As a native Californian growing up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I’ve grown up living for the outdoors and outdoor sports. The Death Ride in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has been a goal of mine for the past 10 years. Out of state and out of country work has kept me away from California and from starting any serious cycling until now. Armed with my first road bike (a Specialized Allez – which I would sooner face extended winters back in the Midwest than part with) and 10 months of pedaling practice, the switch was flipped and here I am, taking on the Death Ride.
The ride starts at 5:30am on July 8th, from Markleeville, California (5,501 feet about sea level). From there, we climb Monitor Pass, reaching an altitude of 8,324 feet, and freeze our way down the back of the pass, only to climb back up from the other side. Up and back over Monitor completes 2 of the 5 passes. The next pass is Ebbett’s Pass, starting at the base of Monitor pass and climbing to 8,730 feet and descending back to 7,000 feet, only to return to the top, completing 4 of the 5 passes and the majority of our 15,000 total vertical feet of climbing. With only one pass left, there is a lunch break at the base of Ebbett’s and a time cut off for those who want to attempt the fifth and final climb – Carson pass. Luckily, we only have to climb one side and 3,079 more feet of Carson pass and return to have completed all 5 passes. On average, the ride is 10-12 hours of riding, mixed with food stops and a lunch stop.
If your unfamiliar with the Death Ride and some more of the details surrounding it, I have written up this Q and A to answer some of the general questions you may have.
As I began training for this ride at the beginning of May, I was searching for a second motive, an external one that I could support through my training efforts by asking for pledges. As a Board Member of the VMC Foundation, I was fortunate to come across TurningWheels for Kids and couldn’t have found a better organization to support. After meeting the TurningWheels founder, Sue Runsvold, and other members of the executive team, the task was easy – raise as much awareness and donations as I could to help in their efforts to afford under-served children in our community one gift that no child should go without – a bicycle.
And so there it is – an intrinsic and an extrinsic motivation to complete the Death Ride and support TurningWheels for Kids.
To support me in this quest, please go to the donation page.
To hear more about the details as they arise, keep reading!
For those who have more interest the training for this event as it comes along, I will keep this page updated on a weekly basis, hopefully with some interesting tid-bits. It comes in two parts – eating and exercising. Having never trained for any long distance athletic event, I visited a nutritionist to get a feel for what I should be consuming on a daily basis. For those who don’t know me, I’m a bit of a wiry one – always active and on the move. The nutritionist’s reaction to what I wanted to do was basically ‘there’s no way you should do this ride, your body won’t be able to handle it due to lack of body fat (aka, energy stores).’ Although I’m sure to many that would be welcome news, I was a bit taken a back. My response was, ‘welp, I’m doing the ride and I’m fundraising, so let’s just do the best we can to get myself ready for it’.
Conclusion – almost doubling my calorie intake and taking in more carbohydrates. Carbs, carbs, carbs. Did I mention carbs? I should be eating carbs with every meal, every snack, at all times. My pantry is now filled with cereal, bread, crackers and yes (gasp!) even potatoes (which I came to loathe with a passion after eating them for two meals a day, every day, for over two years). Bolivians love their potatoes. I no longer do, but darn it, they are full of carbs and potassium, so they are back in for a brief period of time.
Past the food intake comes the cycling. Unlike a sport such as running, where you might complete a 30 minute fast run feels good, cycling takes 1.5 hours for the same effect. That has meant a 5:30am alarm and at least a 6-8am ride before heading to work. Rides longer than 2 hours have to be after work and the real long ones, 4-6+ hours take up the weekends. Lots of hills, some steep, some long and steady and sometimes it’s just flat spinning. Weights and yoga are mixed in with 4 – 5 days of riding, with a day of doing almost nothing once a week.
For a better idea of how the training progress in and around Los Gatos is coming along, I’ll keep this updated weekly. Altitude gain will be added shortly!
Week 4+: Begin tapering training and increase carbohydrate intake (hard to get better than doing less and eating more).
Plan for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday: Hatha yoga, perhaps a Pilates class, but lots of stretching and resting to be ready for the 5:30am start on Saturday. Have yet to plan the meals and breakfast that will be eaten in the car at 4:15am during the 1 hour drive to the start. Gear is all laid out – one more look at the bike to make sure all is in working order and should be set. Leaving Thursday night – wish me luck!!
Tuesday, July 4th: Bear Valley, 2hrs 20min, 30 miles, 3,000 feet of climbing. Bear Valley —> Spicer reservoir —> Bear Valley.
• Last day of riding! Very high cadence (lots of spinning, no real leg work). Left knee and lower back ready to rest. Have yet to decide on if it would be a good or bad idea to use a different seat for Ride day.
Monday, July 3rd: Bear Valley, 2hrs 15min, 28 miles, 3,000 feet of climbing. Bear Valley —> Mosquito Lake (8,015 feet above sea level) —> Hermit Valley —> up Pacific Grade (15% grade) —> return to Bear Valley.
• Switched bike seats with Chris to see if less padding would help with uncomfortable pressure on hamstrings. Did help, especially on hills, although the lack of padding would take some getting used to and is much more jarring on flats after a year of riding a more ‘cushy’ seat. Debating whether or not to try and get a new seat for Saturday.
Sunday, July 2nd: Bear Valley, 4hrs, 50 miles, 5,000 feet of climbing. Hermit Valley —> top of Ebbetts Pass —> Markleeville —> top of Ebbetts Pass —> Hermit Valley.
• Added insoles to both shoes.knee pain continues, but to a lesser degree. Spent more time on flats out of the bike seat (a ‘softer’ seat – cushioned & meant more for periodical riding than constant riding), which helped uncomfortable pressure on my hamstrings.
Saturday, July 1st: In Bear Valley (at 7,000 ft), 3hrs, 38miles, 3,700 feet of climbing. Bear Valley —> Spicer reservoir —> Lake Alpine —> Bear Valley.
• A lot of adjusting of the bike. Moved cleat on left foot, slightly adjusted seat height, added insert into left shoe, giving 1.5mm rise on inside of foot in hopes to alleviate knee pain.
Friday, June 30th: Rest day.
Thursday, June 29th: 2hrs, 27 miles. My house —> up Hwy 9 —> home.
• Goal was to keep heart rate around 160-165 bpm. Not maximum effort, added one set of intervals on flat part of the return (30sec sprint, 30sec recovery, 20sec, 10sec, 10sec, 20sec, 30sec). Lower back and knee pain still a problem.continuing to adjust seat, shoe cleats, etc to find a ‘sweet spot’.
Wednesday, June 28th: 1.5 hrs power yoga. Leg and lower back muscles tired and sore.
Tuesday, June 27th: 2 hrs, 25 miles, 2,700 vertical feet of climbing. My house —> front of Hicks Rd —> backside of Hicks Rd —> home.
• Beginning to decrease my riding. One less climb than in previous weeks, but equal effort overall on ride.
Monday, June 26th: 1.5 mile walk, 30 min on elliptical machine, easy pace. Recovery day.
Week 3Sunday, June 25th: LONGEST RIDE YET! 7hrs 35min, 106.26miles: Los Gatos (home) —> Hwy 9 —> Big Basin —> Ben Lomond —> Felton —> Santa Cruz —> Soquel —> Corrolitas —> Eureka Canyon Road —> Summit Road —> Old Santa Cruz Hwy —> Lexington Reservoir —> home.
Without full intention, I completed my first century. Mild climbing and at a moderate pace throughout, I now have a much better idea of the time it takes to fully warm up into a ride (1.5 hours today) and what will hurt (lower back and knee joints) at the end of a long ride. Short stops were necessary, but felt the difficulty in starting back up again. Huge confidence booster and I may owe it in part to my TurningWheels jersey arriving in the mail!
Saturday, June 24th: 15 min walk, 1hr weights, 45min elliptical machine in altitude
Friday, June 23rd: 50 min walk in altitude (6,500 feet above sea level)
Thursday, June 22nd: 2hr 20min, 4,000 feet of climbing, 26 miles: Los Gatos (home) —> Hicks Road —> 3 laps up Hicks (1,000 foot gain/1 mile) —> home.
Solid ride. Trying to differ seat positions when climbing as lower back becomes sore quickly, although legs do not.
Wednesday, June 21st: Power yoga, 6am class.
Had wanted to ride after work, but heat and exhaustion prevailed and resulted in a power nap.
Tuesday, June 20th: 2hr 10min, 27 miles: Los Gatos —> Lexington Reservoir —> Old Santa Cruz Hwy —> Summit Road —> return to Los Gatos
Monday, June 19th: Rest Day
Week 2Sunday, June 18th: 2hrs: 3,000 feet of climbing, 28 miles: home —> front and back side of Hicks —> home
• Solid ride, adjusted seat to try and alleviate lower back pain on hills, good pace on return. Looking forward to a rest day tomorrow!
Saturday, June 17th: 6hr 15min: 8,000 feet of climbing, 68 miles [AKA, day-too-hot]: Alum Rock & Hamilton Road —> top of Mt. Hamilton —> down back side of Mt. Hamilton —> up back side of Mt. Hamilton —> return to Alum Rock & Hamilton Road.
• TOO HOT = HEAT RASH. 9:30am start, the majority of ride was in 90+ degrees and little shade. Why’d we do it? 3 weeks until Ride day and needed a good altitude and mileage trial. The first up wasn’t bad and there is water at the top of Mt. Hamilton for refilling water bottles. Then came the backside of Hamilton. Went a little too far for the heat and amount of water we had on us (2 large bottles). The return trip to the top of Hamilton was blessed with cows, a gentle breeze, a flat tire, full sun, 104 degrees (or so the bike computer told us), lower back pain, eventual lack of water and finally, and a loving heat rash on both legs. Refilled our water at the top, drank an entire bottle, refilled again, and then continued on the 18.5 mile descent to the car (a blessing at 5:00pm).
Friday, June 16th: bike fitting/ Bikram yoga class: 1hr 30 min.
• Experiencing pain in the back of left knee after last weekend’s ride over Ebbetts’ Pass, went to my local bike shop to be fitted (sized) to my bike. Adjusted position of the seat, the handle bars and my cleats.
• Attended first Bikram yoga class (regular class was not available). 26 postures in high temperature environment, resulting in more knee pain than when I went in. Won’t try that one before the ride.hope to find a hatha yoga class in Markleeville or Bear Valley for July 7th.
Thursday, June 15th: 1 hr 30 min: 22 miles: home —> Lexington reservoir —> Old Santa Cruz Hwy —> return home
• Spinning day, light climbing
Wednesday, June 14th: 1hr 30 min: 28 miles: home —> up Hwy 9 —> home
• Moderate Climbing. Relatively flat for first 30 minutes, until beginning of Hwy 9, then easy grade for 8 miles, back down and home
Tuesday, June 13th 2hr 15min: 4,000 feet of climbing, 26 miles: Los Gatos (home) —> Hicks Road —> 3 laps up Hicks (1,000 foot gain/1 mile —> home.
• Heavy climbing. Rolling hills for 8 miles, Hicks is 1,000 feet of climbing in 1 mile (7%+ grade)
Monday, June 12: Rest day
Week 1Sunday, June 11th: 20 mins walking, 1hr weights
Saturday, June 10th: 59 miles, 5 hours 15 minutes. First long ride at altitude. Hermit Valley —> Ebbetts Pass —> Carson Valley —> Ebbetts Pass —> Bear Valley.
Friday, June 9th: 27 miles, 2 hours. First short ride at altitude, Bear Valley —> Mosquito Lake —> Bear Valley Mountain Resort —> Bear Valley.
Thursday, June 8th: Rest day – yeah!!
Wednesday, June 7th: Power yoga, 1.5 hrs.
Tuesday, June 6th: 23 miles, 2 hours. Home —> top of Hwy 9 —> home.
Monday, June 5th: 25 miles, 2 hours. Home —> top of Hicks —> bottom of other side and back to top of Hicks —> home.
I’d like to thank all who supported me in this effort, both in your encouragement to finish the Death Ride and in your donations to TurningWheels for Kids. With your help, I have exceeded my goal, raising over $4,000 to give bikes to my favorite people – kids.
Timeline of the Death Ride:
- 3:45am – up, dressed and packed the food into the cooler for both the hour drive to Markleeville and our recovery drinks for after the ride.
- 4:10am – on the road from Bear Valley. Pitch black outside as we ran into a line of about 8 cars, also on their way to an early start to the Death Ride.
- 5:00am – passing the base of Monitor Pass (which we would soon be climbing), watching dozens of crazier folks that we already heading up the pass, head lights glowing.
- 5:20am – parked just below Turtle Rock Park, bikes set out, water bottles set, sunscreen on, new seat dialed in and ready (less cushion.okay, barely any cushion).
- 5:35am – headed into the early light and cool morning (high 40s/low 50s), along with two thousand or so other riders (there were 3,000 registered riders).
Here’s where the time of day gets fuzzy.
Heading up Monitor Pass, I set a strict pace to my heart rate monitor, trying at first to keep my heart rate below 150bpm. Since Chris and I had never ridden together while wearing heart rate monitors, it was quickly apparent that my target max would be slow for his 120 bpm. Noted to self that training with a heart rate monitor would have been very beneficial. Ah well.guess it would be slow going for me.
So, slow and steady was the motto. There were riders everywhere, some alone, some with friends, some in teams and matching jerseys. Every rider checking out the bike and the jersey of their neighbor, which was highly encouraging, knowing I had a TurningWheels logo to show off as soon as the cold weather vest was shed. I continued to drink fluids and dived into my first of many Clif Bars.
About 2 hours up the front of Monitor and I had reached the top. PASS NO. 1 COMPLETE and first sticker earned. Quick stop at the food station to fill up on Cytomax (energy drink) and snacks (pretzels and wheat thins) before heading down the back side of Monitor.
(first rest stop, top of Monitor Pass)
Whheeeeeeeeeee – down the back of Monitor. I never looked at my speed, but according to my computer, I had maxed around 45 mph, the fastest I’ve ever ridden down hill. The views were spectacular, the sun was climbing fast and there were many riders already heading back up my current downhill run, which seemed to last forever. Down, down, down until the bottom turnaround finally came into view.
(gathering of riders at the bottom of Monitor Pass – getting ready to head back up)
Although not earned yet, we were given sticker number 2 at the bottom of Monitor for the eventual hike back up. I then shed my vest and sleeves, added more sunscreen, grabbed a half of banana and some more Wheat Thins and started the reverse of the fun trip down.
Still adhering to my 150 bpm on the heart rate monitor, it continued to be slow and steady. I listened to the conversations of those passing me and had a hello to those I passed. Still feeling solid, although I was just beginning to feel the pangs of my sit bones informing me “we’re not used to not having a cushion back here and I don’t think we’re a fan”.
(the view heading up the back of Monitor Pass)
About a 10 mile climb, not too steep of a grade and in the warming morning light, I was still plugging along. Enjoying the views and watching my heart rate, we reached the top of Monitor for the second time. PASS NO. 2 DONE!
(Chris and I at the top of Monitor Pass, two passes done!)
Round about 11:15am at this point, refueling w/ snacks and drinks and then on down the front side of Monitor. Smooth sailing, nice to rest the legs, knees and sit bones.
Heading up Ebbetts Pass, stopped at one rest station, finally saw one of a couple friends I knew were out there riding. Said hellos and continued on. Half way up the pass the real challenges began to emerge. My sit bones went from whispering to stating to now screaming “we’re completely unhappy back here and until we’re off this seat, you will know this!” Knees were also feeling the steep grade and now almost 6 hours of riding. No specific pain, just generally aching.
By the time I reached the top of Ebbetts, FINISHING PASS 3 and securing another sticker, the pain had transferred into misery, and a short downhill ensued. I knew I had relief coming though, as I headed down the backside of Ebbetts – my mom and sister were waiting with a stash of food, water, rest, encouragement and my tried and true comfy bike seat! After a chance to rest, eat (PB&J w/ bananas), regroup my thoughts, reaffirm my determination (wouldn’t it have been nice to have just jumped in the car with my mom and sister at that point? naaahhhhh), switch bike seats and allowed myself another pain killer. We set off again.
Here I was, just over 60 miles into the ride, 1/3 of the climbing still to come and it was already around 1:30pm – two hours later than what I had originally guessed I’d be at that point. Sticker 4 was given at the bottom of Ebbetts, and it was a short, but stout 5 miles back to the top after a longer rest period.
Another quick stop at the top of Ebbetts, my stomach now tiring of Clif Bars, an abundance of Cytomax and the random assortment of food I was trying to intake to keep my energy up. I had let my heart rate max creep up to 155bps now. Legs and lungs were still very much in the game, it was just the knees and sit bones that needed a bit of a recovery.
(heading down Ebbetts Pass – four down, one to go)
All the way back down Ebbetts, we headed past Markleeville and the last pass – Carson. I had heard from past riders that it was difficult not to stop at your parked car and just call it a day from there, especially since it was now almost 3:00pm (the time I had figured the entire ride would be done), but I paid the car no mind. There was one more pass, the final pass, and there wasn’t an ‘if’ about whether or not I was going for it.
Little did I know, this would be the most challenging physical undertakings I had yet to try an conquer. This part of the course was not closed to cars, so all riders were riding single file, along a narrow shoulder, passing when it was clear. Whereas the other passes had consisted of more turns, and I could not see how far I had yet to climb, this pass was relatively straight, and I could see a great deal ahead to where I was headed and that looked far. It was at this point that all the encouragement from others firmly entered my thoughts. The emails and telephone calls from family, friends, co-workers, the team of TurningWheels and individuals I hadn’t even met yet ran through my head. It truly helped pull me up this last pass.
Dark clouds had moved in and at the last rest stop, the sound of thunder hastened our stop. My legs still had strength, lungs were still strong, but I was definitely feeling fatigued and stiff. Up and up and up – 20 miles of up. The last three miles were the most difficult. I could see that far ahead and it was daunting. The thunder continued and the last of the riders could see the rain falling off in the distance. Temperatures dropped due to the time of day, increasing altitude and dark clouds.
(last stretch of Carson Pass – soooooooo close)
Finally, finally, I reached the final photographer, the final crest of the pass, which meant we were there. I had reached the top, ALL FIVE PASSES HAD BEEN COMPLETED and I had earned my pin, my fifth and final sticker and most importantly, the ice cream bar that awaited all 5 pass riders.
(heading back down Carson Pass into the clouds, all five stickers earned)
I’d like to say it was all very exciting, that I was filled with a sense of true accomplishment, but I was more dreading the remaining 20 miles, downhill, to the finish and the car. We started back out and by this time my body temperature had come way down and I was tired. This meant the cold air from the speed of heading downhill brought shivers and my tired arms and tense shoulders had a hard time staying steady. I began to shake and so did my front wheel, somehow appearing half the width that I had remembered, wobbling precariously in front of me. Deep breaths and focusing on relaxing helped for the first part of the descent. The air warmed slightly and I was able to keep up with a string of riders to draft behind for a while, but unfortunately, the shaking required less speed and I was on my own again.
As luck would have it, those rain clouds had indeed moved overhead. Much like a storm in the Midwest at this time of year, it came on with a vengeance. With a heavy downpour, my brakes became at most 1/4 as effective as when they were dry. Cars continued to pass and I was drenched by a wave of water after one car in particular passed through a newly formed river running over the slick road.
I had slowed my speed considerably and watched as groups of riders pulled off the road and took shelter under tall pine trees. Shaking a bit more seriously now that I had become completely soaked and partly numb, my concentration focused on remaining upright, staying calm and getting to the bottom safely.
This was indeed the most difficult part of the entire day and the most physically and mentally challenging circumstance I have yet had the opportunity to talk myself through. With no other rider around, no shelter besides the trees and a wall of rain trying its best to halt my progress, I put my head down and accepted the situation. I would eventually finish, there were only a few more miles, the rain would stop and I would make it.
Exhausted, a bit overwhelmed at the added challenges in getting down the hill and now with only a few miles left, the rain subsided. The road was still slick, but at least I was on flat ground. I would have smiled widely at seeing the car, but my energy had long since gone and I was more focused on the warm, dry clothes waiting inside and the chance to stop my knees from the hundreds of thousands of little circles they had made over the 13.5 hr day. With all the stops and the slow pace, it was now 7pm, 3.5 hrs farther along than was in the original plan.
So that’s it. I completed all five passes, all 129 miles, all 15,500+ vertical feet of climbing and I was done! Although I knew the satisfaction from finishing would come later, I had very little emotion to give at that point and spent the next three hours not saying much, being pampered by my mom and sister (a marathon runner who knew exactly how I felt) and watching the Tour de France, swearing up and down that my day was harder than theirs.
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