Tour of the California Alps 2011

Also known as ‘death ride‘.  They don’t call it death ride for no reason.  The deadly part actually doesn’t come from the elevation workout nor the distance but more from riders’ ego and descending on these passes.  I seriously didn’t have any idea what I was getting myself into since it was my first time.  One week before the ride, I went out with my riding club and we did Mt. Hamilton.  However it was only 1/5 of the actual death ride.  Was I ready?  Not even closed – both mentally and physically.  The ride is 129 miles with 15,000 feet of climbing.  Riders must start from 5.30am and be done by 8pm.  It was indeed the first longest ride for me.

Instead of camping at Turtle Rock park, which is a mad house.  Riders came in number of hundreds and thousands.  Some pitched a tent next to their car.  Some slept in the car.  It was dusty every time a car comes in and out.  Instead we camped at Grover hot spring.  A much better place for a weekend getaway – cleaner and quieter.  Perfect hide out place to rest for the night before.  They even have running water and coin-op shower.  For as little as $7, you can get in a natural hot spring to relax.

The night before we loaded ourselves up with homemade pasta and meatballs by one of the rider in my group.  Final tuned up  of the bike.  Rode around the camp site to make sure everything was in good shape.  The plan was to wake up around 3.45am, have breakfast and ride out.  Around 10pm we all headed off to bed.  That night I barely had any sleep.  I forgot my sleeping pad and camping pillow at home.  Sleeping on uneven ground wasn’t much fun.  After a few tossing and turning, my alarm watch went off.  4am already?  Most people at the camp site were just about to fall asleep and here I am wide awake and ready to exercise.  It was still dark and cold outside.  Not until 4.15am or so that everyone got geared up.  Some riders couldn’t ride without their Vietnamese coffee.  I am sure you know how long it takes to brew a small cup of Vietnamese coffee.  But hey whatever it takes to get you going.

Closed to 5am, we mounted our bike, turned on our headlights and rolled out of camp site. Grover spring is about 4 miles down hill to 89 where Markleeville (starting point).  Rolling down hill at 30+ mph at 5am was freezing cold.  Thus that was the beginning of “death ride”.  I thought we were early but no, there were hundreds if not thousands of riders were already on the street.

Monitor Pass: 8,314’ from 5,500’ at Markleeville.  It was the first pass to attack.  15 minutes into the climb we started losing each other.  I think I positioned 2nd after Thanh and then Dzung, Young and David.  It was a moderately steady climb, good way to warm up and get used to the elevation.  Slowly as we climbed the sun is peeking out leading us to the summit.  Due to tree lines and surrounding mountain, the sunrise experience is not as great as watching it at 11,000ft up on Shasta.  The view from top of Monitor looking down is gorgeous.  The whole valley is spread out in front of you.  At the same spot if you look closely you can see the downhill bike route where riders are as tiny as little ants.  Monitor downhills (both front and back) are quite nice, the road condition is smooth and wide. At some point I hit 50mph – top speed to date.

After descending  the second climb on Monitor, I felt great – 2 down and 3 more to go.  Again I didn’t have any goal going into this ride.  I took one pass at a time and just respond to my body.

Ebbetts: 8,730′ – narrow and steep.  Ebbetts show no mercy to riders.  The only good thing about Ebbetts is that it’s mostly covered.  I saw one rider with a mountain bike on Ebbetts and I think it was a great idea with the exception that the bike is a bit on the heavy side, however it’s more stable on the downhill and better gear ratio for the steep climb.  It seemed like forever but I finally made it to the top of Ebbetts.  I felt like my lung was bursted.  The first thing I grabbed from the rest stop was cup of noodle.  I needed some salt.  At that moment, I now understand what a cocaine addict must have felt like when get their shot.

Carson: 8,580′ – last pass of the ride.  Many of us thought this would be a home free pass.  Yeah right!  Here’s why.  At the bottom of Ebbetts, the mileage is only 80 which means there’s another 50 miles or so to go.  Carson pass is wide exposed to the sun.  At around 2pm is when most riders hit Carson.  Not as hard as Ebbetts but same kind of deal especially the last 3 miles, during my ride down I’ve seen so many riders pushing their bike up to the finish line.  One guy at our camp site decided to turn around.  In another situation, I was riding next a rider and next thing you know he was slowing down, wobbly and went down to the side of road.

I finished all 5 passes. Signed the poster.  Got my pins and my ice cream at the finish line.  It was my first double metric century.  Longest I’ve ever spent on a bike.   Most painful ride ever done in my life.  And because of this ride I came to realize how much more I love to ride.  Because of this ride I can now truly understand what it likes to be a real cyclist and the pain they are going through.  Because of this ride I became stronger rider, really understand the mechanic of riding the distance, appreciate a good bike.  Because of ride I am signing up for another century ride and another and another after that.

With no regret for signing up and I really enjoyed every second of it.  My bib number 3247.  To see event photos go to >>> click here<<<

Turtle rock park.  Start/finish point

I’m at the finish line signing the poster

Top of Ebbetts

Grover hot spring



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