"Ground Afire" is the meaning of the Indians' name for what is now known as Death Valley. And in the height of summer there is no better name for this sun-tortured trench between blistered ranges. But when a group of forty-niners  blundered into it, they renamed it Death Valley.
After spending the bulk of last season building up to my first century, I really thought that I could be ready for the 508 by October. But a nagging IT Band irritation from a poor bike fit gave me a good excuse for not registering. The reality was that I had a long way to go before I had a chance at making it to Twentynine Palms.
Since I wasn’t going to register for the 508, I signed up for the Fall Death Valley Double Century. From an experience perspective, riding two hundred miles in Death Valley would give me an opportunity to check out the desert climbs and recon some of the 508’s route. I wanted to see Townes Pass first hand.
Before fall, I felt like I needed to do a double century on my own. I had been thinking about riding over the North Cascades Highway to Winthrop. The first half of the route looked good; plenty of water stops along the way. The last half however appeared to be more interesting; no roadside water at all.
In late August the weather and my fitness level seemed just about right. I left the house before sunrise and the first hundred and twenty miles went great. I made it to Newhalem in just over six and a half hours. With no water stops for the next seventy three miles, I filled both of my large water bottles and my 70 ml water bladder. Then I crammed multiple bottles inside the oversized pack that I brought for this stage.
The five thousand foot climb over both Rainy Pass and Washington Pass was demoralizing. Heading west from Newhalem, Highway 20 undulates up and down for over forty miles before it drops back down towards Mazama. Just as I’d crest one rise, a steep downhill section negated almost every foot of elevation gained. It felt like climbing a steep sand dune; three steps up and then sink two steps down. (The veloroute.org mapping data shows over 13,000 feet of total elevation gain: http://veloroutes.org/bikemaps/?route=5424 )
By late October I had not fully recovered from the Winthrop ride when I finished the Fall Death Valley Double Century. It wasn’t easy; but I proved to myself that I could ride two hundred miles. This time I thought, “If I could ride two hundred miles, it can’t be too much harder to ride five hundred miles”.