Joshua Tree Double Down

When I first got on a bike 4 years ago, it was because I was a hefty 235 pounds and the gym wasn’t getting me anywhere.  At no point whatsoever did it cross my mind to ride in a double century.

That’s crazy!

As I started to ride more and (ahem) gather a larger collection of bikes, I started to put in greater distances.  I remember Rob Dudley waiting for me on more than a few rides, not to mention my first century where he dragged me along for the last 20 miles in 100 degree heat never thinking of leaving me.  Actually, he probably thought of it.  I would have.  But, he stayed there and got me through.
Saturday, March 14th, was the moment of truth and the culmination of a bunch of hours in the saddle that weren’t necessarily ALWAYS fun.  Just almost always.

About 90 of my fellow crazy people gathered at 4:30 am at the Rancho Doleres Motel in Twentynine Palms, CA.  It was already 60 degrees with clear skies.  As we rolled out we were a string of flashing red lights from behind and blinding head or bar mount lamps coming at you depending on point of view.

Having never done a double, I didn’t know what to expect as far as etiquette.  I hoped it was ok to pass people as I started moving up the line.  Having taken two days off from riding I felt ready for anything!
Now, this wasn’t a race, but everyone knows if there’s a group of riders, there’s gonna be some competition.  Sorry.  I’m one of those guys.  It’s part of the fun.  At about 15 miles in and just approaching the National Park entrance, I passed the last person in front of me.  I was feeling GOOOOOOD!

The temperature felt great and I was drinking plenty of water as I’d heard nothing but warnings of “dry heat” and “you could die out there” for the last few weeks.

As I was finally getting close to the top of the first long climb, the sun was thinking about waking up.

At this point, I started to become mesmerized by the scenery that was surrounding me.

How did those big boulders all get piled up so high like that?

Why do these trees grow pretty much right around here?

Why do they look so funny?

It was pretty awesome to say the least.  As I reached the turn-around point on a spur in the course meant to get us enough miles for an official double century I was a good 2 minutes ahead of the next guy up.  Um.  That’s the last time I was in front…but I did snap this snazzy picture while I was there!

From there, it was a really fun and fast 5 mile descent.  By the way, it was right in this section where the temps dipped down into the low 30’s.  Yikes!

Why did I only wear a jersey and shorts?

The cold didn’t last long.  A few climbs and descents later I was down on the desert floor.  It was 9 am and in the 70’s.

Still drinking water constantly I felt ok.  I had 2 water bottles and a 70 oz. hydrapack.

Plenty of water to get me through the Park and to the next Rest Stop.

Having left the park around mile 85, I reached the most harrowing portion of the ride.  A 20+ mile journey into a headwind on the shoulder of Interstate 10.  Yeah.  The one that goes from Los Angeles to Phoenix.  For those of us in the Rogue Valley, imagine riding I-5 for 25 miles.  Exactly.

Finally around mile 100 I reached the next rest stop.  And, NONE TOO SOON.  Somewhere along the way, despite trying to keep myself hydrated, the wind, the heat, and maybe 100 miles had started to take its toll.  Nausea and presumably heat exhaustion were starting to set in.  I should just give up.  NOT!

Pushing on, the next section of the ride was a 28 mile stretch of 2 lane that had 1 bend in the whole dang thing.  The guy at the previous rest stop said you’ll see the end and feel like it never gets any closer.

Boy, he wasn’t kidding!

15 miles after that rest stop, I was almost out of water.  Feeling horrible and not able to eat because the thought of it made me want to vomit, I kept spinning knowing there was another rest stop just ahead.  Only it wasn’t there. Apparently, a scheduling snafu caused the volunteers to be somewhere besides where I needed them.

Depressed, disgusted, and dehydrated, I sat in the shade of a speed limit sign and contemplated my future.  Well, nobody came to save me, so I got on my bike and finished off that stretch of death highway and reached the next aid station.

Clearly, I had not stayed at the front of the pack through all this so I decided to follow another rider’s lead and lay down in the shade for a while hoping the nausea would subside.  It did and I started another UNBELIEVABLY LONG stretch of straight, 4-7 percent grade that went on for about 20 miles in what was now 90 degrees.

I ended up laying in whatever shade I could find (and that wasn’t much) 3 more times hoping I could make it!  I didn’t care about scorpions or rattlesnakes sneaking up on me.

They would have just figured I was dead anyway.

Finally, with some downhill action finally in the mix, I got what must have been my 18th wind by now.  I started pushing hard trying to get in before dark, but after 20 miles of that I hit yet another wall.

Fortunately, I had met 2 angels from Klamath Falls, Oregon, of all places, the day before.  Pete was riding in the double and Deb was driving along as support for him.  Well they had passed me way back at mile 100.  I didn’t think I’d see them again until the hotel.

Then, like a beacon of light, there they were.  They were worried I hadn’t shown up yet as they knew I was doing well early on so they came to look for me.  They were my heroes.  They gave me saltines to soothe my nausea, water because I needed it badly, and an orange which Pete peeled for me!

These two are awesome.

Now, 13 + hours into the ride I felt better than I did 5 hours in.  I was gonna do this.  I had 13 miles to go and I was actually going to make it.  With my regained strength I pushed hard and averaged somewhere around 19-20 mph the rest of the way in.  And, to top it off, Pete and Deb drove the whole way behind me keeping cars off my back and shooting some cool photos.

I finished with a time of 14 -1/2 hours+, but I finished.

Which is good because I’ve been thinking about the moment I got to have this picture taken since last September!

Next up is the Chico Wildcat 125, Tour of the Unknown Coast, and then the Davis Double.

That’s right.

2 more doubles this year if I want the California Triple Crown.

Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert are some pretty rad places.  I’m glad I got to experience them.  But, most of all, I’m glad this wasn’t July!!

Ride on!!
Aaron

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