(this is long... go get yourself a refreshment and use the restroom before starting to read this)
Death Valley was awesome. I will admit, I was a little apprehensive about what being in Death Valley with ONLY 11 West Michigan team members there would be like. We've always had a big crew out there and I was nervous it wouldn't live up. I also had pressure of finally finishing my first century (which I had planned to do in the less extreme Killington, but extreme rain prevented). Killington was going to be it, and when it wasn't, I've been putting pressure on myself since the end of August to finish the century in Death Valley. It's time.
I will never forget the stars we saw on Thursday night. Most of the team, plus Coach Tim drove up to Zabriski Point. I cannot describe how dark it was. We trekked with minimal light from cell phones up to the top of the lookout. It was incredible. I have never been big into stars or astronomy, but MY WORD. You could see the milky way so clearly. The stars were incredible. We laughed up there. We joked. We enjoyed the serenity of what night in the valley is. We were "West Michigan". I missed the rest of the team, but I knew then that it didn't matter how many we had... we were going to have the same experience I remembered.
Friday broke like every day in the valley: sunny and warm. The tune up ride to Zabriski Point was easy for me this year. I've struggled in the past with blood sugar, and tired from climbing from Golden Canyon last year. It was a breeze this year. I felt ready. The tourists at Zabriski made for stories to tell, and although the West Michigan crowd was smaller, we all looked good in our pink pancreas cell jersey's (well, except for this one who decided to wear plaid bike shorts). Relaxing by the pool for the afternoon was great. I stuck to my "nothing but water" rule on Friday, even though Furnace Creek put in a service window where you can get margaritas at the pool (TALK ABOUT SELF CONTROL - I KNOW!). Having cars made it easy for the team to decide to run up to Artists Drive to see what that was all about late in the afternoon. The dinner on Friday was different this year as we stayed in the court yard instead of trekking through the coyotes to the palm grove. I actually think it was ok to stay... the atmosphere was just as good.
After dinner, we did the West Michigan thing and decorated our helmets. Even though Jasker grumbled about helmet desecration for months before the ride, he & Rob came through with decorations from Parumph after those sent by Mary were lost with Rob's clubs somewhere in the US. With candy and letters to each from Coach Nicole in hand, we all called it a night.
I woke up Saturday not in great shape. The Continuous Glucose Monitor (sensor) I was counting on to help me through the day was off... by 200. My finger poke said 330mg/dl, but the sensor said 120mg/dl. This was not good. It was too late to start a new sensor, so I had to try to get my BG down to better levels to calibrate and hope the sensor reported accurately after being calibrated. Time was not on my side. I spent the next two hours worried about blood glucose levels, sensor reporting and trying to eat a decent breakfast without overdosing with insulin which would cause me to go low. I checked my BG five times between getting up and starting the ride. By the time the ride started at 7 a.m., my finger poke and sensor were within 50 of each other. At this point, I was not planning on being able to use the sensor during the ride and did not feel good about riding 100 miles in Death Valley without that technology.
The Ride started. The excitement was there and it was nice and cool. The 17 miles to Badwater were awesome. I felt good. Really good. I played leap frog with two girls from the Novo Nordisk team trying to catch Pablo (I passed him once all day... he was on the side of the road waiting for SAG cause his tire or tube split - no worries, he passed me again in about 15 minutes). I rolled into Badwater with most of West Michigan team feeling really good. Finger poke and sensor were within 20 of each other (good enough for me) and I was in the low 100s. Took some pictures of first time riders Nick & Linda with the Sea Level sign. Ate a PB&J, refilled water & gatorade bottles and we were off. I tried to stick to Coach Mike & Tim's - get to Jubilee as fast as you can and we were averaging about 17 mph at this point (that's an easy stretch going out).
After watching Pablo take off with a group of riders, we all took off for Mormon Point break point. Rob took off and said "you'll catch me" (uh huh, sure) This next stretch is where we finally get in the sun, but because of our speed, we made it further in the shade than I ever have before. I rode most of this stretch with Pete Dow. Nothing much to say other than I felt really good and kept up that 17mph average.
It started getting warm by breakpoint two - Mormon Point - 34 miles. My plan going in had been to hydrate my insides but also my outside starting at Mormon Point in hopes of keeping cool. I took about a half a cold water bottle and dumped it on my head. Another PB&J and refill the water and Gatorade and Steve, Nick, J.D. Linda & I were off. I think Mike was in the area as well (he said he was coaching everyone, and he was - but I knew he was keeping an eye on us kids from the Great Lake state). Nick & I stayed together most of the next 11 miles to Ashford Mills. This is where we finally passed Pablo (who had Pete with him and knowing them... I figured we'd just keep going and they'd catch us). The water I dumped on my head felt like an air conditioner with the head wind we dealt with for those 11 miles. There is a long straight 3 or 4 mile hill that is straight and you can see forever. I was out of water to drink and dump on me at this point, and had about 1/4 gatorade left for the last few miles. Getting to Ashford Mills break point was an effort but we still had our average above 16mph.
I dumped Gatorade for both bottles having water at Ashford Mills. They also gave us towels that had been soaked in ice to put on our necks. That was a life saver. Another PB&J, a chocolate Gu and an entire water bottle downed at that breakpoint, and an entire bottle dumped on my head/arms and legs. Another dunk into the ice with my towel and I rode up the hill with it tucked in my jersey around my neck. I knew the next seven miles were going to make or break my plan. I knew I could not let my body get too hot. It was time.... A group of us head out, actually - most of the West Michigan team was together at this point. Rob went first but we also had Jasker, Danny, Linda, J.D., Nick, Steve & I (along with Coach Mike) in the pack. It was clear that it was hot. It was clear we were all going up Jubilee at our own pace. I was very happy to have Linda & J.D. going about my pace. We tried to keep drinking water. That hill is so long. We got to the first turn where the hill really starts and I told Linda - 1 down, 6 to go. I kept putting small amounts of water on my head through my helmet and taking small sips. About 30 minutes in, and not half way up, I knew Linda & I were in trouble. It was so hot. We were going sooo slow. Mike was there, and JD was up ahead just a bit. Out of no where, a SAG wagon. And they had ice cold water in a cooler. And some ice to soak our towels. The driver gave us a running push start to get going up the hill. Another 60 minutes later, and one or two more SAG refills I made it to the top of Jubilee Pass. I was in SOOOO much better shape than I had been in years past. Don't get me wrong, it was hot and miserable, but I was OK. The first glimmer of hope that I could make it. I had never felt this before at 52 miles in.
A few pictures later and a few soakings of my towel in ice and we were off. It was a bit chilly flying down Jubilee with the cold wet towel on my neck. A few times I almost lost the towel.
I have to admit, I don't remember much about seeing Ashford Mills again or the 11 mile trek back to Mormon Point. It happened, I was there, but it's fuzzy. I know I was at bottom by the time we got to Mormon Point. It was about 70 miles in and 104 degrees. My feet were on fire. I had started pouring water straight into my sandals at some point. Sitting on a chair under the tent I contemplated for a few minutes being finished, but a few soakings of my trusty towel in ice by the volunteers and putting it on my neck & head and a bottle of ice cold water to drink and I started feeling better. It was nice we had a bit of time to cool down and take a break and I thought maybe I could do this.
At this point, it was Steve, Mike, Danny & I. We had 34 miles to go. The stretch between Mormon and Badwater is horrendous in the afternoon. There are juts into and out away from the mountain base. There are supposedly 5 of these, but it seems like 9. You can see cars for FOREVER driving by and then back out and around. We missed the first SAG wagon that went by. I wanted to cry. It was so hot. We lost Danny right around this point. My drinking water was almost gone and my dump over head & body bottle was hot water. It took another few miles but we finally saw the SAG vehicle and stopped it. Refreshed with fresh ice cold water and freshly soaked towel on our necks (well, not Mike - he wasn't stooping to our level (yet!)). And low and behold... it was GLEN. AGAIN. Every time a SAG vehicle stopped(think about how many times I've mentioned sag vehicle so far), it was GLEN. Poor guy - he will hold with him forever me telling him I loved him over and over and over. Steve was like - woman - leave the poor guy alone. (Dont' worry, Glen and I got even closer later... keep reading).
So after Glen left, we took off. We came around the next bend, and there was another one. We got around that bend and there was another one. We go around the next bend and there was the 1 mile to break point sign. Supposedly. I never saw it. Nor did Steve. But Mike said it was there and that he pointed at it. I saw him point, I did not see a sign. I was totally ready to go around another bend and see another three mile stretch to the next bend. We got about 1/3 of the mile from the break point and my chain falls off but locks so that I can't even move the pedals. Mike says - "well we aren't stopping here, get up here and I'll push you". Mike... did ya hear the part about me not being able to pedal so it's hard for me to speed up to catch you? Anyway, Mike pushes me into Badwater. After kicking the volunteer out of her chair (sorry volunteer - I needed it) and getting some fresh water and a few soaks of ice towel again I felt like maybe I could possibly do this. We saw Rob & Nick at Badwater, but they refused to continue with us. They were done and were enjoying the view at Badwater. They looked too calm and carefree. I sooo wanted to be them. But I knew I had to keep going. I was 18 miles from the goal I had been striving towards for four years. I had to show Ellie that diabetes can not hold her back.
We were almost there. 7 miles to the next makeshift break point. 17 miles from the top of hill into the Ranch. 18 miles from the end.
Steve, Mike & I take off. There are not many people left on the road. Every SAG vehicle that goes by has people in it and bikes on the back. It is hot. Mike has given into my every whim of having SAG vehicles stop. I'm dumping water on my arms, my neck, my head, letting it run down my legs and then pouring it into my sandals. We are two miles from the break point and I need water. We hear a SAG and there he is, GLEN. Shout it with me. GLEN!!! He fills us up and I am ready to die I have to go SOOO bad. I tell Glen to stay over with the boys and pull down the shorts beside the van. (NICE!). Glen almost got an eyeful but thankfully Mike & Steve warned him to stay by them! ha! We get our towels dunked. Filled both water bottles and keep going. (I'm shocked Mike is more than willing to stop each time... he is not pushing us to keep going. I find it strange, but keep to myself). See ya, Glen.
Two miles to the somewhat uneventful breakpoint. It's so hot. The water pouring helps but it's miserable. It is SOOO hot. We spend a few minutes at the breakpoint. I hop in the van that the volunteer has running with air conditioning. Another group rolls in, and rolls out. But I wait. I know I need to cool down before continuing cause this is it. 7 miles with lots of climbing to do. The three of us again. We actually are going at a fast clip. My pump starts alarming a high BG (the first high of the day and I was 180mg/dl - I had no low alarms - that is AWESOME diabetes control people - 98 miles and my first "outside of norm" alarm!). I can't seem to make it stop beeping. It's keeps alarming. ne-nah-ne-nah-ne-nah. OVER AND OVER AND OVER. We stop and I can't get the buttons to press. The buttons on my pump are not working!! At all. Finally it comes up with an error: BUTTON ERROR. (that does seem good). Somehow, I get the alarm to stop.
We are up in the 14 to 16 mph range (which is insane). I feel really good and my legs are fine. We get to Golden Canyon in record time and refill water bottle one more time. The BG alarm goes off again and keeps going. I finally get it to stop (we are talking minutes of ne-nah-ne-nah-na-nah) 2 miles up, 1 mile down.
I cannot believe when we finally make it to the top of the hill. The three of us stop. We hug. I am amazed. I have done it. FINALLY. I HAVE DONE IT. I'm perfectly happy and we are laughing. I feel great. My legs are fine. (did I mention it's hot). We start down and Mike & Steve let me go first. Somewhere in that first 1/4 mile I look down and see Ellie on my bike card. I think: I did it, Elle & Anna. All of a sudden, crying. HARD. Harder than I've cried in I have no idea how long... years. We roll into the ranch and they announce our arrival and it's over. I'm gasping for air I'm crying so hard. Hugs to Steve and thanks to Steve & Mike for helping me. I could not have done it without my two Clarks, or Glen.
Some 'Katie quotes' from right after the ride:
"I will NEVER ride my bike to the top of Jubilee Pass again"
both are true.
I will ride Death Valley every year, until the cure for Ellie, Tom, Jack, Rick, Nathen, Ken, Ann and all of my other friends who are affected by type 1 is found.
For anyone who wants to join us, Rob, Steve & I will be in the Valley on Oct 16th, 2010, riding 90+ miles. ;-)
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
(this is long... go get yourself a refreshment and use the restroom before starting to read this)