This past weekend I completed the Highland and the Lowland White Mountain Double Centuries in Bishop, CA. I’m up to my neck in Silver State 508 prep, kid stuff, and puppy training so I’ll spare you the usual long story. Prior to the event, my coach Mike had asked me if everything was going well and was I ready. My answer was yes, which is short for NO, everything is in chaos but I’ll be on the plane as scheduled. This weekend was entirely about 508 preparation for me, and I’m so very thankful to have had the experience to train at such a wonderful and well run event in a beautiful location. The scenery was simply amazing. This was my first ever experience training at significant altitude. The highland course is 11,500 feet of climbing and includes a trip up White Mountain to 10,000 feet elevation and Montgomery pass at 7000 feet. Most of the course is in the high desert above 5000 feet elevation. The lowland double is the same as the highland double except it leaves out the 10 mile section of White Mountain and substitutes a different 10 mile outback with less climbing and no technical descent.
Saturday started in the dark at 5:15am and we rolled out in a big pace line behind the tandems. That was the safest way to travel on the big highway in the dark, so I enjoyed the draft and free ride for the first 12 miles until we turned off. The group broke up once the climbing started, and I settled in for the long climb from about 4000 feet up to 10,000 feet at the top of White Mountain. After reading the description of the climb and descent on the website, I had built it up in my mind to be something much worse than it actually was. There were a few steep sections near the top, and the altitude above 8000 feet was very uncomfortable, but it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. My gearing was sufficient, and the descent was fine on the Zipp 404/808 combo I was riding. I actually passed a guy on the descent and never got passed, which was a first and probably once in a lifetime event.
After White Mountain, there is a really long and fast descent into a valley before climbing back up to Gilbert’s pass. The high speed turns and dips in the road were freaking me out and I found it more unnerving than the more technical White Mountain descent. Fortunately another woman caught up with me there and showed me how to get it done. I followed her down, and the second day I was able to do it solo with confidence. I’ve forgotten her name, but she stayed behind me in my draft across the valley and then dropped off when the climbing began again. I don’t recall if I thanked her for the lesson in high speed descending, but if she’s reading this THANK YOU.
The rest of Saturday was about managing the heat and staying hydrated. It got into the 90’s (with a peak temp of 105 degrees for a short time), which is really not that hot for this event but I struggled with it. I had to stop at every water stop and put ice in my shirt. Fortunately there were plenty of water stops not that far apart. I choked down a few bananas early in the day and had a smoothie at the smoothie stop, but got through the day mostly on soda, water, and salt caps. The idea of any kind of sports drink made me gag, even the products I’ve trained with all summer long. I was pretty nauseous most of the day, but I didn’t try to take in any more than the bare minimum of calories and fluid and dialed back my power so that’s as bad as it got. A little heat training this summer would have been a good thing.
I rode solo until the last water stop in Benton. I caught up with two guys there (one on a single speed!) and left the aid station before them. They caught up with me shortly after I left, and we worked together into the headwind for the last 33 miles to Bishop. About 4 miles out, we spotted another cyclist in the distance. I wasn’t thrilled about chasing anyone down since I had to ride the next day, but I did my part and we caught the guy at the last turn. It was a fun way to end the day and the four of us finished together.
The wild temperature swing during the day (low in the 30’s to high 105) hit me pretty hard and I had the shakes and chills for a long time after getting off the bike. I woke up several times during the night drenched in sweat and shivering. Fortunately the night was pretty short, and we were up and at it early Sunday for a 4:30 am roll out.
There were fewer folks riding on Sunday, and about 4:35 someone suggested we should probably start. Mike and I rolled out together, and sat in the back of a group of three riders for the trip down the highway. We dropped off the back after the turn, and settled into our pace for the climb. With fewer people around, it was much easier to relax and take in the beautiful night sky as it transitioned to dawn. It was just Mike and I riding together for the next several miles of climbing to the turn up White Mountain road.
My rear spokes started making noise a few miles shy of the turn. We stopped, and Mike found two that were just a little loose. His initial impression was that it would be fine, but we didn’t get far up White Mountain road before the noise got to both of us. Mike turned to me and said “you know, this is going to put a lot of stress on that wheel…” And I decided to turn back and do the lowland route. It was disappointing, but definitely the safe decision. I feel quite blessed that we discovered the problem before I got farther up White Mountain road. The wheel was fine when I packed it, but given the abuse it’s endured over the past year I should have had it looked over by someone other than myself. It’s a low spoke count race wheel I bought for triathlon, and not really meant for endurance racing.
The wind really picked up, which was a mixed blessing. It blocked out any noise from my wheel, and I didn’t have to listen to 11 more hours of spoke music which would have driven me bonkers. Fortunately there was a little cloud cover that kept the temperature down for most of the day. There were only a few sections that felt hot.
Jim Cook was simply amazing as an event director, and Sunday he managed to be absolutely everywhere despite having riders of all abilities spread out on three different routes. He got to several of the stops just before I did, and his timing was impeccable. Just when I would start to worry because I couldn’t see anyone at the station ahead, he would pull alongside of me in the sag wagon. I hadn’t planned on having any solid food during the ride, but when I saw that he had an enormous box of single serving bags of Cheetos in the sag wagon I suddenly realized how much I had missed them. I haven’t had Cheetos in ages! I ended up leaving every aid station with a bag of Cheetos in my sports bra, and snuck a few extra bags in my pocket. At the Basalt stop, I ended up with a double size bag of Cheetos. It took me fifty miles to eat that bag of fake cheesy goodness. In total, I ate 6 bags of Cheetos. It was a little surprising how quickly I abandoned my race day nutrition plan once I saw the Cheetos. There is a lesson there somewhere. Jim tells me I set a new course record for the highland double, and I bet the 6 bags of Cheetos might be a record as well.
This weekend was a priceless experience for me. I am so grateful to Mike Wilson for suggesting it to me, and to Jim Cook for putting the weekend together. This event is a lot of work for Jim, and he and the volunteers did a fantastic job supporting the riders. I met many wonderful people, and hope to go back someday to do the Highland/Highland double double.
Thank you to Kyle Robinson (Kyle’s Bikes), for the last minute rear derailleur replacement. Yes, I broke my rear derailleur the same day I needed to pack my bike for travel. I am awesome like that.
Thanks to Great Basin Bicycles in Reno for letting me in the shop before you were officially open and adjusting my new derailleur. I appreciate the great customer service!
I won’t out the friend who loaned me the Zipp 404 (to head off the potential barrage of requests for loaner equipment) but THANK YOU! Your generosity is appreciated, and inspiring.
Thanks to Jerod Torrey at Krueger Chiropractic in Ankeny, IA for the last minute work on my sore muscles. Jerod has been instrumental in keeping me going this summer, and I am so grateful.
I have received so many prayers, texts, emails, and facebook messages over this year from people I know, and some I barely know. It means quite a lot to me to know that I have such amazing people supporting me at home, and it keeps me going in the rough times. Thank you all for your support.