What kind of riding do you do? How often? We ride for recreation around our neighborhood and I commute into town when I run errands.
What do you think the most important thing the Coalition has done in SLO County? Bike Ed – empowering people to overcome fear of sharing the road with motor vehicles.
What advice do you have to encourage others to get on their bicycles? Start slow and do what you feel comfortable with.
What’s your favorite thing about bicycles? You can’t not smile when you ride your bike.
Describe your favorite bicycle memory… My daughter, Catherine, and I rode our bikes through Death Valley a few years ago. Bicycling promoter Hugh Murphy hosted a double century there twice a year, a 200-mile ride through the National Monument. It started in Shoshone that year, climbed over Salsberry and Jubilee Passes, then dropped to the valley floor and passed through Badwater and Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells. Then the riders turned around and went back to Shoshone.
It was Catherine’s first attempt at a double century. Lee Mitchell provided SAG support with his specially outfitted van. Only a hundred or so bicyclists participated. As we headed up the east side of Salsberry Pass, riders passed us in a continuous stream. By the time we reached the summit, Catherine and I were dead last.
Ashford Mill was the first food stop, at the bottom of Jubilee Mountain. We loaded up on cookies and fruit, then continued across the flat valley floor. Nearby on our right was the Amargosa Range, multi-colored rock cliffs rising straight from desert sand. Across the basin on the left was the Panamint Range, crowned by snow-covered Telescope Peak, towering more than 11,000 feet above us.
Our route through the valley generally followed sea level and was fairly flat. After we passed the Furnace Creek food stop, we saw the fastest riders returning from Stovepipe Wells. As more and more of them passed and waved, Catherine felt worse and worse.
When we turned around at Stovepipe, we faced into a head wind for the hundred-mile trip back. The temperature was in the high nineties but the wind kept us from feeling the effect. Ride officials constantly reminded us to hydrate and we did that, to the point of overabundance.
Catherine broke at Badwater. The support crews at the food stops, as nice as they were, were openly delighted when we approached. They knew there was no one behind us and they started packing up as soon as they saw us come in. Catherine is not accustomed to being in last place and this demoralized her.
We accepted a ride from Lee and he loaded our bikes on the top of his van. We stopped several times and picked up more riders who did not want to continue.
At Ashford Mill, Catherine told me she wanted to get back on the bike. This meant we were going to climb both Jubilee and Salsberry Passes in the darkness. I, of course, agreed.
We thanked Lee, climbed on our bikes and began the ascent as daylight faded. Darkness in the desert brings bitter cold. Our climbing effort masked that as we pedaled up Jubilee Mountain. At the summit, we had a quick descent of about 300 feet, then began a 2,300 foot climb to the top of Salsberry Pass.
There was no moon but the stars shone so brilliantly in the cold air that we did not need both headlamps to see the way. We used Catherine’s and saved mine for the descent.
We stopped part way up the hill to rest and to look at the stars. A course marshal drove up and shouted at us to get our bicycles out of the road because she had almost run over them. Catherine and I looked at each other. The same thought occurred to us both and we laughed out loud. What a great thing it would be if she would run over our bikes and then give us a ride to the finish.
We topped Salsberry at about 11 pm. I had been half dreading the moment. As long as we were climbing, we put out enough body heat to offset the lowering air temperature. Twelve miles of descent presented a dilemma. Our clothing was soaked with sweat and it was cold. If we pedaled, we generated body heat but also increased the wind chill effect. Also, my new headlamp was not as bright as we wanted it to be for a high-speed descent on an unfamiliar road. The deciding factor for me was that the faster we went, the sooner it would be over.
We finally hit the last stop sign at Highway 127 and turned right into Shoshone as the headlamp flickered and went out. Brightly lit tents and trailers drew us to the finish line where we were served a hot cup of noodles. Catherine still remembers that it was the best soup she ever had. My best memory of that day is the pride I felt when she got out of the van at Ashland and said, “Let’s go, Dad. We can finish this.”
If you had to name your favorite bicycle, what would you name it? Louie
Anything else you want to share? Just keep pedaling.