It is simply, 'The Stagecoach.'
400ish miles of the best desert riding the United States has to offer.
('Best' is a very malleable word, isn't it?)
For anyone who has endured/psychologically survived a northern Alaskan winter or had successive years of 50-something below zero temps for their birthday, you will appreciate how much in need of a warm weather bike trip I was in during a particularly cold snap in early January in Fairbanks. I was looking at biking photos from South America and the desert southwest by Cass Gilbert and Nicholas Carman and longed for warmth and dirt under my tires. Ironically, seconds later, I somehow stumbled upon this bikepacking race called The Stagecoach 400. A few more seconds later and I was signed up and buying Alaska Airlines tickets to SoCal. Unfortunately, it wasn't for that week, but for mid-April. I'd have to wait, but the picture had been painted and riding snow and getting painfully cold fingers and toes for a couple more months seemed a whole lot more tolerable.
It was mid-April and still fighting off one hell of a long, cold, Alaskan winter of riding my Salsa Mukluk fatbike on a few trips and races, I found myself stepping onto the plane in Fairbanks in the midst of a blizzard, bound for the sunny, warm skies of southern California. Our 'spring' had gone missing and winter was the culprit. Having never been to the real desert, I felt like I was venturing off the map and into the wild & scary unknown, searching for life & warmth. I comforted myself with the idea that if I can venture solo for a hundred miles during the depths of winter in the Alaskan backcountry, I can surely do 400 miles through the desert where I don't even need a sleeping bag. Ha!
Walking around Idyllwild and The Hub bike shop, I felt so green... like such a rookie. Well, I guess cuz I was, in a few ways. It felt good, though, because I love getting in over my head and seeing how much of that bite I can actually chew. I was stepping up and doing something big I was completely new to. 'It's better than sitting at home, dreaming of it,' I thought.
I organized my gear, went for a test ride, and then asked every question I could think of to the ever patient course creator, Brendan Collier, owner of The Hub Cyclery in Idyllwild. I immediately realized his experience in the region when he was glazing over directions and descriptions of places and conditions like an experienced local ought to when talking with their neighbor. Problem for me was that I had zero experience riding anything like what we all intended to the next morning. After a few more questions, things got real and he pretty much just gave me a proverbial blessing and under his breath, hoped I wasn't going to die. I appreciated this and figured it's probably best the less I know and the more I just focus on riding and relying on the gps route and cues.
Some of the guys were going for a warm-up ride, so I figured I'd join, as I was itching to burn off some tension and warm up the muscles. My gear and bike needed a good shakedown, too, just to make sure everything was ready for the real deal.
It began with a big road climb up the mountain. I felt great. From my singlespeed days, I learned to love the uphill. Then Dave stopped and showed us where the trail started off the road. Gulp. REAL singletrack. I've ridden singletrack, but never super technical singletrack... and I was on a drop bar touring bike. I felt greener than the grass. 'Saddle up, partner,' I thought.
Within minutes, and a few three-foot ledges, drops, and boulder traverses, I had realized bar end shifters, drop bars, and a low bottom bracket, upright, & rigid-forked bike were no match, in my hands, for this epic trail. Knowing the next few days were far more important than this afternoon ride, I said 'have fun' and swallowed my pride for a long brake-burning descent back into town, after a little exploring to distract my brain from the tail-tucking retreat.
First stop back in town was The Hub to ask Brendan if the Stagecoach route was anything like that, cuz I'd have to drop out the day now, having brought the wrong bike for my level of skill on trails like that. Fortunately, he said none of the Stagecoach was like THAT trail, one of the primo selections in the Idyllwild area. Whew.
After meeting a few riders, hanging out over dinner, and getting a beer, it was time for us all to rest up for the big ride.
Up at 5am and I tell myself I am awesome. 'I got this.' Whatever I had to do to break the tension and sleep deprivation haze.
I came a long way and this is going to be pretty freakin' amazing.
There was a ton of nervous jitter at the group pre-start breakfast, with good reason. While chilly up on the mountain at dawn, temps were to skyrocket in the desert below. Again, I thought of how I had never ridden in anything so warm. In the last minutes, I gleaned what I could from any of the riders that seemed willing to share knowledge. And then it was time to go.
'Alright, group photo... Ok, let's go!' Brendan said.
After a few miles, Brendan stopped. We all followed suit. This must be where the 'race' begins.
A bunch of us ran off the road and took the opportunity to pee one more time. Water probably would have been a better choice than those two cups of coffee...
'Alright, let's roll!'
The Fargo is fast and I felt great. Quickly, though, I realized how the rigid fork was probably not the best choice for steep, rough descents, for me at least. Picking my line as best I could, I had to let quite a few people pass. I was, for the first time ever, envious of suspension. I also realized how much time I was losing by having to ride the brakes and not fly off the bike. 'Ah, so this is how it's going to be...' I tried to lean back and let the front end do its thing.
The route was beautiful... and real. This was no smooth snow-covered trail you could drift off into fatbike dreamland on. It required attention and a precise line, something I wasn't used to after riding snow for over six straight months. I couldn't see my gps screen because the sun was so bright. I got to the bottom of the big descent and the tracks seemed to head to the right. Fifteen minutes later, I was cruising my own tight & flowy singletrack, seemingly headed in the wrong direction. I tried to see the track on the gps screen and then I was airborne. My tire caught the tall trailside berm and I landed in the low scrub brush. Paranoid of spiders, scorpions, snakes, and thorny cactus, I leaped to my feet and assessed the damage. I first noticed I was completely alone. If I was on-route, surely, with how slow I had been going before, I couldn't have gained ground on anyone and someone should be whizzing by. Nope. I listened... no hub buzz, no hard breathing... silence. It was beautiful... 'Oh shit!'
I quickly assessed the bike. The front light had been jarred and half-broke the attachment strap. Still functional, I said 'F' and moved on. Time to turn around, but wait, there's a road. 'I'll get on that road and hammer some pavement, which will be faster than this trail.'
'No time for a picture... well that's a rare thought.'
150 yards, two fence and one creek crossing, multiple spiderwebs, and a lot of cactus later, I was on pavement and angrily regretting not fixing the problem of screen brightness on the gps before I got off-route.
I caught up to some other guys, as my 3x9 drop bar Fargo was now proving very useful on the fast road sections where others were topped out with their singletrack bikes. 'Time to make a statement,' I thought. Big ring, engage, and damn, it felt good. I felt bad, though, as Kevin Hinton thought this was going to be a great time to chat after having ridden some more flowy singletrack together in between road sections, but I blew by like he was having a picnic. I knew he'd catch up...
Back up, of course, past the 'Speed of Light Reflector.' 'WTF is that?,' I thought. Again, I felt out of place as the shadows began to shorten under me and my mouth felt like the sand we were riding on. 'More water!'
I was nervous about Coyote Canyon, the first 'real' test on the route, or so they said.
As I rounded a bend in the trail, I got my first look into the pit, so it seemed... an oven.
Big picture thinking rested my worries as it wasn't really all that far through the canyon before I'd be out again and headed to Borrego Springs for water and a huge burrito.
The descent was rough but nothing bad, just rocky dirt. At the bottom, the canyon started as a sand two-track trail, which left me questioning the 'off-trail navigating' further in the cues.
The trail slowly fizzled and became less distinct, but the bike and gps tracks remained.
Hard to get lost or off-track in a canyon, though. Kinda obvious where the route is.
And then all of a sudden, you're in a jungle, exactly where you ought to be. In a few seconds, you'll go from one of the hottest, driest places you've been to soaking your feet in mud and spring water and parting the lush vegetation that rises above your head.
Having just come from six months of snow, I kind of freaked out when I realized there was no way to avoid getting my feet wet. Silly, as I then realized it was in the 90s and soaking my feet would be awesome.
After carrying the bike through a deep spring, I had thoughts about dunking my entire body to cool off, but I didn't want to take the time to do it and didn't want to be soaked and dripping for a long time. As it turns out, my bike shoes, socks, and feet were bone dry ten minutes down the trail. Damn, shoulda soaked.
Keep weaving through the tall veg, with one more spring section, and all of a sudden you're questioning whether or not all that tall veg was real as you're back in the barren, hot desert.
It seemed like every straight section in between bends was hotter than the last, but at least it was beautiful. 'Just get to Borrego,' I thought.
I kept repeating to myself, half out loud, 'Borrego, burritos.'
This cobbly boulder section was so rough on my rigid bike that if I hadn't had clipless pedals, I'd have been thrown from the bike like riding a mechanical bull. I almost lost it at the bottom of this grade where it bends. I can't imagine the injuries that would have ensued.
And then, after questioning the reality of the lush jungle, boom, end of dirt, pavement, and a lush grapefruit(?) orchard.
'WHERE THE HELL AM I??? I AM SO CONFUSED... IS ALL THIS REALLY HAPPENING???'
I knew I was close to Borrego and I needed shade. Coyote Canyon had been the hottest riding I've ever done and coming from -25 degrees just a couple days before, I was straight up cooking.
There seemed to be a common theme to this land of making you delirious about being delirious... At first, when I saw these objects out of the corner of my (Alaskan) eye, my mind raced to 'BEARS!!!' Then, again, I realized I was in the desert and there are no brown bears here, although they sure do resemble them. Funny how your mind works.
After a better view through the brush, I saw they were man-made statues of sorts. 'Weird!' I had to get a photo to share the thought process.
More mountains and I loved it. They help keep the pedals turning.
'Ah, Borrego... oh... huh, where do I go?' I stopped at the huge round-a-bout in the center of the strip that was town. 'Left or right to food?' The gps track really didn't show, other than to stay on route through town. 'I'll go ask that sweet old lady where I can get some food.' That seemed logical. I don't know why looking for other bikers did not come into my mind, as that would have saved the 15 minutes it took to half-ass navigate the tiny town of one main road. Obviously, to me, my brain was not functioning well, with the past questioning of reality and especially after not being able to trouble-shoot a four-way intersection town.
I met up with a bunch of guys resupplying, guzzling water, and stuffing their mouths with burritos in the shade of a strip mall. Brendan will swear the hottest temp that day was 97, but as a few of us sat in the shade and all realized how hot the canyon and Borrego were, I looked up and (swear on my life) saw the thermometer tucked high up under the roof read 100... in the shade. 'Holy shit.' As my brain cooled off, I was starting to put the puzzle pieces together on how I should back off some and just start taking care of myself. I assessed my pale, oh-so-sensitive-to-the-sun skin and realized I hadn't really gotten much of a burn, yet. Whew, there was something going for me.
We all talked about what to do... some thought maybe wait out the heat, some thought there was no escaping it so we might as well go. I didn't know what to do other than not to leave alone. This place was beyond my experience and not only do I love company and wished I would have had someone to ride to here with cuz that's more fun, but if the race had already cooked me this well, I didn't want to be well done and alone, in a big helpless pile of I can't help myself. This is where I met the awesome Ty Hathaway.
We chatted briefly and I realized this was the guy I was going to follow out of here, whenever he was ready. We gathered our resupply goods, drank another liter of water, and saddled up. It was late-afternoon and the sun would be losing intensity quickly, very soon. The road miles leaving Borrego would be a nice change of pace and good for the mind to hammer some speed for a bit. On to Fish Creek.
Little did I know the pavement would be hotter than the canyon, despite the wide-open desert & breeze. Or, maybe it just seemed that way cuz that's how cooked my Alaskan winter blood was. Ty was a great sport, happily stopping each time I needed to cool off in the diminutive shade of a damn road sign, the only shade available. He was hot and feeling it, but looked like he just started ten miles ago compared to me, I felt.
I also didn't realize we'd gain as much elevation leaving Borrego, either. Again, maybe it just seemed that way cuz that's how cooked I was. Small rises were challenges to make it to the top and hope there was a road sign or bush that could provide a little shade for a minute. Again, Ty was right there with me and seemingly in no rush to get to Fish Creek Wash any faster than I was gonna get there. We had great conversation and it was nice to talk to someone while riding.
We marched on and all of a sudden found the road to be a gentle downhill grade, which significantly boosted my spirits. I told Ty it was time to make up some time. We quickly caught up to some guys riding together, saw they were well and just cruising, and hammered ahead. It felt good to be in the big chain rings again.
We started wondering where the water spot was going to be before hitting the entrance to Fish Creek Wash and were worried we had already passed it. I mentioned my cues said something about the 'Iron Door' as (maybe) the last stop for water/drinks before the wash. It's right on route, as we found, and we had to stop. Can't pass up a bar... even though I ordered water, as I couldn't even stomach a beer (mark that on the calendar). Sure is an interesting place...
Soon the pavement ended, the washboard & potholed road grade fizzled, and there was a return of the simple sandy two-track heading into the mountains, up the wash (canyon). With the sun settling lower in the sky, this meant we were almost in the shadow of the mountains. I needed shade so bad at this point. I was sputtering, but the thought of cool area pushed me out of the saddle and into higher gears. I found a spot that seemed alright for a rest. Ty pulled up alongside and we chatted about my state.
At this point, I was having thoughts of turning back to Borrego, as I wasn't sure if I'd be able to actually pull off making it all the way through the wash, over the mountains, into the unknown, and to another resupply point on the road, 50 miles away. This seemed probable, at best. I didn't like that, nor experienced this before. I had never found myself in a situation I couldn't confidently make it out of, solo.
Again, Ty was patient and in no hurry to move ahead with haste, either. With more rest, I started to realize I was just going to need to take it easy and slow and take breaks when I needed them. My 'race' was over; this was now all just a ride that I didn't know where the end would be, but knew I'd realize it when it was right. I wasn't going to kill myself for a bike ride.
'Ty, you should go on ahead and keep racing. I'm gonna go slow and just take it easy. I'll be fine. I'm feeling a lot better now, but want to stay here for just a bit longer.'
He didn't like this idea at first, but I assured him I would not go one step farther into the canyon if I didn't feel like I could confidently make it 50 miles to the other side. Borrego was a beautiful and easy, mostly downhill, ride back the other way and it was the back-up plan if I didn't feel better. Plus, there were a lot of people on route that way who could help me if needed. And, there was a bar. 'Stop thinking about how good that option sounds, Josh,' I told myself. 'You can do this, just rest up for a few more minutes and drink some water. Refuel.'
I pushed Ty off and he looked good and confident. I wondered if I'd ever see him again, as he was a strong rider and I was fading from the heat. I hoped I would.
Soon, another rider came by, I think Norb DeKerchove. He thought I looked like hell and should turn back, which worried me, but I was feeling better and just needed a few more minutes of quiet peace and cool shade. I said he should keep riding, as he seemed to be cruising along fairly well, and that I'd probably see him in a little bit.
It was up to me, now. Borrego or 50 more miles? If I continued, I knew the rest of the race would be a decision of sections and whether or not to go ahead one more. With this, I thought about if I rode further, I was going to be in a hell of a lot harder place to get back to Idyllwild from, where my rental car was, if I needed to quit and get a ride. Hmmm... then again, there's always sticking out your thumb... and I didn't come 3500 miles to ride only 65.
I packed up my things and pointed the Fargo up the wash. Slow and comfortably was my new required style.
It was getting dark rather quickly, being so far south and in a tight canyon. I got ready for night-riding mode with my light set-up, though I hoped to leave it off as long as possible and experience the solitude and tranquility of the desert first-hand. It smelled good. I drank more water but I was unable to eat.
Twisty and windy, hard and fast, open and expansive, soft and 'trending uphill,' as Brendan would say, was the first part of Fish Creek Wash. Beautiful, big skies, and thick with solitude. I was feeling more at home here, especially in the cooler air as the sun set.
Heading up the wash, it got rougher, then it got softer, and then it got steeper. I quietly passed a few people sleeping alongside the trail and reflected on Brendan's advice to absolutely positively make it all the way through Fish Creek Wash before sun-up. I was determined to follow through on his advice and I was worried for these people. How was I in this bad of shape from the heat and still going but they felt the need to sleep??? If they didn't get out of here by sun-up like Brendan demanded we do, they were gonna cook again in another canyon. Brutal.
I thought about Ty and wondered if he was one of these sleeping bodies. I didn't want to search for him and wake everyone up and I couldn't see well enough to make out his bike, either. I came around one bend and thought I spotted him and his bike, snoring on the far side of some boulders. I couldn't tell for sure and knew he would be fine, whether that was him or not, as he knows the desert country. I decided to keep going and hope he was ahead of me and that I'd just simply catch up with him as he took a water & food break along the trail.
And then, a few miles farther up, in the cooked-mind haze, I lost the trail at some bend where vehicles went one way but the track went another. Soon, I realized I was the only biker and I was off-route, by quite a ways, in the dark desert night, right when all the scorpions, snakes, and spiders would be coming out.
Previously, I had vowed, in my outrageous fear of arachnids, to not set foot on the ground in the dark, when I couldn't see the spiders and scorpions. Well, as it turned out, this became unreasonable and I found myself running my bike through the desert, off-trail, dodging cacti and spider holes in the dirt, hoping I wouldn't startle a snake and die. It was the middle of the night and I was running through the desert, searching for the trail. Resorting to the gps proved useless in my cooked haze and inability to decipher anything from the small gps screen. Ironically, stopping and relying on my knowledge and not technology, by force, through assessing the land and determining the compass directions, proved to be the best way to get me back on route. There's that 'best' word again...
In the process of recklessly running through the desert brush, paranoid of meeting a snake, running through a spider web and getting one on me, falling into a cactus or a rabbit hole, or getting even further lost, I saw a few sets of eyes in the desert night. Presumably, they were rabbits or hares, as I got close enough to one to see it bound off and scare the shit out of me. 'Moose, bears, and wolves at home and here I am getting scared from a rabbit,' I thought.
Over an hour later, I found bike tracks. 'Finally.' Then I had to figure out which way they were going, which wasn't easy because of the soft sand, as they didn't leave much more than a skinny rut. 'GPS...' I was back on-route, heading foward... and pushing, as the sand was unrideable where I rejoined the route. 'Spiders...'
TEN miles of pushing and getting on and off the bike, after realizing it still wasn't rideable. I was getting tired just from dismounts, let alone all the pushing. 'Why the hell don't I have my fatbike??? It would be perfect for this crap.'
Hours later, near the top of the wash, after going through multiple sections of hike-a-bike, I was shot. Exhaustion and the sleep monster were enticing me to even just sit down for a few minutes. It was easily still 75 degrees and although the wind was blowing about 20, I was really warm. I decided to lay down on a huge flat(ish) boulder, as that seemed to be the most spider-proof place I could rest or allow more than just my feet to come in contact with. Man, it felt great. I took about a 15 minute nap, laying under the stars and super bright rising moon. When I awoke, the wind was still blowing and I was still warm. I wondered if I actually was warm or if my body was just that cooked to where it seemed like I was still warm... Time to keep moving.
Another section of hike-a-bike over the top of the divide and the path started to be 'trending downhill,' again, as Brendan would say, because that doesn't mean it's all coasting from here.
Opposite to going up the wash, the further down the mountains I rode, the softer the trail got. At times, I almost crashed, violently, in the deep sand. Sometimes, I did, but thankfully never violently. Being the owner of a fatbike rental business, I so wished for fatter tires and wheels.
The moonlight was fading in the brightening sky and I could start to see the valley bottom and highway I was riding toward. I had 15 minutes of sleep and had only been able to eat 300 calories in the past 13 hours. My eyes were having a hard time focusing on the soft trail and keeping myself upright on the bike, as it wandered about in the sand. The sand stayed soft all the way to the flat area across the road from the Stagecoach RV Park, where I deemed it was time to take a real bivy nap and think about what is best for me to do. Reassessing my condition after an hour or two of sleep seemed like the best thing for self-preservation, whether or not I continued on with my ride. As I rolled in, I realized there were about a dozen people sleeping in the yard, all spread out as to not bother each other. I looked at my gps and I had gone 117 miles in 20 hours. I was disappointed with this, as I've gone faster on snow. Thinking back on it all, I wondered what I could have done had it not been so damn hot...
'Don't dwell on what could have been, Josh... focus on taking care of yourself so maybe you can continue.'
I put my down jacket on and got into my reflective breathable bivy big, sans sleeping pad & bag. I set my alarm. Although worried about spiders crawling onto my face, I was out.
For some reason, I distinctly remember coming down the mountainside into Stagecoach RV Park as the sun was getting closer to the horizon, softly illuminating the landscape. The sky was just bright enough to see the valley but not quite bright enough to turn my lights off and ride the trail.
Contrastly, a little farther down, I also remember coming across Ty's friend Moi, who was camped out at the base of the hills, waiting for Ty to come by so he could say hi. I stopped and chatted with him for a minute, momentarily not realizing I was blasting him with a few hundred lumens of intense light after I woke him up. I was upset that the body I thought might be Ty back up in the wash, probably was, and that he was still up there. He had made sure I was going to be okay, but then I passed him by. I wondered if he was riding yet. I sure hoped so.
Anyway, back to the daylight/darkness thing... when I got to the highway, I also remember riding on the road in pitch blackness, wondering where Stagecoach RV Park was. When I arrived, it was pitch black and I got this photo of my bike to prove it. I guess the lit up landscape coming down the mountains that I remember was actually the moonlight!
When I awoke, I decided I should walk around and assess my body and mental state. Cleaning up a bit after 20 hours of sweating and getting caked with sand seemed logical, too. And more water. It had been about 15 hours on only 300 calories, so some breakfast sounded good, too.
I packed up my stuff and felt like I had been microwaved. I pushed my bike up to the front of the store as riders in the yard came alive. I saw Brendan and Tracey Petervary and, maybe looking for local advice or maybe searching for validation, I don't know, I told Brendan I was cooked and needed to stop here. He seemed really saddened by that, knowing how far I had come and how excited I was for this ride and experience. I asked about any ideas he had for getting back to Idyllwild and he said like I knew, we were on our own. Tracey told me she didn't mean to be rude at all, but that I needed to just suck it up and keep going. I told her I had already and I really appreciate her thoughts, but it was well past that level, unfortunately. For my health, I had to stop.
Brendan and Tracey continued on. I pondered Tracey's thoughts... I agreed with her mentality but inside, I knew I was doing the right thing, in this situation. I then thought about how I was going to get back to Idyllwild. I realized I left my camera in my bike bag and hadn't taken pictures for quite a while. It still didn't seem like a priority in my mind; subsisting and figuring out plans did.
As it got lighter, more riders stirred and joined me on the front of the Stagecoach store. Tyrel Beede and Kevin Hinton said they were done, too. We discussed options for all reaching Idyllwild as Ty Hathaway came down the road. I jumped up and yelled for him.
Ty was tired, but looked good. He told his story of the night and said he was thinking of calling it quits, as well. His friend Moi showed up and we all agreed he looked a hell of a lot better than we did and he needed to continue. After a brief pep talk, he fueled up and was hammering back up the road. I knew he was going to have a good ride. The sun was up and things were getting hot again, quickly. He was going to be pretty warm heading up Oriflamme.
We all sat around and rehydrated, telling our tales, and talking about somehow getting back to Borrego Springs on the way to Idyllwild for another burrito. Dennis, a friend of a racer came up and started chatting. He was following her and meeting her at road crossings as a semi-support crew in her ride of the route (not race, as no support is allowed). He offered to take me to Idyllwild, since I had a van that could maybe fit the four of us and our bikes. We all agreed that was the best thing to do so I gathered what I needed and jumped in his car.
Not far down the road, Dennis started talking about how he was a nurse and, from the looks of me, if I were to show up when he was on duty, he'd stick two IVs in me and start treating my sunburn. I was shocked at how bad a medical professional thought I was. I guess this was the validation I was maybe looking for. I was then very happy about my decision to not ride on. I began to retract away from the windows and hot sun like a vampire. My skin was hot and burned. I was sucking down water like a toilet, yet I had to pee often. I began to get a little dizzy. I was not good.
Our route took us through Borrego and I bought us burritos. Shade, food, and cold drinks helped my state. I thought of the guys back at the RV Park, waiting. And I wondered how the heat was treating Ty. Did he keep on or turn back around to throw in the towel?
Back in Idyllwild, I quickly hopped in the van and followed my escort, Dennis, back to Stagecoach. The guys were very happy to see me and I was very happy to not see Ty. We played a bit of Tetris and Jenga in getting four dudes and four mountain bikes and gear into the back of a Grand Caravan, but we won. The real victory was going through Borrego again and all getting burritos together (yes, I had another).
In Idyllwild, we realized how slow we were compared to the leaders, as their SPOT trackers were showing them coming in during the night. We got dinner and stayed up to see Eddie O'Dea win the 2013 race in 39 hours 27 minutes. Insane. 385 miles in that time. It took me half that time to do one-third the route!
The next morning, I got a call from Ty. 'Oh shit... Ty, why are you calling me?' I thought.
His frame cracked and he couldn't ride it anymore. He was calling from a gas station at a highway off-ramp somewhere northeast of San Diego, near Escondido. Kevin Hinton was on his way around that area so I called him and Kevin was able to get Ty back to Idyllwild, along with Brendan, too.
As the rest of the race shook itself out, I felt better about what I did and happened to me...
11 of 30 racers finished, which means 19 did not. All but two, excluding me, were from 'hot' places, including SoCal. When that many SoCal riders bailed cuz of the heat, I realized again, I made the right call.
A few more riders came in and we all hung out at The Hub and traded stories. I was so glad to have been a part of this event. As much as I hated the conditions, I fell in love with the event. Great people, riding bikes, through an awesome landscape. I just needed to come back in January with my fatbike :)
STAGECOACH TIPS FROM A ROOKIE:
I have to start out by saying, or repeating, how I had never ridden in the desert before and after spending four winters in Alaska, fatbiking on snow in below zero temperatures for months on end, my perspective on all this and my recommendations is EXTREMELY biased. I offer these tips in light of my lack of experience riding in hot climates and how much I was so accustomed to extreme cold, snowy weather.
Long sleeves may have saved my life. I wore a super light synthetic crewneck and I loved it.
If going with short sleeves, definitely bring white arm covers for the heat of the day.
I mistakenly did not bring bike gloves or use padded bike shorts, as I was so used to wearing gloves inside poagies and wearing multiple bottom layers for winter riding. I'd have been a hurting unit at the end of 400 miles.
Wearing short mini-gaiters for the sand is a good idea, IMO, as my shoes got a lot of sand in them during this big hike-a-bike year. In years when the wash has received more rain, they probably aren't necessary.
Spray on sunscreen could save a lot of time and hassle, especially once you're sweat- and sand-covered after 100 miles.
In the 13 hours it took me to get through Fish Creek Wash, I was only able to choke down 300 calories and was craving nothing but burritos and a soda. I could not eat any bars in the mid-day heat, either. Obviously, this is not sustainable. Try and figure out what your body will want after extreme exertion. I had no way of knowing, coming from 6 months of sub-zero winter. I only knew what I liked to eat at 30 below, not 90 above.
In the heat of the day, I drank 5L of water in 50 miles, or 1L every 10 mi. Be able to carry enough. Get through the wash the first night and to Stagecoach RV Park where there is water. Remember that you'll drink less water at night when it's cooler.
I did a mix of 50% water and 50% weak electrolyte mix intake. It seemed to be ok, but I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this, being a desert rookie. I mix any drink mix to about 50% normal strength so my stomach can handle it. Full strength even 50 miles in and you'll be wanting to puke. The whole time, I was peeing clear and often, but my mouth was horribly dry.
You should be able to ride hard into the early morning hours the first night. Our bodies hit a natural circadian low from 3 to 5am, so take a quick nap to help fight off the sleep monster and you'll be able to have a stronger second day than if you get no sleep at all. Oh, and then there's the heat exhaustion bringing you down, too.
Or if you can, find a place to take a quick nap in the shade during the heat of the day. You won't need a sleeping bag and if you can ride through the night and not sleep, you'll drink less and maximized the cool hours, getting farther down the trail.
For 2013 and the weather we had, I used just a SOL Escape breathable, reflective, and water resistant bivy with a down jacket and it worked great (for the one night I used it). I didn't bring a pad or a sleeping bag. My plan was to attempt the tip above and sleep during the day, if much at all. San Diego can be a damp area and different years can bring different weather so plan accordingly.
Regarding my bike, I never dropped into the smallest (26T) chain ring, but it would have been nice to have two smaller gears than the 36T chainring & 11-34 cassette combo I had.
Being a soft year with little rain to harden up the sand, I really wish I would have had bigger tires for the sand. In rainier years, the sand will mostly be hard and you can run fast knobbies.
The Salsa Cycles Fargo was an awesome bike for most of the race section I did. This race would be best done rigid with bigger tires, or even better, with a suspension fork. The Woodchipper drop bars were great for a lot of the riding, but when it got really rough, they were understandably ill-fit for the terrain. An El Mariachi seems to be the premier bike for this event.
As you may have noticed, I ran aero bars, but I didn't use them in a conventional sense. I simply used them for mounting the cue sheets and gps in an easily viewable location to not have to look straight down and take my eyes off the trail while riding. (Looking down proved to be a bad problem early in the race when I crashed on tight singletrack, off-course). At the end of the aero bars, I mounted my 200 lumen PrincetonTec Apex light. Having the light out in front removed any glare from my vision.
Anyone, please tell me how I can improve on any of this stuff. I love hearing your thoughts.
Here's ALL the photos I took in my 117 mile experience.
Thank you Brendan and Mary and everyone who helped make this race and experience what it was. I hope it continues for many years to come and I will never forget it. I think the length at which I am able to write about this experience for the first time, eleven months later, shows the gravity of the event, the people, and the route. I highly recommend The Hub, Idyllwild, and the Stagecoach race to anyone. Oh yeah, and all my new friends are pretty cool, too, and the burritos in Borrego Springs at El Jilberto's are to die for.