Ray's Blog

Sunday, February 26, 2006

2003 August 9: World's Toughest Mountain Bike Ride

It's difficult to know where to begin to describe this event!

Cedric, Ed, Lauren, Maureen, and I drove up to Auburn in a VW bus
Cedric borrowed. Cedric and Ed and I were doing this organized
ride, and Maureen and Lauren were going to do their own unorganized
Tahoe-area road ride along part of the Death Ride route.

After we all spent the night in Auburn, Maureen drove the three of us
and our bikes to the start bright and early. After an initial
scenic descent, we pushed along on a semi-technical (medium-sized loose
rocks to deal with) fire road. This went on for a while until we
hit a real road, which we had been forewarned that we were going to
stay on until we had done a total of 60 miles or so. The majority
of these miles would be uphill, although not brutally so.

Cedric and Ed and I started out together, but then Ed went off up ahead
on his own. I figured I wouldn't be seeing him for a long time. Cedric and I
stayed together for most of the road ride, although he spent a good
chunk of it up ahead of me. The miles went by pleasantly enough,
although by the time the initial 60 miles were over and we had arrived
at the trailhead for the real
mountain biking, my butt and feet were hurting me (I had never before
ridden anywhere near 60 miles on my mountain bike!). After taking
a bit of a breather there, we set off on the trail.

From the very start, the trail was rather technical. It wasn't
long before we had to carry our bikes over a particularly hairy
section; little did we know how accustomed to this we would grow before
the day's end!

About two miles into the trail riding, Cedric realized he'd left his
Camelbak at the trailhead, so he headed back. Since I was the
slow one, I decided to push on ahead alone (instead of waiting for him
or going back with him), figuring that after a while, he'd catch
up. It turned out that we didn't see each other for a rather long
time after that-- while I was on my own, I took a wrong turn or three
that cost me several miles (much of it unbikeable!), and Cedric got
ahead of me during that time. I kept on going and going and
going, gradually spending a larger fraction of my time carrying or
walking my bike (partly because the terrain got more technical, and
partly because I became less and less able to deal with technical

At one point, I found myself going down an almost unimaginably bumpy
fire road consisting of medium-sized rocks. It was totally
brutal! I was looking for a left turn off of it, but I never
found it. I and two other guys found ourselves scratching our
heads and looking around at the terrain and at our maps and trying to
figure out where the hell we were supposed to be. After a bunch
of false starts, we ended up painfully bushwhacking part of the way
around a lake to where there was a bit of slickrock. We still
weren't certain that we were on track until we started talking with
some of the folks around there (who, without exception, had gotten
there via Jeep), who said that a bunch of crazy cyclists had been
through that way some time earlier.

At this point, one of the two guys I was with motored on ahead, and the
other dropped behind. I continued on the trail, which seemed like
more of a hiking trail than a biking trail. At a particular
ridiculously hairy turn, I came upon Cedric. He was hanging out
with two women who were on the ride, and he was pretty unhappy.
Apparently he had taken a rough tumble a while back and gotten banged
up. He and I stayed put for a while before convincing our butts
to get back into gear, but it would be some miles before we really had
a chance again to bike--
things were that tough.

We were on the Rubicon Trail
for part of the time (carrying or walking our bikes), and we saw Jeeps
driving through terrain that, until that day, I would have considered
completely unpassable by anything less than Imperial Walkers.
These Jeeps had practically no air pressure in their tires, and they
crawled along at a pace that rivaled ours (walking and encumbered
by bikes though we were). They managed to go over boulders more
than two feet high.

Eventually Cedric and I reached a point we could could actually
bike! We did so, relatively happily, until we came to a place
where we weren't sure whether or not to take a left turn. The
left turn seemed to be marked with a sign that was more or less in
accordance with our ride instructions; however, if we didn't take the
left turn, the continuation of the main route was adorned with several
little pink markers of the sort that were supposed to mark the
trail. What to do? While we debated, the two women Cedric
had been hanging out with earlier caught up with us (we had passed them
at some previous point while hiking). We initiated them and
another guy who showed up into our quandary.

Because the left turn was downhill and the main trail was more or less
flat, we decided to take the main trail. We knew (unless we were really lost, which was certainly a
possibility) that our left turn should be within a mile or so (not that
any of us had a cyclocomputer on our mountain bike! Ed did, the
bastard), so if we didn't see a better-looking left turn reasonably
soon, we'd turn around and take this one. If, instead, we took
this left turn initially, we'd be really cranky if we had to turn
around, since we'd be in for a good climb.

So we headed forwards. After going for a while, we decided that
we should've taken the left turn, after all, and so we turned
around. Just as we reached it again, though, we encountered Brad,
the race organizer! After everyone had reached the trailhead, he
had packed things up and joined us on the ride. He said that we
were supposed to follow the flags (i.e.,
that we should not take that
left turn!), and so we turned around again and headed forwards, glad to
have had this ambiguity settled, and relieved that we didn't make a
serious wrong turn.

We never did find that left turn, though. We kept on biking (with
Brad) until we got to the final rest
stop. Cedric and I were pretty happy to reach it, because we had
both run out of water, even though we had been good about refilling our
Camelbaks at the rest stops. The previous rest stop had been at
the trailhead (a long ways back), and it had been a lot of tough going
since then.

We relaxed for a bit at that last rest stop, but I had literally never seen mosquitos as ferocious
as the ones that were there, so I didn't want to hang out there too
long! Even though I continually walked around (I didn't dare sit
still!), I kept looking at an arm and seeing three or more mosquitos on
it simultaneously. We were told we were pretty close to the end--
just a few miles of mild (and relatively non-technical) climbing, and
then a nice descent to Lake Tahoe.

We did the advertised climb, but at that point in the day (we were now
racing to avoid nightfall!), it didn't feel as mild as it really
was. Cedric got a ways ahead of me, but when things flattened
out, I caught back up with him. We finished the climb and sped
down the descent, milking gravity for all it was worth. When the
slope petered out, we had around two miles of flat, smooth riding
before we burst out on the shore just before the sun went down.
What a relief! We had some chili and other stuff to replenish our

Ed had been there for a long time already. He had ridden most of
the trail all alone, and part of the reason for this is that he was
pretty much the only person who managed to stay on course and not get
lost! Particularly amusing (after the fact, that is!) is that the
person who marked the trail for the riders got lost! When Cedric
and I couldn't figure out whether or not to take that left downhill,
and then Brad caught up with us, it turned out that we actually should have taken it (as the ride
was originally conceived, at least), and that the pink markers should
have gone down that way. Ed did take that left turn, and took the
correct route, but that meant that he didn't come upon the final rest
stop, which wasn't actually located in the originally planned
location! Ed was also out of
water, by the way, so I'm sure he was happy to reach the end of the

Once we were all there, we called Maureen and Lauren, and they came and
picked us up. We stayed at the Village @ Squaw Valley, which was
pretty nice. We went hot tubbing for a bit and then tried to get
some food, but all the restaurants at Squaw Valley were already
closed. I was totally wiped, so I (and Lauren) went to bed while
the others went shopping.

In the morning, we all went over to the Resort at Squaw Creek for some
big breakfasting. We Googlers have our annual ski trip there, and
breakfast on the second day is an excellent all-you-can-eat feast, so
some of us had been thinking that going there was just the ticket.

Here are four pictures that Brad sent me and Cedric. The cheery
dude behind me in the big picture is Cedric, and the guy in the
polka-dot climber's jersey is Ed.

Cedric & me

A happy Ed

Me posing with Cedric (I think!) behind me

Ed and Cedric at the finish


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