The Death Valley Stage Race is a brutal two day race featuring three long ascents with 15,000 feet of climbing in 120 miles (74 racing miles), a maximum elevation of 10,000 feet, and sustained six mile sections of 8% - 10% grades. Can you say, "Thin Air?" In 2010, it was to be held on October 16th and 17th.
Hannah had been eyeing this painful race for over a year, repeatedly asking me if we could do it. I had tackled these brutal climbs a couple of times over the last 10 years, so I knew how hard they were. Mindful of how little oxygen there is 10,000 feet, I did my best to dissuade her. However, she was resolute on entering this hardcore race and after months of listening to her politely ask me, I finally agreed. Thus, as soon as the SCNCA racing season came to a close, we got back to our endurance training, more specifically, endurance climbing, Hannah's passion in cycling.
We would eventually work our way up a 78 mile ride with 9,400 feet of climbing by doing 3 repeats on the 20% grades of Pine Creek. That ride, which we started in 22 degrees, was an adventure in and of itself. Arguably the hardest 78 mile ride in San Diego County, it got us as prepared as we could get for the Eastern Sierras without actually going there. Moriah joined our hardcore training regiment and completed the Pine, Pine, Pine training ride with relative ease, so I decided to let her enter the Death Valley Stage Race as well.
Day one of the Death Valley Stage Race would not be "too" difficult, with two climbs totaling 8,200 feet of climbing in 60 miles, 45 of which were racing miles and 15 of which were miles off the clock descending back to the car. The maximum elevation of day one would hit 7,600 feet. Day two would be the killer. With cooked legs from day one, we would have to tackle one long monstrous climb, with five switchbacks, 29 miles, sustained 10% sections, 7,000 feet of climbing, and a max elevation of over 10,000 feet. The climb ended at Horseshoe Meadow campground, high above Lone Pine and just south of Mt. Whitney. Fortunately, the Race Director, Steve Barnes, would agree to let my wife drive up to the finish line on day two so that we would not have to descend this treacherous climb.
Our training "hill" Mt. Laguna topped out at 6,000 feet in elevation. Knowing that we would have to peddle our bikes up to 10,000 feet at the end of this brutal race after 15,000 feet climbing, I was concerned about altitude sickness, fatigue, and safety, especially for 11 year old Moriah, as we began our six hour drive to Bishop. As a precautionary measure we decided to sleep up at Parcher's Resort high above Bishop at an elevation of 9,200 feet. We would get three nights of sleep there to help us acclimatize before having to peddle our bikes to 10,000 feet.
Race day had finally arrived. We checked in and as usual, Hannah and Moriah were the only two Juniors that had enter this insane event. The rest of the 30+ rider field was made up of 3 hardcore women and a bunch of strong, fast men from various racing teams. As I assessed the field at the starting line on day one, I told the girls our goal was just to finish and that we would not try and stay with the field, but instead would ride our own slower-paced race. While that was a little tough for Hannah to swallow at first, the approach served us well. Both girls finished, while 22% of the other racers, including Cat 3 and Cat 4 men DNFed.
Day one departed out of Big Pine and was an out-and-back on Death Valley Road, up, over, and down the Eastern side of the HWY 395 mountains, descending all the way to the edge of Death Valley for a U-turn. At the U-turn, the girls could see where they would be riding in two more weeks during the 108 mile AdventureCORPS' Death Valley Century ride. Day one was truly a "Planet of the Apes" adventure through barren, beautiful, and powerful landscapes covered by awe-inspiring skies and majestic cloud formations. Day two was intimidating but spectacular, as five steep switchbacks propelled us up thousands of feet, high above the 395 Valley, giving us views so amazing it was hard to keep our eyes on the road. The girls finished strong and I am incredibly proud of them. I highly recommend this race to all who are up for the challenge. See the astounding photos here.