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As far as I know, the Death Ride draws more riders by an order of magnitude than just about any double century. This year (2018) I heard it was 2600 riders, though not all of them do 5 passes-some do 2 or 3 or 4 passes.
So many riders that riders enjoy a rare luxury: the California Highway Patrol closes some of the roads:
From 5:00am – 7:00am, the road will be closed to traffic from the Markleeville Courthouse to the junction of Highways 89 and 4.
Monitor (Hwy 89) & Ebbetts Pass (Hwy 4) will be closed to vehicular traffic starting at 5:00am. Monitor Pass reopens to vehicular traffic at 12:00pm. Ebbetts Pass reopens to vehicular traffic at 3:00pm.
Highway 89 from Woodfords to the Markleeville Courthouse will remain open.
Please adhere to posted speed zones and early morning parking crews.
No cars to worry about much of the way, but tired riders on Ebbetts Pass can be a greater risk in my experience—riders who weave across the entire width of the road because of the steepness, a bad mix for those coming down fast. I kept my downhill speed within my braking/sight distance, given the huge number of riders as all it takes is one clown to cause severe injury in a crash.
2018 Ride Report: strong until a cold -drink mistake
I had never done the Death Ride before (129 miles, 15000' of climbing), but this year I completed the 5-pass route this Saturday July 14. It is “easy”, since it is 5500 feet less climbing and 71 miles shorter than Alta Alpina 8 Pass Challenge, which I completed two weeks prior. Helping out even more, Monitor Pass west and east are the first climbs, in the cool of the morning, a major difference versus doing them late in the day during Alta Alpina, when it can be baking hot.
As usual as with all my double centuries, I soloed it (no drafting). While there was not a lot of opportunity to draft, some riders did benefit, particularly on the gentler slopes. But it is an untimed start-when-you-like event, so it doesn’t matter at all.
At least in 2018, riders were all very well behaved in terms of not creating risks. Impressively so given the huge number. A few were not very respectful about one thing: riding close to the center line alongside other riders, which forced me and others to pass in the opposite lane. With a few very early starters already whizzing down at 30-40 mph, this is a serious hazard. One rider took umbrage at my polite suggestion to not create a hazard (after failing to move over after even “on your left”!)—this is the kind of rider that concerns me: unwilling or unable to recognize the danger he was creating. I let it pass and rode on and never saw him again.
Too much ice cold drink spasms the diaphragm
Never before, this is first: since the route loops back to the starting point prior to the Carson Pass climb, I thought I’d be smart about both fueling and dropping core body temperature: I quickly chugged 25 ounces (about 2/3 liter) of ice-cold Hammer HEED (a sports drink)*. This proved to be one of the worst fueling decisions I have ever made—not because of the beverage but because of the temperature of it. Shortly thereafter I developed mild pain across my abdomen just below the ribs and found that I could take only very shallow breaths, which cut the amount of oxygen I could take in by 1/3 to 1/2. I think this was a spasm in the diaphragm, which is itself a muscle. It seemed to have tightened into a knot and refused to do much. It was not bronchospasm, but literally an inability to expand my rib cage and stomach.
My legs were fine but I just could not breathe properly and so was limited to a low aerobic effort. This was not at al pleasant climbing at impulse power up to Carson Pass (170 to 180 watts was all I could do). I was very disappointed, because I had been making good consistent power on all the previous climbs, and did not feel particularly tired.
* I’ve chugged cold drinks before (Mountain Dew), but never more than 12 ounces. It seems that double that amount spells trouble.
Cool temperatures and being fresh up Monitor Pass west let me do 244 watts and feel good. Coming up Monitor Pass East, it averaged 17°F warmer with no wind, and that is presumably responsible for most of the drop in power to 228W, down 16 watts—I still felt good.
Heading up Ebbetts Pass, the temperature was similar to Monitor West, but there was virtually no cooling—no wind. Mild fatigue also became a factor, with power averaging 210 watts, down from 228W. Climbing back to Ebbetts Pass from Hermit Valley, 210W was maintained in spite of it averging 80°F.
Carson Pass I could not develop much power because I could only take shallow breaths—chugging 24 ounces or so of ice cold sports drink in ~15 seonds caused my diaphragm to spasm and lock up, shutting deep breathing down entirely (the plan/reasoning was for that cold liquid to drop my internal body temperature significantly). I crawled up the slope at 178W, down 32W from the last climb. Bummer—I won’t do that again! There was hail on the way up which instantly melted for a slighty steamy zone about 2/3 of the way up.
I wore a full-zip jersey to help with cooling (it can make a big difference—try it) but we were blessed with relatively cool weather. Later in the day, hail pounded me half-way up Carson Pass.
Some images taken at different times, not necessarily the day of the event (it’s hard to shoot while riding).
Riders can start just about any time desired. Most 5-pass riders start by 5:30, a few start as late as 6:15 or so.
Below, an ample fuel supply for the day. I used only about half of this (1000 calories) plus about 600 calories of Hammer HEED. Total caloric burn during the ride was 5430 kilojoules (5200 calories), according to the SRM 9100 power meter.
The Death Ride organizers do not let “bandit” riders through—everyone must have a bib on both bike and jersey (this rider has a big on his jersey under his jacket).
Climb #1: West Monitor Pass
I wear Revo Guide S polarized sunglasses with a relatively light lens (“Open Road”) so that I can see when conditions are less bright. Polarization is critical on some rides, where asphalt is a bright gray and can reflect a lot of extra light.
Climb #2: East Monitor Pass
Below, a long train of riders ascending the lower portion of Monitor Pass east. It’s a great incentive to keep passing riders.
Looking back towards the climb, and this is only 2/3 of the way up!
The single biggest factor in performance after some years of training is the brain, not the legs—if it flags, then power goes down and performance drops. On climbs the brain can largely relax. On descents, there are high demands.
Getting passed is a big incentive to go faster. One or two younger and faster riders passed me on this climb, but I passed a several dozen others—each one is a goalpost, a really helpful incentive psychologically.
Climb #3 and #4: Ebbetts Pass
Ebbetts is a hard climb. I was finding it hard to get motivated to take pictures as I needed my concentration and focus on riding.
Ebbetts Pass (8730' elevation) is a real “zoo”, in a good way! Some riders don’t do the Monitor passes, or only do one, then go to Ebbetts, so lots of riders end up here fairly early. The route keeps heading that way to Hermit Valley, then climbs back up to this point, then descends all the way back to Turtle Rock Park, with Carson Pass the last climb.
I took the picture below after descending to the west to Hermit Valley and then coming back up to Ebbetts Pass. since I started at 5:30 sharp, that means it took about 4 hours to do the first 4 passes—not bad at all.
Back to Turtle Rock Park en route to Carson Pass
Below, riding along the Carson River. These clouds will later deliver hail on the way up Carson Pass.
Below, Turtle Rock Park entrance is to the left.
Certain areas near Turtle Rock Park like this one are OK for overnighting it.
Climb #5: Carson Pass
Sorry, no pictures going up Carson—see my earlier note on the diaphragm spasm that left me able to take short breaths only—I wasn’t in the mood for pictures.
The Finish—just over Carson Pass summit
Do I look tired? After climbing to Carson Pass with a diaphragm spasm and not being able to breath properly, I was glad to be done.
Below, a rider pulls into Turtle Rock Park.
Below, this is the east Monitor Pass area. Hwy 89 is off to the right and switchbacks and curves its way down the valley just before the hills. Average grade is about 8% and climbs from about 5500 feet to 8314 feet / 2534m altitude at the summit. Ebbetts pass is harder, climbing about 3200 feet to 8730' elevation.
A Sprinter van and 4WD do have their benefits—no camping neighbors and a pristine spot in the Toiyabe national forest resting up before and after the Death Ride.