I find myself in the middle of the road, slumped over my aero bar on the front of my bicycle, exhausted. Looking up, I see the road going straight up for no end. At the moment the only thing I can think about is looking for a soft place to lay down and recuperate. It's about 7:30 P.M. and it is completely dark except for the bright stars shining. The last twenty minutes I have been trying to climb a mountain pass in the Panamint Mountain range, in the middle of Death Valley California.
The 13th annual Whitney Classic started about 45 miles back in a place called Badwater. It's the lowest point in the continental United State at 282 feet below sea level. It is also among the hottest places on earth. Today was relatively mild at 105 degrees. Summit Adventure is the company that uses this event at its major fund raiser for the year. But more about that later, back to the story.
I had been training for this event since April. I started out riding about 80 miles a week then, increasing to about 150 by August. I have been a fairly competitive runner in the past several years, but my bike racing experience has been limited. Maybe that's why I was silly enough to sign up for this ride in the first place!
About a year ago, my pastor told me about this outdoor adventure company, (Summit Adventure), he sent money to as a worthy cause. Summit sent him a monthly newsletter that included information about the Whitney Classic. Its a bike ride from Badwater, in the heart of Death Valley California, to Mount Whitney. Mount Whitney by the way is the highest point in the continental United States, at 14,496 feet. The ride actually ends where the road stops at about 9,000 feet up the mountain. From Badwater to the finish is 136 miles. Summit gives you 24 hours to complete the ride. That sounds like a long time, but you have to climb two 5,000 passes before you get to the last climb up Mount Whitney. In order to stay out of the heat, the ride starts at 4:00 P.M., but that means you need to be prepared to ride all night.
Besides training I had to do some fund raising for Summit Adventure. My major sponsor was AC Video, of Brookville. The store is co-owned by my brother Steve Asay, and my sister Jane Keegan. By the time I left for California, I was able to raise $785.00. Summit does a lot of work with handicapped young men and women, providing them with a chance to experience the wilderness and build confidence that they would not otherwise be able to gain. The also work with disadvantage youth in Los Angeles, taking them on hiking and mountain climbing adventures and presenting a positive Christian life style.
Back to the story. The first 30 miles went like a dream. Heading north out of Badwater we had a strong tail wind. For the first 30 miles I averaged over 20 miles per hour without putting much effort into the ride. I passed the first of twelve check points stopping just long enough to replace my water bottles at Furnace Creek. We had been on rolling hills with a general incline from the start, but everything was going very smoothly at this point.
My father Allen Asay, and my father in-law Paul Harbaugh, were driving my support vehicle. They were carrying my food, drink, and lights for riding at night. They would drive ahead to each check point to provide what assistance I needed.
The next 12 miles we headed west to the base of the first mountain. The start of the first climb begins at Stove Pipe Wells about 5 feet above sea level. This is where I put on my lights and by the time I started up it was getting dark. At the top it is 4,986 feet, in-between is 17 miles of straight climbing. Now the bad news! To climb we had to head south, right back into a strong head wind. I made it about four miles before I had to stop, where I began this story. Slumped over my aero bars. I made my way to the side of the road and laid by the scrub brush for about 15 minutes. Even though I was tired I appreciated the beautiful clear night and the wind kept me cool. I then remounted and weaved my way up about another two miles. With the wind being so strong, it blew my right contact straight out of my eye. Shortly there after my support crew passed. I blinked my lights desperate to get their attention. Thank heaven, they stopped a little ways up and pulled off the road. With my little remaining strength I made it up to them and quickly got off my bike, and laid down in the back seat.
It was about 35 minutes later before I was able to convince myself that it was time to try it again. About this time another rider was coming by, so at least misery had company. Unfortunately company decided that he was in need of a rest break, so I weaved along for another two miles or so before I had to stop again. My support crew had driven up a few miles from where I had last rested, and so I was able to rest in the car again. As I stopped my back was aching, and my sternum bone in the middle of my chest was hurting from the intense breathing. I can't think of any time in the past when my sternum hurt. After another 40 minutes in the car, I tried the climb again. This time I changed from my cycling shoes that lock into my pedals, to running shoes. My thought was that if I can combine cycling and walking I might be able to make it past the summit. On this stretch I passed a stop where cars can pull over and get water for their radiators. You know it's a tough climb if cars need to stop for water!
As it turned out, this was to be my last few miles up the mountain. By the time I was able to make it up to my support crew, I was in a big hurt. As I pulled up to the car my father in-law was able to grab my bike as I knew I was about to fall. As I lay in the car, one of the Summit Adventure cars came by and told us that I had 6 1/2 miles before the summit. I had climbed about three thousand of the five thousand feet, but it had taken my all strength against the strong head wind and eight percent grade to reach this point.
I rested in the car for another 45 minutes, but I could not recover for another attempt. It was a sad moment when I knew I would not reach the summit. I knew there was a long descent was on the other side that I was really looking forward to, but it was not to be this year.
My support crew had to dismantle my bike in order to fit it in the trunk for a ride back to the hotel. We drove up to the summit where my father told them I was dropping out. It wasn't long after this point that I emptied out my stomach, the hard way!
After a good drive we reached the hotel in Lone Pine, California, where we would spend the remaining part of the night. By noon I had recovered enough to at least drive up to the finish to see how many had finished the journey. Of the 100 starters, 27 were able to see the finish line. Mount Whitney is a point in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, and it is quite a site.
That evening Summit Adventure sponsored a pizza party for the riders, support crews and the volunteers. I was asked several times if I would be back to try it again. I had to say at the time, I would have to think about it long and hard. The next morning we drove back to Las Vegas and caught a plane back to Indiana.
Having had some time to think about it, I would really like to go back and try for the finish. Know anybody who has a passion for cycling, and likes to climb? I think I'm going to need some help before the next Whitney Classic adventure!
For another WWW site check out David Moore who completed the ride.