It’s the holiday season – time to think of others first and give back in whatever ways you can. So it’s an appropriate time for Hellgate (Missoula, Mont.) senior runner Adam Peterman to embark on his senior project.
Peterman is raising awareness plus $5,000 for Outdoor Nation, a nonprofit organization that helps develop young outdoor leaders, by biking and hiking from the lowest point in the U.S., Death Valley, Calif., to the highest summit in the Continental U.S. (14,505 feet), Mount Whitney. That’s roughly 155 miles – 135 miles biking and 20 hiking up Mount Whitney – if you’re counting.
Peterman, who will run for the University of Colorado, hit the road last week.
He checked back with USA TODAY High School Sports along the way. Follow along all week to see how Peterman progressed.
Blog Entry No. 3
On Dec. 20, I awoke at 4:00 a.m., in a tent pitched at the Texas Creek Campground in Death Valley National Park. The sky was black and the stars were amazing. Though it was super early, I wasn’t tired because I was incredibly relieved to finally have this day come.
We stowed our cooking and camping gear and rolled out of Texas Creek toward Badwater Basin — the lowest point in the U.S. We wanted to take photos in Badwater while there was still daylight. Mike and I then cruised out of the Badwater parking lot and began our 136-mile bike ride to the trailhead of Mount Whitney.
The first 40 miles were effortless and exciting. We skirted the edges of salt flats, descending and ascending smoothly through the darkness. Occasionally our one-man-sag-wagon, Cody, would speed by, yelling or honking.
As we rode, the sky transitioned from jet-black to deep orange, then blue. It was incredibly beautiful, and the road was smooth as blacktop. The first three hours of the ride were my favorite.
The sun rose after mile 40, and the journey ahead was revealed. We had come from the south and had essentially rode flat miles at an elevation below sea level. In front of us was a giant belt of mountains and a road that stretched eternally to the 5,000-foot Townes Pass.
After a long downhill, we bisected the vast salt flat before the climb. The piercing cold air settled in the basin. We passed a sulfurous-smelling village called Stovepipe Wells and began the hardest two hours I’ve ever experienced on a bike.
The road was long and straight — I couldn’t tell how steep the grade was or how far away anything was. I felt so out of my element. In Missoula, I’m used to biking through windy trails in a pine forest and not being able to see for more than 100 meters at a time. On Townes Pass, I could see my destination from 18 miles away.
After biking for what seemed like an hour, we reached a sign that read, “Elevation 1,000 feet.”
I couldn’t believe it. My immediate thought, “How the heck am I supposed to bike another 4,000 feet?” I felt horrendous.
For the first few hours of the ride, I let the excitement and adrenaline get to me, so I hadn’t eaten enough for the climb. Rookie mistake. After three hours of biking, we reached the summit, which had the same landscape and shrubbery as the bottom. I instantly lay down on the road and ate hundreds of calories.
Mike seemed to be unfazed by the climb, which frustrated me. My legs felt trashed, and we still had 75 miles to go with two more passes equal in length to this one.
At that point, I felt like I bit off so much more than I could chew. Then a little voice in my head said, “You better chew real hard then, you idiot.”
After Townes Pass we had a huge downhill to 1,000 feet of elevation. My tired mind was irritated that I had climbed so much only to just go right back down. The downhill was extraordinary and lengthy. I cruised the road at 40 miles per hour and reached the bottom too soon. We crossed a salt flat and began another 4,000 vertical-foot climb. This time I was ready. The calories I’d consumed were entering my sore muscles, and I felt better.
We travelled over deep ravines and skirted steep mountainsides. The terrain was desolate, and for a while it looked like planet Mars — no trees, only small black and brown boulders spewing across reddish soil.
At mile 90 we and had a long descent to Lone Pine (the town at the base of Mount Whitney). Physically, I felt much better compared to my state at the top of Townes. Mentally, I felt negative because Lone Pine seemed so far.
We descended the pass and cycled to Lone Pine. I was very stoked that this section went by quickly.
We stopped at the Eastern Sierra Interagency Center, and I happily settled into a plush chair. The ranger informed Mike that the trail to Mount Whitney was good, but that the road was closed halfway up due to rock fall. You could drive around the road closure, but it was at your own risk.
I was strangely relieved when I heard this. I didn’t want to attempt to slog my way 5,000 vertical feet up the mountain to finish the ride. We sent Cody out to drive the closed section of road so he could report back whether or not it was clear.
After Cody left, Mike and I biked through the tiny town of Lone Pine before biking the final ascent. I fell back a little from Mike so I could mentally prepare for the effort. I spent a minute angrily yelling mean things for motivation. Then I began the climb. It was everything I expected and then some.
Mike and I struggled our way to the road closure sign. I was exhausted and desperately wanted the road to be impassible. But after several miles we saw Cody, who told us the road was clear.
At this point, every muscle in my legs told me to quit, but I knew that we had to keep moving. It was dark and cold, and the road was icy and steep. After slowly pedaling and walking our bikes up the road, we finally made it to the trailhead.
I felt no happiness, only dread, and I was delirious and depleted. My chest felt tight as if I could only breath halfway. I layered clothes, crawled into my sleeping bag and hobbled into the driver’s seat of the car to warm up. As I sat in there, heat was on full blast, my mind was a firestorm. I started to convince myself that I was too tired to climb Whitney.
Mike and Cody set up camp and made dinner while I had my moment in the car. I wasn’t hungry at all. I had a few bites of macaroni, but then I gave up on the meal.
After talking to Mike, we decided that I would attempt the climb in the morning no matter how I felt. If I was too tired, we would quit.
I crawled into the tent and instantly fell into a deep sleep.