Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Death Ride Report

A year ago, Justine and I did a vacation cycling camp together called "Kiss of Death Cycling Tour." Over 3 days we covered about 140 miles and 14000 vertical feet, including Sonora Pass, the second highest Sierra Nevada pass and a road with grades exceeding 20%. This was my introduction to "real" cycling, and I was both awed and intrigued. As a long-time follower of the Tour de France and an erstwhile cyclist who thought a 20 mile ride on flat ground was at least respectable, I realized that I had a lot to learn. Over the next few months, I shelved the idea of coming back for the official Death Ride, but I continued to spend time on my bike, commuting, hitting some of the minor SC Mountain climbs and increasing my mileage slowly.

In early 2009, I wasn't thinking much about the Death ride. I was in job search mode and training for my Napa Valley Marathon, but I was on the bike and starting to explore some of the more respectable local climbs (having no job can do wonders for the cycling ...). At some point I came to the conclusion that this was a great year to train and complete the Death Ride - I had the time, I had a partner to train with (Loren) and I had no domestic conflicts. Justine was focusing on an August half-ironman, so we had no logistics issues to resolve should we both be inclined to do the Death Ride.

In March, I finished the Napa Valley Marathon and turned my attention to the bike. A week after the race, I logged a 60+ mile ride, and the training picked up from there.

My training this year has been pretty good: if my log is accurate, I rode 1,850 miles and climbed about 150,000 vertical feet this year prior to the ride. I had bagged a good number of the "Billy Goat" climbs in the area, and I had logged 4 rides of 90 or more miles in the last month and a half. I also ran nearly 500 miles in that period. I completed the Primavera Century and the Sequoia 120 miler as preparation rides.

I arrived in Markleeville on Thursday night, pulling into the Carson river Resort at about 9:30. I had a chance to fish the Carson river Friday, hauling in a number of moderate trout and hooking up with what would've been a personal best fish had I kept it on the line. Alas, it's just another fish story, still swimming freely in the Carson river (my guess is it was 24 inches or more...)

Loren and his family arrived Friday and we game-planned our ride logistics while enjoying a relaxing day by the river. By 9:30 I was down.

Saturday arrived early. We were up at 4 and on the road at 4:45. We were waiting for a small group to join us (they had started at a different point) but they blew by us with a quick "let's go", and rather than try to catch them I settled into a rhythm and started towards Monitor Pass.

Now, for me the trick about these climbs is to just disassociate, not think, and pedal smoothly while chatting with whomever is around. Monitor West went by smoothly in this fashion. It was still dark and so I had my lights on, and I got up and over the 3K + foot climb with dusky conditions still present. The descent down the back was fast, but for whatever reason I came up short of my speed goal of 50 MPH, hitting the brakes at 49.8....

At the bottom, I stopped for a quick bite (ate potatoes mostly) and then it was back up and over. As expected, I didn't have much trouble with Monitor. It's long but not too steep. On the front side, I hit another long speed patch, and I delayed hitting the brakes as long as possible. My odometer confirmed that that was the right choice, 51 MPH! I remember being sketched last year at 43, this year I felt as stable as could be at 50. Amazing what a few changes and a bit of practice will do.

Ebbets is steeper and tougher, and I started to feel it on the front side. Nevertheless I got over the top and was pleased that the back side climb was only 5 miles. A tough 5 miles, but doable.

The second time up the top of Ebbets I was feeling pretty spent, and I knew that the ride to and up Carson would be tough. Luckily, I hooked up with a small but quick train through the valley and hammered my way to Carson, enjoying the ride. By the base of Carson I was in good shape and ready for the long and tedious climb to the 5th pass.
Carson is where the Death Ride gets tough. This climb goes on forever, and it's where you start asking yourself the questions. Luckily, it's the last one, so the answers to those questions are pretty easy: "get over it, get your ice cream at the top, and get back to camp" (Ice cream at the top of pass 5 is apparently a tradition).
I was clearly a lot weaker going up Carson, using my lowest gear on most of the climb, but I wasn't worried about speed at that point, just getting to the top.
Getting to the top was a great feeling, kinda like hitting mile 26 of a marathon and knowing you just need to kick it home. I was done with the climbing, I had a great descent to look forward to, and I had accomplished what I'd set out to do. I didn't linger, but had a snack, sat for a couple of minutes, and then pointed downhill. the descent down Carson did prove to be a blast: I hammered past a small group and picked up a rider and he followed me all the way down and across to the finish. I again hit the 50MPH barrier and we also ran into just a touch of rain, but the return was quick and painless, and I ultimately brought my average speed up from 11 to 12.1 during this period.
That's about it. Very satisfied with the effort and the result, and I didn't feel too wrecked afterwards. My main cycling goal for the year is done, and now I'll start focusing on a fall/winter marathon, probably Santa Barbara. It's also possible that I'll try for Big Kahuna half ironman, but not sure yet.


  1. Nice work. I figured you would do well based on our last ride. Congrats!

  2. thanks. Well is so relative in these things eh? Marathons are so much easier to measure...