Thursday, October 01, 2009

A tale of two trips: Bike Twins and Eric Kunze in one trip out west

Part One: Lone Pine, California

My Austrian cousins Horst and Gernot Turnowsky were doing a monumental bike/hike of Death Valley to the summit of Mt. Whitney in California on September 24th. Since I do a blog for them I was very eager to see them do one of these rides firsthand. Their visit to the States provided the perfect opportunity. Cooincidentally, Eric Kunze, a Broadway actor whose blog I also maintain, was going to be performing in the same part of the US the same weekend. Serendipity!

First came the bike ride/climb. After flying into Las Vegas and picking up my rental car, I left the airport at 5pm. I had a 5-1/2 hour drive ahead of me through the pitch dark desert. I have really never had the experience of driving that long by myself without seeing any signs of life; very few other cars, no houses, no place to eat or go to the bathroom. Occasionally a jack rabbit would dart out in front of my car, which caused me to jump sky high. Having books on tape and CDs to listen to were a Godsend. I arrived in Lone Pine and checked into the Dow Villa Motel at 11:30pm. It is a historic hotel which has housed many stars during the heyday of Hollywood westerns. John Wayne has reputed slept here many times and there are many pictures of him and other stars of that era all over the hotel. Due to it's proximity to the mountains it was fully booked every night with climbers.

The next morning a meeting was held by Horst, Gernot and the support team to assign duties for the ride that night. It was then that I realized I would be going along in one of the support vehicles for the next 12 overnight hours to share driving responsibilities and help them with food and drink. The team consisted of their sponsor, Wolfgang, and his assistant Daniella, the videographer Jurg and his wife Silvia, their photographer Richard, fellow climber Hermann, businessman Jay and myself. We would have two vehicles, one holding the photographers and Jay, the other vehicle held Wolfgang, Daniella and myself. Silvia and Hermann would meet on them on the mountain the next day.

During the day I took the opportunity to visit a historical site nearby, Manzanar, a War Relocation Center, used to house 110,000 Japanese during WWII. The subject was of interest to me because when my parents and I emigrated to the US we lived at Seabrook Farms in New Jersey and my parents worked a year for Mr. Seabrook to pay for their passage to the States. The same owner brought in many Japanese from these camps to work at his farms and factories as well. I remember many Japanese children in the nursery school I attended at the time.

We left the hotel in a caravan at 7:00 pm on Thursday, September 25th. It was a 2-1/2 hour drive from Lone Pine to Badwater, the starting point of the ride. By the time we got there it was pitch dark. Horst and Gernot got their bikes out and began assembly and preparations for their journey. Jurg recorded the entire proceedings with a fur-covered boom microphone and his video camera, while Richard took digital photos. The twins were nervous, full of energy, like race horses straining at the gate.

Before we knew it we were off, Horst and Gernot leading the way in the darkness, followed closely by our vehicle, driven by Wolfgang who followed within a few feet in order to provide light to guide the twins along the dark and curvy road. The second vehicle, driven by Jay, darted around us as Jurg scouted positions with which to chronicle the ride on his video. Occasionally, he would hang out the window and nearly scrape the ground. One time we were shocked to see the light of his camera on top of a nearby cliff where he was attempting to get yet another perspective of the long ride. I was amazed that Horst and Gernot pedaled steadily for almost 10 hours straight, whether the road was on an incline or decline. They pedaled through the night stopping only to relieve themselves or for the occasional snack. Daniella and I, in the support vehicle watched their every movement waiting for a signal that they needed something to eat or drink. We'd pull up alongside and hand it out to them, without them missing a beat in their rhythm. I think we were more tired in the support vehicles than they were doing the actual work. I was in awe of their physical prowess.

The altitude changed from 440 feet below sea level to over 4,000 feet above sea level by the way we got back to the motel for their breakfast break. Sometimes the road would dip down 1000 feet and then back up again. They dropped me off at the motel so I could sleep, after having been on the road in the support car for 12 hours. But Horst and Gernot continued on, back on their bikes for another 1-1/2 steep hours to the Mt. Whitney portal, before beginning the hike portion of the trip to the summit. There they shed their bikes, changed into their hiking gear and forged on for another 6 hours of climbing, reaching the summit 19 hours after starting in Badwater. They spent some time on the summit and began their descent just as dusk began to settle upon them. They arrived at the Whitney Portal in darkness to be greated by the rest of their support team. Next year their goals are to bike/climb nonstop the highest peak in South America, Aconcagua, and the highest on the North American continent, McKinley in Alaska.
Here is the blog for the Bike Twins:
For a slideshow of the complete bike ride from start to finish:

Part Two: Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Part two of my trip was driving to Arizona from Lone Pine to catch a performance of "Window Pains", a Broadway review of songs and dialogue put together by Eric and his musical partner Gina. After arriving back at the Dow Villa Motel at 7am I tried to catch a few hours sleep before checking out at noon. I don't think I was very successful, as impressions of the incredible night and thoughts about Horst and Gernot forging onward up the mountain floated in and out of my mind. At noon I headed out for another 5-1/2 hour drive through the desert. At least it was during the daylight hours. Driving was easier because of that, as well as the scenery of the desert along the way. I stopped often to take a photo of the colorful rock formations.

My hotel was the London Bridge Resort in Havasu, Arizona, so named because it is next to the actual London Bridge, originally built in 1831. The bridge was sold to a land developer in Arizona, dismantled, shipped and rebuilt in Lake Havasu City in 1971. As you walk into the lobby of the resort, an enormous gold gilded carriage straight out of a fairy tale greets you. Constructed from paper mache, it is an exact replica of the Queen of England’s carriage. I went out for dinner and straight to bed, finally getting my first good night's sleep in a few days.

I arrived at Grace Arts Theater early the next evening to take photos and participate in the pre-show festivities. Grace Ann was one of Eric and Gina's first mentors in San Diego, California, when they were in eighth grade. She still mentors young people today in Lake Havasu when she runs the theater and a school for young actors. The gala was to benefit both these ventures and it was fitting Eric and Gina were there to kick off the season. I had my usual front row seat for the performance and enjoy being within "spitting distance" of the stage. The show was very interesting, something I had not seen before; two couples, one older, one younger presenting little vignettes with song and dialogue, woven together in two parallel story lines presenting love and loss. The show was very well received and I could hear people remarking "that was great" on the way out.

I had a nice time afterward visiting with Eric, Grace and Gina and got back to the hotel about midnight. I had to leave the hotel at 3am to drive back to the Las Vegas airport, so I had already packed earlier in the day and tried to get a few winks, but to no avail. The music was rolling in my head. So this would be my second sleepless night in three days. The 2-1/2 hour drive back was not so bad, thanks to my trusty GPS, my CD's and Pringles potato chips.

Looking back at the last five days, from Wednesday to Sunday I missed two nights sleep and spent 22-1/2 hours in the car. Was it worth it? What do you think? My friends would call that "pulling a Margaret". So be it! On to the next adventure!

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