Surviving the 2006 Death Ride

It was tough, hot, high, long, grueling and wet but all of us – R, F and moi – made it in time, and alive.
Getting up long before the sun would rise was the first challenge of the day. After leaving Markleeville and a bit of scrambling in the dark, with LED lights mounted on our bikes, we arrived at the base of Monitor Pass, on its west side.Cimg3042 We were greeted by the rising sun and about 12 miles of climbing with roughly 2800 feet of elevation gain. The first hill of the day, and we hardly felt it. Going down the east side of Monitor was quite something – a wide open road, closed for cars (just like the west side of Monitor and Ebbett’s Pass), speeds going up to 50 mph (for relative wussies like me) and over 60 mph for those with a more urgent need for speed.Cimg3048-1
I was trying not to think – not about gravel patches in corners, or the squirrel that crossed the road just in front of me, other riders coming too close to my liking – just staying still, holding on to the handlebars, elbows slightly bent, shoulders unweighted, concentrating and operating the brakes as gently as possible when needed. And so we made it to the bottom of Monitor, deep in the Carson Valley near Topaz. As on the summit of Monitor, there was also a rest stop here with plenty of food, snacks, drinks and port-a-potties. The bad news was we had to backtrack and climb up what we just came down. Since Topaz is lower than Markleeville, we had some more elevation to gain than on the previous climb, over 3000 feet in 15 miles.

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Cimg3049 Even though it was still quite early, it was getting hot. With the rising sun and the scorching deserts of Nevada behind our backs, we started the grind up. We still had plenty of energy to take pictures here and there, and the views we enjoyed on this section of the route were quite inviting. Steadily we made it back to the summit and the rest stop there. Flying down the west side of Monitor was thrilling, I ended up liking this descent the most. Back at the junction with Highway 4 we were directed towards the Ebbett’s Pass, rather than Markleeville, taking on the third climb of the day. I figured this would be the ‘make it or break’ section of the ride – the fourth climb was much shorter than the others and the last one, the Carson Pass, would have to be done in survival-mode anyway, with the stimulating knowledge that it would be over after that. But first Ebbett’s had to be conquered. I was pleasantly surprised by the gentle grade during the first couple of miles. However, this was just Ebbett messing a bit with us – soon it got steep, then steeper, and yet steeper, and it wouldn’t end. Img 0070 The air got thin – the summit would be the highest point of the ride at 8700 feet. I saw people pulling over to vomit in the bushes. False summits messed up our minds some more. But I kept going and eventually there was an end to it. F and R were suffering but they made it too. After some recovery time on the summit, we were presented a nice downhill to Hermit Valley – we again had the priviledge to turn around and climb it back up to where we came from. As I mentioned, this climb was luckily not too long, though F didn’t seem to experience it that way. The two-way bike traffic on the narrow and twisty roads of the Ebbett’s Pass proved to be rather tricky – during the climbs, we needed to keep an eye on people bombing downhill, and while we were descending, we had to watch exhausted riders going up that were gyrating all over the place. After reaching the summit again, we took on the fun descent back to the base of the mountain, where a nice big lunch awaited us. It tasted absolutely great and we took a long break.Img 3864
But we still had 40 miles to do – the first ten or so on rolling roads, through Markleeville, and – horresco referens – right past our parked cars, which we had to ignore as we still needed to climb the frickin’ Carson Pass first! The first six miles of this last climb were horrendous, but no way we were going to quit now. When we made the last rest stop, nicely before the last cut-off time, I knew we did it. Meanwhile, perhaps to make things more interesting, the weather was changing rather dramatically – dark storm clouds had packed together towards the south east, I was guessing above Markleeville. Luckily we were heading away from the clouds, and could enjoy the cooler temperatures as well as the sound and light show behind us while staying dry. As we learned later from F’s wife, the storm was indeed hitting Markleeville full force, with torrential rains and even hail as a result – and a whole bunch of startled riders.
Cimg3066 The Carson Pass was long and, at this point, highly obnoxious – but it wasn’t too steep, except for the last couple of miles or so. We were all quite exhilarated when we made it to the top, where we were greeted by friendly volunteers, food, drinks, and hords of annoying mosquitos. F turned out to have a flat (the only one of the day for our little group) and we took some time to hit the road again – the descent to Markleeville, including a terribly irritating section of ‘vals plat’ (‘false flat’?). We saw lots of evidence of the storm (including F’s car which was stuck in mud and which we later would need to push out) but arrived in time at the finish, in quite a delirious state. Then we enjoyed a free bbq dinner at the finish booth and were invited to sign the big Death Ride poster, a tradition it seems. We had no more energy for post-ride beers, and still the half hour drive back to our motel in Tahoe, after which it soon got post-ride passing out time.
Img 3875 I had my handlebar-mounted Garmin Edge GPS grab data all day and below are shown some geeky fruits of its labor. Total distance was 125 miles, total elevation gain right about 15000 feet, all in a very long day (4.30am to almost 8pm). Thanks to the volunteers and the organizers for a very well organized event (the $85 registration fee is actually quite reasonable compared to many other events).

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