Sunday, July 11, 2010

Death Ride, 2010

Another Death Ride in the bag. For those of you unfamiliar with it, this ride occurs in the California Sierra Mountains just south of Lake Tahoe. Not huge mileage (130) but lotsa climbing (15,000 ft).

Janet and I arrived at Lake Tahoe (a gem of another story) a week early to enjoy the heat and the hikes in the mountains. There are 3 wilderness areas all in close proximity to the south shore of Lake Tahoe. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes hiking.

The Wednesday before the ride I took a tuneup ride from our motel to Luther Pass, just to see if everything was working well after a plane trip. It was.

Friday night arrived and I packed everything into the car. We had rented this monster Mercury so that we could easily transport a bike. Problem was that I couldn't fit the bike into the trunk with the back wheel on and was afraid of getting grease on the rent-a-car upholstery by putting the bike into the back seat so I had to remove both wheels. I just hate to start out a ride with greasy hands but it couldn't be avoided.

I allowed an hour to drive from South Lake Tahoe to the ride start in Markleeville, planning to be there at about 5:30 a.m. I left on schedule and actually got there a little early. Since there are 2500 riders and this is a teeny little place, folks park their cars all along the road that goes through Markleeville. I ended up 2 or 3 miles from the ride start.

There was sufficient light by 5:30 for me to assemble my bike and head over to the start area. Riding up the road and heard a faint tick, tick, tick coming from the bike. I thought this might be my cycling computer magnet so I stopped a couple times to fuss with it to no avail. At the ride start I used a Porta-john then coasted out to the highway to start on the ride.

Just as I turned onto the road my back tire blew with a load pop. Disgusted to have this happen to me at the start, I swapped in a new inner tube and inflated with a CO2 cartridge. This always worries me to be starting a long ride with only 1 tube and 1 CO2 cartridge.

I happened to glance down at my rear wheel as I was about to depart and saw that my rear (almost new!) tire had developed a sidewall hernia and the new inner tube was bulging out. There was the source of my ticking!

Since they had a bike support station at the start I rolled my bike up there, tore a piece of my bike number to use as a boot, stuck in the boot and used their floor pump to re-inflate my tire.

Now I could safely ride back to my car where I had a spare tire, tubes, and CO2. So back I went and made the change. Nervous nelly that I am I put an extra (3rd) inner tube in my fanny pack. I was finally ready to head out at about 6:30 and there were not very many of us. I pretty much had the road to myself.

The initial part of the ride is mostly downhill to the start of Monitor Pass, the first climb. The sun was coming up and illuminating the lower parts of the canyon. Steady climbing for 8 miles or so with the steepest parts in the middle. Monitor Pass summit is a big, broad plateau maybe 1/2 mile across. Since I had sufficient fluids for the descent I just continued through the sag stop to the descent.

Since the Death Ride involves 5 passes climbed it also has 5 passes descending. So, after crossing the summit plateau I descended the 9 miles or so to the eastern side of Monitor Pass. My descending weeniness came to the fore here as there are rough roads and some sharp corners. However there were some long stretches where I could let it run out.

At the bottom was another sag station. I hydrated, eliminated water, ate a little salty food, and took off my warm clothes for the ascent. Then back up the hill, ascending the 9 miles that I'd just come down.

After another quick stop at Monitor Summit I descended the west side. This was the most pleasant descent of the day with modest grades, long runouts and gentle curves. Very quickly I was back at the base and headed west up the Carson River.

This section was several miles of gently rising road, following the river through beautiful Sierra woods. At the sag stop partway up the river a person was calling out "Only 7 miles to Ebbetts".

Wow, what a 7 miles. There was a little more forest then the road just tipped back for the first steep pitch. It was on and off short, steep pitches all the way to the summit. I was very glad to have my triple granny gear. I had to get my head into spinning up hill at 5-6 mph, very challenging for me. By Ebbetts Pass I was getting pretty beat, and was starting to worry about not making time cutoffs. So I rode through the summit stop and down the west side of Ebbetts to the Hermit Valley sag stop.

The cumulative effort was starting to catch up to me. All the climbing and heat plus the tension of time cutoffs was getting to me. Luckily the race folks were providing V-8 juice which is LOADED with salt. I had 3 cans of it plus potato chips and my HEED drink before heading back up the hill to Ebbetts pass again.

At the summit I was at the 4th pass (out of 5) but had covered only about half the mileage. I was also pretty beat. More shady rest, V-8, and HEED got me ready for the second Ebbetts descent. This is the most technical with steep drops, lots of curves, exposure, and the potential for fallen rocks on the road. Pretty challenging for a descending weenie. Eventually the road straightened out to the valley road with longer straight stretches and more modest drops.

A few miles of this brought us to the lunch stop. The heat was really getting to me at this time and I didn't have much appetite so I just nibbled food and hydrated. It took a lot of oomph to push myself out of my chair and back onto the road because I knew this section to be pretty unpleasant.

We were pretty quickly out of the woods and onto the long roller climbs back to Markleeville and Turtle Rock State Park in the blazing sun. This is probably the longest section between support, about 20 miles to Woodfords.

Woodfords is the smallest of all the sag stations and precedes a very challenging piece of riding - up Woodfords Canyon. We had been riding on roads closed to cars up to the lunch stop and one can get really spoiled. Now we were back to sharing and Woodfords Canyon is challenging: steady climbing into a headwind and non-existent shoulders in the upper part.

When I rode past my car on the way to Woodfords the thought had gone through my mind that I didn't NEED to ride the 5 passes and maybe I should just stop and go eat the ride finishers dinner. But I didn't stop, and got to worry about cutoff times again. At Woodfords the support people were calling out that there was a 4:00 pm cutoff to leave for Carson Pass. I finally rolled out at 3:30.

The day's continuous work was starting to tell on me. I was tired and my back really hurt. Occasional standing to pedal and stretch could help momentarily but the pain would come back.

At the Jackson Flats aid station they ran out of water and Cytomax just as I arrived. Luckily they still had V-8 and I had about 1-1/2 water bottles for the 8 miles or so to Carson Pass. After a short rest in the shade and more warnings about missing cutoff times I was on my way.

This road was slightly rising and had a monster shoulder so it was possible to get up to 17 mph or so. What joy! After a couple of miles the road kicked back for the long, long grades to Carson Summit. My back was hurting so badly by now that I stopped a couple miles from the summit to stretch and drink. Then on up the last, long grade and over the top about 100m to the final sag stop.

This is famous for having ice cream so I grabbed an ice cream sandwich. However my stomach didn't like it at all. After eating a few bites I had to throw it out and scarf some chips and goldfish crackers. I actually laid down on the warm pavement using my fanny pack as a pillow and rested horizontal for a time.

After my stomach settled down and I felt more secure to descend I put on some clothing for the long run back down. Back up those 100m to the summit then down, down, down. The upper section of road has long sweeping curves but rough roadway so my weeniness kept my descent speed in check. Down lower the angle dropped, the road surface improved, and there were long straight sections. Past Jackson Flats the drop steepened through Woodfords Canyon. The road surface here was rougher and required more attention.

In the Jackson Flats area we had to stop for a helicopter evacuation. I assumed it was an injured cyclist, but don't really know. The police had all traffic stopped and there were aid cars in the middle of the road. The helicopter landed right in the middle of the road between 2 aid cars and the injured person was transferred to the helicopter for transport to medical care.

Then we were on our way again.

All this descending joy turned to work after we turned onto the road back to Markleeville where we had to climb a couple of easy grades. I was very happy to see my car again. Even with the helicopter wait the approximately 25 mile descent from Carson Pass took less than an hour.

Today my back is still sore but I'm very happy to have completed another Death Ride. Maybe I'll get in again next year.

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