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Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge

Update: it was hard, very hard, but I finished in spite of several challenges.


This Saturday’s Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge is the hardest double century in the country, with (true) 20,500 vertical feet of climbing*. Plus Alta Alpina is at relatively high altitude with most passes hitting 8500 feet or so, and never dropping below 4800 feet elevation. So average elevation is about 6600 feet, higher if the time is properly factored in (riding slower/longer at higher elevation).

* Not the wildly inaccurate Garmin elevation figures some riders post for other doubles with deviations of up to 4000 vertical feet among different riders Garmin units. My personal experience with a Garmin Edge 500 proves Garmin altimeter to be junk (not always, but frequently).

Basically, the Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge is the Death Ride plus two more major passes: Monitor Pass West and returning on Monitor Pass East. The temperature can be 105° at the bottom of Monitor Pass, but a cold front has blown in and so I am hoping for cooler temperatures than usual. Both Alta Alpina and the Death Ride start in the lovely backwater of Markleeville, CA.

It took a full 7 days for my brain to recover from the Terrible Two double century, a lingering side-effect of my concussion. It was a crummy week, feeling unfocused and not able to concentrate well. While my back was fine during the Terrible Two, the quadrilaterals were re-irritated and tightened up again after getting fixed, though not as tight as prior. It’s too bad I had only 5 days after getting things fixed before the Terrible Two; I could have used more time to let the muscles settle in and Be Happy. Still, during the Terrible Two I felt more symmetric on my bike than I had in years, so I now know what is possible as to fit/feel—really nice when it’s working well. It is only in the days after the ride that the muscles reverted to old muscle memory and tightened up again.

I’ve nursed my back all weak [sic] with the PEMF device I use, rolled it with foam roller, used Arnica Gel cream on it, along with (at times) a muscle relaxant to try to get the gluteus medius in particular to “let go” as it seems to be the main source of the issue. The muscle relaxant does work, and let me roll out the gluteus medius effectively. I’ve had good luck with notable improvement, but it is not 100% gone. I do not know if the back will act up the first climb or the 5th or the 8th.

The main thing is brain recovery has been excellent (after 7-10 days), but then I felt strangely tired yesterday again (and not physically). I don’t know what to think. If my brain gives up again, then I’ll abort after N of 8 passes rather than fry the circuitry again—just not worth it. The good news is that the pavement for Alta Alpina is on the whole excellent and mostly not shaded, so it is much less demand on the visual cortex (but beware of heading east to Hermit Valley where there are some nasty bumps).

Given these issues, and being 10 pounds too heavy, my goal this year is just to finish without brain-fry, and as a bonus, feel good enough to eat when done.

My best ever finish (2nd place in 2012) took 13:46 with roll time of 13:02. If I can do 15:00 this year I would consider that excellent, given the aforementioned issues, and being 6 years older.


Below, 2012 graph of my effort. I was ultra lean (8% body fat) and in peak condition. I finished strong as the green line for power (watts) shows.

Power in watts, heart rate, elevation profile for Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge (2012)
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