Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Death Ride…..version 2011

It can’t really be 4 am already can it?  As I lay in my sleeping bag in the pitch dark of early morning I hear zippers from the other tents and rustling as others in our group begin to move….

Finally, realizing that, unfortunately, it must be time to get up, I look out the tent and see lights and movement over by the picnic table. Bob and Leticia are already up and making coffee....(I LOVE these people…almost as much as I love coffee)

After a breakfast of oatmeal, a banana and a cup of coffee to wash down a couple enduralytes, we loaded up and drove down to town to begin the day’s festivities. Our goal was to begin pedaling at 5am and we were almost right on time. Bob and Leticia started off while Troy, Bill and I finished getting ready.

The advantage to starting in town as opposed to up at Turtle rock is that it’s cold in the morning and you eliminate the first downhill section where last year I froze my butt off. Granted, it’s still cold and you’re still an hour or so from sunrise, but at least you’re not going 30 mph in the dark, with a puny little headlight and shivering….

We met up with Bob and Leticia before we came to the bottom of Monitor and were able to chat and talk with everyone as we hadn’t started the slip into oxygen deprivation soon to come. As soon as we made the left turn, the sound of hundreds of derailleurs clicking surrounded us like a bunch of cowboys getting ready for a gunfight and the joking and chatter came to an abrupt halt….replaced I guess, by the need to suck in as much air as possible.

Monitor Pass…The climb from the turn to the top of Monitor is just about 9 miles and gains about 3,000ft of elevation. With grades that range from 7-10% it’s funny to see a 5% grade on your Garmin and think of it as a section for resting your legs during the climb. The further up the hill we went the closer we got to sunrise and as we came towards the summit the vistas opened up reminding us of the sheer enormity and beauty of God’s creation.

As I pedaled up the hill mostly hanging out and chatting with the other voices inside my head, it was easy to forget that there were over 3000 riders in the event. At the top though, as I looked into the distance, and saw bikers stretched out towards the horizon I was quickly reminded that I wasn’t alone.

The east side of Monitor pass provides a view into Nevada that is the complete opposite of the road we had just climbed. Where the California side is lush and green and covered with trees, the Nevada side is strictly high desert. Still beautiful and amazing in its own way of course, but different…

BTW - the sign at the top of Monitor looks a LOT like a tombstone....I'm just sayin....

For the next 9 miles I was torn between enjoying the amazing downhill and agonizing over the fact that what goes down, must eventually come back up. As I wove and worked my way down, passing and being passed by the other riders, I tried to block out all thoughts of the climb to come and focus instead on the enjoyment that comes with descending a closed road, in good condition surrounded by amazing scenery.

Soon enough though, the turn around point was in front of me and as I regrouped with Bill, Leticia, and Troy. We also ran into Dwight who’s buddy Dave was somewhere well ahead of us all.  Having forgotten my under helmet head covering,  I went off in search of sunblock for my dome. The funny thing is that as I was slathering it on, another follically-challenged guy came up commented on what a good idea it was and did the same thing. No sense getting the silly looking sunburn from the vents in my helmet…..been there, done that.

As we started the climb back up the east side of Monitor, I actually felt pretty good.  It was definitely getting warmer and with no shade, I managed to empty both bottles before the halfway point where the Boy Scouts were manning the refill station, but all in all I felt ok.
I wasn’t fast by any means, but as long as I maintained my pace and kept my heart rate under control, I felt good. Hopefully this would continue.

The downhill on the west side of Monitor is by far one of the best downhill sections I’ve ever ridden. The road is in excellent shape, the turns are wide open and you have great visibility. Add to that the incredible vistas and 9 miles with no cars to worry about and you have cycling nirvana. Troy was right on my wheel as we ripped down this section and although we got caught behind some slower riders in a couple sections, we pretty much let gravity dictate our pace. I saw 45 a couple of different times, but to be honest, I really didn’t want to look down at the GPS since the road was going by really fast beneath me.

We got to the bottom, regrouped and began the next section of slightly uphill towards Ebbetts Pass. Somewhere on the climb we had gotten separated from Dwight and not knowing how far behind us he was, we motored on. This section follows the Carson River and is just beautiful. Again, though it’s tough to just cruise along and enjoy the scenery when you know that in just a little while, it’s going to get painful….

Leticia had said that once we crossed the cattle guard the “honeymoon would be over” and she wasn’t kidding. From the turnoff up to that point we had been going pretty much uphill non-stop. The cattle guard though is the line in the sand where the mountain declares war on the cyclists….Immediately, the ride goes from a “nice climb” to “oh crap this is hard”. Several times on my GPS I saw 17% and although my legs were still feeling ok, the standing required would immediately push my heart rate into the red zone. Soon enough though, I went from feeling ok, to feeling done. My legs were running out of gas, every extra effort pushed me to the limit and I pretty much just wanted it to be over.

Bill and Leticia decided at the half way point that they felt good and still had another pass in them. Troy, not sure what to expect said he was happy only doing 3 and I knew there wasn’t a 4th pass anywhere in my future today. I’d like to blame the weather but it could just be my lack of commitment, either way I hadn’t trained nearly as much as I’d hoped for this year’s Death Ride and since my longest ride so far this year had been the weekend prior at 74 miles and 7400ft of climbing I was completely satisfied finishing only 3 passes.

As Troy and I headed back down the front side of Ebbetts we had already agreed to take it easy. This is a narrow road with lots of sharp corners and I was amazed at how many people were screaming down the hill, at 30+ mph, riding 2 across when there were still people coming up the hill. After all, it’s not like it’s a race. Is it really worth causing a huge crash to save a few minutes getting to lunch?

Troy and I took our time enjoying the lunch stop. We found a spot at a fairly shady table and relaxed thinking that Dwight would eventually catch up to us. After about 45 minutes though, we decided we’d had enough sitting around and got ready to head out. It’s amazing how good I felt after lunch. Between the nice long rest, the food and the knowledge that we were done, Troy and I set a pretty brisk pace back to town. We had a good paceline going and were cruising along at about 24-26 mph. I’m sure the people we were towing thought we were super human to be pulling them along at this pace, but little did they know we had skipped the 4th pass, were headed back to the barn and were pretty much done for the day.

After getting back to town, it wasn’t too much longer that Bill showed up. He assumed Leticia wasn’t far behind, but after waiting another 30 minutes or so we were getting concerned that she hadn’t made it back. Just as we loaded up and prepared to drive back up the road, we saw her pass, looped back around and met up with her. Turns out she was pretty shaken having seen a really nasty accident coming down the front of Ebbetts. In exactly the manner Troy and I had been discussing, someone flying down the hill had clipped someone going up and several riders ended up down and bloodied…..thankfully, she wasn’t among the carnage but the event shook her up enough that she sat for a while trying to rergroup and had fallen behind.

From there, she went to turtle rock to meet up with Bob who had decided to go for the 5th pass while Troy, Bill and I headed back to camp to clean up before heading over for dinner. After cleaning up, Dwight met up with us and we went to the start area for delicious burritos, live music and some relaxation.

The next morning we all got together for a breakfast of coffee, blackberry pancakes, bacon and eggs. We had after all burned off several thousand calories the day before so we felt we deserved to stuff ourselves silly….at least I did.

Dwight, Troy and I ended up with 3 passes, Bill and Leticia had 4 and Bob and Dave did all 5….


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