Six thirty am and our encampment in front of the Cinnamon Bear Inn was fully engaged in the morning routine of food, gear, ablutions and bikes. Andy Schiffer was meticulously detailing machines with pink ribbon nameplates, tweaking shifting and generally checking the road worthiness of his flock.
Riders circled back and forth to the Penske truck with luggage. Watch any serious race or ride and you learn that real cyclists never walk anywhere. There's almost a religious aversion to unclipping and putting a foot down. So back and forth they rode shouldering gear bags or pulling rollers alongside. Once mounted up, there's no walking till the other end.
I made my own preparations for another try with the camera bike. I planned to ride up front for several miles until we reached the Convict Lake cutoff. Kathryn and I scouted the location the previous night and wanted to get some landscape shots if the morning light was good. I layered up with my Rapha Cross Bibs and Rain Jacket, test fired the camera then rolled onto Main Street for the run down to 395.
The overall profile on the day was downhill, about 4000 feet down from Mammoth Lake's 7900' to Lone Pine's 3700', so it was only natural we started with a downhill rush from town to the highway. I think we hit 40 mph without turning a pedal. The group made the ramp to 395 South and found a fresh tailwind waiting for them. I couldn't see the faces behind me but I'm sure they were all grinning. We flew down the highway so fast I couldn't believe how quickly the Convict Lake exit appeared. I reviewed my shots and watched the peloton rapidly become a dot on the horizon as I waited for Kathryn to arrive.
Back in the car we caught up with Ben who'd just flatted, a quick change and he was back on he road with Glenn who'd waited for him. They tucked in behind a support van and were soon doing 31mph on one of the rare uphill stretches! As soon as the road tipped down again they peeled off and made their way back to the main group. Ben even managed a sprint off the front for me. He sure looks good on the bike (what would you expect from testrider.com though).
As the miles continued to fly by the vans did a brisk business in clothing exchanges. When the group stopped en masse to top up bottles and snacks, Kathryn and I looked a little further up the road and found a rustic general store at Browns Town. While the riders munched on Clif bars roadside we enjoyed blue ribbon peach and apple pie a la mode from proprietors Kathy and Taylor. Thanks ladies. We did purchase a whole pecan pie as a special after-dinner treat for the riders though.
Still looking for local texture, Kathryn spotted a bearded rider coming into town in the opposite direction. We looped around to chat with "Red" who was riding a classic steel road bike with downtube shifters. I handed him a pair of Specialized socks, took a few pictures and thanked him before resuming our route South.
The line of mountains to our right never quit and neither did the pace. The first riders covered the 103 miles to Lone Pine in a remarkable 3 hours and 48 minutes. Western Spirit was set up and waiting in the parking lot of the Dow Hotel when they arrived. With Mt. Whitney looking on from above they dove straight into the outdoor pool wearing their bibs (they did rinse off under the outdoor shower first). As the entire group rolled in every one of them commented they'd never ridden so far so fast.
I took a few more photographs of the celebrations pool side then pulled on my kit (a very comfy pair of Specialized SL bibs and Panache Eleven jersey) for another ride with Kathryn. We rode out of town and made the left into Death Valley for a warm, but thoroughly enjoyable 25-mile spin. We returned via the rough and deserted Dolomite Loop road with just enough time to shower before dinner. Day four was in the books.