The Towne Pass Century Plus- 148 miles 13,500 feet



On Sunday AFTER the Hell’s Gate Hundred.  I awoke pretty tired from the tough century the day before.  I don’t know why I have been starting these epic rides so late in the morning.  My prep consisted of:

Breakfast– hotel room coffee (can never get a good cup)  a bagel with peanut butter.  Note to self — I need to buy another cheap toaster to take on the road with me.  

Clothing- My Bike Religion kit made by Santini.

Flat Repair-  4 tubes, 2 CO2’s and a Frame Pump

Fuel– I made two bottles of Infinit Nutrition for the bike and I also made 100 oz of Infinit Nutrition for my Nathan Synergy Hydration Pack.  It is a dual chamber pack where you can have fuel in one and plain water in the other.  I don’t carry plain water so it’s ALL fuel when I use it.  

I rolled from the Furnace Creek Ranch at 9:30am .  I saw my buddy Steve Barnes, Race Director for Everest Challenge, with his son on their ride.  I think it’s awesome to see a father and son riding together.  I can’t wait until my son is big enough to do a trail-a-bike and then the tandem.  I said hello and rolled on.  I saw Chris Kostman, Race Director for AdventureCorps,  and Jeff Bell who came alongside in the van.  I had a little bit of a tailwind as I rode to Stovepipe Wells.


I stopped at the general store and picked up a box of Fig Newtons and three cheese danishes– more on that later.  I had a sweet tooth on Sunday 😉  I wasn’t  fully recovered from the almost 4,000 kj effort on Hell’s Gate Hundred the day before.  If you are doing this ride unsupported there is a water fountain on the outside of the building next to the bathrooms.


I have  always been curious what the Towne Pass climb would be like from Stovepipe Wells.  I thought about Steve Born and his double 508 and how he felt on this monster of a climb.  The stats are daunting  17 miles and 5,000 feet of gain.  What’s more is the sustained sections over 8% and I would estimate sustained sections over 9%.  I was climbing in a 53/39 and 11-23 cassette and found myself standing much more than I like to.  It was/is a very hard climb.  I kept an eye on my Garmin 310XT and found it to really accurate.  Every time I passed an elevation sign the elevation on the Garmin was REALLY close.  I am very comfortable with the elevation data I received Sunday from my Garmin.

The last 1,000 feet of gain were quite cold.  I was wearing my Bike Religion long sleeve jersey unzipped.  When I reached the summit I put on my Showers Pass jacket, ate one of my cheese danishes and began the descent back into Death Valley.  Since it was a very hard climb guess what?  It was a very fast descent!  I was on the brakes and still reaching 55 mph.  On the descent I also had some Fig Newtons.  About 9 miles into the descent I stopped at a ranger station.  I used the restroom and refilled my one bottles with water.  I didn’t make another fuel bottle because I had made my bottles concentrated for multiple hours of sipping.


Starting at about 2200 feet I began the climb up Emigrant Pass.  13.7 miles and 3100 feet of gain.  This climb is hidden away off the main road.  You really feel like you are somewhere other than Death Valley.  I wouldn’t call it scenic but I would call it striking.  The road twists and turns and again you are greeted with steep sections of climbing.  It was a little colder in this canyon-like climb.  I also like the way the road seemed to have been blasted through just to get to the other side.  I like this climb and would like to do it again.  The top levels off and it gives you a chance to spin your legs out before beginning the final 500 feet of gain to the “summit”.  I put summit in quotes because you will continue to climb after reaching the Emigrant Pass elevation sign.  I stopped at the summit and had a cheese danish put on my Showers Pass jacket and began my descent.  As I mentioned before you climb a little more up some really steep ramps.  The descent off of this climb took over an hour.  I was riding 23c tires and there is a long section of dirt and loose rock.  The “road” is pretty tore up but with patience and caution you will make it safely down to Panamint Valley Road.

As I approached the right turn onto Panamint Valley Road a white Ford van with tinted windows stopped alongside the road and appeared to be waiting there.  I thought what if this is some wacko out here looking for some kicks.  It turns out they thought I was the wacko for riding “out there”  Their questions were “Dude! Where the hell did you come from?” “Where the hell are you going?”  “Where is home base?” Meanwhile the girl in the front seat sat there with her jaw dropped listening.  Yeah it was cool to shock them a little. 

Next a 14 mile “transition” to the last climb of the day.  The road has a little bit of climbing but I was aided by a little tailwind so it was all good.


Now the last climb of the day.  11.2 miles and 3,400 feet of gain.  It was still daylight as I began the Towne Pass climb.  Just as I was about to make the right turn from Panamint Valley Rd to Hwy 190 I feel my rear wheel get spongy. I begin to change the flat and the first tube doesn’t hold air.  Is it possible that the tube is punctured?  No it’s actually the valve isn’t working right.  Ok pull out another tube and this one works fine.

The climb is gradual at the beginning and then really ramps up.  The views are spectacular if you care to look behind you into the valley.  You can also look over your shoulder as the road turns every now and then.  The climb is very hard even on a good day.  There are sections of sustained 9% average grade.  There is one sign that says 9% for six miles and I believe it.  That 11-23 cassette was really kicking my ass but I pushed on and just reminded myself that I need to put in the work now to be stronger for my events this summer and the Furnace Creek 508 in October.

I continue to work hard and finally reach the summit. I put on my Showers Pass jacket, eat my danish and begin my descent.

Incidentally, just past the summit sign the mile marker you are looking for is “69” just a little factoid for you. 

Now for the fun part–  I was going so fast on the descent down into Death Valley.  I held speeds over 55 miles an hour for over 10 minutes.  I reached a max of 63 mph and could have gone faster.  I’m in my own little world listening to good music and flying down the mountain enjoying life.  It was awesome.   You know what’s weird?  When I “slowed” down to 40 mph I felt like I was standing still, almost like I could dismount and walk away from the bike.  Anyway, as I slowed this car pulls up next to me.  There is a gentleman driving with his two boys — each under 10 years old.  They are waving a frame pump at me and I’m thinking “Hmm that looks familiar.” The driver says to me “We saw the pump fly out of your Camelback and picked it up.  We’ve been trying to catch you going 70 mph and still couldn’t catch you.  Man that’s impressive”


I decide not to refuel at Stovepipe Wells and continue on to Furnace Creek.  Just as I begin the little climb out of Stovepipe Wells I feel I have ANOTHER flat.  Wow how lucky am I not to have had the flat on the 60 mph descent on Towne Pass.  Once the flat was changed I’m back on the road dealing with one of my favorite parts of cycling — a freakin’ headwind.  It was really blowing right in my face.  I thought about the windstorm in the 2009 Furnace Creek 508. 

Having finished that race and  survived 60 mph headwinds any other headwinds just aren’t that bad..  Nonetheless, these winds were bad and they were kicking my ass.  I later found out they were blowing steady over 22 mph with gusts in the 30’s.  I was tired and hungry and racing to reach Furnace Creek before 9pm because that is when the restaurants close.  I didnt make it.  I was averaging 9 mph just trying to keep the bike moving.  Which of course is better than 7 mph from the 2009 FC 508. Going that slow it is easy to get blown off the road and that’s what happened a couple of times. Notice how slow I’m going the last 6 miles — 8-9 mph!


I literally kissed my car when I got in to the Furnace Creek Ranch.  All the resturants were closed  it was 9:18pm when I tried to get into the restaurant and they replied with a very unsympathetic, “No”.  I ended up eating at the bar.  The dialog was:

The bartender said, “We have a turkey sandwich, a ham and cheese sandwich, and a salad”  
I said, “I’ll take one of each”.  

Next time I see him he has a bag full of food.  I say, “It’s for here not to go”  
He says, “Oh when you ordered one of each I thought  you were ordering for a couple of other people.”  
I said, “No, I’m just hungry.”

Final Stats — 147 miles with 13,500 feet of climbing.  13,000 in the first hundred.  

Just the climbs would be 12,000 feet of climbing in 80 miles!

5 thoughts on “The Towne Pass Century Plus- 148 miles 13,500 feet

  1. Cindi,Thank you for visiting my blog. How did you find it? If you would like more details or insight on the ride and my struggles I would be happy to provide it. Stay tuned I am working on the Hell's Gate Hundred race report.

  2. Thanks for validating how fast the winds were in my stage at the 508 and for proving once again what a might climb up Towne Pass my teammate Jay laid down.Great writeup!!!

  3. Bob,Thank you for visiting my blog. Yes the winds were terrible at the 2009 Furnace Creek 508. It was surreal. What was your totem? And how did you guys finish out?Red Eyed Vireo

  4. Pingback: Breathless Agony Ride Report | George's Epic Adventures

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