As I rode the Mulholland Challenge earlier in the year I was on the Planet Ultra mailing list. When the email came though during the summer about the Death Valley Century I was all over it, signing Becca and I up and booking our room at Furnace Creek within the hour!
In 2013 the Superintendent of the Death Valley National Park suspended all events in the park. To be honest I have not kept up with this situation recently but it impacted the Badwater 135 and the Furnace Creek 508. The latter moved to Reno in 2014 and became the Silver State 508 and has stayed that way ever since. The point of all this is that this was the first organized ride in the park in several years and as such it was a great opportunity to not be missed!
Additionally Becca had never been to Death Valley, my last visit was years ago and it’s more fun than is legal having joint adventures so long story short we were in!
We left LA on Friday. The only real plan was to get to the hotel before it got dark. The drive out was uneventful and driving across the Mojave Desert set the tone of the scenery for the weekend.
Our final gas stop was in Olanche and that left us 100 miles to go. DVNP encompasses a much larger area than the valley where Badwater sits and you first descend down through Panamint Valley, from there you climb back up some 4000’ before dropping back in to Death Valley itself.
Becca was amazed at the size of the place!
Unless you plan on camping Furnace Creek is the only joint in town to stay and we had decided that a good night’s sleep would be nice the night before and have delayed our camping adventures to later this month!
We checked in, went to packet pick up, had an ok pizza and a couple of beers and hit the hay!
Earlyish to bed it was coffee pot coffee and instant oatmeal in the morning, a quick shower and we were off.
Due to the location there were some unusual restrictions;
- No all black jerseys
- No timing chip
- No dawdling, with strict AS cutoffs
- No stopping on the side of the road
- No two abreast
- Red blinky, actually solid red lights were mandatory
- Staggered start to avoid mass pelotons
None of these rules were onerous and were easily followed!
We got to the start line a few minutes after the 7:00am start to find that most people had rolled out, so we did too. We caught up with a group within the first mile but with the red lights visible ahead it was clear to see that some people had started early and weren’t hanging about.
The route was two clear halves, the first an out and back to an AS about 10 miles past Badwater and back to the start. The second half was a triangle shape with the third and final AS at the top of the only climb. From there you rode down and back to the start. No real need for route cards or GPS and the 3-4 Event signs were more than enough.
The ride to the first AS was mostly in the shadow of mountain range to the East. We finally broke out of the shadows about 90 minutes into the ride.
The AS was about 28 miles in. The majority of this ride was into the wind, needless to say this sucked but it sucked for everyone. Other than the wind the elements were fine, not too hot or cold and surprisingly there wasn’t any dust or sand blowing around. I waited for Becca at the AS and she rolled in with her usual smile beaming despite a somewhat uncomfortable ride with an unfamiliar saddle; she had her road bike and not her tri bike.
We didn’t loiter and with the wind at our backs I made great timing back to the AS (at the Start/Finish) in quick time. It had taken me 2:06 to ride out and it was only 3:32 for the round trip so a 1:26 return journey!
I refilled my bottles and grabbed some food from the usual buffet of goodies that were on offer. I had a fair supply of my own supplies including the staple Lara Bar as well as RX and Picky bars. For hydration I was using a mix of Skratch and Base Amino which has become my go-to.
The next section was described as 10 miles out, 10 miles up, 10 miles down and 10 miles back and with a little rounding of the numbers this was a fair description. The 10 miles out was pretty non-descript I was picking off riders as I went and would see someone ahead and slowly wind them in. This took me to the base of the climb which in total was 11 miles the first 4 were fairly shallow.
The meat of the climb was just over 6.5 miles with an average grade of 6% but with ramps up to 9%. I sat in and span. Passing lots of folks on the way, the joys of running a 34 up front and a 32 at the back! The climb was more relentless than impossible and as with most of the roads in the valley you were presented with long straight lines rather than switchbacks etc. Eventually I reached the AS and the next turn. I fueled up again and waited for Becca who wasn’t that far behind. We restocked her and set off. The 10 mile descent was our reward and I went for it going down eventually spinning out. I covered the 10 miles in just over 22 minutes and had a grin like I had fallen asleep with a coat hanger in my mouth all the way down.
I waited a minute for Becca and we rode that last 10 miles back to Furnace Creek together crossing the Finish Line with 101 miles accumulated. She had a 30 minute run so I “guarded” the bikes and stuffed my face while waiting for her. We picked up our souvenir pint glasses!
She got back and we got changed, loaded the car grabbed and ice cream and high tailed it out of there! We headed to Badwater itself for a quick pic and then set off home!
We were treated to this awesome sunset!
We got back home around 9:00pm and I put my pint glass to good use!
So another century in the bank and a unique one at that. Death Valley is an amazing place, the scenery is breathtaking and even though I live in LA it is totally alien to what I am used to,it’s more like the moon!
I felt my riding was pretty strong, while I was wind assisted on the return for the first section I rode it sensibly hard and my times on certain sections reflected that. I also felt good enough to get back on the bike the next day.
Planet Ultra does a great job of laying on a well-run event that has a low key and friendly environment. They had capped this event at 300 riders and also had a 55 mile option, this was proving popular after 28 miles of headwind as it seemed a fair number of people dropped down. It was hard to judge the final headcount but I think there were around 50-60 folks who rode the Century.
Hopefully this event will be repeated next year, if it is it’s well worth signing up for!
Here’s the Strava data.
I have the Mike Nosco ride later this week, so time to find my climbing legs!