Ray's Blog

Sunday, February 26, 2006

2003 July 12: Death Ride

The Death Ride is a classic Tahoe-area bike ride. It's so classic, in fact, that lately it fills to capacity, and they hold a lottery to determine who actually gets to ride. In 2003, I was one of the lottery winners, so I got to ride (I lost the lottery in 2002).

The Death Ride is approximately 16,000 feet of climbing over the course of 130 miles. It's a pretty full day of work, really. It's 5 "passes" of climbing: first you go up Monitor Pass and down the other side; then you turn around and do Monitor Pass from the other direction; then you do a similar two-pass tour of Ebbetts Pass; and finally, you go up Carson pass to the top, turn around, and come back down. Making the whole endeavor more difficult than it would otherwise be is the fact that it's all done at altitude.

Friday afternoon (the Death Ride was on a Saturday), Lauren and Chad and I left the Bay Area and headed up to Tahoe. We were going to meet up with Ed, who had left in the morning so as to arrive with plenty of time to do some Friday Tahoe ridin'. Lauren and Ed and I were sharing a room for the weekend at David Walley's Resort, about 40 minutes away from the start of the ride; Chad was staying at the Woodfords Inn with some other folks just a few miles away from the start. Ed and Chad and I were going to ride the Death Ride; Lauren was going to do some unsupported Tahoe riding on her own.

The original plan was for the three of us to arrive at a reasonable time, go to Turtle Rock Park (where the ride starts and ends) to register, and then join Ed for a fancy dinner at David Walley's. However, traffic going up to Tahoe was really bad, and the drive stretched on and on. We barely made it to Turtle Rock Park in time to register that night (registration closed at 10pm, I think), so we just had the all-you-can-eat pasta meal provided at the Park for people riding the next day. We dropped Chad off at the Inn, and then went to join Ed at the Resort.

Ed was in bed, and had eaten long ago. We apologized again for our tardiness, and asked him how his meal was. "Well, I started out with the Antelope Quesadillas..." I don't remember the other items on his menu, but it definitely sounded like his dinner was a touch fancier than ours.

We all went to sleep. Ed and I got up plenty early (you can start the ride at 5:30am; plus they have breakfast at the Park before that). We decided to drive to the Park separately, since there could easily be a spread of hours between our finishing times. It turned out that Ed had unfortunately slept really badly-- he was on a pullout sofa with some really odd properties. Nothing for it at this point; I left the room, figuring that Ed would follow shortly thereafter. Ed and Chad and I had some slightly nebulous plans to meet for breakfast at the Park and then start riding promptly at 5:30am.

When I got near the Park, I started seeing lots of cars parked on the side on Highway 89. Figuring that I wouldn't be able to get too much closer to the Park, I pulled off to the side. I figured I'd park just like the car next to me, which was also a Honda CR-V. To minimize the amount of space we took up, we were both parked perpendicular to the road. Tragically, I pulled off the road just a touch further than would have been ideal, and so my front wheels went over the built-up "hump" of dirt along the road. It turned out that that placed one of my wheels into (or rather, riding the air on top of!) a big drainage pipe exit, and so my car was actually in a very tenuous position. I tried to correct this, but with no luck-- I was stuck. I managed to make things worse by going forward a few feet, and I finally managed to wedge my car completely in the ditch along the road on the other side of the "hump". So much for the magic of 4-wheel drive, I guess! There was absolutely no chance of my getting the car out without assistance, so I figured I'd just go do the ride and deal with it later. Given the way things were wedged, I barely managed to get my bike out of the car, but I did. I was sufficiently frazzled that I forgot to put on my biking sunglasses and gloves, unfortunately. I headed off to the park to grab a quick breakfast on my own (I figured that Ed and Chad were long gone). After some pancakes and eggs, I was off!

The Death Ride starts with a nice descent into Markleeville. This
was pleasant and fast and easy, except that I was a little cold.
I had started the day not wearing my jacket, and I didn't feel like
stopping to put it on. This was kind of silly; I ended up toting
it along for the entire day without wearing it.

Climbing up Monitor Pass was terrific. The weather was cool, I
felt fresh, the scenery was nice, and there were tons of cyclists all
around. I got to the top, whizzed down the back side, reached the
turn-around point, and started my way back up. Somewhere along
there I heard a "Hey, Ray!" Ed was going down from the first
climb, and he had seen me. Presumably I hadn't started before him after
all! Well, knowing Ed, I figured that it would only be a matter
of time before he caught up to and passed me, so I kept on going.
I was a little curious about where Chad was.

Pass #2 was easy enough, and I was soon bombing down the other
side. On to #3! At this point in the day, things were
already a bit warmer than I care for. I think it was around here
(between #2 and #3) that I caught up to Chad. We rode together
briefly, but he was going a little slowly, and he said that he wasn't
feeling so great, and was definitely considering bailing out before
doing the full five passes. This was a luxury he could well
consider, since he'd already ridden the full Death Ride four times or
so before! Since this was my first time out there, I figured I
was in it for the whole ride unless I was really feeling bad. In any
case, I was still feeling fine, although my legs were starting to
notice all the climbing I'd been doing.

The front side of Ebbetts Pass was a nice climb, although I was pretty
happy to see the top! I stretched out and chowed down before
heading down the back side. It was a nice descent-- quite steep
at times-- and I turned around at the bottom and headed back up.
At a steep part of this climb, my left knee started hurting me in the
same way it hurts sometimes when I go for a long run (I have some IT
band troubles), and I thought that I might have to bail out of the
ride. Instead, I shifted into my lowest gear, and the resulting
reduction in force did the trick-- my knee stopped hurting. I
continued slowly to the top. At one point on the way up, I saw Ed
coming down again, and we exchanged greetings.

Then down Ebbetts and on to the final pass: Carson Pass! For the
first four passes, the Death Ride organizers have managed to shut down
automative traffic on the roads, which makes for great climbing and
descending. Carson Pass is a bit too much of an access point to
the area, however, and so the last part of the Death Ride is done
amidst cars.

That last climb was a bear!
It wasn't incredibly steep (although it wasn't incredibly shallow,
either!), but it seemed to go on and on and on. No doubt some of
this was due to the speed at which I was operating at that point.
Whatever the causes, it was a pretty grueling ascent. The road
was nice and wide, and most of it had a good shoulder to bike on, but
there were some sections where I was a bit closer to the cars than I
would have liked (Route 88 is a highway, and cars go along it at a
pretty good clip when they can). At last, at the top, there was a
rest stop where we had been promised ice cream. All the way up,
ice cream sounded pretty good, but by the time I got there, the
popsicle they gave me seemed a bit heavy, and I didn't even end up
finishing it. After some rest, I headed back down to the
bottom. The ride down Carson Pass has some long straightaways and
is an incredible opportunity to go fast-- how fast just depends on you
and your confidence in your bike. At that point in the day, I was
pretty beat, and I worried that my concentration might not be 100%, so
I didn't actually go all that fast-- I think I topped out at only 45mph
or so. I saw some other cyclists zooming by me as though I wasn't
even moving.

When I got back to Turtle Rock Park, I had some food and drink, and
then realized I could put off dealing with my car no longer.
Naturally, my cell phone was getting no reception anywhere near the
Park. In fact, there was no reception to be had for much of the
ride, but because I had foolishly left my cell phone in automatic mode,
it had squandered its power trying to pick up analog reception, and so
it had no juice left.

I found a pay phone and called AAA.
They said they'd have a tow truck come over from a local garage within
the next hour. I went to the car and waited, taking in the
amused/awed looks of cyclists passing by who wondering how I'd gotten
into such a predicament. Half an hour later, a policeman showed
up. I started explaining my situation to him, but he cut me off
and said he'd been told about it (by the AAA or the local garage) and
that he was there to direct traffic while the rescue attempt was
made. Shortly thereafter, the tow truck came over, and the
operator was pretty impressed at how my car was wedged. He said
he didn't think he could get it out without scratching the hell out of
the bottom of it, but I didn't see that I had any realistic
alternatives, so I told him to go for it. With a bit of effort,
he managed to drag the car our of the ditch, and it somehow came out of
there all happy-- no scratches! I thanked him and the policeman

Then I started driving back to the Resort. I wanted to hook up
with Chad and bring him to the Resort for dinner with us, since if we
didn't manage to hook up there, I'd probably end up having to drive
back to the Park later on to get him when he showed up. Just as I
was driving by the Woodfords Inn (where he was staying), I saw Chad
coming up on the final stretch. He was kind of wasted, and he
talked me into throwing his bike and his gear (from his room) into my
car and driving back to the Park where he could get his "finisher"
pin. He reasoned that even though he wasn't biking the last few
miles, he had biked the very same miles that morning as extra distance
to get from the Woodfords Inn to the Park.

After getting Chad's pin, we headed to the Resort. Ed was there;
it turned out that he hadn't been feeling very good during the ride, so
he bailed out after four passes. He had had a massage (he had
booked that well in advance) and had been enjoying himself, just
hanging out.

Lauren showed up around the time we got back to the Resort. She
had biked up Kingsbury Grade, gone around all of Lake Tahoe, and come
back down the Grade. It was her first solo century ride, and she
was pretty happy about it.

We went to dinner at the Resort's fancy restaurant. The food was
pretty good, but Chad and I weren't in ideal condition to enjoy it
properly. I ate my food with less than my usual gusto and then
crawled back to my room to sleep and nurse my headache.

That night, Chad and Ed shared another room at the Resort, and Lauren
and I stayed in our original room. Ed left really early Sunday
morning, but the rest of us stuck around for a while. We
encountered the parents of Damon Kluck, who's on the US Postal
Team. Mr. Kluck had also ridden the Death Ride the previous day,
and it was the 11th time or so for him. We had brunch
with the Klucks, and then Lauren and I headed back out to the Bay
Area. (Chad was sticking around and meeting up with his family,
which was driving up that day.)


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