1996 > Death Ride > Lisa and KenS's Report

Bikeaholics Do the
Markleeville Death Ride


Keywords: hypothermia, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, zombie.

Most applicable quote: "There are limits to bikeaholism".

Second most applicable quote: "You mean we're riding at an old folk's pace?" (one racer-type to another, upon being informed that they had made the cutoff time for Pass 4 by just 3 minutes).

Worst attempted pickup line: "Nice muscles!" (delivered by male racer-type to female Bikeaholics Team member on the climb up to Ebbetts).

Once again, Team Bikeaholics stunned the cycling world with its dazzling performance in one of the toughest rides of the season, the Markleeville Death Ride. Team members included: Lisa Antonino, Team Captain; Ken Straub, Morale Officer; Mike Harding, Long Distance Training Advisor; John "Email" Emmel, Science & Technology Officer; Marc Nix, Security Officer; Karl Kneip, Team Financial Advisor; Thomas Maslen, Foreign Affairs Advisor; and Don Bennett, Sergeant at Arms. Team guests for this event included David Coale (Team Bubbles), Karen Seaward, Tim Whetten, Richard Bone, Paul Kern, Don Burch, Dana Nix and Debbie Bennett. Thomas Maslen, for reasons not quiteunderstood by the rest of the team, elected not to do the ride on Saturday morning. However, email sent to team members at 12:50 AM on Friday morning confirmed the suspicion that he was indeed planning to ride his bike to Kirkwood from Los Altos, and he was sighted on the outskirts of Cook's Station on HWY 88 at approx. 4:30 PM by Team Captain Lisa and Morale Officer Ken, who provided him with iced tea, whole grain Fig Newtons and limitless entertainment. He seemed appreciative of the food and tea, but the effect of the moral support was questionable.

Arrangements had been made for Team Bikeaholics and Guests to stay at the Redcliff Proletariat Housing at the Kirkwood ski resort. At the registration desk, the receptionist examined our papers, gave us our keys, and then informed us that their unofficial title for these quarters was "Animal House". After unloading at least a month's worth of food, bags of clothing and briefcases containing drafts of Quarterly Reports, team members drove to Markleeville to register and retrieve such memorabilia as the "Death Cap", "Death Key Fob", and "Death Bottle" which were included in the $50 registration fee. After examination of the 1996 jersey and a brief look at the Powerbar booth, we returned to the Animal House to begin preparations for dinner. Low and behold! Thomas was there! (At least the physical structure of someone strongly resembling Thomas was sitting in a chair in our suite). He appeared to be eating and breathing; however, attempts at communication were hindered by a substantial "satellite delay effect".

As team members arrived at Kirkwood and got settled in their rooms, they congregated in Suite A3 for dinner . Debbie and Don prepared their famous "Pasta al Pesto Genoese" using their home grown basil and Dana and Marc brought two trays of lasagna. Other side-dishes included such carbo- and fat-loading entrees as Italian vegetables sautéed in olive oil, garlic bread, yams, green salad and fruit salad. For dessert, we had strawberry shortcake and frozen Tiramisu (team members neglected to read the instructions on the box, which clearly recommended defrosting for 4-6 hours). There was plenty of food for the 14 "Death Riders" and 2 "non Death Riders". After convivial discussions of technical bike stuff, the Tour de France, and whether or not Bill Gates is indeed the Antichrist, team members shuffled off to their beds to prepare themselves and their bikes for the impending event.

The klaxon sounded at promptly 4:15 AM, a mere 4.5 hours after loss of consciousness. The smell of freshly brewed Peet's Maduro blend permeated the brisk morning air. Quiet rustling sounds transitioned into crashes and bangs as team members stumbled out of their rooms, mostly dressed in colorful bike attire. Planned starting times ranged from 5:15 to 6:15, and after a breakfast of muffins, bananas, and coffee, team members departed in carpools for Markleeville.

The 40 minute drive to Turtle Rock was undeniably the most enjoyable part of the day. As the dawn approached, the silhouettes of the tall conifers and mountain peaks became visible against the black, blue, and purple-layered sky. Respiration rates were slow and stable, and breakfast was being satisfactorily digested under the control of an untaxed parasympathetic nervous system. Although the official start time was 6:00 AM, there was clear evidence that at least 300 people had already parked, unpacked and started the ride by the time we arrived at 5:25. By the time we congregated at the entrance to Turtle Rock to meet the other Bikeaholics, it was nearly 6:00.

The 10 mile ride to the base of Monitor was cool and fast. Cyclists of all sizes and shapes and with hundreds of thousands of dollars of cycling equipment packed the roadway . The first climb up Monitor was delightful in the brisk morning air. We blew off the rest stop at the top and continued right on to the back side to briefly rest and refuel. The number of cyclists ascending the back side of Monitor was seriously alarming, and it was deduced that these riders had started no later that 5:15 AM. During this time, several Bikeaholics and Friends and Guests of Bikeaholics were sighted , and it was comforting to know we were not alone. So far, the ride seemed pleasant enough. Morale Officer, Ken, having recently discovered the culinary pleasure of bagels with strawberry jelly, worked diligently to promote his discovery to Team Captain Lisa and was rewarded with remarkable success.

The next leg of the journey was the climb back up Monitor. The air was getting warmer and thicker. Although we intended only a brief stop at the top, we clocked in at 37 min (time flies when you're having fun...). It was getting more difficult to force down the necessary nutrients that were to be required for the rest of the ride, or at least for the short term goal of the climb up Ebbetts Pass, but we managed to down more bagels with jelly, bananas, and melon.

(authors' note: We'd like to pause here for some brief comments about cycling nutrition. On a ride of this magnitude and difficulty, where one will ride anywhere from 12-15 hours, 6000 or more Calories are used up by the body. Another 20-30 Calories are also used up by the typical cyclist's brain during this time, but these can be neglected for calculation purposes. It is impossible to completely replace this energy loss during a ride, but it has been recommended that a person consume at least 250-300 Cal./hr while riding. That amounts to a bagel with jelly or a Powerbar per hour. Meanwhile, the body needs to digest these nutrients while maintaining a high energy throughput. Inevitably the body will fail, and the consequences will be dire. As much as we tried to eat at the rest stops, our lack of appetite and impending gastro-intestinal distress made the task an onerous chore.)

During the extended rest & recovery stop at the top of Monitor, an accidental perusal of the route sheet by Morale Officer Ken revealed the previously undisclosed fact that there was an absolute cut-off time of 12:00 to reach the top of Ebbetts Pass. After 12:00, the gate to descend to Hermit Valley would be closed, precluding completion of the 5-pass option. A quick time check and some arithmetic indicated that, if we didn't admire any more scenery, and if we blew off the rest stop at the base of the Ebbetts, we might make it in time. We proceeded on to Pass 3 at a hammerhead/sprint pace, with our cyclometers set to the "time" function. Upon reaching the steep section of Ebbetts, thoughts of hammering to the top began to dissipate, and the short term goal became one of survival. We knew we had to keep up a decent pace, and there was no allowance for stopping, even at the alluring mountain lake one mile below the summit. Ken pushed on ahead with Lisa a few minutes behind. Karl, Don Burch, John, David and Paul were up ahead, while Marc, Mike, Richard and Don Bennett were known to be behind. Finally the summit was in sight, and Team Captain Lisa eagerly anticipated a leisurely stay in the feed-zone before the descent over the other side. Such anticipation quickly disintegrated when she was instead greeted at the top by Morale Officer Ken, arms waving wildly, shouting, "You made it with 90 seconds to spare!", "They're going to close off the road", and "Let's get going!". One tube of Gu later, we were on our bikes and rolling.

Ascending riders warned us of rain below, and soon we found ourselves dodging mud, rocks, and ascending riders while precariously making our way in cold rain to the rest stop below. Luckily, the rain stopped before we reached the rest stop, and we were finally allowed to relax and try to eat more of the unappetizing, uninteresting bike food spread out at the tables. After donning our arm warmers, jackets, tights and plastic bags to protect our already wet feet from further deluge, we began our fourth ascent of the day. The crash of thunder and lightning announced the arrival of the storm, and before we knew it, the rest stop had the look of a ghost town. We began the ascent in a steady downpour of cold rain.

The combination of rain, mud, cold, wind and density of riders made the rest stop at the top of Ebbetts an unappealing place, so after negotiating the slippery rails of the cattle guard with cleats, we continued on down to the hopefully dry and warm lunch stop. The intensity of the rain increased, eventually overwhelming the plastic bags we had placed our feet in. Bike handling on the descent began to be affected by the dreaded "shiver shimmy". The rain eventually subsided by the time we reached the designated lunch stop. It was difficult to find a place to park the bikes. Grown men were wrapped in brightly colored crocheted afghans (apparently provided by ambulance crews) to stay warm . Most were huddled around trying to stay warm while eating lunch. The Bikeaholics congregated to share cycling adventures; however Team Captain Lisa informed the rest of the team that if she didn't find a place to sit down in two seconds that she would collapse. The Bikeaholics responded, as usual, with incredible speed and precision, and found her a chair. Lunch consisted of Wonder bread with pressed turkey, tortilla chips, small raisin cookies, and vanilla pudding in a cup, the latter most resembling the soft/liquid diet we would inevitably endure in the hospital after the ride was over. We looked around for plasma and IV drips, but they were apparently out of these items. One source of amusement was to watch riders disabled by fingers frozen into a grip-the-brake-levers shape attempt to assemble a sandwich from various components. Morale Officer Ken, trying to open a packet of mustard with his cold, numb fingers, succeeded only in spraying the yellow goo all over himself and his teammates.

The final stage of the Death Ride can best be described as the Battle of the Intestines. The inadequacy of fluid intake coupled with the questionable consumption of nutrients and extreme exertion created the optimal condition for gastro-intestinal distress. Up to this point, many of us were experiencing mild stomach discomfort, but this sensation intensified and eventually led to horrendous stomach cramps not at all unlike labor pains (yes, one of us has experience in this area). By the time we got back into Markleeville, we had warmed up. We stopped briefly at the car to put on clean, dry socks and gloves, then made our way to Woodfords at the junction with HWY 88.

With only the climb up to Carson Pass ahead of us, we were confident that we would complete the ride with an excess of character points. However, when we encountered Richard in Woodfords, he reminded us of a posted 7:30 cut-off for the ride, after which no "5-Pass Death Pins" would be issued! He seemed truly panicked at the thought of not making it back in time to receive his Death Pin. We braced ourselves for the six mile stretch to Picketts Jct. and rolled off. The weather at this point was still threatening, although the rain had ceased. The mountain peaks were grandiose against the cloud filled sky. We climbed at a slow but consistent pace and arrived at Picketts Junction at 3:45. The intestinal cramps were still a major annoyance, and we had no desire to eat, even though we had dangerously low blood glucose levels. We tried small amounts of fruit and cookies, and eventually downed another tube of Gu. The Powerbar people were promoting their new "Powergel", and had large dispenser bottles of the three flavors, vanilla, strawberry and lemon lime. Past experience warned us against trying any new food groups on this sort of event, so we settled for a free tube of the flavor of our choice to consume at a later date. Richard eventually showed up, then Mike.

The final 12 mile stretch to the top of Carson Pass was cruel. The only comfort was in the constancy of the orange poles on the side of the road upon which to focus our bikes and our pain. Short term goals were to make it from pole to pole. We saw the happy faces of Western Wheelers Patrick and Bob coming down the mountain, and eventually John and David. The three mile flat area alongside the alpine meadows gave us some hope, but the final climb past the lake and through the switchback area on the grooved section of road was wrenching. We were greeted at the top by an adorable 4 year old boy who was eager to award us with our final "Death Pass Sticker". Low glucose levels, fatigue, and extreme intestinal pain delayed any celebration, and it took us a minimum of 15 min. to recover to the point where we could stand up and eat. Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot of stuff to choose from at this rest stop. We scavenged what we could, filled up our Camelbacks, ate a tube of Gu, and began the descent. As we pulled out of the rest stop at about 6:15, we saw Don Bennett reaching the top, smiling from ear to ear as usual (he completed 4 passes, having missed the cut off at the top of Ebbetts due to an extended pre-lunch lunch stop).

The next concern was whether we were going to make it back in time to receive our Death Pin. The descent would be fast, and we agreed we should make it back with some time to spare. We questioned our inner souls if we could be content just knowing that we had completed all five passes without actually having the coveted pin, and the answer came back a resounding "No!". We savored the final descent with whatever endorphins were left, knowing the ride was not over until it was over and that there was still a challenge ahead. Turning off of 88 on the road to Markleeville, we saw the final rolling hills. There would be four miles of these small hills to tease and torment us to the bloody end. Ken was gifted with a spurt of energy and blasted on ahead. Lisa's effort to keep up induced an asthma attack that not only left her breathless, but exasperated and morally defeated as well (note: Lisa was also speechless!).

We reached the car, quickly loaded in the bikes, and proceeded to the check-in at Turtle Rock. It was 7:10 and we had made it! We presented our numbered bibs with the requisite 5 stickers to the officials, accepted our "Death Pins" with glee, signed the "Death Poster", and went outside to sit next to our fellow Bikeaholics. The dinner line was too long, and we weren't hungry anyway, so we opted to drive back to Kirkwood to recover from the day's activity. A Puccini opera CD was particularly comforting during the ride back.

After showering, the rest of the evening was spent grazing the cornucopia of nutrients on the table in the presence of friends. The conversation was lively, although some of us had barely enough energy to go into screen-saver mode. We hadn't seen Tim or Karen all day, and around 10:00 PM, Tim stopped by with some more snacks: packages of cookies, Fig Newtons, and wheat crackers. The next most appropriate quote of the day, made by Karl, was "Gee, this is beginning to look like a rest stop!"

We wandered off into our rooms at about 11:00, and the lights went off shortly thereafter. Upon waking at 7:00 the next morning, we were surprised that nothing really hurt, and we were even able to take an hour long hike up along the ski lift trail. After a communal breakfast of pastries, scrambled eggs, hash-browns, coffee, juice and other miscellaneous leftovers, we packed up and segregated into our respective carpools to begin the journey back to the Bay Area. We headed back via Ebbetts Pass to review the hills we had climbed just hours before, stopping all too briefly to enjoy the awesome mountain scenery and wildlife by a small alpine lake.

Ride Report by Lisa Antonino and Ken Straub

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