There’s Beauty in the Suffering

On Monday, the first of March, the Adventurecorps Death Valley Double loomed large at the edge of the week’s calendar. After riding the century last October, I committed to the ride and felt ready for it. Yet, on Monday, I wasn’t feeling very well. By Tuesday, coughing and headaches ruled my workday. Wednesday night I had a fever of 101 degrees. Thursday I felt slightly better, and Friday, I woke up deciding not to make the 6-hour drive. And yet, a couple of hours later, I found myself in a car with two friends heading to the desert. This was to be the longest I’ve ever ridden.

The forecast for Death Valley called for a 50% chance of rain and a high of around 70 with lows down to the 40s. I wore wool and had 35mm Honjos on the Romulus. My Woolistic LS jersey from Velo Cult and Ibex “El Fito” knickers felt perfect. I counted about two other people who had full fenders – our steadfast preparedness ensured there’d be little rain that day.

When I set off at 6:20am, the weather was cool and I felt OK. The first 45 miles past Badwater to Ashford Mill skirted the valley floor and was made up of mostly rollers. I felt the detritus of my cold on this section, and even more so as the climbing began shortly thereafter. The elevation gain for this ride was 9K ft., but most of it came as we rode from below sea level up to Salsberry Pass at 3315’ and then down to Shoshone and back again. The landscape was remarkable, but I suffered on the climbs and had difficulty keeping everything together on the descents. There were bouts of coughing, a flat repair, and as I rode back from Shoshone, I realized that there weren’t too many double riders behind me, and “DNF” began to bounce around in my head.

Once I made it back down to the valley floor, I had about 45 miles of rollers before reaching Furnace Creek to see where I was with time. My aches and pains seemed to go away and I really kicked ass back to the start. Furnace Creek was at mile 150, and provided a bail-out option for double riders who didn’t want to incur the last 50. I arrived a few minutes after 6pm, and discovered that I had until 11pm to make it under the time limit. I realized I could do it. The pain melted into the background. A little euphoria tickled my edges. I headed out.

The next 50 miles were bliss. I knew that at Stovepipe Wells, there would be ramen noodles waiting for me, and as night descended, the quiet, hidden landscape inspired some spirited riding on my part. As I headed out, I saw and cheered on riders who where pushing to the finish. Stovepipe Wells came sooner than I imagined. It rained for much of the stretch out to there, but it wasn’t too hard and created an otherworldly feel out in the desert. I had ramen, a red bull and a rest. Then I got back on the bike to finish. The clouds cleared and an awe-inspiring star-filled sky opened up above me. I had pulled away from the other riders who left at the same time as I, and I felt completely alone – accompanied only by the stars, the dark, the empty road, and the feeling that I was going to finish my first double in time. I came in unofficially at 15:17. I had pizza. I might do this again.


  1. leaf slayer

    Great write up, thanks for taking the time to do it. That sounds like a pretty epic ride. If you can do that you can definitely do a 400k. I’m curious, what tires were you rolling and what kind of lighting did you use.


    • Esteban

      Thanks. It was fun. I write that now, warm, well-fed, and reading in a cafe. I had 28mm Paselas on there with TG. They didn’t stop a little piece of metal from giving me a flat in the front, but they were good enough. The road is pretty rough, and I would have benefited from larger or more supple tires. I borrowed a friend’s Magicshine for the front, with an Princeton EOS on my helmet. Two Planet Bike Superflashes on the rear.

    • Esteban

      Ah…. too much time spent trying to survive and didn’t think to take many photos, unfortunately.

  2. Travis

    How did you decide on the skinny-tired bike over your bike with Hetres? As someone considering a 650b conversion, I’m always curious about other peoples’ experiences. Thanks!

    • Esteban

      Well, the Romulus is smaller and more comfortable riding hard over distance. I’m usually slower on the big Protovelo, which is designed and sized more for rambling. I usually have Jack Browns or 35mm Paselas on that bike, which provide for a pretty darn comfortable ride. But the bike won’t take anything above 28mm with fenders, and i wanted to run the Honjos to be prepared for rain (kind of rare in Death Valley!), so I went with the 28s.

      • Travis

        Thanks for the information! And in my first comment, I should have said Congratulations! on an epic ride.

    • Esteban

      Thanks, David – those miles were pretty rough, for sure, but not as bad as coming back from Shoshone. At the top of Salisberry Steak Pass, descending down to Shoshone you lose half the elevation you just earned. Then back again. Spiteful!

  3. Susan McGraw

    Wow, Stev!! I am so proud of you. You did it. Thanks for sharing the event in your write-up. You described it wonderfully. xo Susan

  4. Franklyn

    Congrats! That climb up to salsberry pass reminds me of the hills I climbed on the Shasta Super Century last august–long and relentless. Then you drop down and do it over again. I think being able to put in the miles after that to finish is really commendable.

    now i am really looking forward to the april 200k.

  5. Errin


    Great report! I just rode my first brevet last month, and I’m hooked on long distance rides now too. I’m signed up for the Hells Gate Hundred so I’ll be out in DV in 2 weeks. I’m really looking forward to it.

    You have great taste! I have a Velo Cult jersey too, and fenders (almost) all my bikes. I read your description(Mr. Retro) over on Bryan’s blog and thought, that sounds like a cool dude.

    Here’s my report from my first brevet, the Santa Barbara 300k.

    Check it out if you have the time, hopefully I’ll see you on a brevet. I’ll be the other guy with the VC jersey.

    Oh yeah, congrats on completing the double!


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