My first Death Ride

As I mentioned a couple months ago, I have been training for the Death Ride, a 125 mile bike ride near Tahoe that does 5 mountain passes for a total of 15,000 vertical feet of climbing. Training has taken up most of my weekends doing long training rides, as well as “shorter” (2-4 hour) rides before work on weekdays, so basically, that’s been my life for the past few months.

I am pleased to report that I completed the Death Ride, finishing all five mountain passes in just over 12 hours.

It was particularly fun because despite not planning for it, I ran into a few people I know on the ride. It’s not entirely surprising that the guys I trained with were at similar speeds to me, so we ended up leapfrogging each other throughout the day, but it was super fun to get to the top of the last pass and be able to celebrate with people I knew – of the 5 of us that had gone on an 8 hour training ride together 2 Sundays before, 4 of us were hanging out at the top together.

I don’t know if I have the will to ever do it again. It is a beautiful ride, but I had to train so hard for it. According to Strava, I had done more climbing and riding by July 4th than I did in all of 2014, and 2014 included a week-long mountain bike tour, two climbing centuries, and the training for both of those. Kind of insane.

But dang, it is satisfying to have finished. I’m pretty proud of myself.

Some other random thoughts and observations:

  • The layout of the ride is to ride south ~10 miles, turn east, climb to the top of Monitor Pass (pass #1 – 8,314 foot peak), descend the other side, turn around and climb back up Monitor Pass (pass #2), descend back, turn left, climb to the top of Ebbets Pass (pass #3 – 8,730 foot peak), descend halfway down the other side, turn around and climb back up (pass #4), then descend back to the main road, ride 15 miles (past the starting point where it was oh so tempting to just get into my car), and climb 15 miles to Carson Pass (pass #5 – 8,580 foot peak) before the final descent back to the start. The first four passes are particularly nice because they close the road to cars, so it’s just lots and lots of bikes (3,000+ riders on the course).
  • The picture to the left is from near the top of the second pass. Yes, that road below is what I just climbed (10 miles, 3,100 vertical feet, took me an hour and 25 minutes to climb after I descended it in 15 minutes – that’s 38 mph average down, 7 mph up). Unfortunately, my phone does not have the resolution for you to see the line of bicycles on the road below (they closed the road for the Death Ride, which was great). The picture below is from the official ride photographer as I hit the top of the second pass.
  • There were a bunch of Ellipti-gos out on the ride. Yes, those dorky vehicles that drive a bike train with an elliptical motion. And at least one of them was faster than me (he was speeding down while I was still climbing the the last pass) – I caught another Ellipti-go on the way up that last pass, though, so I think only one was faster than me.
  • I saw at least two single speed mountain bikes – I told both of them how impressed I was when I passed them. One of them responded “You just have to want it enough”. I don’t want it enough.
  • There was a kid (maybe 12 or 14) who I saw a few times throughout the day – his dad was with him most of the time, and I last saw him a mile from the top of the last pass as I was descending, so he finished. Amazing.
  • I leapfrogged a woman a few times who was wearing bright yellow socks that said “DO EPIC SHIT”. I approved and told her so. I might have to buy some.
  • The camaraderie throughout the ride was really pleasant. People were friendly and chatting with each other because we were all out on this beautiful day trying to do the same thing.
  • The last pass, Carson Pass, was kind of brutal. The first four passes are right next to each other, so I had finished 4 passes and 80 miles and was having lunch at the 8 hour mark. And I still had 50 miles and another pass to go. And when we started the Carson Pass climb, there was a strong headwind (about which there was much grumbling from the riders). And we had to deal with cars speeding past on 88 after the first four passes were closed to traffic. And then to add insult to injury, the road was being resurfaced about 3 miles from the top, so those last miles were effectively on cobblestones with not a smooth surface to be found. It started to crush my spirits, so I pulled to the side to regroup and have a snack and drink. Fortunately, a bit later there were some folks cheering us on, who yelled encouragingly that we only had one mile to go, which gave me the juice I needed to finish the climb.
  • Speaking of snacks, the thing I’ve learned about these longer rides is that it’s not about leg strength – it’s about managing food and water. I’ve got the leg strength, but managed to bonk pretty badly on a training ride a few weeks ago because I didn’t drink and eat enough. So I was eating at every opportunity on the ride, and i probably drank two gallons of water during the day (including putting an electrolyte tablet in every other water bottle). This kept me feeling good throughout the day.

P.S. I’m now feeling pretty good about my chances at finishing the Leadville 100 mountain bike century in a month. I am raising money for World Bicycle Relief for that ride, so please donate if you can.

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