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:
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.
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.
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.