Tuesday, July 15, 2008


there's a bicycle ride in California each year called the Death Ride. as the name would imply, it's pretty epic and brutal and (insert your favorite noun meaning HURT here). 129 miles, 15,000' of climbing, over five mountain passes.....all at altitude. if you complete all 5 passes, you get bragging rights, an ice cream, and a very limited edition enamel pin that only the 5-pass riders get. this pin is coveted in the endurance riding community (or something like that).

I first attempted the Death Ride in 2006. I was recovering from a chronic illness, about 30 pounds above my climbing weight, and trained to road race, not for endurance rides. I was training on the "if it sounds fun, do it" plan. did the Death Ride really sound fun to me? altitude sickness did me in. I lost my breakfast at the top of Monitor for all to see. I was dizzy and couldn't breathe. but the descents were so much fun I kept climbing as long as possible. long story short, I completed 3.5 passes, 90 miles, and probably 10,000' of climbing. but I was happy since I'd had no real expectations for the ride.

I attempted the Death Ride again in 2007. this time, it was a very last-minute decision to participate, and I dragged along my new romantic interest. I hadn't had a good training block due to some chronic poison oak and resultant side effects from the drugs to treat it. but I was about 25 pounds lighter than 2006 and had done some good altitude riding in the past few months. we made the mistake of starting too late (he didn't believe me when I told him we needed to start at 5:30am). we missed the cut-off time to ascend the final pass by a mere 10 minutes, completing 80+ miles, 12,000' of climbing and 4 passes. we vowed to come back and get that pin next year.

this year, I hadn't planned to ride the Death Ride again. I had some new coaching programs and clinics on the calendar, along with a race of my own (duathlon) on the same date. but about a month ago, I got a stress fracture in my foot and decided that since I couldn't run I would attempt the Death Ride once again. I persuaded my un-boyfriend (yes, the same one as last year but now my recent ex) to join me for another attempt at earning that pin. what the heck! we'd been doing a lot of long, hilly rides (ie 80-100 miles with 8,000+ feet of climbing) and had great endurance. even though I was 20 pounds heavier than last year I wasn't too worried about the weight since my power was also up.

so, here we are, July 12th, 2008, making my third attempt at completing the Death Ride. the UBF was a doll and took care of all the details (food, camping, etc). we made it to Markleeville in good time on Friday to register (but not enough time to spin the legs). we had a great dinner at the campsite and settled in for the night. and, most importantly, we had agreed to wake up at 4:00am so we could get on the road by 5:00 or so.

as we hit the first climb (Monitor pass), I knew I was in trouble. I couldn't breathe. I had forgotten my asthma inhaler. and it seemed that the altitude was really affecting me. I was freezing cold (unusual for me), breathing shallow and fast, and my HR was through the roof. even on the shallow grades, I was in my easiest gear (34-29) and could barely turn over my legs. the UBF was very supportive and convinced me to keep riding when I wanted to quit about 30 minutes into the ride.

we summitted Monitor and descended the backside -- such a sweet descent. I started feeling a bit better and was able to climb the back-side of Monitor pretty well until I hit about 7,000 feet. at that point, all the altitude sickness symptoms returned, along with a good dose of dizziness. I sent the UBF ahead and finished the climb on my own.

I maxxed out over 50mph on the front side of Monitor -- weeeee!!!! we did okay for the first bit of Ebbetts and then I suffered like a dog (and sent the UBF ahead to ride his own ride). I stopped several times to catch my breath and bring my HR down. I got physically sick once (much to the chagrin of the riders near me). and somehow, someway, I made it to the top.

I knew if I could make it up the backside of Ebbetts -- the shortest but steepest climb -- I could finish the ride. so we descended the backside of Ebbetts, and then climbed back up. at this point, I was mysteriously feeling much better. we summitted in plenty of time to make the 4:00pm cut-off at Woodfords (the one we missed last year).

the descent on the front side of Ebbetts was epic. it had started to hail -- big gum-ball sized hail. but it wasn't raining. so I led us down the switch-backy descent and to the flattish run into Markleeville. the UBF provided the perfect wheel to suck all the way into town.

we made a super-quick stop at our car in Markleeville. I changed my nasty shorts and gloves. I refilled my bottles with ice-cold drinks from our cooler. and I stocked up on more GU products. and I grabbed my rain jacket. and then we made the 3 mile climb & 3 mile descent to Woodfords. we decided to skip the rest stop there and continue on to Picketts Junction, knowing that if we made that cut-off time we were homefree for the last 10 mile climb up Carson Pass.

at some point, all hell broke loose. the heavens opened up, first with rain, then hail, then thunder and lightening. flash floods were running across the road, making it difficult to see the road. the hail was pelting (ouch) and cold. and the lightening was a bit scary. I thought to myself, "if I wanted to ride in the rain, I wouldn't live in California." there were signs on the side of the road that read "STUPD." I kept thinking about how stupid we were to continue riding. my left quad started cramping up. I got off the bike and pumped more electrolytes into my body. my cleats got gummed up in the wet sand. and it continued to rain and hail and thunder and lightening.

we made the cut-off at Picketts Junction. I thought "how sad to work so hard today and not be able to finish the ride because of a stupid storm." so I kept riding. the last ten miles weren't too bad. the storm continued, but the climb wasn't too steep and in some points it was actually flat. I had sent the UBF ahead because he was soaking and hypothermic and needed to ride harder/faster than I could ride at that point. about half a mile from the top, I saw him standing on the side of the road waiting for me. the sun had broken through and he said we needed to cross the finish line together. and we did.

we collected our pins and our ice cream and we signed the 5-pass finishers' poster. and then we sat and discussed how we would never, ever, in a million years, do this ride again.

by Sunday we were already plotting our strategy for a sub-9 hour ride and a coaching program and an altitude camp and.....

.....and what is it about the Death Ride that brings folks back year after year after year.......


Wild Dingo said...

You've come a long way baby. Shouldn't you be having a Virginia Slim instead?

Wow. I'm an endurance junkie (slow but steady). Even so, never even considered the "Death Ride." why? because you need more than a few screws loose to do it. And I just got through tightening mine! :)

Congratulations on getting pinned! Awesome.

velogirl said...

oh jules! you know I've got a few screws loose. and did you know that Virginia Slim Menthol Lights 120 were my cigarette of choice for a decade? yikes!

Kimberly (aka. DrKim) said...

You rock! That is awesome. Congrats. It sounds, well, so HORRIBLE when you tell it!

velogirl said...

I'm not kidding anyone. it WAS horrible. it was really not pretty at all. and not much fun either.

until I was done.

David said...

Speaking as one who only completed 2 passes this year on his first try, but is also planning on next year already, I have a theory.

Besides being a gorgeous ride, I think it's knowing others on the ride (and/or those who support you before, during or after the ride) that makes one want to try again.

You, Jerome, Julie and Sarah come to mind in my case.

velogirl said...

it is gorgeous. I forgot to mention that, David. afterall, how often do we get the opportunity to ride on roads that are closed to car traffic? in a beautiful location?

David, it was great seeing you on Saturday. and you're very right about the "people" contributing to your success. my first year, I rode alone. I didn't have anyone to help keep me going (or anyone who I could help). that made all the difference in the world.

here's to 2009!

chatterbox said...

Everest Challenge next?

velogirl said...

Chatty, oddly enough, I've got that weekend open and thought about Everest Challenge for about 10 minutes. I'm definitely not at fighting weight for an event like that. and with my December marathon goal, I need to focus more time on running in the coming months.

marscat said...


bbElf (a.k.a. panda) said...

Go Lorri go!

erein said...

That has got to be some really, REALLY great ice cream. Like the best ice cream ever. And boxes of it!

YAY on personal victories big and small!

Bummer on the stress fracture. :(

Audra Marie said...

Hey Lorri, Hope that stress fracture is coming along ok. Congrats. The pin is the the purple heart of endurance cycling activities. I commend you.

Are you really altitude sensitive? I am. It's kind of a bummer sometimes.

alicat said...

congrats on the huge personal victory.

my brother would call the end of your ride in the epic storm, "Type 2 Fun." This is where you're not enjoying the activity as you're doing it, but you're damn glad you did it and love sharing the stories. This is his official lingo from being a NOLS instructor.

velogirl said...

thanks everybody.

yes, the ice cream was good (I had two).

and it was definitely Type 2 fun (maybe even Type 3 or 4).

Marie, I seem to go back & forth with altitude. I'm definitely sensitive. I seem to be less sensitive the fitter I am and the lighter I am. I'm overweight right now which is probably why it was an issue this year and not last year when I was lighter.

Jackie said...

Iron Woman, you are just unbelievable. Seriously.

lauren said...


that sounds epic. and way to conquer those passes!

good job!

velogirl said...

thanks, Jackie & Lauren!

Lauren, I loved your childbirth question on Rick's blog. I don't know the answer, so maybe you'll have to do it with us next year and share your thoughts.

Emily said...

WOW Lorri, what a huge accomplishment! Congratulations. It sounds like the weather was biblical. Very impressive to have climbed all 5 passes. I need to do this race once in my lifetime.

I want to do some of those long 80-100 mile hilly rides with you this Fall/Winter.

Congrats! Awesome job.

velogirl said...

thanks, Emily! love to ride -- let me know when.

Katie Kelly said...

Yeah Lorri! Good for you. What guts.