Thursday, June 18, 2009

Alpine Challenge Double (aka Death Ride +++) 6/13/2009

I made it (just). Stats from my Garmin 305 (with handy battery extender):

Ride time: 19:00
On bike time: 16:41
Distance: 198
Climbing: 21416'
Avg speed: 11.8

I went up a day early to acclimatize to the altitude and stayed at
Kirkwood. Lots of snow still around and temps in the 50's on arrival. Friday dawned frosty but sunny and I went for a warm up ride in the late morning to Silver Lake and then up to Carson Pass and back. Clouds gathered during the afternoon and some light rain.

Riders were assigned start times and I had the earliest possible at
3:30am, although a few people evidently started even earlier. Saturday was cloudy with temps in the 40s, warmer than I expected but early cloud never bodes well in the Sierra. After my debacle at the Eastern Sierra the weeks before I was better equipped, at the cost of extra weight. I had two layers, arm warmers, leg warmers, bootees, three pairs of gloves(finger gloves, cold weather bike gloves and ski gloves), ski pants and a handlebar bag to put it all in. In the end I wore everything at various points in the ride. Oh, I forgot the essential but practical fashion accessory. A cool blue Walgreen's disposable shower cap. Lightweight, easy on/off even when riding, keeps the rain out and the cold on descents for the hair-challenged among us. Also a good way to meet new people as it invites comments -;)

The start was at Turtle Rock park just north of Markleeville, 30 minutes drive from Kirkwood (there's very limited accommodation much closer). I got a scare at the start as I tweaked my left calf muscle in the parking lot. Initially I thought this would be a show stopper as every time I dropped my heel, pulled back or pushed hard it reminded me sharply that it wasn't 100%. So for the first half of the ride I babied it and did most of the work with my right leg. Now you know why single leg training is important! Fortunately it improved through the day and by the end I was able to push pretty much full out. Never would have made it otherwise.

The ride starts by descending into to Carson valley and traverses along the foothills parallel to 88/395 and then up Kingsbury grade towards Lake Tahoe. The first rest stop and turn around was at 7300' where it was cold and damp. Ski pants and gloves on for the descent which was fun. Back in the valley it was light and you could see the great views we missed in the dark on the way in.

After stopping to remove the descending gear, hit the the second rest stop, where there were more volunteers than riders just before the climb up from Woodfords to Hope Valley at 7000' and then up to the top of Luther Pass at 7700'. I was trying to be efficient at the rest stops, just grab some food, fill up drink bottles and leave. I.e., no rest! After Luther it was back down to the Hope Valley and then up to Carson Pass at 8500' by 10am. I'm really happy with my schedule at this point. Still noticeably colder above 7500' and occasional spots of rain. Notice that the whole course is basically an out and back affair centered around Hope Valley and Markleeville. Of course, this allows you to spot the leaders coming down while you are going up. A right turn and a very scenic ride up to Blue Lakes at 8200'. On the way the sun comes out and I actually take off my jacket and put on my finger gloves! I'm also passed by Triple Crown Stage race contender Robert Choi, who probably started two hours after me. Everyone has their name and number very visible on their back. Had to duct tape one of my (not Titanium) water bottle cages which had broken at the rest stop. Weather turns cloudy and cold again on the long descent back to Turtle Rock for lunch. Useful to have access to the car for gear modifications, but I'm not changing anything as the weather on the next pass, Ebbetts, looks ominous. Quick sandwich and I'm on my way. No cell phone coverage anywhere so I can't call home with an update. It's just after 1pm, 111 miles, and I'm still feeling good about the time because I know how long it has taken me in the past to do the remainder of the ride. However, the fact is you still have 3/4 of the regular Death Ride to do and the two toughest passes.

It's a long ride in to Ebbetts, but pleasant alongside the Carson river and I've pulled down the leg and arm warmers. Ebbetts has the steepest grades, 12% in places, but I find it easier than I remember, probably because I recently lowered my lowest triple chain ring to 28. Half way up with the sun out, I even stop to take off by bootees! Short-lived experiment as by 8000' the rain is back and its getting really cold again. The summit is the highest point at 8750' and the rest stop has hot chocolate! Back on with the ski pants and gloves for the 5 mile descent to Hermit valley. It rains most of the way down, but at least no hail this week! Soup at the bottom rest stop, off with the rain gear and back up. Of course to starts raining again near the summit. Several people under the "sun shade" wrapped in blankets waiting it out - I don't think they are going to finish. More hot chocolate and I see it's nearly 5pm and I wonder where all the time has gone. The rain that started on the way up has stopped but the road surface is wet nearly the entire length of the descent and wet enough at the top to soak my bootees with spray. Ebbetts is the one pass with a tricky descent so its annoying that its wet, and I have to go slow. I also lose my water bottle three times from the flaky cage and the bumps and give up on it after the third time.

I turn onto to Monitor pass at 5:45 and catch one guy for about the third time and ask him how he's doing and he says ok but he doesn't think he's going to make it. I had forgotten that the cutoff for descending the East side of Monitor is 7pm. That's 8 miles and 2500' feet away, similar to Page Mill and I know how long that takes me when I'm fresh - very, very tight. And at this point I have 150 miles and
15000' on my legs. Another guy passes me, and asks me how far it is and curses when I tell him. So we team up and thrash up the climb. Of course the leaders are coming down already. There's a lot of 8-10% grade to start with and I'm worried I'm going to blow up. Once we reach the second section where the grade is 6-8% it's still tight time wise and we are passed by one of the many SAG vehicles and we ask him to drive up to the top and ask about an extended cut-off. He says not to worry as there are people 20 minutes behind us who are asking the same, and anyone who gets this far deserves to finish. We don't slack off however and make the rest stop at the 8300' summit bang on 7pm. No time for stopping as there is food and drink at the bottom of the descent. It turns out the the rest stop organizer enforced the cut off anyway and we are the last but one riders allowed to descend.

The descent to Topaz junction at 395 is one of the classics, ten miles, great surface, easy curves, just two benign hairpins, good visibility, minimal traffic and fantastic views. Hit a steady 45mph on the lower section and cruise into the rest stop to fuel up for the climb back, which is actually the longest of the day at 3300' and those ten miles. We team up with the last guy down, who also happens to be from Palo Alto, and start back up. He is struggling a bit so I elect to stay with him at a slower pace. It takes two hours to get back and it was dark and pretty cold by then. The SAG drivers hang around waiting for us to drop!

I estimate the temp was in the thirties above 8000 all day - it was 35 by the time I got back to Kirkwood which was ten degrees colder than when I started out in the morning. Back at the rest stop I request hot chocolate for my bottle, don the ski gloves one final time, but not the pants - there's one more climb back to Turtle Rock and I can't climb in them - and set off down solo (my teammate on the climb has a buddy who missed the cut off). It's a long cold descent and I realize I left the water bottle!. I have no idea how fast I'm going but I have the road to myself and my AYUP ( lights are fantastic so it's pretty quick. Thankfully no wildlife, e.g., bears or deer, make an appearance on the road. The six miles back from the junction of 4 and 89 to Markleeville is something of grind but there is cell phone coverage in Markleeville! So I call Jenny to let her know I made it. The final 400' climb back to the park seems to go on forever but then there is the sign, lights and post-ride dinner (always a winner)! I check in, pick up my 8-pass finisher jersey and chow down with a bunch of very tired looking people.

For the record, the fastest time was by the person who won the Terrible Two last year - 13:01 - just amazing.

Overall this was a very well organized and supported ride, that is
destined to be a classic. I am so glad that I was able to finish it in
its inaugural year. There were surprisingly few riders, even for the
"build your own ride" variant, i.e., you could do the Death Ride (in
reverse) if you wanted and about 60 people did that, given how many people fail to get into the actual Death Ride every year. I must say I really like the atmosphere and support of the club-hosted double centuries.

Next weeks it's the Terrible Two - hope I recover in time!

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