For sometime I had wanted to do the popular “Death Ride”, what appeared to be a challenging 125 mile, 15,000 feet of climbing, ride in the Sierra mountains. Because this ride is so popular they have used a lottery system to select the 3,000 riders that are allowed in. This year I was selected and decided to do it along with several other club members. It was my first experience with the Death Ride, it may also be the last time I will do it. I found it 1) over hyped, 2) over crowed, 3) too many inexperienced cyclists (along with many good cyclists). I now know the term “Death Ride” applies to the number of cyclists for the roads and not to the course.
I was lucky that another club member was willing to let us use the campsite she had reserved. I drove up with Gary F. while Joe F. was driving himself after work. Yes, the three of us are the three “Fs” that set out to do the Solvang Double under 11 hours (which we all did). It was a great campsite and a real treat that there were five other club members in the campsite next to ours so we had a great time chatting that evening and the next day after the ride.
The three of us decided to start at 6:00 am and bike directly from the campsite, which was 4.5 miles from the town. That is where I started my Polar heart rate monitor, which also provides cycling functions. It was rather cool that morning, around 45 degrees, but I only took arm warmers because I didn’t want to carry a jacket or vest with me. I figured we would be climbing soon and would warm up.
It was downhill or flat to Markleeville where we turned right and headed toward Monitor, the first of the five passes. The three of us stayed together until we started to climb. I went ahead of the other two as I tried to make my way up the hill, winding around the mass of riders. It was fun at first passing so many riders but later in the day it was a chore. I did like coming up upon many friends. I probably should have slowed down and chatted more with them but I was thinking more about keeping up the pace. I skipped the first rest stop because it was way to crowded and I didn’t need any water anyway. In fact I kept skipping rest stops until mile 62, although I did take on more water at a rolling water stop on the way up the back side of Monitor. I ended up stopping at only four of the rest stops all day, mostly to get water and a little food, keeping each stop to less than 10 minutes.
It was beautiful country, and the hills were great. The support was outstanding. I loved the climbs and found the whole event to be not that difficult for me, but still some challenge to do all five passes. I did buy the 5 pass jersey because it is cool looking, unlike the DMD jersey that I don’t care for and didn’t buy. Look at the back of the jersey and you can see “Five Pass Finisher” vertically in red.
You were not allowed to buy this particular jersey until after you finished and showed the pin you received at the top of the fifth pass.
Overall I just felt the Death Ride to be too dangerous because of the number of riders. Because three of us started at 6 am, I must have passed 2,000 riders on the climbs and found I had to keep crossing the center line because of cyclists who were wandering all over the place. I hated to do that because cyclists were coming down the hills at the same time.
I suppose that because you can do only one pass and still ride in the event that it brings out a wider range of people. But I would think most any cyclist that could climb one of the hills would think that maybe someone might want to pass them and they should stay to the right a bit more and not climb near the center line, or wander back and forth. I don’t want to infer that this is a description of most of the cyclists, just enough of them to be an issue for me.
The last pass was not closed to traffic and with no bike lane and heavy traffic it was an effort for each person I passed on the climb, waiting for a break in the traffic and then shooting by them to minimize my time cycling where the cars were driving. On this pass I didn’t find the erratic cyclists as I did earlier on, it was just the road/traffic issue. We did have a lot hotter weather by now (high 80′s) and a head wind, but I still felt fine during that climb. After getting an ice cream treat at the top of the last climb, it was a real fun decent back to Turtle Rock finish. I let my speed get a bit on the fast side for me when a strong cross wind gust hit me. I was a bit spooked but handled it okay.
I ended up finishing the 5 passes with a total time of 9:22 and a rolling time of 8:40. The data from my Polar heart rate monitor shows:
Start Time: 6:01 AM
Distance: 125.2 miles
Heart Rate Average: 140
Heart Rate Maximum: 178
Speed Average: 14.5
Speed Maximum: 45.6
Cadence Average: 37
Cadence Maximum: 120
Total Climb: 14,459 feet
The heart rate and altitude graphs looks like this. The time scale is total time so you can see where I actually stopped at the rest stops, the first one being 62 miles and 4.5 hours into the ride. Click to enlarge.
If I do this ride again I am going to start much earlier just to avoid some of the crowds.
I am now thinking of doing the Everest Challenge (206 miles, 29,000 feet in two days) on September 23/24. You can do either as a USCF race or as a non-timed tourist/randonneur. It is only 2 weeks before the 508, so I am still not 100% sure I will do it.