15 June, 2010

Alta Alpina Challenge 8-Pass Ride Report

The Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge was clearly the most challenging ride of the season so far and at roughly 75 miles in and three of the seven passes completed, I was thinking that this could very possibly be a repeat DNF of last year but more on that later. I arrived at Turtle Rock Park at about 4:15 PM on Friday for check-in but found out they would not open until 6:00 PM so I headed over to Grover Hot Springs Campground to check in with the TNT Death Ride 2010 squad as I have some friends that are coaching and supporting the team this year. After a short visit I headed back to check in and then headed out to dinner with my friend Mick.

After a nice Italian Dinner (and maybe hoping that a combination of my Italian heritage, new Campy wheelset, and the meal might have me riding like Ivan Basso in this years Giro) we headed back to our hotels for an early morning departure. With the best of intentions of a lights out by 9:30, I ended up "trying" to get to sleep at about 10:30 PM after getting everything ready for the morning which would be a 2:00 AM wake up call...yikes!

1:30 AM after a restless nights "semi sleep" and I am awake and it's not even worth trying to fall back to sleep for another 30 mins so I am up and in the shower and then having breakfast. 2:30 AM I am in the car leaving Minden, NV heading for the start at Turtle Rock Park in Markleeville, CA. Having arrived a bit early, I head into registration to say hi to my friend Susie and then Mick arrives and we're ready to roll.

3:22 AM and we're rolling heading out toward the first climb up Kingsbury Grade. We've got a great pace over the first 20 miles at close to 20 mph which is not bad considering it’s pitch dark. As we start the climb we meet up with a crazy pack of riders that seem to be doing the same set of the toughest Doubles on the schedule for the season. I reach the top of Kingsbury and then head for the descent and am at 28 miles and 2:10 of riding and now off to Luther Pass. It's a chilly descent but the sun is coming up so it should be warming up a bit but it sure doesn't feel like it. As I descend Kingsbury, Mick passes me but shortly thereafter we'd roll for a bit as we'd head for Luther Pass.

I hit the top of Luther Pass and check in and re-fill one of the bottles but also realize I should be drinking a lot more than the two bottles of Perpetum that I have consumed over just under 60 miles so far. It's a quick stop and then I am back out heading for Carson Pass which I know is going to be windy and find out later that the forecast was for gusts of up to 50 mph at the top of the pass. I summit Carson Pass and the wind is so strong that its literally blowing back off the side of the mountain and having the effect of a tail wind for the last bit of the climb over the summit. As I see Mick pass me descending it is clear that it will be a very dangerous descent and probably my slowest ever down Carson Pass. After a short stop, I am turned around and ready to descent and it's not even 11:00 AM but as I round the turn the crosswind hits me and nearly moves me across into the lane of traffic. As I descend Carson I am thinking that the wind is only likely to pick up as we get into the afternoon and it's one of those moments where you are seriously thinking about abandoning the event.

Roughly 86 miles in I am at the end of the road on the Blue Lakes climb as snow (yes it is June in CA) has limited this leg to the 3rd gate which is roughly 7 miles in but the event organizers have added a few miles just before the lunch stop at Turtle Rock Park. After descending the rest of Carson I make a right on 89 and am heading for another 800 ft climb that they have added and then it a quick stop for lunch and a chance to double check the bike as I am hearing a strange noise. As I roll into Turtle Rock Park I now have roughly 112 miles behind me and it's 12:30 PM so I have been out on the road for roughly 9 hours and while I have more than half the miles behind me, I have only tackled half of the climbing. I set a goal that I am eating, refueling, checking the bike, and back out on the road in no more than 20 mins which I am thinking at the time will leave me with 9 hours to get this one done.

12:50 PM and I am off and heading for Ebbetts Pass and wondering what the wind will be like but thinking that most of the front side should be somewhat protected. I decide that if it's too dangerous I'll go as far as I feel is safe and then bail and head back to the start. It’s a pretty good stretch from Turtle Rock out to the start of the climb and often windy along the river but I have a great pace and am passing others along the way. I hit Ebbetts and start the climb and quickly remember why I find this one of the toughest climbs on the Death Ride. I also realize though that I should be able to get some relief on the climb up the backside...relatively speaking that is.

It’s now about 3:30 PM and I have climbed the front of Ebbetts and descended the backside (probably my favorite descent in the area). My goal is now to summit Ebbetts by 4:15 and be climbing Monitor no later than 5:00 PM. 4:57 PM and I am at the bottom of Monitor and refill the bottles for the climb. No Perpetum so I top off the bottles with water and start the climb.

Climbing Monitor it is hot with the sun on my back and what is generally a moderate climb for me is a pure struggle with 156+ miles behind me. I can generally climb the front side of Monitor with a fresh set of legs in about 45 minutes but at this point I am questioning whether I’ll make the 7:00 PM cut-off. 6:30 PM and I am at the summit checkpoint and while I should have plenty of time I am whipped and thinking about descending Monitor in the dark which is not going to be fun. I am ready to abandon the event and ask the rest stop crew what the cut-off time is at the finish and am told that it’s 11:00 PM. I have come this far and reflect on how tough it is for those who I am riding for are and I know I can’t quit now.

6:44 PM and I am out of there and heading for the descent down the backside of Monitor. The sun is setting on the eastern side of Monitor and it is starting to get cold. About ¾ of the way down the descent I decide to pull off and take a pair of the latex gloves out of my tool bag and use them as liners for my gloves. I get to the bottom and sticker number 8 is added to my bib and I am out of there for the last climb and this is gonna hurt. I summit just as it is going from dusk to dark and pull over to suit up for the cold and dark descent. As I was just about at the Monitor Monument I see two of the riders that arrived at the bottom just after me being SAG’d up to the top of Monitor (bikes on the back of the SAG vehicle). Now I knew these two were taking a break at the bottom and as I looked behind me on the climb they were nowhere to be found and now they’d be SAG’d to the top and ultimately claim that they completed the entire event.

After suiting up I cross the plateau of Monitor and start the descent. It is dark and as I descend I see a deer cross right in front of me and then other animals that I cannot necessarily make out but certainly ones that would do some serious damage if I were to run into them (not that I would want to by the way). With the brakes on all the way down Monitor it’s not fun and taking forever and it’s extremely cold...I am ready for this day to be over.

As I roll through Markleeville and then finally into Turtle Rock Park it just seems like everything is moving in slow motion. I roll in and park the bike on the rack and check in and 10:34 PM is the finish time. I have been out on the course for 19:07 and I am cooked. This was one tough ride and it’s not just the mileage and climbing but also the altitude and unpredictability of the weather with snow last year on Ebbetts and heavy winds this year. I am glad that I finished and this event in particular truly represented the theme of the onetoughride project and all of those that I am riding and fund raising for this season.

I want to thank all of you who have contributed and encourage those of you who have not to DONATE NOW! Every dollar helps and is doubled as the Jeffrey Modell Foundation is matching all contributions. This weekend I will be riding the last of the CTC Stage Race Series and completing my 4th Double Century of the season (yes I got my Triple Crown for this year this past weekend). Currently in 38th place I am hoping to move up in the rankings and looking to move up to finish in the top 35.

I’ll post an update from the Terrible Two next week as I complete the second of a back-to-back series of two of the toughest double century rides on this season’s calendar.

Enjoy the ride…


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