I know. I feel a little funny starting out my Death Ride report this way, like I’m gloating, and useless gloating on the internet gets ridiculous. But I worked hard and planned well, and maybe all the planning and training that I’ve written about will help someone other Death Rider someday. Having an amazing coach who put me on a plan that profoundly improved my fitness this year helped a lot too.
The short version: I finished the Death Ride with 9 hours and 45 minutes of moving time, 12 hours elapsed. The weather was perfect, the people were perfect, I had some sit bone discomfort around mile 85 that was mitigated by the generous re-application of chamois cream, and at no point did I feel smoked. I came, I saw, I kicked its ass, and I left feeling like I could have ridden harder.
The longer version.
Cycling is my mental escape, as was motorcycling. When I ride, it’s so easy to forget about what the hell I’m doing with the rest of my life. I first threw myself into bicycles after having broken off a four year relationship and engagement in the fall of 2010. The relationship, with another cyclist, has had its fits and restarts since then, and cycling, as always, is one thing in life that is clear to me, something I can cling to when everything else is sideways.
I also am grateful to have the freedom to work from home and set my own schedule. This allows me the time to train. I’m also single, no kids, just a couple cats (of course).
In other words, I ride a lot.
So don’t beat yourself up if the Death Ride wasn’t easy for you. If it wasn’t easy for me, I’d have issues. I’m so impressed by the people who complete this ride who have demanding careers, families with needs, who have come back from emotional or physical challenges, or who haven’t grown up as athletes, to complete the ride. It’s a huge accomplishment. What I did was not impressive, it was what I was supposed to do. I was healthy and prepared. I grew up in sports, so my mind is used to gearing up for hard shit, and with a ride like this, your attitude is more than half the battle.
The nitty gritty.
I arrived at 12:30 on Friday and parked my Sprinter Van, the rig I used to haul motorcycles to races, in a roadside parking area about two tenths of a mile up from Turtle Rock Park. I brought a scooter and unloaded it, and then got a few things situated.
I didn’t have a ticket to ride. DR announced online months earlier that starting at 7 p.m. the night before, they would start selling the tickets of people who’d cancelled or not shown up to pick up their registration packet. I was there at 3. With a chair and a book and my water. I was second in line. By 7:15 p.m. I had my bib numbers and was on my merry way, sashaying past over 300 people all standing in line, anxiously awaiting their tickets.
Speaking of which, I had never seen so many amazingly fit people in one place at one time. I’ve never done a marathon, or a triathlon, so this was kind of my first rodeo for something big like this. Eye candy everywhere. I think the opposite end of the earth would have been, like, an Applebee’s in Missouri.
I was asleep in my van by 10, alarm set for 3:45. Very cozy in my summertime mummy bag and on top of a 2.5″ inflatable sleeping pad.
When I peered outside into the darkness a few minutes before four a.m., there were bicycles whizzing by. Kind of a lot. Wow! Shhhoooom. Shooooooom. Shoom. Little lights flickering in the darkness. I was excited to ride, despite the cold, which really wasn’t even that cold for a summer morning (or night?) in the mountains.
Breakfast at Turtle Rock Park, in a nicely heated cafeteria style building. Coach Thomas had told me “eat and drink early and often,” so I put together a pretty full plate of eggs, pancake, and bacon. For the first half hour, I would be barely pedaling, and then after that, my effort level would still be only a Zone 2 (110-150 watts, 125-145 bpm). If my tummy was full of breakfast grease, I figured it was okay because I wouldn’t be working that hard for a while and I’d have time to digest it.
The descent from the start, down through the town of Markleeville, and to the base of Monitor Pass, was dark. And there were so many riders. It was somewhat dangerous probably, but it fun. We all had lights, it was cold but not too bad, and we were all speeding through the early morning in a kind of careful peloton. Although, ever the racers, my riding partner and I quickly grew impatient with the slow descending around us and kind of charged forward on our own.
Shortly before the first pass there was a spookily lit checkpoint next to an ambulance, where officials made sure we were all official riders with bib numbers on our bikes and jerseys.
Monitor pass began. I was again impressed with the sheer number of riders around me. It was motivating, but I stayed within my power zone, hoping to see higher power numbers up Carson, the last pass. Many people passed me, and I passed many people. Some people I passed, I thought, “wow, that’s going to be a long day.” There were so many…interesting…bikes. And people. The people watching was phenomenal, and made the time go by fast.
Before I knew it I was at the first rest stop.
Monitor Pass 1 (to rest stop): 140w, 150 bpm, 7.4 mi, 1:05 (PR on time, not power, maybe aided by the draft of all the people around me)
The descent down the backside of Monitor was amazing, as always. I got to “play” with a cyclist who had a helmet camera, and he put together the cutest video about his day out with his team. Look for us descending Monitor starting at 2:10, I’m in blue. The whole video gives you a nice flavor of what the whole experience is like.
Coming back up Monitor I was high on life. I was playing music from my iPhone, the weather and views were incredible, and I was happily spinning with a high cadence in the rad mountain bike gears Rickey Fogle installed for me, heart rate just a touch under 160.
Monitor 2: 141w, 153 bpm, 9.1 mi, 1:20 (PR on time, not power, again, the draft from hoards of people)
Ebbets 1, at least the bottom part, was a bit of active recovery. I really slowed things up, then once I hit the cattle guard went back to my plan. I hadn’t seen the backside of Ebbetts before. I didn’t enjoy the descent, it was bumpy, narrow, too many people, so I just made my way down carefully, turned around and started climbing back up.
Ebbetts 1: 131w, 149 bpm, 10.8 mi, 1:23 (from junction with Monitor)
Ebbetts 2: 136w, 156 bpm, 4.6 mi, 0:42 (HR seemed really high for my wattage back here, I might have been bonking)
Descending the front side of Ebbetts I saw one crash. There were already several people standing around to help, but no emergency personnel, so I didn’t see what value I would add besides possibly making someone behind me crash, so onward I traveled. There was a lunch stop at the bottom, and we were stopped for about a half hour, eating sandwiches and Cup O’Noodles.
We had maybe 15 miles to go to get back to the van, by Turtle Rock Park, where another stop would occur. On the way there I ran into fellow SJBC rider Laura Hipp, got to chat with her a while, and then finally we stopped for some cold drinks and the generous reapplication of chamois cream.
The march towards Carson was uneventful. My private battle with the headwinds actually made the time go by quickly; I would huddle with a small group of riders for a while and rest, then leap out, sprint moderately up to the next small clump of riders, huddle, rest, leap, sprint, etc. When the climb really kicked into high gear, I tried aiming for over 150 watts, I really wanted to finish strong with higher power numbers on my last climb than my first. I must have been fatigued, because I only managed 2w more than the morning’s first climb:
Carson: 142w, 153 bpm, 3.4 mi (from the rest stop to the top)
The Death Ride organizers always serve ice cream at the top of Carson Pass, and then you can sign the year’s official Death Ride poster. The whole thing was a little cultish, like Burning Man, and I was totally drinking the Kool-Aid (and eating the ice cream).
We still had something like 20 miles to go after getting to the top of Carson, but they were uneventful. A fast, bumpy, car-addled descent, but just the thing this ex-motorcycle racer loves (yes, I passed some cars). In the end, I was nowhere near the fastest, but nowhere near the slowest either. A happily average sized fish, but in a ass big pond.