Sunday, July 18, 2010

Climbing the 2010 Death Ride

I returned to the Sierra Nevada peaks this year to tackle the 2010 Death Ride with a group of my favorite riders. This 129-mile ride climbs over 15,000 feet as you grunt it up and over 5 peaks through the gorgeous valleys near Markleeville, CA. It's a great adventure, and hands down some of the best shwag around.

We started super early this year (a lesson from last year where a late start, heat, and lollygagging had us sprinting to make the cut-offs), making PB&J's at 3:30am and getting on the road by 4:30am. My teammates (Brian Drue, Chris Devine, Mark Dabell, and first-timer Justin Hildebrandt) cranked up the Rush and slurped down coffee to get the juices flowing. I went to hand out S!Caps and bandanas, two essential pieces of gear for this ride, only to find out they had plenty. Last year's ride had converted them all to S!Caps disciples! (hint to those who haven't tried them yet - you end up taking 1/4 as many pills as Endurolytes, it's 1/10th the cost, and they absolutely hit the spot) I love Nuun in the bottle and S!Caps on these long, hot days.

(Night start, photo courtesy of

By the time we hit the base of the first climb, the night had slipped away and the sounds and smells of a high desert morning filled the air. I was surprised to see so many riders ahead of us - despite the early start, we were still halfway through the pack! We set a comfortable pace and had a chance to catch up with each other. Since I hadn't seen Chris or Mark since the last ride, we plenty to talk about - kids, jobs, dreams, and other adventures. Centuries, like ultras, are great for getting dudes to chat.

(Brother-in-law Brian Drue climbing Monitor)

(Chris Devine makes it look easy)

(Mark Dabell warms up on the first climb)

(Desert spring in progress, photo courtesy of Chris Devine)

(Catching up to the pack)

(Feeling good early on)

We saw the first victim of the day on the climb up, a man who was having an allergic reaction to one of the late Spring plants lining the roads. The climb up Monitor went quickly, and we pushed on to the descent on the backside. We knew it would be fast as Chris hollared out "see you in 12 minutes!". Indeed, my speedometer quickly climbed into the high 40's. I found myself riding the brakes a bit more than last year...although my tailbone is phyically healed from my crash in April, the psyche is still a bit scarred!

(Descending Monitor, photo courtesy of

We took a quick break at the bottom for Oreo's and refills, then started the return climb. I don't know why Oreos taste great on rides, but I put them away by the sleeve! This canyon wasn't nearly the sweatfest of 2009, another sign that starting early was a good idea. We rode along with Shauna, who shared her experience at the Alta Alpina Challenge, an 8-peak ride over these same hills that finishes with Monitor. Yowza! Chris and Brian started scheming on how to fit that in for next year.

(Descenders on the left as climb back up)

(Looking good on climb #2)

Mark's friend Kent joined us, and we took advantage of the cooler-than-usual morning to make good time to the top. We stopped at the peak just long enough to get our stickers, and then kept our momentum rolling into the next descent. Brian led the pack, but slowed near the bottom after hitting a light that had fallen off another bike...luckily his flat didn't kick in for another few miles when we were on a slower section. Phew! Brian's face said it all - that would have been reeeaally bad to flat at 45 mph.

(Amazing views at every turn)

We stopped at the Scossa's aid station, which had been taken over by pirates! They let us know we had to "hydrate or walk the plank", and they were doing a fantastic job keeping everyone in good spirits. As we started up Ebbet's (climb #3), we saw the first rider coming back down. Is that possible? The mechanic let us know that this was last year's fastest finisher, and he was looking to break 7 hours, stopping just once at Scossa's for fresh water bottles. That is crazy fast! We blew kisses to the Wild Women of Scossa's (dressed as geisha girls this year) and headed up Ebbett's, the steepest climb of the day.

( hungry?)

(The Pirates of Scossa's hold me at knife point until I hydrate)

Speaking of crazy fast, we were hours ahead of the cutoffs this year. The temperature, although hot, didn't seem as bad as previous years. Plus we were riding strong and not waiting for each other as much, which allowed to keep building that buffer. I guess the third time is the charm!

My camera battery ran out, much in thanks to accidentally putting it in my pocket while "on" in the "video" mode and taking a 33 minute HD video of the inside of my pocket. Whoops. Introspective for sure, but not exactly Academy Award winning material. Nonetheless, a perfect excuse to chat with many of the other riders. I asked anyone with an Ironman Hawaii jersey to share their tips (the most common - "be prepared for a slow swim and don't try and make up for it on the bike, or you will be walking the run"), and learned a lot about other centuries by asking about jerseys. I had no idea there were so many double centuries too - the die hards had "triple crown" jerseys from doing 3 or more doubles in a single year. There were a number of Team in Training riders here too, which was a first, so I asked one of them what they were training for. "THIS, DAMMIT!", he said, grunting out the steep parts. Of course!

(The sign says it all...Ebbett's is a killer)

Ebbett's seemed easier this year...perhaps a sign of lower temps, or perhaps being better prepared from cranking out the Pacific Crest Half Ironman last weekend. I found myself alone at the top, so I cruised down the backside and took a short break at the bottom to air out my feet. It only took a few minutes for the gang to catch up, and we had a few ice cold Cokes before climbing back up.

The gang told me they thought this climb, #4, was the toughest since it was always hot and relentlessly climbed with little shade. It was definitely a lot of time out of the saddle, but within 40 minutes we were over the top and descending again. I saw a couple of gnarly crash vicitims on the way down, including one guy lying in a ditch, and you could hear the ambulance sirens coming from all directions. One of the riders with me said her friend DIED at the Death Ride a few years back after a severe neck injury. Make no mistake, these descents are serious business. I kept thinking of Lance Armstrong crashing in nearly every stage of the Tour de France this year...that is so bad ass!

We eased down to the lunch break, where we took 30 minutes to have some dusty turkey wraps, ramen, and fruit before heading back out. We were treated with a tail wind to Markleeville, and Brian and I took turns pulling a long line of riders all the way into town. We caught up with Justin, who was also having a great ride, and skipped stopping at the cars to tackle the last climb.

The Woodfords aid station, where last years drama unfolded, was a great stop. We hit the horse shower and got a high five from the grim reaper before settling in for the long climb.

(The grim reaper at Woodfords, photo courtesy of

(Hitting the shower before the climb, photo courtesy of Chris Devine)

Chris and Brian set a fast pace off the front, and I hung back a bit to stay in my aerobic zone. Most of the riders were focused on the climb as evidenced by the lack of conversation. I passed the aid station and was pleased to NOT find a freak thunderstorm like previous years. Anyone who had a triple ring had shifted down, so I got out of the saddle and swung around them. Despite encouraging others, I couldn't get anyone on my tail to draft. Alas!

Carson Pass had fallen or bonked riders every half mile. The EMT's were busy this year! The last pitch in particular seemed to be claiming a lot of riders on the descent. As fast as one guy was picked up (speed wobbles, fell and broke his hip), another woman was down (pothole, airlift called), and another crashing while getting around the fallen rider (face plant, going to need a new chin). One guy climbing in front of me just fell over, bonked and dizzy, and some spectators rushed him into the shade and got him some water. Even cars and RV's were conking out in the middle of the road! This was a tough climb.

I got to the top first (Chris and Brian must have stopped) and enjoyed some ice cream while meeting other riders. I handed out a lot of Aleve, S!Caps, and Nuun to cramping riders (fastest way to get rid of a cramp - one Aleve, one S!Cap, water, and 10 minutes of rest), and was glad I had carried a small pharmacy with me. About 10 minutes later, all of our pack showed up, and we signed the 5-pass poster before heading back down the hill. I was three ice creams in at that point, and shook my head knowing I had given the "too much ice cream = stomach ache" speech to Sophie, my four year old, just the weekend before. Chris laughed out loud, clutching his stomach as well, saying he had given his three girls that speech so many times he lost count. Do as I say, sweetie, not as I do!

(Signing the poster at the top, photo courtesy of Chris Devine)

We decided to forgo the party at the end, and instead had some beers in the shade near our cars and enjoyed the topics of middle age dudes (how to fit three child car seats in a performance car, what to do when your wife finds your porn collection, comparing watch tan lines, etc.). We had finished all five passes a solid two hours earlier than last year, and felt much better. Time for the double century next year? Perhaps! On my drive home, I saw more than my fair share of cyclists asleep in their cars (including one group at a Taco Bell with their food bags still in their laps). No matter how you slice it, this was a tough day. What a way to sieze the day!

Thanks to the organizers and great volunteers at the Death Ride for another great year!

- SD


  1. This is awesome. Jealous at the experience, though not jealous cause I couldn't complete it.

  2. This sounds like an amazing ride! I am curious, does anyone attempt, or complete, this ride on a singlespeed or even a fixie?

  3. Justin Hildebrandt7/19/2010 08:21:00 AM

    Scott- Great riding with you. You guys were the perfect group to join for my first Death Ride. I'm looking forward to next year.

    Mdhoe - I saw at least one fixie.

  4. I just switched from SCaps to Endurolytes because the SCaps over salted my female body.

  5. Yes! I saw one fixed gear rider, and he was coming down from peak #4 so I suspect he went all the way. Pretty amazing.

    There were also many mountain bikers, an Elliptigo, and a fair amount of tandems.

    Spirit - Glad you found something that works for you. S!Caps do have a fair amount of sodium (~340 mg) vs Endurolytes (~180mg). If I start getting the salt marks, that usually means I'm taking in too much (or not enough water). Nobody likes a salt lick. Except cows, maybe.

  6. I don't think I have every had salt marks. Thats why I needed to go to the lesser salt brand.

  7. Well, I woke up this morning and am feeling under the weather. Looks like I'm going to have to skip the 5k and 1500m this week in hopes to stay healthy for next weeks BR100. Alas!

    Better to play it safe now, I think.


  8. I enjoyed your story. I made my first Death Ride this year ( and it proved to be a worthy challenge. You definitely captured the ride, in words and pictures.

  9. Great ride there...I am inspires by your post I think I will try to do some biking activities too...

  10. Hello Scott,
    Can I use a few of your photos for a video? I am finishing a documentary and would like to use the Scossa's Pirate picture.

  11. Help yourself, Jerry. Just make sure you credit the photos and you are good to go.

    Best of luck with the documentary!


  12. Oh wow. The Death Ride has gotten fancy pants. I used to do it back in the early 90s, maybe 5 years running, and I don't think we even had numbers. :) Nice pics and thanks for the memories.


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