Janet Nye Reflects on Whitney Classic Bike Ride Fundriaser
The Whitney Classic, a 135-mile endurance bike ride from Death Valley to the Mt. Whitney Portal, is Summit Adventure’s annual fundraiser. The ride starts in extreme heat and ends in frigid cold temperatures, gaining over 15,000 feet of elevation along the way. This year Summit Adventure board member Janet Nye completed the entire ride. Below is Janet’s firsthand account of her experience.
I think it’s important to let you know what this ride is about and how important it is to me. In addition, it is an opportunity for me to process my experience. The Whitney Classic (WC) is an event that has occurred every September for about 31 years. It has always been a fundraiser for Summit Adventure (SA). I became aware of it when we started supporting Summit Adventure in 1993. About 11 years ago while talking to the executive director of SA he suggested that I come ride in it because he found out that I like to ride a bike. I said, “no way!” Well, things change. Four years ago I joined the board of SA which meant that I would be going to the WC because there is a board meeting the day before. I am a very practical person and I thought that since I would be going to the board meeting and the WC I might as well ride part of it. I did not have a goal to ride the entire 135 miles. Alan and I rented bikes in Las Vegas and rode on the Dinosaur relay team. That was the beginning of the obsession.
To ride the WC is to learn how to do it, at least for me. I learned not to rent a bike that first year. I also felt the blazing sun and how very hot it is in Death Valley. The next year I was also on a relay team. It was a party to the finish. I rode with Tom Smith, the executive director earlier mentioned, and Jair Drooger, our marketing director. The two of them together were a team of comedians and I had a great time. Then I began thinking about riding the whole ride. I am more of an endurance rider than a sprinter so I began thinking about how I could do this. I started talking about riding the whole ride with the guys I ride with locally. One of these guys, John Linck, agreed to give it a shot. We trained all summer in 2012 and made the attempt. Lessons learned in that ride were huge. We both had struggles and after several months of processing after that ride I decided to put what I learned together and make another attempt this year.
I sought out experienced help this year. I consulted with Steve Atkins of Phoenix, AZ who has ridden the WC at least 11 times and rides brevets and thousands of miles every year. His advice and specific suggestions were a huge help and they guided me in my training. I also used the help of cycling articles by Coach John Hughes of Road Bike Rider. Ernie Lechuga of Chainwheel and Leborne Cycling was also a huge help to me in understanding the nutrition and cycling training techniques. His professional racing experience and awareness of where I was going to ride were very helpful in dialing in the specifics. Vanessa Gilliam, a nutritionist helped me in selecting foods for the ride and understanding the body’s processing of foods for energy.
So, I trained all summer. From June 1 (the Tour de Rock or rain) until September 26 I rode 2,664 miles. I had great folks to ride with for many of those miles, but many of the 100 + miles at the end of the training were solo. I rode 8 days of 80+ miles and 5 of those were 100 or more, topping out at 127 miles 3 weeks before the Whitney. Ernie had suggested that I ride laps so I rode from Williams Jct. east on Hwy. 10 to Hwy. 113 over Wye Mountain to Bigelow. From there Hwy. 60 to Perryville and Hwy. 10 to Williams Jct. That is a 42 mile loop which I did 3 times. The temperature that day was over 100 degrees.
On September 24th Alan and I went to Riders Ready where Greg Lamont helped us disassemble the bike and get it in our bike box. I did not mention Greg earlier, but through all of this training Greg was so wonderful in taking care of all of my mechanical needs. The biggest thing he did was when he discovered a crack in my front fork. At the end of the work day, Greg jumped in his truck and drove to Orbea to buy a new fork that was the same color as my Diva. Greg has consistently dropped what he was doing to help me with whatever I needed.
On the 26th we left for Las Vegas. With bike and luggage in the car rental we drove across Nevada to Death Valley National Park. The day we arrived the wind was fierce and the dust at times so thick it was like the desert was on fire. The following day, Alan put the bike together and I went on my final ride before the WC. Everything was working great and I was very ready to do what I had prepared to do.
September 28th in Death Valley was “cool”. When we arrived at Badwater (-282 feet) the temperature was 95. That is compared to 113 last year. There were five of us riding together in the first 43 miles. Spencer and April Davis were on my team WOMS. They had agreed to ride the WC a month before the event. The name WOMS has two meanings, the first is that it is in memory of my sister-in-law who died July 2nd of this year and the 2nd meaning is “women in motion and Spencer. The other two riders were Fish, a young raft guide, climber and SA staff person and either Jennifer or Steven Ng of Orange County who were rotating the riding. Fish and I would ride the whole ride together. Steven photographed the event with his two cameras, one of which he gave to our daughter, Libby, who took photos of our entire ride.
The ride through this first section was great. The weather was unbelievable. I kept making comments about how amazing it was. I wasn’t even hot. Death Valley has amazing color in the rocks. As we rode toward Stovepipe Wells, our 3rd rest stop, the sun lowered in the sky casting shadows on the rocks and bringing out the amazing hue of the geology. In addition the sand dunes come alive with detail. It is an amazing feeling to be there and know that you are experiencing such beauty all around you. Death Valley is vast and there is no way to grasp the size and beauty of what we were riding through. I was tempted to start cranking hard through this section, but reminded myself of what was to come.
At Stovetop Wells, as with all the rest stops, there are amazing people who come every year to support the Whitney. These are the people of the Good Sams Club of Southern CA. They bring their RVs and park at the stops. They stay up all night, they greet you and get you anything you need. They are loving and amazing. In addition there are the Hammers. They are the communication of the WC. They use their ham radios to communicate between stops and the ride director. They are also critical if medical issues arise. I cannot say enough praise for these people who have come to support the WC for years. Also at the stops are the volunteers from SA. Again, they are staying up all night. They are making us laugh, checking on us, bringing me a coat or letting me play with their baby. I couldn’t do this ride without the support of these people.
At Stovetop Wells I attached my lights and got ready for the climb. We were the WOMS team and Fish. This first climb is 17 miles long. It tops out at 4,956 feet. It starts at 400 feet. It is a very long climb. The sun sets to our right behind the mountains. It gets dark and the stars are like nowhere I have ever seen. The desert is a very dark place so the night sky is brilliant. I was riding with the Milky Way! Fish and I began to pull away from Spencer and April. The thing that this ride teaches you is how to manage your nutrition and how to ride when you are normally closing down for the night. It was between 6-9pm when we were riding up to Town’s Pass. The first rest stop is 9 miles up this hill. We stopped, ate, played with baby Silas and put on a jacket. I have ridden all or parts of this hill 3 times. Never have I put on a jacket going up. I was feeling pretty good going up. My body was beginning to complain via my stomach, but not enough to cause major problems. At Town’s Pass we rested a bit and prepared for the 9 mile descent. I put on a fleece jacket, winter gloves and got on the bike. This descent is STEEP. It winds through rock walls of the mountains and if you were brave enough you could reach speeds in excess of 60mph. It was totally dark so Alan was behind me in the car with the high beams on. This is the only time the driver is allowed to do this. In addition to watching the road and making sure you are surviving this descent, you need to watch for rocks on the road. The mountains we were going through occasionally release a rock to meet the road. Believe it or not, I was relaxed going down. This was my second time and I was comfortable with my grip in the drops and my speed, which maxed at 45mph. I was even letting go of the breaks more than I had remembered doing last year. The final stretch is straight and the breaks were released and I flew down to Panamint Valley. Riding along in the dark in a “flat” section was nice. I saw a little white mouse scurry across the road in front of me. Alan stopped the car about 3 miles from the next stop at Panamint Springs where I took off the fleece and got lots of water. My mouth was so dry from sailing down that hill and there is no way to reach for the bottle. I looked up the hill to see Fish coming down. I couldn’t see her, I just saw the bright light in the distance. Looking ahead were the lights of Panamint Springs. Distances on this ride are far and even though you can see them, it seems that you ride forever and still not get to the destination.
Fish and I arrived at Panamint Springs which is a very brightly lit gas station ($5.40 gal for gas) and a restaurant and lodging. The restaurant owner of Panamint Springs has provided a brunch to riders and SAG drivers for free for 4 years. He is an amazing person and is ready for next year. At Panamint I needed some emotional boost so Alan turned on Steely Dan which always gets me moving. We stayed here quite a while and waited for Spencer and April. They arrived with their cheery spirits and after we were all rested and had eaten and drank we began our second ascent. This time we were headed up to Father Crowleys and Hillcrest, a 12 mile climb and 4000+ feet of elevation gain. This climb is more winding and is really very pretty in daylight. Fish and I wound around turns and hills. Fish was singing and talking. I had reduced my talking going up Town’s Pass. Fish is an amazing person. She has energy to spare and her positive spirit is infectious. As we were making one of our passes around a bend in the road, I looked left and above the mountains I saw the orange crescent of the moon. It was glorious and it picked up my spirits. On past the 4000ft. elevation sign and up to Father Crowleys, which is a place to pull off the road and appreciate the view of the valley below. It was getting very cold. I was tired and wanted some time to decompress. I sat in a chair set up by the Good Sammers and watched Fish dance around the area. I was a little disgusted by her energy, but that’s the way she is and it is amazing. I began putting on more clothes. It took me 3 more short rides to get all my clothes on-arm warmers, 2 wind jackets, one fleece jacket, and my down sweater. It was 41 degrees and despite still climbing it was very cold. Somewhere before the next stop at Hillcrest I told Fish that I needed some sleep. I was falling asleep on the bike. We got in the van and slept for 30 minutes.
I was revived after the sleep. I felt great. We went on up to the final ascent of 5,498ft. Completing two ascents felt wonderful. There had been times when I questioned if I would make it to Lone Pine (122 miles), but I also knew that Lone Pine was my goal. I really wanted to do the 18 mile descent into Keeler. This is a long gentle descent that allows for rest, renewal of spirit and a confidence that was needed. Before beginning this descent we could look behind us and see the faint light of daybreak. Combining the descent and daybreak, my spirits soared. Fish and I coasted down peddling when needed to keep the speed up and to navigate over the small hills in the road. It was great! We reached Keeler and took off our green down sweaters (we looked like we planned to match, but it was coincidental). We visited with the folks at the rest stop, had some oatmeal and were off for Lone Pine.
By this time the sun was fully up and the Sierras were in plain view. Mt. Whitney and the Portal Road were waiting for us. It was a very pleasant ride into Lone Pine. I kept thinking about how wonderful this part of the ride was and how beautiful the mountains were. We arrived at stop 10 and were greeted by Graham and Sarah Ottley. Graham is the program director for SA and they both were eager to help us with whatever we needed. I had begun thinking about a cinnamon roll from the Alabama Hills Café and Fish wanted a muffin and bacon. We all headed to the Café. We passed the Dow Villa and waved to the riders that had ridden on relay teams and were showered, rested and ready to eat breakfast. Graham ordered our food and we visited with Summit folks outside the Café. It was so fun.
Fish and I had 13 miles to go…the Whitney Portal Rd. This road goes from the Owens Valley to the trailheads of the hiking and climbing trails up Mt. Whitney, America’s tallest mountain in the lower 48, at 14,505 feet. We had begun the ride and about a mile and a half into it, we stopped and ate the cinnamon roll and muffin/bacon. My cinnamon roll did not last very long. I was ready to eat some “real” food. Fish was as well. After this needed rest, I felt charged. We reapplied sunscreen, put on our sun sleeves and began climbing. The Portal Rd. has some short steep sections in the first few miles and then stretches out to a steady climb. It is rough. I was struggling with another climb. I was wondering what I was doing. Fish was cruising along and enjoying the day. I had a “melt down” about half way up. I needed to regroup and just take some time to get my breath. After that Libby ran along beside me with her hand on my back giving me a push. That would not be allowed on the pro tour, but I was appreciating it. I am not sure how long she did this, but enough to give me time to want to go on.
Rest stop 11 is the last stop before the finish. I don’t even know how long we were there. I don’t think very long. The long switch backs were in front of us. As I began these, I felt new energy. I rode the rest of the way without stopping. The parade started here. Summit staff had been driving by and encouraging us before the switchbacks, but for the rest of the ride there were several who ran along beside us. I was so amazed. I couldn’t believe what was going on. Kelli Stansell, the WC director, Sarah Ottley and Libby were running with us. I was so uplifted. I know my face didn’t show it, but my heart felt it and I was so grateful. In addition to these running, Austin, Chris, Braden, Tom, Graham, Alan, Steven,and Jennifer were either in cars or standing on rocks encouraging us from above. I have never experienced anything like this. I heard their encouragement absorbing it as fuel. I know I don’t react much when I am struggling, but it was making a difference for me. The turn past the last switchback was wonderful. Fish and I were together making it up the last mile of the WC. We got closer and began to see parking lots and signs. Meek, Fish’s wonderful red heeler was now out running with us.
The completion of a huge goal was realized as we rode together to the finish. Everyone was there to greet us and to congratulate. Fish, because she is who she is, turned around and rode back down to the last switchback and rode up with Spencer and April who were only 45 minutes behind us. Team WOMS and Fish completed the Whitney Classic! I was amazed. I was and still am so fulfilled by this experience. It was wonderful to celebrate at the top with Fish, Spencer and April, Erica Rackley (SAG support for Team WOMS) and Alan and Libby and the Summit staff and friends. The three who finished with me are so strong and amazing. They are truly inspiring people. I have to say something about Erica who I mentioned two sentences ago. Erica has ridden the WC twice. She is a super strong woman and early on asked if she could SAG for me which I was thrilled about. I knew she could push me and make sure I made it to the end. When April and Spencer joined WOMS, Erica supported them. Erica is a great support and was cheering me on before and during the ride. She was eager to bring some items I needed to prepare for the ride since we were flying. She inspired me to make this goal happen.
I have mentioned so many who helped me make this dream happen, but I have not mentioned those who were my support for months ahead. Michele Smith, an incredible friend who gives and encourages beyond measure. Her words and gifts kept me going multiple times. In addition, she was coordinating prayer support in central AR while I was riding. The group of riders of PVCC prayed for me and encouraged me as I joined them while training this past summer. My husband, Alan, who put up with my riding and rambling about riding. Alan and Libby drove and rode in the support car for over 20 hours. They fetched water and support drink bottles, food, chap stick, clothes and whatever else I needed. They encouraged me, yelling support EVERY time they passed me. They would not let me give up. Libby ran beside me on the Portal Rd and held my water bottle to my mouth while I rode. Many of you at 2BC have encouraged me including Rebecca Cowling who came out with Alan to support me when I was doing the 127 mile day. Through emails and FB I received so many encouraging words. From family and friends I was lifted up each time I read your words or spoke with you. I knew you were all praying and that I couldn’t give up despite a strong desire to do so when it got tough.
This was a personal goal, but it was also what Summit Adventure is about. Summit seeks to develop new and deeper relationships. It is a ministry that creates a place for people to learn more about themselves, and to know depth in relationship with Christ. Typically that place is in the Sierras, the Andes or even on Skid Row in Los Angeles. Opportunity for change is made by challenge. I would not have experienced the multitude of blessings and the total overwhelming support from so many people if I hadn’t committed to this adventure. I am so grateful and humbled by your support and your prayers.
I had a goal to raise $5000 for the ministry of Summit Adventure. The Saturday morning of the ride I opened my WC web page and a friend I have known for nearly 20 years had made a donation which put the amount raised to over $5000. Thanks to ALL of you who contributed to this effort. I am so humbled. This is not about me. This is about what God can do. Thank you for all that you have done for the continuing ministry of Summit Adventure. I am honored to be a part of this ministry.
Thanks to all of you!
We’re accepting Whitney Classic Donations through the month of October. Our goal for the Fundraiser is $110,000. We have raised $73,110 so far. Please help us reach our goal by donating today!
The gallery of 2013 Whitney Classic photos can be viewed HERE.