Want to be a Better Climber? Here are 5 Nuggets of Wisdom

For those of you who have met me you know I don’t have the typical climber’s frame – in fact I don’t have the typical cyclist’s frame either. At over six-feet tall and about 220 pounds I climb better than most cyclists even though I weigh more than most cyclists. I don’t say this out of braggadocio, and I’m never going to be a Pantani or a Froome, but if I can improve my climbing prowess, so can you!

Now if you’re a loyal reader you know I’ve waxed on about climbing in the past, including a post back in September of 2018 where I wrote about some of these same principles. Recently, though I’ve had somewhat of an epiphany so I wanted to share. Again!

Nugget #1 – Work on the Weight

Yup, it’s somewhat of a no-brainer but I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on other things, many of them productive, at the expense of this one.

I just wasn’t improving as quickly as I wanted, even with all the other work I was doing, so I set a goal to get to my lowest weight since high school. I had that “Denial is d-longest river in d-world” moment, you know?

You can tell by my shadow 😉
that I was a bit porkier back in November

I realized that goal and lost 20 pounds. Granted, the weight does fluctuate day-to-day but I know my base weight is a helluva lot less than it was and that’s making a difference, and not just on the bike. Can you say power-to-weight ratio?

Nugget #2 – Eat Better

Most cyclists I know, including yours truly, drink a lot of beer. We often take the approach that goes something like this:

“Hey, I’ve burned 1000 calories today, I can eat (or drink) 1000 calories more.”

This one has been the bane of my existence and still is to a certain extent. Today, however, I focus more on the what and not as much on the how much. Sure, sometimes I over do it but when I do I back off the next few days.

In general I eat more fiber than I used to (especially in the a.m. – it “holds” better) as well as lots of yogurt and other high-quality, lean proteins and most importantly I focus more on the after-workout nutrition. That 30 minute window post-ride is crucial. Get some good protein and carbs in after that ride.

My biggest challenge is snacking, especially after dinner. When I don’t do that the scale is happier and I sleep better, too. Go figure.

Lastly, it’s the little things…Every once in a while I choose less over more. For example a 1/2 a sandwich instead of a whole, some pasta and cottage cheese instead of that sandwich – I can live off of those things, I swear! – or no 2nd breakfast or mid-morning snack and a chore instead (gotta keep my mind off my stomach).

Nugget #3 – Get More Rest

This one is probably the most challenging for me and I suspect it may be for you as well. So much to ride, so little time. I’ve been somewhat immersed in racing season (see my April 23rd post about Social Distancing Racing) and so every week it’s another challenge. Early on I kept riding, in some cases fairly hard) between races (all TTs), and it began to take its toll. I wasn’t sleeping well some nights, my heart was pounding some mornings when it didn’t used to and my average resting heart rate was climbing.

Once I added in a rest day or two per week I slept better, my RHR got back to a more normal range and I wasn’t so cranky. Denial is d longest river…

Nugget #4 – HIIT it

High-Intensity Interval Training is what HIIT stands for and as painful as it can be it is SO WORTH IT!

The book “Climb!” (see my March 21, 2019 post) by Selene Yeager was life-changing for me. Among other things it includes several HIIT options (it’s by no means an exhaustive resource on the subject, though) that I find can be done inside or outside. In fact IMHO some of them are more easily done on the trainer since as it is a more controlled environment.

HIIT also includes lifting heavy weights. When I lift (twice a week ideally) I go with the circuit training model – I keep the heart rate up and use weights that allow me to do 12 reps per set and 3 sets. I often alternate push, pull, legs, arms, etc. so I can rest some muscles between sets.

I now throw in some weights that are so heavy I can only lift them 5 times or so. The muscles don’t know what to do initially but they figure it out and I’ve gotten both stronger and more lean.

Nugget #5 – Core, Core, Core

It’s all about balance and it’s the core that is responsible. As a martial artist I know this but I have to remind myself fairly often. It’s easier to just get on the bike.

My core-efforts, if you will, include a lot of kettle bell work as well as balance exercises on the Bosu ball and most recently I’ve hung some straps in the garage so I can do leg-curls and leg-lifts from the bottom up, if you get my drift. This approach really works the lower abs and hip-flexors.

I’ve also added other, non-traditional exercises to my repertoire. These include scorpions, weighted jump squats and bird-dogs.

Oh, and speaking of non-traditional…Check out this post: “Find a few extra watts,” from pedalWORKS. I too was skeptical but I kid you not I immediately saw the watts go up when “breaking the bar.”

Show Me the Money!

Coming up the eastern side of Monitor during the 2018 Deathride

Alright Cuba (Gooding, not the country) here are a couple rides I’ve done recently that validate this approach.

Kingsbury Grade (Daggett Summit) – 7.75 miles, 6% avg. gradient, ~2500′ of up

First ridden in April of 2017 and ridden three (3) more times since, the latest being last May (the 29th).

On that May ride I improved on my previous best time
by over thirteen (13) minutes!

Monitor East (Monitor Pass) – 9.25 miles, 7% avg. gradient, ~3100′ of up

First ridden in May of 2017 and ridden six (6) more times since, the latest being June 26th of this year.

On that June ride I improved on my previous best time
by over fourteen (14) minutes!

Granted, this improvement didn’t happen overnight and frankly I’ve still got some more work to do but by focusing more on rest, losing some weight, strengthening my core, hitting those intervals and keeping a better eye on my nutrition I’ve become a much better climber and a better cyclist overall.

Sure, some of this stuff may be obvious (e.g. weight loss) but in my mind it’s the combination of all of these things that have made me a better mountain goat.

How about you?
What have you done to be a better cyclist,
gravel rider or mountain biker?

Do tell!

Climbing Mt. Everest on a Bike? What the What!?

Last Saturday (and Sunday too), three (3) intrepid athletes did that on Ebbetts Pass, for the first time! They didn’t really climb Everest.

Let me explain.

Image courtesy of wikipedia

Everesting, as it is known is “fiendishly simple, yet brutally hard.”

Everesting.cc, from where the above quote is taken, describes it thusly:

The concept of Everesting is fiendishly simple: Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and complete repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848m – the equivalent height of Mt Everest. Complete the challenge on a bike, on foot, or online, and you’ll find your name in the Hall of Fame, alongside the best climbers in the world.

Those athletes I mentioned? Roy Franz, Paige Redman and Shane Trotter. I have to mention (brag, actually) that Shane is CA Alps Cycling member #7.

And Roy, Paige and Shane are all in the Everesting Hall of Fame!

HUGE CONGRATS from California Alps Cycling to them all! RESPECT!

These very fit, very crazy and very driven riders started their adventure Saturday a.m. at about 7:00 a.m.

Shane, the fastest of the three (and an everesting pro – this was his 8th), finished in 17H 27M and did so while experiencing some debilitating (at least for we mortals) stomach issues. When I saw him just below Cascade Creek you couldn’t tell he was suffering.

Paige hammered this thing out in 18H 54M. I saw her too as I was driving up the hill to do some fishing and gave her a few words of encouragement. Frankly, I don’t think she needed them but based on her reaction she appreciated the gesture. Hey we all know what it’s like to get a few “attas” when we’re suffering. Will ride (harder, faster, longer) for cowbells, right?

Roy took a bit (okay a lot) longer than Paige and Shane. His time: 29H 32M. Yup, you read that correctly; over 24 hours!

I saw Roy during his attempt also, while he was on his 5th ascent, and as I told him, he looked great. He wasn’t even sweating! Fast forward to Sunday afternoon…I ran into Roy again, this time I was riding (to the point where they started their assault), though and he was getting into his car to head back home (with a stop planned at his favorite deli on the way).

A beaming Roy after his successful Everesting attempt

While all three of them are total animals, Roy gets the perseverance prize. He regaled me with stories of the cold and the sore hands; he had to stop at one point for some hot soup and coffee early Sunday a.m. but got back on the bike and finished. Me? Nap time. I would have been done at that point. No wait, I wouldn’t have made it to that point!

To be clear – all of these riders were on the mountain after dark. This particular mountain, for those who haven’t experienced it, has some nasty corners too, so not only did they have to climb at night, they had to descend too. Not for the feint of heart. Did I say “RESPECT?”

Just to give you a sense of the climb and the descent, here’s a couple video clips of Shane doing his thing during a filming session we did about 10 days ago. Remember, these riders did this during the day, and at night. About thirteen times!

As I tell folks who ask me how I do those long rides (again, nothing like these riders have done) it’s mostly about will. Sure, you have to be fit but in the end it comes down to how much pain and suffering you can endure. Needless to say, these three fine individuals can endure, and endured, a lot!

Talk about kicking some passes’ asses…

Thank you Paige, Roy and Shane for the inspiration. All of you are cycling champions and we wish you well on future Everesting attempts.

Better you than me!

Wind, Wind and More Wind

Why is it that the headwind on the way out isn’t a tailwind on the way back? How come those crosswinds turn to headwinds? Why does wind seem to come screaming down one little canyon from the east but on another canyon just up the road it comes from the west?

As a local rider and friend, and member of CA Alps Cycling said to me some time ago (and he’s lived here for decades): “The wind can be a bit vexing here, can’t it?” So, true, Rich. So very true.

I originally published this post in November of 2018. After some recent “howlers” here in the California Alps though — including a ride just last week where the crosswinds were so strong I had to lean in so much I felt like I was riding at a 45 degree angle — I thought it might be time to re-post it. So here ’tis, a little trip down a windy, memory lane.

As a San Jose native, I was very familiar with the wind patterns. I lived in South San Jose for many years and could plan my rides knowing pretty well how the wind would blow: Go out early and get the tailwind on the way home. Go out later in the afternoon and get the headwind on the way home. Certainly this did depend on the direction of my ride but for the most part I could easily predict the patterns.

So, what’s the deal with that moving air here in the Sierra Nevada?

Well, thanks to “A Sierra Club Naturalist’s Guide” by Stephen Whitney, we’ve got some answers. 

Mountain winds: “Winds and breezes passing over a rugged mountain range such as the Sierra follow tortuous courses over and around ridges, up and down canyons, through gaps in the crest. Eddies set up by the irregular terrain blow here and there in vigorous gusts that rattle trees and shrubs one minute only to abruptly die down the next. In the protection of a large boulder or grove of trees there may be scarcely any wind at all, while just a few yards away, in a more exposed area, it howls furiously.”

Wind-driven clouds in the CA Alps

Okay, so that makes sense. It’s somewhat analogous to the flow of a river. Rocks = rapids. Eddies are often downstream of those big rocks and flat water can be seen where there aren’t any big rocks to interrupt the water’s flow.

Let’s dive a little deeper, though. Why is it that I can head up Hwy. 4 (towards Ebbett’s Pass) with a headwind and then not get that tailwind on the way back? Okay, sometimes I do get the tailwind but it’s not consistent like it was in Silicon Valley.

Well, Mr.Whitney gives us a bit more information: It’s about mountain breezes, valley breezes and the mountain ranges “intrusion” into the tropopause

“On a warm summer morning the air next to the ground surface is heated and rises. Cooler air nearby moves in to replace it and rises in turn. This movement is felt during the day as an upslope breeze.” Typically, he writes, this starts about three hours after sunrise and reaches its peak during the hottest hours of the day and then it tapers off again around dusk.”

This is a valley breeze.  

“At night, cool air flows downslope, creating the mountain breeze.”

Dust off those cobwebs and cast your mind back

To those high school science days (daze?), that is…

Here’s some additional data: “Wind speed increases over mountain crests and through canyons and passes because air – like any fluid – accelerates when forced through a narrow passage. As a volume of air moves upslope, it is increasingly squeezed between the mountains and the tropopause, the inversion layer acting as a lid on the lower atmosphere.”

“Since the volume of air remains the same as it squeezes over the mountain crest, it becomes elongated.” Okay so that means it picks up speed. Seems reasonable…He goes on to write that “air forced to squeeze through a canyon or mountain pass is accelerated in much the same way.”

In doing a bit more googling today, I came across this article from the Smithsonian. I don’t recall discussing the Bernoulli Principle in Bio 1 (or any other bio or science courses I took in high school or community college), but if I did it’s been too many years or perhaps it’s due to mistakes of a misspent (not all of it, I swear) youth. Nonetheless, it’s on point! The principle, not the misspent youth…

Mountain winds, valley breezes and mountain breezes

So, there we have it! Mountain winds, mountain breezes and valley breezes combined with the myriad canyons, crests, passes and that ol’ tropopause challenge those of us who cycle in the California Alps.

It’s a rare day when we have no wind and due to the topography you can’t count on consistency. If you ride here then you, grasshopper, like me, need to learn to embrace the wind. 

Ride safe out there and let’s kick some passes asses!™ Even the windy ones…

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Forum

Well, not a forum per se, but work with me here…I’m referring to California Alps Cycling headquarters, which could loosely be defined as a forum.

Webster’s “1b definition” of forum is “a public meeting place for open discussion.” While we haven’t had any public meetings (aka grub and beerfests) recently, we have in the past and we certainly plan to have more in the future. This virus too shall pass…

Image credit: Pittsburgh Current

For you youngsters — admittedly I was only 6 years-old when the movie premiered but I thought it would be good to provide some context — here’s a link to a clip of the movie, and if you’d like to go the extra mile and read the Pittsburgh Current review, click here.

So now that I’ve set the tone, as it were, let’s get to my story of woe. “Whoa” also works in this case, as you’ll see. Read on!

Last Friday, again thanks to Alta Alpina’s Social Distancing Racing Series, I participated in my 7th TT in the last 7 weeks. This was the first climb we did in the series and being a clydesdale (6’2″, 220#) I knew I wasn’t going to be in the top 10, so my goal was to get it done in under an hour; my previous best was 1:10. I rode from HQ so I got in a nice warm up of about 20 miles or so before I hit the grade, a Cat. 1 climb.

All smiles post-ascent. Came in at 59:20…Woo, hoo!

As you can see, I was a happy camper post-climb and was stoked to hit my goal. And as it turns out I placed 17th out of 34. Not bad for a fat-boy!

BTW if you haven’t done Kingsbury before you should definitely add it to your list. It’s not as brutal as Monitor or as long as Ebbetts and the views into Carson Valley are amazing! The shoulder is fairly wide as well and the road is pretty clean. Did I mention the descent? It’s a screamer!

After the glide down the grade I was pretty much toast but I figured a little rest, some water and a bit of food would do me, so when I talked to my soigneur (aka wife) from the base of the climb I told her I’d go ahead and ride back.

Here’s where the funny part starts

About 5 miles in on my return trip I wasn’t feeling it. Or maybe I was but in the wrong way. It’s been so long since I bonked I didn’t remember what it felt like and while I don’t think I completely hit the wall I realized I didn’t have another 20 miles in me, especially if I had to do those frickin’ rollers on Hwy. 89!

So, I texted my trusty assistant and asked her to come and get me. I told her where we should meet (Mad Dog Cafe & Market in Woodfords) and that I would keep riding. I also asked her to bring some cold water. About another mile in I realized I wasn’t going to make Mad Dog so I texted her again with another location and wrote that if I wasn’t there that she should just keep driving down Foothill until she saw me. Well, as you can imagine our cell service isn’t the best here in the heart of the Sierra so she didn’t get the complete message.

When I finally made it to our rendezvous-point I went a bit further up the little road then I should have (nature-break needed) and as I came back around THERE SHE WAS! YAY! RESCUED!

BUT She drove right on by!

I whistled (and I have a LOUD whistle), I yelled, I waved. But to no avail. No brake lights, no wave, nothing. So I texted her and told her she passed me and to turn around. I then began riding back towards Kingsbury, albeit much slower than my first leg in the a.m. Still…nada.

Then I called and thankfully she answered. By this time I was truly gassed but at least I had ridden far enough to try and catch her that I got in my half-century.

She turned around and we agreed to meet at another designated point, this time a landmark – Fredricksburg Cemetery. Appropriate, huh?

After a few minutes of waiting and no sag-wagon appearing I checked her out on “Find my iPhone.” What!? She was going the other way! Shit! Wait…No she’s turning around. Here she comes. There she is! With my cold water, too. I was already tasting it.

We laughed as I hung onto the truck and then I asked for the water. No dice! She left so fast she didn’t get that part of the message. “Oy vey” as my dearly departed Grams would say! Thankfully she did have some water though (emergency supplies that we always carry) and that was guzzled down very quickly as you can imagine.

What’s MY moral to the story?

First of all, pick a landmark, Mark, and stay there! Second of all, drink more water you fool. Third…If you’re going to give it full, or close to full gas, on the way up an almost 8 mile ascent with ~2500 feet of climbing, eat more.

I know these things but for some reason in my TT induced haze I forgot them. Don’t be like Mark!

What Else Can You Do in the California Alps Besides Cycling? Here are Some Ideas…

Mom’s boot gives you a sense of the size of a bear. In this case a black bear – no grizzlies (aka brown bears) here. Nonetheless, I must confess, I know not the size nor age of this bruin. If the size of the poop we found on the trail is any indication…Well, let’s just say this particular bear appeared to be eating well.

Hiking (and Posey Sniffing)

Heenan Lake

We came upon this print last year, on the trail to Heenan Lake, while checking out the fish hatchery. It’s a short, flat (except for the little hill as you leave the parking lot) walk along the lake to the hatchery, where you can see, and get splashed by, if you’re so inclined, the famous Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. We were just there again last weekend and were greeted by Doug, the “hatchery-master,” who regaled us of his recent bear (bears, actually) encounter. You’ll have to hit Doug up yourself for the complete story. In the meantime, just use your imagination. Bears and fish…Get it?

Thornburg Canyon

I did a portion of this trail just yesterday and can’t wait to do the rest. Didn’t have a lot of time and the weather was coming in so I cut it short. As you can see, though, it’s a beauty of a trail with great views – both near and far.

To say we’ve just scratched the surface on the local trail and flora seen would be quite the understatement!

So, for more on Markleeville area hiking, check out this post (from January of last year) or this one, from last fall. For more data that matta, take a look at AllTrails and if you’re looking for something you can touch and feel, we recommend the Alpine Sierra Trailblazer. And for a cool application that you can use to ID flowers, trees and other plants, check out the PictureThis – Plant Identifier on the App Store.

Birding

Wild turkeys are definitely about, although we haven’t seen them as much lately. That is typical though – they seem to follow a different pattern after hunting season ends. Go figure! Other birds we’ve seen lately include hummingbirds (Anna’s, Rufuos and Calliope), which, admittedly, are best spotted on the feeders here at HQ (or perhaps at your house!).

We’ve also seen many hawks (mostly Red-Tailed) as well as some eagles (Bald and Golden) here and there. Steller’s Jays, Clark’s Nutcrackers, American Goldfinches and White-Crowned Sparrows have been frequenting the area, too and just recently we’ve been visited by Black-headed Grosbeaks. Check out this post from last fall – it includes a mention of a very rare bird in these parts, a Yellow-browed Warbler, who decided to make a little stopover here in Markleeville. Here’s another post with an image of an osprey that came by for a visit in October of last year and sucked down a Garter snake.

Here Fishy, Fishy…

Whether it’s the East Carson, the West Carson, Markleeville Creek or Hot Springs Creek, you’ll likely get some action. We’ve also got a few lakes and reservoirs around. Okay, you’re right – waaaay more than a few! Check out Dave’s Sierra Fishing for the details that I just don’t have room to post. Talking with our friendly neighborhood Chamber of Commerce would be a good idea as well.

By the way, trout season just opened last Friday and as I understand it, Fish & Game did a plant already. Soon, though, a bigger plant, with bigger fish, will take place. Perhaps for the Memorial Day weekend…You’ll have to come and see for yourself!

So Much to See, Tread (on) and Catch

More and more businesses (including restaurants) are open here in Alpine County; and so are hotels and some of the campgrounds. Definitely poke around our site too for more ideas as we’ve posted quite a few missives that may whet your appetite further.

We’re not all just boring cyclists, as we hope you’ve now noticed! We encourage ourselves (and you) to take some time off the bike and do some hiking, birding, posey sniffing, fishing or whatever strikes your fancy. Do it here in the California Alps, or anywhere else. Just do it safely, with dare I say, appropriate distancing, and carefully (mountains can be dangerous places). And, if you’re in need or want of some specifics, let us know!

Why Some Drivers Hate Cyclists and What We Can Do About It

Well if you’ve ridden as much and as often as I have (and even if you haven’t) then you’ve likely gotten yelled at, or honked at, or worse. We’ve all heard those stories about “the worse” and my bet is that some of you may have experienced it. Lucky for me, I haven’t, and of course I hope I never will.

A few years back, though, when I was riding the Mendocino Monster – and a monster it is, a driver intentionally plowed into a small group of cyclists out of frustration and rage (that’s what we were told, anyway). Thankfully, no one died. As I recall, though, at least one rider was taken to the hospital. One of my greatest fears when on the bike, if not the greatest: road rage.

Some Drivers are Just Shitheads

And there’s nothing we can do about that. Unfortunately. They, their friends and their family have to deal with that. I don’t envy any of them. It should be said, too, that some cyclists are also doody-heads (my friend’s son Mikey coined that term).

In any case, there’s not much that can be done for someone who is just an a-hole by nature; just give them a wide berth and figure that karma will take care of business.

Some Drivers Just Don’t Know

They don’t understand why we do what we do. They don’t know what it’s like to push themselves to the limit on a bike (or perhaps on a treadmill, or in a weight-room).

Most importantly, they don’t know the law (i.e. THE VEHICLE CODE). In CA, for example, they don’t know that V.C. section 21200(a) reads (in part): “A person riding a bicycle or operating a pedicab upon a highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle…”

They don’t appreciate that V.C. section 21760(c) reads: “A driver of a motor vehicle shall not overtake or pass a bicycle proceeding in the same direction on a highway at a distance of less than three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.

It’s not their fault; they just don’t know.

Some Cyclists Act Like Prima Donnas

We’ve got our carbon fiber, or titanium, or unobtanium bikes. We’re rocking the lycra with the bright, tight jerseys and the high-end shoes that sound like horses hooves when we’re getting that espresso. We’ve got our own lingo. We often ride in groups (well, maybe not so much right now) and don’t follow the “single-file please” best practice. Most times that’s just because we revert, as I tell some of my non-cyclist friends.

Some Cyclists Revert to Childhood

We can’t help but go back to the time when we were five and we could do whatever the hell we wanted on our Sting-rays! Sometimes, though, it’s because we feel or act like we’re privileged. Hey, we drive cars too! We pay our taxes! We’re entitled to the road as much as a car, damnit! While this may be true, when we harrumph about it too much or too loudly, we become the shithead.

What We Can Cyclists Do About It

First and foremost – we can engage, advocate and educate. We also need to listen. One of the first things I did when I wanted to start this little adventure called California Alps Cycling was reach out to one of my neighbors. Nancy Thornburg was a community leader (unfortunately we lost her on December 31st, 2017) and she was known for her outspokenness, but also for her fairness and kindness. When I called her to explain my idea she said something like: “you know we don’t care much for cyclists, right?” I replied that I did know that and it was exactly for this reason that I wanted to talk with her.

She invited me and my wife up to her and her husband Fritzes house, and we got to know each other. I explained why for example we don’t ride close to the fogline all the time and admitted that yes, periodically we were dolts on bikes. I also pointed out that most of us help our communities, do more than ride bikes (i.e. fish, eat at restaurants, shop at the general store, etc.) and that we also drive cars. She and Fritz related to me some of the things we do that pissed them off and I acknowledged she had a point. Several actually. We became friends. I miss her.

What Else Can We Do?

Participate. Without asking for anything in return. Be active in the community, whether that’s picking up litter (as you may know, we “own” a stretch of Hwy. 89 here in Markleeville and we do our Adopt-a-Highway routine several times a year) or clearing rocks from the road.

Empathize. Occasionally I’m a nut. I’m a distracted cyclist. I’m talking to my friend and I’m being an idiot. That guy should have been irritated at me. I would have been too!

Attend local events. Especially those that are not cycling related. It’s a great way to show you care and that you’re not just about the bike. Contribute your opinions, your time and if you can, your money. Be a part of the solution, not the problem.

Smile and wave more often. It sounds simple but I find most riders don’t do it enough, or at all. I salute the CalTrans drivers whenever they pass. I ALWAYS wave or acknowledge other riders and most of the time I smile and wave at cars (or the drivers thereof). When I don’t it’s because I shouldn’t, or can’t – i.e. a big wind gust; a sharp turn; I’m about to pop an eyeball on that climb.

What Do You Think?

Am I smoking something? Too simplistic? Right on? Have you had any run-ins that ended well because you took the high-road? Do you have any advice you’d like to share with your fellow readers?

I’d love to hear from you. I promise, I’ll listen. Even if you don’t ride a bike!

Climbing Mountain Passes – 5 Key Things to Know

I’ve lived here in the heart of the Sierra Nevada for about 3 1/2 years now and in that time I’ve tackled our “Big 3” (Carson, Ebbett’s, Monitor) a bunch of times (well except for Carson Pass), and I’ve done some of the lesser known climbs as well. The below tally is by no means a comprehensive Sierra Nevada list but it gives me enough experience to offer some advice as to what to be wary of when you’re climbing big mountains here in the California Alps.

The Current Count

  • Carson Pass = 1
  • Ebbett’s Pass (N. – the Markleeville side) = 14
    (my favorite climb as you can see)
  • Ebbett’s Pass (S. – the Bear Valley side – from Hermit Valley) = 2
  • Geiger Grade = 1
  • Luther Pass = (S. – the Tahoe side) = 2
  • Kingsbury Grade = 2
  • Monitor (E. – the Topaz side) = 5
  • Monitor (W. – the Markleeville side) = 7
  • Spooner Summit (Hwy. 50 – E. – the Carson City side) = 2

That’s a total of 32 climbs on local mountains (or passes as they are also referred) for approximately 112,000 feet of climbing, or the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest almost four (4) times! Here’s some of what I’ve learned in all those hours and pedal revolutions.

Climbs up Mountains are Steep

Yeah, this may seem like a no-brainer but just last week, as I was climbing the west side of Monitor (the first 3.5 miles of which average close to 10%) I came across a few cyclists struggling to maintain any kind of cadence. I noticed that several did not have the right gearing (I ride a 50-34 in front and a 30-11 in back).

Lesson learned #1: make sure you have the right chainrings and cogset.

The Air is Thin

A couple riders told me as I passed (and they gasped for air) that they didn’t realize how hard it would be and that it was difficult to get any air. Some riders I’ve talked to like to come up and spend time here before they hit the climbs. Others come right up and do their climbing before their body realizes they’re here. In any case, be do your homework!

Lesson learned #2: address acclimatization.

Winds Can be Vexing

One of our members, Dr. Rich Harvey, commented on this post (which I wrote some time ago) and it was he that used the word “vexing.” So appropriate because here in the mountains there really are NO reliable wind patterns. Just yesterday I rode part-way up Ebbett’s Pass, into the wind. Did I get the tailwind on the way back? Nope. The wind shifted due to, among other things, the valley winds (explanation in that post).

Lesson learned #3: It’s a rare day that there is no wind and so set your expectations (and plan your wardrobe) accordingly.

The Climate can Change Quickly

There can be a temperature variation of 10-20 degrees between the start of the climb and the summit! And, in the summertime there are often afternoon thunderstorms. During the 2018 Deathride several of our riders were pelted with hail and rain on Carson Pass. This was in July and it was sunny here in Markleeville!

Just last Saturday I climbed Monitor. I brought an additional neck-gaiter and hat for the descent but it wasn’t enough. The wind came up and the temperature dropped while I was still climbing up to the summit. I did have a vest on, and arm-warmers, but I should have brought another jersey or vest. In the past I’ve done so (using a cinch-pack). This day, though, I didn’t follow my own advice and I was so cold on the descent I started to shiver badly enough that I had to stop and warm up before I could continue.

Lessen learned #4: Bring the necessary gear, or layer up, so you can deal with any adverse conditions that may arise.

There is No Cell-Service

We’ve all come to take cell service for granted. Here in Markleeville it’s really only Verizon that works. My wife and I had AT&T in San Jose but when we moved up here we quickly switched to Verizon. That doesn’t do diddly-squat up on Ebbett’s Pass, though, or even in some of the lower elevations. I carry a Garmin inReach Mini on my rides. Admittedly, I already had it before I moved up to the mountains because I’ve got a yellow-jacket allergy. But, had I not had it before I moved here I would have gotten it afterwards. Among other things (including an SOS feature) it allows me to send texts to my wife from anywhere in the world.

Lesson learned #5: Get a satellite communication device if you can and if you can’t (and I do this also) make sure you have clearly communicated to “your person” your route, your approximate return time and what to do “if you don’t hear from me by such and such a time.”

Cycling in the Mountains is an Awesome Experience

And one that is made that much better if you are prepared for what you’ll experience. Understand the topography; prepare for the thin air, wind and climate; and address communication. By following some of my lessons learned you too can have an awesome experience cycling in one of the world’s most amazing venues – the Sierra Nevada, and our little slice of heaven within, the California Alps.

Ebbett’s Pass and Monitor Pass – After Action Report

Here’s smiling at you! Sending good vibes and mountain energy from California Alps Cycling!

Well it’s been a great week of riding I must admit. Being furloughed has its benefits. I am one lucky dawg. I also recognize that many folks are not so lucky; some are sick or have died, some have lost loved ones, many are unemployed and many are working (some on the front lines – THANK YOU!). And yet life continues for me, and you, and most of us, albeit in this twilight zone. And so, writing a post about cycling two (2) iconic California Alps climbs this past week feels a bit weird. Nonetheless, for your reading (and cycling, if you’re coming our way) pleasure…

Ebbett’s Pass

Last Monday, April 27th, I partook, and I’m pretty sure I was the first cyclist up the mountain this year (my friend Bill Cassity said so!). It was a beautiful day (in the 60’s and 70’s), made even more beautiful by the fact that there were no cars on the road past Monitor Junction (see last week’s post for more on that).

There was no snow or other issues on/with the road until I got up towards Cascade Creek. There I found quite of bit of rock (a few large boulders but mostly small stuff) that had fallen from above, which made for slow going on the descent.

As I approached Kinney Reservoir I was excited for the photo op — the mountains and sky reflecting in the water are amazing — but felt like such a nit when I got there only to find a still frozen body o’ water. Skating anyone?

Yup! Still frozen. It is at about 8000′ after all.

I didn’t see any riders at all until I was coming down. And, again, that no motor vehicle thing is awesome! The pass will likely open soon (May 15th perhaps) so if you want to experience the climb, with no cars, like you only get on the Deathride, now’s your chance. It’s not for the faint of heart nor the inexperienced, though, so please be aware of that, and be cautious.

Monitor Pass

Just this a.m. I climbed Monitor and it was not nearly as pleasant as my trip up Ebbett’s Pass earlier in the week. I knew it was going to be windy; conditions at HQ before I left made that pretty apparent, but it was particularly “sporty” today with lots of crosswinds and gusts and such. I did, however, get some help from a nice tailwind for a lot of the climb; it was especially welcome on that first real pitch of about 3.5 miles from Monitor Junction to the cattle guard at Heenan Lake. That’s really the toughest section on the western side of Monitor; once you’re above that guard it becomes a bit more manageable. And while Monitor is steeper than Ebbett’s it’s only about half as long…That’s my story and I’m sticking with it!

Just about at the 8000′ mark. That’s the Carson Range in the distance behind me.

I’ve never seen Hwy. 89 to Monitor Pass so devoid of snow this time of year; it validates (not that I needed it) the recent “only 3% of normal” snowpack report. As you can see, there was no snow on the side of the road (and there was nary a bit (just a couple of small patches) at the summit, neither.

The wind seemed to get colder, and more vexing (that’s for you Rich) on the way down – it was so cold (and I brought a couple extra items with me for the descent) that I had to stop and warm up. I was shivering so badly that I was starting to shimmy (and shake) – not a good thing when you’re barreling down a mountain at high speed!

Anyway, I did survive the descent, which, with the exception of some gravel and other debris on the road closer to the bottom of the hill, and a few of those gusts, was uneventful. I was back at HQ by lunchtime and beer-thirty.

So, there you have it. Did I mention that climbing these passes, or any passes for that matter, is not for the faint of heart nor the inexperienced? My lawyer told me to tell you that you assume all the risk if you decide to partake. Your loved ones would remind you to be careful (and I am reminding you too) and to keep in mind there’s no sag wagon behind those gates. And cell service? Forgettaboutit!

On that cheery note though…Let’s Kick Some Passes’ Asses!

Weekend Update – Two Alps Passes, The Deathride and Fishing

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I had some news that I wanted to pass on. And, since I’m an old school SNL guy I thought I’d go with the “Weekend Update” reference (Aykroyd was the best anchor, IMHO).

Ebbett’s Pass and Monitor Pass

From our FB post this past Wednesday: “Yesterday afternoon I had an email exchange with David Griffith, one of our Supervisors here in Alpine Co., and he told me that yesterday morning “the Board of Supervisors approved a letter requesting that CalTrans *not* open Monitor or Ebbetts Pass until May 15th. Should perceived danger from covid-19 recede it may open sooner. I was assured that it only applies to motorized vehicles so walkers, hikers and cyclists etc. should be exempt.” It should be safe to go past the gates on Monitor a/o today he said, but there is still snow plowing being done on Ebbetts, so walking, hiking and cycling is discouraged there – for now.”

David was kind enough to ping me yesterday to say the signs that prohibit pedestrians, bicyclists and motor-driven cycles (moped? e-bike?) had been removed.

Signage at Wolf Creek Road on April 21st. The gate is open as of today, though.

Monitor Junction, where highways 4 and 89 intersect, is north of Wolf Creek Road (the above image) and the gates there ARE CLOSED. However, the “peds, cyclists and mdc prohibited” signs are no where to be seen! Just like David said. So, you can ride both of those roads if you wish. Of course, you’re assuming the risk – flat or have a mechanical and depending on where you are it could be a long walk. As for a true emergency? No cell service much past town so if you don’t have a sat-phone or a buddy…

Nonetheless, I partook today, along with other riders and hikers, and road part way up Hwy. 4 (aka Ebbett’s Pass) and part way up Hwy. 89 from the Junction (aka Monitor Pass). Wasn’t into the Full Monty (yeah, another old-school reference but I won’t expand – Google it!) today so just did sections of each. Still, got about 3000′ of climbing in! The roads are in good shape, btw, with not too many rocks, no run-off and no snow.

If you do decide to come up to Markleeville keep in mind that public facilities are still closed, BUT Alps Haus, the J. Marklee Toll Station, and Stonefly are doing take-out so you can grab some grub! Oh, and so is the General Store (open, that is).

Deathride Resurgence

If you’ve signed up then you’re probably already aware…we (the Alpine Co. Chamber of Commerce and our Ride Director) decided to cancel this year’s ride. Postponing it was discussed but based on the fact that many other rides that have done that already, and therefore the ride saturation that may occur in the fall will be heavy, and because of the logistics of ordering merch. (had to do it now for July and push it back to July if we did a Sept. ride) that was not an option. We also wanted to be considerate of our community and didn’t want to inundate our little town and surrounds with thousands of people just after we recovered from the pandemic (if we had/have). So next year is the year of resurgence! Hopefully in many, many ways.

This years’ ride was canceled but the Resurgence Tour will occur on July 17th, 2021!

Fishing Season Postponed for Alpine, Inyo and Mono Counties

Our Chamber posted this up on its FB page this week:

We have received a lot of inquiries about the fishing opener, originally scheduled to kick off this weekend. Due to COVID-19 precautions and the limited resources in our small Eastern Sierra communities, the season opener has been delayed. “After talking with the county representatives, we agreed this was a necessary step toward being responsive to local needs in this public health emergency,” said CDFW Director Bonham. Read the full press release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife here: https://bit.ly/2KuMi64. Fishing is at the heart of Alpine County, and we are looking forward to the opener as much as our visitors.”

Looks like we’ll have to wait until as late as the end of May, depending…But, as it turns out, the delay is not such a bad thing since the water (at least on the East & West Carson) is moving too fast and looks too much like chocolate milk.

Looking downstream at the East Fork of the Carson from Monitor Junction.

So, there you have it – our little weekend update.

Now get out and get some and be sure to do it safely and with the proper distance, k?

Social Distancing Racing in the California Alps

American Lady

I hope this post finds you all staying healthy, safe and sane during these turbulent times. A special tip of the hat, by the way, to our front-line warriors who are helping many of our fellow citizens survive. At the same time, condolences go out to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones due to the covid-19 pandemic. As I write these words, and so again take stock of the current state we’re in, I still can’t help feeling like Alice, or perhaps Dorothy. But, this ain’t Wonderland and it sure as hell ain’t Oz. Pardon the ain’ts – dramatic effect… Those stories, too, were more like dreams. This? This is a nightmare…and on so many levels. So, like you I suspect, I try to keep my mind focused on other things and live as normally as I can. Quick break while I sanitize my keyboard…🤓

Social Distancing Road Race Series

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest, by the way. No doubt many, if not all of you, are feeling the same way. That brings me to the main subject of this post: racing in this era of social distancing. For me, cycling has become even more important right now – it’s one of the things (probably the main thing) that’s helping me keep my mind off the nightmare. And, thanks to Alta Alpina Cycling Club I’ve got some racing options! AACC did us all of us locals a solid and morphed at least the first three (3) races of the season into virtual rides. Now I’ve never raced before but I’ve been training hard for organized rides that have now been canceled or postponed. So why not put some of that energy towards racing, eh? Especially, since it’s little less intimidating in this format. So, I jumped on in.

Race #1 – Fredricksburg Prologue (Time Trial)

The race director sends an email the weekend before the race and everyone has the entire week to complete the course, as many times as they wish, with results recorded on Strava (click on the link to see the segment). I took my first whack at it on Tuesday of last week and so was able to compare my numbers a bit to other racers/members. I knew I had some work to do to get into the top 10, which was my goal. So last Sunday I got my soigneur (aka my wife, Pat) to join me. Actually, she offered. Pretty sweet. She parked her fine-self next to the truck, read the paper and sipped on some coffee and off I went for a short warm up…

The course is only about 8 miles long so it was full-gas the entire time. Thanks to the live segments feature (try it if you haven’t) on Strava I was able to see my goal time, as well as my carrot’s best time, displayed on my computer. I was kicking ass on the way out – behind my goal (which was okay, it was a big hairy audacious goal after all) but ahead of my carrot. That all changed at the turnaround. I started losing time even though I had a bit of a tailwind. I put too much into the first-half of the course; I should have paced myself better. Oh, well, I said to my solo-self, only about 10 more minutes of pain.

The view from Foothill Road – can’t beat the location.

As I approached the finish, feeling and looking like many of the big dawgs I’ve seen on the TDF over the years, with snot pouring out of my nose and so much sweat on my glasses that I could barely see, I was cooked. As it should be, right? After a few minutes of gasping and hacking I was able to function again and actually speak to my wife, instead of just grunt. That spiked hot chocolate went down well as I reveled in my new PR. And, I ended up with a 9th place overall. I’ll take it!

Race #2 – AACC (Alta Alpina Cycling Club) Diamond Valley Clockwise (Time Trial)

Here’s a link to the course/segment, which I just road yesterday. While the course was really “designed” for a true road race, again this was a solo effort for each of us. I had done the route last year and so was anxious to see how (if?) I had improved. I needed some additional miles so I decided to do three (3) laps; if I did well on the first one then I’d take it easy on the next two (2) I figured. ‘Twas a beautiful morning and I was stoked that I didn’t need a vest or knickers. I wore my 2017 Deathride Finisher’s Jersey as I knew it would make me ride faster (it’s my version of the yellow jersey, you know?) and it did help. I shaved 3 1/2 minutes from my previous best time! Yowza! Still, not enough to beat the strong riders who have yet to ride the course. Right now I’m sitting in 5th position but I’m pretty darn sure that won’t hold. May have to give it another whirl this weekend but at this point I don’t think I’ll improve my time much so perhaps I’ll just ride Monitor or Ebbett’s instead.

Stay tuned! More Updates to Follow

I do have some news about Monitor and Ebbett’s, two (2) of our three (3) passes that we here at California Alps Cycling ride regularly, as well as some information about the upcoming fishing season and the Deathride. Stay tuned for that post. You can, in the meantime though, check our Facebook page for information on the former.

Happy riding and stay safe and healthy!