As I write about this recap, now over 2 months after the event, I still face some conflicted feelings about this ride. Do I wanna do this one again next year? Should I banish (harsh word, admittedly) it from the list of must-dos? On the surface, it appears to be a battle between my desire for vindication and a surrender to bitter dissappointment.
Uh oh. What happened?
A) I abandoned (at mile 108).
B) I was in a crappy ass mood (probably symptom of A).
C) Didn't care much for the roads (probably symptom of B?).
But don't let my experience keep anyone from discovering this ride by any means. Time and again, it's still voted by many as the most scenic and enjoyable of doubles in the whole state. In fairness, I should say I DID have a positive experience for the mere fact that I was able to explore/discover new territory on my bike. That alone is saying a lot. What shortcomings I encountered during this ride, I owe to my first real experience with altitude sickness. Up to this point, I'd only had academic knowledge of it.
I arrived at Bishop the afternoon before the ride in good shape and spirits. Physically and mentally, I was quite prepared and confident. It didn't even matter much to me that, on the drive out here, it snowed steadily on Tioga Pass -- and that there would be a likelihood of seeing similar weather during parts of the ride. Hey, they don't call this adventure cycling for nothing.
The weather turned out to be VERY good. Sunny. Mild. No precip. And this is one of those rides that, by strange contrast, got COOLER during the middle hours of the day simply because we were in higher elevation and north of the ride finish. Even so, the chilly spells in the air were fickle. Riders (including myself) were peeling layers and putting them back on again and again all day.
The mass start was at 5:30AM, a tad later than usual as this year's ride was scheduled 3 weeks early in the year. I see familiar faces here and there, including fellow Oaktowner Dave Clemes, throw hellos here and there in the pack, clearly charged. 10 minutes into the ride, everybody is out of sight; Lisa and I are the last riders on the road already (mainly because Lisa had to retrieve a tail light launched off the bike from a bump). As the day went on, both Lisa and I would start to pick some riders off, though admittedly very few of them among the 300 or so out today. Many of them will have finished their rides well before sundown. I'd be happy if I rolled back into Bishop by 8PM.
It's hard to believe that, considering the expanse of the territory covered by this ride, you only travel within two counties (Mono and Inyo). OK, two huge counties. It basically travels north to Mono Lake along I-395 and on parallel frontage areas West of the highway, then drops back down south along Hwy 6 after a diversion to Sagehen and Benton Springs. Not a whole lot of turns on this ride, which in itself is not a bad thing, but I sort of disliked travelling on I-395 so much of the day (VERY wide shoulders notwithstanding).
In the morning hours of the ride, the view of snow capped mountain sides of the Sierras keep you constant company. The sheer enormity of these mountains do make you feel like a speck on the planet, for sure. These sights were so dominant in the topography of the morning route that it took HOURS until you got to see a new side of the mountain range. On a less than ideal day, this could be a bit unnerving -- I can attest to it first hand.
Most of this ride's reported 10,500 ft. of elevation gain actually hits you in the first half of this ride. The first wake-up call is the Old Sherwin Grade from Round Valley to Lake Crowley, which felt way more difficult to me than it appeared. The grade was forgiving, but the road seemed to go on forever. Roughly 20 miles of steady uphill between the old grade and the immediately succeeding climb, it had to be one of the longest periods of time I'd ever pedaled uphill.
The second control point came just past the summit of that interminable climb. And while there wasn't much respite in the next few miles before the road started going skyward again, this is where the ride scenery started to get spectacular. Sadly, despite the visits to the Mammoth Scenic Drive and indescribably beautiful June Lake area, this was also where my physical condition (and mood) began to plummet.
Up to this point, I believe I'd fueled and hydrated smartly and sufficiently. I had a good breakfast. A good pre-ride dinner. But none of that would matter anymore as I succumbed to nausea, headaches, muscle fatigue, dehydration, dizziness and hallucination. All at once. While laboring with the Mammoth Scenic climb, all I wanted to do was go to sleep. I couldn't get over how I was feeling. As I crested Deadman's Pass, I felt I was channeling the fella after which it was named.
Frustration came to a head when I descended from June Lake and made the last turn before lunch. Of course, there would still be another 10 miles of riding, and - and wouldn't you know it - a nasty, steady headwind would make it the longest 10 miles I'd ever ridden. And a spoiled descent. Going downhill, the wind kept my speeds below 15mph, even as I pedaled.
I chilled at lunch much longer than I normally do, dreading the fact that a climb immediately ensued the break. Of course, beyond this 2-3 mile nuisance, there would still be another loooong climb up to Benton, the psychological make-or-break point for many ride veterans I'd met. After that, most of the way back to the finish is a downhill ride.
I was trying to psych myself up for it, just another 25 miles, and I could be home free. Just 25 miles. Reality bit back hard when I could hardly make it up a 100m driveway from the city park. With absolutely no more juice in the legs, I swiftly turned around and coasted back to the park. Game over.
Initially, I felt humiliated asking for a ride back on a SAG van. But that nonsense would steadily evaporate from the time I started helping the crew break down and pack the lunch stop, to days later upon realizing just how helpless you can be once you're hit with elevation sickness. And everybody's got their bad days. My buddy Doug (who's got over 30 doubles under his belt) could attest. We shared the long car trip to the finish together. Back at the lodge, I had more than enough time to take a Hollywood shower, crash for nearly 2 hours, watch a bit o' telly, then witness Lisa and others finish up their journey at night.