I’ll tell ya right now, the ride was Epic.
I am on the hunt for different rides to do this year, just wanting to do different things, keepin it fresh, and adventurous. With that in mind, Willy Nevin emailed me.
Check this out! A 600k! Vegas to LA! It follows the 508 route backwards! Phil, Tim and I jump in. I talked it up while in CO and my friend Catherine also joined. Peg and Drew were in, and then out. Willy posted about 10 emails about how to get the ride done, with detailed ways to work the logistics to get there and back, which we were sure meant he was in. But he wasn’t. Too bad.
The NorCal SFR contingent that assembled in Vegas at the Suncoast Casino was: Tim Mason, Phil Auriemma, Eric Larsen, Larry Sokolsky, Carl Anderson, Barry Schwartz and myself. Catherine came in from CO and the rest of the group comprised of SoCal riders. 22 riders in all started. It was a small group traveling through the desert.
We departed at 5:00ish on Sat AM after registering and dropping bags with Willie Hunt, who owns this perm. He was riding as well, so he was doing double duty – getting us squared away while getting his Velomobile ready to ride. He had changed the course multiple times based on sleeping availability in the thriving metropolis of Trona. We were on for Version 3.
The ride basically is: depart the Summerlin suburb of Vegas, through Red Rocks State Park, to Pahrump. Go west into Death Valley at Furnace Creek, up Townes pass, into the Panamints, and over to Trona. Then, up to Johannesburg, Randsburg (all 508 area), to California City. Then head over to Mojave, then down San Francisquito Canyon to St. Clarita, and finally over to the valley, through San Fernando finishing in Burbank. In total 690 miles by my odometer and 20,000+ feet of climbing.
My plan was to ride with Phil. I knew Catherine, Tim and Carl would be in a faster group, I assumed both Larry and Eric would also be in a faster group, and I didn’t know Barry, but I always assume everyone is faster than I am, so I never thought I would see anyone other than Phil after we started.
I spaced organizing a good breakfast before a 5:00am start. Catherine saved me with some bloat meal. (Note to self: get it together for breakfasts with early starts). I started low on calories and Phil and I settled into our rhythm for the day. It was chilly heading through Summerlin and Red Rocks. My parents lived in Summerlin (my dad died there), and it was bittersweet to be in very familiar territory, but, thankfully, under very different circumstances.
By the time we reached Pahrump, we were starving. Larry was with us and we stopped to refuel. Back on our bikes, we crossed the NV/CA stateline, and headed for Death Valley. I wasn’t feeling the rando-love in my body or legs, but carried on. Just at the intersection heading into the park was a sag. There were to be three around us for the ride. This one was Willie’s truck, captained by Mark, who had supported numerous 508 teams. He was there to greet us with water, a big smile, and his good nature. Seeing the truck was always a welcome sight.
We pushed into DV and stopped at Furnace Creek for lunch. Although there was another control at Stovepipe Wells, the plan was to eat in FC, so you wouldn’t feel full heading up Townes Pass. And the heat was coming on full blast. It promised to be in the high 90’s.
We headed for Stovepipe Wells, and it was, well, HOT! 90+, and the black tarmac was reflecting oven like temps. By the time we reached Stovepipe wells, everyone had that salt cake look to them. And all of the tourists and motorcycle riders were amazed at where we had come from and where we were going. Drinking a beer, smoking a cigarette, they just shook their heads and said we were crazy.
On on. Townes Pass is a 14 mile grind from the DV side. On the 508, it’s climbed on the other side and it is much steeper and shorter. Willy told Phil that it’s a “piece of cake” from the DV side comparatively. Maybe so, but almost everyone took somewhere between 3-4 hours to climb up Townes in the heat. Everyone that is except Adam, who won the 508 last year.
Making my way up, I hoped to get to shade. That was the first marker and it appeared at about 2000′ up. I stopped for a breather and Larry scooted by. At 3000′, I was hoping for water. There was a campground, with an outhouse and a spigot. I stopped and put my head under the water for a full dousing. Sweet joy. I carried a Camelbak for this ride, and was glad to have it.
A little farther up and there was the white truck. Willie Hunt was there, the Velomobile was filled with sweat and he was kaput. Game over. We grabbed a bit more water and carried on, remaining calm.
A bit farther up was a SoCal rider, named Mark. He was off the side of the road, and when I got to him and asked him if he was ok, he said yes, but clearly wasn’t. He said he had a touch of heat stroke. He was shivering badly and was completely wet. I rubbed his back to get some heat going and talked to him about going down to the truck, which was about 300 yards away, downhill. He thought that was too far to go. Clearly not feeling good, we stayed with him, helping him get a bit warmer, until he could get on his bike and get down to the truck, where dry clothes, food, water, and sleeping bags were stored. Townes Pass claimed two riders.
I reached the top just under 5000′ just before dark and it felt good. Mark’s buddies were waiting for him, so I gave them the news that he had gone to the truck. I changed while waiting for Phil. Another sag was at the top with water, so we topped off bottles before descending off the backside en route to Trona. The road had gravel on it, so we were denied a clean free screaming descent. Ah well, no matter. The stars were out and few cars passed, so it was fine.
I think many of us thought topping out on Townes Pass was the big hurdle of the ride. Once over that, the rest was doable. But, Townes proved not to be the place where the suffering really took place. That was still to come.
Dropping into the valley below, I needed to stop and eat. Again, starved, and we’d now ridden from Furnace Creek with not much to go on. The truck stopped and told us to get a move on as time was getting tight to make the next control. We soldiered on, and then, the wind kicked up. And when I say kicked, I mean 20-30 mph kicked in the face. Brutal. We slogged. I was in a foul mood, cursing the ride, myself, this sport, you know the mindset. Phil, who is generally quiet, offered to sing me a country and western tune.
Now, I don’t really care for Country and Western anything, except Patsy Cline and some of my friends in the Lone Star Rando club, but there is no way in hell I’m gonna turn down an offer from quiet Phil Auriemma to sing a CW tune to help me get over to godforsaken Trona. This is true rando friendship, my friends. He begins to sing. I can’t hear you! I tell him. He sings louder. Well, of course I didn’t hear a word because the wind kicked his song right out of his mouth at 30 mph. Damned wind.
We arrived in Trona around 1:30, shattered. We found our drop bags, which were in a room with 4 sleeping randos, and I use that word very loosely – sleeping, that is. We had all tried to arrange rooms, but it was really sketchy, so we showed up and hoped for the best. A few riders continued down the road for extra miles to Ridgecrest for food, shower and a sleep, while others stayed on course and caught shut-eye in the Randsburg jail!
We were told that there would be food at the control, butt the logistics on this were bungled and nothing was available. I only had “on the bike” food in my dropbag (note to self: put real food in dropbag, not just on the bike food) and Mark – who had been shuttled forward and who was back amongst us, but still a bit weak from the heat stroke – graciously gave us his extra food, which consisted of some tuna, muffins and crackers. We ate and immediately fell asleep, three to the bed and were out for 2 hours.
Up n gone around 4:30ish, Eric, joined Phil and I and we moseyed up the road, warming up our bodies and mind for day 2. We hadn’t quite completed a 400k, but it was a bit more than a 300k, so we had a long way to go, but with less climbing than in day 1. Our first stop was Johannesburg, where a gas station would yield coffee, ice cream, sandwiches etc. On the way there, we took in the sunrise over the desert, and Willie and his white truck stopped by. Out pops Larry, fresh in t-shirt and shorts, (he threw in the towel at Trona) and we scarfed some food roadside that was supposed to be available to us in Trona but wasn’t.
At Joburg, while sipping coffee, Tim and Barry showed up coming from a different direction. They arrived via Ridgecrest, and so we shared stories about our evening and how we all came to be here at this point in time. All agreed the wind heading to Trona was brutal. We set off just a bit apart and rode to California City, retracing the 508 route backwards. The wind started again, and on the main drag into CA City, there were sand dunes and ground sand blizzards driving across the road. It stung our legs, flags standing straight out. It was going to be a long day.
We regrouped with Tim and Barry, hopscotching with a group of SoCal riders regularly departing as we came in to each checkpoint the rest of the ride. We headed to Mojave, via Rosamond, now departing off the 508 route, which was a good thing, because the wind was fierce and the 508 route has a climb back up to the windmills, which would have been a headwind for miles.
Our only tailwind of the ride blew us to Rosamond, and then a crosswind moved us to Mojave. We are all feeling light and easy on our bikes, the pain of yesterday lifted momentarily. Refueling on chocolate milk shakes, sweet potato fries and hamburgers, we are beginning to think that we could actually finish the ride, but there is still a ways to go.
We need to get to the other side of the valley, cross over the ridge, descend San Francisquito Canyon, and then make our way to Burbank to Dana’s house. Sags are not around, and we head out to make the final pushes.
But what pushes us, is the wind. Backwards. It is howling, we can hear that deep hum when the telephone poles are huge violin strings being played by the wind. We lean sideways to the right to stay upright, and every once in a while, a gust picks me up and moves me off to the left. Eric is concerned about his new Mercyx and its lovely paint job, but he is third in, on my left, and the sandblasting will happen to Tim first and then me.
Phil and Barry are a bit behind, and we all scrap our way across the valley. A huge dust devil kicks up and it easily gets 40′ high, the tumbleweeds flying high into the air. At one point, we turn into the wind and are stopped dead in our tracks. We slowly regain forward momentum and are only going 5-6 mph on a dead flat road.
We talk about dogs that chase, and what types of people live out here in the middle of nowhere, in walled compound homes with gun billboards regularly spaced. There’s plenty of cheap land for sale… it’s bleak.
Finally, we cross the valley and climb out of the desert. At some point we notice the landscape turn from brown to green. Tim and I fly down the canyon, pedaling as hard as we can, taking the entire road, gleefully racing no one, squeezing energy out of who knows where to spin up our bikes, grinning from ear to ear.
We all regroup at the bottom and end up in a Starbucks where the SoCal group is finishing up. Our last piece of riding routes us over an old road that takes us into the San Fernando Valley. It’s dark again, tiredness has set in, we are all done, ready to be off our bikes. Each turn seems to take forever to reach, where the heck is Dana’s house? Finally, finally, we turn down his street and we are met by Carl and Larry, who see us.
We climb off our bikes and pour ourselves into Dana’s house for food, drink, a clothing change and another recap of the day’s journey. Almost all of the riders are accounted for, and the last rider arrives by midnight, but by then I am asleep in a nearby motel.
On Monday, Phil, Tim and I drive back to the Bay Area, and I am back in my house by midnight last night. And by today, the randonesia has set in. I am not in severe pain, my body feels tired, but not completely trashed, and I have already forgotten my vows to hang up all rides longer than a 400k. The Stampede in Texas is in 3 weeks and I will be there.
It helped loads knowing that friends and fellow SFR randos were traveling on the same course. It helped battle the heat, wind and isolation. The longest stretch of minimal support was from Furnace Creek to California City, especially given it was nighttime for most of the riders. Willie did a good job given that he was planning a ride for a few and then plenty more jumped in.
Today I was talking to a friend who is about to ride his bike for 5 months in the Yukon. He asked about the weekend and I said, Epic! As soon as I said that I compared myself to what he’s getting ready to do and I was stumped, “What made this ride so epic?” No mechanicals. Sags around on Day 1. Friends on the course ahead of me, and people still riding behind. It comes down to signing on for the adventure of the point to point, a rando ride across the desert in 40 hours, knowing that there were sketchy services, heat, wind (well, more than we wanted, expected, or needed), and not knowing that I could actually do it.
Nothing about this sport past a 200k is all that easy. But some rides have an extra dose of challenge built into them, and this was one of those. Glad I said yes. Glad I completed. Epic.
Thank you Catherine, Eric, Tim, Barry, Phil, Larry & Carl. And to you Willie Hunt & Dana for organizing and you Willy Nevin for sending that email that got us to sign on.