Saturday, October 11, 2014

Whitney Classic Ride Report

Whitney Classic 2014 Ride Report
"On the Edge of Epic"
 September 27, 2014


Each year there is the internal debate; should this be the year the 16 year streak ends? With many nights and weekends spent at the office over the past year, if there was a year to take a pass, this was it. But alas, an email from a long time supporter Mary Gibbons, wondering when this year's appeal letter was coming, and Debby's encouragement to ride the Whitney again, found me on the website registering for the the 33rd Annual Whitney Classic.

The National Park Service is not issuing permits for events in the park this year, so the organizers changed up the course, 20 fewer miles, but 4,500 feet of additional climbing. Two laps up to Horseshoe Meadows, a couple of loops along Turtle Creek and the classic slog up Whitney Portal road to the trailhead. Three HC climbs makes for 20,000 feet of climbing over 115 miles. Not wanting to share that fun with a team, the solo box was checked on the registration form and it was planning time.
The 34T cog for the Triple setup
Who might want to share the fun?  Carlton van Leuven also was thinking about the ride, and with the new route was also interested in riding solo. The plan was set, we would drive out to Lone Pine together after work Thursday night, work remotely on Friday from Lone Pine, ride the route Audax style (ride together with minimal support at checkpoints only) Saturday, and return Sunday. Carlton's wife Ruthann joined the fun to provide another driver and drop bag support at the main checkpoint.

A late start and rush hour traffic in Phoenix slowed our start on Thursday. We arrived at the Dow Villa Hotel a little after 2 am on Friday morning. With the lap top and cell phone set up in the lobby at 0800 Friday morning, it was six hours of nearly non-stop conference calls!

With the work box finally checked, it was time to start the weekend! We mounted the steeds and pre-rode the Turtle Creek and Granite View portions of the new route.
Great sign!
Leaving town, the route passes the BLM campground and heads into the Alabama Hills. These hills provided the backdrop of many western movies, old and new. From John Wayne classics to django Unchained, these rocks have provided specular movie settings.
"This road is awesome!"
In all the years of the Whitney Classics and climbing Mt. Whitney, this was the first time to roll along this very scenic road. Steep climbs, new road surface, and different views around each corner, made the shakedown ride very enjoyable indeed.
Could be Joshua Tree National Park
We rolled past the intersection of Lubken Canyon and Horseshoe Meadows road (the main event checkpoint #'s 2, 5, 6, 10, and 11) and headed up the short rough steep climb up Granite View road. The organizers added this climb to the two Turtle Creek loops to 'round up' the total climbing to 20,000 feet. The grade was steady, but the road was rough, and very annoying, especially on the descent.

Rolling back into town, it was time to complete the rider check-in. Mike, Kathy, and Little Mike Rollinson had just arrived at the Dow as we arrived. We exchanged greetings and made plans for a pasta dinner at the Pizza Factory after the check-in. Service was slow, but the company was awesome for the traditional pasta fest.

One of the best parts of the Whitney Classic is the Friday night worship service. Seeing old friends, and meeting new ones as Summit Staff, riders, volunteers take over the band stand in the Lone Pine park. Tremendous musicians led the group in song and praise, and Executive Director Tom Smith shared inspiring scripture and provided information about the ride.

Whitney Time!

Since the route starts in Lone Pine, and there was no need to drive 100 miles to the traditional start in Death Valley, so the start time was moved up to 0900. We were up early making last minute preparations, getting a light breakfast, and heading to the VFW Lodge for the pre-ride briefing.

Jair Drooger outlined the rules of the ride and answered questions. Your humble corespondent provided pointers for SAG (support and gear) drivers, some tips from previous rides, and advice handed down from former Summit Executive Director, Dave Kelly: "Start slow, and back it off from there!" With all the climbing, this year is more like; 'Start slow and go backwards from there!"
Jair providing the pre-ride brief

We don't allow their Kind in here!
The final instructions were provided at 0845 at the corner of Brewery Street and Whitney Portal road, start photos, taken, and finally its Whitney Time.
Here we go!
Rolly leads us in prayer before the start
The winds were strong out of the north, providing a stout cross as the route heads west, up the portal road, but after a few miles the course turns south on Horseshoe Meadows road for the first climb and the tailwind was perfect!
The 100 meter flat section is at the start!
We fell into the lead group, but since most of them were riding as a team, by the time we rolled through the first checkpoint they were out in front. It was enjoyable to have the teams cheering us along as they re-racked their bikes and raced on ahead in their SAG vehicles to prepare for the next exchange.
The route follows those switchbacks to the top!

This Madman (Jair Drooger) designed the course!

 All smiles on the first lap up to Horseshoe Meadows!

It is about 23 miles and 6,500 feet of climbing from the start in Lone Pine to the top of the first climb at Horseshoe Meadows. Jair added a checkpoint about 15 miles into the climb at a pull out just above the switchbacks. This was a great place to reload water bottles and take a short break. It also enabled us to ride without carrying an extra water bottle. We reloaded and warned the volunteers at the checkpoint that we would be rolling through on the way down and not stopping.

The food/fuel/ride plan estimated it would take 3 hours to reach the checkpoint at Horseshoe Meadows, we rolled in a few minutes after noon, right on time. With bottles refilled, we pointed our steeds downhill and prepared for an E ticket ride back to the Lubken checkpoint.
Lubken Canyon Checkpoint
3 hours to go up, only 30 minutes to go down, with a top speed of 44 mph! Not bad with the switchbacks and headwind from the north.

Ruthann met us at Lubken for our first resupply. We reloaded the bottles and headed out for the loop up and down Granite View road and back to Lone Pine for the tour de Turtle Creek and back to Lubken.
On Granite View Road
As we headed up Granite View, storm clouds started to pour over the mountain tops. It was sunny and warm in the Alabama Hills, but looked nasty up in the mountains, where the ride took us next!

The loop took about 1.5 hours and Ruthann was still at the Lubken checkpoint when we came through again. With the clouds continuing to pour over the ridge,  it was time to gear up. With a polypro base layer and arm and knee warmers on board, we set up for the climb #2 to Horseshoe Meadows.

We caught 'Team Lactic Acid Trip' on the climb and enjoyed their company until one of their strong climbers took a pull and left us in the dust, and building drizzle!

We cleared the switchbacks checkpoint and as the false summit came into view, so did the snow! It was time to pull off and gear up. Sitting on the ground gearing up, Tom Smith and his team and SAG rolled by on their descent. At first they thought your correspondent had crashed, but with a thumbs up and a shout out of; "This is awesome!" they figured I was out of my mind, but otherwise in good shape.
Early accumulation on the bike
Its all fun and games, and then it starts snowing!
Geared up, and with Carlton riding off toward the checkpoint, it was back on the bike, wondering why my rain pants, shoe covers, and wool socks were back in Arizona, only a little out of reach!

Nearing the summit, the snow was coming down wet and heavy, it was in the mid-thirties, so thankfully there was only an accumulation of slush on the road, but the landscape was spectacular!

Team Rollinson rolled by and offered additional gear as the checkpoint came into view. Warm from the climbing I declined and rolled into the checkpoint. Carlton was there waiting and shivering from the cold. There was no need to wait, so he took a hot chocolate and rolled out. I quickly added arm warmers and kicked the accumulated snow from my legs and shoes. The Good Sam volunteers whipped up several cups of hot chocolate. With a water bottle full of hot chocolate, and soaked from the waist down, it was time to descend!
Kathy Rollinson sampling the 'Manna from Heaven'
The road was wet, but the real problem was wind chill. While the temperatures were in the mid-thirties, anytime the speed reached over 25 mph, the wind chill put the temperature in the low 20's! To prevent uncontrolled shivering, it was time to grab a big gear and pedal downhill against the brakes. As added benefit, the rims and brakes stayed dry and effective, especially helpful on the 180 degree switchbacks.

At this point in the ride, we were on the 'Edge of Epic.' Exposed, wet, and descending in a snow storm, this ride was headed toward Epic proportions. About halfway down the descent, the snow was replaced with drizzle, and then hitting the valley floor, the rain stopped and temperature warmed. Ruthann was at the Lubken checkpoint with the van warmed up. Rolling in and diving into the van, the wet kit came off, dry kit and the winter jersey stopped the shivering. Another hot chocolate and we were back on the road for the second lap of Granite View and Turtle Creek.

The climb up Granite View was a welcome opportunity to warm up. Had the rain continued, this Whitney may have become an Epic event (as defined by Lonnie Epic Wolff), however with the sun setting and temperatures holding, it was just going to be another brutal Whitney!

The descent down Granite view caused my headlight to vibrate loose, slowing to fix it, Carlton nearly crashed into me! Recovered, and with a nice backlight from Carlton, we quickly descended this annoying stretch for the last time.

Rolling through Turtle Creek at night was tremendous and soon we were back at the Lubken checkpoint. One last reload, and a switch of bikes (the old Trek 5500 has a triple and mountian bike gearing) and we were off.

Riding past Granite view and turning left on Whitney Portal road for the last section, we were accompanied by Ruthann and Team Rollinson all the way up the Portal road.

Its a steep slog to the finish; 9 miles at an average grade of 8.6% with grades reaching 14%+ near the finish, each rider finds their own pace. Soon all I could see of Carlton was his tail light!

With encouragement from Ruthann and Mike Rollinson, I settled into a steady pace, often wondering, why such a great event has to end with this exclamation point/uphill finish. Soon the lights of the finish line were in sight and 13 hours and 51 minutes after the start, it was finished!
At the Finish!
Hugs, cheers, and relief! Rolling in about 20 minutes after Carlton, the volunteers told us we were the last riders on the course. All the others had either finished or abandoned, leaving your humble corespondent the honors of the Lantern Rouge!

Thank You!

At this writing, you, my support team have contributed over $10,000 to Summit Adventure. I cannot thank you enough!

Click here if you would like to donate (there is still time) to Summit!

Click here for the gory GPS ride details.

All the best,

Steve Atkins

I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. (Phil 4:13)

Lantern Rouge!