Eastern Sierra Survival Report

Here’s my ESD report.

It all started out okay … carpooled with Chris (ygduf), en route to registering the day before (Friday), with hopes of Chris and I starting at 4 am. We figured the best way is to cut through via Yosemite on Tioga Pass (hwy 120), then a straight shot down Hwy 395 into Bishop. With our estimates, with a departure time of 12 noon from Mountain View, we should get there by 7 pm. Well, we found out before leaving, Tioga Pass was closed. No problem … we can try cutting through Sonora Pass. However, that was closed too, but we only found that out after we were on Hwy 120, looking for Sonora Pass. Now we’re f&*#$%).

After talking to Marco, they are going via Hwy 50, to S. Lake Tahoe, then south on Hwy 395 into Bishop. Damn, damn, damn, damn!!! That is going to add a lot of extra time to our commute. So we proceeded north on Hwy 49, through a myriad of little towns, switchbacks, which also meant the average speed was reduced greatly.

By the time we got to S. Lake Tahoe, it was already around 7 pm, and we knew we wouldn’t make it in time. Then, we see a sign saying Hwy 120 Tioga Pass, open … WTF!!!! How could it be open, when we were on the other side, and it was closed! That was a big waste of an extra 2-3 hour detour. We ended up getting to Bishop around 9:30 pm, but then the real adventure starts.

We found out there would be no 4 am start, as Planet Ultra is re-designing the route. For concerns of safety, they decided to take us further south, to avoid the expected storms up north, and more importantly, to avoid us getting snowed upon. Okay, remember this point … avoid getting snowed upon! The new mass start time was 5 am, so that gave us 1 extra hour of sleep time.

The air temp was comfortable … approximately 50 degrees, and some even left their jacket in the hotel. This was to be an out and back, back to the lunch stop, which was at the start. With that in mind, we figure we could leave our lights in the hotel, and if needed, pick them up there. So goretex jacket, rain pants, plastic bags … all go back to the hotel.

It all started out fine, and as expected, with Marco and Ruth out there, they lead a fast pace out the gate. I’m not about to spend everything I have to keep up with them (especially with the thinner air at high altitude), so I stayed near the back. It was a nice first 25 miles. Sadly, I saw Chris get the flat, but he seemed to be okay, so onwards I go. I waited for him at the first rest stop, as I felt that the right thing to do.

We continued on, from Big Pine, and then onto Death Valley Road. I could tell we would be in for a long climb, as I could see the road lead up through the canyon. Chris went on ahead, as I laid back, slowly grinding away on my climb. I happen to see a really dark cloud looming in the distance, but no sense worrying about that now. About 5 miles in, I start to sense rain drops, so I stop, and put on rain slick. At this point, we’re at about 5500 feet and I start to feel a little light headed. Uh oh, bad sign. This could be either lack of sleep, lack of food (only a clif bar), or thinner air due to altitude … but could be a combination of all three. I get down to my lowest gear and try to sustain at least a 50 rpm cadence, but even that was a struggle. The grade itself isn’t that bad … maybe 5-8%, but it is long.

The rain is continuing to drop on my head, and suddenly, the drops sound harder, and low and behold, it’s hail. I’m riding through a hail storm. Okay, time to HTFU, and just concentrate. All along, I am continuing to hydrate myself, so I have liquids going into my system. My head is still light headed at this point and not getting any better. My body is starting to feel the effects of cold, but I need to press on. I start seeing some people pass me, and I end up stopping many times. Each time I stop, I have to look back and see if I’m the last one out there. Then, I see people come down the hill. My first thought is, wow, they are really strong, to come back so quickly. Then, I see more people, and the more I see coming down, the more I think people are making a U-turn, and not making it over the top.

Temperature is dropping the more I climb. Then, the rain, and hail, looks a little different. It is snowing!!!! It is not sticking but I am cold, I am wet, and now it is snowing. I have little motivation at this point, and I notice I am not even at 40 miles yet! If I do decide to make a U-turn, it will have to be after 40 miles, and I am not about to turn back until that point. I pass 40 miles, and I am 50-50 on the fence on whether or not to make a U-turn. I see a couple of riders, that just passed me not long ago, jesture to me “no mas”. At about 7750 feet elevation, I decided to throw in the towel … make a U-turn … I don’t care if I didn’t make it to the end, I’ve had enough.

Head down the hill, and I am freezing, I am shaking, but feel I can still keep control of my bike. I pass one SAG wagon coming uphill, and they are loading bunch of bikes … uh oh … I am not giving in, I am making it back to the start. Then, another SAG wagon comes up, stops next to me, and urges me to SAG it in. I think Terry, the SAG driver, sees I am shivering, and freezing, and coaxes me to SAG it in. It is 36 degrees out here, and if I continue down at 30-40 mph down the hill, it’ll probably dip down to the teens with the wind chill factor. Okay, I SAG it in, and thaw out in the nicely heated SAG Wagon.

Terry, from Planet Ultra, was my lifesaver today … she was really insisting on me getting in, so I let her twist my arm long enough. Ah, nice to be inside, wet jacket off, wet shoes off, and being draped in a towel. There’s one thing about suffrage … no matter how strong or how slow you are, everybody empathizes with you. It’s a tight bond, and cameraderie that is hard to explain, and you just had to be there.

When we got to the bottom, it was nice and sunny, around 60-ish degrees. Talk about microclimates and the elements!

Damn, one more failed double century. I just don’t think it was in the cards for me this year. I think this time, it wasn’t due to lack of electrolytes, but the weather, rain, cold, snow, and altitude made it a bad combination for me. I just did not handle the altitude and thinner air well at all. I’ll have to try again next year … it’s beautiful terrain, and it was a shame we couldn’t do June Lake.

On our way back, we decided to check out June Lake Loop, which is what we could have been doing. It’s kind of ironic, that the reason why they re-routed us was to take us to someplace where the elements wouldn’t be that bad, and to avoid the snow. Funny how things turn out.

So this is what we missed:

Now that is a big rock!

2 thoughts on “Eastern Sierra Survival Report

  1. merider (M.E.-rider)

    You did the right thing, Ron. These rides are for ourselves and if we aren't enjoying them, why do them? Keith Brodsky is one of favorite riders for the very reason that if he isn't riding 100% at his personal best, he just quits a ride and doesn't give a hoot what anyone thinks. THAT takes balls, IMO, and that is the true HTFUing. Listening to your body and making a decision to cool it is far smarter than listening to your ego, pushing ahead and risking injury. Oh, and nice pics! 🙂

  2. Ygduf

    Agreed. I continued a ride past the point of fun and ended up taking 3 months off because of the injury it lead to. Better to ride another day.


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