Saturday, October 6, 2012

2012 Whitney Classic Ride Report

September 30, 2012
Just in case you didn't notice the heat!

The Team

How this year's Whitney Classic team came together:

Michael Atkins - Mike had been dialing up his training miles  and riding some competitive races this year. He even joined me for the Casa Grande 200km brevet at the start of the season. Somewhere along the way he asked me what additional training he needed to do to ride the Whitney solo. I told him to add some event specific training (climbing, night riding) and he would be good to go.

Daniel Tansill - Daniel has ridden the Whitney several times on a team and has a cross-country ride under his belt. He wanted to take on the Whitney solo.

Ryan Snow - Ryan, a college buddy of Daniel, is preparing for the Ironman Triathlon. Ryan graduated from ASU and is living in Tucson.

Carton van Leuven - Carton and I have shared many brevet experiences over the years. I sent him a note that described the Whitney: Ride 134 miles, starting in the extreme heat of Death Valley, riding through the night, climbing 15,300 feet on three sustained climbs, and finishing in the cold at the trailhead to Mount Whitney. His response: "I'm in!"

We named ourselves Team Holy Spokes Audax. We would ride solo, but stay together as a team. We recruited Mike and Kathy Rollinson (Whitney Classic veterans) and their son Mike to be our Support and Gear (SAG) team. With 5 riders, one SAG team would have been tough. Luckily, Ruthann van Leuven and Natalie Aleman could not resist the siren call of the event and also agreed to stay up all night with a bunch of smelly cyclists and form our second SAG team.

Daniel Tansill, Ryan Snow, Calton van Leuven, Michal and Steve Atkins

The Training

Ryan lives in Tucson, and while he was training and fund raising for months, he could not join us for any of our team training rides. Even though he was in contact with Daniel, the rest of the team heard very little from him and we referred to him as Ryan "Mystery Man" Snow!

One training ride included a ride from Superior to Globe via Winkleman. It is about a 45 minute drive from Tempe. We arrived and were getting ready to ride when Daniel realized he left his shoes at home! Debby, our SAG driver for the ride, drove him back home to retrieve his shoes and they rejoined us part way through the ride. Now he was Shoeless Dan Tansill! Michael earned the moniker Metronome Mike for his perfect cadence and pacing on our many training rides up Usery Pass.

I guess the rest of the team must have been respecting their elders, because Carlton and I never were tagged with a nickname. Although I was accused on more than one occasion of being like a high school girl taking pictures with my Blackberry all the time!

The Trip

We met at my house in Tempe at 1 pm on Friday and were on the road to Lone Pine California by 2 pm. Because of work and school requirements, we were not able to leave early enough to arrive in time for the Worship Service that marks the beginning of the Whitney weekend. With out late start we drove straight through, and with a burrito break in Redlands CA at Chipotle and two stops for fuel, we arrived at the Dow Villa Hotel at about 11 pm.

The Event

We were up early and found the event organizers at the Lone Pine VFW Hall for the event volunteer meeting. We checked in and were able to visit with many of our Summit Adventure friends that show up at the Whitney year after year!

Mike, Kathy, and Little Mike Rollinson met us at the McDonalds for breakfast and we were able to finally have our whole team together; riders and SAG support. Soon we were on our way to Panamint Springs for the rider brunch and meeting hosted by the owner of this very remote 'resort' in Death Valley National Park.

After stops in Stovepipe Wells for supplies, and Furnace Creek to put on our kit, we arrived for the 3 pm start in Badwater, some 300 feet below sea level.

The riders
Rolling out of Badwater
 It was a typical start for the Whitney Classic. About 110 degrees with a light headwind out of the northwest. We soon organized into a nice paceline and made our way through the first 45 miles of the event. The event profile gives the impression that this portion of the ride is relatively flat, however it is deceptively hilly as the road traverses up and down the slopes of the valley floor. By the time we would reach Stovepipe Wells 45 miles into the event at the base of the big (17 miles, 4,000 feet) climb we already had over 1,000 feet of climbing behind us!
SAG team serving water and ice!

One of the 'Flat' spots in the Valley

Our Sag teams were ever present giving us water, ice, and food bottles on this portion of the ride. We were able to make great time through the valley and were on the big climb up to Townes Pass.

Early on the climb up Townes Pass

The Team Splits

The event was taking its toll on our team. As we were leaving the SAG stop at Stovepipe wells we dialed our pace back, shifted into low gears and began the grind up the climb that would take about three hours to complete.

The suffering begins!
In a classic Whitney conversation, Daniel asks me; "Hey Steve, what should I do if I feel like I need to throw up?" I say, "Pull over and throw up, you'll fell better!" So with the rest of the team cheering him on, Daniel follows my advice and gets back on his bike and we continue up the hill.

Daniel was suffering from a cold he had not quite recovered from and determined there was no way he could recover on the climb up Townes Pass, so while we put our lights and reflective gear on he decided to take a break and hopped into Carlton's van.
Steve, Mike, Carlton, and Ryan in full Rando-geek reflective gear!

The team continued up the hill, but I could not keep my heart-rate under control and keep pace with the rest of the team. By the time we reached the Wild Rose Pass SAG, the team was stopping and waiting for me to catch up. Not wanting to quit, but also knowing that my slow speed was making it more difficult for the team, I told Carlton, Mike, and Ryan to continue with Ruthann and Natalie as their SAG. I would continue with the Rollinsons providing my SAG.

Riding alone I was able to climb at my own pace and control my heart-rate, but my neck started to give me trouble. After a few stops with Mike Rollinson providing some massage relief, I decided to get to the top of Townes Pass, grab some food for the descent, and see if I could recover on the run down to Panamint springs.

It is a blast descending Townes Pass, and even with the slight headwind, I reached speeds of 55 miles per hour! After nine miles on 6-8% down grades, I was able to get some food and drink in my system. Reaching the floor of Panamint Valley, I told Mike and Kathy to go ahead to the SAG stop some 6 miles up the road.

Riding up the road, my neck continued to bother me and I really wanted to rejoin the team. Rolling into Panamint Springs, I decided to abandon the ride. I climbed out of my kit, put on my compression gear, and climbed back in the Suburban to chase down the team. We caught them half-way up the climb to the Father Crowley SAG stop.

Back together

After a few leapfrogs we rolled into the SAG stop at the Father Crowley Lookout/Rest stop. This stop is near the end of the second hill where the climb eases off significantly. It also where the temperature begins to drop significantly. 58 degrees does not sound cold, but with a headwind, and your body still trying to throw off heat (it was over 110 degrees only a few hours ago), it is easy to get chilled. This year, the organizers planned to have hot potato soup at this stop. With the team sprawled out on the ground and changing into dry gear and putting on layers, I asked the SAG stop volunteers if there was any soup left. There was, but only because they had not cooked it yet!!!!

I asked them to fire it up and made hot drinks for the team while it cooked. Soon the soup was ready and our team was shoveling it in. It was clear at this point Ryan and Michael were really suffering and that Carlton had dialed back his pace to encourage them and keep the team together. Daniel was feeling better and decided to get back on the bike and ride with the team to Lone Pine.

We rolled out with a four-man team on the road and stopped once more a few more miles down the road to put on leg and arm warmers for the cold run into Lone Pine. Once we were over Hillcrest, the team made tremendous progress over the next 35 miles, only stopping for bottle refills along the way.

The Real Suffering Begins

Reaching the Lone Pine SAG stop is no small feat. 120+ miles and 11,000+ feet of climbing is behind you. But there are 12 more miles, uphill on the steepest part of the route, to the finish. Daniel had used the last of his reserves to get here and decided to get off the bike and help SAG. Carlton was in great shape leading the team, and basically put Michael and Ryan on his wheel and headed up the hill.

Michael had been suffering with a sore neck (wonder where he got that from) since Father Crowley and had to stop often while we massaged it and encouraged him up the hill. Ryan had settled into his own pace and would ride on ahead a few hundred meters and wait for the team to rejoin. Carlton stayed with Michael pacing him and encouraging him up the hill.

About 6 miles from the finish the grade tilts up beyond 10%. This is the moment of truth. With warm vehicles nearby, it is very tempting to make suffering stop and give up on the climb. The team put their heads down and kept grinding!

At this point, you simply pick a spot up the road and ride to it. Pick another spot a few tenths of a mile up the road and repeat. Michael's neck was killing him so at each stop I would hop out of the truck and massage it! Soon we reached the last SAG stop about 3.5 miles from the finish. The team pulled in, crashed on the carpet in front of the volunteers RV, and we served hot drinks.

Mike Rollinson wisely suggested we keep the team moving and encouraged our riders to get it done!! There are several long switchbacks to reach the finish. The grade leaving the SAG is over 12%! We yelled, screamed, and beat the lid of a cooler with a pedal wrench, and generally did anything we could to distract the riders from their suffering and encourage them along.

Carlton was in non-stop story mode talking and pacing Ryan and Michael up the hill!

Incredibly, it typically takes 45 minutes to an hour for a solo rider to clear the last 3.5 miles to the finish!

The Finish

The climbing finishes just below Premier Buttress and rolls gently to the finish, so once the riders made the last turn we told them the next time they would see our flashers will be at the finish! We rolled ahead to the finish to cheer them on.

Carlton, Ryan and Michael crossed the finish line at 5:52am, 14 hours and 52 minutes after the start in Death Valley. A fantastic time for this grueling event!

At the Finish!

Thank you!

This year's Whitney was an awesome event. Carlton, Ryan, and Michael finished in outstanding form. Carlton basically putting team on his shoulders and dragging them to the finish. Our new SAG team members Ruthann and Natalie who started as SAG rookies but finished providing support like SAG Whitney Classic veterans! Mike, Kathy and Little Mike Rollinson looking after me on Townes and especially Mike Rollinson, staying with the team up the Portal Road and encouraging Michael and the team to keep going.

While the whole team didn't make it to the finish on our bikes, we were all there supporting and encouraging each other to the finish. Michael was awarded the "God, Gear and Guts Award" given to a Whitney rider that suffers through with exemplary perseverance! Ryan may have started with the nickname of "Mystery Man", but he finished as Ryan "Hard Man" Snow! Carlton finished in classic randonneuring style helping other riders to the finish.

I wouldn't have traded this year's Whitney for any other!

Thank you for supporting our ride financially. We have raised over $8,500 so far and have pledges that will take us over our goal of $10,000! There is still time to support our ride and send in your pledge to support Summit Adventure. Click here to donate online! (indicate S.Atkins WC).

Click here for more photos.

Thanks again for your support!

Steve Atkins

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