Sunday, July 13, 2008

Death Ride

129 miles, 16000 feet total elevation gain,
13 hours 40 minutes total (10 hours 45 minutes on the bicycle)

It was finally time for the event for which I have been training for the last 6 month. I did the Death Ride, and finished it without problems. It was a lot of fun, except for the freak thunderstorm and hail.

The week before the ride, my coworkers made a poster for me and signed it with words of encouragement.

Vaishali and I drove to the area on Friday. I wanted to checkin for the ride early and then get to our motel for an early bedtime. The closest motel we could find was in South Lake Tahoe, which is a 40 minute drive to the start/finish in Markleeville. During most of the drive there, we could not see much of the mountains because of the smoke. There is a forest fire raging near Chico, 150 miles away, which is injecting smoke into the atmosphere of eastern California. We could even smell the smoke in the air. I hoped that the air near the route would be better, because I did not want to breathe smoky air for 12 hours.

After checking in for the ride, we drove to our motel, ate a big dinner, and I went to sleep at 8:00pm. I got up at 3:00am, got ready, and had Vaishali drop me at the start. I started riding at 4:30am. There was a steady stream of blinking taillights in the predawn darkness as many cyclists wanted to get a head-start on the long day.

Click for an interactive map. The route is:
  • E to B: Start point, up the west side of Monitor Pass, then down the east side.
  • B to C: Turn around, up the east side of Monitor Pass, down the west side, then up the east side of Ebbetts Pass, and down the west side.
  • C to D: Turn around, up the west side of Ebbetts Pass, down the east side, (pass by the start/finish), then up the east side of Carson Pass.
  • D to E: Turn around, down the east side of Carson Pass, finish.
4:30am, 0 miles, 0 feet

The first part of the ride was very cold. It was 45 minutes until sunrise, the temperature was in the upper 40's, and it was downhill 5 miles. We reached junction with the roads that lead to Monitor Pass and Ebbetts Pass. Both of them were closed to motor traffic for this event, and the cyclists enjoyed having the road to ourselves. A left turn here took us towards Monitor Pass. The climb was pleasant since I was now building up heat. Watching the sun rise in the mountains was beautiful.

5:30am, 15 miles, 3000 feet

I skipped the stop at the top of Monitor Pass. I was not hungry and did not need to rest since I now had 12 miles downhill on the other side of Monitor Pass. At the bottom, I ate and stretched at the rest stop. The temperature was warmer, and on its way to the low 90's that was predicted. At this stop, the organizers provided the facility to drop off items that riders did not want to carry, which would be transported to the finish for pickup later. Most people dropped off their jackets here, but I kept mine. Most of those people would eventually regret that decision.

6:00am, 25 miles, 3000 feet

Now the route retraced its path, going back up to the top of Monitor Pass and back down the other side. I felt fine most of the climb, but was more tired than I expected to be. I stopped at the top this time because I wanted to stretch my neck. The ride back down the west side was great. I set a new personal speed record of 47 MPH, but there were plenty of guys going much faster. Even when I was in the low 40's, guys were zooming by me.

8:15am, 40 miles, 6000 feet

After finishing Monitor, the next part of the route was Ebbetts Pass. Like the previous part, this meant going up the front side, down the back, turning around, and retracing. This was probably the most difficult climb since it is the steepest part of the route. I was feeling pretty strong at this point and had no problems with it. Like before, I skipped the rest stop at the top and rested at the bottom on the far side.

10:30am, 60 miles, 9000 feet

The heat was apparent on the return climb. Again skipping the stop at the top, I descended the front side. This part had to be taken more slowly because the road is narrower, rougher, and it contains many blind corners. Many of the people who were coming up at this time were suffering. I saw many resting in whatever shade they could find.

12:30pm, 70 miles, 11000 feet

The rest stop at the bottom was the official lunch stop. Most of the elevation gain was done since 4 of the 5 passes were finished, but only about half the distance had been covered. All the sandwiches were premade, and none were vegetarian, so I stuck to my usual — mostly cookies, potato chips, pretzels, orange.

Did this passenger get too much sun? A group of cyclists were riding together and taking turns towing the trailer.

It was 20 miles to get to the start of the climb of Carson Pass, consisting of smaller hills, none difficult, but challenging enough considering how much energy we had already expended. There was a rest stop at the beginning of the Carson Pass climb, with volunteers spraying cyclists with a garden hose. Little did we know this would be the last hot part of the day, and that Mother Nature would be spraying all of us with water.

1:30pm, 95 miles, 12000 feet

The climb up might be the easiest ascent of the route. About one third of the way up, I was startled by a loud thunderclap. I looked over my left shoulder and was surprised to see dark skies. My first thought was regarding what rain would do to the road conditions. This part of the route was not closed to cars, and there was regular traffic. Then I realized that thunder always follows lightning. The last thing California needs now is another lightning-ignited forest fire. I reached the rest area halfway up, and most of us discussed the weather conditions. We expected to get wet but hoped it would not be too bad.

Continuing on to the final summit, we kept hearing thunder, but it seemed to be getting more distant. The change in weather had the much appreciated effect of cooling the air during the final climb. The second half of this climb is less steep than the first half, and I was putting in my full effort knowing that it was practically all downhill after the summit.

4:00pm, 105 miles, 15500 feet

I reached the summit of Carson Pass. There was a celebratory mood. We had all finished the 5 passes of the Death Ride! About five minutes after I arrived, we were hit by a shower of hail. People scurried under the temporary shelters as pea-sized hailstones fell all around. The stones even reached marble-size at one point. The hail continued for about 10 minutes after which it became a steady rain.

Video of the hail storm.

My decision to carry my rain jacket proved fortuitous. Few others had jackets. Most improvised by making temporary ponchos using plastic garbage bags and tearing holes for their head and arms. After about 20 minutes, the rain reduced to a slight drizzle. Many people were standing around shivering.

I needed to decide when to head back to the finish. It was 20 miles, mostly downhill. Although my upper body was dry, my shorts and hands were wet, and my shoes were soaked. There was no telling when conditions would become dry again. After having spent about 30 minutes at the stop, I joined the small trickle of riders leaving, not wanting to waste any more time.

I started the descent fairly slowly at first, knowing that my brakes would have lost much of their effectiveness by being wet. As I got comfortable with their capabilities, I allowed myself to get up to 25 MPH at times (whereas I would have been going around 35 MPH if dry). I was surprised to find that my hands and feet were not getting frozen. Although it had cooled off from earlier in the day, the air temperature was still warm enough that I did not get miserable. Very few people passed me at this point, but I zoomed by many people who looked frozen. The rain tapered off eventually.

6:15pm, 129 miles, 16000 feet

I returned to the finish where there was a party atmosphere with live music and dinner for the riders. I called Vaishali to pick me up. While waiting for her, I ate. It was a barbeque dinner, so I ate potato salad, pasta salad, and three bean salad.

When Vaishali arrived, she was surprised to find that the area was wet — it had not rained where she was. She was concerned about my condition. I told her I was wet, but felt great. I did not get frozen, I did not get exhausted, I did not breathe in smoke. In fact, I still had a lot of energy, and she noticed that. On our drive back to our motel, I told her the story of the surprise storm.

So the last 6 month have been a pursuit of a single goal, and now I have accomplished it. It is quite a feeling of satisfaction to set a high goal and achieve it. But my cycling adventures for this year are not done. I still have a couple months of prime cycling weather this summer, so I need to find some new goals. I will decide soon what those will be.


Here are a few other videos I took. I did not want to embed them into the report because it was getting too long. Most of these videos have more description in their "Details" tab.
  • [video] Me riding up the west side of Monitor Pass just after sunrise (hence no sunglasses yet).
  • [video] Climbing back up the east side of Monitor Pass.
  • [video] Cheering volunteers at the rest stop halfway up Monitor Pass (west side).
  • [video] Me climbing up the east side of Ebbetts pass.
  • [video] Further up the east side of Ebbetts pass while another cyclist plays music.
  • [video] The rest stop at the base of Carson Pass.
  • [video] Halfway up Carson Pass.
  • [video] Near the Carson Pass summit.
  • [video] The top of Carson Pass just before the hail started.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Final Preparation

This weekend was my last training ride before the Death Ride. I was planning to do a medium length ride, but it ended up being a fairly long ride. I decided to ride from home to Santa Cruz and back. This would require some significant hill climbing, but none of them too difficult.

Click for interactive map.


I left home around 10:00am. I rode uphill on Highway 9, crossed Skyline Blvd, and rode Highway 9 down until it ended at Santa Cruz. I stopped there to eat lunch. It was 45 miles to get to this halfway point, so it was clear that this ride would not be "short". My return route was uphill on the Empire Grade, a road roughly parallel to Highway 9. After passing through Big Basin park, the road rejoined Highway 9, and I retraced the route back home.

I made it back to the house at 7:30pm, after 104 miles. Although this was longer than what I wanted to do, it was a great ride. I still had plenty of energy when I finished.

Unlike the organized centuries I have done, there were no preplanned snack breaks. But since I was familiar with the route, I knew where I could stop for bathroom breaks and water breaks. Besides lunch (falafel and big cup of Sprite), the only other calorie intake was the Mountain Dew I drank at Big Basin on the way back (which gave me an instant energy boost, thanks to the sugar and caffeine).

Considering that I did a century both this weekend and the previous one, and also considering that I rode the Death Ride course 3 weeks ago, I feel like I am fully prepared. This week will now just be rest for me.