The medium : Saw a crazy scary crash on Ebbets! Dude was okay!
The long : So I’ve been training for the Death Ride since December when I signed up for it. It started as a smart ass remark/joke I made to my brother about how the Death Ride registration was opening the next day and we should do it. His reply? “It’s on!” Thus began over six months of training that saw me getting back on my bike WELL before I would have otherwise. The payoff was spending the week in Tahoe with my family and spending a day with my brother riding some extremely pretty roads.
The week before I went out for a flat ride just to feel how my lungs felt at 6000 feet, (the answer : Wheezy!) and did a short climb with my brother and got a flat tire. Another stem rip, it looks like. I’m rough on the stems, apparently. Anyway, these rides confirmed my suspicion that I would not be climbing as fast as I normally would at sea level. I knew I would need to stick to my ‘keep the heart rate under 153′ plan to have a chance to finish, but I was shocked at how much slower I was while keeping the HR down.
We got up around 3 A.M. and crammed our gullets with oatmeal and did our best to ‘offload some weight’ in the restroom, then drove over to Markleeville and unloaded the bikes, got into our kit, and got ready to go. It was 46 degrees according to the thermometer. Brrr! Arm and leg warmers plus our rain gear kept us from freezing, but it was definitely chilly as we started pedaling at 5:01.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long until the sun was up, and it wasn’t long until we were climbing Monitor, and the combination of the two warmed us up quite nicely. We shed the rain gear and kept climbing. We were definitely getting passed by a lot of riders, but we weren’t the slowest ones on the hill. There was a group of riders we would wind up passing/getting passed by/repassing as the day wore on. Derek was sticking with me, but he sprinted off to ‘use the facilities’ at the mid-mountain rest stop and was just zipping up his jersey when I reached the rest station. I forged on and he quickly caught back up to me. Topping Monitor was not that difficult, and I felt good despite the altitude! We grabbed food and bombed down to the bottom. I was amazed at how fast I was going. There were a few corners you had tl slow down for, but you could mostly let gravity pull you down the hill as fast as you were willing to go. I topped/touched on 50 mph on several occasions! My cantilevers probably scared half the gopher population of Nevada to death when I had to decelerate at the bottom. That was the most brake-shrieking stop I have ever done.
Since we had eaten and filled bottles at the top, upon reaching the bottom we immediately started back up the hill, wasting NO time at the bottom. Again, I was passing some people and getting passed by obviously fitter people. The climb back up is technically the longest, but again, it did’t feel too bad. I knew what to expect since I had just descended it, and the climb didn’t have anything too gnarly in gradient. I ground and ground and kept my heart rate around 149-150. My knees weren’t 100% pleased with this as I had to mash a little to keep the HR down. I could have used a lower gearing for this ride, that’s for sure. About halfway up, we stopped for water and stripped the arm and leg warmers. It was warm and headed for hot!
Again, we stopped at the aid station and jammed bananas and bagels and assorted goodies in our gullets while loading up on cytomax and water. I have learned my lesson and NEVER carry just cytomax now. After about 4-5 bottles, I can’t stand drinking more, and will dehydrate if I don’t have some water. This rest station was my 3rd and last bottle of full strength cytomax.
Our next plan was to bomb down Monitor, skip the station at the bottom and the lunch station and skip right to the base of Ebbetts and fill up on water there. I opened a gap on Derek on the way down since my bike weighs 35 pounds, so I was more than happy to pass people instead of riding my brakes. Derek sat up and had a relaxed saunter down, but quickly caught up with me on the flats. We rode along and when we got to the rest stop at the bottom of Ebbetts, we ran into Steve, the guy I had pacelined with at the Sequoia Century and whom I had ridden almost the entirety of the Best of the Bay with. He was looking good and feeling better than on the BoB, and had found a chair and a ton of food. Derek and I gobbled up a little food, refilled our bottles, and the three of us set off up the hill. We passed the ‘genies’ which was the local belly dancing group. It was a fun surprise!
On one of the first corners, we got into a tight spot where I needed to pass a guy, people were descending, and a bunch of people were trying to pull around all of us, so I stood up to get around the guy and wound up sprinting up the hill a little ways to give my bum a rest. That was the last time I felt strong on this ride. Ebbetts turned UP. Grades that would have been nice tough grades at 2000 feet were MUCH harder at 7000 feet. Gah. The suffering had finally started!
Fortunately, my brother was very understanding of my slow speeds and I stopped at every water spot I could. Steve eventually left us behind when I stopped to whine like a baby and beg for water. I was pretty happy when we got to the lake, because I knew that meant we were MOSTLY done. What I didn’t know was that there was plenty more steep to come! What I ALSO didn’t know was I’d get to watch somebody hit a pothole at serious speed, watch their whole frame flex and wobble from the impact, then see them recover and not crash. If it had been me I would have been a road pizza for sure! There was a collective gasp of “Whoa!” from the climbers all around me as we saw the guy pull it off. We were all sure we were about to have him come sliding through us as he hit the pothole on the inside of a corner we were climbing. His amazing recovery saved us from impromptu biker bowling, and onward we slogged.
It was at this point I started swearing after every new pitch came into view. You’d get over one particularly steep part, and then it would ease off and around a corner you’d see another wall of road. It was a little ridiculous. Derek gave me a hand, literally, by putting his hand on my back and pushing while he pedaled on one stretch. Many riders objected to him not giving THEM pushes as well.
The top had Cup O’ Noodles and a variety of other food, and our buddy Steve who had found a pair of chairs to sit on. Derek and I were not bashful in sharing the spare chair. One of us sat and chatted with Steve while the other gathered food and drink like a squirrel facing a particularly long winter. Then we’d trade places. The trip down the backside was short and slower than the other descents, and only steep in a few places. So it didn’t feel like it would be a horrible flip around and climb back up, but I definitely burned a few matches on the front side of Ebbetts on the steep parts. I had to go to zone 4 (over 153 HR) on the steeper sections. So even with a bit of recovery, I was still wiped on the climb.
Fortunately it was a gorgeous climb, and we passed a guy who was doing it on a fixie. Yep. He was on the 4th climb of the day on a fixie. Good lord. And he was almost 60! I salute that man, and I hope he managed to finish the whole ride, although I kind of doubt it given that we were only at mile 60 at the time. The climbing is REALLY front loaded, but that totally wipes you out for the long wind filled rollers. Anyway, we got to pass him again as I insisted on stopping for a ‘photo break’ that had nothing to do with my spiking heart rate. I promise! I was having trouble keeping it under 150, but at least the grades weren’t as steep as the front side, so I didn’t have to stand to climb over areas too steep to grind without making my knees whine.
Back at the top, I stopped to take a ‘constitutional’ at the port-a-potties. All I can say is… why the heck didn’t my body dump that ballast at the START of the ride? I’m pretty sure I could have cut half an hour off of my time if I had. It was impressive. I’m sure the rider who went in after me wasn’t as impressed, though.
Derek led us down Ebbetts, which I was glad for since it is a very technical descent and watching him let me pre-brake the corners. We were not super fast, but we were not slouching it down the hill, that’s for sure. But we weren’t going fast enough for some people, which led to us witnessing a crash that made me wish I’d sprung for a Go Pro. A guy passed me and Derek, overcooked the corner, stuck his wheel in the dirt and catapulted over the handlebars and down the embankment into the rocks below. By the time I got stopped and back up the hill to him, he’d already started climbing back up. Then he climbed down to get his water bottle! I was POSITIVE Derek and I were going to be trying to help a severely injured rider and flag down a SAG wagon, but he escaped with bruises and some truly impressive scrapes and cuts.
However, he told us he was fine and waved us off, so we finished the descent and Derek FINALLY got to do some leg stretching as he got in front and proceeded to haul me for 15 miles across the valley floor into a stiff headwind. We were passing single riders like crazy. A couple tried to jump on but were blown off the back after working so hard to catch on. A two person train is tough to catch since it’s already passed before you can really start accelerating. We DID pass another train of 6 people who were going fast enough themselves that they were able to latch on, and Derek towed them, too. We did great until we got to the uphills around Markleeville, and then it was back to short climbs and shorter descents. We’d blown past the lunch stop and had food at Derek’s car so we could avoid the lines. Ice cold Gatorade and PB&J tasted pretty good!
Then we were off, with a short jaunt to Woodfords, which we skipped as we were full up on water, and then… the climb. It was super gradual. It was no big deal. But I was incapable of pushing harder than about 125 bpm on my heart rate for what seemed like eternity! I’d bonked. We were 9 hours in, which is a LONG ride, and I was not doing well. People I’d easily passed earlier were passing me like I was standing still. And I almost was. I was grinding up a 5% incline at a pace slower than what I had been doing the 8% inclines earlier. Eventually the PB&J started making it’s way through to my bloodstream and I was able to push past the 130′s into the low 140′s, which let us make it to Pickett’s Junction by 3:10ish. I did my best to fuel up with a packet of goo (that stuff is gross) some chips, water, soda, clif bar, and some gummi bears.
Then we were off again. We had a long valley that Derek towed me through while I tried to digest, then the final climb. It was hard, and I was a little bonky, but not as bad as I had been on the bottom climb. I stopped twice when I started feeling really weak and my HR output started to drop off to try and let my stomach catch up a little bit. The last time we could literally see the top when we stopped. I think Derek was annoyed a bit by THAT stop, but he sucked it up and came and sat with me for a couple of minutes and we watched people struggle on by.
Finally, I got back on and we made it up and over the top! It was time for ICE CREAM! I cannot stress how delicious an ice-cream sandwich is after such a long ride. We got our stickers and pins, our sandwiches, and I pounded some shot blox, bananas, and a ton of water. The hard part was over! We got back on, went for the picture of us at the pass marker, and began the most fun part of the ride. The trip back down Carson! It is a sweeping road, and I was able to really tuck and let it go, and Derek kept right behind me. The valley had a TAILWIND going down, and was slightly downhill to boot, so I towed Derek across the valley and past Pickett’s junction and we shot down the next steep section. Derek tucked into an impressively small ball and passed me towards the bottom, and we then relaxed and slow-pedaled back to the car. We got there JUST pas 6:00 pm, making it a 13 hour day. Strava says about ten and a half hours of saddle time and 2 and a half hours of lollygagging. Not bad. I’ll take it!
We loaded up and trucked on back to our families to find that the ladies had not just kept the kids entertained, but had dinner waiting for us and had already packed a good deal of the stuff up making it easy for us to relax and hug and play with the kids.
I feel very lucky to have had a chance to do such a challenging (for me) and beautiful ride with my brother. It’s not something I will ever forget.