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White Mountain Double report by Rico Boccia

Monday, September 29, 2014 8:06 PM | Bill Oetinger (Administrator)

The White Mountain Double Century was run this year on Saturday, September 13. It stages out of Bishop, over on Hwy 395 on the far side of the Sierra. SRCC member Rico Boccia did the ride and filed this report…

The desert is strange. Some call it "empty," but I don't find that helpful. It's a huge canvas that one can fill with all manner of things, both wonderful and frightening, depending on one's state of mind.

This year, the White Mountain Double Century started and finished at the La Quinta hotel in the center of beautiful Bishop, California. It was reassuring to see cyclists milling about the neighborhood the day before the ride, and to chat with several at the Friday evening pasta feed in the park. You start to recognize the same faces from previous rides, which is also nice. Among those faces were two members of the Adobo Velo Phllipino-American Cycling Club (of Southern California) who pulled me for most of the Grand Tour out of Malibu in June. I greet them with fist bumps and tell them I'm glad to see them, but it's not clear they remember me. (We all look alike in helmets, shades, and bike kit, right?)

Because the ride is small (about 135 riders, versus 650 for Davis in May and maybe 350 at the Grand Tour) and the desire is to minimize the necessary time window for each rest stop, riders are asked to start at either 4:00 a.m., if you'll take over 14 hours to do the ride, or 5:30 a.m. if not. My computer's thermometer said 64 degrees when 30-40 of us rolled out together at 4:00. Riding down a desert highway in the dark in a big group is a lot of fun, what with all the bike lights behind you lighting the way as if you had team cars and their headlights back there. As soon as we got two miles out of town and away from all the heat-trapping buildings, the temperature dropped noticeably, which was pleasant. For a while I sat behind two large gentlemen at the front of the group, but after maybe 20 minutes the rest of the pack got antsy and suddenly accelerated. I choose to stick with my two big windbreaks as the rest quickly leave us behind, telling myself I'll see them again before too long. (Fantasies are helpful in the dark, with the huge unknown hanging out there in front of you.) Fifteen miles to Big Pine and we turn left on highway 168 and head for the hills. My two droogies take a break and suddenly I'm alone in the dark with a pack of receding red taillights blinking up ahead. So this is how it's gonna be.

Another fantasy: It's good that the biggest climb on the ride comes in the first 27 miles. (It hadn't occurred to me that one could spend the next 170 miles trying to recover.) Nine miles and 3200' of vertical don't make for a brutal climb (6.7% average grade), but in the dark I couldn't judge where I was in that stretch, and didn't want to keep lighting up the computer to check. Around 6 a.m., daylight starts to come up, I'm over halfway up the hill, and the world starts becoming a much friendlier place. I pass a dozen people in the last 2 miles of the climb and praise myself for my earlier restraint. At 7100' the high desert rocks and brush are quite a sight in the pre-dawn light. It's also 45 degrees up there, which will wake a guy up. At the rest stop at the corner of Route 168 and White Mountain Road, the roasted red potatoes dripping in rosemary, butter, garlic, and salt make for a most excellent breakfast. While the real riders then head up White Mountain Road (for another 10 miles and 2,600' of vertical), we riders of the "lowland route" (a.k.a. wannabes) stay on 168 and head downhill toward Nevada. No one should leave this mortal plane without at least once rolling down a mountain road in the high desert with the sun coming up in your face and the folds of brown hills stretching out to infinity in front. Maybe this is going to be a good day.

The second rest stop is 46 miles in, with over 4,600' of vertical done. (Dahlstet Climbing Factor: 18.9. Hoo boy.) There I overhear a conversation between a woman rider and a volunteer about the woman's upcoming "induction." Apparently she has already completed 100 double centuries and was going to get honored for them. ("This will be one hundred one," she says. "If I finish." Her humility alone makes me proud to be out here.)

With all that space, there's time to review mentally the status of each bike and body system, to calculate one's ounces of water drunk per minute as well as one's average speed to the fourth decimal, and to remember fondly every girl one ever dated. Also, it seems the high temperature in Dyer, Nevada, (the lunch spot at 92 miles) on Saturday was 91. The fact that it wasn't instead 101 made, in hindsight, all the difference. Then again, arriving at the end of Route 773 (since when do numbers go that high?), having to turn right on Nevada 6, and knowing you were going six miles further out into nowhere before turning around and heading for home (and a quick 75 miles back to town) took some combination of determination and obliviousness. Please balance them as appropriate.

The final climb of 2,400' over 16.5 miles (average grade: about 2.75%) didn't announce itself as anything difficult, but what with it coming over miles 133 to 150 in the hottest part of the day, it made sense that there were *two* rest stops on the way up. Now the human insides can only absorb so much water and nutrition per hour, and it's not hard for a recreational cyclist to burn calories and perspire faster than those calories and that water can be replaced. I've been told this is the reason for muscle cramps in the legs despite having a belly continually full of liquid laced with carbs. Your mileage probably varies. That stretch of Nevada 6 also happens to be a two-lane road with no shoulder (or, where it exists, a shoulder full of unrideable rumble stripping), a 70-mph speed limit, and every type of oversized truck that can legally be driven on public roads without pilot cars. A bit nerve-wracking, all in all. 

I spent the last 34 miles, from rest stop 9 to the end, half in twilight and half in the dark, the first time I both started and finished a ride in the dark. That will bend the mind a bit, too. The weak half moon that had been overhead at 5 a.m. wasn't going to come up again for a long while, and the battery in my headlamp was fading (one more thing, along with the need for more frequent applications of Chamois Butt'r(r), for which a smarter rider would have been prepared), so that last hour and a quarter was an exercise in trying to avoid the now-invisible rumble strips. But there's a point about eight miles from Bishop where one comes over a low rise and can see the lights of the town, a truly beautiful sight.

I can report that at 8:42 p.m. in Bishop, California, on Saturday night, September 13, 2014, there was a handful of young people in front of the La Quinta hotel on Main Street applauding arriving cyclists and ringing a cow bell. Their enthusiasm was enough to make an old guy cry.

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