Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Death Ride of California - 129 miles / 15,000+ft

I arose at 3.45am and planned to be rolling on my bike by 4.30am. After a last minute bike cleaning session on friday night, eating pizza in between cleaning bits, I was quite tired and prone to considerable faffing in the morning. I eventually joined the weirdest rush hour in the world, heading through mountain roads to the start of the Death Ride, at 4.15 and had my bike set up and ready to roll for just after 5.00am. I was much more relaxed this year, understanding the format and having trained a little but was quite worried about my lingering cold (for which I had 2 days in bed, tuesday and wednesday) and was unsure how it far I would get. I was also questioning how sensible it was to run/hike up Job's Peak 5 days before the event but it seemed to make my legs stronger.

So, I wound my head torch around my handlebars, clipped my flashing light to the strap holding my race number, pointed my bike up towards the startline, reset my odometer and set off around 5.05am.

It felt warmer than I remembered last year's early start but I am better acclimatized now I suppose. The start was nice with the ride to Markleeville mostly down hill. I was quite surprised how quickly we got to the turn left towards Monitor.

As we started the first climb I was very pleased that a whole lot of people had started early. For some reason I like to pick a person up front and try to catch them up, a bit like a sheep dog chasing a car. So, I did a bit of that up Monitor and overtook quite a lot of people. Pretty soon I could feel the familiar niggle in my kneecap, which was responsible for considerable pain last year. Niggles early, on a long ride, are not great but it eventually wore off some with the normal feeling of muscle exertion replacing it. Still, I had a sinking feeling as soon as it started, and was worried to feel it on the very first climb of the day.

Monitor, before 6am...
I had expected Scott to have started after me and to come steaming past me at some point. I was quite surprised to look over and see that I had just overtaken him. I assumed he would pull out behind me and didn't think much of it. I was not feeling very confident I would finish the race, my cold was not fun the whole day but particularly early in the morning and the knee was a worry too. I figured at some point I would fade or even drop out, so whilst I was feeling good I was going to keep pedalling. So, I kept on, really expecting Scott to be just behind somewhere. Later in the day after not seeing him, I began to get worried that he wasn't well either.

View from high up on Monitor...

The top of Monitor - one down!

But I pushed on, enjoying overtaking and jumping in behind any fast people who went past me (a good motivation). The descent was the usual thrill. The back side of Monitor is a very fast descent and being near the front of the group there was not too much traffic (cyclist traffic) coming up the other way. I hit 47mph on the way down. This year I didn't get the sinking feeling that the thrill of the descent was to be tempered by the need to turn around at the bottom and climb back up the mountain. I guess I knew the drill.

At the bottom, some great advice from a marshal reminded us to change gears before we stopped (it's odd the things you forget). I got my sticker showing my first pass was complete, grabbed more sports drink, Citromax pink flavour, a couple of bagels and headed back off again.

Dennis, from work, had told me one of his tips was to keep the rests short, and I really focused hard on that. I remember Dennis legs moving like pistons as he rode past me last year. Apparently he passed Scott just after I did and Scott told him I was ahead but he didn't catch me until lunch, after 4 passes. I was pretty impressed with that. Dennis might be in his 50s but he is supremely fit, so I was pleased indeed to stay ahead of him.

I climbed the back of Monitor on the same form as the front, overtaking loads of people. What a thrill after the grind of last year. The descent was awesome as usual but with the added thrill of being able to cheer on the folks still doing their first climb, lots of the folks from work or from Alta Alpina. Near the bottom I saw Mel and a very large group of Alta Alpina riders starting very late but looking strong. At the bottom I stripped off my long trouser legs, my windproof and my lights and gave them to Big Daddy (who was fast asleep, but always on hand to fix bikes for people!).

The back side of Monitor before 8am, with cyclists like ants on the road below...

Near the top of Monitor (again) - two down!

Then on up to Ebberts. Things changed a bit on Ebberts. It has some very steep sections which you have to really attack. On Ebberts, I got overtaken by quite a few folks. I think the fit cyclists who were confident enough to start later were catching me up by now. I managed to hang in with a couple of them sometimes, which helped me climb.

At some point I felt a weird pain in my abs and realized it was like a muscle ache - it seemed very much that I was somehow using my stomach muscles, which have recently appeared from circuits class and yoga, to propel me on the bike. Odd but satisfying!

That's 3 - Ebberts...

At the top I stopped to take a photo of the summit sign so I would have a record of the time. The Marshals thought I was taking a photo of them with their fairy wings and so posed for me too! I didn't hang around there though, just got my sticker and rode through to the back side of Ebberts. A slightly more twisty and slower descent (I assumed Scott would be catching me by now with his fast descending).


Near the bottom, and doing 30-40mph around the twisties, some of us were quite surprised to turn the corner and be faced with some Winnebago taking up most of the road (which was supposed to be closed to traffic). It was quite a shock but I think everyone wobbled past it somehow.

The bottom of Ebberts was perhaps the best organized of all the rest stops. The volunteers had done an awesome job cutting the melon slices perfectly and even peeling the oranges. It is strange what's important in a race and these folks were getting a whole lot of thank yous from the appreciative riders. On a long ride you lose lots of salt as well as fluid, so you normally eat crisps and suchlike - at this stop you could even eat raw salt! Very thoughtful.

So, pretty soon I turned around and headed back up Ebberts at a better speed to see the beautiful high country scenery back there, still with snow covered peaks to see. The back of Ebberts is also steep so my 'picture taking going along' was a little limited. When I finally made the summit I stopped and looked around for lunch. The top of Ebberts was by now a zoo, packed full of people and no lunch. I had forgotten that lunch was down the hill a way, so kicking myself for wasting precious minutes not finding lunch, I hopped on the bike and headed down hill again. Descending more slowly than I perhaps needed to and imaging Scott catching me up fast.

The beautiful views from the back side of Ebberts...

I finally spied the lunch stop and joined Ron Sanchez and his son Aaron, and then Dennis for a spot of food. After about 20 minutes Scott appeared looking not so hot. It turned out that he wasn't feeling fully fit after all (and the bicycle helmet sculptured hair style didn't help the overall impression). Dennis stuck to his 30 minute lunch rule and hauled out. I was tempted to go too but felt it would be much more fun for me and Scott if we rode the next 50 miles together, working together to keep up the pace and the motivation. So, that's what we did.

We set off at a decent speed and then saw another couple of riders working pretty hard together so we tacked on the back of them to form an ad-hoc paceline. I'm not sure they were thrilled by the idea but we took our turn at the front but sadly we eventually dropped them, though we gained a good few miles working together in some of the windy sections.

In no time we were in Markleeville for the climb to Turtle Rock Park, where we stopped at our cars to change clothes and get a cold drink before the massive final climb up to Pickets and then Carson. I distinctly remembered these climbs were from last year's Death Ride and even from driving it a few times. It's a very long climb. However, working together we pretty much nailed it. I don't know how we did it really but we were lucky with the traffic on the ride to Pickets (which is pretty narrow and has no shoulder in places). There wasn't much wind but we still took turns to do a bit at the front and we got to Picket's pretty painlessly.

I'm not sure I understand the whole working together thing. In the wind, if you ride behind someone else it is clearly easier. When there is no wind and you are grinding up a big climb I'm not sure whether there is any physical benefit but there are mental and motivational things going on. At times I could hardly stay with Scott on the climbs and worked super hard not to get dropped. When I took a deep breath and went for my turn at the front, sometimes he would drop back quite a bit. I'm sure there is something that messes with your brain when someone rides quickly past you when you are already working on the limit. Whatever it is, there certainly seems a lot of physical and motivational/mental benefit to working together.

On the way up the climb I noticed a lady from Alta Alpina coming down having finished the 5th pass. I'd bumped into her at the lunch stop and we'd previously met on the Gardnerville 100. She's extremely nice and has retired but what is perhaps surprising for some, is that I think she did the whole Death Ride quicker than we did. It's a funny thing when you join sports clubs how quickly you get respect for the incredible stength and stamina of mild mannered club members in their 50's, 60's and 70's. It certainly stops you feeling ageist about sport, and quite careful who you choose to race against! Perhaps I will keep getting quicker year on year - it seems not uncommon around here!

We bumped into Scott Doerr and Marty at the Picket's rest stop looking fairly comfortable on some seats out of the sun. One of the helpers insisted on racking my bike for me and helping me get drink and stuff because I now had an Alta Alpina shirt on! We grabbed some food and water and took some time out, but not for too long. The last climb was waiting and there was to be ice cream at the top.

So, we set off as a 4 this time, well I thought we did. Pretty soon, me and Scott taking our turn at the front transformed into me and Scott riding on our own again. Near the top, but with still a few steep miles to go, Scott Doerr reappeared looking in good form and extremely fit and we worked as a 3 for a bit. Then someone we dropped original Scott about a mile from the top. I ploughed on behind Scott Doerr, quite unable to take my turn at the front. Then some miracle occurred as we turned the craggy corner near the top - the wind changed direction and started pushing us from behind. What a rush. I'm not sure how much it helped physically but mentally it was great. After a couple of minutes of that I was ready for my turn at the front, so I moved up and managed to drop Scott D this time. I saw a few people ahead of me struggling a bit so I put on a final burst of speed and overtook a 3 more people before the top, turned the corner and held my 5 fingers up to the photographer before steaming into the rest stop for my 5th sticker, finishers pin and more importantly, the ice-cream! I was pretty elated to be for the first time ever feeling anything like on a par with Scott and Scott - normally they out climb me with apparent ease so it was quite something to feel on the level for a change!

That's 5 - Carson Pass and ready for ice cream!

Ice creams all around, left to right, Marty, Scott Doerr, me (note Alta Alpina shirt sizes come up short!), Scott Roby...

Marty had a heart rate monitor which estimated how many calories he had burned through the day. It was nearly 8,000 by the top of Carson Pass!

Coming back down Carson was ugly. The road is extremely fast for cyclists but the cars were not doing a great job of overtaking. There was a whole mess of bikes and cars and bikes and cars doing about 40mph down the hill in close proximity. Not a nice cycling situation and quite disappointing not to be able to really rocket down this last descent as we deserved. But we all seemed to make it ok. Towards the end we were working in the wind some and worked together quite effectively back to Turtle Rock Park as the first drops of rain started. We got back to our cars (our person finish lines) and decided to go and say hi to Bill and Dennis who were having a beer back down the hill. In the 10 minutes that took I got drenched by what was now a thunder storm. Missing Bill and Dennis (the beer had run out!) I headed back up the hill and rapidly got my cycling shoes off (with metal cleats) as thunder and lightening were crashing all around - I ducked at one point as I felt the thunder clap through my feet. I threw the bike in the car and sat there feeling safe, after all, cars are very safe in thunder storms (it has to do with their being a Faraday cage I believe). As I sat there looking at the lightening striking between the trees just in front of me I realized the Faraday cage concept doesn't help much if a tree falls on your car! So, I prepared to get out of dodge but only after I'd spent half an hour trying to photograph the lightening, the hailstones (!) and the poor riders finishing in these grim conditions.

I was pretty convinced the race would have to be shut down because so many riders were still out there but they apparently had ok weather until they were nearly back to the start, which was very lucky.

The race wasn't stopped despite the thunder, lightening and hailstones...

Our little localized storm from the way home...

On balance, an awesome ride. I really feel like we rode hard all the way and quite nailed it! The organization of the event was again absolutely fantastic with an army of volunteers and people shouting encouragement and motorcycle riders and safety teams. I hope they realize how much they are appreciated, I think they do, I heard a lot of folks expressing their thanks along the way.

Now, statistics for 2006
Trip Distance: 123.25 (this is 6 miles short so the bike computer is a bit wrong!)
Average Speed: 12.8+ (last year 10.6)
Maximum Speed: 47.2mph+ (last year 48.9)
Wheels turning time: 9:23:33 (last year 12.24)
Total time including rest: 11:34:59 (last year 15:20)

Of these statistics, I'm most impressed by cutting 3hours 45 minutes from last years overall time and 3 hours from my wheels turning time. Inaccuracy in the bike computers seems to mess up the rest of the stats.

I wonder how I am so much faster this year. I guess it's a combination of being better acclimitized to the altitude and temperature; having a much better bike; doing a few big rides of around 100 miles (Gardnerville 100, Tour De Nez 100, Kingsbury - Luther loops 50); and doing some regular speed work with the Alta Alpina wednesday night race series; being lighter; having a stronger 'core' from circuits and yoga classes; from taking some advice from my friends about not taking too long for breaks and from riding with Scott and the others for long stretches. On balance I'm pretty pleased that I was able to ride at that kind of pace for so long. Looking back at the slog of last year it was really a different kind of ride to be pushing hard the whole way, much more enjoyable.



Post a Comment

<< Home