Call Me Maybe: Alta Alpina Challenge

The march to The Death Ride carries on.

Everyone I talk to says that TDR is overrated. “Too many people, it’s amateur hour. The Alta Alpina Challenge is better supported, has fewer people, and if you do it right, more challenging.” But the conversation always ends with, well, but Death Ride is one of those bucket list type things. If you haven’t done it you should do it. Once.

Two weeks ago I ordered a SRAM XX mountain bike derailleur and 11-32 cassette. It was a lot of money. Racing and riding bicycles is not feeling cheaper than motorcycle racing right now (but it is, I’m just being dramatic). On Thursday I took my bike to my good friend Rickey Fogle, and with his broken foot (courtesy of a run-in with a careless driver a few weeks ago) he installed my bad ass mountain goat climbing parts.

That afternoon I did an easy ride around the neighborhood. While descending Mt. Eden road, a bee flew down my shirt and nestled inside my cleavage. It stung me hard and I yelled, but was unwilling to stop until I got to the intersection with Pierce Road (which happens to coincide with the end of the Strava segment, but this is merely a coincidence). Turns out it was a yellowjacket, so no stinger to worry about. The little things.

Friday, pack, leave, fuel, food, check-in. Sorensen’s gave me a complimentary glass of ass kicking bordeaux and access to wifi, a situation that makes you write emails you wish you hadn’t. I mellowed out a little then drove to a house in town where some friends from Alameda Velo and ACTC were staying to have a nice dinner. After some chit chat, we got down to business to plan out when we’d start and how we’d roll. We had plans to ride in a paceline for as long as we could, and would try to stay together for at least the first 2-3 passes.

Our paceline ripped. Hard not to, with tailwinds and fewer than a couple hundred feet of ascent in the first hour. We picked up a few stowaways along the way. I dared to take a quick photograph while taking my turn leading the charge:

One of these things is not like the others


I was trying to remember Kingsbury Grade. I think I was drunk once and in a packed SUV driving (well, I wasn’t driving) over it in the snow on our way from South Lake Tahoe to a rowdy Basque restaurant in Gardnerville (and dollar blackjack at some grand casinos afterwards). We paused briefly at the rest stop at the bottom, then set up the hill.

My new gears were great and allowed me to spin up the hill at a high cadence. Some riders in my group got away from me a bit, and I was a little reckless in chasing them down. It was dumb because I didn’t really let myself chase, but I didn’t stick to my 130-150 watts plan either, and ended up averaging 157 watts and 161 bpm up the 8 mile, 5.8% grade hill.

A bunch of guys in drag greeted us at the top of “Queensbury Grade.” I’ve seen stranger things. It was surprising to be on a bicycle ride surrounded by women with bigger boobs than mine, but they were fun and they had food, so it was okay.

One of these things is not like the others

The descent was great fun. Many of us reached over 50 mph. I like to rest a knee on my top tube, having once read that this can stabilize or settle any potential speed wobbles, and it kind of feels comforting to do so while screaming down a hill. Effective or not, I like it.

It was a long haul back to Markleeville from Queensbury Grade. By the time we got to the base of Ebbetts pass, with our supposed three passes left, we had already ridden 62 miles. Two weeks ago, I rode those three passes, and it was a seventy mile ride. My brain doesn’t work very well on long rides, but I tried to comprehend the enormity and reality of a 135 mile ride.


We continued our paceline up the slight grade at the base of Ebbetts, but I dropped my chain three times. While switching from the big front ring to the small. I was vexed because we had encountered quite a few other riders, and I was enjoying the dynamic of having other riders around to help motivate me and to vary the scenery. Each time my chain dropped, I got passed back by this chick, I’d pass her again, chain dropped, rinse and repeat.

As the grade spiked up past the cattle guard, my bottom bracket started screeching. I’ve had this problem a few times, and lube usually clears it, although I’m not certain of the underlying cause. This wasn’t just a little squeaky squeaky, it was like an out of tune violin being played by a five year old. Not a violin prodigy kind of five year old, but a regular one. Sometimes I would shift down to the 28 tooth cog in the rear, or even the 25, and the pitch of the horrible violin would change. Sometimes it sounded like an overweight opera singer’s vibrato. Riders would come by, or I would pass them, and everyone asked about the noise, sometimes giving their opinions on the noise.

As you can imagine, while exerting myself and having to endure this trauma, it required an extra level of patience to handle these constant inquiries. I daydreamed about asshole responses that I would never say, because the people are nice, right? They’re not trying to be dicks. It’s not their fault. But I had to live with the noise all the way up the hill, not them!

I was surprised by how much the noise bothered me. It was an awful noise, but I’m not usually rattled by nuisance problems. But it possibly isn’t just a nuisance problem. While on the climb I had lots of time to imagine all of the havoc I was wreaking on my beautiful new bicycle. That grinding along, squeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaa squeeeeeeeeeaaaaaa, was destroying the delicate inner workings of my bottom bracket. This is where the stress came from.

I was going to hammer everyone at the rest stop for lube when I got there. But about halfway up, a white truck with a camper shell and a mountain bike mounted to the back passed me, and I saw him again parked up just past the beautiful mountain lake. “Do you have any chain lube?” I yelled while still pedaling along. He did, and I was overjoyed. I dumped a bunch on the right side of the BB and the noise was gone. Thank you, dude with the chain lube.

To add insult to injury, I’d also forgotten my iPhone, having left it in the truck at lunch at Turtle Rock Park. I like to take pictures, and play music from the phone’s bad ass speaker while I climb, so instead all I had was Carly Rae Jepsen on repeat in my head:

Hey, I just met you
And this is crazy
But here’s my number
So call me maybe

Over and over again. Sometimes in tune with the out-of-tune violin.

Kinney Lake, Ebbetts Pass. Imagine this is me, only there's no snow, and there is a loud screeching noise

Julian and Jon got to the top before I did, and once I was up there and we were rested, we decided to head down on our own and tackle Monitor.


I’d been wiggling my toes and trying to keep them awake and fresh, but by the time we started climbing Monitor, they were killing me. My knees, legs, heart and back all felt like champs, but my toes were a disaster. Again, not a nuisance problem, because for most of 2011 and early 2012, I was dealing with the ramifications of having lost a toenail from too-tight cycling shoes. For a girl who loves perfectly groomed toes, the thought of losing yet another nail and facing yet another year of not being able to get french style pedicures was unbearable.

I felt bad, Julian was probably feeling great, and wanting some company and scintillating conversation, but my troubles were too much to bear and I mostly just humped along. Jon, who ordinarily kicks my ass without even trying, was bonking and suffering behind us. We were all feeling pretty ready to write off the fourth pass, so when we got to the top of Monitor, we took a long rest.

Rest Stop Shenanigans

A silly European guy in a yellow jersey offered me a date out of a ziplock bag, and when I said “no, thank you,” he said, “okay, but would you like a date?” As in the fruit. Or whatever the hell a date is. Several of us riders sat around in a tent and discussed our woes. An older model Range Rover started to leave the rest stop, and we heard a terrible crunching sound; it drove over someone’s bicycle. Not to dwell on something negative; the amount of work required for the Alta Alpina Cycling Club to put on this event was huge, I just can’t even fathom it, and they did an amazing job. It looked like the man whose bike it was knew the guys at the rest stop, and there was not a lot of drama. It was odd. We left and descended Monitor into a wall of wind.

Once at the bottom, we toddled along the road into Markleeville, collectively dreading the comparatively short, inconsequential climb back up to Turtle Rock Park, where our cars, food and salvation awaited.

I’d eaten a bite of bagel and fruit at almost every rest stop, and wasn’t too hungry when we got back, but after sitting around for a while I managed to eat two hot dogs. I asked a man we were chatting with, who was a local, where I could find some poison oak treatment. While riding over 9 hours, I got to watch the poison oak outbreak on my thigh grow larger and more inflamed. We drank chocolate milk and dusted the salt, sweat and sunscreen dandruff off our skin.

I went back to Sorensen’s to enjoy wine, shower, poison oak anxiety, and a wifi connection that pretended to work but actually didn’t.

We rode three passes, riding 111 miles and climbing 11,000 feet. Here’s a map of the area’s passes; we began at Turtle Rock Park, went to Kingsbury (Queensbury), back to Turtle Rock Park (A), to the top of Ebbetts (H), to the top of Monitor (I).

They put a sticker on your bib at the top of each pass; some riders rode eight passes. I had breakfast today with two of them (dudes, not passes). Maybe next year I’ll do eight (passes, not dudes).

It was a lot of fun riding with the Alameda Velo crew, and enjoying a great meal at their digs Friday night. Thanks Cupertino Bike Shop and Rickey Fogle for my rad new gearing and coach Thomas Chapple. Thanks to them, the important parts of this ride, as in, could my body actually handle it, were no big deal. Today, I feel like nothing even happened yesterday. But my toes still hurt and I need a pedicure.

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4 Responses to Call Me Maybe: Alta Alpina Challenge

  1. Molly says:

    Wow, that’s pretty awesome!!! And even better that you aren’t feeling too bad today :)

  2. Swampy says:

    Nice riding :) Congrats!

    It was an awesome day for the Alta Alpina Challenge – thankfully one that wasn’t freezing cold like the last few years. Nice job on completing the hardest passes – the other side of Monitor is just a long grind that just takes time and the back of Ebbetts is always hot but neither are as hard as the sides of the respective climbs that you completed.

    If you start in the dark (3:30am) and use your power meter to keep the pace up on the long flattish sections and not-so-steep downhills on the first half of the ride you’ll find that doing 5 passes won’t be that much harder than 3. Doing the 8 pass isn’t so much about hammering the climbs, it’s more a case of pacing and not wasting time like I always do. LOL.

    8 passes… well, that’s a toughie – try the Davis Double first, it has a nice hill halfway through and the last 100 miles aren’t too grim. Support is ace too.

    Since you like the numbers off your powermeter, I got the following for the 8 pass ride this past weekend:

    Average Power: 145 watts
    Normalized Power: 166 watts
    Time on bike : 15:30
    Total Time 18:14

    Weight 177lb

    That might give you some power/weight info to ponder if you’re in a thinking mood. Typically, on an 8% grade, 1 lb less is about 1 watt less required to travel at a given speed. If you weigh significantly less than 177, which I suspect you do, then you’ll need significantly less watts to climb at the same speed

    Did you get in the Death Ride via the Training Camp or is that one on the bucket list for next year?

    Does your squeaky Cannondale SuperSix Evo have the Cannondale SL Si cranks? I had a problem with mine (the previous modelSuperSix but with those cranks) – get someone to take the cranks off (you need the KT013 tool to do this without destroying them) put in the correct number of ‘wave washers’ – or as the case probably is, remove the uneeded ones, grease the bottom bracket spindle where the cranks attach (which most people don’t because back in the day doing that was a bad thing on older cranks) and torque the crank bolt to 40Nm. Pouring lube down there to stop squeaking is akin to having nookie on a windswept sandy beach – it sounds like a great idea but the reality of the situation after a short while can border on grim.

    For your foot woes, this chappy knows his stuff and deals with top Aussie riders:

    Lots of good stuff on bike fitting and more importantly, feet stuff – especially insoles. You shouldn’t have any foot pain unless you fall off your bike and smash your feet into something.

    Good luck with the racing.

  3. Christie says:

    Thanks Molly and Swampy. Planning to acquire a no-show ticket sale Friday night. Pretty confident I’ll get in. Thanks for the tips about my bottom bracket. I have Quarq cranks, maybe this has something to do with it.

  4. Swampy says:

    Quarq’s cranks are normally someoneelses cranks with the quarq strain gauge added.

    Hope you get in the Death Ride. Looks like it’ll be a hot day with a thunderstorm possible in the afternoon. Mid 80′s during the afternoon in Markleeville which should translate to about 90F at picketts rest stop half way up Carson Pass. Hairdryer headwind looks likely on the last climb too…

    But pace it right and it a very doable ride.

    A long ramble ;)

    Some hints, tips and observations from past Death Rides.

    -The big one for folks with power meters – at those altitudes your threshold will be about 10% lower.

    -If you think that you’re not going to have enough time – WalMart, $20 for a set of lights (and cheap screwdriver) and start early. Like 4:30 am early. Cooler climbs and an extra hour. About 1/3 of the field seems to do this. You can ditch the lights and ‘donate’ them to the support folk at the Hennan rest stop half way up the first climb of Monitor if you don’t want the 1/2lb of weight or lights taking up real estate on the bike.

    -Thunderstorms are very possible and the forecast says there’s a good chance of them – bring your rain jacket and some gloves – or just pick them up from your car at Turtle Rock Park after 4 passes. I’ve done the Deathride every year since 2005 and there’s been a couple of big thunderstorms – pee sized hail and the temps go from 90F to mid 40s in an instant. 2006 and 2008 were notable years – the google “hail deathride” for youtube footage. :P The hail always feels bean sized but isn’t. The DeathRide often include a plastic disposable rainjacket in the goodie bag – don’t forget to use the plastic wrapper it comes in to stuff up the front of your shirt as an extra windbreak. If there is a thunderstorm as you’re climbing upto Picketts Jnt rest stop, stop breifly to fill a bottle if required and just get back on the bike asap. It’s about 50 minutes from Picketts to the top so you’ll need food and drink. The storms normally last about 20 minutes before they blow over but if you like thunder and lightening they’re fun and loud. Due to the number of riders on course the SAG gets swamped with people that try to wait it out stood under a tree or shelter and get very very cold…

    - Water bottles and weight. Most of the climbs are an hour long. With a 24oz bottle you only need one for drinking purposes – that leaves one for sports drinks and the other for plain water for sipping on and for dumping over your head. Carson will be hot – rinse one bottle at the bottom and fill with plain water. Do the same at Picketts Jnt rest stop halfway up. If you arrive at Hemitt Valley after 12:30pm you might want to do that there too… That side of Ebbetts always seems very hot.

    First climb of Monitor. You did this in the Alta Alpina – the 2/4 quarter immediately before Hennan Lake is the hardest. Sit down in the saddle and watch the power meter. People who go to hard here will die on Ebbetts. It happens every year – you’re feeling fresh and you want to hammer but it’s about a 20 to 30 minute really hard section that’ll devoid your legs and liver of glycogen and you will pay for it later… WILL – not MIGHT.

    The climb up the back of Monitor. It’s a long grind. Sit and watch the power meter. There’s a fun water stop half way up where school kids will refill your bottle on the fly. Unless you start before dark it’ll start to get warm on this climb – the heat from the valley will likely rise at the same speed you’re climbing and make it seem like no breeze. Remember that mid climb water stop and use it for water on your head if required. The mile markers at the side of the road count up to the county lines. The hard part of this climb ends at the county line – 7.6 miles. From there the road flattens out and it’s another 2 and a bit miles of ~ 2 to 4 percent to the top.

    The photographer is around 6.5 to 7 miles – factor that one in if you want to dump water on your head at some point. :P

    Ebbetts – first climb. You’ve done this one. Sit and watch the power meter on the lower rollers leading to the infamous cattle grid. Becareful on the rollers – don’t spend too much time trying to keep the speed by getting out of the saddle often, resist the urge. ;) You’ll gain a minute at the bottom and lose a bunch of time at the top. Don’t force it on the steep sections, just aim to get up it. Stay under threshold and remember than theshold will be about 10% less up at these heights. Reckon on about an hours climb from the start of the steep stuff to the top – you don’t need two full bottles on this climb, especially if you’ve paid $10k for a lightweight bike. 1 and a bit from that point will suffice. :P

    Ebbetts – second climb. It’ll be hot. The climb is split in the middle by a sweeping right hand bend that’s at a shallow gradient. The second half of this climb is tough – don’t believe the folks that say it’s an easy climb… but it does only take about 45 to 50 minutes. :)

    Lunch – often forgetable but necessary.

    Carson Pass – it’s a three part climb. “effing” long but not as hard as the others. It’s about 6 miles up from Woodfords rest stop to Picketts Jnt rest stop. Woodfords and Picketts nearly always have someone with a hose pipe for a quick very cold spray down… From Pickets it’s quite a few miles of fairly flat roads until the final push to the summit and the ice cream. Figure about an hour from Woodfords to Picketts and about 50 minutes from Picketts to the top of Carson. If you’ve not been up Carson before, you’ll see signs for the Sno Park when you get close to the top – the top is just past that… and then it’s ice cream time. As you curve around the final right hand bend to the top, the summit is after the second car park on the left and will seem like it takes forever to get there. LOL

    The ride back from the top of Carson is faster than the climb but always seems to take forever – especially on the flat middle section of Carson near the turn off to Blue Lakes Rd and Picketts Jnt rest stop. After the right turn towards Markleeville at the bottom you’ll be met with some smaller climbs that after 120 miles will test your desire to stay on the bike – especially the one right before Turtle Rock Park. I’m sure you’ll remember that one from the AAC.

    Have fun and good luck – hope you get in.

    If you start at 4:30am and ride until the course closes at 8pm that’ll get more than enough time to finish the ride.

    One safety thing that people who finish late seem to forget on the way down the bottom half of the Carson pass descent. The shadows from the mountains and trees hide some fairly gnarly potholes in the road and it’s a 40+ mph descent. Every year there seems to be someone (sometimes two…) that’s been following wheels to close and hit the deck at speed and the result is never pretty. Dainese leathers aren’t available at the top of Carson for the ride down unfortunately and lycra just doesn’t seem to cut it as far as safety gear goes :P

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