Recognized as one of the premier cycling events in America’s West, The Death Ride tours California’s Alps. The five pass ride includes 129 miles and 15,000+ feet of lung busting climbing. This summer, Touchstone cyclist Deborah Georges completed the brutal race through the Lake Tahoe region. She wrote a bit about the event for the Touchstone blog.
Bikers climbing over Monitor Pass
First off, if you love bicycling and are looking for a difficult yet doable challenge, the Death Ride is for you, and a must! This was my second time riding in this “exclusive” bicycling event! What draws me most to the Death Ride is that it allows me as a competitive athlete to realistically evaluate how fit I really am, how much power I can generate on my own accord over long distance, and how tough I am mentally to keep my body moving when the going gets unbearably rough.
The Death Ride is a chance in a lifetime experience. Located in Alpine County/the Lake Tahoe Area, the natural environment and breathtaking scenery stand in sharp contrast to urban/city living. Completing the entire 129 mile course entails riding 5 extremely diverse and not-so-easy mountain passes: Monitor Pass (front and back), Ebbetts Pass (front and back), and Carson Pass. Each Pass has a character all its own, making the Death Ride an awe-inspiring, life-changing, unique athletic experience.
The downside of the Death Ride derives from accommodation logistics. Markleeville, where the Death Ride starts and ends, is sparse in lodging accommodation. Because of this, many riders either stay in Gardnerville, Nevada where economy motels are a plenty and yet entail a 45 minute transportation drive to the start come ride day, or vey like heck to reserve a camping site nearby. To manage my personal stress, I chose to park my Toyota Rav4 on route 89 in front of Turtle Rock Park, Headquarters of the Death Ride, and camp inside my vehicle. This is the ideal situation. It makes no sense to go to a motel, when one can easily erect a tent or sleep in one’s vehicle free-of-charge right at the start!
Start times for the Death Ride vary according to a rider’s desire. I personally did not want to start off in the dark so I chose to get on the road at the break of dawn slightly before 5:00 a.m. That said, slower or more ambitious riders opt for a 3:00-3:30 a.m. start with the more popular start option commencing between 4:00-4:30 a.m.
Monitor Pass is an ideal route to begin the course. Its road is wide, open on both right/left sides, and not particularly steep. I enjoyed “warming up” on Monitor to get my “climbing legs” primed. The backside descent to Topaz rest stop is fast, technically “moderate” in terms of difficulty, and overall what I label “a joy ride”! Beware, it gets unexpectedly windy flying down Monitor Pass. Regardless of how warm the temperature might seem, the knowledgable rider dons a wind jacket to keep from shivering prior to making the long descent!
With two mountain passes notched on one’s belt, the next challenge becomes the majority of a cyclist’s favorite – Ebbetts Pass. Quite distinct from the openly expansive Monitor Pass, Ebbetts is more introverted in the sense that it lies within a forest of sorts surrounded by subtle creeks, calming burbling waters, and aesthetically beautiful tall-trunk trees that indisputably have been digging their roots in the earth’s soil for centuries. I encountered absolutely no difficulty climbing Ebbetts Pass quickly, descending the back side swiftly to Hermit Valley, and then climbing back up to the top in order to make a very fast descent to the rest/lunch stop at Wolfcreek by 11:10 a.m.
Wolfcreek lunch stop is pleasurable because it affords one the opportunity to mingle and exchange riding stories with other cyclists. I lunched at a table full of guys who interacted with me and with each other in an enjoyable “we’re in this together” way!
With four mountain passes tucked securely behind me, I now faced the final “dreaded” Carson Pass. In defense of Carson which largely gets a negative rating from the majority of riders, I came to understand this time around what really sours me from what otherwise would be a positive response to this particular Death Ride pass. Carson, sadly, is not beautiful or aesthetic or naturally attractive. Located on a well trafficked motor vehicle county road, the asphalt is torn up in many parts making it impossible for a cyclist to hold a straight line. In terms of coverage from nature’s elements, there is none to speak of. The route up Carson Pass to the end rest stop of the Death Ride is wide open making cyclists extremely vulnerable to the sunshine and heat. Simply put, it’s not a particularly memorable experience one will opt to talk about with family and friends in a positive tone after the Death Ride is completed. Knowing that Carson Pass was going to be the most physically challenging for me after having successfully ridden 94 incredibly breathtaking and delightful miles, I determined to reach deep inside myself to tap the final reserves I had left to make it to the top of Carson in strong form!
Indeed, I made it! I accomplished my goal of completing the Death Ride without the Death Ride beating me! At the Carson Pass final rest stop, I ate the traditional ice cream sandwich with a tremendous sense of accomplishment. The ladies “manning” the finish line, hugged and congratulated me not only for having successfully finished, but more so because I was the fifth woman to get to the top shortly after noon among the larger majority of men who dominated the 2014 Death Ride! It’s both sad and incomprehensible to me that more women don’t aspire to taking on the challenge of the Death Ride. With determination and training, the Death Ride is doable for anyone. It’s a chance in a lifetime open to all!
Riding the final 21 miles back to my car stationed at Turtle Rock Park after an exhilarating descent from Carson Pass rest stop, I was astounded to find that I had completed the 129 mile end-to-end course in 8 hours and 42 minutes! If memory serves me correctly, I had completed my first Death Ride saddle time in 9 hours 55 minutes. Imagine knocking off an entire hour two years later the second time around! Woot woot – pom poms furiously shaking!
I wish to thank my sister Wendy, for always standing by me and encouraging my athlete endeavors, my Berkeley Ironworks/Touchstone spinning buddy Marty Kaplan, for both teaching and educating me on how to be a safe and skillful descender, and Pat Ross, an extraordinary competitive cyclist whom I highly admire and would gladly trade places with in terms of strength, skill and ability! These three individuals have served me the most over the years in bringing out the best of me in terms of my athleticism.
Cheers to all, happy safe riding, and get your asses over to the Death Ride at some point – you won’t regret it!