200 Miles…Under the Pale Moonlight

People ask, “what are you going for your birthday?” “Riding 200 miles,” I reply. Yep. I wouldn’t exactly call that a “party”. A few of my college teammates got into the ultrarunning scene, but not me. Heck, I’m not a big fan of riding over 60 miles. Still, the idea of doing a 200 miles at night in the desert during my birthday weekend was too good to pass up!

First off, preparation. What preparation!? OK, I did get a couple of 100+ miles rides in, but nothing longer that 120 miles. I felt pretty comfortable that I would do alright physically, but was wondering at what point I would crack down mentally. Ironically, what ended up being my best preparation was my years of running. I knew what it was like to hit wall in a marathon, become completely disoriented in sub-zero weather, and also wake up on the sofa from a trail run in the 100s not remembering driving home. Suffering, I know.

The good news for me was that Jill Hampton would be out providing Barrett Brauer and I course support. And she went out overboard…in a good way. She had Barrett’s car completely loaded down with enough food and drinking for a 7-man pro team. Coke? Yep. Clif Bars? Yep. Pineapple? Yep. Almond butter, pickle, and avocado mayo sandwich? Yep. OK, that one wasn’t for me. What made us look even more “pro” were 2-way radios for communication. The car was also loaded up with plenty of lights and batteries. I made sure to rest enough each time I met up with her. This not only helped me physically, but helped me mentally recharge.

Wait, you want to hear about the actual ride? It was riding in the desert in the middle of night. There’s not much to tell…it’s not THAT exciting. Actually, it did have its moments and it was an incredibly surreal experience. Barrett and I took off at 6 PM (sunset was around 7:40). It was still around 100 F and we had a SW wind. This meant headwind to start, but it would turn into more a tailwind as we turned north. I was mostly worried about having a headwind for most of the way back, but I’ll get to that later.

The tailwind was great and helped keep the pace high. Barrett and I split up after about 10 miles, so I knew I would be on my own for most of the ride. Jill would drive up next to me, check to see how I was doing, and coordinate where to pull over and meet me. My first real stop was a Caltrans rest area at about 40 miles. I’m sure the truckers, etc. parked there got a hoot watching us and the other cyclists. At this point, it was getting dark and I was using my headlight.

Turning onto the 190, things got really lonely. No cars, no moonlight, nothing. This became evident, when my headlight conked out. Whoa, kind of freaky, when you can’t see anything when you’re going 20+ MPH. It was completely dark except for red coming from my taillights. Thankfully, I had a spare battery in my jersey pocket. I was beginning to wonder when the “moonlight” part of this ride was going to show up.

The only real “climb” along the route was going up the 190 to Death Valley. What sucked was it was an uphill headwind. The organizer had shortened the course due to the heat, but we still wanted to ride to the Death Valley Park sign and turnaround. Jill met me there. The pineapple and strawberries were REALLY tasting good. The descent back down into Lone Pine was fun. The moon was finally coming up, so there was now ambient light. Riders were also coming uphill at that point, so it was a chance to cheer them on.

One of the things that kept me occupied was having to keep my eyes on the road for critters. Lots of little field mice, but also bunnies. I clipped one bunny when he ran in front of me going downhill, but I think he was OK. My WI instincts were continually looking for deer, but I kept forgetting this was the desert. But damn, not mountain lions or bears!

When I got to Lone Pine (123 miles), I was beginning to feel the ride. The longest I had ever ridden before was 125 miles and I was now about to go well beyond that. The good thing is that mentally I felt as if everything was “downhill” from there. The guy working at the Chevron station was super excited to see us and the rest of the riders. I imagine a gas station in Lone Pine at 1 AM is a pretty lonely place. At this point, Barrett would be arriving just as I was taking off. This timing ended up being easier for Jill and gave Barrett and I a chance to feed off of each other’s progress.

I had been mostly worried about flats during the ride, since changing tubes at night isn’t easy. Thankfully, I only got one and it was just ¼ mile from meeting Jill at 145 miles. I was able to ride the short distance to meet her at the gas station. Much easier locating and changing a flat with real lights. Now, just 55 miles left!

While I was hurting, I switched on my “shark sensing blood in the water” mode. The finish was right there. When I saw my pace, I couldn’t believe I had a chance to break 9.5 hours. I hadn’t even averaged that pace for 100 of miles. The winds had died down, so we weren’t facing a brutal headwind, which I had been very worried about. Still, I pretty much was “running on empty” at this point. I had one goal…the finish.

I remember the last 7 miles down Inyokern Rd. Daylight was beginning to emerge and the miles SLOWLY ticked by on my Garmin. I had felt this way a million times before towards the end of a run/ride. Just keep going. I had to add an extra mile around the block to get 200 miles. Press STOP…finished. What had I done? 200 miles. I still can’t fully comprehend it. Now, all I wanted to do was crawl into bed.

There are so many other stories from this adventure, but I wanted to try and keep this “short”. I think the pictures show a little what it was like. A huge thanks to Jill Hampton for acting as our “soigneur”…she was amazing! Plus, Barrett finished just a few minutes behind me torching his time from last year. Dude, we were flying. OK, time for bed…well, not really…I’m just still really tired.

On my way to the first rest stop…with a tailwind!
Which way to the 395?
My view for most of the ride.
Mandatory photo by the Death Valley National Park sign.
Jill waiting for us at the Death Valley National Park sign.
The moon FINALLY came out…around Mile 85!
Just a LITTLE of the food/drink Jill brought for us.
Checking to see if we had LTE coverage in Lone Pine.
WARNING: Do not give Jill caffeinated gels!
Dude, we finished!
Thank god I’m done!

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