Death Ride 2012-Tour of the California Alps/5 Passes

Saturday, July 14, 2012

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Today’s the day-Death Ride 2012! This is the most popular ride ever-everyone wants to do it! 3500 riders; at least 2/3 of them are bidding to complete all 5 Passes. What’s the reward you say? Some do it for bragging rights, some want to wear the 5 Pass jerseys with great pride, some do it year after year to get a PR time and some are on a personal journey to challenge themselves. The prerequisite for the ride is to TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN and TRAIN some more on nothing but long rides with tons of climbing! If this sounds like fun-then this is the ride for you!

So which category do I fall in? None of the above-I’m here to support Michael’s goal to complete all 5 Passes. In reality, he’s going to be out there supporting me! He’s been training a lot-and myself, not so much since my accident. My strategy for finishing this ride is to get an early start and just keep pedaling; going slow is still better than stopping. Sheer tenacity will get me through this ride!

This course covers 5 mountain passes: Monitor (West & East) at 8314′, Ebbetts (East & West) at 8730′ and Carson (East) at 8580′. That’s 129 miles with 15,000′ of elevation gain! The start/finish is at the Turtle Rock Park (TRP), 2 miles north of Markleeville-starting elevation is at 5501′. Monitor Pass is closed to traffic from 5 AM-12 PM. Ebbetts Pass is closed from 5 AM-3 PM. The cut off times are listed on the route sheet. In order to do Carson Pass, you must be at Picketts Junction by 5:15 PM.

The early morning dark clear sky has a beauty of its own-all the stars are gazing down upon us. It’s a crisp 46F as we start out at 4 AM from TRP and head south on Hwy 88 towards Monitor Pass/Hwy 89. We pass the Bib & Bike Number Check Area and proceed to the 7.6 mile climb up West Monitor-it’s now 4:35 AM.

The gradient ranges from 6-9% with several sections maxing out at around 10-11%. Midway up as you near Heenan Lake, the road levels out a bit to around 3-4%. I reach the Heenan Rest Stop-mile 12 at 5:20 AM. I don’t see Michael around so I continue on-the plan for him is to ride ahead and wait for me at the top of all the passes. Poor guy, he might be waiting a long while for me!

Daybreak brings to light the shape and shadows of the surrounding high mountains.

The rising sun is a welcome sight as I reach the Top of Monitor Rest Stop-mile 17 at 5:55 AM, 51F. I get my first sticker for the day-now 4 more passes to go!

The brilliance of the sun is casting a gorgeous yellow glow on the slopes of the mountain as we make the 8 mile descent to Topaz at Hwy 395/Hwy 89. It feels and looks like you can just fly off the mountain-but don’t! Watch out for all the turns and the kamikazie descenders buzzing pass you! Turn your head for a few secs here and there-the views are spectacular! The temp drops down to a very cool 46F-BRRRRRR!

We reach the Topaz Rest Stop-mile 25 at 6:30 AM. There is a short line to get our second sticker-now 3 more stickers to go!

We turn around and start the 8 mile climb back up to the top of Monitor. A tremendous amount of cyclists are descending as we are ascending-there’s a lot of people here! One good thing I noticed was the presence of a CHP car slowly going up the mountain alongside of us-this prevents all the descending cyclists from crossing the line over to our lane. FANTASTIC!

The gradient ranges for the east side of Monitor is from 6-9%. The Water Stop at mile 29 is manned by a Boy Scout Troop. They’ll run down to you and take your bottle and fill it up with your choice of Cytomax or water; by the time you reach the water station, your bottle is already! That’s pretty good service-great job!

Monitor has got to be the most scenic pass in the Sierra! The wide expansive view of Slinkard Valley and the surrounding mountain range is absolutely breathtaking! The emptiness of this landscape is very hypnotic and mesmerizing-it evokes a great sense of beauty and calm; the last frontier. It’s a sharp contrast to the many busy roadways around high populated areas!

Cyclists are everywhere; descending and ascending Monitor!

Michael’s been waiting for me; I arrive at the Top of Monitor Rest Stop-mile 33 at 8:25 AM, 73F. He takes my bike and let me go about getting a quick bite and making a pit stop before heading down to Hwy 4.

The sweeping descent down West Monitor is fun-the pavement is pretty smooth. We ride pass the Water Stop at the junction and continue on Hwy 4 along the Carson River to Ebbetts Pass.

We reach the Scossa’s Cow Camp Rest Stop-mile 47 at 9:05 AM. The Boy Scout crew is very attentive at filling water bottles and handing out cookies and pretzels.

From this point, it’s 9 miles up the winding road to the summit. The first few miles have very gentle grades of 3-5% with pitches of 8-9%. We pass another Water Stop along the way-you can also see and hear the spectators cheering everyone on!

The scenery is pretty amazing back here; thick forests, granite outcroppings, flowing creeks and magnificent views of the Sierras!

After crossing the cattle guard, you will hit “a wall”-the gradient immediately kicks up to 11-13%! At the 7000′ sign, you will gain 1730′ in the next 6.2 miles to the top. The average grade is at around 7-8% with many sections hitting 11-15%! The road narrows to a single lane-watch out for all the cyclists descending!

Once you see Kinney Reservoir, there’s only a mile to go before reaching the summit. I reach the Top of Ebbetts Rest Stop-mile 56 at 11:15 AM. I get another sticker-now 2 more passes to go! The amount of riders here are massive; people and bikes are everywhere! I see Michael amongst the crowd and he’s just shaking his head.

From here, we descend 6 miles to Hermit Valley; there’s a boat load of cyclists coming up from the other direction. The road conditions are horrible here-watch for all the potholes, cracks and cyclists buzzing by without saying a word! The sight of the day is seeing a guy on a unicycle ahead of me; descending!  

We arrive at the Hermit Valley Rest Stop-mile 62 at 11:35 AM. I get another sticker-now only one more to go! It’s a total ZOO down here-there is an enormous amount of people! Dust is being kicked up by everyone walking around; my shoes are all brown and it’s all over my legs-I feel really dirty. YUCK!

We turn around for the 6 mile climb back to the top of Ebbetts. The temps are in the mid 90’s-it’s HOT! Guys are pulling over to the side of the road for the little patches of shade they can find. The gradient ranges from 5-9% with pitches of 10-14%! This climb seems to drag on………correction-I’m dragging.

I’m back at the Top of Ebbetts Rest Stop-mile 68 at 12:51 PM-96F! Michael’s been up here awhile waiting for me-I grab a few bites of food and we’re both anxious to leave-there’s just too many people!

While descending the winding road, we see that the last bunch of cyclists going up to Ebbetts Pass is mostly off the bike and walking.

We arrive at Scossa’s Cow Camp Rest/Lunch Stop-mile 77 at 1:30 PM. The line for lunch is very long as are the lines for the porta-potties. It’s ridiculous-there has to be a better way to accommodate all these cyclists. We munch on a few pretzels, top off our bottles and opt not to stay for lunch.

From Hwy 4, we continue on Hwy 89 back to TRP.  The locals are out in Markleeville ringing cowbells and cheering on all the cyclists riding by. We also take the opportunity to drop off our morning lights and other unnecessary clothing back in the van.

We reach the Woodfords Rest Stop-mile 94 at 2:55 PM. We take the time to eat some watermelon and salty chips. One gross food item was peeled bananas left exposed in the hot baking sun; I usually like to eat bananas-not this time-PASS! I do manage to choke down some very dry salted soft pretzel bites and chug down a Coke.

There is also a line for the hose down station-looks like a good way to cool down from the heat.

The climb out through Woodfords Canyon to Picketts Junction is 5 miles long with an elevation gain of 1370′. That comes out to an average grade of about 5.1%; there are sections with pitches ranging from 7-10%. 

You do get some stunning views of the colossal jagged slopes of mountains in the Toiyabe National Forest.

We arrive at the Picketts Junction Rest Stop-mile 99 at 4:00 PM. There are plenty of riders heading out to Carson for the 5th pass.

Okay, Carson, here we come-the last pass of the day! The run up Carson is 8 miles long with very gentle starting gradients ranging from 2-4% along the valley. The different peaks of the Carson Range serve as a gorgeous backdrop to the open grassy meadows of the valley. There are still small pockets of wildflowers flourishing here.

The gradient ranges increases to 7-9% for the last 3 miles up. I feel a slight tailwind pushing me towards the gap. As I near the summit, there are cyclists cheering and taking pictures at the Carson Pass Summit 8580′ sign.

We are at the summit of Carson Pass-mile 108 at 5:35 PM. Volunteers are at the rest stop ringing cowbells and cheering in all the riders! It’s a party atmosphere up here. We’re handed a choice of ice cream; Fudgsicle, Drumstick or Popsicle. We get the last sticker of the day and receive a 2012 Death Ride pin.

There is a long line for the signing of the 2012 Death Ride poster. You can see the big beaming smiles on every cyclists face-they stand proud to have completed this challenge!

The parking lot is also full of the friends and family of some riders-apparently these riders get their 5 pass sticker and get in a car for a ride back to TRP. They don’t even actually complete the whole ride-they’re 21 miles short!  Are they really finishers? There’s no rider accountability, maybe there should at least be a Bib Number check point for the return to TRP.

The descent on Carson Pass is awful-the road conditions are horrendous; there are cracks running across the road at every 10-15 feet. It’s a very bumpy 8 mile ride down to the valley.

The views along the way are quite extraordinary; you can see Red Lake and the surrounding mountains and forests. WOW!

The descent through Woodfords Canyon is very fast-a couple more climbs on Hwy 89 brings us back to TRP.

We’re back at the finish-mile 129 at 7:15 PM. There is a Chicken Fajita post ride meal at the Community Center. Long lines seem to be the commonplace for this event. Another disturbing fact I learned is that they close the doors for the dinner and turn down riders coming in after 8PM. REALLY? YES! Outrageous-YES! Ride Director-Can you hear me?

Five Passes completed!    

Thanks to all the Alpine County volunteers for supporting us and cheering  us all on! The CHP presence and SAG motorcycles all along the course made it a safe ride for everyone. THANK YOU!

This event provides you with a wonderful opportunity to cycle up and over some of the most scenic Passes in the Sierras. It’s a slice of a beautiful country with enormous scenic value.

VDO Stats:
Miles: 129
Elevation: 15,000′
Avg Speed: 9.8
Saddle Time: 13:09
Total Time: 15:15
Avg Grade: 5%
Max Grade: 17%
Starting Elevation: 5501′

Weather: Sunny and hot with clear blue skies. Starting temp of 47F and reaching a high of 96F in the afternoon. Winds-not too bad at all!

Nutrition: Lots of water, maltodextrin mix, electrolytes and gels. 1/2 mini bagel with peanut butter, salty chips, soft pretzels with salt, slice of pickle, lots of watermelon, banana, orange, 1/2 fig bar and a couple cans of Coke and Fresca.


It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop. ~Confucius

Click here to view the route map & profile

Follow this route for today’s ride:


  1. No mountain can take that enthusiam away from you and Michael. Awesome report and am so happy for you to finish all the passes



  2. Awesome write up Nancy!!! Glad to see you back in the saddle again. You & Mike keep doing what your doing. J.T.

    Jim, Thanks! How are you doing nowadays? Hope to see you out on the roads-Nancy


  3. Congratulations to you and Michael on this extraordinary achievement. I loved your descriptive write-up as I read every word. You’re the best!

    Milt, Thank you! I aspire to still be riding when I’m as young as you-Nancy


  4. Great report and photos. I didn’t have the time and energy to do the same, being about the last finisher around 8:30–and maybe the happiest, too.

    Tom, Congrats to you for finishing! I hope you were still able to get dinner. Nancy


  5. Congratulations Nancy and Michael, on both your achievements! The photos and narrative are great! Thanks for sharing. Now go get frames for those bibs!! jim O

    Jim-Thanks! See you out on the roads! Nancy


  6. Great photos — thanks for sharing. I am really impressed by riders who found mental energy to photograph well during the ride. Finishing, for me, was a fantastic personal accomplishment, but also a humbling experience. The road is always much larger than me and my bike. Always riders “better” than me. Ride on!

    Doc, Congrats on finishing the DR too! Nancy


  7. Thanks for a fantastic write up and great photos. I even saw myself in one of them. Reading your post brought back fond memories of last year and has me even more stoked and excited for this year’s ride, which I didn’t think was possible at this point. Thanks again for taking the time to share.

    Jeff, You’re welcome. Best wishes for a successful DR this year! Nancy


  8. Nancy, really appreciate all your articles and photos. Much needed to spread the cycling alternative. For a much safer, saner ride in the Sierras try the Alta Alpina Challenge: riding the Wild Sierras, the last weekend of June. Limited to 499 cyclists. Everything from “the World’s Toughest Double” to a family friendly foothills route. Keep up the incredible journey……..

    Wayne, Thanks! The Alta Alpina Challenge is a great alternative to riding around the Sierras! But then again, everyone wants to do the DR at least once in their life! Happy riding! Nancy


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