then a long straight run out.

Boundary Peak on descent from Montgomery Pass

At Benton, now back in California, was the final "soup station" rest stop. Sounds good, but it was only CupNoodles. The home-made Miso soup at the Sunol rest stop on the Devil Mountain Double still takes first prize for cuisine. One very nice touch, however, was the bottles of Starbucks Frappucino. I poured two of these into my water bottle for the final 40 miles.

Forty miles is a long way on a bike. Even if you average 20, it's two more hours in the saddle, and at the end of a double it can seem interminable. It was light when I started, but clearly it was going to be dark by the finish. After a few miles a paceline of four guys came past and invited me to hop on, which I did. This upped the average speed to about 22, with about 2 minute pulls each. Strangely, at the end of my third pull, I looked behind and saw that they had dropped off; odd as I hadn't been pushing the pace. Shortly after that I caught up with the amazing Gerd, who is 76, and still puts in very creditable times. He had drafted me for a while on Mt Tam, so I offered to pull him in to the finish. Not much later the paceline caught us up and we hopped on again. It was dark by now, which makes pacelines even more tricky, so I was watching the wheel in front of me very carefully. And yet again, they dropped off, this time on my second pull. Too bad, now I had to pull on my own for the final ten miles. The temperature was dropping now and the cool air was very refreshing. We could see the lights of Bishop but they seemed to get closer very, very slowly. Eventually the road turned west and I knew we were on the last leg to the junction with 395. A short jog up main street and we rolled in to the Ramada at about 20:15.

Overall a good ride, one that would be impossible without organized rest stops (or towing a trailer with supplies). It would be good to do in a group of 4-6, to be able to paceline or chat through the somewhat boring flat sections.

A more complete set of photos can be be found in my Facebook album.

Ride Stats:
Total time: 16:00
On bike time: 14:06
Distance: 198.3 miles
Climbing: 11808'
Avg Speed: 14.1 mph

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