(Death Valley) California Dreaming: part 4 - Leaving Las Vegas

Part 3

Traci & Brad
After leaving the pool and cleaning ourselves up we took the Deuce bus to The Chapel of the Bells to witness the vow renewal of our teammate, Brad, and his wife, Traci. This was only my 3rd trip to Vegas and my 2nd attendance of a vow renewal. Good stuff. Anyone can get married, nowadays, so it's truly a privilege to see couples recommit.

Following the ceremony we made a quick stop to the Stratosphere casino for drinks and a round of machine gambling. I think the bride won about $8, which is more than I've ever gambled in Vegas and definitely more than I've ever won.

We then waited for what seemed like forever before we hopped onto another Deuce bus and walked a few blocks on-foot to a recommended Italian restaurant behind the Flamingo hotel, Battista's.  There we had very reasonably-priced all-inclusive dinners that featured soup or salad, bread, entree, unlimited carafes of red and white wine, and "cappuccino."  I had excellent lasagna.

Battista's bathroom art
Once we had (once again) gorged ourselves we wandered through the Bellagio to look at the Chihuly lobby art, then through the conservatory with their astoundingly gorgeous seasonal flower arrangements.  Then we took in the Bellagio fountain show and made our way back to the Strip, where the group split up.  Some were returning to Fremont street, while others were staying on the Strip a while longer.  Derek and I headed across the street to the Planet Hollywood shops to find a souvenir for Dane, not realizing that it was closing time, so after trudging though the mall we caught an express bus back to the Golden Nugget.

The hotel gift shop was still open, so we purchased a funny shark tank-themed "triathlon" shirt for Dane.  We also got him a set of Vegas dominos at the airport on our way out.  He was pretty thrilled by both souvenirs.

The next morning Derek ran down to the Starbucks at the base of the hotel elevator and grabbed coffees and pastries for breakfast while I showered.  We finished packing and met our teammate, Mike, down at the airport shuttle stop.

Yay for elbow room!
After a brief wait we were on our way to the airport, where we would meet up with 4 more teammates for our trip back to MI.  We knew in advance that our flight was delayed by about 25 minutes.  This left for a very short layover in Minneapolis, but we arrived back in MI on-time, without hours of delays and time trapped on planes, THANKFULLY!

The person who was to share our row on the first and longer flight never showed, so Derek and I were treated to 3 seats between the 2 of us, SCORE!

The aftermath of returning home has included many loads of laundry (and our various ride kits won't be home until tomorrow, when we pick up our bikes from the transport truck), trying to stay warm, running in the rain while feeling a little blue (and more than a little annoyed by the wet, cold, windy, wretched MI weather), snuggling cats and kid, and sleeping.  No longer am I feeling thirsty all the time or yelling "drinking" any time I take a swig from a bottle or glass (in Death Valley everyone helps keep each other hydrated by yelling out reminders to slurp up some water or sports drink.  No one is found without a bottle in-hand).

Next year the team talk is leaning towards Tahoe for our ride destination, but I can definitely see why several team members always ride in Death Valley, even if it means raising money to do more than 1 ride in a season.  There is something special about that location.  We take over a resort and the isolation of the place forces a level of intimacy that wouldn't be present in very many other ride destinations.  Add to that the severity of the landscape and temperature and it's nearly like being on another planet with a relatively small group of people.  Everyone HAS to look out for their fellow rider, because of the inherent risks of not doing so.

There's a certain amount of mirroring of the JDRF Ride to Cure program in the Death Valley destination, really.  Even those of us who are not directly touched by type 1 diabetes NEED to help those who are.  If a cure is found for this autoimmune disorder, it stands to reason that cures for other autoimmune disorders can't be far behind...things like asthma, allergies, lupus, celiac disease, thyroid disease, Chron's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, arthritis, and endometriosis could potentially be eradicated.  I doubt there is anyone alive who is more than a single degree away from someone who suffers with one of these diseases. As a team we are doing so much to help improve the quality and quantity of life for so many.  I can't wait to be a part of it again in 2012!

(Death Valley) California Dreaming: part 3 - Vegas bound, baby!

Part 2

Our final breakfast in Death Valley consisted of more of the same from the previous 2 days...bacon, biscuits & gravy, coffee, fruit, and a happy, full tummy.

Derek and I had been scheduled to take one of the last shuttle busses back to Las Vegas in the morning, but our newly engaged friends Cliff & Nicole invited us to ride back with them in their rented SUV--WIN!!! We caravaned with another vehicle full of our teammates.  Rather than taking the traditional, more direct route back that passes by Zabriskie point we followed the course out to the standard turn-around on top of Jubilee Pass, then on to Pahrump via Shoshone. Derek and I had driven this route a couple of years back, so it was nice to show it off to friends.  It was also sweet to make a quick stop for photos at the very spot where the previous day's engagement had taken place.

The group of us were able to be photographed (via camera with self-timer) atop the pass in a much more civilized manner than biking 52 miles, first.  Beers at Jubilee Pass is a new experience for the team, as well.  Beats sport drink, if you ask me!

We stopped for lunch at a Sonic in Pahrump, then easily found the Golden Nugget casino hotel on Fremont Street, aka "Old Vegas," where we'd be spending 1 or 2 nights before returning to Michigan.  Staying on Fremont street was a new experience for the entire group...and I think a pretty positive one, at that.

Nighttime at "The Tank" pool at the Golden Nugget
Immediately my husband and I were impressed by the Golden Nugget.  Smaller, quieter, cheaper, and less smokey than the strip hotels, but no less nice.  Our room was enormous.  And the pool with shark tank and water slide that passes THROUGH the shark tank, sweet!  Needless to say, none of us wasted much time getting down to that pool (though we did enter the water a LOT slower than we did the water of the spring-fed pool at Furnace Creek Ranch...that pool was like bath water and required no acclimation to enter).

After a couple of hours in the pool and hot tub we cleaned-up for Dinner at Lillie's Asian Restaurant just yards from the elevators in the hotel.  We discovered this eatery shortly after checking-in and decided that a hibachi-style grill table would be ideal for our group of 16.  Turns out we were right.

We arranged ourselves around the grills in a square...just cozy enough that we could all converse and share a fun and DELICIOUS dining experience.  And the meal prices really were relatively reasonable, compared to what we would have spent on a similar meal on the Strip.  I had jumbo sea scallops and Derek had the tenderest filet EVER.  Our entrees came with rice and grilled veggies and we both had Japanese beers and a bottle of California gewurztraminer.

Onion Volcano
Once we were all stuffed to the gills we wandered our way through the casino and out to Fremont Street to order drinks and watch the overhead LED lights show.  On the street we ended up separated into smaller groups.  Some of the team were out gambling until the wee hours, while others *cough* Derek and I *cough* stumbled our way back up to our room.  That's the first and last time I order some random drink in a big, clear, plastic football.  It didn't even taste good...at least not until I'd had enough to apparently kill my taste buds.  Then it went down a little too easily and about the only thing I clearly recall was the bartender dumping at least 8oz. worth of booze into a clear plastic cup before adding it to the football glass.  Blech.  That was $13 of misery.  I haven't been that inebriated since about 2 weeks before I turned 21 (nearly 18 years ago).  I was thisclose to tossing my amazing dinner.  Next time I stick to "known" intoxicants, like beer.  Being that inebriated is only fun for about 30 minutes, then I want to be sober and in-control, again...bed-spins are icky.

Dreaded football!  I feel queasy just looking at it...
Prior to plodding back to the room we laid around the pool and watched the fish and sharks glide around in the tank.  The main pool and water slide close at 8pm, but there is an adults-only pool that remains open until later.  Next time we go we'll have to check that one out.

The next morning Derek and I hit the buffet at Golden Nugget.  It was good for the money, but after having eaten at the Bellagio buffet on my last trip to Vegas it positively paled in comparison.  I really wanted more breakfasty-foods and they were phasing them out by the time we arrived.

We spent several hours of our last day in Vegas just lounging by the pool.  It was a great low-key day highlighted by a short visit with the "little girl" I used to babysit for and her 15 month old doll of a son, Jaxon.  Lauren lives in Vegas, but isn't so little anymore, as a 25 year old married mama.  It was really a treat being able to visit with her, as it's been at least 15 years since I last saw her.  I hope we can touch-base the next time we're in town, too.

The final chapter of the saga...

(Death Valley) California Dreaming: part 2

Part 1

Ride day dawned extra early (I think it was 3:45 AM), in part because my hubby somehow managed to set our room clock ahead an hour. When the alarm buzzed I was confused, as it was set to go off 5 minutes after my cell phone alarm, which had been set for 5 minutes earlier than the room clock. At this point we weren't sure which time to trust, since both of our cell phones were showing correct time, but we didn't know if it was correct, as the room clock time had been accurate prior to this. I turned on my Garmin and confirmed that our cells were correct, but by this point we were both pretty awake and only dozed for maybe another 45 minutes before the legitimate alarms chimed.

Upon the REAL wake-up calls we wandered to the breakfast buffet (biscuits/gravy and bacon AGAIN...YES!), ate, chugged coffee, then back to our room to don our cycling kits.

Our West MI team clustered together with 300+ riders from all over the US and removed our helmets for the national anthem.

My hubby with
his macho butterfly
We rolled just as the sun arose (6:45). As soon as I took off I noticed a weird noise...for a minute I thought something was wrong with my bike, but it quickly became clear as others on the West MI team also expressed puzzlement that the noise was not coming from our bikes, but from the doo-dads on our helmets. These pinwheels eliminated the need for anyone on our team to alert other riders to our presence as we passed, as they could hear us approaching like tiny freight trains! Our two manly-men coaches also had pretty, sparkly butterflies on their helmets. Apparently these butterflies were repeatedly "rescued" by other riders on the course.

The trip out to the course turn-around was relatively easy sailing, as it's mostly downhill to Badwater--lowest point in the US--and the sun has yet to break from behind the mountains, so it was cool and shady.  The riders are also in groups pacelining.

Nicole & Cliff
At Badwater a buzz went through the West MI team.  Cliff was to propose to Nicole at the turn-around.  Suddenly it was imperative that we all get there (about 8 miles south of the Badwater break-point) in time to see the event unfold.  Cliff and Nicole had left Badwater a bit ahead of me, so I latched onto a steady couple of riders from Cincinnati and arrived in time to see the proposal unfold.  Not a dry eye was in the house desert!

The return trip to the ranch was uneventful.  I rode much of it with one of my team-mates, Diana.  By the time we arrived back at the ranch (51 miles on my Garmin, IIRC) the day was starting to really heat-up.

I went back out with the intent to go at least as far as the 10 mile break-point...perhaps as far as Badwater.   With Jubilee Pass eliminated from the route I no longer felt any great need to complete the full century option, as I managed 3 of those plus a ride across the state this year.  There wasn't any sort of "bucket list" incentive for me, plus I really didn't want to get that far out and then realize that the heat was more than I could tolerate.  Most of our team ended up riding similar mileage that day, with a few finishing the entire route (Cliff completed his first century in Death Valley...on the same day he proposed.  What a momentous day for a person!).

1/3 of the West MI team + honorary team members Danny & Jerry
That's me with the butterfly arm sleeves, which protected from the
sun and kept my arms cool, especially with a squirt of water.
At the 10 mile stop I discovered a bunch of people from our team, so we all headed back to Furnace Creek Ranch together, with an extra stop at Golden Canyon (3ish miles from the finish and the turn-around point from our tune-up ride the previous day) to let everyone catch up.

A mile out from the ranch is the "Elevation: Sea Level" sign, so we all gathered-up to be photographed in front of the sign.  Bonus was having one of our team coaches roll-up in time to join us.

It was so fabulous to roll back into Furnace Creek with my posse of fellow JDRF warriors.  My Garmin showed me at almost exactly 71 miles ridden, though it tends to cut corners (generally at the rate of about a half mile short for ever 30 miles when I compare my mileage to others') and most of the riders who logged the same route I took claimed 72 miles.  It was 72 miles of awesome!  In some ways I didn't find the heat to bother me as much as I had anticipated, either.  I handled hydration well and had a few swigs from my small bottle of pickle juice (yes, seriously!).  In some ways I think I'd rather ride in 100+ dry degrees than 90+ humid ones.  My sweat actually served its purpose and helped keep me cool.  Perhaps oven > sauna...?

Click for a larger version of the
map and elevation profile
Even without Jubilee Pass the ride was not as flat as one might assume.  My Garmin recorded some pretty substantial rollers.  Several of the climbs were a mile or two in length...not steep, but noticeable, especially in the heat and sun.

Mobile Inspiration
After finishing, our team stays at the finish (I quickly popped up to our room to change out of my swampy shorts and jersey).  We stay until the bitter end, when the last rider(s) return to the start.  This has become a West MI tradition.  While much of the field is eating dessert we are lining up for dinner with our hair still wet from quick showers.  Our team coaches are also 2 riders who do not leave the course until everyone is safely off of the course (my hubby is the big guy in the white arm sleeves).  It's just how we roll.  And it's one of the reasons that our team has developed such a positive, supportive reputation.  A rider from another team described us as "spirited."  That's about right.

Jason, Walt, me, Sarah
Michigan Great Lakes West: Home of "BikeFace"
At Dinner we learned that our team was #2 in fundraising at the Death Valley ride...out of ~20 teams, many of which had more members (we're kind of a big deal!).  As a whole this ride raised a whopping 1.2 MILLION dollars to go towards research in the fight against type 1 diabetes.  Our very own newly-engaged Cliff was also bestowed with the spirit award and a red polka-dotted jersey, as his proposal mid-ride represented what the JDRF Ride to Cure program is all about: embracing life and supporting families.

After dinner our team met back at the pool and floated around until pruney and ready for sleep. This pool time was a bit bittersweet, as it marked the end of our time together as an entire team in Death Valley for the 2011 ride. Many were making the return trip to MI in the early morning, while others were stopping off in Las Vegas for a night or two, and our team head coach and bike room guys (all from our very favorite bike shop right here in West Michigan, Velo-City Cycles) were preparing bikes for shipment back to their riders in far-flung parts of the country.

Part 3...

(Death Valley) California Dreaming: part 1

As I sit here looking out the window at the 43º rain (with 36º windchill) I'm finding it very difficult and downright surreal to believe that 2 days ago I was still in the desert (on a shuttle bus to the Vegas airport, I think). Air travel and time zones really can mess with a person.

And, like many of my JDRF Ride to Cure teammates, I'm finding myself going through desert withdrawal symptoms. We're rapidly descending into the 6 months that I loathe in Michigan -- those months of gray and cold. The stark contrast between here and Death Valley/Las Vegas is more than a little depressing. If anything could plunge one into Seasonal Affective Disorder, this return to "real life" could do it.

Are we there, yet...?
Our travel saga started a week ago, as most of the team boarded planes in Grand Rapids with a final destination of Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley, CA. The group my husband and I were with departed at 7:30ish in the AM, landing in Las Vegas many hours later...many, including nearly 4 hours worth of delays (I'm really not a fan of Delta Airlines. Others in our group had worse delays on the return home and ended up needing to rent a car in Chicago and drive 5 hours home -- they had something like 24 full hours of travel on the trip back to MI...ugh!) and 2+ hours of sitting on planes on the tarmac.

I have plenty of leg room...not sure
what they're complaining about...
We arrived at Furnace Creek Ranch in time to check into our room and head to dinner of burgers under the stars followed by cramming the entire team into various rental vehicles for a trek out to Zabriskie Point to gaze at stars...but the full moon had other plans, so more than stars we had an amazing view of the desert under bright moonlight, followed by some pool/team party time in the HUGE, warm, spring-fed pool at the ranch.
Michigan Great Lakes West

Our first day at the ranch started with buffet breakfast (biscuits and gravy AND bacon...oh my!), followed by a West MI (aka Michigan Great Lakes West) team photo and our "tune-up" ride of 6.5 miles.

After the ride much of the team went hiking in the desert, while the rest of us floated around in the pool for hours.  Since I wasn't sure how well I'd tolerate the heat and arid air and didn't want to risk feeling less than awesome on the real ride day, I opted for the lazy pool route.  It was awesome.  It will be many moons before we're able to again be outdoors and under the warm sun in our bathing suits here in MI.

That evening we were served a delicious pasta dinner (again, under the stars) and were notified that the next day's ride would have an abbreviated course (due to excessive heat and to keep everyone closer to the start. Last year roughly a third of the course had to be SAGged back to the start due to similar heat), eliminating Jubilee Pass (6 miles of climbing prior to the turn-around at 52 miles). Instead the course would be ~25 miles, which a person could do out-and-back twice for a full century. After dinner our team decorated our helmets (team tradition) and went around the group with introductions, since so many of us are new team riders.  It was a really beautiful and emotion-filled gathering.

Part 2...


Just have time for a quickie!

In mere minutes we'll be heading out the door on our way to the airport. Today's final destination: Death Valley, CA (Furnace Creek Ranch, to be exact)!

I'm very relieved to be finally getting underway. Earlier in the week we had some childcare-related drama that involved us making the decision to stay home. Fortunately, things were ironed-out and the saga will have a happy ending.

I'm looking forward to having lots of photos and tales of awesomeness (and doing my part to help friends in their battle with type 1 diabetes) to share in a week.


3 Bikes In < 10 Months

(road, cyclocross, mountain -- in that order)

I cannot be blamed for the last one--my hubby ordered it before I even had any interest in mountain biking (I'm still not sure that I will ever have as much interest in mountain biking as I do in road riding and duathlon).

The bike came last week and we got out for a brief ride at a tiny little wooded park near us. It was pretty nice. I got some dirt on my bike, which made it happy, I think. "It" has been named "Vera," after Jayne's (of Firefly/Serenity) favorite gun. Funny, since I'm not a fan of guns, but it just seemed sort of fitting for some unexplainable reason. And in a year or two my DS will likely inherit Vera (which is a hair small for me in a size Petite/XS. I'd like to be a bit less upright. Derek flipped the stem and stacked all of the spacers on top, but I'd still be happy a bit less vertical).  He's a big fan of Jayne and Jayne's favorite gun (*sigh* boys...), so he's OK with his future bike having a girl's name.  He may end up inheriting my CX bike in the future, as well, if I were to upgrade.  Another bike with a "female's" name ("Little Rock," from Zombieland).

The coolest thing discovered on our ride--a little lake/pond that I never knew existed.  And it's gorgeous.  I snapped one photo of it with my phone, but it's not from the most scenic vantage point.  I'll have to get out there again for a photo-op once the leaves are in full color.

Weds. we're going to meet up with several of the women who ended up with clones of my bike for some ride time at some longer/better trails an hour away.  I'm looking forward to it...assuming I don't break anything so close to our JDRF ride in Death Valley.

Saturday was our last team ride.  There were 2 loops totaling 70+ miles.  I skipped the first loop, since DS could in no way tolerate the cold (windchill was ~32) with his minimal body fat.  The 2nd loop was 41 miles and was enough.  Fighting the wind really took a lot out of me.  I felt like I'd done a metric century.

Since I haven't done a single day of mileage over 50 miles in 4 weeks (not since the Labor Day duathlon + bonus team ride) I'm planning to get in something in the 65-75 mile neighborhood, tomorrow.  Looks like it will be a stunningly perfect day for it.  Then I will be good and wiped-out for mountain biking on Weds. (probably not a good plan, but I'll have 10 days of recovery before my 105 miles in Death Valley).

Speaking of the ride, today several checks were applied to my ride account that put me over the $4000 minimum fundraising goal/requirement.  This does not include $230 worth of checks that have yet to be applied.  Here I was worried that I'd struggle to raise the money.  I underestimated the kindness and generosity of my friends and family.  I shouldn't have done that--my friends are my friends BECAUSE they are such amazing, spectacular people!

My bowling fundraiser was last weekend and it brought $220 to my ride account, as well.  Next time we'll do one in the Spring, when there are fewer things competing (like ArtPrize and Saturday football games).  I'd love to raise at least $500 with a future event.  Even more than that I'd like to see diabetes eradicated, but until that happens, we'll keep bringing in money so that the JDRF can keep up the advancements in research to that cure and the treatments that improve the lives and life expectancies of our friends.