For those not familiar with The Death Ride, it’s basically a big, long, hilly, punishing bicycle ride. It’s kind of famous. I’d had plans to ride it this year, although I didn’t have a ticket (tickets for the 2012 ride sold out in 2011) and was just planning to head up the night before and try to get a no-show spot. At 129 miles and around 15,000 feet of climbing, all while at serious elevation, I’d hoped to finish it in around 12 hours, with stops.
But plans change, and for some disappointing reasons I’m not going to be taking my tour of the “California Alps” on July 14. Instead, I’ll ride the Alta Alpina Challenge on June 30, which covers the same mountain passes (Carson, Ebbetts, Monitor), has fewer people, and better rest stops (from what I’m told, although I’m also told that The Death Ride serves you ice cream bars at the top of your last mountain pass, and that sounds pretty awesome).
This past weekend a group of friends, many of whom are also coached by coach Thomas Chapple, headed up to Markleeville to preview several of these passes and enjoy a weekend away. Some of the riders there will be riding The Death Ride, while others just came along for some high altitude training.
I’ve been pretty bummed out lately, so I was really looking forward to spending time with old and new friends and riding bikes in a beautiful new place.
Friday night we all ate at Stonefly, which served lovely, elegant food and wine. It was so good we made a reservation for the next night too. I had several glasses of wine and daringly added a gin and tonic at the Wolf Creek Inn across the street. Drink a lot and then bicycle over four high altitude mountain passes the next day? Don’t mind if I do!
Saturday started out slow at breakfast. The Sierra-to-the-Sea bicycle tour was in town and had a huge buffet breakfast there at our breakfast joint, but the food was great and we finally got out by around 8:30. I’m more accustomed to starting out big rides much earlier; 7 a.m. used to feel late. But my 9 a.m. we were off, riding down Highway 89 towards Monitor Pass.
It was already very warm. Up Monitor, the fast kids got away, including my beautiful French friend Sophie Bee who was ripping up the hill. I hung back and rode with Dana Freedman of Team Tibco II, and Rikke Preisler of Metromint. All three of us are in our late thirties, though Rikke has been married for 16 years and Dana and I, well, we’re not married. She has a boyfriend and my fiance and I just broke up. So we talked about boys. And racing. And then boys again.
The scenery was beautiful and it was really nice to ride with some awesome ladies.
The descent down the backside of Monitor was long, smooth and fast. Really fast. Sustained 50 mph fast. You have a lot of time to think about hitting a bear, or a tire blowout, or a motorcycle coming the other way having blown their turn and ending up in your lane. Scary.
Coming up the backside of Monitor was the most challenging pass of the day for me. Sustained 8% grade, long sight lines, and an impossibly high mountain staring you in the face. An hour and a half later, I made it back to the top. I mostly rode solo, because I wanted to be able to find the best balance between cadence and power and heart rate, so that I wouldn’t overdo it cardio-wise while also being nice to my knees. Ride any faster my heart would suffer, ride any slower my knees would suffer, so, I tried to find equal suffering for both without ruining either.
Markos came along and jollied me up for a few minutes. “Does that braid make you hot?” He asked. “What?” Eventually he must have grown tired of Lady Gaga (the iPhone 4S has a great speaker) and pedaled on.
Eventually I made it to the Monitor summit. For the second time.
The descent down the front side of Monitor was more technical and fun. Our SAG (support-and-gear) wagon was waiting for us at the corner of Monitor and Ebbetts, so I hung out there, ate some food, and waited for Dana, Tim and Sophie to come along before I set out for Ebbetts. My pokey little puppies didn’t want to be pokey with me up Ebbetts, so I set out again with Perry in tow, who I was sure would drop me, but he was battling some nasty leg cramps. I rode along and eventually caught up to Thomas Preisler (Rikke’s husband), Markos, and Bill, Sophie’s boyfriend. “I thought you were a slow girl,” Markos said. “I am, but you guys are riding slow!”
Ebbetts winds along a river for a while at mostly 2%, so we toddled along. Then you pass a cattle guard and shit gets real. You’re first faced with this 16% wall of asphalt, which fortunately doesn’t last too long, but then you’re left with a serious climb the rest of the way up (with some additional stupid steep walls).
I just kept puttering along in my Zone 2, 110-150 watts, keeping an eye on my heart rate and not letting it get too much over 160 (except for the asphalt walls, which I just stood up for and powered through). Thomas and Bill had taken off, while Markos dropped back to ride with Perry. Eventually I found Bill again, and he was suffering. Cramps. I rode with him for a few minutes while playing music from my phone. “Come on, be the Dancing Queen Bill!” I guess he didn’t feel like it that day and eventually dropped back.
Towards the very end I started to catch Thomas, which surprised me because Mr. Rikke is a strong rider. And then, the top.
I was happy that my power output up each of the climbs was roughly equal, a sign that I’d paced myself appropriately. I even edged a little higher up Ebbetts:
Monitor Front Climb, 8.2mi, 2,498 feet, 142W, 152 bpm, 1:15:16
Monitor Back Climb: 12.2mi, 3,059f 141W, 155bpm, 1:33:46
Ebbetts (junction to summit): 11.0mi, 2,781ft, 146W, 161bpm, 01:20:52
I didn’t stay too long and turned around for the descent, getting stuck behind two slow motorcyclists. The road back from Ebbetts to Markleeville was painfully long, with a headwind, and my feet were swollen from the heat and altitude. The rest of me felt pretty good, but because of my fat feet there was no way I could do another pass.
I found Sophie lounging underneath a shady tree in town, and I joined her. Bill and the rest of the gang eventually joined us.
More beautiful food Saturday night. A fun evening on a dark patio drinking with friends. Another cozy night at the Woodfords Inn.
We climbed Ebbetts again on Sunday, leaving from breakfast at Ali’s Cafe and just doing a simple out and back to the top. I rode with Dana and Tim up the hill, then wanted to go fast down the hill, so Coach T followed me down in case I had to be scraped up off the pavement, and then he pulled me at lightning speeds down the flatter bottom portion of Ebbetts. Out of over 600 men and women on Strava, we were third fastest on that segment (QOM for the women), and I got 5th overall (1st for women) for the more technical portion up top.
I know it’s dangerous to pursue downhill QOMs. But it’s fun, I ride within my limits, and I carefully consider the risks. If I die doing this, my family and I will have no one to blame but my stupid self. I would be riding just as fast even if it weren’t a competition, and, if you’re riding 30 mph down a hill, in other words carefully, you can still get very, very hurt if you crash. I might as well enjoy myself and save the brake pads.
Thanks so much to Thomas, a fantastic coach who organized this weekend for all of his clients, including setting us up at a nice inn, finding great food, and providing SAG and comic relief. Next up: shoes a half size bigger, and mountain bike gears for my Cannondale SuperSix EVO. Then I’ll be all set for Alta Alpina!