It's not light yet. There's a breeze stirring the trees above Furnace Creek and a couple of sleepy crows are cawing halfheartedly about the coming day. They'd be wearing black again, a bad choice in one of the hottest places on earth. Much to my delight the Specialized peloton would be back in pink.
There had been talk that a group might make a try for Vegas before first light, but Nikane nixed that idea as unsafe. Everyone would start together at 6:30 am. Whether any of them could make the 120 miles to Dirt Demo before the 2 pm planned arrival was in certainly in doubt.
Highway 190 out of Furnace Creek was perfect blacktop, buttery smooth and dark against the bleached desert. It climbed immediately and within the first few miles a selection had been made. Up front eleven riders measured their pace and pushed to make as many miles as possible before the day's heat set in. Twenty seven miles in they hit Death Valley Junction jogged right and then left on State Line Road towards Pahrump.
The sheltering hills were gone now and a strong cross wind from the left had them riding in echelon formation four and five across. The back of the group darted about pushed by the wind and the need for shelter. Eventually relentless pressure from the front broke the string and Carmen, Bob and Mark came out the back. Luckily Photo 1 was there and we swooped in to give them a chance to catch back on. Carmen came alongside and held the passenger window. Mark and Bob tucked behind in our draft and after a minute or two to let them recover we slowly began to accelerate back to the group. For a while there it looked touch and go, but the wind eased just a bit and suddenly they were back. They stayed together all the way to Pahrump.
Kathryn and I left the peloton and went looking for Americana and we found a place that sold flagpoles and flags, but only on Saturday's between 8 am and noon. Now that's a 'specialized' business don't you think.
The radio sent us back to find the rest of our riders and we shot Rachel, Eron and Patty closing in on Pahrump. We stayed with them to the planned rendezvous at the Albertsons in town. Our lead group was at least an hour ahead but we hung with the main body as they cooled off, racked their bikes and prepared to drive to the outskirts of Boulder City for the ride into Dirt Demo. They'd run out of time to make those last miles even if their legs were certainly up to it. No one was disappointed, they were all celebrating a tough ride through those cross winds and excited that a few riders were still on the road.
After treating them to popsicles and Klondike bars Kathryn and I blasted ahead of the convoy to find our leaders. The highway started to climb and that's were we tracked down Bob and Erick, and a few miles later, tantalizing close to the top of the climb we reached Carmen and Doug. We figured they'd make it over the top but the vans swept them up on the summit. We slowed just long enough to acknowledge them before pressing on to find Chris, Rich and Glenn. We tried calculating their lead and reckoned we find them fifteen miles out but we never did. They'd been diverted off the highway and were finding their own way to Dirt Demo.
With no chance to track them we made our way to the exuberant wind-swept chaos of Dirt Demo. Riders everywhere on all manner of bikes and novelty items. We knew the main group was a few miles out and riding again but still we had no word on the three hard men. Right on schedule the peloton arrived looking resplendent in their pink kits. It crested the hill and rode into the event to general applause and a great reception at the Specialized camp. Champagne was uncorked, handshakes and hugs exchanged, as I'm sure a tremendous sense of accomplishment began to set in.
If it hadn't been for those cross winds there's no doubt Chris, Rich and Glenn would have done the impossible and made the 2 pm schedule. They rolled in just shy of 2:30, the group was complete and it was done.
Two weeks on and the echos of the ride still have not died away completely. The American West provided a grand stage for the challenge but the memories that persist are smaller and more intimate. The meals we ate together around the Western Spirit campfires; the radio chatter; Andy working on the bikes late into the evening; Chris and Carmen riding together; and the stars over Lake McSwain. I miss it all.