JOE SHAMI Cycling the Death Ride 2005 – All Five Passes
(Tour of the California Alps) — Saturday, July 9, 2005
I knew it was not possible for me, an old man of 70, to climb all five mountain passes of the Tour of the California Alps, commonly called the “Death Ride,” within the prescribed time limits of 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. in
a single day, because I climb hills very slowly, spinning in an ultra-low gear, which takes a long time. It’s true that 14-1/2 hours is a very long time, but there’s 15,000 ft of elevation to conquer in 129 miles, and
there are cutoff times along the way, so that if you miss one, you’re not allowed to proceed further on the course.
Last year, just before my first Death Ride, I met a man by chance at a restaurant, Lew K., who told me that he starts early in the dark to give himself extra time. He was 62 then, and it was his goal last year tocomplete not only all five passes, which he had done before, but also the sixth optional pass on Blue Lakes Rd, Markleeville. (There was no
optional sixth pass offered this year.)
Last year, following Lew’s suggestion, I did start early in the dark at 4:43 a.m. with headlight and tail-lamp, along with many others, and was able to complete a total of four passes – one more pass than would otherwise have
been possible if I had started at the official time of 5:30 a.m. But it took everything I had to complete those four passes, which totaled 11,000 ft. in 90 miles! That was the most climbing I had ever done in a singleday. It was grueling!
This year, my goal was to complete the same four passes but to add an extra ten miles on the way to the fifth pass, so that I could claim a full century with 11,000 ft. of climbing. (It never occurred to me beforehand that I
might be able to finish all five passes.) By a strange coincidence, I happened to run into the same Lew K. and his
wife Peggy at the Death Ride pre-registration desk this year, two days before the event. (They were chatting with Elmer B. of the Benicia Bicycle Club, which I also belong to.) Lew and Peggy hardly remembered me, but
nevertheless, Lew told me that he had indeed ridden all six passes by starting at some very early time like 4 a.m. So he had done an extra 23 miles with an extra 1200 ft. of climbing! I was very impressed and made a date to have breakfast with Lew and Peggy the next day, hoping to learn some of Lew’s other secrets. (He commutes 30 miles a day on his bike with 1100 ft. of climbing per day and also rides centuries, totaling about 7,000 miles per year; he’s a Marin Cyclist. Lew said he knows someone who rode all five passes when 77 years old.) So once more, Lew reinforced the idea of giving myself some extra time by getting up early. Because of that extra time and because it wasn’t hot this year, just very windy, I was able to do the unthinkable – FINISH ALL FIVE PASSES! But it took 15 hours and 50 minutes, of which 13 hours and 21 minutes were actual cycling time. It was probably the most grueling endurance event I’ve ever experienced, worse than the marathons I ran when in my forties. The gory details are given below.
To reference my Death Ride story from 2004, see the Almaden Cycle Touring
Club’s website at: www.actc.org/stories/deathride04_js.htm Note: There’s an underscore (_) between “04” and “js” above. The title is: “Cycling the “Death Ride” – Tour of the California Alps.”
Starting Early in the Dark
I began cycling at 3:18 a.m., starting alone from my motel at Woodfords (elev. 5630′), which is four miles from the official starting point of Turtle Rock Park, Markleeville. Because of three steep intervening hills, it would take me more than a half hour – perhaps 45 minutes — to reach Turtle Rock Park, but I wouldn’t have to worry about parking by the side of the road and assembling my bike from my car trunk in the dark, which tooka half hour last year. And it wasn’t extra mileage that I was doing, because my motel was directly on the return route, and I would just stop there. There were some risks involved. First, my cellphone wouldn’t work in the area, because the surrounding mountains blocked the signal, so I couldn’t call 911 or anyone else in the event of trouble, and no-one knew that I
was starting at 3:18 a.m.
Secondly, a bear had been in our parking lot two nights earlier about 3 a.m. and had scratched the motel manager’s door, startling her. So on checking in, I was warned not to leave any food or toiletries in my car or near my
room’s window, because bears have a very keen sense of smell.
Thirdly, my cheap headlamp might die, leaving me stranded till dawn, though it had a fairly new battery that was fully recharged. With excitement and some trepidation, I quietly carried my bike out of my second-floor room and tiptoed toward the narrow staircase in sneakers. It was totally dark at the motel. Even the lights on the staircase were out. By the weak beam from my headlamp, I slowly descended the stairs, one at a time, and found my way to my car trunk, where I had pre-positioned my cycling shoes, so that I wouldn’t have to wake everyone clambering down the stairs in them. (I knew I was crazy, but you have to be crazy to subject yourself to an endurance event like the Death Ride anyway.) Fortunately, there was no bear, and the temperature was quite mild — perhaps 59
As I toed the white line on the right side of State Route 89 (because there was no shoulder), cycling very slowly to warm up, a total of 24 vehicles sped by me toward Turtle Rock Park, all carrying bicycles. It was obvious that I was visible with my two flashing tail-lamps and bright yellow rain-shell, because they all crossed the centerline to give me room. Only two cars came the other way.
I was familiar with the road, because last autumn a group of six of us had stayed at my current motel and spent three days exploring the route of the Death Ride with two others at a leisurely pace on our “Fall Colors Tour.”
So I knew this stretch, but hadn’t ridden it at night. Now, there were practically no lights anywhere in this sparsely, mountainousarea, and nothing looked the same in darkness. When I hit big bumps in the road, my headlight would point up, and I would have to quickly knock it back down to illuminate the road again.
Eventually, I reached the stretch before and beyond the entrance to Turtle Rock Park (elev. 6000′), where there was a lot of activity. About 100 cars were already parked by the side of the road, off the shoulder, in addition to those inside the park, and some people were getting their bikes ready to ride. Others were walking to the 4 a.m. breakfast that could be bought at the park. But I saw no-one else cycling yet as I passed the point where Ihad parked last year.
Now came the long, 2.5-mile downhill to Markleeville that was familiar from last year, when I followed a long string of single flashing tail-lamps. There were no tail-lamps yet, and although I was still alone, I was more confident now. There was some activity in downtown Markleeville (elev. 5501′), which consists of a single block and a T-intersection in the middle of that block: some cars were moving, a few people were on the street, perhaps preparing to open their businesses, but there was still no-one onmy route.
A mile before the turn-off for Monitor pass, I noticed in my rearview mirror a pair of bicycle headlights catching me. It was a young couple, and they told me that about a dozen people had started from Markleeville before me.
They went by. In the darkness, I almost missed the left turn for Monitor Pass and almost continued straight for Ebbetts Pass, but fortunately, the couple had stopped just beyond the intersection and I could see their
tail-lights. Monitor Pass in the Toiyabe National Forest would be closed to auto traffic from 5:30 a.m. to noon, so it was still open.
Avoiding Altitude Sickness
I knew that things were going to be better than last year as soon as I began climbing Monitor Pass. I had experienced “altitude sickness” at that point last year. Now I felt fine. Both years, I had driven to the Sierras on
the Thursday preceding the Saturday event and spent Thursday and Friday nights at high altitude. Last year, my body had not acclimatized; this year it had. In the meantime, several people told me that you had to go up either
a week early or the night before. I did neither.
But there’s one thing that seems to have made the big difference for me: an article — I can’t remember where I read it — saying that the way to avoid altitude sickness is to drink lots of water well BEFORE the event, as well as during it. Last year, I had deliberately NOT drunk water beforehand, because I didn’t want to be waiting on long toilet lines, because of the time pressure of the cutoff times. That was my big mistake then!!
By hydrating well for a few days beforehand and during the event, taking Endurolyte electrolyte-replacement pills during the event, and snacking on salty pretzels at rest stops to avoid hyponatremia (low sodium), I was able to eliminate the weakness, nausea, lethargy, labored breathing, and general misery of last year’s experience.
Last year, I hadn’t done any cycling at all in the Sierras before the event, saving all my energy for the actual ride. This year, I did short rides of 14 miles on Thursday and seven miles on Friday. Both days, the heat was
stifling with temperatures of about 93 degrees F. So we were extremely lucky to have a cool Saturday!
Climbing Frontside of Monitor Pass (Elev. 8314′)
By 4:30 a.m., my night vision had adjusted so well to the early dawn that I could turn off my headlamp for short periods to save the batteries and still see the road, though I couldn’t yet read my instruments. Visibility
improved minute by minute, and by 5:15 a.m., it was quite light. Lots of riders were passing me now. The scenery was pretty. A chorus of black-headed grosbeaks greeted the dawn loudly and melodiously. When I reached the two portable toilets halfway up Monitor Pass (elev. 7201′), it was so early (5:29 a.m.) that there was no queue, as there was Last year. Even when I reached the first rest stop at the top of Monitor(6:05 a.m.), there were no waiting lines for either food or toilets.
I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted at the rest stop by Steve K., the doctor who rides his recumbent with our group from Montclair Village that now calls itself the “Velo Raptors,” and to which I belong (despite thename). He said he had started at about 4 a.m. from Markleeville. Since he had not passed me, he had obviously begun before I got there. Two years ago, Steve had completed three passes, and he trained very hard this year, resolved to go further — even climbing 25,000 ft. in one week beforehand. Sadly, his locked recumbent was stolen from the back of his SUV two days before he was scheduled to come to the Sierras, and he had to resuscitate his old recumbent, which is heavier and still has thick, heavy winter tires for commuting in rain. So that’s what he was riding now.
Backside of Monitor
Learning from last year’s experience, I bundled up at the top of Monitor Pass for the steep, chilly descent to Topaz, CA (elev. 5040′), on the backside. Last year, I shivered violently on the way down and had to pull off to the side of the road to put on my jacket. I found it very dangerous to get moving again then with a non-stop stream of bikes plunging down the mountain at 30 to 50 mph.
This year it was warmer. But today, I was buffeted and frightened by a huge gust of wind as I rounded an exposed corner of the mountain at speed. My headlamp, no longer in use, was knocked up and turned sideways. My
speedometer was raised from horizontal to vertical. Last year I had reached speeds over 40 mph before nervously applying the brakes. I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road to look at the speedometer now. Also, there were at
least two cattle guards to watch out for on this descent. Even so, I hit one of them at speed and may have damaged something in my bike’s front end, because all day thereafter I felt a wobble at certain times on all the steep downhills and haven’t yet determined whether it was just from gusts of wind or from a damaged front end.
One thing they instructed us do differently this year was to display our individual participant number at the FRONT of the bicycle (rather than sideways), for the photographer’s benefit, as well as on our jersey backs. So I don’t know if the combination of my large, oval sideview mirror and the plasticized number up front was causing my bike to become unstable in the fierce wind gusts, acting together like a sail.
When another wind gust blew my headlamp completely around so that it was pointing at me, I was afraid that it was going to fall off and either hit me or perhaps cause someone else to fall, so I pulled over and removed it from the handlebars. Unlike last year, I had no trouble getting back on the road, because it was still so early that the hordes were not yet descending.
In fact, I was so early in reaching the bottom of Monitor Pass at Topaz (6:44 a.m.), that it was still “civilized” down there, unlike the mob scene of last year, when perhaps a thousand cyclists were milling around on long lines for toilet and food when I arrived. Quickly, I was able to (1) drop off my jacket, headlamp, and tail-lamps in a marked bag that would be waiting for me back at Markleeville at day’s end, (2) note that Steve had made it down safely too, (3) get refreshment, and (4) use the toilet. So this is what it was like to be a “racer,” beating the pack, I marveled.
I was enjoying this Death Ride. As I returned up the backside of Monitor, climbing energetically in good spirits, the thought entered my mind briefly for the first time that I might even be able to try for five passes. It was a very long climb back up – 9.35 miles – and quite steep in spots with barren scenery on this Nevada-facing side. Throughout, an endless stream of cyclists descended rapidly on the other side of the road. I didn’t recognize anyone.
Notably missing from this year’s ride was the lone cyclist on the tandem with a cycling skeleton, the symbol of the Death Ride, as his partner on the back seat. (At least, I didn’t see him if he was there.) Last year, he passed me in this stretch on the backside of Monitor; later, I saw him again near the top of Carson Pass, when I was driving back to Kirkwood, and he had completed 107 miles alone on that heavy bike. He was quite the topic of conversation — and deservedly so. The skeleton would even say something to you if you passed it, I was told.
One thing that all stories of the Death Ride mention is the organized line of water boys halfway up the backside of Monitor Pass. I didn’t give them credit in last year’s report, because I foolishly didn’t use them then. Today, with much better hydration discipline, I really needed and appreciated their service. Here’s how the process worked: The cyclist ahead of me handed his water bottle to the next-up kid on the line; the boy ran up the hill as fast as he could, a few yards ahead of the struggling cyclist, unscrewing the bottle cap as he ran; he held the empty water bottle beneath a cooler-sized bottle that a bigger person was holding horizontally, and the filled bottle with cap screwed back on was handed back to the cyclist by the time he got uphill to where they were standing. Then, it
was my turn with the next-up youth. Again, the filled water bottle was ready by the time I got uphill; I didn’t miss a pedal stroke. Bravo and thanks to the young water volunteers!
Finishing Off Monitor
At the top (elev. 8314′) at 8:49 a.m., a sticker was slapped on the number on my back by a volunteer, denoting that I had completed two passes (i.e., Monitor both ways). A competing volunteer was yelling “Get your BEST sticker here!” She didn’t appreciate my feeble humor when I asked if hersticker said that I had completed Ebbetts Pass too.
Last year, many people I knew passed me on the way back up Monitor. Today, the only one was a fellow in a Benicia Bicycle Club jersey. He went by so quickly, I didn’t know who it was. But I later learned that it was Bill B., who is very fast and had started at 5:30 a.m. I was told that he finished by 2 p.m., as compared with my finishing time of 7:08 p.m.
Except for Steve K., whom I spoke with again at the rest stop, my other friends and acquaintances were all still behind me.The descent of the front side of Monitor to about 5719′ was lovely! Unlike the back side, the curves were smooth, gentle and predictable. The wind wasn’t noticeable. Like last year, I enjoyed it. I arrived at the bottom at 9:11 a.m. Then it was on to Centerville Flat for a beautiful 2.5-mile stretch paralleling the East Fork of the Carson River and , Ebbetts Pass.
Ebbetts Pass (Elev. 8730′)
Ebbetts Pass would be closed to auto traffic from 5:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. Having climbed its 10.4 miles twice before, I knew what to expect and how to pace myself. Also, the weather was perfect, whereas last year it had been HOT! By the time I reached the rest stop at Scossa’s Cow Camp (elev. 6214′) at 9:51 a.m., the mainstream of riders who started at 5:30 a.m. was catching and passing me. So I was where the action was.The scenic road is narrow and winding with no centerline and lots of bicycle traffic both ways. The people climbing around me were pretty good at
warning when a downhill cyclist was approaching by yelling “Rider Up!” or “Biker Up,” and the warning was passed down the line. However, an accident happened just a few yards behind me. I don’t know any of the details. I heard a lady clearly yelling an urgent warning of “Watch Out!, Watch Out!” and then she went down with a loud scream of pain. Inmy mirror, I could see people gathered around, and I warned descending cyclists that there was an accident ahead of them. At the time, I didn’t think the accident was serious, but when several people asked me later if I knew
anything about the accident on Ebbetts, I realized that the word had spread. Elmer B. of Benicia Bicycle Club sent me an e-mail at home saying that he had seen a helicopter at the intersection at the bottom of Ebbetts and Monitor Passes and it was for the victim(s) of the Ebbetts Pass accident.
When I reached the top (elev. 8730′) at 11:29 a.m., there were people everywhere, so as soon as I got my sticker on my back, I proceeded to the downhill to Hermit Valley (elev. 6972′) without even stopping. I knew it was only 4.8 miles to the bottom, that the road had been repaved since last year’s Death Ride to eliminate the dangerous downhill bumps, and I was now thinking of my friend Kevin McTighe’s e-mail encouragement of “FIVE PASSES!”
Hermit Valley (Elev. 6972′)
At the bottom at 11:43 a.m., there was a very long toilet line, because people went into the six portable potties and never came out. Impatiently, I lost 15 minutes there and was getting very cranky, but at least I was forced to take a break. I saw Steve K., who had arrived before me. He said he thought that four passes would be enough for him today on his heavy bike. I also was fatigued, but my brain was saying “FIVE PASSES!” In preparing to leave, I saw Ed B. of Benicia Bicycle Club and Farnsworth Cycles, Benicia, resting in a chair there. I’ve ridden with Ed several times, and he has a novel approach to fueling himself on endurance events. He runs on hamburgers. His wife cooks hamburgers beforehand and pre-packages them into small snack-size chunks for consumption at rest stops. Ed finds that this unusual fuel works much better for him than melons, grapes, etc., that are normally offered at rest stops. Ed has a very long record of successful century completions. I first met him on last year’s Death Ride.
A few minutes later, our mutual friend Mick W. of Benicia Bicycle Club arrived at Hermit Valley, having begun at 5:30 a.m. with Ed. I said “Hello” and began my climb back up Ebbetts. Scrawled on the road was a chalk message encouraging us Velo Raptors. There were three of us participating: Steve K., John J., and myself. I knew Steve hadn’t written it, because I’d been with him at all the rest stops. So I suspected John. But when I later chatted with John at the top of Carson Pass, he denied it. The perpetrator turned out to be Steve’s wife Deborah
K., who had placed it there on Thursday when she and Steve scouted the backside of Ebbetts Pass in their SUV.
Reaching the top of Ebbetts Pass for the second time at 1:02 p.m., I paused for another packet of Gu Energy Gel and some dried nectarines and dried papaya spears that I was carrying with me, but didn’t even get off my bike. The “five-pass fever” was consuming me. I immediately began the 10.4-mile descent, reaching the lunch spot at the bottom in Centerville Flat at 1:35 p.m. It was quite chilly on this shaded descent. People were still climbing Ebbetts Pass, but they would not be allowed to proceed down to Hermit Valley, because the cutoff time was 1:30 p.m. So they would have to be content with three passes, which is all I would be able to do if forced to begin at 5:30 a.m.
Lunch at Centerville Flat (Elev. 5938′)
I entered the lunch line from the wrong end. When I askedwhere the paper plates were, a volunteer pointed to the end, andthat’s when I saw what looked like a mile-long queue. “Forget it!, I said to myself. Then I went to look for toilets, and when I saw the line there, I said “Forget it!” again. But I remembered that there was asingle, permanent, wooden outhouse hidden away at this location, and only two other people ahead of me knew about it. So one problem was quickly solved. Disappointed that I didn’t have time for lunch, I noted that warm soup was being served at a separate table where there was no queue. I got two cups of warm vegetable soup that had lots of real carrots and peas and pasta, and they really hit the spot!
I was delighted when a volunteer came up to me and asked if I rememberedher. Of course, I did! I had hiked with her many times in the Sierra Club. It was Bebe B., whose husband, an avid cyclist in the Santa Rosa Cycling Club, is actively organizing the forthcoming Bay in a Day Double Century. I saw Mick W. at the lunch stop but didn’t have time to greet him. That fifth pass, Carson, was calling me!
Heading for Carson Pass
From now on there would be auto traffic to contend with. I would be retracing the route to Markleeville, Turtle Rock Park, and my motel (Woodfords Inn) to a rest stop at the intersection of SR-89 and SR-88 at Woodfords, just a quarter mile beyond the motel. The cutoff time for reaching this rest stop was 4 p.m. I arrived with more than an hour to spare, having done a hundred miles and climbed more than 11,000 ft. So I had achieved a personal record.
As always, my perennial problems of very sore seat and toes were plaguing me, despite trying all kinds of remedies. At the rest stop, I taped some toe cushions to my complaining toes. The toilet line at Woodfords didn’t move at all. Did people go into those little booths to rest because that was the only place to sit down? How I wished I’d stopped at my motel room and used the bathroom there. I was exceedingly cranky.
After an enforced rest of about 15 minutes, I was on my way again, headed for the last checkpoint at Pickett’s Junction, which I had to reach before 5:15 p.m. After that I would have until 8 p.m., when everyone was supposed get off the course. The distance to the junction was less than sevenmiles, but what made it so difficult was the headwind in Woodfords Canyon and the heavy traffic on the busy state highway with no shoulder. With today’s gusty winds, those seven miles were even more difficult than during our Fall Colors Tour, when I was able to take advantage of a paceline to shield myself from the wind. Here, I was too slow to latch onto anyone, so I had to slug it out by myself. If anything, even-slower, tired riders were latching onto me.
Arriving at Picketts Junction (elev. 7000′) at 4:10 p.m., I found a chair, removed my shoes, and actually rested. There was no doubt now that I was going to make it. A short way after the rest stop, a lot of the auto traffic would turn right for South Lake Tahoe on SR-89, going over Luther Pass, and we would continue straight on SR-88 for Carson Pass on the way to Kirkwood.
Carson Pass (Elev. 8580′)
The initial slope up Carson Pass wasn’t that steep. In fact, there were even some relatively flat stretches. But the headwind and extreme fatigue made it hard. The slope got steeper in the last two miles, and every pedal stroke was painful. I had to pull over to the side of the road twice to rest in that stretch, but I wasn’t the only one. I had consumed a packet of Gu Energy Gel at Woodfords and now I needed another, such a short time later. This product works for me every time, whether I’m cycling or hiking. It gives me almost instant energy with no bad after-effects. I heartily endorse it, and say categorically that I own no stock in the company or have any financial interest in it or know anybody associated with it. I only wish that cyclists wouldn’t litter the highways with their sticky, empty Gu packages after consuming the content. I solve the problem by carrying my Gu in a sandwich bag (with napkin), so that I can put the empties in it and dispose later.
A chalk mark on the road said there was 1.2 miles to go. The views were spectacular, but I was in too much pain to notice. Every pedal stroke required a mental effort, and after each one I had to order my toes to stop complaining. I didn’t have any energy to stand up on the pedals, and my seat was too sore to sit on. After rounding a sharp curve, the road at last leveled off. At 6:06 p.m., I was greeted by a very cute young child at the entrance to the rest stop atop Carson. I dismounted and bent down so he could slap a sticker on my back, and pleased with himself, he directed me to the left, where an adult checked my stickers and handed me the coveted five-pass pin. Another perk was a choice of Popsicle or fudge ice creambar. I hate to admit it, but at that time the ice cream was more
appreciated than the pin.
A rider in a yellow Benicia Bicycle Club jersey had passed me during one of my stops before the summit. We didn’t recognize each other then, but now I was greeted by Mike D., and we had time for a very pleasant chat since there was no longer any pressure. This was Mike’s first Death Ride, and in fact, we had trained together for it in the hills of Napa and doing double Mount Diablo’s, along with Mick W., Ed B., and Bob K. of Benicia Bicycle Club. I had met Mike in last year’s Sequoia Century and seen him at several centuries since then. But what he didn’t tell me and what I didn’t learn till after this Death Ride was that Mike had forgotten to bring his cycling shoes, and he did this entire ride in his Nike street sandals! What an incredible story! That must have made such a difficult ride so very much harder! I can’t imagine doing all that climbing and distance without having my shoes clipped into the pedals. Way to go, Mike!
Also passing me in the final climb up Carson, was my fellow Velo Raptor John J, whom I hadn’t seen previously today. We agreed to sign the Death Ride poster together at Markleeville and have supper there at the Expo site
we were entitled to. I took off my shoes and sat quietly on a hugeboulder hidden behind the bank of toilets. What a pleasure it was to be motionless! When I was ready to leave, I saw that Bob K. of Benicia Bicycle Club had arrived and was getting his ice cream. I to him and waved. So our mentors, Mick W. and Ed B. had been 100% successful as trainers. Mike D.,Bob K., and myself, who had all trained with them, had done all five passes of the Death Ride for the first time.
Descending Carson Pass
Not only was it very windy, but it was also getting cold atop Carson, especially in our wet clothing. I wished now for the jacket I’d turned in at Topaz, but then I would have had to carry it up all those climbs. So I steeled myself for the long, cold descent. At least I would have a tailwind. Knowing that, the organizers had imposed a speed limit of 35
mph on the descent. It was mentioned beforehand in the literature, and there was a roadside reminder.
When I first looked at my speedometer, it was indicating 41 mph, and my front end was vibrating. (When I returned my home, Pat my trusted bike mechanic at Sharp Bicycle tightened my headset.) Not wishing to speed deliberately, I applied my brakes but found myself at 36, 38, 39 mph, whenever I checked the speedometer. I had to keep braking to maintain 35 mph. The temperature warmed as I descended.
When I passed the rest stop at Picketts Junction, I yelled “Hello” to Fred Z., a volunteer who was now helping to dismantle the rest stop. Fred had cycled with us last October on our Fall Colors Tour, and he and I had descended Ebbetts Pass together on a very cold afternoon with the light fading. At this year’s Death Ride, Fred found me on both Thursday and Friday, while performing volunteer chores at downtown Markleeville and at the Expo site at Turtle Rock Park. Last year, Fred had ridden all five passes for the first time. Discussing that experience with him on Friday was very helpful to me today. While his custom-made Mikkelsen bike is being refurbished and repainted, is without wheels, so that’s how he cameto be a volunteer at the Death Ride. (He’s also very active in the Team in
Training programs, supporting leukemia charities.) The traffic, though heavy in Woodford Canyon, was considerate and well-behaved. However, Elmer B. reported that sometime during the ride, someone in a car threw a soda can at an individual he knows, and another car driver called the California Highway Patrol. They got the culprit.
It was 7:08 p.m. when I ended my ride at my motel at Woodfords. My altimeter said that I had climbed a total of 14,531 ft., which when rounded is 15,000 ft. Last year, however, the same route was thought to have 16,000 ft. of climbing. In fact that’s what my souvenir jersey from 2004 says, while this year’s says 15,000 ft. Also, my odometer showed 124.7 miles vs. the official distance of 129 miles. But I don’t claim that my instruments are more accurate. My average speed was 9.3 miles per hour; maximum, 41 mph.
I found John J. who had also finished his ride, and we signed the Death Ride poster together at Turtle Rock Park and had supper there, along with Mick W., Ed B., and two of their friends. Then I helped John get his bike back to his campground, where he was staying with some of the Cherry City Cyclists (San Leandro), who were also participating in the Death Ride. No matter how careful I am, I always forget to bring one item to a century
event. What was it this time? My brand-new white skullcap to wear under my helmet and protect my head from sunburn. I had just bought it specifically for the Death Ride, to replace the one that fell out of my pocket in my
century ride, and this one got forgotten in the washing machine.Fortunately, the sun wasn’t as bad as it might have been. And forgetting a skullcap isn’t as bad as forgetting one’s cycling shoes, Mike!
On my drive back to the San Francisco Bay Area early on the following morning, the highways were full of vehicles transporting bikes with a Death Ride particpant number in front of the handlebars. The highest number I saw during the ride was 3199, indicating about 3200 participants, about the same as last year.
My thanks to the organizers and all the volunteers who enabled me to
achieve a lifetime record in the autumn of life.
Joseph C. (Joe) Shami