Friday, July 15, 2011

Finale – Death Ride 2011

The big day, Death Ride 2011 on Saturday July 9th, was a struggle, but ultimately a success. Our starting peloton was me, my wife Caroline (Carol), Bill Wilson, Ann Togasaki (the Annimal), Robert Bley (Bob), and Ryan Moore, Bill’s cousin. We all rose at 3:30 a.m. in our rented house in Meyers and fueled up with a breakfast of huevadillas, cereal, coffee, and juice, as well as lots of sunscreen and chamois butter. We then loaded up the machines and headed out at just before 4:30. Arriving at Turtle Rock Park in plenty of time for our planned 5:30 start, we actually mounted the machines closer to 5:15 and headed up to the park for a quick natural break. Ablutions completed, we had a surprise as Carol managed to snap the left temple off her Oakley sunglasses. Unfazed, the Annimal took command of the situation and within a minute had the temple snapped back into place, and we were off.

Monitor Pass

After riding pretty much together from Turtle Rock through Markleeville and to the start of the West Monitor Pass climb, we quickly splintered as Bob, Ryan, and the Annimal went up the road. As Bill, Carol and I settled into a comfortable pace for the climb, surrounded all along by the thousands of other riders on the pass, we were surprised to see a neighboring rider break his chain—a huge coincidence because it happened at just about the same place on the climb where the Annimal broke her chain back in 2008. She, however, was fortunate enough to have been chatting up a fellow rider who happened to have both a chain tool and the skill to use it. As a result, her chain was fixed within 20 minutes and she was back on the road. This young guy, on the other hand, seemed quite at a loss, and we had no facilities to be of assistance.

Continuing on in breaking daylight, we saw the sun emerge and then reached the top of the climb, where we reconnoitered at the summit monument and celebrated the first of the five passes complete. We then settled in for the 10-mile descent into the high desert below. At the bottom, we rode past the rest stop and availed ourselves of some of Bill’s “local knowledge:” the clean rest rooms at the fire station just past the rest stop, which allowed us to avoid the long lines that had accumulated at the rest stop porta-potties. Our water bottles refilled at the rest stop, the climb back up the East Monitor was long as always, but in the nice cool weather (a marked contrast to the 100+ degree temps Carol and I had faced there just 6 days before), it was entirely tolerable. Once again, we reconnoitered at the monument at the top for a celebration, this time of the second of our five passes.

Ebbet’s Pass

At this point, Bob and Ryan had pretty much separated themselves from the rest of us, and Bill and Ann were riding up the road from Carol and me, but not far enough that we didn’t reunite at each rest stop. After the fast descent to the bottom of West Monitor, Ann, Bill, Carol, and I got back together, took a quick natural break at the rest stop there, then took advantage of the next bit of local knowledge, the Silver Creek Campground. Here, we took a break to remove shoes, fuel up, fill water bottles, reapply the “butter baby,” and avail ourselves of the clean campground rest rooms. Back on the road, we settled into our usual pattern – Bill and the Annimal up the road, Carol and me pounding out a steady rhythm further back – until we reached the beautiful, wooded top of East Ebbet’s Pass, waterfalls crashing all around us. At this point, all were feeling strong, so we made just a short stop at the top of Ebbet’s before descending down the back side to the west.

Starting in Hermit Valley, at the bottom of West Ebbet’s Pass, the 60+ miles of tough riding was beginning to take its toll. There, we found Bob with his feet in the snow, but seemingly fresh as a daisy nonetheless. Carol and I were desperately feeling the need for real food at this point, but no juicy steaks in sight, so we settled for bananas, potato chips, and small cans of V-8. Bob headed up the road first, followed by Ann and Bill, who couldn’t wait any longer, and then Carol and me a few minutes later. Up the West Ebbet’s climb, Carol was making noises about being unable to make it, but with one simple admonition of “Just be sure (before you stop on the hill),” she hung in there and made the top. There, we found Bill suffering from hot foot and making noises about stopping at the truck at Turtle Rock park (he didn’t mean it). With a plan to meet up at the Centerville Flat rest stop at Wolf Creek, near the bottom, we launched into the very technical East Ebbet’s descent. Along the way, we encountered a med-evac helicopter at Kinney Reservoir, pulling a crashed rider out. I then went up the road from Carol and encountered Ryan, who had been having severe cramping problems and had had to walk much of the way up West Ebbet’s. After a quick chat, he rocketed ahead again down the descent and was part of our rendezvous group at Wolf Creek.

Markleeville / Turtle Rock Grade

After another quick break that included as much food as we could find (including a nice Cup o’ Noodles for me), we remounted and beat the wind with a nice paceline for several miles out of the canyon toward Markleeville. From Markleeville, the short climb to Turtle Rock Park tested the legs, but our goal now was to hit the 4:00 cut-off time at Woodfords, just a few miles up the road from the park. There, we would have 100 miles and over 12,000 vertical feet under our belts, but more than 25 miles more ahead of us, including the nasty Woodfords-to-Pickett’s Junction climb.

A hammer through the canyon got us to Woodfords well within the cut-off, and that rest stop, clearly the best on the DR route, was a sight for sore eyes. First, you ride your bike right in under a rain shower provided by a young volunteer on a ladder, then a bike valet parks your bike for you while another young volunteer tops off your water bottles and returns them to the bike. All you have to do is step off and enjoy a snack, a soda, and a stretch. Alas, however, they – like all the rest stops before them – had run out of Coca Cola before we got there: motivation to go faster if we’re ever crazy enough to do this again.

Woodfords to Pickett’s Junction

At this point, the real Death Ride begins. Bill paced us for several miles up the grade out of Woodfords, but eventually had to pick up his pace and pull away. As I led Carol up the 7-mile, 7% grade toward Pickett’s Junction, she was again making noises about not being able to finish, and who could blame her. This is a bitch of a climb, with heavy traffic, a tiny shoulder on the road, and the heat of the day weighing you down. We made it to Pickett’s Junction, however, well within the 5:15 p.m. cut-off time and took a rest and some more nourishment before mounting the final climb up Carson Pass. My dad and stepmother, coincidentally, were in the Tahoe area for the weekend, and I had made what turned out to be the precise prediction that we would arrive in Hope Valley (just beyond the Pickett’s Junction rest stop) between 5:00 and 5:30. This is a gorgeous little valley, with an idyllic stream running through, that was the point where Carol and Ann’s friend Paul waited for us to pass through back in 2008. I rode out of the rest stop ahead of the group, and voila, there Dad and Marjorie were, hanging at the corner, cameras in hand, with their friends Mike and Hilary. It was a high point for me, and very inspiring at a critical point in the ride, to visit with them for 10 minutes or so while the others rested some more, then rode out and continued right past us (no time for visiting for them!)

Carson Pass and the Run for Home

Bill and the Annimal again paced Carol up the road for a few miles, until I was able to catch up. At that point, I did not pace her up the rest of the Carson Pass climb, but rather followed behind as the little Energizer Bunny hit a rhythm and slammed up that sucker, clearly anxious to be off her damn bike. She zipped by dozens of other riders, some laboring up the climb, some surrendering by the side of the road, and I followed. Unfortunately, we passed Ryan along the way, walking his bike again as his cramping leg muscles had again abandoned him. He would eventually give up about a mile from the top to grab a SAG Wagon back to Turtle Rock. We continued on, however, and were rewarded just one turn from the top, where Bill waited for us so that all three of us could cross the line at the top of Carson together. That was another huge highlight.

At the top, we celebrated our completion of all 5 passes, fueled up again, signed the massive Death Ride 5-pass finishers poster, and waited for Ryan. Watching the large numbers of riders who would bail out of the ride at the top of Carson, friends and relatives waiting there with cars onto which they could load their bikes, Carol began to waver again, considering a SAG Wagon back to Turtle Rock. This notion was, of course, soundly rejected by the rest of us, who assured her she would regret not having finished every mile of the ride. She acquiesced, and when Ryan didn’t arrive and the weather started to get a bit cool, we donned arm warmers and jackets for the Carson descent and the run for home. Bill and the Annimal, both fearlessly fast descenders, blasted out ahead of Carol and me, as we took our time and stayed safe in our exhausted state. Laboring each time the road turned uphill even a little – as one tends to do at the end of a century ride – we nonetheless kept up our steady rhythm and rode up to the truck just before 7:30 p.m., relieved and joyous at completing DR 2011 in just under 14 hours.

Post-Ride Celebration

The Israeli Army – Amnon, Mark, Zack, Udi, Guy, and Roz – had finished well ahead of us and were waiting for us to arrive at a post-ride celebration they were hosting at their rented house just a few miles up the road in Markleeville. Despite our late arrival, at nearly 8 p.m., our gracious hosts treated us to one of the finest Ch√Ęteauneuf de Papes I have ever tasted, as well as chips and salsa, grilled steak, prawns, chicken, franks, and pork, and salad. New friends were made as we shared tales of our various exploits on the roads of Alpine County, and we called it a night at around 10 p.m. Many thanks to Bill and Bob for transporting us all safely back to the rented house in Meyers, where we tamped down pumping adrenalin and managed a solid night of rewarding sleep.

The Data

My data shows what happens when you forget to turn your bike computer off when you take it off your bike. (No, I did not ride 155 miles, but we did drive about 26 miles or so after we completed the ride, all of which is figured into my data. I also did not ride my bike at 60.9 mph.) I include a link to Carol’s Garmin data to add a little sanity.

7/9/2011 - Death Ride – Bruce’s Computer

7/9/2011 - Death Ride – Carol’s Computer

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Part 5 – Death Ride Tapering IV

The final day before the big ride had us all, except Caroline, trooping back up to Markleeville for one last quick look at the DR 2011 start. From Markleeville, we rode out along the Carson River and up the early miles of Ebbet’s Pass. My goal was to put in 20 miles, no more, and that’s essentially what we did:

7/8/2011 – Death Ride Taper IV – Ebbet's Pass Scenic Byway

Paceline practice coming back down from Ebbet’s Pass went well until Bill and Bob decided 22 mph in a stiff headwind wasn’t good enough and kicked it up to 26 mph+. That’s when I said to the Annimal, “This is a stiff wind, and I’d rather not be in it, but I don’t need to go that fast.” Her answer: “I can’t go that fast!” (She was lying.) Anyway, the boys had their fun, and we made it back in one piece.

Ryan, Bill’s wife’s cousin’s husband (cousin-in-law??) arrived in the afternoon to round out our 6-person peloton. Great guy, the youngest in our group by a few years, but with the oldest bike: an aging but workable Giant. With the whole peloton in the house, the afternoon and evening before the big day included carbo-loading on spaghetti, salad, and garlic bread (and just a few drops of Chardonnay) and a viewing of just half of “Taladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” The idea here being, watch a slapstick movie and grab as many funny lines as you can to throw out at your fellow riders in the middle of the nastiest, most relentless bit of the steepest hills, get 'em to crack up, get yourself to crack up, see who falls off bikes (no one ever does--a commentary on the state of American humor). After all that, it was sleep—what little we could get, in some cases—before the 3:30 wake-up call for DR 2011.

Part 4 – Death Ride Tapering III

Thursday's run up Pioneer Trail was just what the doctor ordered: Get the legs moving, don’t hammer or overexert, make sure all the moving parts—both man and machine—are sound. The biggest pleasure of all: the weather is improving with each passing day. Temps are getting milder, the wind seems to be settling into a nice calm, and no sign of rain clouds. I felt well enough when I hit Ski Run Blvd., about 8 miles in, that I decided to take a run up the end of road toward Heavenly Valley, which features a 0.1-mile pitch at 12–14 percent grades. You’ll see that sucker popping up like a thorn on a rosebush right in the middle of the Elevation data:

7/7/2011 – Death Ride Taper III – Pioneer Trial

Afterward, I took the machine out back for a good cleaning. Got the last couple weeks worth of road grime off the chain, frame, and wheels, so we’re looking good for the big ride. Caroline and Bob returned a little later with tales of a successful run up Blue Lakes Road, and Ann and Bill decided to ride back to the house, which included a trip over Luther Pass. They rode up in surprisingly short order, and then we grabbed some huevadillas (an invention of a friend of Bill’s: fried egg on a corn tortilla, which doesn’t sound like much, but it’s really in the preparation), then loaded up to head out to Turtle Rock Park in Markleeville to register. Bike and jersey numbers in hand, we took in some of the Death Ride history on display, including posters from the final Carson Pass climb for several past editions of the ride, all signed by most all the riders who had traversed the 5 passes, including, in 2009 and 2010, Bill and friends. Shrimp and veggie skewers and rice graced the training table, and “Snatch” was the DVD of choice, after which all settled in for a good night’s rest.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Part 3 – Death Ride Tapering I-II

More on this in subsequent posts, but as our friends have been arriving (Bill and the Israeli Army on Tuesday, Ann and Bob yesterday), we’ve been heading out for short, comfortable rides to keep the legs moving, but little else. On Tuesday, Bill, Caroline and I started by first catching Cadel Evans’s first Tour de France stage win on the computer, then heading off for one last trip up West Monitor Pass before DR 2011.

Then, yesterday, after we watched Mark Cavendish’s bunch sprint win in Stage 6 of the Tour, we met up with two Israeli Army members for a nice little 12-mile loop along gorgeous Diamond Valley Road. Ann and Bob arrived yesterday afternoon and headed straight out for what turned out to be a very short ride, as Ann snapped one of her shifting cables just a few miles in. We took her bike to the bike shop in Stateline, where they made a quick, competent repair while we enjoyed a lunch of salads and mimosas (bloody mary for Bill). We returned to the house for a dinner of grilled chicken and salad, then watched the animated classic The Triplets of Belleville before turning in. Today the bulk of the group are off to Blue Lakes Road for another quick tapering ride, while I plan a very quick trip up Pioneer Trail. More on all of that tomorrow, our final day before DR 2011.
7/5/2011 – Death Ride Taper I - West Side Monitor
7/6/2011 – Death Ride Taper II - Diamond Valley Road Loop

Part 2 – Death Ride Reconnaissance IV

We returned to the alps on July 2nd, a week before DR 2011, with plans to get in that 4-pass run we’d missed out on the week before. Our arrival in the Tahoe area was delayed by weekender traffic, but we took it slow, enjoying a nice lunch and browse through the cavernous antiquarian bookstore in Jackson. We made a late start the next day, Sunday July 3rd, for our final DR Recon ride, which covered 4 of the 5 DR passes. As a result, faced the east side of Monitor Pass (at 10 miles, the longest and most difficult DR climb) in temperatures over 100 degrees. Click below to see the data from the bike computer, but don’t believe the 1 RPM cadence number. After a ride like that on Sunday (88 miles with over 11,000 feet of climbing), we laid low on Monday, resting and recharging for the final stretch of short tapering rides we would do during the week.
7/3/2011 – Death Ride Reconnaissance IV - 4 out of 5 Passes

Part 1 – Death Ride Reconnaissance I-III

After slamming in rides totaling over 500 miles and 62,000 feet of climbing since the rains started to let up in May, Caroline and I made a reconnaissance trip to Markleeville a week before the Death Ride. The idea was to get a look at the passes beforehand and test our fitness at altitude. For those of you who enjoy data—things like how many miles we rode, how many vertical feet we climbed, and what kinds of temperatures we faced during the rides, the links below will show you the readouts from my bike computer. It turned out to be a bit of a surreal weekend, as our friend Bill, with whom we had planned to ride, had a strange incident at his rented house, where some vagrant apparently wandered in, started fixing him/herself a meal, then snatched Bill’s truck keys and ran out the back as Bill was riding up from his first ride of the weekend. This changed up our riding routine a little, but the bottom line was that we faced nasty winds we will not have to face this Saturday, and we fell short of our goal of riding the first 4 DR passes in one go. Not a concern, though, as we had rented a house for the full week prior to the DR, so we figured we could do that the following week. We rode all 3 days we were there, but because of Bill’s mishap, the last ride was the only one the three of us were able to do together.
6/24/2011 – Death Ride Reconnaissance I - Monitor Pass
6/25/2011 – Death Ride Reconnaissance II - Ebbet's Pass
6/26/2011 – Death Ride Reconnaissance III - West Monitor

Death Ride Journal - Introduction

Since this has been my major occupation in recent months, I figure it’s worth writing a little about. Caroline and I joined several friends in signing up for this Saturday’s 2011 Death Ride – Tour of the California Alps. When we signed up last fall, we had big plans to train for 4 months in advance and get ourselves ready for the grueling 129-mile trek through some of Alpine County’s most challenging mountain passes. But by the time Caroline had finished her last term at Santa Clara University (congratulations to her on her MBA!), giving us time to train in earnest, California had slipped into one of its wettest winters in memory. We therefore had lots of catching up to do in the last 6 weeks or so, which we’ve been working hard to do. So while we’re now settled into our rented house in Meyers, near South Tahoe, for the home stretch before the ride, the next several posts will give you a brief account of our recent reconnaissance and training efforts.