July 12, 2008

This was the second ride in this two-week flurry of crazy endurance rides that Larry and I undertook.  I realize now that doing either one of these rides, let alone two of them within two weeks, is completely insane.

Albeit not quite as tough as the Climb to Kaiser, this ride is still VERY HARD!  It was beautiful, but still very painful.

My GPS shut off with 15 miles left, but stats for this ride are as follows:

129 miles.
15,000 feet of climbing over 5 mountain passes.
9699 Calories burned (with 15 miles to go).
One thunderstorm, complete with a downpour of rain and hail!

This time we were in the company of others as well.  Misery loves company!  David Freeto pretty much forced us all to do the ride and organized it.  Teresa Campbell was going to do one pass but was not feeling well.  Paul Dugan, Sergio Manubens, and Jennifer Gunnel also came along for the pain.  For those of you who do not know who these people are: 

Larry is the head of physical and occupational therapy at our hospital, the Queen of the Valley Medical Center.  He is in his mid 50’s and is a mountain goat, i.e., he only likes to climb hills, and is damn good at it.

David Freeto is a gastroenterologist in his early 60’s.  He is a true physical specimen.  He did both the Kaiser ride and the Death Ride last year and even did crazy rides in between.  How he did both these rides, that both completely tested myself and Larry, and did so much between is beyond me.  He is the spear-head of our group…talking us all into these crazy rides and organizing everything…including bringing supplies and helping everybody out with just about everything.

Teresa Campbell is a nurse at our hospital and started riding recently.  She was up with her daughter and wanted to ride one of the passes, but was not feeling well.  She has great spirit and is a very strong rider, but has not had time to train like the rest of us have.

Paul Dugan is an oncologist in his early 60’s.  He bought a new carbon bike this year and has been training hard.  He has lost 15 lbs the last couple of months and has become another marvel of physical fitness in Napa. 

Sergio Manubens is an invasive cardiologist.  He is a very fit, natural climber, and has not had much time to ride until training for this ride.  He is very humble, but basically kicks all of our asses uphill, except possibly Jennifer.

Jennifer Gunnell is a nephrologist who is a true natural elite athlete.  She has won mountain bikes she has entered, so legend has it.  She takes off up a hill like a rocket, and anybody who tries to keep up with her quickly finds their heart rate to be at their max and has to slow down.

We all had spent at least a couple of days staying in or around Kirkwood to acclimate, or re-acclimate, to the high altitude.  Freeto and Manubens actually rode some of the passes the two days before the ride!  The rest of us thought they were crazy, as we wanted fresh legs.  Larry and I especially felt that way, as the Kaiser ride was something we knew would take time to recover from.  Paul, Jennifer, and I actually went to South Lake Tahoe to play 9 holes of golf….fun, but not pretty for me at least!

We left at 430 am for the ride…..Paul, Larry, Jennifer, and I in Paul’s truck and Sergio following us in his car.  Dave and Teresa were already there and were going to start before us.  By the time we get there and got on the road, it was about 520 AM.  The best thing is THERE WAS ABSOLUTELY NO SMOKE!  The smoke from the fires had been absolutely horrific the two days prior.  Somebody was on our side with this one.

We rode past the starting line….and they were holding back those people without headlamps.  Paul, Larry, Sergio, and I had one, but Jennifer did not….so she was held and had to wait for the official start at 530 am.  The rest of us went on….knowing she would catch up to us, anyway!  Actually….I think Sergio snuck through without a headlamp on!

The road is pretty flat…gentle up and down, as we head for the first climb.  There are SO MANY RIDERS!  There were 3500 riders signed up!  It was completely different from the Kaiser ride, where there were only 190 riders! 

We get to the first climb…Monitor Pass.  There are so many riders cutting by you so closely.  That was pretty frustrating.   It was pretty clear from the beginning that Sergio was too fast to try to keep up with, so we did not even try. As he pulls ahead,  Jennifer catches us.  She quickly rides with a faster pack and leaves us behind with Sergio.  She is moving way too fast for us!  What a rocket!

Larry and I were riding together, feeling pretty good.   The real climb was 9 miles, 2800 feet of climbing.  After probably less than a mile, Larry and I stop to take off our jackets as hundreds of riders go by…including Paul.

We get started again.  This climb is not that steep, as are the rest of the climbs, but it just keeps going up and up and up nonstop.  The further you climb, the more your legs start to burn…aching for relief.  It is not the kind of intense stress on your legs like the Kaiser ride….but it does wear on you as you can see the road going up and up and your legs are getting more and more tired.  As we are climbing, we are astounded at how long it takes us to catch Paul.  He is moving much faster than we have seen him before.  He trained hard for this ride, and you could tell!  We passed him, but we were not that far ahead of him at the top!

Larry and I ride up to the top together, then stop at the rest stop.  We see Paul arrive there not much longer after us.  We make sure we get enough nutrition, fluids, and SALT this time!!  Jennifer and Sergio are long gone.  Paul takes off down the hill before we do, then we head down.

We are now descending the backside of Monitor Pass.  The road winds down the mountain, and you can see the valley we are heading to 3000 feet below.  It looks like a LONG way down!  We have to go back up this!  Ugh!  There are no trees…it is wide open and facing the eastward rising sun.  It is still cool at this point, but it is a little after 7 am and the sun is rising.

I absolutely hate descending down mountains like this.  I am too afraid to go more than 40 mph, for fear of having a fatal crash or ending up in the ICU.  I follow Larry and some other riders down…there are some long straight-aways at first….we hit 40….even 45 mph!!  I am just following the other guys…seems safe.  I think I only hit 45 mph for a second, then quickly slowed down.

Now the road starts winding, and we are still moving 30 to 35 mph….I am feeling good.  The elite riders are already coming up the backside of the mountain…way ahead of us!  As we descend and I start feeling confident about going down fast….a squirrel runs out in the middle of the road right in front of me….then freezes and was trying to figure out which way to go!  I was going 35 mph.  I have no choice but to slam on my brakes…hitting that squirrel that fast…who knows what will happen.  Luckily the squirrel runs the other way right in front of a rider going uphill…who misses it.  However, I am completely spooked, my descending confidence completely gone!  I was just behind Larry…but I fall back and ride slower the remaining 8 miles or so….everybody passing me.  It seems like this downhill will never end.  There are hundreds of riders climbing as I descend.  Luckily, I finally make it to the bottom and find Larry at the rest stop.  We get some more goodies, then find Sergio and Jennifer ready to go up.  We also see Paul.  At this stop you have the opportunity to leave articles in baggies to pick up after the ride at the finish.  I have a camelback with my jacket, a bunch of goo packets (more later about that), and other goodies.  Although it all weighs a few pounds, I decide to keep it all, especially the jacket, as I knew there was a slight chance of rain showers.

Getting started back up the hill was tough…so many riders try to get started there is no room to get in.  Sergio and Jennifer take off….by the time Larry and I are able to squeeze in, they are long gone.  Probably a good thing, as it would have been hard to keep up with them!

This climb is long, and you can see the road winding up the mountain as you go up, very intimidating!  It is 10 miles long, 3127 feet of climbing.  It is not that steep…it is mostly between 6 and 12 percent….but it is nonstop.

As we get into the climb, I can feel my hamstrings tightening up.  They are not cramping, but they do not feel good.  I am having a hard time keeping up with Larry.  I cannot go as fast as I am accustomed to, and it is frustrating.  Larry holds back for me and pulls me.  I am not sure if I trained too much since the Kaiser ride, or if I was just having a bad day.  Whatever it was, I was feeling bad.

We keep climbing, the road going up and up, and my legs are tired.  I start to wonder if I can even make this ride….it really hurts.  Larry goes on ahead.  I keep him in sight, but he is pulling ever and ever farther away from me.  The last couple of miles ease up a bit, and I start to feel better.  The burning eases up a little, and I pick up speed and start passing people.  Clearly my legs just do not like hills on this day.  As the road flattens, I am much stronger.  I catch up with Larry at the rest stop, and we refuel.  I tell him I do not feel that good, and wonder if I can even make this ride.  He is wondering if he can make it as well.  We both agree that this is not easy.  This is going to be another tough test.  What the hell are we doing this for??  We again are both astounded as we see Paul at the rest stop as well…he does not see us.  He is in great shape!

We go back down the front-side of Monitor.  This descent is actually fun.  I go down almost as fast as everybody else, but Larry pulls a good way ahead of me nonetheless.  We stop at the bottom so Larry can use the facilities.  We then start heading on a relatively flat road towards the base of the climb to Ebbots Pass.  Actually, it is uphill, but it is pretty gentle. 

The total climb from the bottom of Monitor to the top of Ebbots is 12 miles and 3000 feet of climbing.  However, the real climb is 6 miles with a little less than 2500 feet of climbing.  I am feeling really good on the gentle uphill, and am actually able to pull Larry some!  I am glad, as I am feeling so weak on the climbs this day.  We get to a rest stop at the base of the real climb….and once again load up on nutrition, liquids, and SALT!  Larry had forgotten his pack with salt and ibuprofen, so I gladly give him some of mine.  He does not want to end up low on salt again after Kaiser!

We get back on the road, and the climb starts.  It is absolutely gorgeous here.  We are riding up a canyon surrounded by rocky slopes with gorgeous pine trees.  The road is a single lane road, but it is paved nicely and winds up the hillside towards the pass.  We like this climb.  It is more varied than Monitor was.  The road gets steeper for short intervals, then flattens for short sections.  This is more like the hills of Napa Valley…the kind of hills I like.  You can accelerate up the steep part, then rest on the flatter parts.  This is enjoyable!  Larry and I pass a number of people on this climb.  We ride together for the first half or so.  He later pulls a little ahead of me as he is clearly stronger on this day.  Life is good, though.  My legs are getting tired as we get closer and closer to the top.  They are in pain, but not near cramping.  Maybe we can finish this ride!

We get to the top, and enjoy another quick rest stop.  We then fly down the backside of Ebbots, and stop for just a couple of minutes.  Again, we see Paul at the rest stop!  Man, he is flying!  He takes off before us again, by probably 3-5 minutes.  Larry and I both agree that this is exhausting….our legs are tired.  However, if we make it to the top of this, we will have done four passes….we should be good to make all 5!!

We start climbing the backside of Ebbots.  It is beautiful.  The climb is continuous, but not too steep.  We are tired but feeling pretty good.  We pass a good number of people.  This climb is only 5 miles long and 1550 feet of climbing…the shortest of the day.  We thought we might catch up with Paul….but we don’t!  Wow, he is in shape!  Is he on EPO??  Just teasing, Paul!

Once again, as we near the top Larry starts to pull away from me.  My legs are feeling very, very tired.  During all of the climbs, I have to slow a little as it feels like my hamstrings are going to burst on me. I am still moving at a good clip…but it hurts…I do not want to keep going, but we only have one pass after this and we have come this far..

I get to the top just a couple of hundred yards behind Larry…who is waiting for me.  We agree not to stop here…just push on to the lunch stop at the bottom of this hill.  As we go down what is a really fun descent…again Larry pulls away from me and many people pass me as I am too chicken to ride too fast…..it starts to WHAT rain!!  Just sprinkles, but it is raining.  It had been cloudy during the whole ascent of the backside of Ebbots…and another rider even tells us it will rain and thunderstorm.  “Nah!!”, I exclaim.  Boy, was I wrong!

We get to the lunch stop which is, I must say, pretty shitty compared to the quality of stops we had on the Kaiser ride.  All they had were dry sandwiches!  They had watermelon, chips, cantaloupe, pretzels, bagels with peanut butter and jelly, and Gatorade and Cytomax.  However, they had no energy bars or goo or electrolyte tablets, what we really needed!  They also ran out of Cytomax in a couple of the stops.  Even when they did have cytomax, it was so watered down there was not enough calories and electrolytes to keep you going!  Pretty shitty service. 

(For all of you non-cyclists (sane people), cytomax is a drink that supplies you with calories…300 a bottle, plus sodium, potassium, and all that other good stuff.  You can go through a whole ride just drinking that stuff and eating some energy bars…plus salt.  It is hard to eat regular food when you are riding, hard to digest.  The best energy source, I think, are these new packets of gels you can get that have 100 calories and 50 mg of caffeine!  My favorite is the power bar double mocha gel!  That is delicious, you absorb it right away, and get a jolt of energy!  I try to do one of those before every climb, if I remember!).

Well, we stop at the lunch stop for no more than ten minutes.  We want to get going as the sky is darkening.  You can see the storm clouds rolling in towards us!  We still have about 50 miles to go!  Yikes!  I am feeling good, however.  The road is now a gentle downhill…my favorite.  My bulky frame helps to carry me down faster than most.  I am powering down the hill, Larry in tow….flying by everybody else.  The road then flattens and then goes up into Markleeville…where the ride starts from.  Larry keeps stopping to go to the bathroom..he is drinking so much, so I wait a couple of times, but not for too long. 

We now start heading towards Carson Pass…the last hill of the day.  After another short rest-stop where we run into Paul again!!, we head out.  The road starts to head uphill.  The last 15 miles up to the pass are all uphill except for 3 of the miles, with a total of about 3000 feet of climbing. 

As we head up….the sky darkens, and there is lightening and thunder!  I cannot remember exactly how far out we were, but it was probably 10 or 12 miles from the top when it started raining….then the sky opened up and it was a complete downpour!! There was also thunder and lightening.  The uphill road turned instantly into a river!!  We were soaked immediately.  Larry and I both agreed we should pull over and put on our jackets.  I was very glad I did not drop my jacket off at the bottom of Monitor Pass, as was Larry his!

Well, as we stop to put on our jackets…..completely soaked…..it starts to hail!! The hail is painful.  I am hurting…my legs have not felt right all day, I am tired….and now it is absolutely crazy outside.  Riding in this weather is dangerous, especially up a road like Carson pass with a lot of traffic and hardly any shoulder.  My mind is telling me, “Stop this madness!! Just quit!”  I want to quit.  I want to turn around.  Larry can sense this, so he jumps on his bike and takes off before I do so, forcing me to follow him.

Once we get going, it is wet, but the rain and hail actually get your mind off of the pain in your legs…and I start to feel good.  The new jacket I had just bought was keeping me dry.  It was rather surreal riding with other rides up this mountain with water blowing everywhere…cars driving by and splashing you….this is really hard core stuff!  We slough through this for a good ten miles.  Actually, after a few miles, the rain stops.  Larry says, “Well, at least it stopped!  We are keeping cool!”  Less than five minutes later, the downpour started up again!!

The last four miles is a continuous, unrelenting uphill.  It is not that steep, but we are riding in our easiest gears most of the way.   During part of it, however, when it lessened up, I actually felt good and would accelerate ahead.  It felt like my legs were back!  For most of this pass, Larry was pushing ahead of me and I was struggling to keep up.  As we neared the top, I felt my energy come back and I was keeping up.

As the road steepened the last four miles, though, my legs were in severe pain, begging me to stop.  Many other riders stopped at the side of the road.  I knew that, if I did so, it would be hard for me to get my bike going again as the road is so wet and there is so much traffic….I could easily get run over as I swerve trying to put my feet in the pedals.

We push on…soaking wet, legs burning.  We get to the last couple of miles where you can see the whole road and the pass in front of us.  The rain stops….I think we are going to make it!  It is such a short way in terms of the whole ride.  Adrenaline takes over and pushes me to go faster, to ignore my burning legs, and to push on to finish off the pain.  Every single pedal stroke is absolutely agonizing, however.  It is almost over…just a little bit more.

As we are nearing the top…maybe 150 yards left, going around a right-turn with a cliff of rock on the right side of the road, Larry stops ahead of me and pulls his bike off the road.  I know that, if I stop, I will cramp up and it will be super painful.  I ask Larry what is going on, and he explains he has a flat tire.  I push on the last yards and reach the top of the pass and the rest stop!  Ahhhhhh!!!! Finally!!  After so many miles of pain and wanting to quit, I actually make it to the top.

At the rest-stop, there are probably a hundred riders all sitting their eating and drinking, most of them shivering as they had been riding in the cold rain without jackets.  I wait for a good half hour, starting to feel guilty about leaving Larry so near the top.  It ends up that Larry’s bike broke…his derailer broke off his bike.  It was not rideable.   For the second ride in a row, Larry did all the climbing for the ride while avoiding the major descent.  He did finish all five passes, though, which is the important thing.  We jokingly tell him, since he hates going down mountains, that we are sure he just kicked at his bike until something broke so he would not have to ride down the mountain! 

Once we find a sag wagon for Larry, Paul gets Larry’s jacket from him and we descend Carson Pass back towards the finish line.  The road has actually dried up at this point, in stark contrast to what it was before.  We are riding down the hill fast, and then the road flattens.  I feel really good, and fly by several dozen riders on the way to the finish, just so happy it is almost over. 

In an anti-climactic fashion, I come up to Paul’s truck, which we parked before the start-finish line, and stop and simply put my bike on his bike rack.  No ceremony, just the feeling of having completed another tough test.  There is not another soul around.  It is pretty surreal.  I had just completed the second hardest physical test I have ever done (Kaiser the first, of course), and there is nobody else around to celebrate with.  However, I am exhausted, wet, and am just dying for some food and a shower!

A few minutes later, Paul arrives, we put his bike on the back, and we go to where the race party is to try to find Larry.  We are both so tired from the whole day that neither one of us even thinks of congratulating each other.  We are both sort of in a daze (or, at least I was).  We were also both wondering where Larry was.

We get to the race after-party, and run into the rest of the crew.  We eventually find Larry as well.  We all sit down to some pretty awful food, and talk about the days ride.  We all agree that the ride was painful, and the rest stops sucked.  Most of us agree that we have no desire to ever do this again.  David Freeto, of course, in typical Dave fashion, simply says that we will all do this again next year and will all stay in the same place.  The rest of us roll our eyes, and find peace that we completed this hard ride.  (at least that is what I thought they were thinking!)

Like Kaiser, this ride is not for the birds.  You need to be in tremendous shape to do it.  There are five passes, four of which are about 3000 feet of climbing.  To do just one of these climbs in one day is difficult for anybody who is not used to cycling.  To do five in one day is absolutely psychotic.  It is painful.  It is a true test of the near-limit of physical endurance.  I have complete respect for anybody who finishes this ride.  It takes tremendous heart and determination to complete it.  I am proud to be among those who have completed this ride.  Now that I have done it, I have absolutely no desire to ever do it again.




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