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Big Pine, CA to White Mountain

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Old July 22nd 04, 11:39 PM
Terry Morse
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Default Big Pine, CA to White Mountain

July 10, 2004

Lloyd made it sound just crazy enough to make it enticing: a
90-mile mountain bike ride to the summit of the "easiest fourteener
in California". As a roadie, I wasn't moved by the thought of 90
miles on a slow and heavy mountain bike. But since I'm a climber,
the chance to ride one of the biggest ascents in North America
seemed right up my alley. Instead of driving to 12,000' and biking
the last 7 miles to the summit like most normal people, we were
going to start riding in the town of Big Pine, at 4000'. That was

We started our little adventure at 5:22 AM in Big Pine, as soon as
there was enough light to see where we were going. The altimeter
read 4050', which seemed pretty accurate. After a few minutes of
easy climbing up Highway 168, I began to get used to the noisy
knobby tires and the sluggish feel of the heavy bike. We climbed
into the chilly dawn, with the first rays of the sun skipping off
the ridge peaks.

After 11 miles and 3140 feet of climbing, we turned off Highway 168
and onto White Mountain Road. The rolling and twisting pavement,
covered with a fresh coat of chip-and-seal, reminded me of some of
the climbs in France. We climbed through sage brush and juniper
trees, as the morning sunlight warmed the air and our bodies.

10.4 miles and 2800 feet on White Mountain Road brought us to the
Schulman Grove and the end of the pavement. We made it to this
point in a little over 3 hours, only about 12% slower than the same
trip on our road bikes several weeks earlier. This was encouraging,
since we wanted to have plenty of time to summit and return. We
emptied our cache of water that we had stashed at Schulman Grove
the night before. This had been a good idea, since the visitor
center that sold bottled water was not yet open.

Once our empty water bottles and camelbaks were filled, it was off
onto the dirt road. The surface of the road was quite variable,
with lots of loose rocks and washboard sections. The terrain was
rolling; we hovered a few hundred feet either side of 11,000' most
of the way. One section of the road was steep enough that it was
paved to prevent erosion, about 3/4ths of a mile at 11%. Steep
asphalt is spelled F-U-N to me, so I zipped up that section and
waited for Lloyd to catch up. Sadly, the fun was short lived, as
the next climb was back to dirt and loose rocks. Slipping and
sliding through this section was difficult and frustrating, so we
dismounted and pushed our bikes until we could ride again.

Finally, after 15.6 miles and 3020 feet of dirt road penance, we
arrived at the locked gate. There were maybe a dozen cars here,
left by hikers who were making the final 7-mile ascent on foot. We
scooted around the gate and continued on the dirt road. The surface
on this side of the locked gate was much better, fewer loose rocks
and no washboard -- thanks to the lack of vehicle traffic.

A couple of miles past the gate, something strange started to
happen. Lloyd began pulling away from me on the climbs. Between the
two of us, I'm the stronger climber, so this was unusual. I tried
to stay with him, but I was finding it increasingly difficult to
make the pedals go around. My heart rate and breathing were fine,
but the body just wouldn't do what I wanted it to. We were at about
12,000 feet, so could this have been altitude sickness? No, I had
none of those symptoms. How much had I eaten lately? The answer was
very little. We were over 5 hours into the ride, and all I had
consumed was one Clif Bar and 3 bottles of Cytomax. Dummy! Of
course, it was a classic bonk. When we got to a small observatory
on a hill, I was forced to stop and rest. Lloyd gave me some of his
Hammer Gel, and I ate the rest of the gorp I had in my rack trunk.
I decided to rest there, while Lloyd continued on to the summit.
But after a few minutes of rest, I began to feel well enough to
follow him.

We rode together for a while longer, but then Lloyd noted that we
were running short of time to make the summit and return. I wasn't
going to summit at any rate, because walking uphill was making my
hip hurt. We stopped at about 12,800' -- 3 miles from the summit --
put on some warm clothing, ate some more food, then turned back.

The return was not all downhill, since we had to climb over those
rollers in the opposite direction. We screamed down the straight
sections, with little regard for the loose rocks that had been so
annoying in the other direction. The washboard surface was enough
to rattle my teeth loose at speed, though, with my hard tail bike
and cheap suspension fork. Lloyd, the experienced mountain biker,
seemed to have a much easier time of it on his full suspension
bike. The climbs were fairly short, and I had recovered fully from
the bonk, so I zipped over them with gusto. Lloyd regretted giving
me his Hammer Gel, saying he should have put me on a slow drip

With only 1800 feet of climbing in this direction, we got back to
Schulman Grove in less than two hours. I bought a couple bottles of
water from the now open visitors center, and we headed back down
the welcoming paved road (I intended to bend down and kiss the
asphalt at this point, but I forgot to). Once we got used to the
feeling of descending on asphalt with mountain bikes, we were able
to move along quickly. We buzzed around the corners and tucked on
the straight-aways, making very good time. As we plummeted down
Highway 168, we were greeted with a hot and dry headwind. It felt
like we were riding into a hair dryer. Fortunately, we only had to
descend, so the heat wasn't too uncomfortable. I experimented with
different tuck positions and was actually able to pass Lloyd when
using my tighest tuck. This was remarkable, because Lloyd usually
descends like a stone and leaves me far behind. I suspect the drag
of Lloyd's backpack slowed him down. I had opted instead for a rack
trunk, putting the weight on my bike instead of my back.

We arrived back to our cars, shook hands and congratulated each
other on completing a tough ride. The aerobic effort wasn't that
great, but my body was battered from the rough ride. My ankles were
swolen, my wrists and back were sore, and I had a blister right on
the ball of my foot. This mountain bike ride had definitely beaten
up this roadie's soft body.

While I was glad to have done it, I think I'll hang up the mountain
bike back in the garage and leave it there for some time. Road
riding is so much less brutal. The road up Mt. Evans, a fourteener
in Colorado, is paved to the summit. That sounds so much more
civilized; I'm putting on my "to do" list.

Big Pine to White Mountain Ride
Time 9:21:45
Distance 82.7 miles
Min Altitude 4050 ft.
Max Altitude 12,700 ft.
Ascent 12,480 ft.

Graph of the ride:


terry morse Palo Alto, CA http://bike.terrymorse.com

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