September 26, 2018

September 2018: Death Valley - White Mountain 24hr

  If you haven't already, please read about last year’s attempt in the previous post: DVWM 2017. It provides greater background detail and a thorough depiction of the emotional highs and lows of attempting (and failing) something beyond my abilities. See Instagram @jkoons10 for tidbits of recent adventures.

Ending the 2017 attempt two miles short of the peak pained me greatly. To put in that effort, to come so close, to turn back without reaching the top… the emotions of that moment still linger. My mistakes became regrets which felt like punishments.

Gloomy last look from 2017
The failure to summit only strengthened my desire to complete the route. Before even leaving the mountain, I knew I’d be back for a second attempt.

Road to Badwater
Circling a date on the calendar solidified the summit as a concrete goal.

By understanding the 2017 mistakes, I addressed my weaknesses. I needed to be fitter, stronger, tougher and more efficient.

Starting in the winter, I began a focused effort to train specifically for the challenge of DVWM. I taught myself to enjoy hill climbing repeats. One day I completed 42 laps of the same hill, accumulating 29,029’ of elevation gain. It’s called ‘Everesting’ and it only took 17 hours.

Enormous switchbacks
When training got uncomfortable, I learned to ignore the pain and push through. Most of the time, it was merely a mental barrier to surpass. The penance taught my legs to continue as long as my mind would allow.

Big mountain climbing: Whitney, far right
In the spring I signed up for a brevet series, including rides of 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km. These semi-supported endurance events taught me how to fuel, hydrate, conserve, and pace myself over long hours on the bike. Feeling strong and confident, my mind pushed my body too far. I ignored a shooting pain and shredded the cartilage in my knee. I completed 250 miles in under 18 hours, but the success* came with an asterisk. My mental toughness was much improved, but a physical set-back brought my plan crashing down.

For 12 weeks I couldn’t ride. The self-induced injury left me in purgatory. It was hard to sit still while the calendar turned. The pain slowly faded but the uncertainty and anguish remained.

Waiting for sunrise
Months of physical therapy helped me develop a plan for my redemption. Stretching, exercise, and massage slowly rebuilt my knee, while some easy cycling fueled my confidence.

Long way to the top: Whitney, again
Having friends with ambitious goals made it easier to think bigger. If they could do it, I could too. Whenever I felt I’d reached my limit, I looked to others to see the infinite realm of possibility.

Follow the leader
My training plan evolved to include harder workouts and longer rides, each with increased frequency. The gym gave me strength and power, while the bike gave me endurance and optimism. I constantly eyed the calendar, counting the days, completing my workouts and hitting my benchmarks.

Taken a step further, obsession became something else. So fixated on my goal, I often lost track of priorities, focusing solely on the summit and the endless preparation required.

Stay on trail
Nearing the final stretch of training, I put all the pieces together to practice the various stages of the route. I trained in the heat, on huge climbs, at elevation, in the dark, on the dirt, and everything in between. Critically, I also practiced eating and drinking under the stresses of long strenuous climbs.

My 24-hour goal was impossible without a team. I assembled the best crew, Brandon and Kimber, and added another rider, Nate, for the second attempt. With much discussion on needs and logistics, we finalized the plan and approached the start. 

Start: Badwater Basin, Death Valley, the lowest point on the continent (-282’). 3:01pm, 115°F.

Smiles at the start: Jeremy and Nate
Despite my training in the heat of summer, 115° is merciless and vicious. It is difficult to breathe. My heart races. It’s harder than expected. Frequent resupply is barely enough to keep the wheels rolling. I reach my first checkpoint dejected, pathetic, and miserable. Dante’s 7th Circle1 wasn’t this hot. It feels like fate, but I am not yet resigned. To escape this Inferno, I must continue.

Stage 1 complete: 42mi to Stovepipe Wells (0’). Goal time 6pm. Actual 5:45, 108°F.

Death Valley
I knew the first stage would be brutal, but three hours in the Valley plays tricks on my mind. I’m looking for an excuse to stop. Maybe my knee hurts. Maybe I’m feeling sick. Maybe today just isn’t the day… We reach the first climb before sunset: a mistake. Dehydrated, overheated, with a 5000’ climb ahead, my body begs for a reprieve, but my mind is now stronger than ever. We continue. Up.

Hotter than hell
Still smiling
Or not

The crew offer commiserations, but Nate and I share the real misery ourselves. Suffering with a partner makes it more bearable. If he can do it… It’s not the first time I’ve stared bleakly at his wheel and continued only because he was there. Finally, mercifully, the sun sets and the dusk breathes life into my soul.

Leaving the Valley
With the distress waning, we breathe deeply, more easily, and take in the beauty of the night. Using minimal lighting, the stars fill our eyes and propel us through the dark.

Darkness descends
A year ago the wind whipped through this section, unleashing a torrent of torment on my psyche. I had opened Pandora’s box and the escaping sorrows clung to me until the end. This year, I dispatch the gloom, brace for the worst, and notice a token on the median: a gift from Pandora herself.

Stage 2 complete: 49mi to Crowley summit (5300’). Goal time 10:30pm. Actual 11:50, 60°F.

Midnight snack
The headwind from 2017 still gives me nightmares. I am prepared for another long challenging night, but this year feels different; the wind is at our back. For 10 hours Cerberus2 has hounded us, but a tailwind turns the tide. The task ahead remains herculean, but for the moment, we are immortal. With steely resolve, I check our pace and smile wryly. It is our turn to chase the beast.

Stage 3 complete: 73mi to Big Pine (4000’). Goal time 4:30am. Actual 5:00, 60°F.

Through the first twelve hours, our efficiency is superb. Minimal stops, quick refills, and excellent teamwork cut corners on the route. We find time by not losing time. I feel the momentum and take the opportunity for a full reset: a shower, hot meal, and fresh shorts.

Through the gates
My passion for this project has infected my friends, but in the end, nobody cares more than I do. I’ve taken countless mornings, evening, and weekends preparing for this moment, often at the expense of family and other opportunities. Now begins the final climb: 10,000’ to gain. After 14 hours riding together, Nate starts to drift behind. For the next 10 hours, we’ll ride alone. I have my own demons to fight and my own score to settle.

Stage 4 complete: 23mi to the Bristlecone Forest (10,000’). Goal time 8am. Actual 8:30, 50°F.

Alone to Bristlecone 
After a long night
I invented this goal, the most net elevation gain in under 24 hours, as the most difficult challenge I could conceivably complete. Other riders may well do it faster, or find a harder route or a bigger mountain, but for my skill set, this attempt is the pinnacle of my ability. It takes a huge team effort to complete this ride and I literally couldn't do it without my crew. The countless water bottles and calories, the batteries and gear, the infinite encouragement, after 18 hours of support, I fully realize how grateful I am to my team. Brandon, Kimber, and Nate prove indispensable, as do the family and friends back home who lend us vehicles, provide childcare, and generally pick up my slack when I need a rest day (or two).

Stage 5 complete: 15mi to the Barcroft Gate (11,700’). Goal time 11am. Actual 11:15, 60°F.

Endless horizon
A year ago, the miles before the Gate left me weak and sputtering. With Brandon now riding next to me, this year is different. Only a few minutes behind the pace, I float past the Gate and glide up the ramp to Barcroft. Vivid memories of the previous struggle envelop me, but I brush them off and surge forward. I reach the stones of last year’s DNF and stop for a symbolic snack and photo. Hikers on the trail are astonished at our progress, but warn that “it only gets harder from here.” You don’t say?

Summit in sight

Stage 6: 10mi to the Peak.

The final pitch becomes unridable. The trail narrows, steepens, and sharpens. To consider the route ‘completed by bike,’ the bike must make the summit too. Pushing a mountain bike uphill, a Sisyphean3 task at 14,000’, proves the hikers right. Switchback upon switchback, progress is indiscernible. A mile from the summit, with 1000’ to gain, I take some food and grit my teeth. I mount the bike, leaving Sisyphus behind. The clock is ticking and I’m not yet ready to pay for my sins.

End: White Mountain Peak, the highest point (by bike) on the continent (14,252’). 1:52pm, 50°F.

I crest the final switchback and receive a welcome greeting from another hiker. Probably thinking I’ve done only ten miles, not two-hundred and ten, she cheers “Congratulations! You made it!” Exhausted, out of breath, I’m able to stammer, You have no idea… how much …this means… to me. I collapse on the summit platform and reach for my clock: 22 hours, 51 minutes, 56 seconds.

Trail's end
I savor the summit alone, looking widely out and down, absorbing the mountain of effort below. Brandon rolls his own stone to the top, and for a moment we have the world to ourselves. We celebrate, we sigh, we embrace, and barely, I cry.

Warmer memories of the peak in 2018
        If pride is a sin
       I’m going to hell
   Take me to Badwater
        I’ll ring the bell

Net gain, in a day: 14,534’, a national record.

Nate is hugely inspiring. On short notice, with little training, he joined this ride on borrowed bikes and managed, through grueling effort, to reach mile 210. Only 2 miles from the summit, the clock expired and we had to turn him back. No doubt he could have finished in the dark, but it didn’t feel safe to send him up alone. It’s eerily similar to my 2017 result, but I hope his optimism will still consider it a success. His adventures are mythical, and if his mistakes put him through hell4, at least I’ll have good company.

Brandon - Jeremy - Nate

1. Dante’s 14th century epic poem, Inferno, leads the journey through nine concentric circles of hell.
2. The three-headed ‘hound of Hades’ guards the gates of hell to prevent the dead from leaving.
3. Forced to push a boulder to the top of the mountain only to see it roll back down, Sisyphus must start again and repeat the process for eternity.
4. Hercules’s last of 12 labors was to descend to hell and capture Cerberus.

Gps data: Strava route

September 27, 2017

September 2017: Badwater - White Mountain 24hr Attempt

        California’s geographic diversity is unrivaled. The Golden State is home to the nation’s lowest point, in Death Valley, and the highest* point, Mount Whitney, and everything in between.
The proximity of Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level) and Mount Whitney (14,505 feet above) is surprising; the two are less than 100 miles apart. They are in fact close enough that one can see both locations simultaneously (Dante’s View), or even visit both on the same day.
This same-day visit is the inspiration for my attempt. The Whitney area is off-limits to bikes, but there is a sister peak, in a parallel range, that provides rideable terrain up to its 14,252’ summit. Nowhere else in the country, perhaps even the world, can you ride a bike through such a vast range of elevation in a single day. The net gain of 14,534’ is the most I’ve found in my research. Admittedly I haven’t proved this, but I propose that the ride from Badwater (-282’) to White Mountain (14,252’) is the largest net gain possible to traverse by bike in one day. Edit: as of October, I've found a larger possible contender, but it will have to wait for another time.
The challenge is simple: start at the bottom, ride to the top, in under 24 hours.
*Among the 48 contiguous United States. AK has higher.

Start here
The goal is obviously to complete the challenge, but also to push myself beyond my limits and test my mettle in the face of a daunting, if not impossible, endeavor. The idea of setting a national record, and a type of ‘first ascent’, is very appealing. The bragging rights would be precious, but secondary to the personal satisfaction of completion.

Death Valley
The route choice is simple. The easy* way is to ride pavement from Badwater, north through Death Valley, west across two mountain ranges, north through the Owen’s Valley, and continue to where the gravel begins, 187 miles later, at 10,000’ elevation. From there, continue north on rough undulating gravel until the path reaches the summit, at mile 210.
*There are no easy ways, but any shorter route would likely be slower, as the desert is mostly dirt.

Desert twilight
        People always ask Why?, but I don’t have an answer yet. George Mallory famously said about Mt. Everest, when asked why he wanted to climb it, “Because it’s there.”
Perhaps it is that simple, but there are other elements to my motivation. Expanding on my goal, I want to examine what it means to reach a breaking point. I know that during the attempt I will experience a time of regret, of despair, of broken will, and finally a desire to quit. I ask myself, what happens when you hit the ‘wall’?
Lastly, I rarely attempt things with uncertain outcomes. It’s time to take a risk and see what happens.

Early miles
While planning, I ride. To harden my legs and mind, I compete in bike races, join long group rides, and endure much solo suffering. Hill repeats, flat track laps in the dark, rides at 100 degrees, others at 30, and double days add flavor to my training.

Darkness approaching
       Death Valley is famous for its heat. An air temperate of 134°F was once measured, the highest ever recorded on Earth. As if the ride isn’t long and steep enough already, it begins, quite literally, in the hottest place on Earth.
On the other end, White Mountain gets a full dose of winter snow, and chilling cold winds even in summer.
The attempt must fit into a narrow weather window that includes the melting of high-elevation snow fields, warm (above-freezing) summit temperatures, cool (under 100) desert nights, clear skies, and if lucky, calm winds throughout. By observing historical weather data, the best chance for success comes in mid-September.

       The forecast for Sept 15, 2017, is perfect: 100 in Death Valley, 30 at White Mountain, clear skies and calm winds.
5:45pm, I begin. Over smooth roads, with minimal traffic, the first few hours are wonderful and exciting. My teammates ride with me, in alternating sections.
8:30pm, I hit the first climb, a five thousand footer up to Townes Pass. Similar to my training, I suffer the climbing alone. Still fresh and confident, it feels easier than expected. Riding uphill in the dark is an unusual experience. The road becomes a treadmill, with no sign of progress. I am stationary, while the pavement spins beneath me and disappears behind.

Night climbing
       10:30pm, I reach the summit ahead of schedule, to find the team fast asleep. It’s the first speed bump in my plan. I was hoping for a smooth transition, with food, water, headlamps, and a bike change. Instead, my mind races and the clock ticks. Another sloppy switch after the descent leaves me frustrated: a waste of time, effort and patience. The first negative thoughts creep in as I begin the second climb shortly before midnight.
12:45am, I dip into regret. The wind shifts, swirling through the canyon, buffeting my helmet as I ride the treadmill. The miles crawl slowly and my impatience only exaggerates the difficulty. I round a corner to see Brandon in the middle of the road, dancing. He joins me to ride the last few miles of the climb. Like steeping tea, his energy radiates and fills my cup. We summit with smiles and continue into the night.
3:00am, David pulls me through the flats, but it feels uphill. The wind will play tricks on you, like Winnie the Pooh. Friday becomes Windsday and for hours and hours and miles and miles, the wind is relentless.
Dark-thirty, despair. The plan is breaking, the transitions are lazy, the wind is my nightmare, food is repulsive, and the whole thing is complete shit. We pass a 24-hour casino, where I visit the restroom, put a quarter in the slot, and walk out lighter, fresher, and ready for another dose of suck. Rule V.

Dawn despair
       Sunrise-ish, flat tire. Hit a staple. Suck. Twilight pulls the heat from the air and the temperate drops 10 degrees. Shiver.
7:45am, we limp to Big Pine and I have my first serious doubts about the attempt. The headwind has cracked my optimism. Even the effervescence of Brandon and David can’t fizz my drink. We’re behind schedule, my legs are jello, my whole body shudders at 45°. My will is bleeding. Soup, oatmeal, fruit, drinks, and warm dry clothes stanch my decline. Dave proves to be an excellent cook. Nobody ever made a meaner Cup’o’Noodles.

Soup salvation
8:15am, Tyrel makes his mark. He has been mostly in the background for the first 12 hours, riding only a few miles, sleeping much of the night. But now he shows a skill that the rest of us currently lack: the ability to quietly listen. He absorbs my complaints, my excuses, and stoically reflects what I no longer see: strength and determination. Whether he says anything or not, his message is clear: get back on the bike.

Smash it
8:30am, refreshed, renewed, and out of the wind, I turn and face the final grade. I smash the first pitch, a paved climb from 4000’ to 7,500’. I am invincible. Onward, upward, I continue, stomping the pedals. Nearing 10,000’, I pass two motorcycles who give me a whoop and cheer. “Almost there,” I say. They respond, laughing, “The Hell you are!”

Pavement's end
Noon, where the pavement ends, mile 188, there’s a crowd of people who have glimpsed the attempt. They gasp at the 18 hours already served, and ponder the difficulty of the remaining miles. We’re a little behind schedule, but it’ll go. “Good luck,” they say. We continue, this time with confidence.

Last meal
2:30pm, only ten miles later, I crest a nasty pitch, 18% grade says the computer, and see 200 flash on the odometer. The effort is taking a cumulative toll. Lack of sleep, food, water, energy, makes everything wane xcept desire. It’s hard think clear. My rests longer. More. Ffocus! I bail and walk a technical spot, pushing my bike. Through all the dirt and rock, Tyrel is there, still listening, providing strength by example.

Two hundred
3:30pm, after countless false summits and infinite horizons, White Mountain finally comes to view. A rush of emotion hits me. It’s the first I’ve laid eyes on the target. After twenty hours, I can actually see the finish. My chest shudders and my mouth is instantly dry. We reach the locked gate below Barcroft Station and hastily load packs for the impending cold.

White Mountain
         4:00pm, the Wall. It has arrived, and it’s built of stone and cemented by wind. I never expected to drop at mile 205, but I can’t pedal fast enough to stay upright. I weakly stand and slump on the bars. The 1/2 mile to the station looks impossible. I walk. Push. Close my eyes. Stumble. Stop. Remount and pedal for… as long as I can… a minute? I dismount and lay where I fall, in the dirt. Alone and overwhelmed. Moments later the team arrives and I break down. Food! Water! Warm clothes! Give me your pack! Optimism! Support! But all I can do is sit and cry. I have bonked. I am broken.
5:00pm, the ride is over. There’s still some daylight, but the clock spins faster than my wheels. The four of us crest a small ridge and drop into the last depression before the final summit ramp. In other circumstances it would be a stunning place to watch the sun set across the peak, but today, in this high valley, all I feel is low. It is time to quit.

End there
5:45pm, I am racked by shivers. The agony of defeat is heightened by the cold wind. My emotions spill, my composure falters, I am barely able to mouth the words, I’m done.
I stop the clock, wipe a dirty mitt across my cheeks, and take a single photo of the foreboding peak. With a final glance, we turn. Downhill. I can’t look back.

Last look
        It’s easy to see mistakes in hindsight. Besides being fitter, faster, and tougher, the most room for improvement lies in efficiency. Much time was wasted on poor transitions. With better planning, I could have saved an hour or two.
        Also, I struggled to eat enough calories throughout the climbs. Food simply didn’t taste good and it was hard to force it down. Riding at an energy deficit can work for a few hours, or even ten, but at 24 hours, my body couldn’t continue.
Despite the perfect weather forecast, the headwind was an unexpected adversary. It slowed my pace by 10-20%, which when considered over 90 miles from Panamint Springs to Big Pine might have cost me an hour. The mental fatigue of an eight hour headwind also contributed to my overall degrade. (No excuses, right? Rule V.)
Lastly, if I had a chance to change one thing, I would have started the ride earlier. I was so committed to a 24hr limit that I didn’t leave enough room for plan B. Starting a couple hours earlier would have given enough time to fail the 24 while still reaching the summit for a successful* attempt.
*I made the rules.

Next time
        I certainly accomplished some of what I set out to do. I pushed well beyond my previous limits and experienced each of the predicted phases between regret and the wall. While I ran out of time to break through the final wall, I was able to negotiate the preceding low points. Most of the rebounds were mental boosts provided by my teammates, but other sparks came from food, clothing changes, and music.
The attempt did set some new personal bests: 207 miles, 13,000’ net gain (21,000’ total). These are impressive, but I think I can do better. When the snow melts, I’ll return for attempt number two.

       I am indebted to Brandon, David, and Tyrel for their tireless effort to keep me going. Their aid-station teamwork was invaluable, but their mental, verbal, and physical encouragement was priceless. I also owe thanks for the photos of this attempt, as seen above.
      As Warren Miller says, "hope to see you next year, same time, same place."

September 28, 2016

September 2016: Cycling the Northern California Coast

The Team
Nate and I are finally competent touring cyclists. We’ve ridden over 1000 miles, camped a dozen nights, and learned a few bike repair skills. We’re no experts, compared to the riders we meet along the trail, but we have a system that works for us. Instead of the usual day-by-day play-by-play, I hope the following stories will be more interesting.

The Route
Our 2010 ride finished at the Oregon-California border, and our 2014 ride began in San Francisco. We did Washington last year, so the route choice this year is easy: OR/CA to S.F.
It happens to be the longest section of the coast, at 465mi, which takes 7 days at our preferred pace. It also has the most elevation undulation, at 30,000’ of gain. The route follows highways 101 and 1, and uses surfaces streets and bike paths wherever possible.

Off the highway. Route finding.
The Preparation
A long adventure often requires some suffering. In cycling, it’s a badge of honor, something to brag about, to go for a sufferfest. Your ride is too long, too hot, too hilly, too hard, and your butt hurts, your legs cramp, your neck aches, and it’s completely miserable until the end, when you get to tell everybody how much fun it was. Wait, what? It wasn’t fun during the ride, but it was amazing afterwards? That’s what we call Type II fun.
To prepare for a Type II adventure, it’s best to practice a little Type II fun. I rode my bike 40 miles uphill, from 600’ elevation to over 6000’, on one continuous climb. Near the very summit, the ride downgraded to Type I/II, where it was still uncomfortable, but the stunning views put a smile on my sweaty face. The downhill was Type I fun, the whole way down. That’s where it’s fun throughout and you never want it to stop.
I did a few of those rides this summer, including one monster in Washington with Nate. There’s an event that Rides Around Mount Rainier in One Day: RAMROD. It’s 150mi with 10,000’ elevation gain. Nate did one short ride beforehand, but mostly did it ‘off the couch’. It was a 10-hour pedal, with a few lunch breaks in between. We got tired at the end, or maybe closer to the middle, but we finished with smiles, despite my route error that cost us a few miles and some hills near the end. For me, it was barely Type II, but I think Nate might disagree. He did, however, climb Rainier the following day, up above 14,000’. Off the couch to a 150mi ride and a 14k summit? He’s Type Two Tough.

RAMROD was in July. It was Nate’s only training for the September tour.

Rainier in a day.

The Gear
My steel touring bike is a beast. It’s strong and tough and hasn’t had a flat tire in 1500 miles. Still, it’s heavy, and the route has enough hills to warrant a gear diet. I slough as much weight as possible, including the front panniers, my fenders, most of my camera gear, and, of course, half of my clothing. Two shorts, two jerseys, three socks, one set of pants and shirt for camp, a puffy coat, a rain coat and a warm hat is all I need.
Okay, three pair of socks, for those keeping score. Also, if I'm desperate, I can turn my chamois shorts inside out and it counts as a fresh pair. So that’s really four shorts. Only kidding, I only do that trick with underwear.
People often ask, “how much does your bike weigh?”

I answer, “Enough.”

Importantly, and gratefully, Nate does bring bike lube this year. We both use it on Day 2 and are squeaky-free the rest of the trip.

Heavy enough.
Just add more grease and call it good.
It wouldn't be an adventure without a broken spoke or two. It's so easy now it's hardly noteworthy.
The Logistics
The OR/CA border is not an easy place to reach. From my house, I use Uber, a plane, a taxi, a shuttle, and my pedals to get to the starting line. Seven days later, I use BART, Amtrak, and a car to get home. Nate’s travel is similarly full of planes, trains and automobiles.

Here, and now: lunch.

The Weather
Picture your perfect day on the northern coast. It starts cold with a bit of fog, but rises to t-shirt weather as it burns off by late morning. It’s warm in the afternoon, the skies are clear and the wind is gently at your back. In the evening, it’s cool enough for pants, and at night you are happy and warm in your 30-degree down bag. You wake with the sunrise, dry.
Copy-paste that day 6 times and you have the weather from our ride. Perfect. Picture perfect.

Sea meets sky.
The Food
It’s the usual fare of freeze dried bags of salt and carbs, Clif bars, dried fruit, trail mix, bagels and butter. The best addition to this tour is the abundance of local bakery treats. Cinnamon rolls, blueberry buckle, cheesy pastries, they all taste amazing, and make our backpacker snacks inedible by comparison.
If you’re in the market for some trail food, avoid anything Kashi. Even when famished, the Kashi oatmeal is cardboard and the trail bars are as delicious as sand, only drier.
One highlight of the food this year is Nate’s version of backcountry potatoes. We find a market that would sell us a pint of milk and an individual stick of butter. He adds the whole stick to our serving of instant mashed potatoes, despite the recipe calling for only a couple tablespoons. We steal salt and pepper packets from a salad bar in town and use them to make the best camping potatoes you’ve ever seen.
Of course we plan our market stops to coincide with camp, so we are able to have cold beer and chips, as usual, each night. This year we add cheese and crackers to our post-ride routine.
We sample local beer from breweries in Brookings, the North Coast, Mendocino, and add some Rainier Beer to reminisce about the previous rides we’ve completed.

Butter, with potatoes.
Tastes even better after a long day.
The Camping
Count the number of friends who’d share a two-man tent with you, for a week. For me, it’s actually not that many. Now, drink a few beers, devour a bag of chips, a block of cheese, add a backpacker just-add-water meal and a variety of other processed foods and wait for your stomach volcano to vent it’s sulphur gases into the tent. Count the number of friends who would share with you now. My number is down to one, but I bet yours is lower. And just to be clear, not even my wife would share that tent with me. As you’ve guessed, Nate is the one, the only. Since he ate from the same menu, we sleep with the rain fly off, to avoid suffocation.
Besides the tent, we share just about everything else at camp too. One night, we even share a shower. We don’t shower together, per se, but we take turns because we only have enough quarters for one shower. He takes the first two minutes, then hops out, while I run in to get the last two minutes.
You might wonder why we don't just get more quarters. That’s fair, but each night we do get more quarters, and each successive camp requires more quarters than the night before. Day 1 is 25¢ for a minute. Day 2 is 50¢ for two minutes. Day 3 is four quarters for five minutes. Day 4 is eight quarters for five minutes. We prepare ourselves to skip the shower on Days 5-7 because exponentially increasing quarters become very heavy.

Camp in the 'Woods.
The People
We meet some wonderful cyclists on the route. Some are solo, most are pairs, and all have grand stories to share. Across the board, everyone has more ambitious trips than ours. Some are riding the standard route, from Vancouver to San Diego, a mere 1857 miles, ho-hum. One pair from France had ridden from the Cape, through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, then flew to the States to ride another couple months. Another pair from England rode most of Europe, then Boston to Vancouver, then south to CA, and next they’ll head to Japan and New Zealand and then southeast Asia before pedaling home. Another couple from Switzerland on a recumbent tandem, which I’ve never seen before, is riding from Alaska to Argentina.
These riders are inspiring and their stories pique our imagination for further and farther adventures.

End of the day.
The Riding
It’s a challenge to put 465 miles into a sentence. It’s accurate to use the words long, hilly, beautiful, and amazing, but it’s insufficient. I should add the words pain, fatigue, and endless, but also exhilarating, breathtaking, and saddle sore.
It’s too easy to say you had to be there, so I’ll highlight the most memorable miles.

Navigating the hazards of road construction.
Looking at a 2000 year old tree takes perspective, in more ways than one.
On Day 2, we ride nearly 90 miles, finishing on the aptly named Avenue of the Giants in the Redwoods National Park. Simply exiting the highway and dropping into the shade of the Avenue is a special moment. The trees envelop me instantly. It’s a different world: cool, dark, quiet, and calm. The trunks grow inches from the gently winding road. I could touch them if I wanted, and I do. I stop for a snack amongst a few fallen logs, but the mosquitoes drive me back to the bike, where I find the experience to be better anyway. Removing my helmet, glasses, and gloves, I glide down the Avenue, just me and the trees.
Camp arrives too soon and we realize we missed our chance at cold drinks. We ditch the gear and ride 4 more miles to the next market, to grab a few beers before closing. We drink the beer, and guzzle the satisfaction of how far we’ve come. Literally, we’ve come 170 miles in two days, but figuratively we’ve come further. We’ve reached the point in our cycle touring that even after an 89 mile day, six and a half hours of pedaling, we still find it worthwhile to pop on down the road 30 minutes for a cold drink. And chips.

The Avenue.
The middle Days, 3-5, blend together in the metronomy of rolling hills. The pedals turn and turn, a geared metronome. Each small hill repeats the previous one’s monotony. Pedal hard up a hill, ease the effort over the crest, and glide down the other side. Find a rhythm and hold it for hours, then days.
I start doing math, because, well, why not? Let’s see here, we’re doing about 50 miles today, and we gained about 5000’ in total climbing. That’s about the same as my last Type II ride where I pedaled 40mi and gained 5000’. But then I realize on this day our net elevation gain is actually zero, because we start at the coast and end at the coast. So, for every mile of climbing, there’s about a mile of descending, which means we climbed 5000’ in only about 25 miles of uphill. That’s 4% grade, average. Most riders consider a 4% hill pretty stout, even if it’s only a mile or two. Try it for 25 miles, with a bike that weighs enough and the only way to get through it is to tune the metronome and embrace the monotony.
The last tip is to never pedal downhill if gravity will do the work for you. Whenever possible, sit back and coast the Coast.

Left, right, up, down, but never flat nor straight.
Day 6 stands alone as my favorite day of touring, ever. We eat the last of our breakfast, except for the Kashi birdfood, and pedal into the morning light. Usually me knees complain for the first hour of the day, until they remember that I don’t care what they have to say. Today, though, they only whine on the first pitch and remain silent the rest of the day. The rolling hills and steep cliffs resemble Big Sur from the past, but I’m stronger and tougher and now relish the metronomy. Light traffic, smooth roads, wispy fog, and a tail wind. The riding is as good as it gets. But then, it gets better. Nearing the summit of the day’s route, we break through the fog and the road gleams ahead of us. It’s a downhill from the Alps, winding banking turning switchbacks with the sun at our back and the ocean in front. We swing down the grade, braking around blind corners but otherwise simply leaning in and holding on, gravity’s passengers. On a straightaway, the urge to fly is irresistible. I release the bars, straighten my back and my arms become wings. 30mph and the only thing wider than my wings is my smile.
The rest of the day is the beautiful tone we know so well. Up down up down up down….
We can’t find a restaurant for our last night, which is one of our touring traditions, so we buy canned food instead, knowing darn well we have no can opener and not enough fuel to cook it. We do it anyway. We scavenge an opener and get to work. Pinto beans, corn, avocado, tortillas, tomatoes. The stove burns for three minutes before it putters out. We slap together our medium-warm burritos and it’s the best dinner of the week.
While eating we enjoy the company of two French cyclists. They passed us earlier in the day, on a bus, skipping the first few hours of the day’s riding. One mentions seeing a rider flying through the descent, arms wide as wings. The non-cyclists on the bus were panicked, but the French invented wing suits. Their envy is palpable. I’ve rarely been so proud of myself.
We collect a heap of quarters and prepare ourselves for an $8 shower, since it’s now 25 quarters per shower. I step in and test the knob. Hot water. Zero quarters.

Riding the fog B.D.E.
Coastal cliffs B.D.E.
Another B.D.E sunset.
The Numbers
I’m obsessed with numbers, and planning. Nate is somewhat the opposite. He lets me do the planning, he doesn’t have a bike computer, he doesn’t know how fast we’re riding or how far we’ve gone, he doesn’t know any more about the route than the signs on the side of the road. Only at the end of the day does he ask, ‘How far’d we go today?’ It’s a refreshing attitude, to just show up and be ready for whatever happens. I’d like to incorporate more of that into my own life, but right now I have a spreadsheet of times and distances to share. So first, the stats!

Garmin GPS computer.
Day 1: 85 miles, 6:33, 12.9 mph ave, 4,700’ elevation gain.
Day 2: 88 miles, 6:37, 13.4 ave, 3700’.
Day 3: 48 miles, 3:47, 12.6 ave, 3100’.
Day 4: 62 miles, 4:50, 12.8 ave, 4500’.
Day 5: 72 miles, 5:17, 13.6 ave, 5100’.
Day 6: 66 miles, 4:51, 13.5 ave, 4900’.
Day 7: 33 miles, 2:46, 12.1 ave, 1500’.

The precision is untrustworthy, and my other GPS app has slightly different numbers, so I round to the following totals:
465 miles, 35 hours, 13 mph average, 30,000’ elevation gain.

Best Day Ever.