This was the third time that both Lisa and I have signed up for this event that starts and ends in Bishop, CA. She loves it -- proclaims it one of her favorite rides. Gorgeous locale notwithstanding, I've had reasons be lukewarm about the event (which in no way is a reflection of how well the volunteer crew support this ride). On my first attempt in 2004, I DNF'd succumbing to my first somatic experience with altitude sickness. Last year, I looked for some vindication and got it by finishing the ride for the first time, but not without one of the saddest meltdown struggles I've experienced on a bike ride. Having gotten my way, though, I thought I'd never sign up for it again, and would perhaps just crew the event in the future so Lisa can ride for free.
So why oh why did I sign up to ride again this year? The straight answer is this: the Terrible Two double century comes 2 weeks after it, thereby making Eastern Sierra an ideal tune-up ride. So you see, my reasons (concurred with by Lisa, I'll add) are doubly stupid. Actually, at this point, I hadn't even signed up for Terrible Two and decided that I would make up my mind on it based on how I felt after Eastern Sierra... where I have a colorful history of feeling miserable. Even more stupid.
These days, it takes a lot to commit to a road trip so distant for a sufferfest on the bike. With gas prices these days, no less? As of this event's date, one gallon of unleaded actually costs more than a hearty plate of lunch in Chinatown. We even witnessed regular brand gas stations in the Bridgeport area pumping for up to $4.30 per gallon. Sheesh. I think it's official: gas by itself is a now a luxury item. Might be time to draw up the business plan for Le Chic Petrol Boutique.
But, really, there are tangible reasons to want to ride all day out in the Eastern Sierra. The places you see are simply grand. Being there in the splendor of the region, enjoying -- seeing, smelling, breathing, tasting -- the beauty of places Mammoth, June Lake, Mono Lake, and the rewarding view of the snowcapped range from Sagehen are the sorts of things that really make this special. I remember seeing this all from above on returning flight to the Bay Area last year and being able to trace where I rode from a mile above. It's incredible.
The course for this ride hasn't changed in years, and was identical to the one I described last year. Many of the annoying details, in fact, also hadn't changed, such as the dreadfully lousy pavement on the descents from Mammoth and -- more notably -- the long desert stretch between Sagehen and Benton. We're talking wide, disintegrated pavement seams that you - BAM - cannot nearly - BAM - avoid and have to - BAM - hit about every - BAM - 15 seconds for about - BAM ($#&*!!) seven miles. I learned last year that it helps -- just once in a while -- to ride the painted line on the road's edge as some times the cracks were filled in a bit there. This did require some care (somehow a bigger deal after you've ridden 135 miles and 9,500 ft. of climb at high altitude), however, as there was zero shoulder here and because the painted line was really the edge of the road next to loose desert sand.
The Bishop area had been seeing temperatures in the high 90s for weeks before we even arrived, so we braced ourselves for a warmer ride than what we've been accustomed to. And although Lisa unusually suffered from hotfoot a lot that day, the heat was never terribly unbearable. I did have my jersey fully unzipped going up the 10-mile ascent to Sagehen (mile 130), and this was probably the warmest part of the ride, despite being over 8,000' high. Thermometer equipped bike computers registered temps over 100, but it's more likely the air temperature was somewhere in the low 90s.
The long wave of hot days in the area probably accelerated the snow melt a great deal. The past winter saw lots and lots of precipitation, and you'd never know it by seeing how little of it was left compared to what we saw in the last 2 years. The heat melted so much so quickly that the snowmelt falls and streams were extremely lively this year and awesome to see. I'm not sure if temperature had anything to do with it, but in the areas with higher density of sage scrub, there was an ever-present cocoa-like smell that permeated the air.
As in the past, Lisa and I started with the 5AM group and -- as in the past -- we knew we'd get shelled very early on in the ride. And while I had already prepared myself mentally for this eventuality, the first 30 miles of the ride still ended up being the least pleasant of my day. The altitude began to affect me so much earlier this time (before even reaching the first notable climb up Old Sherwin Grade) and we were barely 15 miles into the ride. Worsened by a nagging saddle sore that did -- surprise surprise -- bother me all day, some dread and ill thought began to flush me. By the time I reached the first summit, I had to take time out to let Chill bitch slap Panic a little bit. Whatever I did apparently worked, or I just magically began to acclimate better as my spirits remained pretty good for the rest of the day. I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that I was at least able to keep up with Lisa, who was untypically affected by the altitude this time. Talk about a cruel equalizer.
The wildlife encounter highlight this year was a couple of wild burros by the side of the road, who appeared to be receiving (enjoying) some human life immersion training from one of the event SAG drivers in the form of pretzel sticks. Fun looking creatures. Unlike the scorpion I saw off the side of the road near my foot while taking a piss break.
In the end, I stunk really badly, but finished pretty comfortably. Better yet, I felt great the next day (maybe it was the heap of corned beef hash for breakfast -- and that cost less than a quarter-tank of gas). 198 out of 207 starters successfully finished for the event's highest completion rate to date. This was Lisa's and my third double century of the year, which results in my fourth straight year with California Triple Crown credit and Lisa's third.