Critical Section

Death Rider! (da da dum)

Sunday,  07/13/08  01:09 PM

Well, I did it (yay me), and it ended up being really fun.  I must tell you with all the double centuries and everything I've done, this was the hardest ride by far.  I'm talking about the Death Ride, 129 miles, 15,000' of climbing, five passes over 8,000' high.  It took me ten hours, which means I spent about eight hours riding uphill at altitude.  And the whole time I was passing people, I actually feel like I did really well.  Wow.

This story really began on Friday, as I drove from my house in Westlake Village to Walker, which is just south of Lake Topaz, where I was spending the night.  You may recall I had decided to drive up Route 33 and visit the San Andreas Fault, and ended up driving on a dirt road across the Carrizo Plain to Soda Lake.  It was amazingly beautiful, a land untouched by man, I highly recommend it.  However just there, miles from nowhere, I had a flat tire.  I mounted my token spare in 105o heat and took off for Bakersfield to find a new tire.  Two hours and about thirty phone calls later, I managed to locate a 285/35 ZR19 (a weird size, basically a racing tire) and two hours after that I was on the road again.  The whole incident cost me six hours and I couldn't recover, limping into Walker at 1 AM.  And I had to get up at 4 AM to get to the ride.  Yawn.  Coffee was definitely a performance enhancing drug.

As for the ride itself, the route profile pretty much tells the story:

the Death Ride profile

Death Ride profile
(click to enbiggen)

You start in Markleeville, about 5:30AM, and begin by climbing up to the Monitor Pass (8,314') from the West, about 8 miles at 7%.  We did this as the sun was coming up, really spooky.  After cruising across a beautiful high meadow, you descend down down down to Lake Topaz, the "low point" (about 5,000'), while admiring the beauty of the Antelope Valley (and thinking about the fact that you have to climb all the way back up!)  Then you turn around and climb the Monitor Pass from the East, about 10 miles at 8%.  The sun was blazing already, and this part of the ride is unsheltered.  By the time you reach the summit your legs are nicely toasted, and you are only 1/3 of the way into the ride! 

Death Ride map

Death Ride map
(click to enbiggen)

After descending down to Markleeville, you keep going along the Noble Valley and climb Ebbetts Pass, the high point of the ride (8,730'), an 8 mile climb at 7% which features a sweet 12% grade for the last two miles.  Whew!  The scenery along this climb is incredible, if you can lift your head and look around.  Then you head down into Hermit Valley - more beautiful High Sierra terrain - turn around, and climb Ebbetts again from the West, this time only about 6 miles at 7%.  That's over 10,000' of climbing, and you're only 70 miles into the ride!  After the flying descent down Ebbetts into the Noble Valley you pass through Markleeville (where a nice big crowd applauds your progress), and then ride a false flat North to Woodfords.  Finally you head West up the Carson Pass (8,580'), a long 15 mile climb which starts at 7% and ends over 8% at the top, possibly admiring Red Lake before reaching the summit.  At which point you celebrate (yay!) and sign the ride poster...

the Death Ride finish!

... and then descend all the way back to Markleeville.  And this year for added coolness, it rained on the descent; I was frozen and soaked by the time the ride ended, even though earlier I had baked in the sun.  I really felt bad for all the people behind me, many of whom had to climb up to Carson in the rain.

{ BTW I took a bunch of pictures in case you're interested... }

Now that I've done it, I have to say it was really fun!  Can't wait to do it again next year :)

Update: There are two important things I left out, need to add them for posterity...  first, the SAG for this ride was great.  Thank you thank you to the organizers for running a fantastic ride.  Everything from the start organization to the closed roads to the good food and plentiful water (and V8!) to the sticker people and clipboard people was great.  Second, this was the first time I've ever participated in a ride where iPods were prohibited.  No music!  Ten hours riding without my sound track...  It was weird at first but I got used to it, still, that was probably my least favorite thing.  I'm used to Joe Satriani powering me up those 12% climbs :)

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