Eastern Sierra Double Century

It was the middle of June when I had a change of heart. Back in May, during the Davis Double, I had decided that six double centuries in 2 years was enough, and the CA Triple Crown was not worth pursuing despite already having completed two out of the three required rides. Half of my doubles were not the most fun, even painful, and I decided I am not a masochist, contrary to what my friends thought.

But time has a way of retaining good memories and erasing the bad, and there was another factor, too. In the intervening weeks between the Davis Double and my friends’ June graduation at Stanford, I was slowly becoming more corrupt, less pure, and less nice. I.e., picking up bad habits, including drinking more (socially), swearing more, accomplishing less, etc. And hence I decided it was time to get back on track and return to a certain purity and innocence I once had–a life unspoiled by corruption and uplifted by the simplest of all joys, like spending time with Mother Nature and exploring the vast expanses of the land we call Earth.

So all of a sudden I was anxious to complete a goal I had set at the beginning of the year, a goal I would most likely not set again for the following years to come. And this time I was determined to have fun, doing a ride that would avoid the struggles of 100 degree heat, extreme cold or rain, and ridiculously steep climbs. So naturally I picked the top-rated 1997 CA Triple Crown ride: the Eastern Sierra Double.

The Drive

The start of the ride was in Bishop, CA, 60 miles southeast of Yosemite and not too far away from the Nevada border. It also happened to be about 280 miles away from Fremont, my current residence, and hence I planned on driving for 5-6 hours.

Not so! I left on the Friday before the 4th of July, and it seemed like everyone was leaving for vacation early too. Traffic from Fremont to Manteca was stop and go, and I had to deal with the heat, too. Luckily I had to foresight to top off Goldie’s (my 1969 MGB) radiator and stop a small cooling system leak beforehand, so at least she was doing fine.

Finally, I’m into Yosemite, and what a drive! Lots of curvy roads through some of the most gorgeous scenery on the planet. A great day for a British sports car.

Until, midway up Highway 120, traffic came to a standstill. People were getting out of their cars! Apparently, the road was temporarily closed to clear an accident, and would not reopen for hours. The road, then, had literally turned into a parking lot! Hmmm, what to do…

The answer was perched on top of Goldie’s luggage rack, in the name of Canny, my race bike. What better way to loosen up my legs for tomorrow’s ride by doing a little bit of riding in Yosemite? I also was curious as to what was going on in the front, so in a matter of minutes, I had my cycling shoes on and my bicycle off of my car.

People are chuckling as I climb onto my steed, as I guess it was pretty funny to watch a guy ditch his car and hop on his bike because of backlogged traffic. “Hey, I always to go biking in Yosemite, and here’s my chance!” I say. And off I go!

In no time I get to the blockade, where I observe a helicopter in the middle of the road. Apparently, someone was trapped in a car, and the rescue personnel were trying to get him out. I couldn’t see the actual scene of the accident, but it was probably best I didn’t. I hate blood and gore.

So I head back down and soon find myself in a “messenger” role– everyone wanted to know what I saw! So I went up and down the line of cars, returning with updates on the situation and talking with a hundred people in the process. That was cool!

It was interesting to see how the other people were managing to spend their time. Despite the great inconvenience caused by this unfortunate incident, everyone was determined to have fun. Some people went for a short hike up the snow-covered hills. Others were *sliding* down the hills! Yet, others were practicing their golf stroke!!!

But thankfully, the helicopter finally took off, and we only had to wait for another ambulance and a tow truck. They finally came and then I go back to Goldie and put Canny back on top. Two hours after we stopped, we finally got going again. Yay!

The drive continued to be very pretty until we hit Highway 395 and head south. This would be the area the Eastern Sierra Double would go through, eh? Not bad, just not nearly as gorgeous as Yosemite. And it is really warm outside by the time I get to Bishop, at 8:30 p.m. or so. Man, I was sweating in my car! I can only wonder, is this going to be as hell-hot as the 1997 Davis Double?

The ride!

Miles 0-25

After a good night’s sleep at a really cheapo motel, it’s time for the ride! I bike over from the motel to the Tri County fairgrounds, where we’d be having police cars escorting us out of Bishop. I’m almost there when I see a bunch of riders with a police car following. So I’m just on time… well maybe 1 minute late. The air is cool, not cold, and everything is dandy.

I am feeling good. Mountains are abound on both the east and west sides of us, and for the first 20 miles, we seem to be just yo-yo-ing back and forth between them. And this ride is supposed to have 10,000 ft of climbing! They said the climbing was really gradual, though. At least for the first 20 miles it must have been *really* gradual, because it seemed really flat to me, although a rider would later inform me that we climbed at least 1,200 ft during that part of the ride.

I am definitely feeling better than at the Davis Double 6 weeks ago. So far, the ride was pretty and I was very relaxed, and at peace with myself. This is what cycling is supposed to be like, I think. I am determined to have fun this time around!

So at the first checkpoint I take my time and even chat with the other cyclists. One guy, named Milo, notices my Stanford jersey and tells me he’s currently working in the physics department at the Stanford Linear Accelerator. We start talking quite a bit and decide that we’ll ride together. I think at the time, it’ll be nice to have some company, especially someone from my part of the world.

Mile 25-110

We first talk about the rides we have done and our goals for the ride. He has done 2 doubles (this was my 7th), and he was hoping to get back before dark. I knew that would be a stretch, but I was aiming for that too.

One thing I immediately notice about Milo is that he is a big talker! He loves to talk about all the bicycling research he has done and share all his cycling knowledge. I am no stranger to cycling and have heard it much of it already, but let him talk. It’s neat to see a person who’s even more of a gauge freak than I am! We both have cyclocomputers with speed and cadence, but he is actually using his heart rate monitor (my transmitter hadn’t been reliable, and hence I left it in the car!), and even has an altimeter. A nice thing to have considering the altitude we were at (usually between 6-9,000 feet during the entire ride), and the climbing we would do. “I’m in physics,” Milo says, “I NEED information!”

One thing I don’t like, however, is the amount of swearing this guy does and how he constantly belittles the other riders (who are all passing us up), saying that they’ll blow up and be hating life later. Er, not really, I think, people here are pretty fit! But I stick with his (slower) pace just because 1) I’ve already set a personal time record for myself earlier this year at Solvang, and hence was just going to relax, and 2) I wanted to just enjoy the beautiful surroundings, made possible by going at such a leisurely pace.

We even stop every 20 minutes or so to dismount and stretch. “My coach in Colorado emphasized the need to stop and stretch,” Milo says. Er, whatever… but I am feeling rather fresh due in part to all of the stopping, and hence don’t complain.

My spirits are momentarily picked up, however, when we go through a city with a 4th of July parade. “Other people are home celebrating their 4th of July with a barbecue and all, and here we are doing something insane like a 200 mile bike ride,” Milo says. Yep, I say, but what a way to celebrate one’s independence! As in, independence from cars, freedom from a frenetic, electronic world. Simplicity at its finest, passing the miles along the way.

We climb higher and higher however, into the mid-8000’s, and soon Milo is complaining of altitude sickness. Headache and stomach ache. I recall that the night before I had a headache too for most of the night. But Milo is the type of guy who makes sure you know about his pain with his constant complaining. Soon my sympathy turns into annoyance. Pervasive negatism has that effect on me.

We are stopping more and more frequently. Besides the checkpoints at miles 48 and 75, we even stop at a gas station… for a LONG time. Milo tells me though that the cashier inside was familiar with the route and that we’ve done most of the climbing already. He still isn’t feeling well though. This becomes quite evident when our “stretch breaks” come every 10 minutes!

He is climbing worse and complaining more. His crudeness starts to show, and I start getting really annoyed. Besides the constant whining, he would stop to take a leak, *right on the shoulder of the road*… I mean, not even bothering to go to a far-away bush or something! Totally indignified. The grossest part would come later, though.

“My stomach is really killing me… do you think I should throw up?” he inquires at about mile 80. At first I think he is joking, but tell him, flatly, “NO!” Half an hour later, though, there we are again, at the side of the road, and he puts his finger down his throat to empty out the contents of his stomach. I, of course, am 50 whole feet away, with my back totally turned away from him, but I can totally hear the guy. BARF! I am so disgusted! Why the heck did I have to ride with this guy?

And we are quickly losing time. I calculate that, now, even getting back by midnight would be a stretch at this pace. Most of the other cyclists are long gone. To my chagrin, Milo thinks that there are still quite a few behind us, however. Talk about clueless!

And finally, at about mile 90 and after another one of his barfing routines, I’ve just about had enough of this guy! I got to leave him, I can’t put up with this! So I gently ask him, “Are you feeling okay enough to get to lunch alone, [at mile 110?]” His reaction would entirely surprise me.

“No, please don’t go, I need you to ride with me.” I can’t believe this! He has already slowed me down by a couple of hours and has totally grossed me out, and yet he insists that I continue to ride with him. He continues to plead, and out of guilt, stupidity, or whatever, I promise him that I’d ride with him until lunch and imply that I might ditch him after that, though. He’s suddenly all quiet, and so am I, but to his credit, he tries to pick up the pace a little bit.

We are still losing time fast, which becomes apparent when we get to lunch. It’s 4:30 p.m., and they are closing up! Out of 270 people, we are the last ones there, aside from maybe 1 or 2 people. I don’t believe this! We have only gone 110 miles, and have spent more than 11 hours on the road. It was my slowest century, even surpassing the time of my very first century I did on a borrowed bike, and the hellish last 100 miles of the 1997 Death Valley Double.

I do a quick calculation, and realize that at this pace, we’d be lucky to get back by 2-3:00 in the morning! Loyalty has its place, but not when it brings you down, at least not for a person who’s not a friend and whom you’re not even proud to be associated with. But it’s still something of a moral dilemna. I make up my mind, though… it’s time to go our own paths.

Mile 110-183

So my mind is made up. I will pick up the pace, and if he can keep up, fine. I thought this was unlikely though. Heck, even if he was feeling 100% well, I thought, his 46-year-old body might have had trouble matching my 23-year-old one.

As I check in with the timekeeper, I let Milo have a 5-minute headstart. It takes just 10 minutes to catch up, though, and we ride again for another 10 minutes. There is a little bit of hill climbing ahead for just the next few miles.

“We’re going a good pace, huh?” says Milo.

I remain quiet as I hardly even need to breathe at this pace!

Then he starts to go to work, on persuading me to stay. “I was just thinking… we aren’t going to get to that checkpoint [at mile 163], where I can pick up my lights, before dark,” he says. “But you’re going to be picking up your lights at the next checkpoint [at mile 135], right?”

I start wording things carefully, as I know what he’s getting at…. that I need to stay with him because he won’t have lights and I will. “Yes, but we won’t really be needing our lights too much… I’ve done a few night rides without them.”

“I ain’t gonna get killed on some highway at night, though! My wife, at just 36 years of age, got killed in a car accident and I am my kids only parents. I’m not going to get killed, ya ‘know?”

He continues on and on, and though I feel sorry for the guy, enough is enough! I am not going to be manipulated through guilt to stay with this guy! We came to this ride, independently, and I am not going to take the responsibility for making sure this guy, exactly twice as old as I, will get back to the finish safely. He already has annoyed the heck out of me with his crudeness and inconsideration, and I decide that if he’s not going to look after my interests, *I* will have to.

So as we are climbing up the hill, I shift up a gear or so. Then another. Then another. I am feeling strong, and steadily a gap is opening between us. Within a minute or so he is perhaps 100 feet back already. As I crest the hill, I turn my head around, and hold up my hand to wave goodbye. Goodbye, Milo… and good luck.

As I find myself in a full aero tuck, feeling lively and strong, I ponder what I have just done. A debate went in my head, something like this:

Felix#1: “You just abandoned a fellow cyclist in pursuit of finishing at a reasonable hour!”

Felix#2: “Look, I stayed with the guy as much as I could put up with him, and longer than I promised. I am not going to get to the finish at 2-3:00 in the morning, and not get ride credit! I have invested a lot of time, dollars, and energy in the pursuit of the California Triple Crown, and the pace we were going wasn’t going to cut it. Besides, he said he was feeling okay, and yet was pondering the issue of quitting. Surely he would have had to been sagged in at one point, and then… what would have been the point of staying with him? He would be a quitter, and though I will never quit I may get to the finish so late that everyone will have left already!

“Besides, we came here independently, and there was no contract between us. We were not friends, and in fact, he was a total jerk. If he was a friend, someone I really cared about, things would have been different. As it was, he was an inconsiderate moron who was insistent on taking me down with him. As I will not be dragged down, it was time to go.”

So though not entirely comfortable with my decision, what was done was done, and it was time to really *ride*. The roads looked predominantly downhill, and soon I find myself keeping a steady 30+mph. My form is good, and being totally bent over the handlebars, it is as if I am doing a little time trial.

And hence I am to the next rest stop in no time! Well, I did 25 miles in 1:15. Exactly a 20 mph average speed from lunch to mile 135, even when including the slower miles with Milo right after lunch. I probably averaged 22-23 mph in the last hour or so. At least, the speed on my speedometer seemed to be between 25-40 mph most of the time!

One of the guys eating at the next rest stop would corroborate on how fast I was going. “Wow, I saw you on your way to lunch, and that was when I had just left. You must have been cookin’!”

“I was,” I confirm. And I am still feeling strong. Encouraged that now I am not the last bicyclist on the ride (although, still probably the last one who is determined to finish all 200 miles), I spend almost 15 minutes at that checkpoint before putting on the hammer again.

It is 6:45 when I leave again. The next stage of the ride takes off with a furious downhill. A female rider had left the checkpoint about 2 minutes ahead of me, but quickly I catch up and pass in a full aero tuck, hands right next to my stem, chin practically on my stem, and elbows right next to my sides. My downhill skills have always been superb, being able to get narrower and lower than most riders. And today would be no exception.

51.5 mph!!! I sustain this for maybe about 30 seconds, and am over 40 mph for minutes. I laugh at a 30 mph recommended speed sign in a corner, as with my little race bike, I can safely do 10 mph over this with this downhill.

I hit 52 mph on another occasion, which is a new speed record for me! These roads are great… smooth and wide, with great visibility and absolutely no cars. I’ve never felt so relaxed and confident at these speeds.

And so I am at the next rest stop, at mile 165, by 8:10. 30 miles in 1:25! I am feeling very relieved, knowing that I have just 35 miles to go, and the sun is still up. Barely. But I allow myself to chat with one of the hosts of the checkpoint for awhile as she serves up some excellent Campbell’s Homestyle chicken soup…

But it’s time to go. “Just 18 miles to the next rest stop, right?” I ask. “Actually, Hugh was saying it’s just 11, and another guy was saying just 12,” she replies. Great! Time for another time trial!

Miles 165 to the Finish!

Hammering again, I soon can see the blinking rear lights of a cyclist about half a mile ahead. The winds start picking up, though, and I am struggling to maintain 17 mph. The terrain seems to also be a gradual ascent. Thinking that the rest stop was just miles away, though, I keep up my unrelenting effort.

I am checking my cyclometer every few minutes. Miles since the last checkpoint: 10 miles, 11 miles, 12 miles, 13? Where’s that rest stop? So maybe the map was correct…. it’ll be at mile 18.

I finally catch and pass the rider ahead, but the winds seem to be picking up more. I’m starting to feel a little fatigued, but keep up the pace. One nice distraction was a rather awesome display of fireworks ahead, probably about 30-50 miles up. In this part of the world, with smogless air and land devoid of buildings and tall trees, one can see these things. My spirits are up!

At t last, the rest stop at mile 183. It is 25 minutes to 10:00 p.m. “There he is!” says the cheery hostess with a British accent. We had met at the 2nd rest stop, when I was still riding with Milo. “You’re going to make it, just 15 miles to go,” she says. She hands me a Mountain Dew. It tastes so good, esp. compared to the 15 or so water bottles I had drank earlier. Three other riders are there.

“When are you planning on closing up?” I inquire.

“Soon, I think,” she replies. So despite my herculean effort, I had made it to the last rest stop before it closed without much time to spare. I felt somewhat vindicated for ditching Milo.

“There shouldn’t be any other riders on the course,” she continues. One of the riders interjects, “Some riders were just coming into lunch at 4:30.” I can’t help but laugh, as these riders included myself. “Well, if they were just coming into lunch at 4:30, they’re not going to make it,” she says flatly. I laugh again, and tell them my story.

Finally, at 9:50, the three other riders and I take off together. Two of the people are a married couple, and they lead the way. Determined to help the others out, perhaps due to some residual guilt for abandoning Milo, I find myself stopping and waiting for the 4th person (a lady in her 40’s) frequently to “tow” her back up to the front.

At one point she inquires, “Is that a fire ahead?” A fire?! Oh my gosh, the fireworks ahead had been replaced by a huge fire! It was out of control.

What a disasterous way to end a 4th of July! Soon some firetrucks and police cars are passing us up. At mile 190, we are in the midst of the smoke from the fire, carried by the strong headwinds that plagued the last 30 miles of the ride. We can see the fire very clearly and are watching it all the way back to the finish. We seem to be heading straight toward it! Is it in Bishop?

But finally we turn away from it, and instead see the lights of Bishop, a city booming with restaurants and motels, in an otherwise totally deserted part of the world. It’s good to be back. We’ve made it!

The End

So I did in fact finish before 11:00, at 10:50, just as I told Milo I wanted to do. I inquire about Milo, but the guy at registration told me that if he didn’t come in before me, he wouldn’t know about it. I can only assume he was sagged in.

Seeing the British lady at the finish as I’m about to leave seems to confirm this. So she had closed up the last rest stop already. “You’ve made it!” she exclaims.

So I did. And so I had again become a winner of the California Triple Crown, even if it took a herculean effort this time. Nowadays I look back at the day’s events, and marvel at what I had done… 110 miles in 11.5 hours, and the last 90 miles in under 6, including the time spent at rest stops.

But that was not what I was thinking about at the time. I was thinking about the fellow cyclist I had abandoned, and the massive conflagration at the end. It was a reminder that even as I am consumed by my own goals, there will be others who are struggling and dealing with their own problems. I had done this ride to temporarily “get away” from the “real world,” and yet… the real world had come back to me. Sometimes I’d like to think that in my life I’ve accomplished quite a bit, but there’s still a lot needed to be done, still a lot of problems to solve.

Ride Data

  • 198 mi.
  • 5:20 start, 22:50 finish—17.5 hours
    • First 110 miles: 11.5 hours
    • Last 90 miles: 6 hours
  • Average Speed: 14.0 mph moving, 11.3 mph overall
  • Max Speed: 52 mph, on two occasions!
  • Total Climbing: 10,000 ft


(1=ho hum; 5=best)

  • Scenery:4
  • Support/Organization: 2. Where were the sag wagons?
  • Food: 3
  • Weather: 4. Would have got a 5 were it not for the headwinds at the end.
  • Relative Difficulty: 3
  • Overall Rating: 3. A good ride marred only by an indignant riding partner and a 4th of July conflagration at the end.
yellow MGB roadster, Highway 120, Yosemiteroad closed, Yosemite, Highway 120, people standing aroundPeople playing in the snow off Highway 120.helicopter in Yosemiteeastern Sierra mountains, BishopMilo, a cyclist riding a bicycle in 1998 Eastern Sierra Double Century.Fourth of July Parade, eastern Sierras, July 4, 1998Felix Wong, second checkpoint, 1998 Eastern Sierra Double Century, Stanford jersey, bicyclescurve in road, eastern Sierraslake, eastern Sierrasred Cannondale, 1998 Eastern Sierra Double Century, red barnhill, road, 1998 Eastern Sierra Double CenturyMile 135 checkpoint, 1998 Eastern Sierra Double Centurygetting dark, 1998 Eastern Sierra Double Century

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