Ray's Blog

Sunday, February 26, 2006

2004 July 10: Death Ride

This was my second time participating in the Death Ride (see my trip report for 2003's ride).  I
was part of a posse of five more-or-less Googlers (the other four
people are active Googlers, and I'm a former Googler) who went up to
ride and hang out together.  I drove up on my own, Lauren and
Kekoa drove up together, and Ed and Chad flew up in Ed's father's small

We all met up the night before the ride at Turtle Rock Park, the ride's
start/end point.  After taking care of registration and dining,
Lauren and I headed to South Lake Tahoe to spend [what we could of] the
night at Caesar's, while Ed and Chad and Kekoa camped at the Alpine
County Airport.  All of us intended to get a rather early start
the next day, since the ride starts at 5:30am; Kekoa had to get an
especially early start, since he hadn't registered for the ride in
advance, and so he had to show up at 4:30am to request an open slot
from a no-show rider.

Lauren and I got to South Lake Tahoe a bit later than would have been
ideal, given that we intended to get up a bit before 4am (the drive
between South Lake Tahoe and Turtle Rock Park is around 45
minutes).  We slept fitfully enough that maybe that didn't matter,
though-- we were both awake and preparing for the day's exertions well
before the time we set the alarm at.  After throwing everything in
the car, we headed out in the darkness to Alpine County Airport, where
we grabbed Ed and Chad and their bikes, and then we all headed to
Turtle Rock Park.

Kekoa had successfully gotten himself an entry into the ride, and
promptly at 5:30am, the five of us took off.  Um, except me. 
Even though I'd tossed down some food when I woke up, I decided to
stick around for a quick "Death Ride Breakfast" (pancakes, scrambled
eggs, oatmeal, and coffee).  I ended up starting the ride at about

This year, unlike last year, I had parked my car in a reasonable way,
and so I wasn't so scatterbrained that I left useful items in the
car.  Not only did I remember my sunglasses and gloves (cycling
gloves were pretty much mandatory for me this year, since I was riding
my tri bike, and I find that my grip on my tri bike's bars gets very
slippery if I'm not wearing gloves), but I brought along my new very
lightweight jacket, whose presence I very much appreciated in the early
hours of the ride.

The first little downhill through town was a nice and easy (if somewhat
chilling) descent towards the base of the first climb, Monitor
Pass.  Then the climbing began!  For the first four (out of
five) passes of the Death Ride, the roads are closed to cars, so riders
get to enjoy a very pleasant cycling experience.

The first climb is a bit less than 3,000' high.  At some point, I
caught up with the bulk of my posse: Ed and Kekoa and Lauren were all
climbing together, although Chad had forged on ahead.  I joined
the posse and we finished the climb together, then stopped at the rest
stop for some food & drink.  1 down, 4 to go!

When I left the rest area to descend the back side of Monitor Pass, I
decided that I'd split off from the others and go on my own from
there.  I went a bit ahead and started my descent-- and it's an
awesome descent, really long, great road, sweeping views, etc.  Shortly after I started
descending for real (going at what I thought
was a reasonable pace), something zoomed by me at high speed, and a
closer look at its jersey revealed that it was Kekoa.  Whoa! 
He was well ahead of me quickly enough.  I think Ed might have
passed me, too, but I can't recall for sure.

At the bottom of the Pass, the four of us regrouped again (I know, I
know, I said I'd be on my own henceforth).  Here I took my single
token picture from the Death Ride (given that I toted my camera the
whole way, maybe I should have taken more of them!).  It came out
OK, although Kekoa looks a trifle squinty (note also Ed's polka-dot
climber jersey):

Ed & Kekoa & Lauren at the bottom of the first descent

Ditching my compadres once more, I turned around and started climbing
what we had just descended.  Ed had said that on the way down,
he'd seen Chad around half a mile or so from the base, so I figured I'd
catch Chad at some point.  It turned at the half a mile isn't so
short and/or Chad was climbing at a pretty good rate and/or the other
four of us had hung out for a while at the bottom, because I didn't see
Chad during the climb.

During this climb, I saw Tina, who I had assisted with her chain in the
Sequoia Century.  We
chatted for a bit while climbing, and I learned to my chagrin that her
chain had given her more trouble later on that day.  After hangin'
with her for a bit, I pushed on ahead.  Shortly thereafter, Ed
caught up with me, and the two of us finished climb #2 together. 
At the rest stop on top of Monitor, we saw Chad, and the three of us
replenished our supplies.

Next on the agenda: descending Monitor Pass again, only this time,
descending the face that we'd started the day climbing.  Ed and
Chad and I started out together, but Chad decided to take his time, so
Ed and I went ahead.  This was another great descent, and I got up
to 50.3 mph!  (This is not an incredibly fast speed, but it's
reasonably fast, and it's certainly faster than the likes of me tends to ride, except perhaps on
really nice downhills on my tandem!)  Shortly after attaining this
speed, I passed a cyclist at the side of the road who'd apparently had
an accident and was being attended to.  Although the cyclist
didn't look too damaged, I
nevertheless found inspiration to take it easy on the rest of the

Once Ed and I reached the bottom, we started climbing up Ebbetts
Pass.  On the Death Ride, Ebbetts is a similar deal to Monitor:
climb the front side, go down the back side, turn around, climb the
back side, descend the front side.  After ascending for a bit with
Ed, Ed noted that I seemed to be slowing down (sho' nuff!) and ditched
my ass.  I finished the climb on my own, and then caught up with
Ed at the rest stop at the top.

After a brief respite, Ed and I headed down the back side
together.  Ebbetts is windier (on both sides) than Monitor, so
it's not as rapid a descent.  I managed to make it more exciting,
however, by having my front tire go instantaneously flat partway
through.  This is actually something that some cyclists (like me!)
worry about a reasonable amount, but in this instance, I had no serious
trouble.  I didn't lose enough steering control to have any
problems, and I stopped the bike fairly quickly.  Ed was long
gone, of course.

After changing my front tube, I noticed that my rear tire seemed a bit
mushy, too, so I did what I could to top it off.  Then I was back
on the bike and down the hill.  Some time before I reached the
bottom, I saw Ed [ascending], and I yelled "big flat!" at him as I
zipped down.  When I saw him much later that day at South Lake
Tahoe, he confirmed that he had managed to parse my utterance, but only
after half a minute of effort.

Since I had silly hopes of catching up with Ed again (if he took his
time at the rest stops!), I dispensed with the rest stop at the bottom
of the 3rd descent, and turned around and headed right back
up.  This is the shortest of the five climbs, but it comes after
enough climbing that it still takes a while to finish.  Around a
mile from the top, someone descending yelled out something like, "not
much longer!"  It turned out that it was Kekoa, and he was with
Lauren and Chad.  I yelled at all of them, greeting them by name,
but they didn't hear me.  (I thought at the time thought that
Kekoa was talking to me in particular, but in fact none of them noticed
me-- he was just giving a general message of encouragement to the
climbers.)  I have no interesting comments to utter about it,
other than that I was glad when I arrived at the summit!  I
stopped again at the rest stop, but not for too long, since Ed was
nowhere in sight and the official lunch stop was not too far off.

The descent down Ebbetts Pass's front side was nice, although I passed
another cyclist who'd had an accident (again, it didn't look too
serious, fortunately).  There was a rather long line at the lunch
stop, so I decided to skip it, since I'd been doing a pretty good job
of feeding myself so far, anyway.  I did grab a cup of soup, since
there was no line at the soup table.

The lunch stop was placed only 80 miles into the ride, which meant that
the last big climb somehow required 49 miles of riding from
there!  The first part of that is some light descending, and the
next part is climbing up through town and past Turtle Rock Park
(essentially, undoing the downhill from the very start of the
day).  There's no really steep climbing involved, but with
somewhat used-up legs and a stiff headwind, it's pretty slow
slogging.  I stopped off at my car to top off my stomach and my
tires, and discovered that I had some issues with my rear inner tube
(the valve extenders I have to use on my Zipp
rims are sometimes a big pain in the ass), so I ended up having to take
it off completely and reinstall it.  Not a big deal, but after 90
miles of so of the Death Ride, even little deals start to seem like Big

A few more miles brought me to the Woodfords rest stop, which more or
less marks the base of the final climb up Carson Pass.  I made a
somewhat extended stop here, topping off my fluids and hanging out--
just girding my loins, I suppose.  But eventually I had to get
going, especially since I was contemplating doing the optional 6th
pass this year (an extra 24 miles and 1,200' of climbing, but it
involved a cut-off: I had to make it somewhere by 5:15pm). 
(Although I wasn't exactly jammin' by the time I got to the Woodfords
rest stop, my legs and butt still felt pretty good, so I thought this
would be a good year for tacking some "extra" on to the ride.)

The first bit of Carson Pass is another big grind.  It's a
middlin' steep hill with a big headwind, and it's just really really
slow.  Five miles up, I suddenly started hearing hissing, and
watched as my rear tire went completely flat.  Curses!  Given
my troubles so far with my tires, I seriously considered calling it a
day right there.  But for better or for worse, I had another spare
tube, so I slowly changed the tube, slowly straightened my aching back,
got back on my bike, and continued climbing the last nine miles. 
Going through my head was the usual refrain, something along the lines
of, "My country did not send me 200 miles so I could style="font-style: italic;">start the Death Ride.  It sent
me 200 miles so I could finish
the Death Ride."  (See here
Hmmm-- depending on what source you believe, maybe I should change that
to "...did not send me to Tahoe...".)

At some point, Carson Pass leveled out significantly, and so I actually
hunkered down on my aero bars for a while and cruised at [relatively!]
high speed through the wind.  Things were taking long enough that
it was no longer clear that I'd make that 5:15pm cut-off time, but I
figured I'd do what I could.  Unfortunately, the last part of the
climb is steeper (and windier), and it took me enough time that I
reached the time at pretty much exactly 5:15pm, so the bonus pass was
not an option.  (Even though I was proceeding pretty slowly for
the last few miles, I felt pretty good about my performance, since I
had acquired a paceline of sorts whose members were eager to let me
fight the wind for them.)

A kid gave me a fudgesicle at the rest stop at the top, which was all
right, but a little poking around revealed to me that they also had
"Crunch" popsicles (vanilla ice cream with chocolate coating with
something crispy in it).  The latter really hit the spot, although
I wasn't sure it was a great idea to prep for the upcoming big fast
descent by cooling down with two ice creams.

After finishing stuffing myself with whatever looked appealing, I
headed out of the rest area and down Carson Pass.  This was the
big descent that I'd been looking forward to all day!  15 miles of
highway that I'd taken it pretty easy on last year, because I was
feeling totally fried.  This year I felt good, so I figured I'd
really make some of it.

Just a short distance (a mile?) down from the rest area-- before I'd
really had any serious straightaway to get up some speed, fortunately--
my front wheel started wobbling in a really scary fashion.  At
first, it was just a little wobble, but then it started getting rapidly
worse.  Braking made it get worse yet, but continuing on without
braking meant certain death.  It was bad enough that I actually
thought that I was going to die ride then and there-- what was
happening to me seemed to match exactly my understanding of what had
happened to Scott Lambert, who had the misfortune to become the first
ever casualty of the Death Ride in 2002.  Somehow I managed to
stop my bike despite the wobbling and shaking, and fortunately I wasn't
in the way of any cars or bikes on that stretch.

All of a sudden, I was no longer in the mood to do any more biking that day (let along
finish my 15-mile descent!).  I caught a ride back to my car from
a nice Carson City family (the husband was also bailing out of the
Death Ride at that point-- he had just had his third flat tire, and so
he decided to call it a day).  Back at my car, a note from Chad
explained that everyone else was done riding, and that they'd see me at
South Lake Tahoe.  I walked over to Turtle Rock Park and had a
quick dinner there, and then I drove back to Caesar's to meet up with

I was still pretty shaken about what had happened, and I babbled a lot
about it that evening.  (Actually, at the time of this writing,
still somewhat shaken (and my
bike is in the shop for a tune-up and "safety check").)  The most
likely possibilities any of us could come up with for the source of my
woes were that I caught some kind of horrid crosswind or that I was
gripping my handlebars too tightly.  Neither of these
possibilities smells 100% right to me, but who knows?  I didn't
find anything wrong with the bike in my [admittedly somewhat hasty]
after-the-fact bike check.  I really hope that the shop will find
something seriously wrong (but fixable!), like a missing wheel or

Ed was the only one of us to do the entire ride (I did the five climbs,
but I skipped a rather major descent, plus the interminable rolling
hills at the end).  Chad and Lauren and Kekoa called it a
day after the first four passes, and of course I wish that I had,
too!  Apparently, Lauren and Kekoa were riding together until the
third ascent, at which point things were taking long enough that they
didn't think
there would be time for them to do all five climbs.  So Lauren
told Kekoa to go on ahead of her, since it would be a shame
if he didn't manage to do the entire ride because he was hanging back
with her.  Kekoa started cranking it, and was soon out of
sight.  But at the top of Ebbetts Pass, Lauren saw him with Chad
at the
rest stop, and both of them were looking distinctly unhappy. 
that rate-- after already having done so much work over the course of
the day-- had burnt Kekoa out.  I congratulated Lauren on her
brilliant use of the classic "Tortoise vs. Hare" strategy.  (I
believe that the three of them stayed together from that point until

The five of us went out for an Italian dinner (it turned out that I was
able to consume a second dinner), and then spent the night at
Caesar's.  The next morning, we hot-tubbed and had a big
breakfast at the Red Hut Café on Kingsbury Grade.  We all
went to the airport where Ed's plane was parked, and Lauren and Kekoa
and I watched Ed and Chad take off for their enviably short and
pleasant journey back to the Bay Area.  Below are two lame
pictures of Ed's plane taking off.  Ed's plane was decidely not
eager to gain altitude very quickly, since it was already way high up
in the mountains on a hot day!

Ed's plane taking off

Ed's plane taking off, bis


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