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Saturday, November 19: Three Sisters and Wetlands Park, 36 miles

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Death Valley test ride (12/23/2010)

I'm scheduled to ride the Death Valley Century in February. Having only done this route once, many years ago, I decided to test-ride the most rolling part of the route: the 35-mile round trip to Badwater, at elevation -282 feet -- the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere.

To my surprise, the route appeared to be just as challenging as when I did it back in 2004. Although the elevation stays in a tight range of between sea level and -282 feet through the entire distance, there are several hills of moderate grade and distance -- the floor of Death Valley is far from flat. I still found myself struggling up (and cautiously descending) the steeper hills.

And the lack of landmarks and intermediate waypoints made the miles seem to go by very slowly. After about 10 miles or so, the amazing scenery was starting to look all pretty much the same ... even though this day was unusual because of the heavy rains that recently had passed through the area, leaving several muddy spots on the road and many wet areas that normally are dry. Such admiration for nature was not at the forefront of my mind as I turned around just past Badwater and realized I had another 17 miles of the same old thing before I'd be back in Furnace Creek.

My return trip was brightened considerably when, out of nowhere, Adam mysteriously appeared behind me in a rental car. After agreeing to meet back at Furnace Creek, I felt determined to get there as quickly as possible, and the stats show it -- my average for the day was 14.4 mph, but that was more like 13 mph out and 16 mph back. And that's important, because even with my complaining about the terrain, that's significantly faster than when I did the route six years ago.

The ride helped build confidence that I can complete the century in February ... but I think I'll also be quite content to turn around prematurely and, perhaps, call it a metric if the day isn't just right for me. I got the sightseeing out of my system on this trip, so in February, it'll be just another big ride with hundreds of other cyclists ... but with just one stop sign in 100 miles, and not much else to mark the way.