In this guest post, Nick shares his experience taking on the epic Death Ride of Alpine County, CA on his Cruzbike S40. The Death Ride boasts more than 15,000 feet of climbing over five mountain passes and 125 miles. Thanks, Nick for the awesome writeup and photos!
I don't know the entire story of the Death Ride, but this is the narrow path I rode on my first try.
Alpine County is correctly named, averaging two people per square mile and curled by a few highways over the Eastern Sierra Nevada. They host an annual ride (climb) up five 8,300'+ mountain passes gaining 15,000' along 125 miles. I never thought I'd cross its path, but heard about the ride for years. I signed up after a great time at the Cookie Fondo, and success at the Mendocino Monster near-century, with a weekly commute up to 200 miles and 10,000 feet. I felt strong!
The course is λ-shaped. The lower legs are climbs over Monitor and Ebbetts, down the far sides, then turn around to climb back. The upper leg is a distance to Carson and back. Each pass gets a sticker. Collect all five to win. Home base is at the center, Turtle Rock Campground, two miles north of the county seat of Markleeville, population 210.
The S40 is a great design. Standard chain-length, great riding position for views, comfort, and aero as good as the super-tuck but nothing on the V20. Standard 700c wheels bring you eye level with cars, and there are mounts for seemingly any combination of components. Spoiler: I felt great at the end of the ride. Gearing for my 150 pound 5'10" self is 160mm cranks, 42T oval chainring, and 10-50T cassette.
Start down the southeast leg as early as you'd like - I chose 4:30 and traded nighttime sleep for daytime heat.
The summit stop doesn't open until 5:30, but you can skip #1 and nab #2 at the turn-around, and it still counts. Monitor is the newest of the highways, perfectly graded and paved. I beat the sun to the top and grabbed a handful of boiled potatoes. Go heavy on the salt. This is the best part of the day.
Descend to almost Nevada, then turn around. The sun is brighter, hotter, and you'll start to see what the day holds. At this point I was utilizing my lowest gear more often than planned. How is it 80 F? The other side was as low as 39 F.
If you miss the bag drop at the base of Monitor, you'll probably forget any other opportunities, so enjoy carrying your jacket and lights all day long. Support areas at every summit and base, with water at the halfway points. Very grateful for the volunteers and organizers for creating an epic day!
Ebbetts is next. The width, curvature, pitch, and surface of this road is workable but you'll only appreciate Monitor after it's gone. Temperature touches 90 F but hopefully you can out-climb it. This is a mountain road, not a highway. The trees, granite, and alpine lake alongside are your reward.
The return climb takes an hour, but cost me the most, feeling low on fuel. I took a long lunch with friends in the 97 F shade before heading to Carson. Had a great time trading pulls with a rider through Markleeville at 30 mph!
This section is open to cars, signed for 35 mph, and is type II fun. [I: immediate fun, II: retrospective fun, III: never fun.] The headwind is kicking up, and I admit there is pleasure in passing each standup bike. I won't know their saddle and wrist suffering. Above 8,000' there is a battle between mild hypoxia and lust for ice cream. Apply sticker #5, sign the poster, take a bike photo, and slide home.
Overall, it was a fun seven hours of riding uphill punctuated by a few descents. Averaged 190 W climb #1, 170 W climb #2, and 160 W for the last three climbs. I'm no Jason Perez but solidly median! https://www.strava.com/activities/2529886871
- Nick E