Sunday, June 12, 2011

Alta Alpina More than Death Ride Less Than Double (2011)

(June 11, 2011) Alta Alpina 8 Pass Double Challenge-160 miles, 5 3/4 passes, 13.1 avg, solo Kingsbury, w/ Dave on Luther, Carson, Blue Lakes, Ebbets 1 & 3/4 Monitor which Dave completed. 26 people did 8 passes, 6 did 7 passes, 5 did 6 passes, 7 did 5 passes, 12 did 4 passes.

Well, the goals for the picturesque ride were (1) not to freeze to death, (2) take plenty of photos, (3) and ride at a relaxed pace and complete the 8 pass-200 mile course. Unfortunately only two of the three of the goals were met--altitude sickness/ a racing pulse did me in.

First, this is a great ride and the Alta Alpina Bike Club (a little disorganized but loads of enthusiasm) do a great job putting it on. A little background--the Alta Alpina Bike Ride founded "The Death Ride" and put it on with the Alpine Chamber of Commerce. But as bureaucrats seemingly take over and get rid of the ideologues, eg. Stalin-Trotsky, ok, that's too strong, try O'Malley-Rickey, the Alpine Chamber, rumored to want to rake in more and more $$$ from the Death Ride, divorced (kicked out) the Alta Alpina Bike Club. So the Alta Alpina Bike Club started a ride covering the same course, and more, and offer a 3 pass century, a 5 pass ride like the Death Ride, and a 8 pass versions-now the double with the most climbing.

In comparison to the Death Ride, the only bad news is that the Alta Alpina Ride is one month earlier, a little over a week when mountain roads are usually first open--so the weather is still real iffy. (Last Friday it was 29 degrees in Markleville, where the ride starts, more on this later.) And unlike the Death Ride Monitor Pass (Hwy 89) and Ebbetts (Hwy 4) are open to traffic--but truth be told there is little traffic with a wide shoulder on Monitor and almost no traffic on Hwy 4 which could pass as a bike lane. At the Death Ride snow is evident but at at 8,000' the snow is usually 500'+ above you on the hillside--with the colder weather on the Alta Alpina the snow is up close and personal. Then comparison to the Death Ride, the Alta Alpina ride is easy to get in to (Team in Training hasn't taken over for monetary considerations), the registration fee is lower, the Alta Alpina volunteer workers are real enthusiastic (and seemingly all have dogs), energy food is plentiful at rest stops, and you don't ride down Ebbets into 4 riders coming up across the road.

A comparison I made in 2007 of Climb to Kaiser to the Death Ride is doubly true comparing the Death Ride to Alta Alpina. The overhyped Death Ride is like a Rolling Stones concert in a stadium, sets produced flawlessly, merchandise pushed, crowded and the performers are a mile away. The Alta Alpina is like seeing Patti Smith at the Fillmore, though not THE EVENT and with a few glitches during the set it is much more up close and personal with loads of emotion.

***The Alta Alpina 8 pass ride adds Kingsbury Grade/ Daggert Pass at the Southeastern (actually goes into Nevada) portion of the area--its off the Death Ride beaten path. Luther Pass and Blue Lakes Road are sometimes bonus passes on the Death Ride--I did Blue Lakes in 2004 and the Death Ride hasn't offered a bonus pass since. Blue Lakes Road is actually the best kept secret in the area--a 24 mile out and back in a pine forest with a campground at the end with very little traffic and not much of a grade until the end. While Monitor is the first pass and Carson is the final pass on the Death Ride, on Alta Alpina after a long ride out and back to Daggert Pass the Luther/ Carson/ Blue Lakes passes are done before Ebbets and then Monitor.

Leading up to this event I'm NOT scared of the amount of climbing --I'm scared of the f'n weather. A week before many in our club were supposed to do the climbing Sequoia Double Metric --it was rained out, but at the same time it rained in the Bay Area it snowed in the mountains. I ran around adding soup and hot coco to my food supply (staying at Sorenson's Cabin lodging for the event) and any warm cycling clothes I could find. It had been 29 degrees that Friday at 4am--my start time (though timed no mass start--you can start whenever you want)--and usually it never got out of the 30's until after 7am. Markleeville, where the ride starts near, is one of the lower elevation points in the area, it would be colder higher up.

Good news during the week, it was heating up--and more importantly the chance of rain was near 0%--sudden mountain rainstorms rained havoc on two of the Death Rides after I came in with the deluge accompanying a plunge in temperature. Though lots of snow in the mountains all the major passes were finally clear--though Blue Lakes Road, a snow park in the winter that does not have snow removal--would only partially be open. (A late arriving email from Alta Alpina Bike Club indicates that only 2.2 miles of Blue Lakes was open--so mileage would be added on later in the course; in reality Blue Lakes Road was open for 4.2 miles each way.)Driving up Highway 88 to the mountains if always fun. Starting in the foothill of the Gold Country surrounded with fields of Oak, it was 81 at Jackson, 2500', by 3000' it was 77, at 6000' 70 and snow was off on the side of the road. 7000'-67, 8650' (Carson Pass)-59. At Caples Lake--the rest area parking lot was buried in snow and the lake was frozen over. It was apparent there would be many "scenic water crossings" on this ride--hopefully none spilling over the road.

Breakfast at Sorensons--Protein Belgium Waffles. Leading up the Alta Alpina never had the hot weather where I easily shut off my appetite--and I came in +5 lbs more than I wanted to (+8 lbs more than my all time low adult weight from a year ago before my bike crash.) Actually been living on the same thing for 4 weeks--Hi-Protein Whole Wheat (Kodiak Mix) Waffles. Tired of not being to bring my favorite pre ride food to motels before doubles (as frozen waffles thaw out), got a cheap waffle iron and add to the Kodiak Mix: egg, peanut butter, pumpkin puree, protein powder and ground flax seed. Topped with thick Tillamook yogurt (below)

The cold weather/ sudden rain flipped around training--which were leisurely rides around old haunts. Sunday between rainstorms & Monday I skirted around Brentwood and its flat agricultural area that my old bike club did every weekend. On Tuesday I went up to the Sacramento Bike Trail--another flat ride that is great to do during the week--though now they put in dirt shoulders for runners, and loads of guys were far exceeding the speed limit--usually in time trial setups. On Wednesday was two times up to the Mt. Diablo Junction, I went up leisurely early and planned to sleep on a picnic table for an hour before meeting my bike club. Up at the Junction was a woman planning to do her first Death Ride and had many questions re preparation for "the fun ride"----my advice was to drink alot and don't chase as easy to lose ones breath up at the high altitude. Later when I crashed out at the picnic table I realized this advice was for me for the upcoming Alta Alpina.

Relaxing in front of the Museeuw cabin.

Near Markleville is Sorenson's Resort full of rustic cabins--on the Death Ride it is impossible to get in, and when you pass on the Carson climb the parking lot is filled with people cheering you on. On the Alta Alpina the parking lot would be loudly quiet--but was the first time I had a chance to stay there, which was great.

As rode all week Thursday was an "off the bike day" so when I got up to the mountains I drove the course from the start up Kingsbury Grade--as starting at 4:00 I wouldn't see anything except my lights shining into the night for most of the 20 mile out to the start of the climb. Glad I did as the 20 miles seemed to go on forever in the car--and even thought not that many turns on this ride (road isn't marked), the trickiest section is at the beginning.

Also, my car must be getting old, I read accounts of Kingsbury Grade as being not that steep until near the end. A few times I had to throw my car into "3"--not a good sign.

Then it was down the Emigrant Trail, a side road with lots of rollers--all and all about 50 miles will have been put in just completing the 1st pass and getting to the foot of the Carson Climb.

Next day drove part of the beginning of the Course again, and then went up to ride Blue Lakes Road. Nice and warm at the beginning of Blue Lakes Road--hard to believe that the road was closed 4 miles in as a sign indicates. Figured I'd ride Blue Lakes twice--easy grade to the road closed section. Past the road closed barrier--clear clear clear as far as the eye could see. Almost the anniversary of riding Mt. Shasta last year when the same thing happened--I jumped the barrier and everything was fine for another mile--clear road with small snow drifts off to the side. Then the snow drifts started appearing in spots along the road and soon the road was tightly covered in snow.

Dr. Dave came up to Sorenson's late Friday and received a late email from Alta Alpina Cycling Club indicated that Blue Lakes Road would only be partially done--and backtracking across the Valley done in the dark at the beginning of the ride was now added on to get more miles. Dr. Dave's plan was to do four passes--he'd start at 7:30, ride down to the Emigrant Trail and meet me somewhere on it after I did Kingsbury, and we could do Luther--Carson--Blue Lakes--and Ebbets 1 together. Cool. Dr. Dave drove to checkin along the add on route--there we met up with Colin who is on the P-B-P track and did the Davis 300k in the rain when everyone else bailed. He's dedicated and no doubt will finish the course unless timed out. He's leaving at 3:30, so I hope to catch up to him around Ebbets--he's not a cold wimp like me so he wouldn't be changing clothes all day like I'll be doing--in fact he half joked that with a "warm 40 degree start" he might just wear a jersey and vest.

When no one was looking Dr. Dave grabbed and put on the 8 pass jersey.

Colin and Ashley and Dr. Dave at checkin, Ebbets or Monitor behind them, we'll be riding up into the snow.

All checked in--final prep is to figure out where I'm going to keep change of clothes. Wednesday had a high of 70, predicted high of 73 for the event, so weather pattern should be similar. On Wednesday 37 degrees at 4:18 in Markleeville, didn't get to 50 until 8:18. And Markleeville at 5,500' is almost the low point of the ride, it would be significantly colder at the top of the passes--most above 8,000'. Later, once the sun went down the wind rapidly picked up and temperature dropped from the 70 degree high at 5:18 to 58 degrees at 8:18, and best I could expect I'd be somewhere on Monitor for an hour or two after where it would be much colder.

Re the 37 degree morning and 40's on Monitor at night, I was going to start the ride looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy--and send some excess clothes out to Monitor from Kingsbury and drop more excess clothes off at Sorenson's when I began the Carson climb (around the 50 degree mark.) So I started with: buff for head (replace with headband at Sorenson's), wool buff for neck, Swix Ski gloves (replace with regular glove liners at Sorenson's), knee warmers, knickers (replace with regular shorts at Sorenson's), ski socks with sock liners (replace with regular cycling socks and new liners at Sorenson's....) and arm warmers. Oh yeah, layers on the chest--7--long sleeve tee shirt (keep all day, which was a mistake), wool muscle tee shirt (off at Sorenson's), regular jersey, thin vest, long sleeve jersey (off at Sorenson's), thermal vest (send to Monitor from Kingsbury) and a thin rain jacket. I told you I'm a cold wuzz.

Wake up at 2:00 and pull into Turtle Rock Parking lot at 3:45--lots of moist air and it 38 degrees. Only a half dozen folks getting ready to ride at the 4:00 window--you can start any time from 3:30 to 5:30 though for timing purposes you have to declare when you'll start--but as no one checking one could sandbag and register for a 5:00 start time and leave at 4:00. Soon I'm off on the 3 long downhill rollers--have my 3 lights at 2100 lumens going full blast, and bundled up so I am not that cold until I stop to adjust my handlebar bar straps that are rubbing against the tyre. Luckily drove the course so ready for the fast right turn onto Diamond Valley Road--7 miles in the dark through high desert until the next turn. Eventually there is a little light in the direction we are cycling in--its shitty starting in the dark but what a great feeling seeing the sunrise. I stop a few times to take photo, about a half dozen cyclists pass me but I'm taking it easy--I just want to finish the 8 passes. Sun coming up over Nevada.

At mile 28 is the Kingsbury rest stop where I top off my bottles for the 8 mile climb. Unfortunately rest stop worker indicated that chance of afternoon mountain thunderstorms had now creeped its way into the forecast. I also make a good decision to send my lights/ thermal vest off to Monitor now instead of stopping here when I come back down as taking off rain jacket anyway for the climb. In the early morning light the scenery us great and pull over for some more pictures. Climb is enjoyable, some traffic but a wide shoulder and easier than it seemed in my car; rest stop workers real friendly at the top. What a good sign--they even have pumpkin bread.
From Kingsbury Grade-looking back in direction we started from.

Though 1/2 the distance of a climbing ride is downhill--unfortunately the uphills take 5-6x longer than the downhills. Soon back down and now backtracking until I get to Emigrant Trail Cutoff.

Saw some cyclists going "the other way" on Kingsbury but except for half dozen riders who passed me on the flats and fewer that I passed, kind of strange being on an organized ride with so few cyclists. Going solo when two cyclist come by close and pass without saying anything--that gets my dander up and I catch up but recognize one guy as a usually top 5 finisher so I drop off as I see the duo continue down the valley--Mr. Top 5 sucking the other guys wheel the whole time.

On the Emigrant Trail--Carson Pass with snow ahead.

Near the Emigrant Trail water stop, my mile 48, Dr. Dave comes along resplendant in his orange rain jacket. He had started 3 1/2 hours after me and rode downhill a few miles from Sorenson's.

***Dave and I bs'd for awhile but were soon at the beginning of the Carson Climb--which is the steepest part of it. The doctor is a good climber--spins better than I do, and with fresher legs he was setting a higher pace than I could, even while blocking the headwind that always rears its ugly head on Carson. I also was a little despondant, the headwind was cold and it was very overcast, resulting in a BAD decision not to stop at Sorenson's on the way up to dump clothes, but to stop after we did the Luther-Carson-Blue Lakes climbs. I was severely overdressed. Later, at the Blue Lakes turnaround a woman just clad in a regular cycling kit would ask "aren't you warm" (yes!, yes!, yes!)

After doing the steepest part of the lead in to Carson (6 miles), a little after Sorenson's was the turnoff to Luther Pass. (4 1/2 miles) Another easy grade with traffic but nice shoulders--but not the great views like Kingsbury. The great thing is that while Pass 1-Kingsbury-was a long pain the butt to get to and come back from, on the return trip we'd now be left with the the "easy half" up to Carson (9 miles) and then hit Blue Lakes off the descent (4 miles, usually 12.)
Luther Pass climb-climb #2 with Carson in the background (Dr Dave photo)


Ha;f of Carson is still a long drag--and with the most traffic of the day (as it is on the Death Ride) but the cold headwind earlier had subsided. Soon at the last 1/2 mile left turn blocked by the cliffs covered in snow. This part gets steep but the cliff blocks the headwind so I enjoy this part. Then around the cliff to the rest stop--but instead of jammed with cyclists and kids giving out cheap ice cream--a signature moment in the Death Ride--there are just two energetic rest stop workers, their dogs, and maybe four cyclists. Mile 73--3 passes--10:18am, 6:18 total elapsed time. Everything going great.

Dr. Dave and I at the Carson Rest stop--pass #3--Ebbets looms in the background. Last Death Ride I did clear here when ride basically finished while lighting strikes over Ebbets.
Put on rain jacket for downhill which we didn't need. Carson downhill is fast so can't ride in the shoulder, but enough traffic to to make either cars unhappy for being slowed down, or cyclists unhappy when passing cars zoom by too damn close. Turn on Blue Lakes Road none too soon--and I'm wearing 4 more layers than I did for "practice ride" yesterday.

While I could have done a better job dressing, Alta Alpina organizers could have done a better job with the route sheet. Though Blue Lakes Road turnaround 4+ miles into the ride, Alta Alpina only listed distance 2.1 miles--so for the rest of the day my miles to next rest stop would be off--very important when dying on Ebbets and every foot to the rest stop at the summit counted.Road closed 4 miles ahead--not 2 as Alta Alpina indicates.Dr. Dave and I at Alta Alpina turnaround where road is closed.

And why was road closed? because about a mile after the barrier there was more and more white stuff on the road.


Earlier, when going up Kingsbury I saw Colin come down when I had 3 miles to go on the climb--at Luther we saw him come down with 2 miles to go and on Carson we had about 1 mile to go. But didn't see him on Blue Lakes and with our stopping for a much needed wardrobe adjustment at Sorenson's we figured we might see him much later on Ebbets.

At Sorenson's get new bottles of cold drink and shed most of the clothes I started with but another BIG MISTAKE--left on long sleeve undershirt--we'd now be riding through the hottest part of the ride-Diamond Valley. STUPID--if knee warmers and arm warmers come off then you don't need a long sleeve t-shirt. Also accidently left light weight vest behind, but could pick one up at Turtle Rock Park from my car. (Note to self--next time no need to spend alot of time at Carson rest stop and get rid of clothes on the way UP, not on the way DOWN.) Hooked up the bike stereo to the top tube for the Ebbets and Monitor climbs when Dr. Dave departed.

Dave and I continued downhill for the Blue Lakes make up, Carson River Road--Diamond Valley Road--Airport Road. We started off having fun with a nice tailwind but eventually make a U-turn and are doing rollers in a cross/ headwind in sudden,y warm & dry air. Then its a dead end short but steep uphill on Airport Road. So while we lost 16 miles of Blue Lakes Road--where the scenery and weather is great, we got 20 miles of pain in the ass riding.

I'm in Diamond Valley with snow covered Carson, where we came from a couple of hours ago, in the background.


Dave said he lost alot of energy fighting the wind in Diamond Valley--I got real sleepy pulling into Turtle Rock Park at mile 112-114 at 1:17pm-9:17 hours of riding. Picked up cold Heed and Perpetuem from my car, put on sunscreen, and most importantly pull off tee shirt. We didn't stay long but in reality shouldn't have even bother to pull into desolate lunch spot.

Now familiar downhill to Markleeville--which is how the Death Ride starts. Then rollers to the junction of Monitor/ Ebbetts. Seems like it is taking alot of time--on the Death Ride you're fresh and lots of pack riding--now road is desolate and Dave and I are tired. Stop briefly at rest stop at intersection and we begin climb up Ebbets 1.

Ebbets 1 is probably the hardest climb on the Death Ride. Its almost 13 miles and the second portion has many steep double digit grade sections. Up to now I haven't needed to use the 50x27 but I'll be in it on this climb. But Ebbets 1 is also my favorite climb. The steep sections aren't that long and I love jumping out of the saddle on a steep hairpin. This is Highway 4 but it looks like a bike trail--unstriped for most of the way. No "oh wow" views but as road is narrow always riding under a thick canopy of trees--and today--eventually surrounded by snow.


Now just in a jersey but felt a little warm all the way to the start of Ebbets, and the Heed/ Perpetuem not tasting nearly as good as it did an hour ago. Not good signs. We start hitting some steep section on Ebbets and my heart starts racing and I get incredibly thirsty and slightly nauseous, the drinks I'm carrying ain't doing the trick. Can't get out of the saddle on steep sections--my legs feel great but heart just races faster and faster. Patti Smith's Dancing Barefoot comes on and I hit repeat-repeat-repeat a few times to get a slow rhythm going.

Meanwhile we're in a winter wonderland. Second portion of Ebbets-1, the evil HIGHWAY 4 that is always backed up near my house, has snow solidly on both sides of the road.

About half way up Dr. Dave is spinning up Ebbetts.

I'm plodding along in the Highway 4 snow tunnel. (Dr. Dave photo)

I'm beat but my odomoter says 130--just two more miles to Ebbets 1 top!! I can hold on for two miles. But Dr. Dave breaks my joyful mood by indicating we haven't gone by the picturesque lake yet--so we are more than a couple of miles out. Indeed we are--here is where Alta Alpina miscalculating the Blue Lakes miles messes with my psyche.


We get to the lake and now I'm dead--I yelled to stop to take photos, as it is picturesque and I needed a rest. Heart is going a mile a minute and thirst is intense.

Dr. Dave by frozen lake near the top of Ebbets--I'm hallucinating and think I see Santa's Village House that is now in Sorensons.

The lake is somewhere back there. (Dr Dave photo)

Another few steep sections and we get to the rest stop dug into the snow on the side of the road. Its 3:50--12 hours have gone by--mile 134. Haven't sat down at a rest stop yet--here I slump off into chair. No way I want to go down and then climb back up Ebbets 2--though Dr. Dave volunteers to do so with me if I want to keep pushing on. No--my ride is done. Spend about 15 minutes here-sun is out and snow walls block wind so not too cold.

Great riding down Ebbets 1 and not being "blocked" by idiots riding uphill 4 across like on the Death Ride. Also the downhill revives me and I pitch an idea to Dave. My lights and thermal vest are at the top of Monitor--which is long but not nearly as steep as Ebbets. Instead of me first driving out when we get back to the start, or waiting around until midnight for the drop bags to come in, why don't we ride up Monitor and get my stuff. At the rest stop at the base of Monitor the climbing doctor agrees.

Dr. Dave being real nice and enjoying taking a photo with my sister working at the reststop.En realidad no es mi hermana, pero no quiero que Dr. Dave se meta en un lio.

Alright--lets go up Monitor, ride easy, get another pass and recover my drop bag. Sounds like a GREAT plan.


We start up Monitor and at first I feel OK. Then Dave is spinning away though he's not trying to--this is distressing as Dave and I usually climb at the same speed. Then Dave is suddenly in the distance and my heart is again racing. Half way up Monitor I get off the bike and walk about a half mile. Get back on and Dr. Dave is waiting for me--this time I go down the toilet quicker and I have to soon get off the bike and walk again. A 4% grade seems like its 25%. We're about 3/4 up Monitor and I can't go on--Dave still riding well. Dr. Dave agrees to ride up and get my drop bag while I'll try to go on after a rest.

Dr. Dave on Monitor, only reason I'm ahead of him is that he waited for me and then let me go on before starting up himself.

Colin soon came along and looked strong--he'd finish 8 passes.

I sat around looking at the far off snow capped mountains for 10 minutes and my pulse wasn't slowing down--then I layed out on the shoulder. Only traffic were two sag motorcycles stoping to ask if I was OK. Saw Colin come by and gave him a high five--he looked good but worried about the time cutoff. About 40 minutes later Dave returned and suggested that though only 10 miles from base of Monitor back to Turtle Rock, a few serious rollers, and we should just sag back. Again felt good on the downhill so didn't really want to sag but Dr. Dave made sense--the ride was over.

Think Dr. Dave got excited when we got to ride in a Sag Hummer. Driver was one of the guys who started the Death Ride--like everyone else real nice and had a dog with him.

I figured I was a great coach as Dave started the day wanting to do 4 passes and I got him to do 5. Unfortunately, I started out wanting to do 8 & 200 miles, came 2 1/4 passes and 40 miles short. On Death Rides altitude never affected me this way--though on Eastern Sierra Double at high altitude always had trouble on last climb. Ask Dave--I was on good behavior and I didn't think I overextended myself all day. Legs felt good--in fact the next day wouldn't be flopping down staris as is usually when I push to hard. Besides wearing less don't know what I should have done differently.

Have 363 days left to figure out what went wrong and try the Alta Alpina 8 again next year--now familiar with the route and know NOT to wear a long sleeve t-shirt after the early morning. Now I know how hard completing the tougest 1 day ride is I'll value it more next year.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great write up of the event and nice pics too. Doing 100+ miles in those hills is an achievment.

I was freezing cold all day, especially on Ebbetts. Thankfully it did warm up on the run in to lunch but not by a huge amount. I rode most of the passes with thermal arm warmers on and the thermal bottoms stayed on all day. One of the odd things about riding at altitude is that various senses (heat, hunger, thirst, tiredness) either go awol completely or just plain lie ;) For me dehydration is always the big thing that high up and I aim for about 24oz per 75 to 90 minutes.

I went through a big slump on the first climb up Ebbetts. No fun and I was in 34x32 more than I cared for. Frozen and completely farked out of my head. Thankfully the climb from Hermit Valley warmed me up.

One thing to look forward too for next year is the Tiki Lounge on top of Monitor. The crew up there always seem to out do every other stop and there was a warm tent with heater and comfy chairs. Waiter service too ;) Makes it almost too tempting to just call it a day at 7 passes.

Thanks again for the write up and maybe I'll see you at next years event.