by Franz Kelsch
Five us (Eric, Doug, Kley, Luke and myself), all finished the Everest Challenge. Doug took my photo (above) after finishing the event. Doug came in 2nd place in the Masters 55+ and I can in 5th place with a total time of 14:47:48 (see official results). Kley and Luke competed in the Masters 45+ category. Eric was riding in the non timed category.
This USCF two day stage race is the California/Nevada State Climbing Championship and is considered the hardest two day USCF race. It was the most difficult cycling event I have ever completed, with over 200 miles and 29,035 feet of climbing.
Saturday we left the motel in Bishop and drove 6 miles north to the ride start. It was a bit cool, around 49 degrees. I decided to put on knee warmers, vest and arm warmers. The Masters 55+ started first at 6:45 along with all the female Pro/CAT1-5 racers. There was 11 men and probably 50 women racers. For the first 8 miles it was a neutralized start, so the pace was only about 18 mph on a mostly flat road. With the cool air I wanted to go faster to warm up. Doug was riding beside me and shivering so much his bike was shaking. Then the climbing started and the faster riders took off. I stayed with the leaders for awhile but I had already decided to keep my heart rate below 158 due to the two day event, so I backed off a bit. I mentioned to Doug that the guy up front was the one who won last year so he started to chase them.
From the very beginning I felt my legs were sore, even though I had take a couple of days off the bike. I think I did too much training in the week before the event. I realize that I had already climbed about 25,000 feet in the 7 days prior to starting the Everest Challenge. That would mean by the time I finished the two days I would climb almost 55,000 feet in 9 days. I think I should have tapered more.
I was riding my newer bike with a double crank. The first climb was up to Mosquito Flat. At 10,250 feet it is the highest paved road in the Sierras. It was cool for the entire 22 mile climb with an average grade of 5%, maximum of 11%. I reached the summit at 9:50 am. The descent was fast (over 41 mph) but still cold so I was glad I had worn what I had on. We biked over to the second climb up Pine Creek to 7,420 feet. On the climb I was passed by the first Pro/CAT1 male riders who had started 55 minutes after we did. It was the easiest climb of the day, with an average grade of 7% and nothing over 9%. I reached the summit at 11:55am and my average speed from the start was now up to 13.2 mph. It was now getting warm so after the descent I stopped to take off some clothes.
I reached the 3rd climb at 12:38 pm. This is a 20.4 mile climb up to Bishop Creek at 9,835 feet. It averaged 6%, but the last mile had some sections at around 15%. I was doing the math in my head. So far I had biked 6:04 so I was thinking if I made this climb in under two hours, I would be able to finish in around 8 hours. Certainly I could climb 6,000 feet over 20.4 miles in 2 hours, right? Wrong! It was a long climb with virtually not portions that leveled off to provide any recovery. The legs started to yell at me, enough is enough! The last 3 miles had some very steep sections which tested my tired legs. I started to cramp and had to stop for a couple of minutes before I could go on. I was a bit disappointed in how I did until I heard from others who seemed to have suffered also. Even Doug said he had cramped on that part. I finally reached the finish line at the summit at 3:13 pm. My average heart rate was 145 for the day and I had averaged 12.4 mph. You can see from the graph below I was keeping my heart rate out of the red zone through out the day. My total time from the start was 8:26:40, which was 5 minutes faster than my calculated best possible time.
I was determined to do Day 2 smarter. They were handing out filled water bottles on Day 1 but I had mistakenly taken some water bottles that I didn’t want to give up, so this meant extra time when I had to stop to refill my water bottles. This time I took other bottles that I was glad to get rid of. I also skipped the knee warmers to avoid the wasted time to stop and get off the bike to take them off. The biggest change however was I decided to use my old bike with a triple (which I had luckily brought along). The climbs on Day 1 were fine with a double (except the last part of the last climb) but I knew that tired legs would not work as well.
We got up at 6 am, loaded the car with everything, since we were checking out. It was a 16 mile drive south to Big Pine for the start. The temperature there was colder than for Day 1, at 42 degrees. We started again with the women racers at 6:45 am.
The neutralized start took us 3 miles back over highway 395 to where we started towards Palisade Glacier, starting at 3,940 feet and finishing at 7,800 feet. It was a tough climb, averaging 8%. I noticed immediately that I could not get my heart rate up as high as the prior day, a clear sign I was fatigued. It was warming fast so the cold temperature was not much of a factor for long. It was a beautiful hill to climb, especially up near the turn around point, which I reached at 8:20 am. There was a water stop there but I was prepared and didn’t need to stop riding. I just threw my empty water bottle into a bin and took a filled one and then off down the hill. When I reached speeds of around 40 mph, the bike started to shake a bit, which is why reason why I don’t like to descend on my old bike, so I had to brake to keep the speed under 40 mph.
Once I reached the bottom, it was biking the 3-4 miles back to the start for the easiest climb of the two days, up the Death Valley Road to 6,545 feet in 8.5 miles. With an average grade of 5% it seemed like we were not really climbing. I did not see any riders in front or behind me so I started to wonder if I had missed a turn. Then the lead rider from the men’s pro racers passed me. I reached the summit at 9:53 and did a slow turn around without dismounting, grabbing another water bottle and a Cliff Bar, which I ate on the way down. During the descent it was now clear we had actually climbed quite a bit since I was able to get up to about 31 mph.
After passing the start once again, I turned right to head up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. It was a 21 mile climb up to 10,100 feet with an average grade of 6%. But the bottom third had a long section with 9-12% grade so I was glad I had the lower gearing and really use it. This was the last climb of the event and seemed to go on forever. Even though I was putting in a full effort, my heart rate would only go above 142, compared with Day 1 when I was holding back to keep it below 158. I already knew the top 3 miles would be tough and they didn’t disappoint. The grade was averaging 10%, but sometimes steep. Even some of the young racers that we just now catching me were not going past me very fast as they were grinding it out. It was one of the hills where you can look up and see the miles ahead and wonder how in the world will you ever make your way up to the top. After a brutal climb to within 1.5 miles of the finish the grade did become a tad easier but was still hard. I crossed the finish line at 1:06 pm, with a total riding time of 6:21:08. My average heart rate had been 138 for the day and I have averaged 10.4 mph. You can see from the chart below the lower heart rate compared with the first day (click to enlarge)
Overall for the 2 days, I finished in 14:47:48, coming in under my goal of 15 hours. I was amazed I was only a single minute off my estimated best time. I am pretty sure I had the best time for anyone 60 or older, but they don’t have that category anymore. The last time they had a category for 60+, the winner was 40 minutes slower than my time.
I am happy that the event is over but did really enjoyed it. We had fantastic weather and the support at the event was as good as it ever gets.
Next up is the Furnace Creek 508, in less than 2 weeks!