Death Valley Double Century: A Fixie Adventure

by Calvin Mulder

It’s 5PM, Friday, October 28, and I sitting in the 49’er Cafe in Furnace Creek Ranch, dining on one of the finest Chicken Fried Steak dinners I’ve had in a long time. The waitress is friendly and the dessert menu has lots of potential. This feels like my last supper of sorts as my thoughts raced back and forth over how tomorrow will unfold. Dining on comfort food seemed like the best way to slow these thoughts and stock up the fat reserves for tomorrow.

Many months ago, I had this bright idea to ride a double century on my fixed gear road bike. AdventureCORPS, headed up by Chris Kostman, one of the best Race Directors on the planet, had just advertised open registration for their Fall DV Double. Being a fan of Death Valley and having ridden a double century there about seven years ago, I looked no further. I sent in my cash and set about training for the big day.

The big day dawned clear as a bell and roughly 60 degrees for our 7AM start. There was somewhere around 100 double century riders on various brands and styles of bikes, but after a quick scan of the crowd, it became clearly evident I was the only one who decided a fixie would be the best way to tackle 200 miles. Hmmm.. After a few words of wisdom and encouragement from Chris, we were on our way.

Within the first mile, I hear a familiar voice yelling my name. Turns out to be Stan, one of my Spinning instructors from way back and general all around mega-athlete. This was his fourth or fifth double century this year, and he had brought along his friend Terry who was doing his first double. We shot the breeze until we hit the first aid station. I topped off my water bottles and Stan tended to a nature break. Figuring they would easily catch up to me (considering my handicap), I took off for the next aid station. As fate would have it, I never saw them again.

The author en route to Scotty's Castle

Scotty’s Castle was our third stop. At that point, we had covered almost 70 miles and 3100 feet of elevation. I reloaded the water bottles, wolfed down some food, and got back on the bike to face what would be the most mind-numbing and butt-testing section of the ride. From Scotty’s, an out and back trip to Hwy 95 in Nevada would include 40 miles of freshly ‘chip and sealed’ road. It was very rough and, for the most part, non-eventful, but minimal climbing, traffic, and headwinds made up for the lack of excitement.

The return to Scotty’s Castle was designated as our lunch stop. We had logged 121 miles at this point, and it was about 2:30PM. This was also where our drop bags containing our lights were staged. It seemed strange putting lights on the bike at 2:30 in the afternoon, but based on how the day was going and what was still ahead, I was sure I would need them at some point within the next 80 miles.

From Scotty’s, we started to head back to the finish line, but not without a couple of diversions. The first was a five mile out and back to the Ubehebe Crater. Never heard of it, but it was quite the impressive hole in the ground. From the crater, we headed off to the next aid station at mile 170. A lightly trafficked road and cooler temps made this portion of the ride enjoyable. This section would turn out to be the calm before the storm, however.

The sun had just dipped behind the mountain range, and it was about 5:30PM when I rolled into our 7th aid station at mile 170. After more water, food, and encouragement from the volunteers, and I pointed my bike up the road to our second diversion. It was a six mile climb to Hell’s Gate, involving about 2100’ of elevation gain, and the location of our final aid station. We were told it takes about an hour to do this six mile climb, and it did. Halfway up, darkness fell, so lights were turned on. After what seemed like an eternity, the warm glow of the aid station lights could finally be seen. After reaching the station, we were faced with another challenge.

From this final aid station, we would descend by a different road than we came up. By this time it was pitch dark and I was running two cheapo headlamps which work fine while traveling a flat road at 15mph, but are woefully lacking for anything more aggressive. A six mile decent on an unfamiliar road with two candles for headlamps had me concerned. The road turned out to be quite smooth however. My lights were only bright enough to suggest where the yellow line was, so I stuck to it like glue. There were no cars on this road as we were truly in the middle of nowhere.

Eventually, the downhill flattened out and the intersection for our final left turn was just ahead. At this turn, I stopped to regroup any remaining senses, pondered for a moment of what just happened, made a note to self to bring better lights should I ever mindlessly sign up to do one of these things again, and continued on my way. It was just after 7PM and about 12 miles to the finish line from here.

Those final 12 miles were magical. Energized from the ‘descent of terror’ and knowing the finish line was just a few easy miles ahead, I took notice of my surroundings. It’s pitch dark (sans the glow from my candles), there are few cars on the road, it’s probably 70 degrees, and the sky is filled with more stars than I’ve ever seen. At 7:45PM, I roll across the finish line. 200 miles competed in 12h45m. The bike ran perfectly the entire day, I felt better than I thought I would, and I could finally put a fork in the crazy idea of riding 200 miles on a fixed gear...done!

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