Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Preview of the Death Ride

With one month to go before my principal 2008 bicycling goal, I had a preview of what it will be like. I traveled to the Sierra and rode on the Death Ride course. This was my chance to prepare by seeing exactly what the course is like -- how steep it is, which parts are flatter and which are hillier, what condition the road is in, etc. But my primary concern was how I would be affected by the altitude.

I traveled with Vaishali, my father, and Rom. We left the Bay Area Friday after work and had to fight rush hour traffic for a while. After finally reaching Stockton, we finally saw mostly clear roads the rest of the way. There was enough sunlight to view the scenery as we entered the mountains, but it was dark by the time we reached Markleeville.

We stayed in downtown Markleeville, not far from the start/finish of the official route. We went to bed right away, and the overnight rest was my only chance to acclimatize to the altitude (Markleeville is at 5500 feet elevation).

My initial plan was to start just after daybreak, around 5:30am. But, instead, I decided to sleep a little longer and rest since I had not slept too much the previous couple days. I started around 7:30am. It was cool (lower 50's), so I was wearing my jacket. The initial part was mostly downhill, so I did not build much internal heat for the first 20 minutes.

I was following the official route, so I started up west side of Monitor Pass. By now it was warm enough in the sun that I did not need my jacket for the climb. I kept a slow pace to preserve my energy, since I had many miles and many hills ahead. I started breathing hard much earlier than I normally do, and obviously this was because of the altitude (the summit of Monitor Pass is at 8300 feet).

After a brief pause at the summit, I started the long descent. There was very little traffic, and the road was fairly smooth, so I was able to descend fast (between 35 to 40 mph). On the day of the event, the road will be closed to motor traffic so everyone will be descending at equally high speeds.

I reached the bottom by 9:30am. This was one hour before I had expected to. I had told my support crew (Vaishali, Dad, Rom) to meet me there at 10:30 so I could refill my water bottle. I was down to a half a bottle, but I did not want to wait for an hour. Fortunately, there was a fire station at this location, so I was able to fill my two bottles from their outdoor faucet. After that, I started the return trip back to the top of Monitor.

Climbing up to Monitor Pass.

About halfway up the east side of Monitor, I crossed paths with the support crew. We stopped at a pull-out and I took a break. I filled my water bottles and ate some snacks (banana, cookies). We then made our plans for the next rendezvous. I told them to continue the scenic drive down the East side of Monitor, while I continued to the summit, back down the west side, then back to the rental house in Markleeville for a break.

By the time I cruised down the west side of Monitor, I was seeing more cyclists on the road. Some were, like me, preparing for the Death Ride, but others were simply cycling in the Sierra. Again, with little traffic, it was a fast descent. I arrived back at the house at noon, so I washed up and ate lunch. So far, I had no problems and was ahead of schedule.

At 1:00pm, I left the house and started eastern ascent of Ebbetts Pass. The first half is a shallow incline, but suddenly becomes steep. Although it is no steeper than my usual training rides, I was tired from the amount of energy I had already used and because of the elevation, so I struggled a little. I made it up to the 8700 foot summit without stopping, but was almost at the end of my energy limit. I stopped for a while and ate a few cookies I had brought along.

The descent down the west side was relatively short. I quickly reached the turnaround point at Hermit Valley. There I saw a group of cyclist at an organized rest stop. I asked them what they were doing and they told me they were scouting a route to create a double century (200 miles) over 8 passes. That's impressive, considering that the Death Ride is "only" 130 miles over 5 passes!

Again, I was planning to meet my support crew at the bottom of the descent, but I reached there ahead of time. I was down to less than one full bottle of water, but I decided to continue as far as that would take me. I started the climb up the west side of Ebbetts. Now I was keeping a slow pace because I had little energy. I was being passed by other, fresher cyclists. About halfway to the summit, I met the crew. I refilled my water and ate some snacks. Now the plan was to meet again back at the house. The crew would have enough time for a short hike near the summit.

I reached the summit and only took a short break before starting the descent down the east side of Ebbetts. This is probably the most scenic part of the route. As the steep road drops, there is a wonderful view of the valley in front. This is also the most dangerous part of the route since it is steep and contains many blind curves. I took it relatively slowly since I am generally a very cautious descender.

I returned to the house at 5:00pm. This was quite an accomplishment since it was more than I had expected to do. I did not think I would be keeping a pace that would allow me to cover both sides of Monitor and both sides of Ebbetts. Since we still had daylight, I decided to also attempt Carson Pass. I knew that I did not have enough time to make it to the top and then back down, so the plan was to attempt to reach the summit and meet the crew there to drive back to the house.

I had a short rest and ate, then left by 5:30pm. I was pretty drained at this point so I was forced to keep a slow pace. There were several ups and downs to reach the town of Woodfords before the main climb starts. Immediately after turning left at Woodfords, I faced a strong headwind. Between that and the incline, I struggled to crawl forward at 4 mph. At this pace, I clearly would not even reach the top.

Although sunset was not until 7:30pm, I was in a valley and the sun was behind the mountain tops, so it was darker than I expected. I knew that the crew would pass me while I was still climbing. Since they would need to pull over and it would be difficult to find good spots to do it in the dark, I decided to find one and wait there. I stopped at the entrance to a campground. I stood there for 10 minutes, with the car arriving around 7:30pm.

Distance-wise, I was less than one third of the way to the summit, but I had reached 6400 feet, while the summit is at 8600 feet. This meant that I had covered 12000 feet and 91 miles. I considered this a success, even though I did not make it to the top of Carson Pass. I would have been able to do it if I had had one more hour of daylight.

I could have finished the route on Sunday, but I decided to give the support crew a break and did not do any cycling. We all went to South Lake Tahoe and did a short hike there. We came back to the Bay Area in the evening.

So now I feel fully prepared for the Death Ride. I know the route, I know that the altitude is not a serious issue for me, and I know that I am in good enough shape for it. Now all I need to do is stay in shape, which should not be a problem. I will continue training, and in one month I will return for the Death Ride.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been reading Murali's bicycle reports from the begining. I was feelig good on the thrills of his rides. I had an unique opportunity to witness the Prewiew of the Challenge Ride past week end. I was the part of his support crew along with Vaishali and Rom. Now I can fully comprehend the psaaion of the California cyclist.