2013 Spring Death Valley Race Report- Official Results

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The official results for the 2013 Spring Death Valley Double Century are up!  Follow this link for full results century, ultra and double century.

REV Cycling Team members

George Vargas 10:48


Krisztian Romvari 11:56– unofficial time currently listed as DNF on the official results

Amy Snyder 14:19

Brian Dooley 15:32– FIRST DOUBLE CENTURY

We congratulate and welcome Lori Hoechlin and Brian Dooley to the Double Century Club!!

Death Valley Double Century Results

2013 Spring Death Valley Race Report

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On March 2, 2013 I completed the Spring Death Valley Double Century in an unofficial time and Personal Record of 10:48. This event was my season opener and the debut of my new endurance development team, REV Endurance Cycling.  The Spring Double also came at the end of a glorious week of riding as a participant of the  2013 Death Valley CORPScamp. It was REV Cycling teammate Lori Hoechlin’s first Double Century (197 miles actual) and she performed like a rock star!  It also represented the hard work and sacrifice I put in over the winter to loose 15 pounds, get fit and redeem myself from the poor ending of my 2012 season.

There were six members of REV Cycling at the event.  I’m still waiting on their race reports.  Once they are ready they will be posted here as well.

I wish to thank REV Cycling sponsors Spy Optics for their super cool sunglasses, Serfas for tires, tubes, bar tape, True 500 headlights and Thunderbolt Taillights and so many other things on my bike, Swiftwick for the great wool riding socks (yes wool socks in 88F temperatures) and their great compression recovery socks. Skins for their outstanding CY400 compression cycling clothing.

Now let’s get into this.  Below you will see a summary from Garmin Connect of the week of Feb 25- March 2.  Lori and I  rode Monday – Thursday, rested Friday and raced the Double Century on Saturday.  You will see from my CORPScamp write-up that on most of the days Lori and I opted for the longer routes with additional climbing.  Some of these climbs were 20+ miles long.

RACE DAY Equipment- Cannondale SuperSix EVO with Shimano Di2 and satellite shifters on the aerobars, 7900 Standard 53/38 SRM Power Meter Crankset with a 11/28 cassette.  Profile CSX carbon aerobars, Serfas True 500 headlights and Serfas Thunderbolt taillight.

I like the Profile Design CSX for my ultras because I am quite flexible on the bike.  Sadly I can’t touch my toes standing up and bent over when not on the bike lol.  I don’t like the rise that most aerobars create above my normal handlebar position– usually too high.

With the CSX I can install the aerobars without having to change my stem or stack height. Notice in the pictures below the height increase is fewer than 5mm. When using other aerobar setups I have to lower the handlebar to get back to the aero position I would have with just my forearms resting on the top of the handlebar.  If I change the stem or stack height to accomodate my aero position then it compromises my normal saddle to bar drop in my non-aero position i.e. climbing.

I will be evaluating a different aerobar soon and will report back with my findings.

Below are pictures of my bike set-up

Quick summary

195 miles 9,000 feet of climbing.

10 hours 48 minutes

5800 kjs

Normalized Power 183 watts or 2.7 w/kg top end of endurance range

Furnace Creek to Badwater

Lori and I rolled with the 6:10 wave.  Right from the start there was a one mile slight uphill grade and you could feel everyone fighting for position.  I knew the right people to mark.  I didn’t panic during the constant reshuffling amongst the riders.  I just sat-in close to the front. I tried to keep my teammate Lori Hoechlin on my wheel during those first few miles but I kept loosing her in the chaos.  It’s difficult, if not unsafe, to keep turning around in a paceline to look for your teammate.  Before the event I advised Lori how the first few miles would be and I impressed upon her that she had to stay on my wheel at all costs.

There are two schools of thought during these opening miles- one is to conserve energy since it is so early in the event, the other – work hard to get in the break.  Let’s discuss option 1 first.  If you don’t make the break but you are stronger than the second pack of riders you might have to sit-in for a long time before you can make your own move through the field.  Meanwhile, the lead pack is moving at a higher rate of speed down the course.  If you decide to leave the comfort of the second pack then you are fighting the wind, typically alone, until you can catch the lead pack— A LOT more energy expended using option 1.

Now let’s discuss option 2 – working hard to make the break may be less work in the end because typically once the break is established the lead group shares the workload to stay ahead of the main field and the pace isn’t as frantic.  As a breakaway unit you are moving much faster than the main field (unlike pro cycling) but conserving a lot of energy.

Later in this report you will see that once the break was established my Normalized Power dropped significantly. Lori currently subscribes to option #1 while I subscribe to option #2.  It would have been interesting for Lori to have had a power meter for this event so I could have tested my hypothesis.  She did not make the break and consequently had to chase for 80 miles.  I believe she exerted more energy to catch me than I exerted to be ahead of her in the first 80 miles.

Lori believes if she goes out hard she will blow-up and not finish strong.  I shared with her my perspective.  The bad thing about a double century is that it’s 200 miles and a lot of things can and sometimes do go wrong.  The good thing about a double century is that it’s 200 miles and a lot of the things that can go wrong can right themselves because it is a long event.  These are just some examples-

tired legs – ride easy and they come back

fatigue- ride easy and fuel up, recover and you come back

stomach issues- stop fueling, change fuel, ride easy, recover and you come back

getting lost- find your way back, let it go, regain focus, and you come back

overextertion early- ride easy, recover and ride your pace

Below is the screen shot of Training Peaks WkO+ 3.0 of Furnace Creek to Badwater.  You will get an idea what are the power demands to get “into the early morning breakaway”  I will also mention that if you wish to be competitive at these events you must concede that until the break is established and either you are in it or not YOUR race plan is on the back burner. Some things to note:

1.  I have the power band (yellow horizontal lines) for TEMPO pace which is from 209 watts to 249 watts or 3 w/kg to 3.7 w/kg.  You will see that in those first 45 minutes I was well above tempo range just to stay in the lead pack.

2.  About mile 5 there is a 5 minute segment where I am over 330 watts which is about 4.8 w/kg.  It’s early in the season so I haven’t done any interval training yet.  My goal event is the Furnace Creek 508 2X in October. I will be doing intervals August and September. If you intend to be part of the breakaway you may want to do intervals to be ready for these prolonged accelerations that could have you unhitched from the breakaway if you’re not trained for them.

3.  I have placed another power line at 420 watts or 6.2 w/kg to show the number of surges. The highest surge was a spike of 785 watts or 11.5 w/kg.  These surges can and will take their toll on you.  It’s for this reason that Lori and others like her prefer to ride conservatively and avoid the breakaway in the opening miles of a double century.

4.  Cadence line (green horizontal line) 95 Rpm (84 Rpm Actual)

5.  Heart Rate (red line) 143 to 161 Bpm is Tempo range – you can see the variability in my heart rate as the break accelerates or when I take a pull. I watch my power to stay at 3.5 w/kg during my pulls.  If you are a Heart Rate person that means I rolled off the front when I saw my HR nearing 160 Bpm

6.  Pwr:HR ratio-  less than 5% is good (4.89% actual)

7.  Normalized Power was 222 watts or 3.3 w/kg

8. Elevation Gain- 552 feet

What all this data translates to you is that you must be prepared and trained for constant accelerations, high cadence and power spikes to close gaps and an elevated heart rate and riding outside of your comfort zone. Ultimately, you must be 100% committed to taking the risk that all this effort will result in you assuming a position in a small number of dedicated and highly skilled riders loyal to each other and willing to work together to stay away from the main field.


Badwater to Ashford Mills

The lead group does not stop at Badwater which is only 17 miles into the event.  I happened to rotate to the front just as we rolled by the Badwater turnout.  It was awesome when the volunteers came to the road’s edge and cheered us on with cowbells and all.  THANK YOU! Below is the screen shot of Training Peaks WkO+ 3.0 of Badwater to Ashford Mills.  Now you can see the difference in the power demands once “the early morning breakaway” had been established.  You will notice that the power demands are much lower. 1.  I have the power band (yellow horizontal lines) for TEMPO pace 209 watts to 249 watts or 3 w/kg to 3.7 w/kg.  Note that the power is well below TEMPO range. Now being in the breakaway I’m conserving energy and moving along at a rapid clip.

2.  Power line at 420 watts or 6.2 w/kg– surges have been drastically reduced.   There was a spike of 611 watts or 9 w/kg

3.  Cadence line (green horizontal line) 95 Rpm (85 Rpm actual)

4.  Heart Rate 143 to 161 Bpm is Tempo range heart rate is well within range now.

5.  Pwr:HR ratio- was -8.8%

6.  Normalized Power has come down from 222 watts in the first segment to 189 watts or 2.8 w/kg in this second segment.

7.  Elevation Gain- 671 feet


Ashford Mills SAG stop (1:49)- I refilled one bottle with 400 calories, went to the bathroom and remounted in fewer than 2 minutes. 

The majority of the lead group stopped at Ashford Mills.  A few riders did not stop and continued on to the 6.75 mile climb, Jubilee Pass.  As the riders launched out from the SAG stop I found the pace too high for my liking.  I looked down at my power and saw it way out of the range.  I let those riders go up the road without me. I wanted to hold about 3.5 w/kg on the next two climbs (6.75 miles and 8.5 miles).  

For me to do well in Ultras I need to maintain proper pacing, particularly on climbs.  I don’t chase rabbits.  I usually catch most of the rabbits either on the climb or miles and hours down the road as they start to fade.  The SRM crankset power meter is ESSENTIAL to me for proper pacing. Please contact revcycling@gmail.com if you would like to purchase an SRM from an authorized dealer.

Below is the power chart for the Jubilee climb.  I have changed the chart to Watts per Kilogram because when climbing power to weight is most important.  Also stating Watts per Kg (w/kg) makes everything comparable and all you have to do is insert your weight in kilograms and you will know what power you would be producing to stay with me or ahead of me. As we continued up the Jubilee climb I passed one rider.  I slowed to pace him up the climb.  My own pace slowed too much and after my third attempt to pace him I bid him farewell.  I then caught and passed another cyclist.  As I crested I caught a third cyclist and suggested that we work together.

As we began the Salisburry Climb I tried to pace this third rider up the climb with me.  I slowed down three times for him but he just couldn’t stay on my wheel.  I believe he went too hard on the Jubilee Climb.

Begin rant– One of the many reasons why I formed REV Cycling was I was sick and tired of working really hard to get in a break, work harmoniously with members from so many other teams, and then the group would completely disintegrate when we would hit the first climb of the day.  This is EXACTLY what happened yet again at the Death Valley Double. Why does this happen?  Why are people so focused on their own individual effort to save a minute here and there?

I can’t wait until the day that I have three or four strong riders from REV Cycling in the break controlling the pace of the break and take charge of pace setting up the climbs.  Keeping at least HALF of the at 12 man breakaway together on the climb would have resulted in a much lower time for all of us.  REV Cycling proved that teamwork works even at double centuries.  With just two of us we worked through the field picking up stragglers and inviting them to roll with us.  As the race ensued the lead group came together and split up multiple times throughout the day.   We may not like Lance Armstrong now but you know deep inside you loved when the US Postal team would usher him up a climb with all eight teammates on the front of the field setting tempo. It was a show of force, unity and teamwork.   I wish to bring that to the double century circuit with REV Cycling.   End rant.

1.  I have the power band (yellow horizontal lines) for TEMPO pace which is from 209 watts to 249 watts or 3 w/kg to 3.7 w/kg.  Note I held the power well within the TEMPO range.  I am following my race plan and I feel great on the first climb.

2.  Power line huge spike as we pulled out of Ashford Mills SAG stop.  One of the riders that dropped me at the beginning of this climb at mile 46 I caught later at mile 150.  The other rider was Collin Johnson was tied for first by the end of the day.

4.  Cadence average was 80 RPM

5.  Heart Rate 155 to 160 Bpm is top end of Tempo range (161 Bpm is threshold)

6.  Pwr:HR ratio- was  -2.32 %

7.  Normalized Power was 232 watts or 3.4 w/kg up from 189 watts or 2.8 w/kg of the paceline segment of Badwater to Ashford Mills.

8.  Elevation Gain- 1415 feet


Salisburry Climb

After a short one mile descent I began a 8.5 mile climb to the summit of Salisburry Pass at 3315.  The one mile descent isn’t enough to fully recover but it does give your legs a little break.  I settled-in again for a long climb.  I was feeling great but keeping myself at bay.

1.  I have the power band (yellow horizontal lines) for TEMPO pace which is from 209 watts to 249 watts or 3 w/kg to 3.7 w/kg.  Note I held the power well within the TEMPO range.  Still following my race plan and I feel great on the second climb.

2.  Cadence average was 76 RPM I run a 53/38 as the grade steepens it becomes difficult to keep a high cadence and still keep the power where required. 

5.  Heart Rate 155 to 160 Bpm is top end of Tempo range (161 Bpm is threshold)

6.  Pwr:HR ratio- was – -3.13 % (within 5% range is good)

7.  Normalized Power was 221 watts or 3.25 w/kg down from the Jubilee Climb of 232 watts or 3.4 w/kg.

8.  Elevation Gain- 2196 feet


On the descent from Salisburry Pass to Shoshone I noticed Adam Bickett on the side of the road.  He was gathering his things from his flat tire.  I helped him get organized and then we rolled off.  He confided in me that he was a little fatigued from his overnight ride up and over Towne Pass and back to start with the Double Century riders at 610am (100 miles).  I decided to work with him through the little uphill section before the second descent towards Shoshone.  We rolled into Shoshone together.  I drank half a Pepsi, had a V8 and refilled two bottles while Adam did the same and topped off his flat with a floor pump.  (Every SAG stop should have a floor pump.)

Shoshone SAG Stop 1:55


Salisburry Climb #2

As Adam and I were approaching the left turn to reenter the Death Valley National Park I saw my REV Cycling teammate, Lori Hoechlin making her way to Shoshone with a male rider.  I was impressed that she had closed the huge gap between us and was only 2 miles behind me.  She was the first female on the course which made me smile ear to ear.  I told Adam that we should slow our pace a bit, recover and wait for Lori because she is great little climber.  Our pace slowed and we chatted most of the of the climb.  About 2 miles from the summit Adam had recovered and just took off.  I was more than ok with his surge because I know he is a stronger rider than me and I wouldn’t want to hold him back.


When I reached the summit of Salisburry Pass I pulled over and waited for Lori. I expected her to arrive within about 5 minutes.  I knew that as a team what was more important was to work together for the next 120 miles.  Lori arrived in fewer than 5 minutes  4:22 actually.  I congratulated her on her solo climb and we headed down the next two descents (Salisburry to Jubilee and Jubilee to Ashford Mills).  Lori is really lean and climbs well but that same attribute hinders her on descents.  On many of our training rides this winter I would be coasting and she would need to pedal to stay on my wheel on descents.

The descent from Salisburry Pass back into Death Valley is an opportunity to catch up on your calories.  In my opinion, keep your heart rate down and just cruise down the mountain and get at least one bottle back in you. Replacing the calories is very important because even though you have done the majority of the climbing for the event, it has been in a concentrated section (6,000 feet in 60 miles) and you still have another 120 miles left to ride in the event on the valley floor many times with heavy winds in the afternoon.


Ashford Mills SAG Stop #2 mile 103 2:01

I filled up two bottles with 400 calories each.  Lori and I traded pulls until we arrived in Badwater.  All the endurance paced miles during the winter training build-up were paying off.  I usually fade in this section but I felt fine- just the usual fatigue of having ridden century plus miles in less than 6 hours. 


Badwater SAG stop 1:07

When Lori and I pulled into Badwater,  Adam said he had only arrived 2 minutes before us.  He went on to admit that maybe he should have waited with me at the summit of Salisburry and worked with the Lori and I.  Remember when he surged ahead the last 2 miles of the Salisburry pass at mile 87?  Well here we were at mile 130ish together again.  Lori and I riding were riding conservatively but steady and yet we still caught him.

We teamed-up to ride from Badwater to Stovepipe Wells.  I couldn’t help but think that all three of us should have been clad in REV Cycling kits.  I asked Adam to join REV Cycling back in December when I first formed the team.  He declined but it was nice to be sharing pulls with a him on this day nonetheless.

I make it a habit of not stopping at Furnace Creek mile 150ish because I have just made a stop 17 miles ago.  Many riders stop and then get sucked into the vortex and call it a day at 150ish.   As Lori, Adam and I rolled through Furnace Creek we picked another rider, Chad.  He was doing his first double century and was feeling the effects of his hard efforts earlier in the day.  He confided in me that he had to eat solid foods at Badwater and Furnace Creek to start recovering.  I hadn’t eaten anything at all during the event and finished without eating any solid foods.  I never felt hungry I just kept the calories coming in on a continuous basis.


Now we were four strong riders heading towards Stovepipe Wells-  Chad, Lori, Adam and myself.    It was 8 hours and 11 minutes elapsed time when we rolled by Furnace Creek.  The first thoughts going sub 11 hours began to brew in my head.  All we had to do is 50 miles in less than three hours…just a little over 16 mph average.  But it’s not as easy as it sounds since we are 150 miles into the event already with a blistering time.  How long can we keep this up?

The four of us traded pulls and seemed to be working well as a unit until about 10 miles from Stovepipe Wells.  There is a roller about mile long.  Adam and Chad rolled away from Lori and I.  I was comfortable with the pace Lori and I were maintaining and so I didn’t want to push any harder.

Stovepipe Wells SAG stop 4:18


We arrived at Stovepipe Wells while Adam and Chad were still getting organized and refueled.  When they were ready to roll they ask us if we wanted to leave but I declined.  I wanted to take an extra minute to prepare for the final 25 miles.  Stovepipe Wells was our longest SAG stop of the day.  I filled both bottles with ice and a weaker dose of Perpetuem since we were heading back to the finish and I wanted a lighter taste.  By this point I was done drinking Perpetuem.  I really dislike the flavor and the bloating it causes me to bear.

To cleanse my palate I drank half a Coke and start feeling normal again. I also asked my friend Steve Barnes to put ice down my back. I wasn’t hot but I just wanted to “snap out of it”. He remembered the trick from the year he crewed for me at my 2010 5th consecutive solo Furnace Creek 508.

2010 Furnace Creek 508 5th solo. Outside of Baker day 2

Stovepipe Wells to Furnace Creek

I was feeling fatigued and Lori seemed to be feeling strong.  So as we traded pulls I let her take longer pulls until I could recover.  I was impressed by her endurance in her first double.  I was content with our position in the overall standings and also that Lori was the first female on the course.  She was not in jeopardy of loosing that position since we were on the final leg of the double and there were no females in sight.  When I told her that our race plan had gone just perfect she looked at her watch and threw me another challenge.

My original race plan for us was sub 12 hours.  I know how easily the winds and heat can come through the valley and make it really tough on us.  But Mother Nature was kind to us today and we were on record pace – my personal record.  My fastest time on the southern route was 11:07.  Lori then said to me “we can make sub- 11 hours” I then began counting down the miles and recalculating.  When we crested one of the last long rollers and made the right turn towards Furnace Creek I saw the very familiar sign from all my previous Furnace Creek 508’s “Furnace Creek 17”  We had an hour to ride 17 miles.  Usually that’s not a problem but with 180 miles on your legs it can be a task.

Below is the graph of the last 17 miles. Lori and I covered this segment in 46 minutes with and average speed of almost 22 mph!  Great teamwork Lori!  REV Endurance Cycling provides an example that teamwork is essential in long distance events. Come join America’s only ultra cyclist development team. Send an email to revcycling@gmail.com

Normalized power for the final 25 miles was down to 150 watts!  I was fading through most of the final stage but finished strong in the end. Mentally I had also shut down knowing I was not going to gain or loose any positions in the last 25 miles.

Summary of all stops

Ashford Mills SAG stop (1:49)- I refilled one bottle with 400 calories, went to the bathroom and remounted in fewer than 2 minutes.

Shoshone SAG Stop 1:55

Ashford Mills SAG Stop #2 mile 103 2:01

Badwater SAG stop 1:07

Stovepipe Wells SAG stop 4:18

Summary of times at checkpoints












I wish to thank Chris Kostman of AdventureCORPS for putting on another fantastic event with great support.  Thank you to all the great volunteers who gave of their time so that I could ride my bike.  

Please look at other events held by AdventureCORPS.  The Mount Laguna Bicycle Classic is one of my favorite climbing events.  I have done it every year since it’s inception and will be there again this year.  REV Cycling will have a series of pre-rides out in the area to get our team members familiar with the course.  Come join the training rides and register for a great event with no traffic to speak of and lots of climbing and scenery to take in!

Also remember that REV Cycling official charity is the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  REV Cycling founder, George Vargas, lost his mother to advanced and aggressive breast cancer.  He is driving his team through a month long charity raising campaign — March Madness.  His donation page can be found here.  REV Cycling will be making a custom run of REV Cycling T-Shirts co-branded with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  A portion of each purchase will be donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  

Below are the Hoodies, T-shirts and track jackets available for sale through REV Cycling with donations for Breast Cancer Research Foundation.  Please send an email to revcycling@gmail.com to place orders.

Death Valley CORPScamp – It’s a Wrap!

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Hello everyone I have spent a fantastic week cycling at the 2013 Death Valley CORPScamp. I wish to thank REV Cycling sponsors Spy Optics for their super cool sunglasses, Serfas for tires, tubes, bar tape and so many things on my bike, Swiftwick for the great wool riding socks (yes wool in 75F temperatures) and great compression recovery socks.

Now I wish to highlight the top 10 reasons why you NEED to put this cycling camp on your itinerary for 2014.

  1. traffic-free roads,
  2. ease of navigation,
  3. incredible views,
  4. geological curiosities,
  5. awesome support, awesome customer service
  6. Laurie Kostman’s yoga classes every day,
  7. wide range of riders who attend: all ages, all levels, from across North America and beyond.
  8. The road surface through most of the valley have been repaved.  In many sections they are as smooth as a baby’s bottom.  Flatting is a rare occurance- the National Park has very clean roads- glass, metal debris are almost non-existent.
  9. Take on some of the longest continuous climbs – 20+ miles IF you care to do them- shorter ride options available every day.
  10. Escape your local winter weather to moderate temperatures and blue skies

Here are just a few pictures of the camp. Click here to see more.  A week long of moderate temps and blue skies every day!

But don’t fret if you missed this camp.  You still have another chance to experience AdventureCORPS phenomenal customer service and a first-rate cycling camp experience.  CORPScamp’s new sister camp, Velo & Vino is coming up April 15-19.  It is held in the beautiful mountains east of San Diego with a homebase out of Julian.  

Ok now the data geek in you can geek out over the next section of this blog post :-p

First the summaries

Day 1

The first ride of the camp is held on Monday afternoon.  Check-in is between 1130 and 1230 and the ride is scheduled for 115pm after the Dynamic Warm-up held at 1pm.  It is the perfect ride of 25  miles to ensure your bike is in good running order and to spin out your legs from traveling into Death Valley.  Artist Drive is quite steep so bring your climbing gears.  Compact cranksets or triple cranksets and large range cassettes will make this climb more fun.  There are pitches of 12% so be prepared.  The hard work is worth it as you arrive at Artist Palate.  Also a common misconception is that Death Valley is flat.  It is far from flat with continuous rolling terrain to and from Artist Drive. Ride stats- 25 miles 2,600 feet of gain.

Day 2

On day 2 you have several options for your ride because it is a true out and back course.  From Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells would be 50 miles round trip, you can continue to climb up Towne Pass to Wildrose Road and turn around or the big ride of the day takes you to Emigrant Pass. I would recommend taking on the climb to Emigrant Pass at least the first couple of miles so you can experience a climb many people don’t know about.  Additionally, this climb is not on any of the AdventureCORPS events.  Emigrant Pass is 5318 feet above sea level  Remember when calculating feet gained on the climbs you must also factor in that you begin your climb from  below sea level.  Ride stats 95 miles 7,200 feet of gain.

Day 3

I opted for the climb up to Dante’s View.  It is very difficult climb off the main road, Hwy 190, but the view from above Death Valley is spectacular.  Bring your climbing gears because this is one steep bugger about five miles from the summit this climb averages over 8%.  The last mile is over 10% and the last 1/4 mile is over 15% grade.  Not a big deal usually right?  Well it comes after you have been climbing for 25 miles!  Ride stats 50 miles 6,000 feet of gain. 

Day 4

I opted for the additional six miles past the designated route turnaround point of Hell’s Gate.  A long 12.8 mile climb with over 4,000 feet of gain to Daylight Pass via Mud Canyon. Ride stats 58 miles 5,200 feet of gain.

The routes I opted for are not on the designated routes.  I am an experienced ultra cyclist who has ridden many times in Death Valley in addition to many unsupported events.  If you choose to go off of the designated routes take a buddy and tell everyone where you are going.

I wish to thank REV Cycling sponsors Spy Optics for their super cool sunglasses, Serfas for tires, tubes, bar tape and so many things on my bike, Swiftwick for the great wool riding socks (yes wool in 75F temperatures) and great recovery socks.

Death Valley is one of the most scenic places to ride your bike.  Please consider AdeventureCORPS CORPScamps as a true cycling vacation option- and please tell them you heard it from me!

AdventureCORPS Fall Death Valley Ultra Century Ride Report

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You can find my ride file at Garmin Connect here

I would like to begin by thanking AdventureCORPS for putting on a well organized and safe event.  The AdventureCORPS volunteers are amazing and I wish to thank them for working so hard and sacrificing their riding so that I may ride my bike. Global Star for the SPOT transmitter and the excellent support I have been receiving from Brad.  Swiftwick socks for the best socks to don over your feet as you ride hundreds and hundreds of miles in them.  SRM for the 7900 wireless ANT + crankset power meter, an invaluable tool for proper pacing during Ultra racing. Last but not least Infinit Nutrition for fueling me.  I should note that on this fully supported event I used Hammer Nutrition, after my initial two bottles.

I arrived in Death Valley approximately 730pm Friday night.  My goal was to be in DV much sooner but there was an accident on Hwy 15 where I literally moved only four miles in one hour!!  I volunteered for about an hour at rider check-in.  I enjoy being at registration because I meet many riders that I may never see on the course.  In particular, the riders doing their first century.  I can’t imagine a better place to ride your first century.

Additionally, I meet riders who have been reading my blog and I’m able to have a normal and calm conversation with them instead of yelling “WHAT?” , “HUH?” ,  “Oh yeah!”  while on the bike.  One such rider that I met on Friday was Deke who has been reading my blog from his home in Iowa.  We spoke for a while about challenging cycling events such as Trans Iowa (race report) and life in general. He and his partner own and operate a logistics company.  He is also a family man.  We talked about the balancing acting of all those moving parts.  Deke, thank you for reading my blog.  I hope I continue to provide inspiration for you just as much as I have received from you.

From the outset I would like to make a clarification that this is a ride report not a race report.  I didn’t race this event.  I rode conservatively with a few hard surges but didn’t attempt to contend with the riders who showed up.  I completed the AdventureCORPS Fall Death Valley Ultra Century (144 miles) with one extra climb and a few extra miles for good measure.  My ride was 157 miles.  The only section I cut out of the Double Century route was the flat section from the Nevada state line to Hwy 95 turn-around.
Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells

As I mentioned before this is a ride report because I knew I was not in the type of shape requisite for a top placing.  Instead what I did was ride smart, enjoy the company of other riders, take pictures, and take in the majestic scenery of Death Valley.  I think Clint Eastwood said it best “A man’s got to know his limitations.”


Just before the start I met Rich (please forgive me if I don’t get the names right throughout this post) who said he had been reading my blog and found it inspirational. He said he had read my latest post about all the things that happened to me in the 2012 training season. Rich said he could appreciate the struggles I faced at the end of my season. He was glad to see me out riding the event.  There is no way he could have known this but just that short conversation lifted my spirits immeasurably!

Rich and George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas at the start of AdventureCORPS Death Valley Ultra Century.

I then took a quick look around to see who was lined up in the first wave of 50 riders.  I spotted a tandem. The tandem was being ridden by Craig Robertson and Lori Cherry.  Craig and Lori are Furnace Creek 508 veterans.  I knew this was the wheel I needed to be planted behind.

The tandem led the first wave of 50 riders for the entirety of the first leg from Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells.  We moved along at a very good pace.  I took full advantage of the draft being directly on their wheel the full 25 miles.  We reached Stovepipe Wells with about 10 or 15 riders in tow.  I rode very conservatively to Stovepipe Wells.  In fact, I mentioned to my friend Daniel Eitman, that my average power was 142 watts (1.93 w/kg).  Daniel and I patiently waited for the tandem to refill their bottles, and then we rolled out of Stovepipe Wells together, Daniel, the tandem and I.  I felt great and hadn’t felt under pressure at all.  So far I was having a very easy day.

While Daniel and I were waiting for the tandem to refuel at Stovepipe Wells, several solo riders came in and out of the checkpoint hastily refueling and remounting on their bikes.  I sat there and watched them and thought to myself that’s usually me coming in “hot”, refilling bottles, and back on the bike in fewer than two minutes. But today I just sat there calmly watching them. When they went up the road and disappeared out of sight I felt a huge relief.

My goals for the first 25 miles:

Power- (yellow) maintain below 220 watts– the two yellow lines show a range from 142 watts (actual) and 220 watts (ceiling).

Intensity Factor- Notice the third item down in the summary section looks like this “TSS:42.1 (0.601)”  the 0.601 translates to 60% of my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) which is 250 watts (275- 285 watts when in shape).  FTP is the amount of power which a rider can hold for an hour.  In layman’s terms all of this just means I was riding at 60% effort.

Heart Rate- (red) below 165 Bpm –  Actual 162 Bpm– I don’t usually pay attention to Heart Rate but I know that many of you are more familiar with Heart Rate than Power as a pacing measurement.

Cadence- (green)  Average of 90 Rpm – Actual 89 Rpm

Speed– Is not relevant.  When riding with the lead group your speed is whatever it takes to stay within the break-away. There is no need to go any faster.   At the 2011 Spring Death Valley Double Century I was fortune enough to execute a 150 mile solo break-away– a rare occurrence.

Stovepipe Wells “Downtown”

Stovepipe Wells to Scotty’s Castle

The next section is a long gradual climb of 50 miles taking you from sea level to 4300 feet at the Nevada state line. It was in this section that I saw an old friend and Furnace Creek 508 veteran, Michael “Red Racers” Sturgill.  I hadn’t seen Michael in a few years because I haven’t been doing the brevet events lately.  Brevets are unsupported long distance events.  The last time I remember riding with him was while doing a 600km (385 mile) event (ride report here).  He was so consistent. He was strong all day and even at night while I had my sleep issues.  It was nice to see Michael and to be able to chat with him.

I stayed on the tandem’s wheel all the way to Scotty’s Castle. They made a stop at Mile 53, a stop I don’t usually make when riding hard.  Once again, I had to keep my competitive nature under control.  I didn’t need anything so I just hung out and talked to the volunteers.

Volunteers “at the side of the road”

My goals for the 43 miles (Stovepipe Wells to Scotty’s Castle):

Power- (yellow) below 220 watts– the lines 142 watts and 220 watts -156 watts actual (2.12 w/kg) vs 142 watts (1.93 w/kg) for the first 25 miles.

Intensity Factor— 64% of FTP

Heart Rate- (red) below 165 Bpm –  Actual 161 Bpm

Cadence- (green)  Average of 85 Rpm – Actual 83 Rpm

Scotty’s  Castle

Scotty’s Castle to Nevada state line

My plan to ride conservatively and still make good time was working out just fine with the help of the tandem.  As we exited Scotty’s Castle we began the last five miles to the Nevada state line. The road was closed to vehicular traffic but open to us.  The pavement was in decent shape with lots of sand and gravel and only a  few sections where the edges had given way. While going uphill it wasn’t much of a problem. You just had to pick a line and navigate through the sand and gravel.  The tandem was doing a great job picking good lines and maintaining a steady pace up the climb.  A few times I felt I was under pressure.  I felt the fatigue on my legs of not being in proper form for an event of this length.  The 50 miles of climbing with the gentle 2% grades were now pitching over 6% and starting to take their toll on me.  I stayed with the tandem until the Nevada state line and then let off the power.

You have to look really hard but I am tucked in right behind that tandem!

Once I reached the top of the climb I didn’t feel so great.  Funny how when under power you don’t feel so bad but then you back off of it and bam! it all hits you.  I pulled over and sat underneath a chaparral bush (I think) and drank my two bottles of Perpetuem. I sat there for 25 minutes. I watched a few pacelines pass by.  But mainly I was alone with my thoughts.  Since the road was closed to cars the only interruption from this makeshift sanctuary was the occasional cyclist.   I sat there wondering how I had let myself fall so far down from my early season form.  I also pondered how I let myself gain 12 pounds on my 150 pound body. While 12 lbs may not seem much to some of you those 12 lbs almost represent 10% of my total body weight!!

It was then decision time– do I go on or do I just go back down to Scotty’s Castle and recover even more before tackling the remainder of the course.  The “flat” section from there to Hwy 95 and back didn’t appeal to me on that day.  My decision became clearer to me the longer I sat there.  Sitting in my little nook I took in the view and considered myself damn lucky to be in such a beautiful place.  I took a panoramic picture but it does nothing to capture to the beauty I beheld.

When I felt rested and refueled I got back on my bike and descended to Scotty’s Castle.  On the descent I paid a little more attention and safely made it in to the checkpoint.  Normally this five mile section is a fun descent because it has lots of twists and a good grade to keep your speed up in the corners.  But today it was not important to “bomb” the descent.  Lots of riders were giving me the thumbs up and looking surprised that I was heading back.  I interpreted their looks of astonishment as “Wow he’s already on the return!”  I felt horrible deceiving them.  I feel that people have come to expect that kind of performance from me but…I’m human and I too have my bad days.

Power Chart from Scotty’s Castle to MY turnaround point

Detail of the Nevada Climb

My goals for Nevada state line climb:

Power- (yellow) below 220 watts– the lines 142 watts and 220 watts –172 watts (2.34 w/kg) for climb vs 156 watts (2.12 w/kg) to get here and the 142 watts (1.93 w/kg) for the first 25 miles.

Intensity Factor- 61%

Heart Rate- (red) whatever required to stay with tandem –  Actual 174 Bpm

Cadence- (green)  Average of 85 Rpm – Actual 75 Rpm

Scotty’s Castle to Ubehebe Crater

At Scotty’s Castle I had a Subway sandwich and a Dr. Pepper.  My friend Rosalie was one of the volunteers at Scotty’s.  I enjoyed an unhurried visit with her.  We talked about her season.  She informed me of her two crashes which resulted in two serious injuries, a broken elbow and a shoulder dislocation, respectively.  In talking with her I realized that even though my season was not so great and I had some injuries they weren’t broken bones.  Rosalie, I hope you heal quickly and get back on the bike!

The next climb on the ultra century course was up to the Ubehebe Crater.  Working the checkpoint was Patrick Seely. He was part of the tandem team Lionfish at the 2012 Furnace Creek 508.   I hung out and visited with Patrick and spoke to him about my 2012 508, and 2007 RAAM experience.  I learned from him that he was going solo RAAM in 2013.  Let’s wish Patrick Seely luck on his RAAM experience!!

Patrick “Lionfish” Seely and George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas

Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across. We often hear mistakenly that “Ubehebe” means “big basket”, but the Paiute name Ubehebe was first applied to the 5,678 ft. Ubehebe Peak, 24 miles southwest of the crater. How the name Ubehebe became associated with the crater is not known. To the Timbisha Shoshone Indians, the crater has been known as “Tem-pin-tta- Wo’sah”, meaning Coyote’s Basket. Although applying this translation to the word Ubehebe has produced a great deal of confusion, but comparing the crater to a basket is appropriate.


Ubehebe Crater Climb

I left the crater, feeling great and began the long gradual descent to Mud Canyon.  Along the way, I ran into Bill Walton.  Bill and I have seen and spoken to each other at several AdventureCORPS events and he even stopped at my shop one day.  I rode with him for a little bit while asking him how he dealt with setbacks during his NBA career. His words were very uplifting.  We agreed to meet when we were both back in San Diego to discuss this topic further.  But during this short exchange he put the day in perspective.  It was a beautiful day in a beautiful place and we were riding our bikes and what could be better than that? He was so right what could be better than this? Thank you Bill you did wonders for my spirit on Saturday.

                  Bill Walton and George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas

Some time passed and I enjoyed the solitude of riding in Death Valley.  It is my escape from people, customers, family, freeway traffic and all the little annoyances that add up together to make for a stressful day.  While I was alone I took even more time to reflect on my season. I thought about how everything was going to be different in 2013.  How I was going to find time to train and come back with guns blazing!! For many miles I didn’t see any riders in front or behind me.  It was great.  Eventually a paceline of five riders caught me.   I joined in the rotation with the five riders and we rode together to the Mud Canyon checkpoint.

My favorite part of this course is the last climb of the day, Mud Canyon.  When I do the Double Century it’s at mile 168 and it really hurts.  What I like about it is if you have been riding foolishly during the day you will pay for those sins on the 6.5 mile climb.  It offers one last challenge to the front runners to see who can maintain their position in the event.  On Saturday it was only mile 130 for me but for the riders I joined up with it was mile 168 and it showed on them.

Shortly after beginning the 6.5 mile climb the group of five splintered. I knew I was not in great shape to stay with them and I felt fine letting them go. I climbed on my own until I caught Reeve Ramos.  He was the second rider to get dropped from the group.  I saw how bad he was suffering and offered him my wheel  Staying with him, motivating him, talking to him and maintaining steady cadence and power for him was helpful to me too.  That worked for about 2 miles and then I started to hurt.  By that time Ramos had recovered and even though I had turned around many times to ensure he was still on my wheel he just pulled away from me and literally never looked back.  I felt it was a bit unsportsmanlike of him to drop me after I had paced him up during his rough patch.   But I guess that’s just his style.

After Ramos dropped me I really started to fall apart. My legs were so fatigued I couldn’t keep the same pace I had found comfortable earlier in the climb.  I pulled over at mile marker 4.  You should know I have never stopped on this climb.  I stopped until my heart rate came all the way down below 110 Bpm.  I resumed the climb but had to stop again at mile marker 5.  I was just not having a good day.  When I reached the summit of the climb I visited with Giant Water Bug and his lovely wife.  I find it amazing how often I see them volunteering at AdventureCORPS events in Death Valley. Thank you Giant Water Bug for allowing me to ride my bike.

The descent off of Hell’s Gate was much more fun than the climb up.  It was also uneventful.  Once back on the valley floor it was just 11 miles to the finish.  I couldn’t be happier with the ideal weather conditions for this year’s Ultra Century.  I had flashbacks of riding the same 11 mile section during the Hell’s Gate Hundred.  2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred was a windstorm but today the weather was perfect. According to my Garmin, the high was 84°F.  There might have been a light wind earlier in the day but nothing to write home about.  It was just a perfect day in Death Valley.

At the finish I met a few more people who had been reading my blog.  I had the good fortune to meet Stacy. She hadn’t done a century in 15 years and had just recently stumbled upon my blog. She said that I inspired her, because even with the tough season I had had I still went out and attempted the Furnace Creek 508.  She confided in me that if I had the guts to go out and do the 508 then she could do this century. I’m paraphrasing but I believe the sentiment is accurate.  She was surprised to see me at the event and seemed to be pleased that I “got back on the horse”.  Below is a picture of Stacy and me.

I’m sorry I wish I would have taken notes but above is another rider I spent some time chatting with at the finish.

Below is a picture of Rob who was in the five man paceline that gobbled me up about 10 miles from the Mud Canyon Climb.  Rob has been reading my blog and said he always wanted to hook up and ride.  Well Rob you got your wish 😉

Rob Schofield and George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas

After the event

After sitting around the finish line for a couple of hours.  I volunteered to ride with Chris Kostman, the race director.  We were driving sweep to get a head count of how many riders were still on the course.  We turned up Mud Canyon and immediately I saw a couple of riders struggling up the climb.  As we got closer it was actually ONE rider suffering, Fernando, and the other rider was pacing him up.  Fernando was moving slowly but still moving forward.  We continued driving up the canyon and saw a few more riders.  We counted two more riders who were walking.  We also spoke to another rider who was rumored to have passed-out on the climb but seemed to be in good spirits now while seated in one of the SAG vehicles.

Satisfied that we had a good headcount and that everyone seemed safe to continued up the climb we zoomed up to the top to check on Giant Water Bug and his wife.  We kept them company while we evaluated every rider that came through to ensure they could safely navigate the chilling descent.  One such rider to be evaluated was Bryan Flamig.  He had had a couple of injuries leading up to this event and had not really been training.  When he reached the top he was shaky and uncertain whether he should continue.  I believe he made the right decision to end his ride in the warmth and safety of a SAG vehicle.  We spoke a few minutes and he mentioned he read my blog from time to time.  I had been collecting pictures all day and asked Bryan to take a picture with me.  The picture below is from his blog.


Oh My God look at the gut on me!  I need to go on a diet STAT!! Bryan Flamig and I at the top of Hell’s Gate.

I was inspired by the determination of each of these riders.  We sometimes forget about the riders that are still “out there” 16-18 hours on a double century.  Being on the bike that long is REALLY painful and can be disheartening.  I have been there before.  I can tell you first-hand that when you spend that much time in the saddle and are exposed to the elements for that long it truly tests not only your physical strength but your mental fortitude.  Back in 2003, my first year of Double Centuries, I did the Tour of Two Forests (ToTF) Double Century and suffered significantly.  My finishing time was 17:59! ToTF had a 19 hour time limit because it was a 218 mile Double Century.    I wasn’t always a podium finisher you know 😉

The next morning I drove up to Dantes View and took a few panoramic pictures of Death Valley below from 5700 foot elevation.  In a word- SPECTACULAR!

What’s next for the Red Eyed Vireo?  Winter base training, dieting and getting back in shape!!  Stay tuned for training updates and 2013 Race Schedule.  I hear there might be some new events available to test your endurance.  I’ll let you know what they are as soon as the dates are published.


Heading out to Morgan Hill, Specialized HQ

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I’m on my way to Specialized Headquarters in Morgan Hill, California.  I will be attending a three-day Body Geometry bike fitting class.  I’m very excited to learn new methods from Specialized and hopefully they will have the Retul machine too.

I will have my SPOT transmitter with me.  I was told to pack riding gear so that means discovering new roads — come follow me!


AdventureCORPS Fall Death Valley Ultra Century Plus

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Just a quick post.  I completed the AdventureCORPS Fall Death Valley Ultra Century (144 miles) with a few extra miles for good measure.  My ride was 157 miles.  The only section I cut out was the flat section from the Nevada state line to Hwy 95 turn around.  I rode all the climbs which was important to me.

I had a different type of ride.  I’ll explain more on my race report.  I took two hours off the bike and enjoyed the scenery.  I talked to riders and took pictures.  At the finish line I hung out for hours talking to riders and volunteers.  I was surprised to hear from so many riders that they had been reading my blog.  I have renewed motivation to post more often to my blog since someone out there is actually reading it 😉  Please post a comment, suggestion or question- this blog is interactive and I will respond and if necessary write a post on a requested topic.

You can find my ride file at Garmin Connect here


Fall Death Valley Double Century Eve

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Hello everyone, I’m back in Death Valley.  I’m here to do the AdventureCORPS Fall Death Valley Double Century.  I like doing the Double Centuries because I am able  to see this marvelous place.  During the Furnace Creek 508 it’s usually night time as I ride through the valley.  It’s been suggested to me that since the tail-end of my season has been a bust that maybe I should take it a little easier and enjoy the sights.  I might just do that.

I will be using my SPOT Transmitter again.  I found out after the 2012 Furnace Creek 508 that my readers were not able to properly track me during the event.  I have been in touch with SPOT and they assure me that tomorrow you will be able to track me just fine.  So we will try it again.  Track me by clicking here

I’ll check in when I’m finished.


2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred Race Report

2012 Cannondale Super Six EVO with Di2, Dura-Ace SRM and Zipp 808’s

Official Results for the 2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred here

George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas places first at 2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred

an excerpt from the Chief Adventure Officer’s report

But Mother Nature can be cruel, and as we have said a million times, “any kind of weather is possible any time of the year in Death Valley.” Still, the riders in the Hell’s Gate Hundred handled the situation with aplomb and good cheer. Most turned around ahead of schedule, because as the wind was picking up speed to 30, 40, 50 mph or more, it was coming from the south, making for a nearly impossible human-powered return to Furnace Creek. Also, many riders, once they got off the course, hopped in their cars and mini-vans to go out and scoop up riders who needed a lift. We thank all the Good Samaritans who helped out!

One hundred and twenty-nine riders participated in the event, with just eight riders completing the full 100 miles, while at least ten riders completed the 65-mile “Metric Century” route”

Hell’s Gate Hundred Grade Analysis

Ride With GPS terrain map and playback here

Speed analysis

source: National Weather Service

First of all I wish to thank you for taking the time to visit my blog. I also wish to thank Cannondale Bicycles, SRM and my anonymous sponsor who makes it possible for me to race my bike— one of the true and pure pleasures in my life. I wish to thank AdventureCORPS for putting on a fantastic event on rarely traveled roads. And of course, no thank yous would be complete without thanking the tireless and unfortunately usually unappreciated efforts of the volunteers. Thank you for putting up with the weather and allowing me to ride.

I will attempt to describe for you my experience of the 2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred, a 100 mile 8,600 feet of climbing, event. I say “attempt” because the words sometimes escape me as I try to convey to those that weren’t there how difficult the state of affairs were this past Saturday in Death Valley.

Many of the things I will say about the arduous conditions of March 31, 2012 need to be taken in perspective. While there were very high winds and a high DNF rate for the Hell’s Gate Hundred, Death Valley is still an amazing place to visit and ride a bike. Death Valley is one of the most beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure to ride in. The scenery never ceases to amaze me no matter how many times I have ridden there. I’ve been racing and riding in Death Valley since 2003. I’ve done Centuries, seven Double Centuries, Six consecutive SOLO Furnace Creek 508‘s and many training rides. Sure I have had a couple windy days here and there but as a whole the weather has been spectacular. Extrapolate that out for the 50 some odd events AdventureCORPS has put on in Death Valley and what it really comes down to is this… windy event day = anomaly! More to the point, the previous four days before the Hell’s Gate Hundred the weather had been moderate and pleasant for the participants of CORPScamp.

We lined up for our pre-race safety brief from Race Director, Chris Kostman, at 6:20 ish for a 6:30 launch. Chris did mention to ride at your own risk and pedal yourself in. I wish more riders would have heeded his words of caution and exercised self-reliance.

I digress, at the start, I saw two familiar faces, Terry Lentz and Jim Whitford. I knew I was in the correct wave for the event. There were three waves but the prudent thing to do was leave on the earliest wave since the winds only pick up later in the afternoon. Terry in my opinion is one of the strongest riders I know and launching out with him in the first wave was essential to getting a good start on the day.

Terry Lentz and I before the start of the 2007 Furnace Creek 508 (Fixed Gear) we both rode our Fixed Gear bikes for 508 miles non-stop and 35,000 feet of climbing 

Furnace Creek start to Artist Drive

From the outset Terry, Jim and I formed a hasty and necessary alliance into the 20 mph headwinds as we headed towards the first real climb of the day, Artist Drive. Almost immediately after making the left turn onto Artist Drive Jim fell off the pace. I too struggled to stay with Terry. But I was determined to finish the Artist Drive loop with him and then let him go on the Daylight Pass climb. Artist Drive is short and steep Daylight Pass climb is a LOONG 16 mile grind… ahem climb. I managed to stay with Terry until the checkpoint. But once we left the checkpoint I was summarily dropped on one of the rollers by Terry and off he went. By the time I made the junction back to Badwater Road/Hwy 178 Terry was long gone… long gone!

Artist Drive Loop


Terry and I working the 10-12% grades on Artist Drive

While sucking Terry’s wheel I had the realization that he represented the purity of cycling. He was riding a steel frame that he fabricated himself. As far as I could tell his chain rings were 52/42 maybe 44 coupled to an 11-21 cassette controlled by downtube shifters. His box section low-profile alloy rims and his single bottle cage and bottle seemed more at home on a Sunday recovery ride and out of place in one of earth’s most inhospitable places – Death Valley. His thin short sleeved wool jersey, unshaven legs and helmet mirror would be scoffed at during the local club ride. But make no mistake his appearance IS deceiving. You will be hard-pressed to find a more talented endurance cyclist anywhere! To wit, no amount of high-tech carbon über light weight machine I had was going to help me keep up with Mr. Lentz.  I admit I love riding a steel bike as well. However, I am also very fortunate to have a Cannondale sponsorship.  Thank you Cannondale!

Artist Drive to Beatty Cut-off

Now back on Badwater Road the once 20 mph headwind felt like a nice gentle push on my back by Mother Nature’s hand. As if to say, “scurry along young man…” I took the helping hand from Mother Nature knowing that later I would have to repay the favor. I sailed along not overly exerting myself because I was headed towards a 16 mile climb at the end of the easy cruise from Artist Drive through Furnace Creek to the Beatty Cut-off. At this time, I was running in second place, with Terry ahead of me and Jim presumably behind me. As I pulled into the aid station at bottom of the long climb to Daylight Pass, I was alone with no one behind me. I was quite surprised to see two riders pull in just as I was leaving the aid station. So where was Jim then?

Beatty Cut-off Volunteer

Daylight Pass Climb

I started the long climb up to Daylight Pass with the intermediary checkpoint at Hell’s Gate. I settled in for the 16 mile climb knowing it should take me at least 1:30 hours (1:45 actual). I guess I was a little too optimistic lol! Shortly after beginning the climb I saw a rider rapidly closing ground on me. I didn’t recognize him as he went past nor did I try to pace off of him. I was in my own little world and I was quite content. Now I was running third. I knew his pace would be too fast for me.

A few minutes later here comes another rider who passes me. Now I’m running fourth. I usually take it hard when people pass me especially on a climb. I fancy myself a climber, which is to say I like to climb not that I’m a good climber. But today was not the day for letting your ego get in the way of accomplishing the mission or as I like to say “getting it done”. I let the second rider pass me without a worry in the world.  I was pacing myself off my power meter.  I knew what I needed to do to complete the 100 miles with plenty left in the tank on the last 25 miles.

Why don’t I have a worry in the world? First and foremost because the two riders that have passed me are unknown to me. I have not seen them on the century and double century circuit. And while I may be taking a risk my experience in this sport and my instinct tells me to let them go. Also I have not been training much and I didn’t expect a good result. I have averaged less than 100 miles a week for the last thee months.

What you need to understand about endurance cycling is that it’s not how fast you climb, or how fast you descend, or how fast you ride on the flats. Rarely has the KOM won the Tour de France. I remember one of my cycling heros, Eddie Merckx, won all the jerseys (overall, mountains and points) in the Tour 1969 and the Giro in 1968. But that was the Cannibal – the likes of which we may never see again. So then what is endurance cycling about if not how fast you can do this or that? It’s how little time you spend off the bike — resting, nature breaks, eating, chatting with others, telling war stories of battles that you haven’t finished yet. Endurance cycling is about pacing, perseverance, patience, being good at climbing, descending, riding flat terrain AND staying the bike. Endurance cycling is about conservation of energy and proper timing in expending your energy. Endurance cycling is about not chasing rabbits who are unknowns and don’t have the racing pedigree in what you consider your niche. Endurance cycling is knowing how to work all adversities in your favor including your arch nemisis Mother Nature. Endurance cycling is about the childhood stories of the tortoise and the hare. Endurance cycling is about a good nutrition plan and most of all, and pay attention and take notes because this IS important …. HAVING A STRONGER MIND THAN BODY.

Now back to the climb…there was an occasional tailwind as the road curved left curved right and again as you  headed in a Northerly direction. Thank you Mother, thank you for your gentle hand… the gentle push.

I reached Hell’s Gate 11 miles later. No sign of Terry, no sign of the 2nd place rider, but just as I’m pulling in the third place rider is leaving. By my calculation I haven’t lost too much ground or time to this rider and I am riding well within my limits. I am conserving for what I know is going to be a very difficult return leg. The forecast called for 40-60mph gusts. I’ve done this before. You take what Mother Nature gives you — smiling like a child given a bowl of ice cream and then at some point you argue with her like an angry teenager told to turn is music down when you battle the headwinds on the return leg.

Hell’s Gate Volunteers

Time to get a little more focused as the grade from Hell’s Gate to Daylight Pass is a little more persistent at preventing you from defying gravity. It’s only about 6% but It’s been a long climb already of 11 miles. A check of my “instruments” numbers are good — legs? good. nutrition? good. overall fatigue? good. Onward and upward …steady as she goes…I see the third placed rider up ahead every now and then as the road snakes it’s way up to the 4300 foot summit. I count off my gap to the him and I feel I’m close enough to not feel “dropped”

Daylight Pass to Rhyolite

I crest Daylight Pass and the third place rider is just leaving again. I’m guessing a couple of minutes is all I’ve lost to him on this 16 mile climb. At Daylight Pass I see my good friend Steve Barnes. It’s great to see him out here volunteering with his son. I descend off of Daylight Pass. I remembered feeling like it was a long way to Rhyolite. But for some reason it didn’t feel that far at all today. I’m expecting to see Terry heading back already. I know I have lost lots of time to him he’s been “off the front” of the race for many miles. I start to wonder if I’ve gambled and taken it too easy up the climb and allowed too much of a gap to the top three riders on the course. I see Terry a couple of miles from my turn to Rhyolite. He looks good. He looks strong. I then see the second place rider about a mile from the Rhyolite turn. Ok that’s one and two now let’s see where the third place rider is. Once again I reach the aid station and the third place rider has just exited. A quick refueling stop and I’m back on the road.

Volunteers at the furthest checkpoint – Rhyolite

I roll out of the stop on a gentle downhill back to the main road and I see one rider coming in. Now on the main road I see solo riders and an occasional pair working together. I count five or six and then I lose interest. The wind is strong but my energy level up to the task..still. It had been two years since the last time I did the climb up to Daylight Pass from Rhyolite. I couldn’t remember if the last combination of turns was a right first then a left or left and then a right to the clearing at the top.

Rhyolite to Daylight Pass

Dan Crain’s spirit was really strong today as I crested Daylight Pass for the second time today, It was there that I saw the Race Director, who was now turning people around and not allowing riders to continue through Daylight Pass and on to Rhyolite. From the top of Daylight Pass it is essentially a 20 mile out and back in and out of Nevada. The reason for his decision? The winds had continued to pick up on the valley floor and it was going to be very difficult for riders to finish the event under their own power. In my opinion, if you were still climbing up to Daylight Pass at this hour you really didn’t need to endure an additional 20 mile loop. I believe some riders were disappointed with having their ride shortened but I am quite certain Chris’s controversial yet sapient advice became more than apparent to them shortly thereafter. Once those riders hit the valley floor it should have been more than obvious that Chris had their safety in mind.

Descending from Daylight Pass down into the valley was, in a word, treacherous. As mentioned before, I was riding Zipp 808’s front and rear. So far during the day the wheels weren’t an issue. But in this canyon-like descent the winds were agley. They didn’t have a pattern from which I could predict which way to lean or where to put my body weight. It’s funny the things that go through your mind when descending a mountain with circling winds. I thought of Ayrton Senna (please watch the video). Senna was a Formula 1 driver for the ages. One of his many talents was his ability to drive in the rain. And there is a quote by one of the commentators “….Senna is a wet weather master!” That echoed in my head over and over again as I envisioned having a commentator assess my windy weather riding prowess. Yes in my mind I had become the “…windy weather master!”

What advice do I have for riding in the wind? Stay loose, stay relaxed be ready and vigilant for anything. Look at the vegetation– which way it is blowing and how far is it leaning over. Keep driving that rear wheel if even mentally YOU need to be in control of your machine. Keep pedalling as the gust comes and hunker down on your bike. Sitting up and not pedaling only creates a higher profile and essentially you are acting as a sail. Keep driving that rear wheel and keep power putting that power to the ground.

Daylight Pass to Beatty Cutoff

There were times when the wind would hit me so ferociously that it would take my current 30 mph speed and literally stop me. Once through the canyon-like section I approached Hell’s Gate. There was no need to stop for refueling. I sped ahead only to be greeted with significant head-on gusts that had me pedaling and yet barely doing double digit speeds. I saw plenty of riders standing alongside the road and passed many others fighting their way to go downhill. It’s sounds incredulous but yes we had to pedal to go downhill. Even with all this effort of pedaling I am barely doing 10 mph.  It’s tough going for everyone today. I’m proud of those riders for pushing themselves and pedaling themselves in to the finish.

Descent from Hell’s Gate – note the sandstorm on the valley floor

I reach the bottom and see the third place rider sitting on an ice chest with his head in his hands. I have enormous respect for his efforts thus far but now it seems he’s bitten off more than he can chew. He doesn’t look like he can be roused up from his languor. It is now that my patience and experience in riding in these conditions that things start to pay off. You know this isn’t my first rodeo 😉 Don’t chase rabbits, don’t over exert, pace properly stay on the bike and stay fueled and a race takes on a whole different dimension on the latter stages just like when the two minute warning is given in a football game.

Beatty Cut-off to Furnace Creek

I roll on. I’m down to the last 11 miles to the finish. I am running in third place again and while there won’t be a podium I like to think that I have a podium finish as long as I stay the course and finish. You see my mantra while riding these events plays over and over in my head….It’s about suffering and getting it done. The thing is many people do these events. But only a few suffer, even fewer LIKE to suffer consequently  even fewer get it done. These two components go together they go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly, Abbott and Costello and Tom and Jerry. You must always know, be aware, and more importantly, embrace the suffering that comes with endurance cycling and then GET IT DONE! Because in my opinion, doing only the suffering is like a dancer not performing because she has blisters on her feet….the show must go on! I say this to most of my friends and newcomers to endurance cycling  and fledgling ultra cyclist — MOST PEOPLE DON’T LIKE TO SUFFER.  They don’t want to do the requisite work i.e. training that it takes to become a good endurance cyclist.

My last 11 miles were purely a mental exercise. It was a test of my mind, will power, against the steadfast resolve of Mother Nature’s adroit ability to change wind direction and speed. She made it interesting, I’ll give her that. Her ability to change the wind speed continuously as adept as an iPod can randomly shuffle your 10,000 song music library from Metallica to Liberace.  I imagined her sitting at the finish line saying “Ok try this one… not bad. Ok try this one, ahh I got you on that one didn’t I? Alright now try this!” She was intent on testing me but I was resolute in finishing. I did the math in my head many times….”the course closes at 5pm…I’ve got four hours….I’ve got three hours….” GETTING IT DONE was tantamount to that “podium” finish.

Numerous volunteers drove up next to me and offered me a ride in. I understood their good nature but I couldn’t understand why they would think with 10 and then 8, then 5 and then 2 miles from the finish I would quit. That’s right … getting a ride in was akin to quitting.  I’m not a quitter.  I am 5 time Furnace Creek 508 finisher — 508 miles non-stop and 35,000 feet of climbing.  I’ve completed RAAM 2 person when my partner DNF’d and I finished the 3,000 mile race on my own.  I appreciate all of you that asked me if I needed to SAG in but today was not the day. I was going to finish this under my own power even if I walked in. It took me an hour and 48 minutes to finish those last 11 miles into 50 mph + gusts!  That’s right that is barely 6 mph average speed for a so-called accomplished ultra cyclist …but I DID finish!  I GOT IT DONE! While 100’s didn’t finish!

Preceding three photos last few miles
Final thoughts
I was lucky enough to ride Friday on the last day of CORPScamp. After my fully supported ride, attending a yoga class I felt nice and relaxed before the Hell’s Gate Hundred. I like this course because it’s well organized, like all AdventureCORPS events, there is very little traffic, no street lights, and there are only five turns all day! No route sheet required!! You get to ride some great roads, with great pavement and different climbs than those offered on either of the spring or fall double and century routes. You get to visit a real life ghost town, Rhyolite as well. A town that rose from nothing in 1905 and then declined just as quickly by 1920.
All smiles at the finish, George “Red Eyed Vireo” Vargas, 8:02 finishing time at the 2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred
Ever wonder why AdventureCORPS events in Death Valley are a little pricier than other events? Here’s one reason the paramedics are driven in from far away and their standby time has to be paid for. You may never need them but if you get injured it is a long way from Death Valley to a proper medical facility. Thank you guys for being there.
I would like to make a comment about the results. Currently, I am posted as first on the official results. I do know that Terry Lentz pulled out and he was running first. So then that would put me in at second place. But there was one rider that was still ahead of me and I don’t know his whereabouts. He passed me on the climb to Daylight Pass and I saw he was still in the event at the Rhyolite turnaround. He might not have checked in at the finish which technically makes him a DNF. But there was quite a lot going on at the finish line and maybe just maybe there is a good reason for him going MIA.

Hell’s Gate Hundred ….Windstorm

101 miles 8,600 feet of climbing.

Just a quick note until my race report is ready to be published.  The forecast called for high winds and the weather man got it right.  When we started the event we had 20mph headwinds.     Eight hours later when I finished, what should have been a 6 hour century,  they were at least 50 mph.  Unofficially, I believe I came in 3rd.  More to come…

Official results for the 2012 Hell’s Gate Hundred should be posted here