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2003 Death Ride, er, Tour of the California Alps
(Saturday, July 12 in Markleeville, CA)

See also my photo album from this ride.

Ahh, my 5th Death Ride. This was the first organized bicycle ride I ever did in 1999, and the only one I've done every year since, so it holds something of a special place for me (plus its just plain a great ride in its own right). After getting my 10 minutes of fame in an article on the ride in the Sacramento Bee (I took the lead photo during last year's ride. The article is silly, though), I was ready to enjoy another fun ride. I was a little concerned about my knees since their fragility had cut short my attempt at the Terrible Two just two weeks earlier, but I figured as long as I got to descend both sides of Hwy 89, I'd be satisfied.

I picked up my father, Barry, in Auburn on Thursday afternoon and we drove to the Carson River Resort and set up camp next to the Carson River, had a nice dinner at the Markleeville Inn, and enjoyed a bottle of wine by the river as the sun set before retiring. On Friday we did a short acclimitization ride from camp to Turtle Rock Park (the official ride start) and back, took my car offroading through Loope Canyon and the Leviathan Mine, wandered around the pre-ride checkin and expo at Turtle Rock Park, had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe in S. Lake Tahoe, then went to the yummy HP team dinner near Tahoe City at the Hewlett estate. The "skeleton stoker" from last year (an articulated skeleton on the back of a tandem) was back, this time with jaw motion (controlled by an extra brake lever) and tunes (via a MP3 player and speakers). I was again impressed that anyone would ride such a heavy contraption, let alone on such a hilly ride as the Death Ride! We picked up our registration packets and schwag. I was surprised to note that the words "Death Ride" did not appear anywhere on the jersey, perhaps a sop to the family of the rider who died in a terrible crash on last year's ride. We drove back to our campsite, futzed around with our bikes, met up with the other 4 HP folks who were sharing our campsite for the evening, and went to bed.

Nearing the summit of the first climb of the day I woke up at 4:45, geared up, and was on the road just before 5:30. My Camelbak immediately started leaking all over me - rather annoying since it wasn't exactly warm yet (not to mention that water isn't a luxury)! I stopped midway up the west side of Monitor Pass to both fix and take a leak (the hose was pulling out of the reservoir (as it had on the Sierra century a few weeks earlier)). It was a nice climb from there to the top of Monitor Pass as the sun rose above the hills, bathing everything in a lovely early-morning glow. I skipped the rest stop at the top of the pass (I rarely stop at the rest areas at the tops of the passes since you can just continue on and do a downhill, resting at its bottom) and prepared for the best descent on the planet.

Exhilirating is the word to describe the descent of the east side of Monitor Pass. The scenery is wide-open, and so is the road. I spent much of the descent at over 50mph, breaking 54 at one point. As per usual, nobody passed me on this descent (though they surely did on the way up!). After entirely too little time, I was 10+ miles from and 3000+ below the summit, at the junction of Highways 395 and 89. I didn't stop at this rest stop either other than to get my 2nd pass sticker, immediately turning around and starting back up the east side of the pass.

Near the top of the climb of east Monitor pass It was warming up now and I soon pulled over to remove my cool weather gear. The next 5 or so miles isn't difficult, and I soon came to the running water stop midway up the climb. I usually make this my first real rest stop, as its reasonably far into the ride, and isn't too crowded. As always, a group of highly spirited kids were taking riders bottles and filling them as the rider went by, running up to them to return them so we didn't have to stop. I ran into Walter Hewlett here and briefly talked to him before he went on his way. I soon remounted my iron (well, titanium) steed and continued climbing climbing climbing to near the top of the pass where I took a break under the guise of a photo op. I saw Barry approaching while I was stopped, so waited for him to arrive so I could get a picture of him. My camelbak doused me again, but at least it was warm now, and I didn't mind being wet. Before too much longer, I crested Monitor for the second time and skipped the rest stop for the second time.

Although not quite as fun as the first descent of the ride, the blast down west Monitor is still majorly fun and speeds reached 50mph without difficulty. Some fool drafted me near the top (why on earth would you want to draft a stranger going 50+mph down a Sierra highway?!??), then passed me on the right as I slowed to pass some other riders. I let him go on - goodbye to you, scary man! The rest of the descent was super fun/fast and again too soon I reached the bottom, where the CHP were checking rider's bike numbers to make sure there were no un-registered riders.

A bit over halfway up the east side of Ebbetts Pass It was an easy, rolling climb along the Carson River, then Silver Creek to the rest stop halfway (half the distance, most certainly not half the climbing!) up Ebbetts Pass. I stopped here for a little bit, mixing up some more Sustained Energy and such. As I was leaving, Barry pulled in, but I just said hi and continued on my way. The second half of the climb up Ebbetts is neither short nor easy. None of it is super steep, but its just keeps getting steeper the whole way, with few breaks. I was not feeling very strong at this point, but my knees were holding up fine, and I had plenty of time before the cutoff time, so I just took it slow and ground on towards the summit. There were motivational signs here and there along the road, which were good for a chuckle. I stopped briefly at Kinney Reservoir, ostensibly to take a picture, but really to stretch and rest, then climbed the final, moderately grueling, grade to the rest stop at the top. I skipped this one too and immediately headed down the west side of the pass.

This descent always feels too long, both because the road is too rough and twisty to get real speed, and because the longer it goes down, the farther you have to climb! I arrived at the bottom and took another long break at the rest stop, staying 30+ minutes. Again Barry pulled in as I was getting ready to leave. That was the last I'd see of him for the rest of the ride.

Riders starting the climb up the west side of Ebbetts The climb up west Ebbetts had a nice breeze keeping things from overheating too terribly much, but everything seemed in slow motion, with none of the usual landmarks arriving when I thought they should. In reality, I was just plain tired, I think. I stopped for a "picture" just past the Highland Lakes turnoff. I heard a cheerful "Hi Adam!" from a passing rider and turned to see Ramona, my ride buddy from this year's Sequoia century. We rode together for a little bit before I went ahead, needing to ride in my comfort zone, which at this point was a little faster than Ramona's pace. I eventually arrived back at the summit of Ebbetts and again saw no reason to stop here, with a 14+mi descent in front of me.

I descended east Ebbetts carefully, as there're often rather bad crashes here when riders get overzealous on the descent, which features some very sharp hairpins with nothing but air below them. A racergal passed me near the bottom, taking lovely lines through the corners. I played leapfrog with several riders as we boogied through the Carson River valley before hopping onto the tail of a long'ish fast paceline. We soon caught the racergal, who was nearly taken out by a woman who didn't look before pulling right and almost hit her wheel. The paceline was good fun all the way into Markleeville, but I was in no shape to put any effort into the small climb out of town up to Turtle Rock Park, so ahead they went. I continued on the rolling hills from Markleeville out to Woodfords, arriving at that rest stop with about an hour to spare. I spent much more time here than I really wanted to, but my body wanted rest, so rest it got. Eventually I set out again to climb the Woodfords grade, by far my least favorite stretch of the Death Ride. At least by this point, I knew I'd definitely complete all 5 passes!

Rest stop at Woodfords The staff at the Woodfords stop said it was 4 miles to the last time cutoff at Pickett's Junction, but its more like 5, and at that point, believe me, I was counting the miles! It was a gross slog up Hwy 88, with little shoulder and auto traffic (which seems much worse after riding on closed roads all day!). I stopped to offer a cramping rider on the side of the road some Endurolytes, then again just to rest and cool off. There was a stiff headwind, moreso than the usual headwind, which didn't help matters (although it did keep me from completely overheating!). I had it in my head that there was an icky climb just before the junction, but I was hallucinating, as that stretch of road isn't difficult. I got to Pickett's Junction 25 minutes before it closed and milled around for a few. Ramona pulled in, looking tired but smiling (just like me except for the smile).

Red Lake Peak looms over Carson Pass I left at 5, just 15 minutes before the cutoff, going a few miles up the road before stopping for some more stretching, as I was starting to cramp up - uggh! Ramona came by and kindly offered me some Tums, which seemed to really help. Note to self: carry Tums! We rode together on the easy approach to the final climb, enjoying the views of Elephants Back and Round Top Peak. Ramona's husband and kids were waiting by the side of the road and kindly gave me some ice - nice! Ramona and I stopped periodically, playing leapfrog with a nice woman in pink. I thought we surely must be the tail end of the ride, but that turned out not to be true. We finally came to the turnoff to Red Lake, marking the beginning of the final short ascent. A SAG motorcycle stopped and called out the distance to the summit as we got nearer (nice for the folks who didn't know, although I'm intimately familiar with the climb myself!). Ramona fell back about half way up and I rode with the friendly rider in pink for a bit. We finally came to the Carson Pass summit after entirely too much time and descended briefly to the north parking area to get our coveted 5th pass sticker. I rested for a while and talked to a rightly stoked 50-something woman who'd just finished all 5 passes for the first time - kudos to her! She mentioned that there's an alternate route to Placerville that does not involve US Hwy 50, which intrigued me, as I don't especially care for that drive home (the alternate route is great, by the way - from Markleeville go back over Carson Pass on Hwy 88, past Kirkwood and Silver Lake, turn right on Mormon-Emmigrant Rd, right when it ends (a long'ish ways down), and you're back on 50, just east of Placerville). Ramona pulled in a little while later - apparently she tipped over as she was resting on the side of the road. I soon donned my cool clothing and headed down the pass.

It was a super-fast descent off of the pass, my fastest ever. I hit 58.2mph, 2.5mph faster than I've ever gone before, and had a huge grin on my face the whole way down. To my surprise, I saw a rider going up the pass, still at least 5 miles from the top, so I guess we weren't quite the last afterall. It warmed considerably after I flew past Pickett's Junction, and I had to stop at Woodfords to remove my extra layers, as it was pretty hot here, and there were still a few miles of rolling hills to go back to Turtle Rock Park. I was hoping Barry would be waiting for me with my car at Turtle Rock Park so I could get a lift back to our camp. I wouldn't have really minded riding the mostly-downhill 5 miles to camp, but I was nearly out of daylight, and didn't have a headlight with me. It was an ugly grind up the final two hills leading to Turtle Rock, and right as I got there, Barry drove by in my car - perfect! I checked in, got my 5 pass pin, and piled a plate high with delicious BBQ chicken. It turned out that Barry had done 4 passes, then realized he wasn't going to make the final cutoff times, so he called it a day then.

It was great finishing all 5 passes for my 3rd time, although my time was embarassingly long this year! Oh well, I was only riding to finish and enjoy the ride & company anyways! I was very pleased that my knees kept quiet for the ride, and hoped that they would do the same for the rumored-to-be-gruelling Climb to Kaiser in two weeks.

Ride Stats:
Distance: 119.6mi
Total Time: 14h 36m
On-bike Time: 11h 24m
Average Speed: 10.4mph
Average Speed (including stops): 8.2mph
Maximum Speed: 58.2mph - my fastest speed ever!
Total Climbing: 16,000 ft
 
Rating (out of 10):
Difficulty: 8
Support: 8 - most everything one could want, and cheerfully provided
Food: 7 - mostly the usual stuff, but I bring my own anyways
Route: 10 - it doesn't get any better than this!
Overall: 9 - felt harder than previous years, but very well worth it!


Last modified 08 February, 2011 MST
Copyright © 2009 Adam R. Paul
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