Thursday, October 3, 2013

Whitney Classic 2013 Ride Report

September 29-30, 2013

The Whitney Classic is a unique and awesome cycling event. It started as a challenge that a handful of Summit Adventure instructors came up with; starting from the lowest point in the continental US (Badwater California -282 feet below sea level) and continuing to the highest point in the continental US  (Mt. Whitney 14,497 feet above sea level). That's 135 miles on the bike, then dismount and continue on the hiking trail 12 miles to the top! "Successfully" completing the Whitney in its early days meant covering that ground in 24 hours or less! Because the ride tackles 3 huge climbs and 2 descents, the 135 miles of cycling includes 15,400 feet of climbing! After that initial epic adventure over 30 years ago (totally self-supported), the Whitney has become Summit Adventure's main annual fund raising event. Today, because of logistics and permit issues with the forest service, the official ride includes only the bike portion. To help increase participation and fund raising about 10 years ago, relay teams were added as a category to take on the challenge!

The Whitney is also very addiciting. Most participants have ridden the event many times. I rode my first Whitney in 1999, and have ridden each event since 2001! This is the story of my 14th Whitney Classic!

What's it going to be this year, team or solo?

Dow Villa Hotel in Lone Pine CA
Last year your humble corespondent organized a group of Arizona riders to ride the Whitney in Audax style (each riding solo, but staying together as a group). 3 of the 5 team members completed the whole ride; Michael Atkins, Carlton van Leuven, and Ryan Snow, (2012 ride report here). With the 1200km Big Wild Ride Randonnee on the calendar in July, and maintaining form through August and September, tackling this years event solo should not be a problem. Plus, by riding solo, I could get last year's DNF 'Monkey' off my back! So solo it is! Now who else could be hoodwinked into this crazy ride:

Carlton van Leuven: He was in, until his daughter announced her pending nuptials. Carlton wisely deferred this years Whitney, but joined for most of the big training rides this summer.

David Edwards: David was away at college in Ohio last year and wanted to join the Audax team, but couldn't make the logistics work. This year he is attending school here in Arizona, and was eager to tackle the Whitney solo!

Joe Tansill: Joe has ridden the Whitney 5 times and after missing last year, wanted to put a team together. He formed Tean Tanz with his sons Daniel and Patrick.

Lessons were learned last year; each rider/team would need their own SAG (support and gear) crew . The best news, Debby was willing to drive SAG. Karen and NatalieTansill would SAG Team Tanz, and Krista Anderson would SAG David.
Heading out onto the course for the shakedown ride
Funny, it doesn't feel like a 190 bpm pace!


We left Tempe Thursday evening and after a quick overnight in San Bernardino, we arrived in Lone Pine at about noon on Friday. Happily, the friendly folks at the Dow Hotel prepared our room early and we checked in shortly after lunch! The Dow is the  place to stay in Lone Pine. Great history, comfortable lobby, and the owners keep it in great shape!

Deb grabbed a nap while the faithful steed was reassembled and it was off for the obligatory shakedown ride.  Basically just head out about 10 miles on CA 190, then U turn back to Lone Pine. Its a great opportunity to loosen the legs after hours in the car, but more importantly to make sure all systems are 'Go' on the bike.

Mt. Whitney and the Alabama Hills
Rolling out of town my computer indicated that my heart rate was at full race pace. Interesting;  just spinning along at warm-up pace should not generate that kind of reading! It dropped back to normal, but spiked several times during the ride. Probably a bad battery in the sensor strap. Keeping your pace under control is critical on the Whitney, so this was just the sort of problem you want to find on shakedown, not during the event. A quick stop into the hardware store to replace the battery after the ride solved the problem!

Debby and Karen 
Returning to Lone Pine, the Summit Crew was just opening up the registration table. After lots of hugs and hello's, the check in was complete, t-shirts and other race swag stowed in the truck, and it was back to the Dow to chill before dinner.

Keeping with tradition of the past few years, the team met at the Pizza Factory for the pre-ride pasta meal. Janet Nye (Summit Board Member and solo rider) and her SAG team (Husband Alan and daughter Libby) joined us for dinner during a very busy Friday Night at the Pizza Factory!

After dinner we headed down to the Lone Pine park for the traditional praise and worship service. Awesome musicians from Julian (near San Diego) have made the trip the past several years and have become a special part of the Whitney. We enjoyed songs, scripture, and words of inspiration from Tom Smith, Summit's executive director. Kelli Stansell, event director, also provided some last minute instructions. Then back to the Dow to try and relax and get some sleep!


Time to finish packing, ice the coolers, and grab a light meal before leaving Lone Pine. The event does not start until 3 pm, but the start line is 120 miles away. So we set out at about 9:30 for the 50 mile drive to Panamint Springs. The owner of the resort provides a free pancake breakfast, and there is a mandatory rider meeting to go over rules for the permits, SAG and rider tips, and last minute instructions.
"Why do they do this?"

"Start slow..."
After the meal, its back in the cars for stops at Stovepipe Wells (for last minute supplies and post cards) and Furnace Creek (change into riding kit in the air conditioned restrooms at the visitor center). We cut our time a little short leaving Stove Pipe, and arrived just in time at Badwater for the pre-race photos. Luckily for us, the event staff arrived after us!

At the start in Badwater

Cool day in Death Valley
After a briefing from a park ranger, we lined up for the start and at 3:10 we were off!

Ready to go!
David and Patrick Tansill

The Valley

The fast teams moved to the front and headed out of sight! David and I settled into an easy pace and were soon joined by Team Tanz. As is tradition, the whole Tanz team started, but after a few miles they started their rider rotation. We rode the next 45 miles together to Stovepipe Wells.  The temperature increased, but winds were light and conditions could not have been more favorable for a controlled ride through the valley.

David and Daniel Tansill
Because of vehicle restrictions, Krista joined Deb in the Suburban for the first segment to Furnace Creek and was a quick study providing fantastic SAG support. At Furnace Creek she grabbed David's car and we were greeted by our SAGs about every 5-6 miles to check on us. Deb and Krista had lots of time to get acquainted, waiting for us to roll through and spring into action. They knew exactly what we needed and were able to provide perfect handoffs. In fact, we did not stop rolling until we reached the Wild Rose SAG stop 51 miles into the ride to put on our lights and reflective gear!

We were also cheered on by the SAG for Team Tanz! Lot's of smiles, pictures, and good times were had by all as we rolled through the first 45 miles of the event.

Ready for a bottle change in Death Valley

Towne Pass

Heading up Towne's Pass
The climb to Towne Pass is about 17 miles long and gains 5200 feet. We were making great time and with the super SAG support we did not need to stop or even slow down until we reached the Wild Rose Stop about half-way up the pass. Deb and Krista had our lights and reflective gear ready when we rolled in, 3:15 elapsed time from the start. We were out of the stop in five minutes and back on our bikes for the steepest section of the climb (8%). Another 1.5 hours of climbing put us at the top of the pass.

We stopped for food and arm warmers. After rolling only a few hundred meters down the pass, I started to get cold (wind chill and wet kit); so we quickly flagged down the SAG vehicles and put on jackets and leg warmers. Back on the bikes and seconds later, with all lights on high, and a firm grip on the bars we were bombing down the pass at 51.8 mph!

The course drops down to 2000 feet in about 12 miles, so in the warmth of Panamint Valley we flagged the SAGs down again to strip off a layer or two. We told them to head to the next SAG stop at Panamint Springs about 5 miles up the road.

Fr. Crowley/Hillcrest

What does down must go up on the Whitney! The next climb is about 12 miles and gains about 3000 feet to Hillcrest. There is a SAG stop at the Fr. Crowley lookout near the top and after the steep climbing. Our plan was to take a break at Fr. Crowley, have some soup (Kelli stocked it specifically for us last year and again this year!), and change into dry kit (clothes).Click here for a link for a great article about Fr. Crowley and history of the Inyo County area!

The climbing starts easy then quickly tilts up after leaving Panamint. As is typical, we faced a light headwind on the climb. The moon was not up and the stars were out in full force. We talked about how we were doing and feeling. David was concerned that the cold air was constricting his breathing, and we settled into a easier climbing pace and started the countdown to potato soup at Fr. Crowley.

This is my favorite portion of the event, no traffic, awesome stars, and easier climbing. It can be a spiritual and emotional time and was especially this year. With all the normal 'man defenses' worn off from the rigors of the ride, I always feel especially close to God climbing this hill!

When we rolled into the SAG, Deb and Krista had been there and warned the volunteers we were approaching and looking forward to SOUP! We had joked on the climb that after being focused on soup for so long, if it was gone, there could be a terrible headline: "SAG volunteers massacred by chain wielding crazed cyclists!"

That's what the Whitney does to your head. One minute you are near tears in a spiritual closeness to GOD, the next talking about how bad things could happen if there is no soup at the next SAG.

Well, as we rolled in, they all yelled "NO SOUP FOR YOU!" Lucky for them, the soup was ready. After a 20 minute break, we were back on the road with dry kit and warm full tummies!

We stopped once more at Hillcrest to add layers for the next descent. At that point David realized he left his wallet, gels, and cliff bars on the roof of his car at the SAG. When Krista rolled in, they were gone! We layered up, and Krista doubled back to look for them and Deb went back to double SAG duty.

After Hillcrest the course tilts down and again we were making great time to the next SAG at Darwin Turnoff. Just before we reached the SAG, Krista flashed by in the car. Dave says, I wonder if that means she found his stuff. SHE DID! It was spread over 150 yards of the road outside of the Fr. Crowley SAG. We praised God and got back on the bikes.

Back to two SAGs we were back to full speed, and arrived in Lone Pine at a little before 1 am.

Portal Climb

We downed coffee and reloaded drinks for the last 14 miles to the finish. The first two are nice and flat through town. Both Deb and Krista stopped at the McDonalds drive through and David and I made our way through town. Soon we were on the steep slopes of the portal road. I mentioned to David that we need to pace ourselves on the bottom half, because the real climbing is in the last 5 miles (grades 8-13%). About half-way up we realized we had a shot of finishing in under 13 hours, and with both of us feeling good, we dialed up the pace. The last 3.6 miles took nearly 45 minutes, but when I crossed the line, my computer showed 12 hours 26 minutes, a personal best for me.

Just a little winded at the finish!
Deb quickly wrapped me in a blanket and Kelli prepared a hot chocolate. Tom took the Finish Photo and I crawled into a nearby Summit sleeping bag to stay warm! David rolled in just a few minutes later to high fives, hugs, and congratulations!
"Its in the Bag!"

Final thoughts and Thank You

This was my 14th Whitney and 8th Solo Effort. Riding with great friends and introducing David Edwards to the madness that is the Whitney was very special.

Of course having my best friend as my SAG crew supporting and encouraging me made this one of my most enjoyable and rewarding Whitney Classics.

Thank you for supporting our ride financially. We have raised nearly $12,000 so far! There is still time to support our ride and send in your pledge to support Summit Adventure. Click here to donate online!

Click here for more photos.

Click here for GPS data

Thanks again for your support!

Steve Atkins

Phil 4:13 “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me”

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