I Survived Death Valley…Barely
On October 16, I joined a group of approximately 300 cyclists to ride in Death Valley to support the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s efforts to “Turn Type One Into Type None.” I was invited to participate in the event with a small team of cyclists dubbed “Logistics Leaders for T1D Cure” by Adrian Gonzalez, a leading logistics industry analyst and blogger, whose daughter Hannah was diagnosed with T1D in 2011. He decided to pull the team together to raise awareness for T1D, and to raise money for the ongoing research sponsored by JDRF.
Other team members included Charity Newsome (Elemica), Gina Pratico (MercuryGate), and Ken Wood (Descartes Systems Group). What an amazing group of people! Although several of us are technically competitors in the marketplace, we came together under Adrian’s leadership to raise over $43,000 for JDRF with this event, including $5825 from my friends/co-workers at LeanLogistics. The event as a whole raised a total of over $1,347,000!!! (and counting!)
For me, riding in Death Valley conjured up visions of the Old West: of the valley’s sandstone walls in muted reds, magentas, orange-browns, and scrub-bush greens which rolled into the hazy distance. In my mind, big black steam engines chugged with billowing puffs of black smoke trailing into the distance. Covered wagons, pulled by 20 mule teams rolled by white sun-bleached bones of steer-heads and rusted relics of long-shuttered borax mines. Off in the distance were heatwave reflections of non-existent watering holes—somehow just out of the reach of the thirsty long-bearded miner whose canteen ran dry days ago. Coyotes prowled, and roadrunners scurried in the distance.
Even in the best of conditions Death Valley is an insanely inhospitable place, but on a bike? Hot. Dry. Dusty. On ride day, mother nature added strong wind into that mix, which—in my native Michigan might be considered gale-force. It blew down out of Jubilee pass, and continued through the valley smack into our faces, like we had opened the sooty loading door to a blast furnace. Many of the riders, by design or in deference to the conditions, chose to turn around at points that gave them 16, 35, or 55 mile totals. See the map: death-valley-ride-map.
Adrian was awesome! He did his daughter proud. He was one of a relative minority of riders that pedaled through the heat and head winds at a pace that allowed them enough time to climb Jubilee pass, and turn around at the 51 plus mile-mark and ride back to the finish for a ride-day total of over 102 miles. Also in that group was a world class racing team from Novo Nordisk, one of the event’s big sponsors. Charity and I battled out as far as the Ashford Mills rest stop at the base of the climb (about 42 miles out) at which point the call was made to not let any additional riders up the pass. In hindsight, that was a really good call for me.
Charity and I turned around for the much easier ride back. I think we could have coasted all the way back to the finish line—the wind was now that strong at our backs. I had a top speed of 39.9 mph, often riding the brakes, but I’m sure we were cruising at 25 mph plus with much less effort than the 8 mph average we mustered against the wind going out. I laughed at one rest stop as I held my bike horizontal with the wind like it might blow out of my hands.
At about the 66.5 mile mark Charity and I sat on the ground in the shade of a brick wall to catch our breath at a rest stop in a place called Badwater. Death Valley tourists parked there and hiked out onto the desert floor to get pictures, and I started to wonder if I’d make it back to the finish line under my own power. I didn’t yet realize it, but the name “Badwater” was a good fit: by that point in the ride, the water I was sucking down between rest stops, plus the electrolyte capsules I had been popping most of the day didn’t have enough salt, or I didn’t take enough of them, or more like my system just wasn’t prepared for that sort of day-long onslaught. It wasn’t like I hadn’t trained. This would have been my 5th century ride of the season. Several of the earlier century rides were also in 90-plus degree conditions at the finish line, and I had logged 2000 plus total training miles leading up to the event. In reality those training miles had merely lulled me into a false sense of security.
I stopped briefly at the last rest stop and here’s where I think my memory had become a little fuzzy. I don’t recall exactly at what point I told Charity to push on ahead of me, but I know I made it back the last 8 miles to the finish on my own, and still on my bike. My wife Lisa snapped a couple pictures of me at the finish. My odometer showed 6 hours and 30 minutes rolling time, 83-plus miles ridden and somewhere between 8 and 9 hours had elapsed in total.
A wave of accomplishment washed over me that was pretty much unlike anything I had ever felt before.
Or was it partly delirium? Unfortunately, I would have to forego any post-ride celebrations. Shortly after I finished, I sat down on a folding chair in the shade, drank a couple bottles of water, and progressively started to feel terrible. Google “hyponatremia.” Headache. Confusion. Lethargy. Nausea. Vomiting. Luckily, my wife got the JDRF medics involved right away. If I could skip the hyponatremia symptoms and go straight for the post-ride saline drips, I’d make it part of my post-ride recovery regimen from now on. Really. But seriously, hyponatremia, like the desert, is not something to mess around with. It can—but didn’t in my case—lead to seizures and cardiac arrest. I credit that not happening in my case to the actions of my wife, the JDRF coaches and medical staff (thank-you Lisa, Mike, Mio and a host of others!) They eventually made the call to send me to the emergency room in Pahrump, Nevada’s Valley View Hospital for further observation. It was terrifying at the time, but ended well. The results? No heart damage, or any other lasting side effects. Whew.
Bottom line? I pushed myself beyond the limits of what I had ever done before, even harder than what I thought I was capable of. I learned that I still have more to learn about proper hydration, especially in such inhospitable conditions, and will make changes to my hydration regimen to try to avoid similar problems in the future. Call it an extreme sport rite of passage?
As for Death Valley, I can say I survived 83-plus miles on a bike (literally and figuratively?), helped out with an amazing cause, and met a bunch of new friends. It will become one of those life experiences where the story gets told over and over and which no doubt will become better with age, and if I can help it, I will too.
What will happen to the “Logistics Leaders for T1D Cure” cycling team you may ask? You haven’t seen the last of them! Adrian is already in the early stages of planning a repeat for next year, although the Death Valley ride is off the calendar for 2017 due to renovations at the venue. I certainly will ride to support JDRF in the future in one way or another, and if we can work out the details, join the Logistic Leaders for T1D Cure team again. Hmm, but will I tempt Death Valley’s wrath again in 2018? Probably not.
Tagged bicycling, charity, death valley, juvenile diabetes research, LeanLogistics, Logistics, Supply Chain