Friday, February 17, 2012

Still a Lot of Lands to See...

Red Rock Canyon
I have been afraid to write about this, because then it would become real... But this morning I've been listening to Joni Mitchell for inspiration, determined to finally do it. So here it is: in the end of March I am going to Death Valley in California for a bit of bicycle riding. Chris Kostman of AdventureCORPS has invited me to a couple of events that he organises: a century ride called the Hell's Gate Hundred, preceded by 5 days of cycling, hiking and yoga that is known as CORPSCamp.

I have never been to Death Valley, or to California before. And these events will be like nothing I've ever done previously. I will probably fail at them terribly, but I want to try anyway. The reason goes back to my trip to Interbike in Las Vegas last September.

Chris Kostman/ AdventureCORPS, Red Rock Canyon
I met many interesting people at Interbike. Some were sponsors with whom I've hitherto only had email contact, and Chris Kostman was among them. Describing Chris is a challenge, because "on paper" I knew of him as an athlete (the youngest to complete the Race Across America at age 20, he finished 9th). But when we met in person it was so removed from that, that I had a difficult time even picturing him on a bike. In fact I'd wanted to photograph and write about him back in September, but all the pictures came out looking like a GAP commercial, it was no good! An endurance cyclist since his teenage years, for decades Chris has been racing and competing in endurance events, and was even part of Team Bridgestone in the early '90s. Somewhere down the line he founded AdventureCORPS and now organises well known "ultra-cycling" events such as the Furnace Creek 508, as well as various century and double-century rides and cycling camps. 

Reading about these things, as well as Chris's many articles on training and nutrition, one gets the sense that this is a person who lives and breathes sport and spends most of his waking hours training. I was almost nervous to meet him. Would he make me do push-ups as we chatted? Turns out we had a lot to talk about. Chris is alarmingly intelligent, and one of those people who is interested in everything - soaking up knowledge like a sponge and sharing it freely with others. Since I started roadcycling, he has given me valuable advice and has opened up my mind about the place cycling can have in my life. He also sparked my interest in the desert landscape. 

Red Rock Canyon
Interbike was overwhelmingly hectic, and after taking pictures of bicycles non-stop as I walked around the huge showrooms for hours, I was exhausted. Still, when Chris offered to show me Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas on my last day there, I dragged myself out of bed early and, with a migraine and eyes half closed, grabbed my camera bag and made it into his time-traveling car. The only desert I'd seen before had been in the Middle East, and my memories of it were not fond. I expected a version of the same here. As we drove to Red Rock I mostly wanted to get it over with just as a "there, I've seen it" sort of thing.

Red Rock Canyon
But my experience proved to be different. I am a very visual person, and normally it is the way a place looks that influences me the most. And Red Rock was certainly striking, with its striped mountains and fields of rocks, cacti and unusual grasses. But that is not what I remember the most, and it's not what got to me. My strongest memory of the place has to do with how the air felt and smelled. It was so weird, I am not sure how to describe it. We got out of the car and immediately I walked 5 steps into the desert and just stood there. It wasn't hot. Or maybe it was, but I didn't notice. The air had a dewy quality to it that was not only unexpected, but nothing like the dewy morning air I am used to in Northern climates. There was a scent to it, too. Very faint and I bet the people who live there no longer notice it, but for me it was new. I think the scent was coming from all the weird little plants, and the overall effect was kind of melony - lightly sweet and refreshing.

Red Rock Canyon
Within 5 minutes my headache went away and I no longer felt tired or sleepy. In fact I felt like going on a very long hike or bike ride. This change in energy levels and sense of well-being was so quick and dramatic that it was as if I'd gotten an injection. Crazy. There wasn't much time before I had to get back to Las Vegas, but I walked around taking pictures for as long as I could, for the first time regretting that I could not stay and explore the area longer.  

Bill and John, Red Rock Canyon
We saw some cyclists in the desert, and I was envious. Riding in that fresh dewy air with the cactus scents and the stripey mountains looming in the distance must be nice. And that is when Chris remarked casually that I should take part in one of the rides he organises - in response to which I, of course, laughed, since it seemed wildly unrealistic. But by the time December rolled around, I'd been cycling like crazy and it changed to seeming only moderately unrealistic. When AdventureCORPS and the Furnace Creek Ranch officially invited me to the March events in Death Valley, I decided to go.

Red Rock Canyon
To save myself future embarrassment I've been trying to be non-comittal about classifying myself as a participant vs a photographer/support person. Chris assures me I'll be fine doing the rides, but he must think I am being modest in describing what a poor cyclist I am. Still, I've now registered on BikeReg and everything is settled, so it looks like it's happening. Soma Fabrications will be loaning me a Smoothie roadbike to test ride while I am in California, which I am excited about as well.

Physically I'm not ready for the Hell's Gate Hundred and the 5 days of cycling that is CORPSCamp. But I keep from hyperventilating by telling myself there isn't really any pressure on me to finish all the rides, and that I can do as little or as much as I feel comfortable with. It will be both scary and interesting to find out how much that is. And of course, I will get to see California. I am nervous and looking forward to it all in equal measure.

56 comments:

  1. Schedule a one on one session with Chris for descent training. The final drop on that route is an absolute gas. It would be extremely physically difficult and kinda sad to do that riding the brakes the whole way.

    Bet he'll have you flying downhill in one easy lesson.

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  2. I bet you can do the Hell's Gate Hundred. Don't set yourself up for failure by being afraid of it and make sure you drink enough water. It will be a great adventure.

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  3. Is this the trip you referred to earlier, or will you be in LA on another occasion?

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    1. This is the trip. It's not 100% certain yet, but I will probably fly in to LA and stay there for a couple of days before Death Valley.

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    2. If you do come to LA, how about a meet up with your LA readers?

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    3. I agree with Maggie, that'd be really cool.

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  4. What are you going to ride?

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    1. SOMA Smoothie (see 2nd to last paragraph) set up with Campagnolo ergos and low gearing. Should be good!

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  5. Take very good care to avoid sunburn. Even in March the UV will be very high. If you wear long sleeves and pants make sure they are UV proof because you can burn through clothing. I've seen east coasters come to the west and get so badly burned as to be hospitalized. This trip should be fantastic and it would be a shame to let something like that spoil it.

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  6. Not only is the air scented, but the quality of light and the broad landscape either scares people or is attractive and intriguing. I, for one, love how the serenity that such a broad, deserty place has the ability to soothe my cramped, northeastern existence.

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    1. I think my biggest problem with it long-term would be that I love trees, especially pine trees and birches. But to stay there for a bit and get to know it better would be wonderful. I would especially love to cycle in the desert on a starry night.

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  7. Will be a fun West Coast trip for you I'm sure!

    Here's a write up of a good time bike camping in Death Valley on Jim T's shop blog. You probably won't be roughing it to that degree :-)

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    1. I think/hope the Furnace Creek Ranch is not quite that rough : ) I have been madly searching for ride descriptions of the Hell's Gate Hundred - something that will reassure me that it's not that bad. Alas all the blog posts describing it suggest it's a friggin grueling ride!

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    2. Probably not quite that rough... :-)
      My buddy did the double and survived: http://veloflaneur.wordpress.com/2010/03/08/theres-beauty-in-the-suffering/ Barely :-)

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    3. V, after all, you rode a century on a 30Kg. Dutch city bike--that ought to be at least as tough as the Hell's Gate Hundred.

      Just keep in mind that you'll be riding in ultra low humidity. Sweat vaporizes before it has time to cool, so you'll need to carry PLENTY of water and drink more often than you do in Europe or New England.

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    4. Hey, it was an Italian city bike! : )

      But seriously, that "century" was very different. Flat as a pancake and all the time in the world. I even drank wine during!

      I am hoping the low humidity will help me. I don't tolerate humid conditions well and that is my kryptonite when cycling in the summer in New England.

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  8. I have the Soma Smoothie ES and it's a great bike! Looking forward to your review.

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  9. Your first trip to California has made me, as a Lancastrian, determined to go to Cornwall for the first time.

    The USA is so big it must be difficult for its citizens to explore every part of it, and your article has made me realise how easy it is for me to explore all parts of England.

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    1. I lived in England for 4 years and regret not exploring it as much as I could have during my time there. It really is so easy compared to the US!

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  10. I'm so jealous. I'm trying to scheme a way to go back to Texas soon to go mess around in the Big Bend area. Ride Mountain Bikes all day and eat brisket all evening.

    I'm also jealous that you get to spend all that time living in the middle of a Gustave Baumann print.

    I think your'e going to love every minute.

    Spindizzy

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  11. Ack! That's rad! It must have occurred to you how many of us are living vicariously through your adventures, right? You can't turn any down!

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    1. yeah... and you can vicariously embarrass yourself when your absolute lack of cycling skills is observed by hundreds of ride participants : )

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    2. Why not? It's what I'd be doing if I were really there, after all!
      It will be so REAL! : )
      There is no shame- you have to start somewhere.

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  12. So I'm going to start pestering you again with lots of invites to go riding!

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  13. Velouria if it's anything like every other challenge you've battled in the last couple of years, it should go something like this: self-effacingly you will assume you are about to fail, you will bravely give it a bash anyway, you will be pleasantly surprised when (not if) you EXCEL in your adventure, you will then relay your experience with wonderful effect to the rest of us, and we will all become determined to go out and give it a bash ourselves! Seriously, you always do so much better than you think you will! Looking forward to reading all about it and hope for some more photos of desert landscape. Enjoy :)

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    1. This is exactly what I was thinking!

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  14. This sounds awesome! I've been wanting to try out a Soma for a while, as the Saga is one of my dream bikes. Can't wait to hear what you think of it.

    My boyfriend and I are moving from CA to NC early/mid March, so maybe we'll spot you riding in the distance sometime at the beginning of our trip! We'll be the car with three cats yowling the back. :)

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  15. "There was a scent to it, too. Very faint and I bet the people who live there no longer notice it..."

    Nope, IME, the scent is one of the best parts of living in the desert. It changes with the season and the amount of rain.

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  16. The desert is like heaven in the early morning and at sundown... it's just high noon where things get problematic.

    I've lived everywhere and I think West is best. I'm always amazed by people who've never been out west ever.

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  17. Fantastic!

    I love death valley. I explored a lot of it on foot 10 years ago. To cycle through it would have been marvellous.

    I understand your trepidation, but arm yourself with sunglasses, a hat, factor 50 and loads of water and you'll have a fabulous experience..

    Which bike are you going to use?

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  18. This could scarcely be more vicariously wonderful, since like Anon above, I ride a Soma smoothie ES! I guess the straight smoothie is a tad more sporty.

    I'll be very interested to hear about the gearing, since I'm thinking of modifying my own if I take another run at the Backroads Century down here in Virginia.

    Regardless, this is 100% awesome!

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    1. The straight Smoothie also has no TCO in size 52cm, or so we think! : )

      We are playing around with the gearing. It might get a triple.

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    2. Do the triple.

      Main climb is 5-6%, about the same as your Peaks of Somerville. Except the climb is 15 miles long. You want a gear that you can sit and spin for two to three hours. And maybe a breather gear below that. A low of 24 x 32 sounds right to me. Better to have a spare gear than run out of gear.

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  19. Go for it, but is it wise of you to test a bicycle you have not been accustomed to before the rides. We would have used a bicycle (or one of our tandems likely) that we had at least 500 km in before. Know the equipment and yourself.

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    1. Not an option for me unfortunately. My only roadbike right now is this one and it has issues that make me doubt its appropriateness for this ride. The SOMA should be fine and I will probably test ride it in LA before Death Valley.

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    2. We are haooy to hear you are goingto test it before! Sounds like a very nice bicycle.

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  20. Desert perfumes are one of the blessings of life. And Death Valley is the most beautiful place I've ever seen. I've been around a lot too, and am primarily an urban person. Get to Salt Creek if you can and just walk around slowly a little bit. It's all the symphonies of the world, played silently.

    And if you have time when you get to LA (if you get to LA), drop Bicycle Fixation an email. We can ride around town a bit. Doesn't have to be anything strenuous unless you want that.

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  21. you'll be less than 5 hrs from Santa Barbara, come down to visit us: spacerider gal and my pal from Bike by the Sea

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  22. i'm glad you're not doing this during the summer.

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  23. Wow, I love that landscape so much! I'm a huge desert fan, and Death Valley is just as beautiful, but very different than where you've been. You'll have a great time, and you'll be fine physically. You're much stronger than you give yourself credit for (a habit I share with you, as do many "non-sporty" women, I think).

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  24. I love how tiny you are in the first picture! What an amazing place.

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  25. I recently read a book about the Race Across America and have read Born to Run about the barefoot ultrarunners which included furnace creek.
    Crazy and inspiring! Not for the faint of heart. Have fun, the desert is beautiful! I have been too long in the damp mouldy pacific northwest, would thoroughly love some time riding in the desert.

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  26. Sounds like great fun, I am envious. Hopefully the place won't be super hot that time of year.

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  27. That looks so amazing! Congrats on signing up! My step-father has done the Furnace Creek 508 a bunch of times, and is constantly riding out to Anza Borrego desert from San Diego.

    I think i might have to look into this next year, since my family lives pretty close!

    looking forward to pictures and stories!

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  28. Now, I will think of you as V.V.: Vicarious Velouria.

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  29. I've ridden in Death Valley a couple of times (back in my long haul truck driving days,when I'd make 51-52 trips to CA per year and have a bike with me),you'll have a blast,especially it being your first trip to CA!!! I wish you an AWESOME adventure,my friend,and look forward to reading about it here :D

    The Disabled Cyclist

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  30. I was born and raised in SoCal, and recall as a kid loading up the family wagon for weekend camping trips in the desert. There is something enigmatic about it, seemingly desolate, but loaded with life. For me the best time of day is the last hour before the sun sets for evening. The vibrant spring colors shift to muted shades, the mtns turn various layered hues of gray/purple, the sky gets a dark navy blue and the stars begin to twinkle on. And evening smells different than daytime.

    Enjoy it.

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  31. Hey Velouria,

    Will you have a bike during your short stay in Los Angeles? There's some absolutely amazing riding up in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains that you might want to try.

    -Tyler

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  32. "And of course, I will get to see California. I am nervous and looking forward to it all in equal measure. "

    I think you'll find the southern part very pleasant during this time of year. It might even be wildflower time when you arrive.
    And yes, CA high desert smells as clean and sweet as you can imagine.

    It's a *very different* place than the central or northern parts of the state.



    Enjoy!

    Corey K

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  33. Good luck Velouria. Sounds like a great challenge!

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  34. LA? That's only 8 hours from my neighborhood, the Catalina Foothills outside Tucson. If you could adjust your schedule coming or going, have a Seven Alaris your size here and you all can explore the lush Sonoran desert for comparison with the Mojave. Plus, do the tram/ride/walk up Sabino Canyon, ride Madera Canyon, ride through the saguaro forests in Saguaro National Park, see Bisbee Bicycle Brothel, ride the Rillito & Santa Cruz, car tour or ride Mt. Lemmon, etc., stuff yourself on good southwest food, etc. Got a guest room and bath. 'Course you could do Canyon Ranch too but there you're definitely on your own. And you could take the Brompton back in checked luggage. Even if you could just do a day, you could scout it for next time you're out West. Think about it, seriously.

    No matter what your experience is at Furnace Creek we all admire you for going. Have a wonderful experience. Jim Duncan

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  35. That is so wild that you guys think 5 and 8 hours from LA is a reasonable distance for a quick visit. On the East Coast there is just a totally different sense of distance!

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    1. This state is almost 800 miles long, V.
      It contains as much landmass as the entire nation of Japan. Highest and lowest points in the continental US, and the accompanying geology to match.

      State Of California

      I suspect you will fall in love with the quality of the light. It truly is Meditarranean.

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  36. I can empathise entirely. I've been training for 5 months now to get fit for a self imposed challenge to ride back to back 125 mile ride this summer as a ride across the Scottish mainland. Now I've announced it, blogged about it and started raising money for charity. And all of a sudden I'm very very nervous about it.
    Good luck with it; I'm sure you'll be fine.

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  37. May the winds be with you....

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