Tuesday, February 9, 2010

DV footrace pt I

The drive to Death Valley was all I had expected and more.

Driving from Wendover to Ely on alt 93 one surmounts “White Horse Pass” (1,838M). About a kilometer before WHP I saw five black horses standing on a snow covered hill. Four of the horses stood close together; one was quite a ways distant.

Everything from WHP to Tonopah was covered in snow.

There is an area called Lunar Crater off highway 6. The official name is “Lunar Crater National Natural Landmark”. There is a single large crater and a multitude of small black volcanic hills. Dirt roads snake off into the sagebrush and hint of adventure. This would be an interesting place to explore by mountain bike in the fall.

Black volcanic rock absorbs heat from the sun quickly and snow melts off it faster than the surrounding landscape. At Lunar Crater the effect was one where the small white hills looked like they were dusted with black ash. This is the opposite of what was really the case. Here the black volcanic hills were dusted with white snow.

The sun had set by Tonopah and so there may have been snow I did not see over everything until Beatty. From Beatty I descended Daylight Pass into Death Valley. I have never seen snow on the downhill side of Daylight Pass.

The outside temperature gauge on the Corolla began reading numbers I have not seen on it for months. By the time I hit the valley floor the gauge read 59 degrees! I had traveled five hundred miles and an entire season.

Death Valley is majestic and grand. The best way to really get around it is by mountain bike. In a car or truck the sky is constrained by the windshield and it is too much like watching the world unfold on a television set. On a motorcycle there is too much temptation to ride fast. The intervening spaces become “more alluvium” or “more washout”. On a mountain bike the immediate scenery has a chance to develop. The undistinguished gravel becomes a pile of colored rocks. The piles reveal small green sproutlings struggling for life. Walking is too slow for the distances of the park.

Roadbikes are okay for the park. There are miles and miles and miles of paved roads. One can spend days tolling around on a road bike with new adventures waiting each day.

Something like 95% of the roads in the park are unpaved however. Many, I would find out to my discomfort, harden to a concrete-like consistency. The hardness is inconsistent and these dirt roads are not suitable for a true roadbike. The mountain bike allows access to many interesting areas of the park hidden from the roadbiker.

I, of course, brought my mountain bike with me. Several people commented about what a poor idea this was. “You want to relax and take it easy before the race” they said. “No I don’t” I replied “I want to go around on my bike and enjoy my long weekend”. What was I going to do? Sit around and stare at the dark and cloudy sky?

On the Friday before the race I went mountain biking. I explored some roads that went off to the east. I hopped off the bike and hiked around on some marked “No bikes” trails. Here is a panorama I shot off a random east-side dirt road.

I found the start of the racecourse and explored the Westside road. Before I knew it I was three and a half hours and around 30 miles into the "short" ride. I then discovered Trail Canyon road. It branched off the Westside road near what would turn out to be around mile six of the race course. Trail canyon road was a gently sloping washout that could barely be called a road. The ruts snaked randomly through alluvial deposits of cobble-sized rocks. “This is” I thought “what you would get if you mixed Paris-Roubaix with very bad drugs”. I managed to go quite a ways up Trail canyon road before I discovered that I had broken a spoke.

I am a big guy so I discovered the broken spoke when the back wheel had gone out-of-true enough for the rear brake to interact with it. The interaction was quite annoying. It was like my brake was being applied by a poltergeist every revolution of the wheel. Very annoying.

Disconnecting the rear brake did decrease the interaction. It was still a ways back to the Furnace creek campground. This was much more difficult with the brakes rubbing every meter or so of forward travel. When I got back to the paved road I noticed an older roadbiker struggling along. I realized I might be able to catch him. So I did. Then I saw another slow roadbiker. Caught and passed her also, going uphill.

Somehow the combination of an almost fifty-mile bike excursion, a few hikes, the daemon brakemaster, and the random competitive energy spurts, left me somewhat more tired than I had wished when I got back to camp. Not the best pre-race taper.

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