Death Ride 1998

Email #8, 7/13/98

The Death Ride this year: 129 miles over five passes.

It is a one day event starting at daybreak and ending in the evening. The course is laid out so that riders of different ability can do 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 passes. A series of five different colored stickers are awarded at passes and other far points of the course. Riders who collect all five, by completing the course, receive a “Five Pass Pin.” No pin for less passes.

I first rode the Death Ride with my brothers, Pat and Mike, in 1992. That year the last two passes were closed before we got to them due to horrendous thunder showers. We watched riders, who had made it up the last passes ahead of us, hurtle down the road from the pass in a blinding downpour. It was cold and miserable. Mike turned back. I rode on with Pat who was determined to press on and make a Sheriff prevent him from going further. I later talked him in to giving up—no Five Pass Pin that year.

1993 we didn’t do the Death Ride.

1994 was “Death Ride The Thirteenth” for which they extended the course to 144 miles over six passes (the only time they’ve done this). I completed the six passes collecting a five pass pin and the coveted six pass pin. Pat missed the last cutoff, meaning he failed to reach Picketts Junction (a crossroads) by a specified time, but did five passes. Mike did four passes.

’95, ’96, ’97 Pat and I got Five Pass Pins. Vivian, Patrick’s wife, joined us in ’96 and did five passes. Michael, however, has not been able to do five. Last year he was determined to do five, but the route was changed, introducing an unfamiliar pass that we all misjudged, and Michael missed the final cut off. No Pin.

This year five of us went up: Patrick; Vivian; Michael; Pat and Viv’s neighbor, Neil and I. Michael and Neil went up a day earlier in order to relax and get used to being in the mountains. The morning of the Death Ride they also left our campsite earlier and were on the road at 4:50am, thirty minutes ahead of Pat, Vivian and me.

The Start/Finish is at Turtle Rock Campground just outside Markleeville. As we set out, bundled up against the cold, I relished the name "Turtle Rock" recalling the turtle that I encountered by the road out on Long Island. I wondered if that turtle was stirring somewhere in ooze of a pond while all these riders in the dim morning light rode their whirring bicycles with expectancy towards the first pass.

Mike had announced that he was going to ride by himself, at his own pace. We didn’t see much of him much during the day. Pat and Viv stuck together and I was never far from them. My left knee gave me trouble on the first pass and then got worse so I was riding very carefully. Patrick experienced cramps which delayed us. We pressed on over the third pass meeting Michael at the rest stop at the bottom of a descent. He went on ahead as we rested. Going up the fourth pass I yelped involuntarily at times in the very steep parts. Patrick flatted on the descent from the fourth pass. Vivian flatted heading through Markleeville. These delays increased concern about making the Picketts Junction cut off in time. Pat and Viv were pressing on. They dropped me in Woodfords Canyon, which is a demoralizing section late in the ride, most often with a head wind.

I limped along internally debating whether I should abandon or not. The knee wasn’t blown out but I didn’t want to give it a chance to get that way. I was wincing regularly, not with sharp pain, but troubling discomfort. However, with frequent rest stops and the camaraderie of fellow Death Riders I was able to get to Picketts Junction thirty minutes ahead of the cut off. I sat there at the roadside amongst other riders in folding chairs in the shade of a tent, resting and avoiding the heat, and tears came to my eyes, I’m not sure why. I’d made the cut off and could take my time climbing the ten miles of the last climb up to Carson Pass. A steady stream of riders creaked slowly past. What’s ten miles? A lot of will. I pushed on, rested a few times on the way, and nailed down Carson. Pat, Vivian and Michael were at the top. A nurse had an ice pack for my knee. Pat and Vivian had caught up with Mike at Picketts. In the final climb Viv was the first up, followed by Pat, then Mike. The top of Carson is a big party with ice cream and all kinds of other goodies under a tent. At one point there was an eruption of cheering followed by people singing “Happy Birthday.” There was a woman who I’d passed many times in a leap frog kind of way during the course of the day. I always noted her for she had these socks with metallic gold thread in them that glittered. Every time I passed her I’d said, “Nice socks!,” or “Love those socks!” It was her birthday. She is 63 years old and completed five passes.

We descended the final twenty miles, rode the last hills back to Turtle Rock and collected our pins. Neil had planned to do four passes and did just that. Penelope, where was she? Didn’t see her. But Mikey, Mikey finally did it. Got his Five Pass Pin!

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