by Marie Becker
I’m back from my weekend up to the Sierra’s for the Death Ride and I completed 4 passes! Woo-hoo!!
That’s the good news… the bad news is I was sagged off the bottom of #4 for hypothermia. That’s the short version…
The long version…
For those of you not familiar with the Death Ride here is a link to a map of the course http://deathride.com/elemap.html
After many months of training, and bad news about my knees… the Saturday for the big event was absolutely beautiful, and a really great ride for me up until the end. I drove up on Wednesday, both to acclimate to the altitude and to do my volunteer time at the warehouse. My volunteer time actually was good, I met some other cyclists and as always found them and the cycling community at large to be a great group of people. One couple drove here from Chicago to ride, another couple from Portland , and several more from the Bay Area. All of them were repeat riders, some volunteer to enjoy the camaraderie, some to avoid the lottery. Lots of good stories and good advice for the ride (like never pass a water stop, and be sure to ride single file at the top of Ebbetts). And as things ended up for me, it was very fortuitous that I did volunteer as the people I met really helped me at the end.
The day of the big ride Pat and I got up at 3:00 in the morning. Pat was gone by 3:20, and started riding by 4:30 (that’s a.m.). Because I didn’t really plan on trying for more than 3 passes I stayed back and left at 4:30 with the McGeough’s who planned to start riding at first light or 5:30. So we drove over to the start, got our bikes together and off we went. Mike rode with Karen and I for maybe 3 or 4 pedal strokes and he was gone (I believe he finished the whole damn thing by 3:00, guy is powerful!). We got maybe 3 or 4 miles down the road and we pulled off for an impromptu potty stop, and as my tires hit the gravel my bike did a dead stop before I could clip out completely and down I went to a chorus of “ohh!” by passing cyclists. Talk about embarrassing! I jumped up as best I could, brushed off the knee and on we went. I lost Karen shortly after we started up Monitor, and I just kept my HR down and did my best to keep the load off the knees and just spin up. I think it was exactly 2 hours to the top of Monitor from the car… I caught up with Karen briefly when we collected our first pass sticker, then down a really fun descent. I made use of the rest stop, ate and drank and stretched. There was this itty bitty lady next to me for a bit and I said “you can’t even weigh 100 pounds” to which she replied “not quite”. Cyclists come in all sizes! Then up #2 I went. About half way up they had a bunch of kids who offer to take your water bottle while you continue to pedal, they fill it with water and run it back up to you. Pretty cool!
Maybe around 2/3 up the back side of Monitor I could feel the knee’s starting to swell a bit. When I hit the top I had a conversation with myself trying to decide if I should go for 3 or not. So as I ate and stretched I went back and forth, and finally decided to go to the next rest stop at Scossa’s (see map) and see how I felt. So I went on another really fun descent and started up Ebbetts. I got to Scossa’s about 11:15 and gave it some more thought. I felt good, my legs felt good, so I decided to go. And off I went! Pat and I had driven this pass the day before and I think that helped with my decision to go. This hill has some steep parts but it levels out for the most part afterwards so you can recover. Had we not driven the course and I knew that I’m not sure I would have gone. But I did and I kept to my plan, low heart rate (140’s) and kept the load of the legs as much as possible by spinning. On the really steep pitches my heart rate shot up, but I felt good. There is a beautiful alpine lake near the top, and a couple of cyclists had stopped to stick their feet in the water. I resisted the urge to join them and kept going. I got to the top of #3 at 1:00. I ate, stretched, and had another talk with myself. As I stood there eating potato chips I still felt good, my legs still felt good, and I was trying to decide whether to go for #4. In the porta potty line I asked the guys in front of me if #4 was about the same as #3. They said it was the shortest at 5 miles, and urged me to go. So I did! And off I went. It was actually a little cold on top but got warm at the bottom. I did my usual eat and stretch, but this time when I tried to stretch the quads my hamstrings started to knot up. Oh-oh. I thought I might have gone too far… But luckily they had some V8, so I had a couple and some more food… and the cramps went away. Up #4 I went.
I found #4 to be the hardest… could have been fatigue, could have been I needed more food, could have been I had reached my limit. Whatever it was I kept pedaling and as I neared the top I heard the thunder start. I looked up and there was a pretty impressive dark cloud, but at that point I thought it was miles away. I got to the top, got my 4 pass sticker and was just really happy I made it! As I left the summit I noticed the wet pavement there and thought they must have emptied an ice chest. Not my brightest moment. Then as I headed down the rain started. And I just thought “oh shit!”. Don’t really like riding in the rain, but what are you goin do? So I clamped on the brakes and kept my speed down. At the beginning I was worried about skidding and going down. But that changed the wetter I got and started to get cold. At one point there was a small up hill to climb and I couldn’t shift the gears because my hands were frozen. Then the shivering started… uncontrollable. Then the bike started to shimmy. At this point I knew I was done and I needed a sag back to the park. So the last bit down to Scossa’s I just kept thinking I hope someone is there! I passed the itty bitty lady who was walking her bike down. I heard later that her hands were so cold she didn’t trust them to hold onto the brakes and she thought it was safer to walk. I also heard later that what I thought were big water drops hitting my helmet was really hail. It was flippin cold, and once you get wet your screwed! The heat just gets pulled from your body. And you start to breath hard… not panting exactly but along those lines. I’m guessing it’s your heart trying to pump warmth to your extremities but the cold and wet just pull it off.
When I got to the Scossa’s rest stop I asked for a sag (look at mile 76 on the map) . They helped me off the bike and threw me into the cab of the radio operator’s truck… and there were already 4 women in there. Another one showed up right behind me. So 6 of us were in there with the heater on. But it really didn’t help much… we needed to get out of the wet clothes. Then the radio calls started coming in… there was a 10 cyclist pile up on the intersection of 88 and 89. Another guy asked if they had serious injuries or were hopping back on their bikes. Someone else sent a sag to check it out. So it appeared we would be there for a while. About 30 minutes into this a CHiP showed up. He could take people but not bikes. So they took me and 3 others and threw our bikes into the back of the radio operator’s truck. Unfortunately the CHiP could only take up a couple of miles down the road as the stop we left had no one there, so they dropped us off so he could go back… there were still people coming down the mountain. So we walked over to the tent to get out of the rain… and with my knee raspberry from earlier and the now frozen feet which really made walking difficult, the people thought I had a bad leg injury. I kept telling them it was superficial and I just needed to get warm, but a couple of them proceeded to “Mother” me and the knee. A lot of nice people out there. One of the women helping me wipe up the knee… she and her husband got caught a little further down than me. Her husband told her to wait there and he powered down the mountain to get their car and return for her. And when he got back he picked up me and 3 others as well and that’s how I got back to Turtle Rock Park . Turns out they were part of the HP crowd and knew of the McGeough’s. I’m so thankful for them! Not sure when I would have gotten back to TRP without ‘em!
Once back at the park I found that my bike got there before me, and they sent me into to eat. Which I did. I waited for what seemed like an hour for someone to sag me and the bike back to the car. I just couldn’t get warm, I needed to get out of the wet clothes! So I decided to walk to the car. With the frozen feet I wasn’t sure I could ride. So off I went. And as I left the entrance to the park the couple from Portland (fellow volunteers at the warehouse) were right there with a big van. They asked me where I was going, I told them, and they said forget about that… they threw me and the bike into the back of the van and gave me a ride to the car. I thought it was about a mile… it was more like 5 miles. Bill asked after awhile if I parked in Woodfords! But they got me there, hugs all around… I put the car in the Subaru, and sat in the driver’s seat. It was the most warmth I’d felt in 2.5 hours. By the end of the 30 minute drive back to the condo at Kirkwood by feet finally came back and I could walk normal again!
Even with the crazy end to the ride… I really had a good ride up to the point I got wet. It is so incredibly beautiful up there, even with the knee thing I still rode a good 4 passes (made the cut-off by about 30 minutes I think). BTW My training partner Pat DID complete all 5 passes (woo-hoo!!). So yesterday before I headed back home I wanted a picture of the two of us at the top of Carson . I’m the poseur, but I took the picture anyway!!!!!!!!!!!!!!