Friday, July 16, 2010

My Death Ride report

At long last, here's my report;  hope you're not in a hurry.  :D

Our group (about a dozen of us, including me and Coach Sarah) started out from Turtle Rock Park at o'Dark Stupid.   By which I mean 3:45 am.  I kid you not.

Despite the hideously early hour, I really enjoyed the ride through Markleeville before the sun came up. It was very peaceful and serene, and the miles flew by. Before I knew it we were making the turn to Monitor Pass.

Heading up Monitor I was still feeling good and had my sights on a five pass finish. I knew I wasn't going to be quick about it, but our last long team ride two weeks ago had given me a lot of confidence. That last long team ride included two -- count em, two! -- ascents of Mt Tam and a climb up the infamous Marshall Wall. I rode about 109 miles that day with nearly 11,000 feet of climbing.  Between that, our altitude camp over a few of the Death Ride passes the the weekend before that, and the excellent coaching and training rides throughout the season, I had a good feel for what I needed to do and how to deal with things when the going got rough, and I was borderline optimistic about my chances of making all five passes by 8 pm.

It was lovely to witness the sky lightening with the approaching dawn as we climbed up Monitor.  But somewhere along that first climb I realized I was losing energy and my legs were feeling like lead pipes. OK, I thought, I’ve got this covered, I’ll just keep up the hydration, nibble at the Ritz Bits & Wheat Thins in my bento box, take a swig or two of Hammer Gel, kick back a little, and I’ll feel better in a bit.

But I didn’t.  If anything, I felt more lethargic over time, and it felt like my bike weighed 50 pounds.  I watched the rest of my group turn into tiny specs up ahead of me.  I figured, eh, this is just a phase, I’ll settle in, and I’ll either catch up to them or I won’t, it was no big concern for me, I had tons of time.  One of our coaches, Onnie, was keeping an eye on me, and all was fine.

And then the headache started up. It was nowhere near as bad as the ones I experienced at Altitude Camp; this time around I had hydrated well throughout the week, both with water and electrolyte drinks, and I took an ibuprofen before we headed out.  I glanced down at my Garmin to check the elevation, and sure enough, it read around 7480 feet.  I had to laugh at that -- at altitude camp my headache had ramped up at around the 7500 ft mark.  I’m nothing if not consistent.  :D

I pulled over briefly to down another ibuprofen and to take a brief rest. That helped some and I continued on. The headache soon diminished -- it didn’t go away entirely, but it was manageable.  My energy was a whole ‘nother story, though.  Whenever I tried to pick up the pace just a little, my heart rate would soar.  I wasn’t wearing an HRM, but my chest was thumping pretty darn hard.  OK, just ease up a bit.  Trouble was, I was already climbing fairly slowly, so easing up meant crawling.

I finally reached Onnie who was waiting patiently for me.  I was staying pretty calm and I wasn’t worried about holding her up.  We finally reached the summit and I got my First Pass sticker.  That perked me up a lot, and I looked forward to the descent down the backside of Monitor Pass, which I’d been told is spectacular.

And that descent down the backside of Monitor did not disappoint!!  Since we had started out so early, not many people had reached the summit of Monitor just yet, so there weren’t all that many people on the descent.  My Descending Mojo was present and correct, and I had an absolute blast. The vistas opening up ahead of me were simply gorgeous.  Although dozens had passed me on the climb, I was able to pass some of them on the descent, which gave me a little ego boost.  Mind you, I didn’t take any risks -- there was a helicopter ambulance parked at the summit of Monitor which reminded me of where I’d been and where I never wanted to go again! -- but the road was for the most part fairly wide and straight and in good condition, the sight lines were good, and the idiot quotient was pretty low, so I had loads of fun.  And I tried not to dwell on the fact that, even though I was exceeding 35 mph on much of the descent, and got up over  42 in some places (heh, amateur to some), it seemed like it was taking a reeeaaaly long time to reach the bottom.  Ergh.

At the eastern base of Monitor I got my Second Pass sticker -- woo hoo! -- and I handed off my lights to Gerry, the husband of one of our teammates who had driven over from Nevada to be our drop off guy (thanks Gerry!), and dealt with necessities.

Our bunch regrouped and headed off for the return trip up the backside of Monitor. I hung in there for a bit, but soon I started to fall off again. Coach Sarah hung with me for quite a while, but we eventually got separated.  I slogged on.  I was reflecting a bit on some advice Sarah gave us at our pre-ride dinner the night before, the bit about the chicken and the pig, the chicken being “interested” and the pig being “committed” – ask Sarah for the gist.  Well, slogging up the backside of Monitor, I knew I had no choice but to Keep Calm and Carry On.  I was committed, all right --  I felt like a slab of bacon on a frying pan, which is pretty darn committed.   Not too remote of an analogy, even though it was still pretty early in the morning (well, early by my standards), it was already getting freakin’ hot on the climb.

You know you’re going excruciatingly slow and looking kind of pathetic when people passing you call out in really cheery, well-meaning tones: "You’re doing great!" and "Hang in there!" and "You’re almost there, lookin' good!".  I also got lot of very upbeat "Go Team!"s.   So many that I was beginning to wonder if people assumed I was a very recent leukemia/lymphoma patient, that’s how slow I was going (absolutely no offense intended to our honorees, many of whom can and do ride circles around me and many on our team!!).

After a while I realized that five passes were not in the cards that day, and four passes were also starting to look very iffy from a time standpoint.  I was staying upbeat, and occasionally chatting with people on the way up.  I had to stop a lot, if only for a minute or two, after which I felt better.  But even so I couldn’t get any momentum going, especially as the elevation passed  7000 feet again. This ride was starting to become Most Decidedly Not Fun.

Starting out that morning I had three big goals for the day:
* First and foremost, I wanted this day to be fun.  I wanted to be able to look back on this day fondly, with a smile, not a grimace, and I sure as heck didn’t want my love of cycling to diminish in any way from this experience.
* Second, I didn’t want to mess up anyone else’s chances to finish all five passes, if that’s what they wanted to do. Sarah had already reassured me a couple of weeks before that it didn’t matter to her one bit if she finished all five or not; she’d been there, done that, and had lots of 5-pass jerseys to show for it.  She convinced me that it meant more to her to see me do well and be happy with what I accomplished.  Is she cool or what??
* Third, and this may sound hokey, but what the heck: I wanted to honor the TNT jersey.  I was wearing our team’s event jersey, and I wanted to represent the team and the organization in a positive manner.

Crawling up the backside of Monitor, I had hoped that my energy would come back, but that simply wasn’t happening; if anything, I was getting more and more worn out.

My reaction to the altitude and the heat was, on that day anyways, beyond my control.  The brief rest stops and keeping up with the hydration and the food wasn’t working that day.  But what I could control was how I dealt with it. Sure, ending the day with only two stickers was kind of embarrassing, but it would be a lot more embarrassing to try to push myself more for one or two more stickers, and in the process wind up a sniveling cranky whiney heap at the side of the road. And be a burden to my other teammates. And I sure wouldn’t be a good reflection on my team or the TNT organization that way.

So as I approached the top of Monitor, I had pretty much decided to cut my losses, call it a day, and head back to Turtle Rock.

At the summit, there was Sarah patiently waiting for me.

We had a fun descent down the west (front) side of Monitor Pass.  By then it was a lot more crowded than the east side descent.  I stayed clear of trouble, but I saw a couple of near misses ahead of me that rattled me a bit.  Although I was very confident in my own descending, I couldn’t say the same for a lot of the people sharing the road with me at that point.  :p

When we reached the base of Monitor and the intersection (Ebbetts to the left, Markleeville & Turtle Rock to the right), Sarah talked me into giving the climb up Ebbetts a go, at least as far as the rest stop about a third of the way up at Scozza’s Cow Camp. I was feeling rested and exhilarated from the descent so I figured, heck, why not?

But as we were heading up the very shallow grade towards the campground where the lunch stop was located, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I was tired. So when we reached the lunch stop area, I said my goodbyes to Sarah and to Kurt, another team member who had come down with a cold early in the week and as a result was also having a bad day. Sarah knew better than to give me any grief (I told you, she’s great), but she did ask me to consider at least giving Ebbetts a try, pointing out that I had all day to do it.

I hung out at the lunch stop a bit, and I did feel a lot better. After a while I figured what the heck, it’s not like I had to rush it, so I set off up Ebbetts after all. Once again I went at my own leisurely pace, but since I had no time cuts to make, I relaxed and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. Ebbetts Pass has some of the loveliest scenery on the entire ride. After a bit I saw Sarah and Kurt who passed by me heading back down – Sarah looked very surprised and happy to see me continuing on!

As I pulled in to Scozza’s, one of the volunteers was shouting out to riders that it was the last rest stop for seven miles before the top of Ebbetts.  Ugh, seven more miles to climb. I refilled my bottles and treated myself to a few Oreo cookies. Nowadays I only allow myself Oreos when I donate blood, but I figured I deserved them today. I headed off, thinking I’d go as far as the cattle grate or maybe the fake 7000 foot sign (which is actually at 6800 feet) and re-evaluate.

When I reached the cattle grate a couple of miles up the road, I looked ahead and saw the road kick up a lot.  Argh.  I also noticed that hardly anyone was descending at that point – the bulk of the riders were still up ahead, either reaching the top of Ebbetts, heading down the far side or climbing back up the far  side.  So if I turned around right then and there, I’d be ahead of the teeming masses and have the road nearly to myself. I pondered that for maybe another nanosecond, turned around, and set off back down the mountain.

And it was very very good. There were a few other riders descending with me but by and large they were fast uber-studly riders with good sense and excellent bike handling skills. And I held my own quite nicely.

I got back to the lunch stop where Sarah and Kurt were visiting with Lorri Lee Lown of Velogirls.  Sarah and Kurt were waiting for the rest of the team to reach the lunch stop to help pull them to Turtle Rock and points beyond, but I knew I wasn’t going to be much help, so after a fun lunch I said my goodbyes (again) and headed off for Turtle Rock.

As I approached the infamous Grassy Knoll at the edge of Markleeville, I heard someone calling my name – turns out a few team members (Leah, our team manager; Amy, a team member who had a crash a few weeks back and couldn’t participate in the ride; Ken, one of our SAG guys who also volunteered earlier that day up on Monitor), and a couple of teammates’ spouses had set up a cheering section across the road from the Knoll.  I stopped and joined the cheering section for a couple of hours – what a blast!

After most of the team passed by, I set off again for Turtle Rock and the finish of my own ride. There I met up with Lee (who, after dropping me off at 3:30 that morning, headed back to our hotel in Minden to catch a few zzz’s before heading back to Turtle Rock much later in the morning to hang out at the team tent and wait for us to roll in), and a few others holding down the fort.  Eventually, the rest of the team rolled in.  The heat & the altitude took its toll on a few who managed “only” four passes, while a good many of the team did all five.  I’m pretty sure I was the lowballer with only two completed passes, but that’s OK.

I ended up having ridden about 64 miles with around 7800 feet of climbing. I reached over 40 mph a few places on the Monitor descents, maxing out at a shade under 44 mph (some did closer to 50-55 or more; heh, I may be a confident descender, but not THAT confident!!). On the flip side, I averaged about 4 mph heading up the backside of Monitor, oy.

So there you have it.  I accomplished all three of my goals for the day:  I think I represented the team well,  I didn’t interfere with anyone else’s goals, and, most emphatically, I had a great time. Can’t ask for much more than that.  8^)

1 comment:

Keith said...

I read your death ride report with much interest. I do think that the altitude is an important part of the equation affecting overall fitness and is difficult to combat despite lots of training. I am not sure if training at altitude is the only answer though, as I talked with a few riders last year who trained at altitude alot, and were feeling rather poorly on the ride. Also arising at those crazy hours, poor sleep the night before, weird food and other imponderables impact performance. I know those things affect me.

That being said, congratulations on your ride and all the Team in Training people. What a nice group! I ran into them during my training in the bay area, and one of the sag guys even stopped and helped me fix a flat! Keep on riding! Keith