Racing tales from the great Pacific Northwest

Monday, July 20, 2009

Death Ride, Markleeville, CA 7/11/09

Well, it was time to take break from racing but I don't know if this is what most people have in mind. Denise and I headed towards Sacramento, hitting every microbrewery that was in our path of course. We made it to Ashland, OR the first night and enjoyed the small town 4th of July show they put on. We hit Sacramento the next day, stayed one night then rented and RV and headed towards Tahoe. We found a cool campground that was only five miles from the start of the ride. They had a hot springs there to soak my tired muscles after training rides. I think we were camped at over 6500 ft and my lungs definitely felt it on my first ride. I had a whole week to acclimate and was able to ride a couple of the passes prior to the actual event. I guess Alpine county is the least populated county in the state with only 1200 people and in the start town there are only 200. I think everyone in the county gets involved with the ride in one form or another. We kept hearing about how crazy the registration area gets the day before the ride and the parking lot isn't that big. Since we had a rv we decided to head over a day before and camp out in the lot. It was amazing watching it grow from just a couple of us to the lot fill up with people from all over. Many of them were sleeping in their cars. By Friday night both sides of the hwy were lined up for miles with cars. A small town had been created for registration with booths from shops, vendors and food . The lot was crowded but by 10:00pm on Friday you could hear a pin drop.

The weather had been chilly in the morning then hot and windy in the afternoon. I mean HOT and WINDY. I was hoping it would change by ride time but the forecast called from more of the same. The start time for five pass riders was 5:30am so I set my alarm for 4:15 so I could take my time getting ready and enjoy the breakfast cooking up for us. Apparently you didn't need an alarm clock. At 4:00am sharp the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner started blaring. I thought it was someone in a car just being a jerk but it was actually part of the event. After it was over a drum corp from Seattle started marching around the lot banging away loudly. It was pretty cool. As I walked down for breakfast at 4:15 it was still pitch black out. I couldn't believe the amount of people that were already heading out. Streams of them were going by. I wanted to eat and take my time getting dressed so I just ate my breakfast and did some people watching. I had no lights anyway and didn't want to run into a hungry bear.

check out the dork and what he is riding in the right side of this photo

At 5:30 I hit the road along with about 3600 other riders. It was a little chilly but not bad. The first pass we would head up and over was Monitor Pass. The first two, actually four passes would be closed to automobile traffic which was really nice. Monitor climbs to 8,314 ft. I was going at a really fast pace and flying by all the early starters but felt like crap. I couldn't get my breath, my legs didn't feel right and it got colder as we climb since the sun wasn't hitting us yet. I was still going fast 1/2 way up but I felt like stopping. If the whole ride was going to feel like this I was going to be in trouble. I finally hit the summit, got my first pass completion sticker and headed down the other side. I'm not sure why people felt the need to stop at the top at the rest stop when there was another at the bottom of the pass. The speed going downhill was insane. Guys were all over the road and there were already riders who left at 4:00am coming back up the other side. It was really sketchy as some jerks were taking chances and weaving in and out of us w/out saying anything. I was sure during the course of the day there would be crashes. I got to the bottom, got my second sticker, grabbed a quick bite and started climbing back up. I don't know what was going on during the first climb but I was feeling like my old self and settled into a nice pace. I was flying by riders and feeling good. The sun was just coming out over the mountains and it was warming up. The views were incredible. Again, a ton of people stopped at the top to rest but I just kept on going down the other side. Since a lot of people stopped I had more of a clear road going down and I was able to hit 52 mph. I got to the bottom fast, took a left turn and headed for Ebbetts Pass.

Ebetts climbs climbs up to 8730 ft. By now I had passed the slower riders and it was a lot more spread out. This was my favorite pass as it ran by the river and you were in the trees most of the time. I hooked up with a couple of guys that were about equal to my ability and we had a great ride to the top. At one point I noticed that I was getting close to the 10,000 mark for climbing. I looked at my Garmin and saw that we had only completed 65 miles. Talk about brutal. I was drawn into the allusion that the rest of the ride would be somewhat easier. We didn't see a lot of people coming back down so we knew we were riding pretty well. I was in a nice pace all the way up and hit the summit with no issues. I grabbed my third sticker at the check point and headed down the other side. This descent had a lot more turns so you had to keep a finger on the brake. The downhill section was nice relief for the legs. The temp was now getting over the 80 degree mark and you really needed to stay hydrated. I hit the bottom and went through the same routine. Three passes down, two to go.

While heading back up the back side of Ebetts I finally noticed how much steeper these climbs are compared to RAMROD. Monitor goes from 7.7% to 10.8%, Ebbetts is from 7% to 12% and Carson, the last is long and between 6.2% and 7.6%. As I got about half way I was starting the feel the effects of the ride a little. The legs were feeling it and the heat was beating down on me. I couldn't wait to get to the top of this one. I kept my pace towards the top I finally got passed by someone. It was a woman and she was flat out flying. I got on her wheel and was hanging on for by a thread. Before we hit the top she dropped me like a bad habit. I was in amazed. I hit the check point and while I was going through I saw a nasty crash. Someone that was coming up went through on the wrong side of the check point and caused a big collision. I was lucky to miss it. About nine people went down and the guy that caused it looked like he hurt his wrist pretty bad. I rolled through w/out stopping and headed down. This was the sketchiest descent of the day. I was alone with just one guy and there was no one else going down. Many of the people coming up were suffering big time. They were swerving into our lane and many who had to stop would swing into our lane and stop in the middle of the road. I had to yell at a couple of guys to look up and get out of the way. I think they forgot that people were coming back down now. This happened about 10 separate times.

I passed the rest stop on the bottom of the climb and figured I would stop at the parking lot and dump off my extra clothing and other things I wouldn't need for the last climb. I talked to Denise for a few, put on some more sunscreen, ate a banana, drank a coke (2nd best coke I've ever had) and headed back out. It was a cruel thing to have us go by the start before the last climb. I'm guessing a bunch of people stop there with all good intentions of completing the last pass but never make it back out of the lot.

Now it was time to suffer. I was at mile 88 so I only had 41 to go, easy right? NOT. I looked down and saw that I still had almost 4000 feet of climbing to do and I was starting to feel the pain. I hit the turn that takes you up Carson and it sucked. It was open to traffic, there was no shoulder, it was hotter than hell and the wind was blowing hard, right in my face. There was no one to ride with. I could see a couple of guys way up in front of me an a couple way behind. As I started climbing I went by a rest stop and should have steered in, if for nothing else to hook up with some other guys. For some reason I kept going. This was the hardest 4o miles ever. I felt like I was barely moving (I was barely moving) and kept praying for it to flatten out (it didn't). I finally saw two guys coming up so I slowed to a crawl and waited. It was nice to have the company even though we never said a word to each other. We would each take turns sticking our face in the wind and then drop back. I really wanted to be done at this point. We did finally hit a short flat section and there was an oasis in front of us. A rest stop I don't remember seeing on the course map was right there, I hoped. As we pulled in volunteers came out and grabbed our bikes and our water bottles. The told us to sit and they would be right back. I didn't want to sit for fear I wouldn't get back up. The other two guys made that mistake. After a few minutes of stretching I asked if they wanted to move on. They said they were going to hang for a while so off I went by myself in with my face in the howling wind again. I kept looking at my Garmin thinking the summit had to be right around the corner. Every time I went around a curve, the road kept going up. I finally saw a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road and thought I was getting close. It was just a view point. As I got there I looked up and noticed several switchbacks. There was no way I had to go that high up. I did and it sucked. Cars were flying by me and for the first time ever, including racing, my legs started to cramp up. Take about pain. It was my quads, then calves, never at the same time or the same leg. I would almost yell out in pain but just tried to pedal through it. I thought I would have to stop but each time the cramps would go away. I came around a long curve and HOLY COW!!! there it was, the finally summit. I pulled in, got my sticker for my 5th and finally pass, got my pin and this time I was going to sit and take my time before heading out. This is where I had the BEST coke I've ever had, along with ice cream and a lot of other good stuff. I was presented with a Sharpie to sign a large poster for the ride. I guess they do that every year. I was the 24th of the day to sign it. At sat under a tent and talked to the few riders that were there and enjoyed every bit of the rest. I didn't want to stay too long so after 20 minutes I was heading back down. This would be the easiest part right? Wrong.

There was no one on the road going down that I could see except one guy way in front of me so. I was able to fly. The only problem with this was that since my legs would moving they were thinking we were done and began to seize up. When it came time too pedal I couldn't. My legs started cramping up again and it hurt worse than before. I only had 14 miles left to go but it was going to really suffer hard. The wind seemed to be coming from the side so I had to struggle to control the bike. I finally got down to where it flattened out a bit and when I was able to pedal I worked out the cramps. I could tell you that I never came close to crying but I would be lying through my teeth. I finally got to the turn that takes you back to the start/finish. It was mostly uphill but I got my 4th, 5th or 6th wind, whatever it was and was feeling good for the first time in about 40 miles. I sped up to catch a couple of guys and then rode with them the rest of the way in. As we got to where were we had only three miles to go we started seeing the masses go by. I was so glad I wasn't where they were at this point. After almost nine hours I finally rolled in. They had Hot showers waiting (No Mike, I didn't find the only cold one this time) and a killer BBQ. I showered, ate, talked to a few other finishers that were just getting back and then packed up the RV and headed out.

This is when we saw the most amazing thing and I can't believe we didn't have the camera out. We had to drive back over Carson Pass and where I had come down with no one around me anywhere there were now hundreds of people still climbin up with probably two to three hours left to go. Most were really struggling and some were seriously weaving all over the road. Denise was driving and was scared to death as there was hardly any room to get by as cars and riders were also coming down the pass. Were cars were passing me at 50+ mph, we were doing no more than 15 mph. To top it off it was pouring down rain. I barely even saw a cloud and now these poor souls, who were already at their limits had to deal with the wind an rain as well. It was amazing to watch. I was now really glad not to still be out on the road. I imagine there is a harder ride out there but someone has yet to show it to me.

the ride:

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