If you missed part one of Alex’s Comstock Epic experience, click here…

The sun finally crested the mountains and began to warm my bivy. After a few minutes in the sun, I was still shivering but finally able to pull myself out of the bag. In the light of day, myself and my equipment were a rather disgusting sight to behold. Everything was caked with a thick layer of peanut butter mud. Mud had even made it into my chamois-at least I hoped it was mud (just kidding!). I scraped things off the best I could and hoped that my bike would be rideable. I recalled what Blake Bockius had told me after encountering mud like this in last year’s race. The mud, which is full of small rocks and pebbles actually chewed through his carbon fork as his mud caked wheel spun round and round. He ended up having to throw it away after the race. Luckily I was on a Ti bike with a burly Fox fork so didn’t have to worry about that, but I was pleasantly surprised that my drivetrain was still functioning.

blizzards-in-the-desert-the-comstock-epic-2003
blizzards-in-the-desert-the-comstock-epic-2006
Still planning to pull out of the race, I hopped on my bike and headed toward Middlegate about 50 miles away. I was still on the race course since Middlegate was the closest place with services. The sun began to warm my chilled core and my spirits began to lift. I was definitely feeling destroyed after the previous night, but started to rationalize finishing the race. I had never pulled out of an endurance race before, and I knew I would regret doing so now, no matter what I had been through the night before. And besides, the sun was out and it was only a matter of time before I would be warm again. “Yes!” I told myself, “you’re gonna do this”. “Buck up princess”. “Don’t be such a wuss”. “No need to call the wah-mbulance”.

Just as I was warming up from a combination of sun and the climb over yet another mountain range, the clouds came back in. As I descended down from the pass (I had lost track of mountain ranges by this point-it was probably 8 or so), I hit another headwind near the ghost town of Ione, Nevada. At least it wasn’t raining yet as I made my way across an expansive desert plain toward the final mountain range between me and the first services in 250 miles.

I had expected the flats on this race to be cruiser, but with the now muddy roads and the steep headwinds slowing my progress, they became slow and grueling. Still, there is a stark beauty to these wild places that I tend to find inspiring where some might find it boring or empty or wasteland. So I took comfort in the splendor of my surroundings rather than focusing on my discomfort, and pushed my way through to Middlegate. I got hit by a few brief rainstorms along the way, but fortunately just as the heavens broke yet again and sheets of rain began, I was pulling into the station.

Comstock Epic
The timing was great. I was really happy not be out in that weather and figured it would quickly pass. I also had to deal with my SPOT beacon issue. I hadn’t been showing up on the map for the entire race up to this point so I called Trackleaders and we spent about an hour and half trying to resolve the issue. We finally figured it out but I had wasted a lot of time by this point. I was still in the race, but not really racing anymore thinking I was in 5th place, so I wasn’t too worried about it. It was also still pouring rain-so I dawdled a bit more re-organizing and cleaning my gear and throwing away food that had been destroyed by rain and mud. After ~2 hours in Middlegate with no sign of the weather abating, I donned my rain gear and hopped on my bike in the downpour. I was soaked to the core in minutes, but was actually glad that the rain was washing off my bike and clothes. I was on the longest paved section of the race, about 20 miles on hwy 50. It was actually quite scary as the speed limit is 70mph and trucks were buffeting me with wet blasts as they whizzed past.

Comstock Epic
As I cruised down the highway I noticed that my gpx track was about to end near the highway turn off. I was totally bummed. After just dealing with a tech issue for two hours, now this – wtf? It was my first time using a Garmin Etrex, which unbeknownst to me, cuts off the end portion of your track when you exceed 5000points. I hadn’t noticed this before now, and was unsure how I could continue without a track. I had printed some very small maps for emergencies, but it would have been impossible to navigate off of them and still maintain a decent pace. Frantically I pulled over behind the guard rail on hwy 50 and thankfully had cell service. I couldn’t find Trevor, the race organizer’s number, but Blake had sent his phone number to all the racers in an email thread so I called him. He informed me that all the guys in front of me had dropped out for one reason or another except for Neil. That put me in 2nd place! He also informed me that no one behind had made it over the pass in the blizzard. A couple racers had tried, but wisely backed off. One of the racers even had to use his SPOT beacon to call for a rescue. None of this news surprised me in the slightest. I was just glad no one was hurt. Blake relayed my dilemma to Trevor and I soon received a call and he kindly agreed to meet me in the middle of the desert near Fallon, Nevada after I had crossed the salt flat (playa). What a nice guy. The rain actually let up at this point and I was treated to some much needed sunshine. I proceeded with gusto from here.

Comstock Epic
I definitely wasted a lot of time trying to find my way through the playa without a gpx track. I was also sinking pretty deep into the salt pan due to the big downpour. Like many things in this race, it just wasn’t going well for me. But hey, I was in 2nd, which with Neil in the race, felt like 1st to me! It helped keep me going. I met Trevor on a dirt road after finally crossing the big salt playa and we quickly loaded the final 2 segments on my Etrex. I’ll never make that mistake again! Armed with the gpx, the navigating became much easier. I cruised the next 20 miles or so into Fallon and hit the Dairy Queen, the closest food source to the race course. I ordered 4 burgers and a couple orders of fries. I ate 2 of the burgers and the fries and packed the other two for the night. As I was leaving a really charismatic guy came up to me and asked me what I was doing. He said, “Man, when I saw you, I knew you weren’t just biking down the block! I had to come ask what you were doing.” He was pretty blown away by the idea of racing across the desert and cheered me on as I pulled out of the DQ parking lot.

The light was fading at this point, and I turned on my lights just as I was getting off of the improved roads and back to desert doubletrack. The track through the next section was fairly pleasant, but the dark desolation allowed my mind to wander and play tricks on me. I rolled through a pack of desert foxes, but later I was unsure if I had really seen them. I then saw strange lights making impossible patterns in the sky. I thought how cliché, UFO’s in the middle of the desert. But I saw it again and it seemed so close I actually ducked down while riding my bike, thinking it was about to swoop over me. In my delirium, I thought wow, UFO’s are real, but being a skeptical scientist, I couldn’t believe my own eyes and worried that I was in worse shape than I thought and was hallucinating. I gnawed on these thoughts for the next hour (or two? time was kind of blending that evening) until I solved the mystery.

I saw the lights again but this time I was close enough to make sense of what was going on. There was a road high up on the mountain side across the valley that must have had a couple of switchbacks, causing the light to have erratic patterns. I had been so far way earlier that the two headlights blended into one. The valley was so devoid of light other than the stars, and the air was so absolutely clear in this incredibly arid section of desert, that it really had seemed like a UFO. I can now empathize with those that think they saw something in the desert, but I’m also even more skeptical now of their accounts.

Comstock Epic
At around 3 or 4am I made it Fort Churchill State Park. I had thought about sleeping in the bathroom there, but there were bright lights that I couldn’t turn off, so I instead hid behind the welcome sign (which also served as a wind block) and crawled into my bivy sack. I slept about 1.5 hours and got on my way just before sun up. The next section was pretty nasty washboard dirt road and was rather unpleasant all around. I rolled past a decapitated jackrabbit and thought, what kind of sicko would do such a thing? Well, later I would find out that one of the Comstock 300 racers actually hit the poor bunny at night. He said it darted out of nowhere and its head went right into his spokes, and its head snapped right off. How crazy is that?

I finally hit the Maverick’s gas station in Dayton, Nevada. This is the Shangri-La of gas stations. I couldn’t believe the selection of calorie dense breakfast sandwiches, donuts, you name it. I got four sausage egg biscuits and ate all but one, then got a few more with bacon. I think altogether I ate 4 sandwiches and got 4 for the road.  I also got a couple of maple bars which didn’t last two long in my bike bags. After Dayton, I made the rather unpleasant 2000’+ paved climb up to Virginia City. Virginia City is a really neat place and it had really grown up since I had moved away from the area 5 years before. When I left, they had maintained the Old West frontier feel with just an old saloon and couple of eateries. Now it had everything- fine dining, breweries, fitness centers, and even open air tourist trollies. The town has reinvented itself and is probably more profitable now than it was during the gold rush. Since I had eaten my bodyweight in junk food, I didn’t need to stop here so I rolled straight through. At the edge of town the route takes you right back onto rough doubletrack as you climb up to the higher peaks of the Virginia Mountain Range. It was a beautiful day with amazing weather, but at this point, I just wanted to be finished, and knew I still had to tackle the final mountain range, the Sierra Nevada, to get to Lake Tahoe and the California border.

At the top of the pass in the Virginia Range, I thought it would be cruiser downhill all the way to Carson City, but the route takes you up one pass after another before you finally hit Washoe Lake, thousands of feet below. Like everything in this race, it was taking longer than expected. From Washoe, I had actually ridden the section to Carson City, so it was nice be on familiar terrain. I soon hit a greenway that went past a community college. Unfortunately there was no cafeteria, but there were vending machines so I stocked up on a few snacks to prepare for the 10,000ft of climbing involved in the last 35-40 miles of the course.

I had been dealing with horrific saddle sores since the blizzard and rain storms in Central Nevada. By this point after being wet then dry, wet then dry, they become open flesh wounds that would adhere to my chamois, then get ripped open every time I changed position. I feel like I’m fairly pain tolerant, but these were so bad I would actually get nauseous or woozy every time it happened or when a sore would touch the saddle. This made riding incredibly unpleasant and awkward. I had to sit on the very nose of the saddle. My hands were in pretty bad shape too, as were my feet. As I was walking up a section of singletrack my shoes felt like they had small sticks or pebbles in them. I took them off and dumped them out, but there wasn’t much debris in them. Huh I thought, better check my socks. I took my socks off and noticed the pads of my feet had separated from my feet so I was actually stepping on folds of thick foot skin. Gross! I almost threw up just from the thought and site of it!

“Buck up sweetheart” I told myself. Pain is temporary. Suffering is optional. Usually this kind of self-flagellation does the trick but my body was starting to mutiny. Every step or pedal stroke began to take serious effort and concentration just to go on. To make things worse, the wind had picked up and was getting ruthless as I climbed in elevation. I was trying to negotiate a switchback and a blast of wind actually knocked me off the trail and I tumbled into manzanita bushes, sharp rocks, and logs. It was a pretty bad fall, but could have been worse. It took me a while to collect myself and crawl back up to the trail. Finally I hit tree line which offered some shelter. But then the course dropped back down another 1000-2000ft before climbing again. Ugh. No mas por favor!!

Comstock Epic
Comstock Epic

The final couple thousand feet to Spooner Summit really tested my mettle. I was tantalizingly close, but every inch felt so difficult at this point. I began to worry I would have to stop again and rest which would mean finishing in the dark or the next day. I didn’t know if my mind could keep forcing my body to go on. I took it step by step, pedal stroke by pedal stroke. Somehow I managed to make it to the top of Spooner Summit and was back on terra familiar. The last section of trail was the famed Flume Trail which I had ridden a few times before. I knew I had a nasty steep climb up to the start of the Flume, which would be hard, but I knew I could do it. I got weepy knowing that the race was almost over. My adrenaline began to leave my body. I was a mess.

I had to walk an embarrassing amount of the climb up to the Flume, but I made it. I was then re-energized by the beauty of Lake Tahoe and the fun singletrack riding. The Flume went smoothly, then I dropped down to the lake itself near Incline Village. From here I had one last climb to the casinos at Crystal Bay on the Nevada-California border where my friend Cheryl was waiting to pick me up. I was so destroyed I could barely ride up this mellow paved climb, but I managed it somehow and finally saw Cheryl waiting for me at the Border. I’ve definitely never been happier to get off the bike.

After some sleep and time to heal, I was able to process and appreciate just what an amazing area we had ridden through. There are few places in the lower 48 with such sparse population. There are more mountain ranges in Nevada than any other state. Nevada is not a wasteland, its absolute natural treasure. I only wish I had explored more of it when I lived there instead of spending all my time in the Sierras. Would I do the race again? Not sure. Am I glad I did it? A resounding yes.

Comstock Epic

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: Blizzards in the Desert: The Comstock Epic Part 1 - Bikepacker

  2. Dude, you’re hard-freaking-core. Loved every word of this report. Kudos!

  3. Bill and Ann Testerman

    Jill passed this story on to us to let us know what an amazing ride this was for you. We are in awe that you were able to finish it and that more injuries/accidents didn’t occur along the way. You are an incredible athlete to complete such a ride and still be alive to tell about it. Congratulations on the finish in 2nd place. Hope all the wounds have healed. Oh, Jil also told us you had a skiing accident and injured you knee. Hope that turns out okay.

  4. Nice work man and a great right up; I am bummed the race is not continuing, but going to solo it in June…

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