Friday, August 4, 2017

Riding On The Sun's Anvil

"Who was that fool?  Probably,
a crazy ass Iron Butt Rider!"
Preface - I woke suddenly, just past 1:00 am Saturday morning, overwhelmed by dread and foreboding.  The start of the Death Valley 1,000 Insanity on Sunday was consuming my semi-conscience mind.  I felt anxiety and trepidation about the real possibility of disaster or even death.  I lay in that twilight zone, at the edge of sleep, for what seemed like hours, mulling over every imaginable problem and what could go wrong.  I ticked through various excuses I should use to abandon the attempt.  I felt trapped by my own public declaration, here and all over social media, to do the ride.  Had ego and effrontery condemned me to catastrophic failure at the Gates of Hell?

Shaking off the sleep monster, I felt rationality and reason take hold.  Yes, there were unique and extreme risks to this SaddleSore 1,000.  But, as a long-distance rider, managing risks and dealing with problems are what we do on every ride.  I had relied on well-honed ridecraft to get me through many challenging rides.  I crafted a good plan for this ride and I have my trusty GS Adventure.  All I had to do was mount up, start up and hold on as I go.  In the words of the popular song, "Home" by Phillip Phillips...

Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons they fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm going to make this 'bike' my home

Here now is the ride report of my successful Iron Butt Association, Death Valley 1,000, Insanity, July 30, 2017

DV1K Route
RECON:  Saturday morning I rode into Death Valley to scout the planned route, services at each of the stop points, identify cell phone coverage and shake out any issues with my gear in the crucible of the Devil's heat basin.  As you can see by the route graphic, it forms a three pronged circuit of 213 miles with Furnace Creek being the start/finish point for each of the 5 legs.  Each route segment ended with an opportunity to stop, wet down and take a cool down break.  Taking advantage of these opportunities is a way to manage heat stress.  My path of travel for each leg was Furnace Creek to Panamint Springs to Grapevine Ranger Station to Badwater and back to Furnace Creek.  I would make a log entry at each of these points and all gas stops are at Furnace Creek.  Later in the day I planned to use Stovepipe Wells, between Furnace Creek and Panamint Springs as a wet down/cool down stop.  Furnace Creek General Store is also available as a wet down/cool down stop between Grapevine Ranger Station and Badwater.  Here's a brief description of each stop point.
  • Furnace Creek - Gas (91 octane available), fully stocked A/C convenience store with 5 pound bag ice (7am - 10pm), two eateries, and cell phone service.
  • Stovepipe Wells - Gas (87 octane only), fully stocked A/C convenience store with 5 pound bag ice (7am - 10pm), and cell phone service.
  • Panamint Springs - Gas (91 octane available), fully stocked A/C convenience store with 5 pound bag ice (7am - 9:30pm) No cell phone service
  • Grapevine Ranger Station - Park Service restrooms with potable water and pay phone (50c calls)  911 free of course.  Water spigot next to the street.  Nice shade in the afternoon.  I had cell phone service at this stop
  • Badwater Pullout - Park Service restrooms with potable water.  No cell phone service
There is no cell phone coverage along the route outside of the locations noted above.  SPOT (or some other satellite tracking service capable of summoning emergency services) is an absolute must.  I had my spouse standing by to call the Death Valley Park Rangers (888-233-6518) if she received a SPOT HELP message from me.  The instructions were to inform the local rangers that a motorcyclist needed assistance immediately.  Two successive SPOT HELP messages and she would declare an emergency and call the emergency dispatch center at the Federal Interagency Communications Center, FICC.  They would launch emergency services to my grid coordinates.  If needed, I will press the SPOT SOS button that would kick in a whole different emergency response. (Note: SPOT message contacts do not receive SOS notifications via email or text messages.)
A couple of hot Iron Butt Riders

I had been posting on the Iron Butt Motorcycle Riders Facebook group page about my Death Valley 1,000 "Insanity" attempt. I invited any riders crazy enough to ride down to Furnace Creek on Saturday and I'd buy them lunch.  Only, Mark Fisher, IBA 50039, showed up and he was happy to sign my IBA witness form.  Thanks Mark!

RIDE PACE & RESOURCE MANAGEMENT:  My goal was to maintain a consistent ride pace, manage the risks of riding in this extreme environment and achieve the 1,000+ miles under the 24 hour requirement.  Breaking the ride into 5 legs created a sustainable routine, maximized the opportunity for regular refresh stops and to document the route for IBA certification.  Making log entries at each of the corner stops kept me focused on an administrative task.  Not being able to focus on this routine would serve as an early warning heat stress.  See IBA Log

I finished, riding a total of 1,026.3 miles in 20:54 total time with 18:09 moving and 2:45 stopped time.  The overall average was 49.1 MPH and moving average of 56.5 MPH.  Over the 1,026.3 miles, the motorcycle consumed 22.191 gallons of gas.  At a rate of 46.25 miles per gallon, my 2016 BMW R1200GS Adventure had an effective fuel endurance distance of 365 miles per tank, at 56 MPH moving average speeds.  There were no 'close calls' during the ride. (I define a 'close call' as an instance where I was forced to execute an quick, evasive maneuver.) 

Using the Garmin 590 track data, I created a detailed table showing the arrival/departure times for all stops.  See:  Ride Pace Analysis.  In addition to the normal items on the IBA fuel log I posted the indicated external temperature on my motorcycle and took temperature scans of road surface using a Fluke temp gun.  After the ride, I posted the recorded DVNP hourly temp to show the temperature difference between my location and the official Park temperature.

(Click on the Leg # for the SpotWalla track and DBR (dated business receipt) for a odometer/temp picture)
Leg 1:  Start DBR - I left my hotel in Beatty, NV at 2:00 am for the 40 mile ride to the Furnace Creek gas station.  I had the Forward Looking InfraRed camera on to spot critters, but didn't see any.  What was striking was the way the heat in the valley glowed bright white as I descended down into Death Valley.  Got gas, logged the DBR (dated business receipt) and I was on my way by 2:58 am heading to Panamint Springs.  Even though I was the only vehicle on the road I did not use excessive speed along the 55-65 MPH segment to Panamint Springs.  I was prudent about the pace even though there was very little enforcement that time of day.  Passing the "Devil's corn field" I rode through the Stovepipe Wells resort complex.  West of there, the elevation increases from the valley floor to over 4,950 feet at Towne Pass.  The temperatures dropped significantly as I ascended.  At this time of the morning temps were in the low 80s F.  In later legs, I would use this 60 mile stretch to get some relief from the brutal temperatures on the hot basin of the valley.  The store at Panamint Springs was closed when I arrive at 3:51 am, so I pressed the SPOT "OK" button to mark my arrival and did a quick log entry, before departing for the Grapevine Ranger Station at the north end of Death Valley.  This is the longest segment at 71.1 miles and along some of the most isolated stretches of the Park.  Another quick log entry and off to Badwater at the south end of the route.  The terrain of the valley is pristine desert with short vegetation.  If there are any large animals in Death Valley they were not near the route I took.  My FLIR camera display was a added pair of eyes but during the entire ride I only saw two coyotes, five jack rabbits, several tiny rodents and one rattle snake.  I finished leg 1 Furnace Creek at 6:40 am, just as dawn crept into the valley.

Leg 2: DBR - I could already feel the heat increasing as I started leg 2 at 6:48 am.  Once again the temperatures dropped over Towne Pass.  The store was open at Panamint Springs by the time I arrive at 7:39 am, time for a "pee test".  I monitored the color of my urine throughout the day as an indicator of how effective my hydration regimen was working.  As stated in my ride plan, I was using a regular sip rate tagged to the temperature.  This technique proved very effective as subsequent tests show, I was well hydrated.  Heading east over the pass and into the valley, once again the differences in the heat were very noticeable.  Death Valley is like a huge basin where the heat accumulates in the elongated terrain that runs north and south.  You can see it in this temperature map of the valley published by the National Weather Service.  Grapevine RS is at the north end of the valley but in the shallows of the heat basin.  The temperature differences along this segment were 3-7 degrees cooler than at Furnace Creek and Badwater, the lowest point along the route.  The ride from Grapevine RS to Badwater is 68.2 miles.  Just before Badwater I passed the entrance to the "Devil's Golf Course."  Never cared much for golf.  I did not dally at Badwater, just made a quick log entry and wet down before the 18 mile ride back to Furnace Creek for fuel and start of the next leg.

Leg 3: DBR -  Temperatures were well into triple digits by the start of this leg and would remain that way the rest of the ride.  It was hot enough to incorporate wet down/cool down stops at Stovepipe Wells starting with this leg.  The store here is very well stocked compared to Panamint Springs.  It is on par with Furnace Creek.  At each of these stores I would purchase a cold, non carbonated and caffeine free, beverage for my Under Armor 24 oz. thermos drink bottle.  This cold beverage was a pleasurable supplement to my primary hydration routine using the MILSPEC 100 oz. Camelbak system with insulated carrier and hose.   The drink bottle would keep the contents relatively cold for an hour or more in triple digit temperatures.  Well past the time it takes me to consume its contents at my sip rate.  I would alternate between the cold beverage bottle and the tepid plain water in the Camelbak.  With the frequency of my stops, this technique allowed me to use the water from the Camelbak to re-wet my forearms while riding.  See the Hydration & Evaporative Cooling section below for details.  On with the rest of this leg. The temperatures in the basin were now consistently above 110F.  By the time I arrive in Badwater the temperature was 117.5.  A scan of the road temperature showed 159.3F in the parking lot.  No, I was not concerned about my tires melting.  I ride on Michelin Anakee III with the high temperature "V" rating.  But, I would not want to walk barefooted at Badwater!  I stopped at the Furnace Creek store to enjoy a sandwich with a regular V8.  The 1,950mg of sodium in the V8 juice would keep my electrolyte levels well saturated.  At the Furnace Creek gas station a group of seven Harley riders pulled up to the pump behind and next to me.  The group appeared to be French vacationers.  All the bikes were stocked and looked like rentals.  A van pulled next to them and a crew of women rushed out with bottled water in hand.  I was amazed to see these riders, all dressed in street clothes.  I mean T-shirts, jeans, athletic shoes and one guy was wearing a tank top.  He did have a bandana around his face though.  He gave me a nod as I zipped up before mounting.  I would see them again at Stovepipe Wells about 30 minutes later.

Cool heads prevail
Leg 4: DBR - This is the hottest leg and I was entering the heat stress danger zone.  Over the course of many hours in the previous legs my body was coping with the heat.  Regular intake of water was sufficient to keep the heat monster at bay.  Riding from Furnace Creek to my next refresh stop at Stovepipe Wells the temperature was 120.5F.  The road was 151.7 F at one point.  I was dealing with ambient air temperatures, radiation from the motorcycle and from the road surfaces.  The pounding of the intense direct heat from the sun was intense.  The wind burn was intolerable.  By that I mean I could not stick my gloved hand into the full air stream for more than a couple of moments.  I kept the collar of my riding jack closed to protect my neck for the wind burn. "Wind burn" is the opposite of wind chill.  It is like holding a hair dryer, on high heat and full speed, 15 inches way from your bare skin,  Not only is wind burn uncomfortable, it can rapidly overwhelm your body's ability to cope with the heat.  The wind screen configuration and brush guards of the BMW R1200GS Adventure proved quit effective at keeping damaging effects of wind burn off my body.  A quick wet down at Stovepipe Wells and on to Panamint Springs.  Starting here I employed ice in my thermal management strategy.  After the log entries I went into the store and purchased a 5 pound bag of ice to put between me and the tank bag with the bottom next to my crotch.  While riding to Grapevine RS the ice would cool my crotch area right where the femoral arteries and veins cross from my torso into/from my legs.  The ice would cool the blood helping my body to cope with the accumulation of heat.  By the time I got to Grapevine RS, 71.1 miles distant, the bag was melted down to 1/10th is original size.  My pants and legs were nice and wet.  I put the bag on my head to cool my brain.  When I departed for Furnace Creek, for my planned dinner break, I put the bag and what was left of the ice, under my jacket, around my neck with the ice at my jugulars to cool the blood flowing into me brain.  I could feel my neck tingle as the cooling effect of the ice bathed my shoulders.  I spent almost an hour in the A/C at the Furnace Creek buffet, enjoying a sit down meal.  I got another 5 pound bag of ice at the start of the final leg.  I was feeling good!

Leg 5: DBR - I started the final leg at 19:45 as the sun was descending over the mountains to the west.  The temperatures were still in the high teens (115.5F) at Furnace Creek.  But the sun was not pounding me against the anvil any more.  This was an noticeable change, particularly on my legs.  The heat radiating off the bike and road was bad enough but when the sun was beating down directly against my body I could tell the difference between the exposed and shaded parts.  By the time I left the heat basin of the valley and ascended the mountains the sun was gone.  I enjoyed the very comfortable high 90s riding over Towne Pass.  It was dark by the time I arrive at Panamint Springs.  I did a quick log entry, wet down and was back on the road.  I was excited at this point as the realization that I had survived the heat stress danger zone of leg 4.  All I had to do was to keep my eyes on the road, maintain a consistent ride pace and keep hydrating!  At this time of night I was back to using the FLIR.  I had the road virtually to myself as I rode the long stretch to Grapevine RS.  It was a relatively cool 99.5F when I arrived there.  I took what was left of the bag of ice and placed it around my neck once again.  At the lower temperatures it was too cold touching my neck.  I had to briefly stop to make an adjustment, moving the bag away from my neck to my shoulders.  When I got to Badwater it was a deserted.  A quick log entry, wet down and I was back on the road to Furnace Creek.  I was just before midnight when I arrived.

I'm gas'n up to get my Finish DBR when I hear the familiar sound of a vintage Harley.  Out of the darkness, a young guy pulls up on a 70s Sportster.  He's wearing just an open front shirt, pants, boots and I think finger-less gloves.  We greet each other and he asks me, "Hey, do you know where I can get some water?"  I asked, Abe, what brings him to Death Valley this time of night?  He says he's riding from Colorado to the west coast and wanted to take a short cut.  I told him what I was doing and asked if he would sign my IBA witness form, which he obliged me, willingly.  Thanks Abe!  Seemed a perfect setting for the end of one of my hardest and I might add, hottest riding adventures...ever!

'73 Sporty
Abe, my finish IBA Witness

Motorcycle and Equipment
My BMW R1200GS Adventure performed flawlessly.  The liquid cooled engine handled the brutal Death Valley temperatures without a whimper.  I checked the "EngTemp" indicator from time to time and it barely rose above the normal 185F degrees.  I highest temperature it showed was 203F when I checked it after the air temperature showed 120.5F.  Of the 22 motorcycles I have owned in my lifetime, the 2016 BMW R1200GS Adventure is the finest motorcycle I have ridden, for how I ride.  It is rock solid, versatile and tough as a mule.

I carried extra survival gear on this ride over and above that I normally keep on the bike.  In addition to a spare gallon of water I had an umbrella and GI poncho tucked away in the pannier.  If I broke down along an isolated stretch of road I wanted to quickly establish shade to keep the sun from beating down on me.  I also had food stores, spicy checks mix and fruit traii mix in gallon zip lock bags.  I didn't eat much of this while riding as my appetite was suppressed by the heat.  Instead, I opted for enjoying a sandwich and cool drink in the A/C at one my cool down stops.  On this ride, doing a quick cool down in A/C was an effective use of time and resources which ultimately helped me to maintain a consistent ride pace.  Hey, I finished with 3 hours to spare!

Hyperthermia - I know how my body reacts to activities in extreme heat from my experiences as a long-distance runner and years being a Master Fitness Trainer while in the US Army.  I think of the challenges riding in extreme heat as managing the risks of 'hyperthermia' along this progression; comfort stress - heat stress - heat exhaustion - heat stroke - death.  My objective was to stay out of heat stress, that point where I felt my body was being heated beyond just being uncomfortable.  Hyperthermia can occur the longer one remains in heat stress and the effects on the body are cumulative. I established the inability to recover from brief episodes of heat stress as the danger point.  I had 24 hours to complete the ride.  If I went in to heat stress, started to feel the symptoms of heat exhaustion, even after a lengthy recovering time, I would cancel the cancel the ride.

Hydration & Evaporative Cooling - The technique I used to manage heat stress was a combination of disciplined hydration, LDComfort base layer under my outer protective gear and taking frequent wet down & cool down breaks.  The LDComfort garments work by transferring moisture created by either sweat or artificial wetting away from the skin and into the outer layer of the fabric.  This establishes a dry micro layer next to the skin but allows for the evaporative cooling from wet outer layer.  The heat transferred from one's blood to the skin radiates into the outer layer, cooling the blood.  Combine this potential with controlled airflow through the sleeves, into the body core area and it forms a "swamp cooler" affect.
Click here for the full LDComfort graphic

The technique does require attention and some training to get effective cooling at varying temperatures.  The basic technique is wet the forearms and neck area with a small amount of water.  Close up all vents on the jacket, close the bottom of the jacket and create a small opening at the neck.  As air flows into the sleeve cuffs the arms and body of the jacket inflate with air, like a wind bag or balloon.  This creates an open space between the body and the inner lining of the jacket.  As the moisture in the sleeves starts to evaporate it cools the air.  This cool air is pushed into the core of the jacket by the inflow from the sleeve cuff opening.  As the air circulates around the interior of the jacket it accumulates and evaporates any moisture, either sweat or water added during wet down providing more cooling.

Now the tricky part and the point were most novice users of LDComfort complain, "This stuff really doesn't work."  One has to balance the amount of air flowing into the jacket by allowing a slightly smaller amount of air to escape through the opening at the neck.  Too little opening at the neck and progressively hotter air fills the jacket.  Too much opening and the cooler air that has stalled, allowing evaporation to occur, rapidly escapes.  This is replaced by hotter air which hasn't had a chance to cool through evaporation.

My best balance occurred with the collar closed and the zipper down about 3 to 4 inches from the top.  I could modulate, or fine tune, the airflow by "turtle-ing" my neck and head.  Stretching my head up from my shoulders would increase the size of the neck opening.  Scrunching my neck down would close it back up.  By doing this I could regulate the amount of the inflate of cool air in the core and armpits of my jacket.  It was quite nice to wallow in the cool air at 120F.  I knew I had the optimum balance when I stretched my neck out of the jacket and could feel the cool air coming out.

Temperature Data Collection
What comes next is the data collection to show the relative cooling techniques of using closed protective outer gear with LDComfort base layers in extreme heat environments.  I recorded the air temperature as indicated by my motorcycle external temperature gauge, the ground temperature using a Fluke IR gun and gathered the official Death Valley National Park readings published hour by hour.  In addition to the regular log stops, I took note of the bike and road temp each hour and jotted down that data at the top of each hour.

To collect temperature data from inside the core of my jacket, I used a device that samples the temperature every 2 minutes and automatically records the data in eprom.  I placed this device in one the mesh pock inside my Klim jacket, center chest near my heart.   I set the Monarch Instruments Track-It Data Logger to record the average temperature
every 10 minutes. The unit will record up to a year of data without ever being turned off.  Accessing the data is through proprietary PC software.  The software has a full graphing and analysis capability.   For my purposes, I downloaded the data into an Excel file.  Below is a graph of the interior of my Klim jacket for the entire period of the ride.  The MC temperature data and Death Valley National Park (DVNP) data are graphed for comparison.
The complete list of data can be viewed here:  Death Valley 1,000 Temperature Data

Click to enlarge

Effectiveness of the Cooling Gear & Techniques
I rode over 21 hours in Death Valley heat ranging from a low of 79F to a high of 120.5F in relative comfort using the LDComfort base layer garments and techniques.  The only time I felt heat stress was when I was dismounted.  When dismounted, it was necessary to open or remove my jacket to keep from overheating.  Immediately, I could feel the evaporative cooling from the stored moisture in my shirt.  This was an effective measure while stopped.  On the graph and in the list of temperature data you can see the spikes recorded by the interior Track-It sensor when my jacket was open or sometime removed and open to the air.  Also, notice the dips when the jacket was off and I was in the A/C for cool down breaks.

"Fremen" Tubes
Wetting down at each stop was part of the routine.  I had separate water containers for wetting my sleeves and neck area. Moisture at the forearms would evaporate in about 15 minutes in the dry desert air of Death Valley.   Between stops I would re-wet my forearms and neck using water from the Camelbak sucked into my mouth then blown to the forearms through 3/8 inch clear plastic tubing.  These "Fremen" tubes, as I called them, were cut to length and threaded through the arm cinches on my jacket. The delivery end was inserted into a small unzipped opening at the forearm vent of each sleeve.  The receiving end was long enough so I could put it into my mouth, full of water sipped out of the Camelbak, and blown into the sleeves.  Another mouthful of water was dribbled into my neck front.  Above 110F I did this at every sip rate after drinking.  It was a small amount of water and I never ran out of drinking and wetting stores while riding.  Occasionally, I would take a mouthful of water and dribble it onto the top of my gloved hands and fingers.  This would create a very refreshing cooling sensation...for about 5 minutes.  Hey, if it feels good...

85 - 100 Degrees - Cooling works best along this temperature range.  While ascending out of the heat basin, over Towne Pass to Panamint Wells, I could feel an immediate cooling difference as the temperature dropped below 100F.  Adjusting the flow of jacket inflate was much easier to create the desired cooling.

100 - 110 Degrees - Cooling at this temperature range required more attention to get comfortable.  I would increase the inflate and move my shoulders up, down and forward, backwards, as if dancing inside the jacket.  This would enhance the spaces allow form more expansion of the evaporating moisture and push the cool air around.

110 - 120 Degrees - This temperature range requires the most attention and work to keep the cooling working.  I had to keep my sleeve cuffs in the airflow coming over the top of the brush guards on the handlebars.  At the same time I had to decrease the volume of extremely hot air flowing in by regulating the dip of the cuffs into the air stream. Consequently, I had to slow the amount of cool air escaping through the neck.  I found the perfect balance when I could feel the cool air around the skin of my neck.  Once I recognized this sweet spot, keeping the core cooler was easier at this temperature range.

Heart Rate Monitoring
I was wearing a Samsung Gear 3 Frontier smartwatch with a built in heart rate monitor.   I wanted a data record to compare against the temperature data.  The interesting thing, from looking at the hour by hour heart rate recorded by the watch, was it was never beyond what I consider normal for my body.  My normal heart rate during vigorous exercise in about 135 beats per minute.  My max heart rate is 153 (220 - 67 my age)  So, 135 bpm is a 90% of max training rate.  During the ride my heart rate never climbed above 124 even in the hottest points when I was dismounted, with all my gear on.  My heart rate was a comfortable 90-100 most of the time.  My normal resting heart rate is 60-75.  I decided not to graph this metric.

I was using the best long-distance riding gear available and I was employing the best ridecraft techniques I could gather from others and learned over 48 years of riding.  All of it paid off for me during the Death Valley 1,000 "Insanity."  I was expecting to be constantly battling heat stress.  None of that happened, although the heat monster was always breathing down my neck.  The gear, techniques kept my body core and head well insulated from the heat.  But, I was in almost constant comfort stress riding during legs 3 and 4, especially my extremities.  Dismounted in 115 - 120 degree heat requires immediate opening of the closed riding gear, ideally out of the intense hammering of the sun's raze.

I don't want to minimize the very real risks of a heat injury at the temperatures I was riding.  Do not attempt this IBA challenging ride unless you have carefully evaluated all the risks, prepared for every contingency and are committed to stopping the survive!

The LDComfort garments worked superbly for me.  As the temperature data show from the Track-It sensor, while riding the core temperature inside my jacket and along the arms was a relatively comfortable 80-85 degrees.  The times when it got above 85 to 90 degrees usually happened when I was dismounted and with my jacket off, draped over my top case to hot outside air.  Conversely, sudden dips in the graphed data show where I would reapply water to my forearms while riding.  The 75F stretch around 7-8 pm is when I was chilling out having dinner in the A/C.

Like any successful long-distance certification ride, it's not just one or two things that make the difference.  All things have to work together, in a balanced way.  I think of it as the organizing framework of riding on the clock, embodied in the term:

Ridecraft - the collection of knowledge, skills and abilities used by a long-distance motorcyclist to maintain a consistent ride pace, manage risk and achieve navigational objectives.  

A tip of the hat goes out to the first three long-distance riders to certify the Death Valley 1,000 "Insanty" - Michael "Enigma" Mendell, Ray Dodson and Robert "Hoagy" Carmichael.  Thanks guys for leading the way!