The Death Ride
July 14, 2007
As a kid ski racing I dreamt of spending time in the Sierras. I dreamt of descending down the mountains with the greatest of ease, the wind in my hair, and a big "go fast" grin. I can not claim to have ever dreamt of riding my bike up the Sierras. Little lone climbing 5 passes, 129 miles, and 15,000 vertical feet. I don't know why I felt the need to take this on, but I did. It was just something I wanted to do. Or maybe I never learned to just say no. Most people are attracted to better known events such as Iron man. They even get IM tattoo's. This event is not that large although you have to win a lottery to get in. Tim and I trained a little bit in the mountains east of San Diego. We were (over)confident that we could ride all 5 passes no sweat. We drove 8 hours the Friday before to meet Tim's dad at Turtle Rock Park. This isn't one of those posh sporting events where you stay in a fancy hotel and call it a vacation. No you sleep in a parking lot. The ride starts so early in the morning it's best to camp at the start. In fact, we would be getting up so early in the morning we didn't bother setting up a tent. Sleeping under the stars in the Sierras was awesome I must say. The altitude is to high for dust mites. Despite the fact that I was sleeping exposed in a parking lot my nose was never so clear. My air mattress was cushy and I slept like a baby until 0400. That was when overzealous riders blared music like we were at a club. Grr... they were probably doping with epo, sipping red bull, and downing pseudophed to get amped up. We sipped some cold espresso and soon we were riding.
People often ask what is in my head for 129 miles and 15,000
Here are my thoughts. Pass by pass. Blow by Blow.
Pass 1: Monitor Pass(8314 ft)
"Nice start. Big long descent. Brr, shivers, my bike has tremors. It's having a seizure. Wait... it's me, I'm convulsing with the cold. Windshield.Brrr I'm going 40 mph with fingers frozen. I'm going to crash my bike. I trembling so hard it so cold. Fingers are frozen. Can't wait to start climbing. Did I just think that. Climbing generates heat. Want to be a furnace. I am going to be climbing all day. Wow these wheels roll fast. Oops just passed Tim, bike is still shaking. Going too fast for frozen fingers. Can't brake , fingers are frozen. Not really I'm scared cuz I'm frozen and stiff. Frost bite. Ahh the plateau, hee -hee - hoo (that's me breathing) Try to breathe, try to catch breath. Airway is frozen. Can't catch breath. Legs still rolling, can't feel quads. Think my windpipe is frozen. Trying to speed up, boys are dropping me. Can't slow down breathing, can't speed up the hill. Fat man is passing me. Have to accept airway is frozen. Feel like a choked chicken. This is going to be a long day. Ugh my lungs are tight. I know they will open. Damn asthma, altitude, and windshield combo. Hang in there, been here before (not for 130 miles though). Know I can work through it. Hear Tim and Bruce razzing. Something about pins for 1 pass finisher. Can't Comment, out of breath. Don't care just got to slow down my breath, slow down my HR, speed up my legs. Ahh got to pea (1st of 30 times ) Didn't realize your bladder swells at altitude. X-ray vision visualizes bladder distending upward, pushing on my diaphragm, squishing my lungs. Yes always an ICU nurse. Speaking of which I will quote a pulmonoligist (in a South African accent) "nerves are good, when you have that feeling you secrete epinephrine, what do we give our pt's when they are in stridor? Racemic Epinephrine. Well at least they won't trach me if I can get excited. Yippee. Stop to go to the bathroom. HR comes down, airway starts to open. I'm make it more than one pass. Will be happy with whatever I accomplish today. Notice I'm starting to drop boys. I roll to the top of Monitor Pass. I collect my one pass finisher sticker.
Descending Monitor Pass.Miles 17-25
Weee this is fun. Going so fast. Almost 50 mph. Look mom, no hands. Just kidding.There's no wind resistance here. Bike is totally stable. Wow...I must have been a Tour rider in a former life.....whoosh, a beautiful girl in a Dolce Vita kit sails past me like I am standing still. She's as tall as Tim with long dark braids. Swoosh....a little girl on a pretty blue Trek passes me. Maybe I wasn't a great descender in the tour during that former life. Like my tuby's (tubeless tires glued on to the rim of the wheel)Meet Tim and Bruce. Refill water bottles. This is going to be all right. This is b
Pass #2 Monitor Pass (from the other side)
Ahh, it's sunny. The air is crisp but not cold. No longer breathing like a choked chicken. Rolling along efficiently. Passing girls. Dropping boys. Getting lots of compliments on my pink bike. Tim and Bruce now commenting on the pace picking up. I drop boys I say:)Soon we descend the other side of Monitor and head back to where we started. I love these mountain roads. I'm a mtn girl. I pick up the pace, we pace line until the next pass at about 30 mph. Floored by the beauty of it all. These mountains are so big. Make me as a human feel very small in te scheme of things. Happy and thankful to have a chance to be part of the world.
Pass #3 Ebbetts (8730)
If there is one word to describe Ebbetts it is Intense. The beauty of this pass trumps all. The old road is very windy and steep. The trees and rock formations are gorgeous. The blue sky with a few fluffy clouds sets the perfect backdrop. Ebbetts is the shortest and steepest of all the passes. I don't know what the % of grade there is but it is greater than anything I have ever ridden. The lane full of colorful cyclists. It is fun to watch the smiling faces of those descending. Zoom... they fly past us. Going up Ebbetts is probably the hardest thing I have ever done. It's like the steep face of Via Capri. I learn to slowly spin the pedals around to help me rest while I slowly climb. Bruce zips ahead. That man is unbelievable. Tim tells me we can take a rest whenever I need too. This is harder than anything we've done before. I don't want to stop. It's too steep to get back on. "Alright" He asks? "Yes." Yes, I'm fine I can take this. I start to think for how long though. I honestly don't know how long I can sustain this or what could lie ahead. This might be all I have. This may be my last pass. I'm OK with that. Disappointed to not complete the entire ride? Probably, but you do the best you can with what you started the day with. It wasn't an easy morning. This isn't an easy ride. We make it to the top. (See pic where I look like I'm checking out)I realized that it's mostly men up here and I passed a lot of people on the way up. I talk to a few who have done the ride before, they say pass #4 the other side of Ebbetts is easier. I guess I could learn to climb slow and take things easier. Plus I want to know what is on the other side of the mtn. We descend Ebbetts quickly and make the turn at the bottom. On the climb again.
Up, Ebbetts Again
At this point my legs are feeling good. I have some cramps come and go. I am becoming more efficient at manning the steeps and I move quickly up Ebbetts. It is hot now. The sun is at it peek. I feel like I've had too much exposure. Like I'm overheating. I tell Tim this but I think he doesn't believe me. He sort of rolls his eyes and says " maybe you should slow down and go the same speed as everybody else" I can't though, I ride one way, to out of the hot spots and to the top a quick as I can. We talk. I am struggling I say this is a real ride I respect it but I'm done after this pass. I'll plan to descend and have lunch then head to the car. Disappointed but accepting I ride on.
I savor the descent down Ebbetts because it is beautiful and I believe it is the end of today's ride. I think maybe next year, but next years plans are for Ironman. I will need to run and swim more. I am disappointed not to reach my goal but I am accepting. I start to think about where I've started and realize I've come a long way. I am happy about this. I am proud. I wish my family could see me now. I've flattened this pass and now I gracefully descend it. I am sad my day is over. I pick up the pace a bit. I want to hammer until lunch. If your not going all the way you should at least make your stomp.
Lunch and contemplation at Centerville Flat
We enjoy are lunch and discuss the plans for the rest of the day. We plan that I won't ride the last pass. I ask a few questions about it. I feel OK, but I am worried I will be too tired. I am a little sad not to finish what I came to do. I am realizing somethings though. The ups are hard but the descents are free miles and very fun. If it just out and back if I start to bonk can't I just turn and coast back to camp? We leave the lunch stop and I decide to test my legs. Tim's dad told me if my legs didn't feel like "dog meat" when we rolled by Turtle Rock Park I should climb Carson's pass. I hammer through the valley and drop a bunch of boys. Tim rolls his eyes at me and says that anyone with that much stomp is climbing Carson's pass.
Mile 90. Turtle Rock Park
I smile. I know it is in me to flatten the Sierras. Dog meat isn't how I would describe these quads. I jump to the front of the pace line. I'm climbing Carson's pass
Mile 90 - 108
We start to climb Carson's. There are a lot of people creeping a long in front of us. They either started very early or they have bonked. On your left we say as we pass. Tim and Bruce pass easily. Crap, being the girl on the pink bike they feel the need to pick up the pace leaving me in the traffic zone for a longer period of time. Fine, I shift gears, and drop them soundly. It just takes a Little more oomph. We pull into a rest stop just long enough to fill our bottles and douse our heads with water. Then we climb on, there is ice cream at the top of Carsons pass. Bruce starts to pick up the pace. I'm getting hungry. I want that damn ice cream. I want a five pass finisher sticker. We grind on. I'm riding as hard as I can but Bruce the energizer pulls ahead. Tim stays on him. I just keep, keeping on. Bruce turns around and says in a very razzing voice "Come on Jen, I thought you dropped boys, aren't you going to drop me" I can't respond, I can only spin on the way I am. There are men on the side of the rode walking here. This very,very large but not fat black man is riding in front of me. He slides up next to me and gives my bike and push up the mountain. He says" by the grace of God you will get those boys" I say thanks as my speed picks up and i catch up to Bruce and Tim. I look for him later but never see him again. We are a couple miles from the top and I am so hungry I could eat a lion without even trying....I turned down Hammer espresso gel two miles ago. I want my ice cream. We get to the top and I see no aid station with ice cream.Bruce fibs to me that the aid station is around a few corners, up a few more climbs, and a few more miles ahead. Uh-oh I'm going to bonk at mile 108. I going to destruct.This will be the bonk of all bonks. Worst of all I HAVE BEEN HAD. Tim is slightly ahead of me and Bruce says "Come on Jen, drop Tim. This is your chance. You can have glory or you can have shame. It's glory vs. shame" I have nothing left, I say I'll take shame. Apparently my legs will never choose shame because I am standing. I am digging. I am grinding. I close the gap between Tim and I. We round a corner and we are at the aid station I see ice cream. I have made it. We enjoy our ice cream. We meet a man named Chester from South Carolina hiking the John Muir trail on Cheetos and Snickers. We give him some gels and bars from the aid station. You can't get very far on Cheetos.
Down Carson Pass and back to Turtle Rock Park.
We stop at the Carson Pass sign for picture then start hammering. Tim rides up ahead and takes my picture as I speed by. Bruce and I enjoy our free speed down the mountain as it flattens out we slow for Tim. He doesn't come and doesn't come. I start to worry, then he flies by and we scramble to catch him. I saw a smile on his face. He had that planned. We make great time back to Turtle Rock park. If my legs are tired the message isn't getting to my brain. I drop boys. Hee, Hee. They've been chicked.
Mile 126 on m odometer.
Tim starts to sprint. What? Why sprint yet, we have two more miles. I am confused. Turns out my odometer is a hair off. hrows his hands into the air. "I win" he says. "Under the inflatable" Bruce yells. I sprint and attempt to pass Tim but can't because of traffic. Tie.
It's all glory. There is no shame. Darn this is going to cost me. I have qualified for the 5 pass finisher jersey.
We drive to the Kirkwood Inn for dinner, then on to Tim's parents in Pleasanton for some sleep. In the morning we drink coffee eat a yummy breakfast. Then we leisurely lounge in the yard and clean our bikes. We feel lazy and it feels good. Yesterday was 15,000+ feet of climbing. I let Riley, Tim's dog clean out the inside of my bento box. He dutifully licks up the chocolate GU that exploded in it.