Saturday, July 14 in Markleeville, California
Before the ride:
I arrived at my folks’ place in Auburn at around 11:00 on Thursday morning to pick up my brother, Corey, and head out to camp at the Carson River Resort near Markleeville. My sister, Emily, was to arrive in Auburn Thursday evening, and her and my father, Barry, would join us at camp on Friday morning. Corey & I headed out at around 1 and had a fun drive up Hwy 50 to Tahoe, then south on Hwy 89 through Markleeville to our campsite.
Our campsite was right on the Carson River, which was really pretty. It was also a very convenient campsite, as it was about 5 miles into the ride from the ride start, which cut out a VERY cold early morning high-sierra descent (it was 36° in 1999 when I first rode in the Death Ride – brrr!).
After setting up camp, Corey & I went for a short ride about 1/3 of the way up Monitor Pass to get used to the altitude (the lowest point on the Death Ride is around 5500′ – quite a lot higher than my usual stomping grounds!), then cooked up dinner and went to bed.
We waited for a good while on Friday morning for Barry and Emily to arrive, then I decided that it would be more fun to take my Subie offroading for the first time, as we’d seen a dirt road leading off of Monitor pass. This turned out to be a great road – 25’ish miles of mostly-smooth’ish fire road with some stunning views of the eastern Sierras, and just enough challenge for me (being not at all experienced at driving offroad). The fireroad came out on Hwy 395 in Nevada just north of Echo Lake, another lovely area that I’d never been. Shortly after we arrived back at camp, Barry & Emily arrived, and we went to Turtle Rock campground to check in and get our goodies.
Registration went very smoothly (they’re extremely well-organized!), and in short order we had our bib numbers, jerseys, shirts, and associated schwag. Soon after we returned to camp, we went for another short (10mi) ride so Barry & Emily could get acclimated (and so Corey and I could get further acclimated!). After our warmup ride, Barry & Emily drove back to Lake Tahoe to the Hewlitt estate to have dinner with the HP team. Working at Sun, of course, I couldn’t attend in good conscience 😉 Seriously, though, I didn’t relish the thought of a 3hr round-trip the night before the ride, so Corey & I hung out at camp and played cards, then went to bed around 9:30.
I didn’t sleep particularly well, as I was nervous and looking forward to seeing how I did on the ride. This was my third attempt at finishing the Death Ride. It was my first organized ride ever in 1999 when I tried it on my mountain bike (with not nearly enough training) and finished 3 passes (~80mi, ~10,000′ climbing), and I nearly finished it in 2000, but my knees completely gave out going up Woodford grade, and I only finished 4 passes (and change – 98.5mi, ~13,000′ climbing). I was really hoping that this third time would be a charm per the saying! This would also be my first long ride on my new Habanero bike.
Pass 1: Monitor (front)
My alarm went off at 4:45 (bleah!) and we suited up, ate breakfast, and were rolling by 5:30’ish. It was a pretty chilly (45°), but short (2mi) ride from camp to the beginning of Monitor Pass. Corey & I lost Barry & Emily just before the start of Monitor, but we figured they’d either catch up or we’d meet up with them at one of the rest stops. The front of Monitor is actually not _too_ bad of a climb. The unevenness of its grade gives one some nice breaks from the steeper sections. As usual, many hammerheads flew past me, climbing on their large chainrings (owwwww!), but Corey & I kept up a decent enough pace.
We waited for a bit at the first rest stop, roughly halfway up the pass, and met up with Emily, who said that Barry was not too far behind. Emily didn’t stop at the rest stop, so Corey & I rode on, and waited for them at the top of Monitor Pass after getting our first sticker. I never did see them at the top, though Corey said he saw them and shouted out to them, but they didn’t hear him, as there were a TON of people around (the ride has a limit of ~2700 riders, and it fills up within days of registration opening!). After waiting a while to make sure that Barry & Emily weren’t at the rest stop, Corey & I continued to descend the back side of Monitor pass.
I didn’t get up to my max speed from last year of 53mph, but I got up to 52 several times, and really flew down the back side of the pass. This is my favorite descent of the ride. With the wide, sweeping turns with generally good visibility and no traffic, you can really let loose. As would become the case on all of the downhills, nobody passed me 🙂 In about 15 minutes of spectacular descending, I was at the bottom of the east side of Monitor pass and got my second sticker. Corey arrived 5’ish minutes later and we again looked around for Emily and Barry. I went to use the restroom and get some grub, and when I got back, Emily was with Corey, and said that Barry had headed on up the pass to ensure he’d make the time cutoffs. It would be a good while until I saw him again.
Pass 2: Monitor (back)
I rode with Corey and Emily for a little ways up Monitor before I picked up the pace and left them to ride their own ride. There’s a running water stop halfway up the pass, where you can toss volunteers your bottles, and they’ll relay them up to get them filled, and give them back to you, all while you’re grinding up the pass 🙂 I stopped at this stop anyways to wait for Corey and Emily. Corey arrived after a little while, and we briefly rode together before I upped the pace again and made my way to the top.
I remember climbing the back of Monitor being very painful in 2000, but it wasn’t too bad at all this year, no doubt due to the much larger amount of training I’d done this year. Before too long, I was back at the marker at the top of Monitor. I waited for 20 minutes, but still didn’t see Emily or Corey, so I continued on for 1/2mi to the rest stop at the top. 10 minutes later, Corey pulled in and said he wasn’t feeling like he was going to do much more climbing, and hadn’t seen Emily. I then noticed that I needed to really up my pace to make the cutoff at the top of Ebbets Pass. I figured I could do it, but I’d have to push it a bit, so off I went down the frontside of Monitor.
The front of Monitor is also an awesome descent with 50+mph easily attainable, though its not as scenic as the back side is. In no time at all, I was at the bottom and headed off for several miles of gentle rollers to the bottom of Ebbets. These are some of the few miles on the Death Ride that aren’t steep, so I availed myself of the opportunity to use my aero bars and pull up the pace. I scooted along at around 22mph until I got to the rest stop at the base of Ebbets.
Pass 3: Ebbets (front)
Its about 9 miles from the stop at the base of Ebbets to the top, but its a very uneven grade, ranging from 5% to 13% or so. I’ve found the front side of Ebbets to be the hardest of the passes, and this year was no exception, especially since I was riding harder than I otherwise would have to ensure that I made the 1:00 cutoff at the top. I figured that if I averaged 7-8mph on the climb, I’d make the cutoff with no problem. Thankfully the lower part of the pass isn’t too terribly steep, so I was able to keep up double-digit speeds for a few miles, which took some of the pressure off.
Ebbets is a very beautiful climb, winding its way along the mountainside with sweeping views of the valleys below and the rocky peaks above. Before I knew it I was at Kinney Lake, which is pretty close to the top of the pass! After grunting up the final stretch (cruelly, the steepest part of the pass is the last 1/4mi), I arrived at the top at 12:45 and got my third pass sticker. It was no time to rest on my laurels, though, as the cutoff to start climbing up the back side of Ebbets was 1:30. Its only a 6 mile descent – easily done in 45 minutes, but I wanted to rest a little while before starting to climb to recover from my more-than-anticipated effort climbing the front side of Ebbets.
The road surface is a bit sketchy on the back of Ebbets, with some well-hidden bumps in the road. After coming closer than I like to going over the handlebars when I hit a particularly nasty bump, I decided to follow another rider who was going pretty fast, and let him find out where all the bumps were 🙂
Before too long, I was at the bottom and got my 4th pass sticker. Lo – there was Barry, resting under a tree! Turns out he’d been waiting there for a while for me. I spent a bit of time relaxing in a chair in the shade, stretching, and snacking. Barry took off a bit before I did, assuring me that I’d catch him on the climb back out. I was unconvinced 🙂 About 5 minutes after Barry left, I hit the road.
Pass 4: Ebbets (back)
The climb up the back side of Ebbets is by far the shortest of the 5 passes, but its fairly steep and consistent. It, too, is very scenic, and I was feeling pretty good after having a good rest at the bottom, and made pretty good time. I passed Barry a few miles from the top, gave him a brief push up the hill, and continued on my way, finding it easier to keep a higher cadence and work out my cardio system than to pedal slowly and work out my muscles (which were getting a bit annoyed with me by this point).
I actually made good time up the back of Ebbets, and again sat down in a a lawn chair at the top to relax. At least this time I was waiting for Barry rather than the other way around 🙂 Barry soon arrived, and said he didn’t want to stop, so he headed on down the hill, assuring me that I’d catch him. After a few more minutes relaxing and munching, I headed on down the front side of Ebbets. This is as beautiful as a descent as it is as an ascent, although its wise to keep one’s eyes on the road, which is quite twisty in spots. The previous two times I’d attempted the Death Ride, riders had crashed very badly descending the front of Ebbets, but thankfully this year, I heard no such reports.
I passed Barry a few miles down, but then stopped to help a stranded cyclist who was desparately looking for someone with a Schrader valve on their pump. I flipped the head around on my pump and helped him pump up his tires. Barry passed me while I was helping out, but I don’t think he saw me. After getting the stranded cyclist’s tires inflated, I headed back down the pass. I decided to blow off the lunch stop, as I wasn’t at all hungry due to all of the snacking and the carbo powder I’d consumed during the day.
At the bottom of Ebbets is 16 or so miles of rolling hills. I again enjoyed being able to use my aero bars and give my arms a break, and pacelined along with a few folks for a ways, passing Barry again. From here on out, the roads were open to traffic, but mostly had decent enough shoulders, and very little traffic anyways. I stopped off at our camp to see if Emily and Corey had made it back, and sure enough, they were both there. Turns out Emily went back to camp after finishing both sides of Monitor, while Corey finished Monitor, went to the lunch stop, then decided to call it a ride (see, they have brains – obviously Barry & I do not! 🙂 Shortly after I pulled into camp, Barry arrived. We asked Emily and Corey to drive to Woodford at 7:30 so we had a bail-out if we didn’t want to ride the final leg back to Markleville. We dropped off our cold-weather gear (a decision I would somewhat regret later), snacked a bit, then headed back towards Woodford Grade.
I made very good time heading out towards Woodford, and chatted with a HP rider who was also making use of his aero bars. Before too long, I pulled into the rest stop at Woodford. They had iced V8 here, a new favorite for me since having it on the Davis Double, and I chugged down a couple of cans. I heard someone say, “Hey Adam!” and turned around to see Sagrita, whom I’d met on the Grizzly Peak Century. She was riding with some fellow members of the Leukemia Society’s Team In Training. We talked for a few, then Barry pulled in, topped off his water bottles, and pulled out. I left shortly, and made my way up Woodford Grade.
Pass 5: Carson (front)
I was dreading the climb up Woodford Grade, as it defeated me in 2000 (my knees gave out and I abandoned). This year the headwinds weren’t quite as bad (but bad enough!), though the climb was long and not all that interesting. After grinding away for what seemed like an eternity, I finally arrived at the rest stop just before Pickett’s Junction, the final time cutoff on the ride. They had a ride-though mist machine, which was much appreciated, and there were lots of folks hanging out and resting before the final climb of the day. I met one fellow who was doing the Death Ride as his first century – very brave (or stupid, or both!). Barry and Sagrita arrived at about the same time, and we hung out for a few before leaving to make sure we crossed the junction by 5:30.
Soon after we crossed the junction, Barry and I stopped and lay down in the grass for a little bit. This was nice, although I was worried that I’d have trouble getting up and riding if I stayed too long! After 15 or so minutes, we headed back up the last climb of the day. We must’ve been nearly the last riders on the road, as I didn’t see anybody pass us when we were laying down, and saw nobody behind us as we started up Carson pass. I was making decent enough time, though, and passed a bunch of folks on the climb. Barry had described the climb for me, which was very helpful in getting an idea how long it was and what landmarks to look for. The climb actually wasn’t that bad at all — I thought the climb up Woodford Grade was harder.
Before too long, folks coming down were shouting, “1/3 mile to go!”, which was very heartening! I was going to make it! Soon I crested Carson Pass and had a brief descent into the last rest stop, where I got my 5th pass sticker. Woo hoo! I had an ice cream bar, which tasted very, very good, and sat down heavily and didn’t move for a while 🙂 As I was relaxing, the staff were gently reminding folks that they wanted to close up the rest stop in 15 minutes. I took their cue and started back down. As I was on the short climb back to the summit, Barry was pulling in. I shouted a few congratulatory words and told him I’d meet him at Woodford Junction.
The descent down Carson Pass was awesome!! My (very slight) disappointment at not breaking my top speed from 2000 completely vanished when I hit 55.9mph going down Carson! Most of the descent to Picketts was at over 50mph – wheeeeeee! It was a cold’ish descent, however, and I regretted leaving my windbreaker at camp. I flew past Pickett’s Junction and bombed on to Woodford, which I arrived at in short order.
As it was 7:15 when I got to Woodford, I decided I’d wait for Emily and Corey to arrive, as it was getting chilly and sunset’y, and I didn’t relish riding the remaining 13 miles in the cold dusk with lots of tired cyclists driving home. Right on time, Emily and Corey pulled up at around 7:40. We waited for Barry for a while, but never saw him. We decided to head up Woodford Grade to see if we could find him, but didn’t see him, so we headed back to Woodford, and there he was by the side of the road. It turned out he had a flat coming down Carson, and was given a ride to Woodford by the CHP, who were sweeping riders off of the course.
We drive back to Turtle Rock Park and pigged out on yummy chicken mix and beans and rice. Barry & I got our 5-pass pins and signed the poster. When we signed the poster, a volunteer told us that about 1100 people (out of 2700) had finished and signed the poster, and that probably a good number had finished, but not signed the poster – wow! We headed back to camp, and I had absolutely no trouble getting to sleep. What a wonderful ride it had been, and, after 2 aborted attempts, I had finally conquered the Death Ride!
I woke up obscenely early (5:30) on Sunday to take Corey back to Auburn so he could get to work at 11, and so I could meet Catherine and go rafting down the American River on her company picnic – a lovely way to relax after a day of extremely difficult cycling!
The ride was, as always, extremely well-organized, with plenty of well-stocked rest stops. The scenery was spectacular, the climbs wince-inducing, and the descents exhillarating! This is one of the ultimate rides for the climbing afficianado, and I’d recommend it to anyone considering it.
A few days after the ride, I was reading rec.bicycles.misc, and someone said that the Tour de France stage 10 up l’Alpe d’Huez, was very nearly the same length, with the same climbing as the Death Ride, and the slowest finisher on that stage was over an hour faster than the fastest rider on the Death Ride. Those pros are insane!
|Total Time:||13h 38m|
|On-bike Time:||9h 53m|
|Total Climbing:||~16,000 ft|