Monday, July 19, 2010

Death Ride....Passes 1 and 2

It’s 4:00 am and the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled Banner is blaring out of someone’s stereo...I guess this is the wakeup call for the Death Ride?
I knew we were starting early, that’s why we brought lights afterall, but who plays the Star Spangled Banner at 4:00am??? That’s just wrong!

After dragging my butt out of bed, snarfing down a bowl of granola and putting on all the warm clothes I had brought, Tracy and I headed out onto the road to begin what was sure to be a long day on the bike. Surprisingly, we weren’t even close to being the first ones on the road. We had been seeing headlights roll by since we’d gotten up and now, as the sky in the east was showing signs of starting to lighten, we could see the lights from the earlier riders well into the distance.

The first run from the parking lot to the beginning of the climb up Monitor Pass is a few miles of fast, cold downhill and the shivering started immediately. Knowing I’d be longing for cool weather later in the day didn’t even help slow my teeth from chattering.

As we came through the town of Markleeville, we caught up to Bob and Leticia. Riding along with them we continued on as the sun started to rise. Eventually though, as we turned the corner, the road started up and being cold quickly became a non-issue. Breathing replaced staying warm as my primary goal...this, and keeping my pedals turning as the GPS hovered around 10% would occupy me for the next couple of hours.

Partway up we caught up to Debbie. She had started a bit before us and seemed to be doing well. The scenery going up Monitor Pass is amazing. You pass through high alpine meadows, beautiful stands of aspen and granite boulders larger than a house...of course I didn’t really care about any of that. I just wanted to reach the top so the pain in my legs and my lungs would stop and I could enjoy the long fast downhill to the bottom.

Eventually we did reach the top and after getting our first pass sticker, a V8, a bagel and some chips, the fun began. With almost 10 miles of smooth fast downhill to look forward to, we quickly forgot the suffering of the past couple hours and stomped on the pedals as our pace increased quickly and the road flew by beneath us.

Of course, as with everything, all good things must eventually come to an end and the bottom soon came into view. After getting our second pass stamp, we immediately turned around and began the climbing once again. It’s amazing how quickly the fun passes yet how long suffering can last. We also ran into Dwight at the bottom. With over 3000 entrants, its incredible that by the second pass we had run into almost everyone we knew that was doing the ride.

The weather was definitely warming and as I stopped on the way up to take a picture -you can see the road and riders disappear into the distance - it dawned on me just how few trees grow on the back side of Monitor Pass.

It was about this time I realized Tracy was really not feeling too well. Normally, I’m killing myself just trying to keep him in sight, but today was different. Not only was I keeping up, I was actually ahead of him most of the way. As we came to the mid-mountain water station, we got separated. They had kids running up, grabbing our bottles, filling them and running along side to catch us so that we could keep moving.

Thinking that Tracy may have gotten hung up I stopped for a bit. Not seeing him come, I assumed he must have passed me in the mayhem and so continued on. Eventually, I caught up to him and it was pretty clear he was suffering. He said he couldn’t get his heart rate under control and felt like his legs were made of lead.

Evidently, our decision to drive up from sea level the evening before the ride with no acclimation period wasn’t our smartest ever. I, having found a pace that worked for me that was somewhere between slow and stopped, just put my head down and continued trying to make circles with my legs.

It’s amazing to me just how demented cyclists are and how the level of suffering only seems to increase their level of enjoyment. Some were quiet and had their heads down, but most were cheerful and pleasant as they suffered up the second hill of the day. The other thing I found amazing was just how diverse the group of people that continued to pass me was...I was passed older people, younger people, women, men, by a kid in shorts, t-shirt and flip flops, I was passed by a guy on a fixed gear bike (granted his legs were as big as my chest and he was wearing a 508 jersey) I was even passed (while I was stopped of course) by a guy on a stand up scooter bike...craziest thing I’ve ever seen.

After reaching the top, and regrouping with Tracy, he decided to call it quits. In addition to the general feeling of crud, he was also getting dizzy. Deciding that he had had enough, we split ways at the top and after a couple more V8s, some oranges and chips, I began the long fast downhill towards the bottom.

The road was wide open, smooth and really fast. At one point I saw 48mph and decided I needed to slow down. No sense ruining my day (and this beautiful face) this early in the game...

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