A Morning Quickie

No — not that kind of quickie. I’m talking about getting your day started with a short ride.

It was my wife’s idea. She had  a big day coming up at work, and wanted to ride to clear her head. I didn’t have to start at work until 10 a.m., so I was happy to volunteer to ride with her. All we had to do was make sure we were ready on time.

Not too tough to do in our house these days. We have two dogs, and our beagle is always ready for her breakfast at 5:30 a.m. Trouble is, the beagle eats only one meal a day, and it’s not breakfast. But I rolled out of bed to feed our other dog, a chihuahua mix. That got us going, and after eating our own breakfasts, we jumped into some cycling clothes and got the bikes.

Our route was going to be a simple one — my wife’s favorite out-and-back that I’ve written about on this blog before. I figured I’d be able to get a little more out of the nine mile trip by taking my mountain bike. The greater rolling resistance on that bike keeps my speed down, so we could ride together for most of the ride, instead of me being way ahead of her.

The morning was already hot — almost 80 degrees (26C) — and not even a hint of a breeze. By the time we reached the turnaround point, we were soaked through.

“It’s a perfect morning for a ride!” said my wife. “I’m really glad we came out.”

I was, too. We headed back home, dealing with lines of cars parked in the bike lane. Local side streets are getting a coat of sealant, and residents were told to get their cars out of the area — so they all moved to the bike lanes on the through street. Luckily for us, rush hour traffic was light, and we made it up the one big hill on the route and cruised home. We had just enough time to get our days started — she in the home office, me over on campus. We were invigorated. Amazing what just 43 minutes on the bike can do.

A Dandy Rest Stop

Our Sunday club ride was going to head to Kyle, but when I arrived at the start, I found out there would be a small change.

“I have to pick up something from my office,” said Maggie, who works at the hospital in Kyle. “You don’t mind a little detour, do you?”

“Not at all,” I said, figuring that any variation from our usual routes would be a nice change.

Four of us B riders headed out toward Kyle (“The Second Largest City in Hays County,” according to its website) on a route that took us through Buda and out on a nice no-traffic rural road for a few miles. Then we hit the long, straight slog up Ranch Road 1626, with its endless two percent grade. Seems endless, anyway. It’s really about two miles, maybe a little more.

But this time we didn’t turn right at the stoplight and head for the gas station/convenience store where our ride normally turns around. Maggie led us off on 1626, which widens to four lanes with a nice shoulder at this point. The road makes a long slow curve toward I-35, passing through the “Town Center,” which is an ambitious name for a shopping mall that features a Target for an anchor store on one side of the road, and a large supermarket as the anchor on the other.

We crossed the Interstate, and headed for the hospital, dead ahead. Maggie took over the ride leader duties and we wheeled up to an unmarked side door of the main hospital building.

“Bring your bikes inside,” she said.

Our own private rest stop.

Our own private rest stop.

We carried them up a small hill to the door, which she unlocked, and we stashed the bikes at the base of a stairwell. Maggie unlocked another door, and we found ourselves in a dimly-lit hallway past the hospital’s executive offices.

“Here’s our rest stop,” Maggie said, as she motioned us toward a small kitchenette. “There’s ice in the fridge, water in the water cooler, and bathroom through there.”

After pedaling 23 miles on a very humid Texas summer day, the air conditioned coolness of the kitchenette was welcome. We stood around soaking it in while Maggie retrieved whatever it was that she needed from her office. I filled both water bottles with ice, and topped them up. It was also a treat to use the spotlessly clean bathroom facilities. Much better than the loo in most convenience stores.

In a few minutes, it was time to go, but none of us really wanted to leave, except perhaps for Maggie. Once we hit the road again, we opted not to retrace our route out here. Instead, we hopped on another country road that runs behind the hospital and leads north. In no time, we were passing through semi-rural communities of manufactured houses, on a road that was partially shaded. I had been here several years ago — once — and none of the others had ever ridden it. We all agreed that it was nice to see places we hadn’t seen before.

A gate to a small ranch on our return leg.

A gate to a small ranch on our return leg.

Back at Starbucks after the ride, we congratulated Maggie on the nice variation of the route. We also got her to agree to go to the hospital again some time — just so we could make use of our own secret — and private — rest stop.

Discovering New Routes

I’m in the middle of a two-week break before classes resume, and I’ve been getting out on the bike almost every day. Now, in my area, that could lead to a lot of repetition of routes. In fact, some cycling friends have complained about getting bored riding the same few routes over and over.

We’re somewhat constrained, geographically. There aren’t many roads to the west of us. To go south, we can take only one road. Going east or southeast is okay, although our route options are limited there, too…but we use those roads more often. A rugged creek valley blocks off our access to the north, and if we want to head for downtown or even farther north, we’re forced to ride about nine miles east, first. I envy riders who live in areas where they can ride to all points of the compass.

But as you know, I started riding my mountain bike this year, and I’m finding that if it’s variety you want, that’s the way to go. Every mountain bike ride I’ve taken over the past several weeks has involved places I haven’t seen before. And the fun thing is, they’re all within a few miles of my house.

You see, Austin is criss-crossed by all manner of trails. Most of them seem to have been created as hiking trails, but they’re easily accessible to mountain bikes, too.

Take what happened to me on a ride last week. I found a trail two blocks from my house that runs through an undeveloped buffer zone between two housing subdivisions. It’s not a long trail, maybe a half mile at most. I had been using it as an alternate route to get to a local park that offers several bike trails. Last week, coming home from that park, I noticed an offshoot from the trail between the subdivisions. Heeding Yogi Berra’s command — “When you reach a fork in the road, take it” — I turned. The new trail led up a gentle hillside into a larger greenbelt area. It apparently has been used by mountain bikers for some time, since in some spots it is wide, for singletrack. In other spots, it gets close to a rocky cliff over a dry creekbed. It’s got a lot of tight twists and turns, some small whoop-de-dos, and some minor rock gardens.

I took another turn, and eventualy found that this trail goes all the way to Escarpment Blvd. — the main north-south route in our neighborhood. But what I didn’t know was that the trail didn’t empty out onto Escarpment. It leads to a tunnel under the road, and to another trail system.

A day or two ago, I set out to find another trail a friend had mentioned in passing. This one was a little farther from the house, and it turned out to be a whole trail network. Again, I found a tunnel under a major highway, and a trail that goes farther east than I had expected. I didn’t have time to ride it then, but it will see me next week.

I’m not going to turn this into a mountain biking blog, but as I’ve said before, the MTB has provided a nice change of pace to my riding. If you’re in the same route doldrums as I was earlier this summer, grab that mountain bike that sits unused in a back corner of the garage and ride. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you discover.

The Death Ride

Our friend Don Blount treated us to his training rides f0r the Tour of California Alps Death Ride…and now, he’s got the story of the ride itself. Spoiler alert: He survived.

BlountOnBikingFor seven months I had been training for the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride. I have ridden more than 3,600 miles (5,794 kilometers) and climbed more than 117,000 feet. I have ridden a metric century, two double metric centuries, a century and a near century.

And when the ride came on July 12, I was as ready for a long, hard day in the saddle. At its most simplistic level, the Death Ride is a double metric century (200km) with 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing. But of course, that’s like calling a lion a large house cat.

The Death Ride’s route covers five mountain passes at altitude. Starting at about 5,800 feet (1,767m) elevation and climbing to near or more than 8,000 feet (2,438m) elevation five times was a challenge. It would have been easier to ride with a gag stuffed over my mouth and a clothes pin clipped over my nose.

Did I mention that this was hard?

The views in the mountains are well worth seeing.

The views in the mountains are well worth seeing.

This is how the day went:

I was up at 2:15 a.m. and departed the place where I was staying in Bear Valley, Calif. a little after 3 a.m. I had an hour-long drive and wanted to get started before sunrise. I arrived at Turtle Rock Park and was ready to go at about 4:36 a.m. except for one small detail. I could not find the necessary mounting bracket for my headlight. I searched for 20 minutes. By now, it was nearly 5 a.m. and sunrise was less than an hour away. But first light would occur in about 20 minutes. I put a small blinker light on my bars and set out.

I had ridden the first four climbs during a training ride a few weeks earlier and was so glad that I had done so. About halfway up the first climb, Monitor Pass, someone said “I think the top is up there.” Little did he know how much farther away it was. The first climb was easier than I had remembered and I hoped that would be a good sign for the day.

Riders mill at the Monitor Pass rest stop.

Riders mill at the Monitor Pass rest stop.

It took about 1 hour 40 minutes to ride 15 miles to the second rest stop. I had gained about 2,200 feet (671m) of elevation. My reward? My first sticker, a blue one. Stickers are put on your bib to show that you have completed a climb. In two places, they are actually given before the climb because they begin on the opposite side of a pass; you’re in a place where you have no choice but to climb out. This was the only sticker I remember noting the color as I received it.

The descent down Monitor was long and the climb out of this canyon was about nine miles with 3,000 feet (914m) of elevation gain. It would take me 98 minutes. What made it more difficult is that this type of ride, with some 3,000 riders, is akin to driving on the highway at rush hour. I would get into a nice climbing rhythm, end up behind someone even slower than me, look over my left shoulder for an opening, pull out and accelerate past the slower rider, then get back over to the right and try to regain that rhythm again. Plenty of people passed me as well, so I did not have the option of staying to the left.

A stop during the final descent to grab a photo of my bike there.

A stop during the final descent to grab a photo of my bike there.

There was some relief descending Monitor again and heading for Ebbetts Pass. Like the second climb of Monitor, Ebbetts is long but it also has steep sections and hairpin turns to navigate. By the time I reached the summit and received my third sticker I was talking to myself – sometimes aloud – to keep moving forward. I descended to Hermit Valley where I received my fourth sticker. I lingered a bit here, trying to recover, telling myself I had four of the five stickers, just one more to go.

The climb out at about 5½ miles (8.9km), was by far the shortest climb of the day. It is not a terribly difficult route when fresh. However, I was far from fresh, my stomach was rumbling and it was hot.

A few experienced riders had advised me to skip the lunch line because it could be long and time consuming, instead I had my lunch packed in a cooler in my car back at Turtle Rock Park, about 20 miles (32.2km) away.

By the time I reached my car I was beat. I have come to expect this feeling during these endurance rides. I think it is just my body’s reaction to the physical stress.

I tried to eat a chicken panini. It tasted so awful that I nearly gagged. I ate a boiled potato and a banana and drank about three-quarters of a liter of warm sparkling water. I sat there trying to gather myself. I thought seven months of training for this. Seven months of work and a number of people who I would have to go back and explain what happened if I had quit. My stubbornness would not allow me to do that. I thought that if my body broke down officials could drag me off the course but I was not going to quit. At least being dragged off would give me a better story to tell.

I headed off toward the climb to Carson Pass in hopes of getting that final sticker.

I was well ahead of the cut off times as long as I kept moving at a reasonable pace. I rode next to one rider wearing a 2013 Death Ride five-pass finisher jersey. I asked him how long the climb was and then went ahead of him. I came across another rider in a five-pass finisher jersey. He told me that we would be well-within the cutoff times. I then went ahead of him. I figured if I was ahead of those two then I was in good shape to finish.

At Pickett’s Junction, the final rest stop before the Carson summit, the most marvelous volunteer helped me. She brought me watermelon – which for some reason I wanted. She filled my water bottles with ice and most importantly informed me that the summit was 9½ miles (15.3km) away. The time passed ever so slowly. It seemed that the summit was 1,000 miles away. I just kept turning the pedals. Pedal circles, pedal squares, pedal parallelograms, octagons, whatever it took to get there.

And finally I did. It was an indescribable relief. It took me 10 hours 21 minutes of riding time to travel the 105 miles (169km). I got my fifth and final sticker. Volunteers scanned my bib number, I got an ice cream sandwich – I rarely eat ice cream but it is part of the tradition of making the fifth pass and signed the poster.

Having that last sticker put on my bib was the sweetest moment of the ride.

Having that last sticker put on my bib was the sweetest moment of the ride.

I ate, hydrated and felt good now. It would be a long but fun descent back to my vehicle. Overall, I had ridden 124.21 miles (200km) with 15,030 feet (4,581m) of climbing in 11 hours 19 minutes, 41 seconds, at altitude. It was by far the hardest ride I had ever done. You can view a map and elevation profile of the ride as well as my Garmin stats here.

The day after the ride I celebrated a very happy 53rd birthday.

I have been asked if I would do the ride again. I would and already have ideas of changes I would make to my training. But before I get to that I need to prepare for my first double century in October.

A Beginner Mountain Bike Clinic

As you know, I’ve been thrashing around on my mountain bike a bit this year. Nothing fancy, but mostly finding some decent singletrack trails surprisingly close to home.

But it has become apparent to me that my lack of technique is preventing me from riding the way I’d like to. So when I saw a notice that the Austin Ridge Riders mountain bike club was hosting a beginner’s clinic before their Sunday morning ride, I signed up.

I’ve had good luck with clinics before. When I started road biking years ago, I attended one, and was very pleased with what I took away from it. I was hoping for similar results here.

The clinic was at Walnut Creek Park, one of Austin’s top mountain biking destinations. I hadn’t been there before, because it’s in far north Austin, and I live on the far southwest side of town. So, I was looking forward to getting out on the trails at the park.

It's still early, and riders are already signing in for the skills clinic.

It’s still early, and riders are already signing in for the skills clinic.

After signing in, and paying my membership dues for the Ridge Riders, I joined about eight others at a nearby outdoor basketball course for some quick drills.

The instructor had only an hour before the group ride began, so he drilled us on only a few skills. First, we practiced the “attack” position. On a flat basketball court, it was easy, although as we made pass after pass by the instructor, he called out little adjustments we needed to make. My back wasn’t flat enough.

Shameless pirating of a picture shamelessly copied from a book. But it's a good example of what we were striving for.

Shameless pirating of a picture someone shamelessly copied from a book. But it’s a good example of what we were striving for.

Then, we did some cornering drills which were essentially the same as turning a road bike. Lean, look ahead in the turn.

Finally, we jumped curbs, just to see how much travel we had built in with our arms bent about 90 degrees in the attack position. It does make rolling up over an abrupt obstacle like a curb an easy task.

But just like that, it was over, and we met the rest of the riders for the Sunday trip on Walnut Creek’s trails. The ride was divided into three groups: advanced, intermediate, and beginner. Each would travel the same basic route through the park, the main difference being the amount of distance traveled. The advanced group expected to get about 18 miles in, while the beginners were looking at eight to 10.

Some of the beginners had been on the ride before. One guy lived only a block from the park, and rides it frequently, but still classifies himself as a beginner. Yours truly is something less than a beginner.

I gotta say, these are some nice trails. But they’re also tricky. As I told the woman who was sweep for our group, “Every turn is new to me,” since I had never been here before. Some of the trails are notable for tight, twisty turns that keep speeds way down. It was pretty easy to smack into the trees that hugged the narrow path.

A "whoop-de-doo" on a narrow trail.

A “whoop-de-doo” on a narrow trail.

A rider has just cleared a small jump and is ready for the next turn.

A rider has just cleared a small jump and is ready for the next turn.

Other trails were rocky. Nothing I hadn’t seen before elsewhere; it’s just that these went on a lot longer. I forced myself to maintain the “attack” position as much as possible, and it saved my bacon a couple of times. If I hadn’t had my weight back, I could easily have endoed when a tight turn led into a quick drop.

But at one point, not even the attack position would have worked for me. We came to a steep drop of about 15 feet down a rocky trough. One by one, riders stopped, looked the situation over, then propelled themselves over the edge and own. One woman thought better of it, and walked her bike down the hill. I think I waited too long at the top, letting some others go on ahead of me, and by the time it was my turn, I had talked myself out of it. I walked, too.

By this time, the morning was heating up, and I was feeling the effects of forgetting my sunscreen. We stopped at a road crossing, and the ride leader explained some upcoming trails, but said we could get to the parking lot via a short uphill section. I opted for the latter. I was pooped. Climbing abrupt rises in a super low gear is done easily on a mountain bike, but it still takes a lot of effort, and I was panting for breath at the top of most of the hills.

When I checked Strava at the parking lot, I was astounded to see we had gone only 6.8 miles! They were the toughest 6.8 miles I’ve ever ridden.

A screen shot from Strava shows that we used most of the trails in the park.

A screen shot from Strava shows that we used most of the trails in the park.

Will I ride with this group again? Sure. Every Sunday, the club puts on a ride here. On Saturdays, they go to one of the many other spots around town. But because of the traveling distance for me, I doubt I’ll ever be a regular. And I’ll find places closer to home to work on my hesitancy about steep, rocky drops.

Mid-summer Adjustments

Summer is not shaking out the way I’d planned. I’m worked roughly half days, in the mornings, and was looking forward to doing some regular riding when I got home in the afternoon.

But afternoons in Central Texas are ridiculously hot right now, and the thought of getting out on the bike when it’s 98 degrees (37C) is unappealing.

So I was glad to get Friday morning off and hit the road for the club’s weekly ride to the zoo.

What I didn’t realize is that the turnout for the ride is made up of A riders. I guess the B’s are all working or don’t want to try to keep up with the fast guys.

After about three miles, it became apparent that I would not be keeping up with them, either. I was way off the back. Luckily, I had company. My friend Rick, who had just returned from a week in Colorado where he climbed several peaks (on his bike), was ready for an easy ride. He stayed back with me.

That was good for me, but I felt bad for him. He could have kept up with the group with no trouble. But I was glad he stuck around. After 28 miles of hilly riding, I was wiped out.

Saturday, I decided to make my ride somewhat easier than normal. I opted to skip the hills I usually include there, and do a trip through the neighborhood instead. It’s easy to put together a 22, 25, 27 or more mile ride just by sticking to area streets. Not having to worry about holding anyone else up made my work easier, too.

So when Sunday came around, I had some doubts about the day’s ride. The club was taking Fitzhugh Road, which I haven’t been on for some time. The traffic on Fitzhugh, which is out in the country, has really picked up lately as more people move their residences out there. But since we planned to start the ride at 7:30 instead of the normal 8:15, I figured traffic would be lighter, so I decided to go.

My friend Maggie met me at the start. We didn’t have to worry about keeping up with the A’s, because she had some equipment adjustments to make. By the time we pulled out of the parking lot, the A’s were just dots on the horizon.

That was fine. We set our own pace. Fitzhugh is made up of roller after roller, which we fly down and labor up. An intersection about 17 miles out is a natural turnaround point for us.

Fitzhugh Road. Google Street View. (Click to enlarge.)

Fitzhugh Road. Google Street View. (Click to enlarge.)

I really felt good Sunday. The uphills didn’t sap my energy as they so often do, and as they did Friday. I reached home after the ride tired, but still alert. We beat the worst of the day’s heat, and in fact, the light wind in our faces on the return leg felt a bit cool.

I didn’t have a single Strava trophy on the route, which I figured was a good thing. It meant I didn’t push it too hard. At the same time, I noticed a marked improvement over my Friday ride. While a lot of my riding acquaintances around the country find themselves at the peak of their riding season, summer here is a time to throttle back and get ready for the bigger rides to come in fall. Based on my weekend performance, I think I’m in good shape to do that.

Getting Hot

We’ve had a real break so far this summer. It wasn’t until last week that we had our first 100 degree (38C) days of the season. We had enough rain in June that the grass in my yard is uniformly green.

These conditions are markedly different from the summers we’ve had around here in recent years. The worst was the summer of 2011, when we hit 100 nearly every day for three months straight.

The problem is, the severe drought conditions that began that year have never abated. We’re still in extreme to exceptional drought conditions. But riding has been great.

We decided to add some miles to our usual B ride, and go south to 5-Mile Dam. That’s a county park on the north edge of San Marcos, about 28 miles south of Austin. We knew the heat would be a challenge, although we weren’t expecting another 100 degree day, but things looked promising as we started off at about 8 a.m. The sky was overcast. A slight breeze cooled things a bit.

I set an easy pace, figuring we’d need to save something for the trip back. But by the time we reached 5-Mile Dam park, things were heating up. I wanted to get a picture of the dam on the Blanco River. We rode up to the spot in the road where we could see the dam, and I was shocked.

While Austin had some decent rains the previous week, the Hill Country got nearly nothing. The Blanco was dry. I’ve never seen the dam in this situation before.

Five-Mile Dam. I'm used to seeing water here, if not pouring over the dam, at least flowing. Dry is an understatement. (Click pix to enlarge.)

Five-Mile Dam. I’m used to seeing water here, if not pouring over the dam, at least flowing. Dry is an understatement. (Click pix to enlarge.)

Looking back upstream. Water is ponding in some spots, and a few people are even trying for fish. Still quite picturesque.

Looking back upstream. Water is ponding in some spots, and a few people are even trying for fish. Still quite picturesque.

But the pavilion at the park was still serving up cold, cold water from its fountains, and we refilled our water bottles, grateful for the break.

I figured to take an easy pace on the return, since the day was warming rapidly. What I hadn’t considered was that the pavement radiated the heat back in our faces — and with a tailwind coming back, we were much warmer than we would normally be.

The heat took all the starch out of me. I trailed by an increasing margin, and only stop lights and passing trains were able to let me catch up. Our rest stops became more frequent — every five miles or so — always under the shade of a spreading tree. It was slow going.

Clearly, our mild summer has been great for biking, but not so great for conditioning. It looks like our mild weather is over for the time being, and our typical summertime heat is settling in for the long haul. I can see I’ve got some hot riding ahead.

A New City Trail

Had a change of pace for today’s ride. Maggie suggested we check out the South Walnut Creek Trail. It’s a brand new trail the city has just completed on the east side of Austin.

The trail is about 15 miles long, and it’s concrete all the way. On this quiet Sunday morning, the trailhead at Govalle (Go-valley) Park had only a few cars in the parking lot.

Govalle Park. This Google Streetview picture was obviously not taken in the middle of summer.

Govalle Park. This Google Streetview picture was obviously not taken in the middle of summer. (Click all pix to enlarge.)

We took our bikes off the rack and got moving. The trail is easy. Mostly flat, but lots of curves. At some places, it crosses city streets at level grade, but elsewhere, it passes under highways. In any case, you don’t have to stop at all along the way, unless you really want to.

Typical view along the trail. From the City of Austin Walnut Creek Trail System website.

Typical view along the trail. From the City of Austin Walnut Creek Trail System website.

Railings along some parts of the trail keep cyclists from going over the edge and down a short cliff.

Picture from the City of Austin Walnut Creek Trail System website.

Picture from the City of Austin Walnut Creek Trail System website.

Some of the bridges are narrow. Cyclists have to be alert for oncoming traffic, especially on the curves, which are often blind.

We had a couple of close calls when we couldn't see oncoming cyclists, and they were taking the curves too tight.

We had a couple of close calls when we couldn’t see oncoming cyclists, and they were taking the curves too tight.

After a few miles, we found ourselves riding along farmland. Interesting thing is, this land is still within the city limits.

See the cyclists ahead of us?

See the cyclists ahead of us?

In other parts, we passed dense woodlands. Again, we’re still inside the city.

Hard to believe there are light industrial sites just a few blocks away.

Hard to believe there are light industrial sites just a few blocks away.

After going nine and a half miles, we could hear gunshots nearby. They sounded like shotgun blasts, but we could see nothing because of dense brush at the side of the trail. We concluded the shots were coming from a shooting range, but felt more comfortable turning back.

That meant our ride was only 19-plus miles for the day. That was fine with us. The temperature was heating up fast, Maggie’s back was bothering her, and the presta valve on my rear tire broke. I could ride, but I could feel the soft tire holding down my speed. No matter. We got back to the park fine, and made plans to come back again.

The trail is billed as a transportation alternative for people who live on the east side of Austin, an historically disadvantaged area. On a Sunday morning, we saw only recreational cyclists like ourselves. Whether it becomes a mecca for commuting cyclists, or a favored route for just-for-fun riders, we welcome its addition to the city’s cycling infrastructure. This will be an idea place for my wife to bring her hybrid. We’ll be back again soon.

Big Ride for the Death Ride

Our pal Don Blount is at it again, as he prepares for his big ride of the year. Here’s his account of a little(!) training ride.

BlountOnBikingTo prepare for big rides, you have to train for big rides — and often that training is painful. On Saturday, July 12, I am riding the Tour of the California Alps Death Ride. It is 129 miles (207.6 kilometers) with 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) of climbing over five mountain passes.

I have done a number of “big” rides to prepare for the Death Ride, including two double metric centuries and two century rides.

But I had never ridden at altitude, so two weeks before the Death Ride I headed up to the mountains to do a few training rides.

I joined my buddy Paul, who is also my doctor, and is experienced riding up in the mountains. He also climbs like a billy goat. The most I would see of him would be his back as he climbed waaaaay ahead of me.

Our plan was to do an 83-mile ride (133.6km) with 11,000 ft (3,353m) of climbing over four of the five mountain passes that are included in the Death Ride – both sides of Ebbetts Pass and both sides of Monitor Pass.

Mountain views can be spectacular. (Click pix to enlarge.)

Mountain views can be spectacular. (Click pix to enlarge.)

We started at 8:55 a.m. from Hermit Valley, Calif. at about 7,100 ft. (2,164m) elevation and we gained just under 1,600 ft. (487.68 km) within the first 5 miles (8km) to the summit of Ebbetts. Riding at altitude was difficult. I felt that no matter how deeply I breathed in that I could never take in enough air. This would be more problematic later in the day.

We headed down the other side of Ebbetts, dropping about 2,800 ft (853km) in 13 miles (21km). The views would be spectacular, the downhill riding fun.

My friend Paul channels Martin Short with a "There Amigos" pose while taking a break during the descent of Ebbetts Pass.

My friend Paul channels Martin Short with a “Three Amigos” pose while taking a break during the descent of Ebbetts Pass.

Monitor Pass was next. These two climbs were difficult. The first gained 2,400 ft (731.52km) in about 9 miles (14.5km), then dropped into a canyon that we had to climb back out. This back side of Monitor Pass was a bear. It would take me nearly two hours to ride just nine miles. But that nine miles included 3,100 ft. (945m) of elevation gain.

I learned or was forced to learn to keep moving; to not stop and lean over the bike but to get off and walk. Mentally this was tough to accept but pushing my bike at two miles (3.2km) per hour was better than standing still; at least I was still moving.

Don Blount looked fresher than he felt after summitting Monitor Pass on the second big climb of the day.

Don Blount looked fresher than he felt after summitting Monitor Pass on the second big climb of the day.

After climbing the last side of Monitor we headed into Markleeville, Calif. for lunch.

The final climb, over the other side of Ebbetts, would be the toughest of the day. It was hot and long. Starting from about 5,604 ft. (1,708m) of elevation, we would ride 17 miles (27.3km) and gain 3,000 ft. (914m). It would take me nearly two hours and 22 minutes to summit. Again, I stopped and walked several times. And three times someone stopped and asked if I needed assistance. I declined in part because I wanted to “HTFU.” I also wanted to punish myself by not taking the easy way out. And I did not want the mental image of quitting when I came back on this route for the Death Ride.

I was more than happy to reach the top. Paul was waiting, anxious to escape the mosquitoes that nagged him.

Returning to Hermit Valley and the car was bliss. The ride took about eight hours and 10 minutes. Total time out was just under 10 hours. Click here if you want to see my stats for the day.

The following day we did another ride of about 21 miles (33.8km) with 2,000 ft. (609.6m) of climbing. I actually felt much better this ride. Here are my stats for this “recovery” ride. Over the two days we would ride 104 miles (167.4km) with 13,000 ft. (3962m) of climbing. I left anticipating that the Death Ride would be hard. I guess that would be expected for any ride with “Death” in its name.

Felt Like Old Times

Judy, one of our club’s A riders, has been bothered by knee pains lately, so when she posted that she would like to do a slower-paced ride instead of the usual A riders’ sufferfest, I was interested.

She wanted to go at about a 14-15 mph pace, out to the gas station in Kyle, about 23 miles to the south. The main A ride had left at 7:30, and when we showed up for the 8:15 ride, we found about seven others who wanted to take the ride.

It started out briskly, with a run down the four-lane divided Slaughter Lane. At this hour, traffic was light. We turned onto Brodie, and I saw that instead of the 14-15 mph average Judy had advertised, we were cruising at 20+.

One of the newer riders packed it in at that point, deciding that he wouldn’t be able to keep up. Judy razzed the guy who had been setting the pace about going too fast. He said he wasn’t aware of the posted speed, and slowed down.

He dropped back, and I stayed on his wheel. I could feel myself being pulled along by his draft, and was glad not to be using too much effort so early in the ride.

The pace stayed steady. We cruised through Buda and out to Ranch Road 1626. I was a bit worried about my rear tire. It has a gouge in its tread, and I’ve bought a replacement, but after a day of yard work the previous day, I hadn’t bothered to mount it on the bike yet. I crossed my fingers that it would hold up through the ride.

As we approached Kyle, I took stock of my situation. I felt great. I was keeping up with the bunch (the remaining four in the group were all A riders) and I wasn’t working too hard to do it.

At the Kyle convenience store, I came across a weird combination I've never seen before. Hangover remedy?

At the Kyle convenience store, I came across a weird combination I’ve never seen before. Hangover remedy? (Click to enlarge.)

At the convenience store where we turned around, I treated myself to a PayDay bar, and noticed how short these folks make their rest stops, compared to us B’s. We’ll sit around for at least 15 minutes and maybe longer. Today, we were back on the road in 10.

Although the route is essentially an out and back, we do make a few variations. One of them is a run on Cement Plant Road. Its real name is ranch Road 2770, but since it passes a cement plant…

The nice thing about this three-mile stretch is that it’s a little bit downhill. I always look forward to it, because I can turn on the jets for awhile. But today, I was losing contact with the group. I had to pedal hard to close the gap, just in time to reach a section where we could cruise at 28 mph.

Cement Plant Road. It ain't scenic, but it's fast.

Cement Plant Road. It ain’t scenic, but it’s fast. (Google StreetView)

About a mile out of Buda, we were in a quick pace line, but I at the rear was moving faster than the group. I pulled out into the traffic lane, and stomped on it. The bike responded, no doubt helped by the light tailwind. I passed all four of them, and stayed in the lead until we reached the first intersection in town.

There some mutters of “sandbagger” under a few breaths, although most of them congratulated me on the move.

“You realize I’ll be toast for the rest of the ride,” I said.

I was a bit tired, but still managed to keep up the rest of the way back. Judy, her husband Joe, and I were the only ones left when we reached Starbucks. We grabbed an outdoor table in a shady spot, since the temperature had climbed. It wasn’t long before the A ride came in, and a little table for four was surrounded by 10 or 12 cyclists, sharing wisecracks about each other’s performance on the day’s ride, going off on tangents about any number of topics, and generally just enjoying the day.

When I joined the club six years ago, this is the way rides were. Lately, I’ve ridden apart from most of them, sticking with a few B-level riders, riding slower, not going back for the post-ride coffee klatch. My connection to the club was becoming weaker. Today, I reminded myself of the improvement that comes with riding with people who are faster. In fact, my Strava stats for the day included 14 personal segment records. It felt good to be back on track.