Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tour of the California Alps

Yeah...that's the "nice" name for what is more commonly (and accurately) known as The Death Ride.

A few months ago, Madison's soccer coach and I went for a little road ride on the Diamond Valley Loop. It was my first big ride on my new Masi Gran Criterium road bike. Along the way, he and his brother George talked me into buying my friend Kathy's Death Ride ticket. She had knee surgery and could not go.

I felt pretty confident about the ride for most of the past few months. It wasn't until we got home from Huntington Beach that I realized I had not trained enough and I was completely unprepared for what I had gotten myself into. So I didn't sleep well at all the entire week before the ride and both of my knees were sore, compounding my worries.

Friday night before the ride Sandie and I drove out to Turtle Rock Park near Markleeville to check out the expo and buy some merchandise. It didn't do much to calm my nerves - in fact I got even more nervous when I saw some of the riders on their bikes riding up and down the smaller hills surrounding the area.

We drove back to Carson and had dinner at Grand Central then went home and I packed up my gear, lubed my chain, and hit the sack at about 10:30. Two and a half hours later than I planned.

I woke up every hour all night. Finally at 4:00 AM I rolled out of bed. I was on the road by 5:00 with the windows down and the music loud.

6:03 AM - Threw my leg over the Masi and took off from Turtle Rock Park down the hill toward Markleeville. 6:04 AM - Heard a funny noise. Tic-Tic-Tic...I thought my speed sensor was hitting. I stopped and checked it out but it was fine. So I spun the wheel and there it was again. Tic-Tic-Tic - safety pin in the tire! One minute in and I have to patch my tube! Luckily it turned out to be the only mechanical problem for me all day.

6:24 AM - Patched up and heading down the road. I got in with a group of 5 or 6 riders - all first timers just like me. We rode together all the way to the fork in the road where Monitor pass goes up to the left and Ebbett's pass goes up to the right. I stopped to take off my wind vest and get rid of some morning coffee. Then I headed up the front side of Monitor. Along the way I hooked up with another first timer who told me the story of waiting for his buddy at the start for a half hour before starting down the road. He overheard some people talking about an overturned truck and it turned out to be his buddy. It seems he was pulling off the road to park when one of his wheels went into a hole and he ended up upside down. We split up at the rest stop on the top of Monitor. I refilled my water bottles, had a couple of bananas and headed down the other side toward Topaz Lake.

The decent was awesome. Fast, curvy, and long. At the bottom I had a couple of orange wedges and a handful of pretzels then headed back up to the summit. The sun was beating down in full force on the east side of the mountain by this time and there was only a slight breeze at my back so it was HOT! I rounded a switch back that put the breeze on my face so I unzipped my jersey more and let it blow in and cool me off. At the top I paused to take a picture with my phone of the elevation marker. I refilled my bottles (which were bone dry) and got a couple of Advil and gel packets. After a quick stretch and bathroom break I headed back down the west side to climb Ebbetts.

After another fun decent I turned left and headed up
Ebbetts. Shortly thereafter my Monitor climbing buddy caught up to me and told me the good news that his friend's bike survived the rollover and he was going to do his best to do the whole ride and worry about his truck later. After a few miles he left me behind. The nice part about doing this ride alone is meeting new people and being able to ride at your own pace.

About half way up Ebbetts I came across George (Madison's soccer coach's brother). He was taking a rest in the shade. I asked him where his brothers were. He told me that John (Madison's soccer coach) didn't make it because he got hurt in Friday's soccer game (which I skipped for that exact reason) and Ernesto took off ahead. I tried to ride with George but he was starting to cramp up and couldn't hold the pace.

All the way up there were notes in chalk on the road. When I saw one that said "you are looking at Ebbetts Peak" I stopped and snapped a pic with my phone.

At the top it was complete chaos! The road is only one lane wide and there were a load of riders coming up from the back side and a load coming up from the front side all at the same time. There was a cattle guard right at the rest stop and it all created a huge bicycle traffic jam! I finally got off the road and lay down in the pine needles and waited for things to calm a bit. I snapped a couple more pics and ventured across the road to refuel and get more water.

My left hand, wrist, forearm, and foot were really starting to bother me at this time. Amazingly enough - my knees felt great! And thanks to me wearing two pairs of cycling shorts and some Body Glide, my butt was still in good shape. I thought about just heading back at this point, but then talked myself into getting the 4th over with. It's the shortest climb at around 6 miles, so I hopped on my bike and headed down the back side. Fun decent but toward the bottom the road was buckled and I got airborne a few times and almost lost control of the bike before I could get my fingers on the brakes. The only really scary part of the whole ride.

At the bottom (Hermit Valley) they were out of stickers to prove you did the pass. I said "you have got to be kidding!" as the guy signed my number bib where the sticker would have gone. The guy behind me said "that's like McDonald's running out of hamburger!"

I hit the port-a-potty, ate a bagel with peanut butter, washed it down with a V-8, and headed back up to the top.

On the climb I knew it would be my last but there was still that stubborn part of me that wanted to do the 5th. I told myself and others that I would decide after climbing out of Markleeville to Turtle Rock Park. I climbed with a 5 time vet of the ride who was telling me I still looked strong and I was climbing well. Shortly after that I felt it going away - then I saw him going away up the hill.

At the top, I rested for 2 or 3 minutes then took off down the funnest of all the descents. Twisty, fast, and only a handful of riders still climbing. That meant I could use the whole road. I got passed by one guy in the twistiest section but then blew by him when the road opened up toward the bottom.

At the lunch stop, I saw George again - bike on his shoulder, bent seat post, and taco'd rear wheel. I left my lunch on the table and went to check on him. He was fine. A little road rash and a few bruises. He was doing 35 or 40, hit a rock that blew out his front tire, hit a huge dip, and lost control. He bumped a wall, went airborne, flipped, and landed on the opposite side of the road. He caught a ride on the back of a motorcycle and was waiting for a truck to take him to Turtle Rock Park.

After lunch, I refilled the bottles with hot water (they were out of ice at this point) and head down into Markleeville. I was greeted by temps in the triple digits and a head wind between 15 and 20 MPH. When I got to town there were a bunch of people cheering the riders on. That was nice and gave me a bit of a boost. They even said "drink some more water!". I realized I hadn't been drinking. Mmmm - hot water!

The climb out of Markleeville was not as bad as I thought it would be and I even passed a few people. My arms were getting sunburned because I forgot to take sunblock with me after putting it on in the morning so I stopped and put my arm warmers back on. It turned out to be a good idea because the wind blowing through the sweat soaked material cooled my arms more than the bare skin.

When I got to the car, I saw my lovely wife sitting there in the shade. She smiled and stood up to take my picture. That's when I said to myself "it's over". There were some ladies sitting on the side of the road cheering everyone on. They said "come on, you can do 5!" I shook my head no and crossed the road to Sandie. I stopped and said "I'm done" she said, "are you sure? It's just one can do it!" I said "there is nothing left, I am done". It was 3:56 PM.

I flopped into the chair and chugged the ice cold Propel that was in the cooler. Then the ice cold Hammer Recoverite. I got up and stretched a little, sat back down and George's ride pulled in and we snapped a photo of his bike.

Ice cold Fat Tire was the very next thing down the hatch - then another as we waited for Ernesto to finish the 5th.

Sandie and I went up to eat some BBQ and I had a couple more beers. Ernesto finally showed up to check in and we got a picture of him as he stood there half dead.

I have never suffered so much and had so much fun all at the same time. It breaks my heart to know I won't have the chance to do it again until 2009. I will do all 5 next time. I have no doubt.

1 Pink and Black fatcyclist jersey
2 Pairs of cycling shorts
4 Climbs
12 Hours
89 Miles
12,206 Feet of climbing

PS. I would like to thank Mike and Kathy for all the encouragement and tips. Also, thanks to Dan at Bicycle Authority for getting my bike ready in time for the ride and the stick of Body Glide that saved my butt (literally). Most of all thanks to Sandie for the love and support and being there at the end of a grueling day.

You can check out the professional photos at West World Images under rider #2443


Jeff said...

Woo Hoo!!! Good job, and great story. Thanks for putting the map in there. I've always been confused about all the passes.

That busted back wheel is scary looking. I saw care flight coming from that direction, and was hoping it wasn't somebody I knew...

That last picture looks like a fake backdrop on one of those old westerns.

Brent said...

There were a few ambulances going by toward the end with the lights and sirens on... pretty nerve racking when you have a friend still out on the course.

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