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!

What’s a Good Saddle for Riding in the California Alps?

I am talking about this type of saddle:

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-SA

Not this type:

Although they are pretty nice, and do have some features that may translate well on the bike ;-).

As it turns out, here in Markleeville, and surrounds — we’ve got mountain cattle that graze in the meadows near town and just down the road in the Carson Valley you can get some of the best grass-fed beef around — you’re likely to see both saddle types!

Now I’m salivating a bit thinking about a nice rib-eye so let me get down to business on this gear review thing before a puddle forms.

Okay, okay..if you’re truly needing a saddle-saddle, here’s the link to Natural Horsemans Saddles (especially for you and your lovely wife, Chris). Okay, onward…

Fi’zi:k or Specialized?

Of course you’ve got many more choices than just those two (2) brands but this was the question I had to answer. I’ve been a loyal Fi’zi:k saddle user for many years. I really like the Aliante R3 Open (for snake – good back flexibility) and have the same saddle on both my Emonda and my Domane. Today however, I can say (er, write), “used to have the same saddle…”

I recently switched to the Specialized Power saddle and I’m really happy I did. Here’s why:

  1. There is a lot less pressure on my “taint,” especially when I’m in the drops.
  2. I get no numbness at all, even when riding on the trainer for long periods of time.
  3. When I sit back down after standing and pedaling, my butt feels like it’s docking on that friggin’ thing! Talk about a perfect fit…
  4. For descending (tons of up means lots of down) it’s a lot more comfortable in the drops and it just feels more natural.
  5. When climbing, or riding on flat roads, not having that standard nose length also works. I thought I might notice “no there, there” but not so; it just feels RIGHT.
  6. Did I tell you that it’s amazingly comfortable?

Here’s some specific details as to what I put on which bike, and the rides I’ve done.

Emonda = S-Works Power 143mm. Carbon Rails.

I did need to order oval ears for the seatmast because the rails on this saddle are oval, not round. Keep that in mind if you decide to get this, or a similar, model.

Red ears add a nice touch, especially on a red bike.

I first used it on March 29th and have done a total of four (4) rides, all outside, including a 1/2 century ride on April 2nd, adding up to about 128 miles. Again, no issues. No chafing, no numbness and oh so comfy in the drops.

Domane = Power Pro Elaston 143mm. Ti rails.

Didn’t snap a photo of this one…There were standard rails on this saddle so no need to change out the existing seatmast ears. I use the Domane on my trainer and as my gravel bike so I opted for a bit more padding for this saddle, and I read something recently (Velonews? Bicycling? Can’t remember…) that suggested the Elaston for gravel riding. Now I haven’t done a gravel ride with it yet but yesterday I road the Alpe d’Huez Finale on FulGaz (first ride on the Elaston). 1:43:02 total on the bike – mostly seated. Again, no issues and most importantly I didn’t notice that sore spot I used to hit on my right sit-bone when I went back to a seated position. You might say (I did say) the Pro’s wings made things much more bearable.

Integrated/Attachable Seat Pack

The Fi’zi:k Aliante does come with such a thing but it’s a pain in the arse to get on and off (in and out of?) the saddle: you’ve got to hold up the clip to slide it in the slot and sometimes I need a tool of some sort to do that. Same for out; kind of a hassle.

The Power also comes with a mount. Specialized calls it “SWAT compatible” and it’s much more user friendly than Fi’zi:k’s; just attach a bracket to the seat with the provided bolts and the pack itself (I went with the small Stormproof Seat Pack) then slides in and out of the bracket. A really good design!

The Verdict

I feel like I have to get some more miles in before I’m totally sold (had over 8000 miles on the R3 that was on the Domane) but in all my years of cycling and mountain biking, and recently, gravel riding, I’ve NEVER installed a saddle that didn’t need tweaking and that didn’t cause any minor problems early on. Until now, that is. Now I’ve got two (2) of ’em! So, even after a relatively short test period I would highly recommend the Power or Power Pro. If you haven’t gone short, you’ve got to check it out!

And, if you want to do a bit more research, here’s a couple more resources: First, a good post by Outdoor Gear Lab; I found it helpful and it touches on some of the finer points of this saddle that I didn’t. And here’s another from road.cc, again with some additional data that matta.

Let’s Kick Some Passes Asses!

So, whether it’s with a new saddle, an existing saddle, on a bike or on a horse. Or perhaps none of the above (maybe you’re a runner, or a hiker, or a snowshoer or a skier) let’s get out there! With the proper distancing, of course. And hand-washing. And masks if necessary. Whatever it takes, right?

Whenever and however you go, though, please be safe and stay healthy!

Checking in from Deathride Town, USA

First and foremost, all of us here at California Alps Cycling hope this post finds you and yours doing as well as possible in this new “pandemic-age.” Yup, we’ve had ’em before and we’ll have ’em again. So “says” a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News. Full disclosure: I’m from San Hoser – born and raised – so I still get “the Merc.,” the digital version of course. My wife and I came up to the Sierra in October of 2016. In any case, the article was good reminder – been there, survived that. At the same time I realize some haven’t. Or, won’t. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them. And their families.

Speaking of the pandemic – Gawd, I sound like one of those characters on that Don Henley song “Dirty Laundry” – Alpine County was just added to the tally; we’ve had our first Covid-19 case here in the county. It was determined that the the disease was picked up in a distant location, not via community transmission, so that’s good. What’s MUCH better is that the patient is recovering well and did a good job of self-quarantining (and the family did too).

There is Snow in Them-thar Hills

On a lighter, weather-related note, we had some good snow up here the first couple weeks of the month – helped with the snowpack. I heard we were up to ~70% of normal. Not bad considering it was closer to 45% at the end of February. Ironic, certainly, that the ski resorts were (and still are) closed due to Covid-19. My wife, Mom and I went for a great hike last weekend (and the weekend before) at Grover Hot Springs State Park (see photos below). Note: The park is closed but hiking is still allowed, although our Sheriff’s office is recently told us all that DOES NOT MEAN BACKPACKING or other backcountry endeavors. He doesn’t want to potentially strain resources on rescues and the like. I’m definitely going to get a bit of snowshoeing in soon, though, before what’s here melts. Not sure what the lay of the land is in Carson Pass and the trails up there. I suspect they are open. Highway 4 (Ebbett’s Pass) is closed just south of Silver Mountain City (and the snowmobilers are happy) and Monitor Pass is closed (and has been, for the winter). Pssst…I heard Monitor was going to open soon but I have yet to get confirmation from Clinton the CalTrans guy.

Cycling, Hiking, Skiing or Snowshoeing and Social Distancing

Had to point it out, if for no other reason than to get the phrase in there so the search engines pick it up and rank me higher. In all seriousness though, I’ve seen some folks up here riding their bikes, enjoying the views by car, snowshoeing, hiking and snowmobiling. Great time to get outdoors, more like a necessity nowadays but I’ve been picking up mixed signals about that and so I thought I’d reach out to our County Health Officer, Dr. Richard Johnson, with a few questions.

Dr. Johnson Says…

  1. Is it okay to hike as long as we keep our distance?
    Absolutely!
  2. We’re not backpacking or anything like that – just day hikes, if not hour hikes. 
    Go for it!
  3. I am a cyclist and just yesterday went out to Diamond Valley and Emigrant Trail – I live here in Markleeville. Was about a 2 hour ride.
    Perfect.
  4. I’ve been furloughed (indeed – the courts, how I earn my living, are hurting) and so am planning on doing some longer rides here in the next few weeks. Is that cool?
    OK to sweat!
  5. I also do a cycling blog so anything you’d like me to share about cycling, mountain biking, etc. here in Alpine Co. would be great. 
  6. Should I tell folks to stay away?
    Yes.
  7. Partake but be safe?
    No.
  8. The issue we are having is visitors coming to recreate, buying up gas supplies and groceries, pooping in public because restrooms are closed. We also do not have emergency services capability to handle accidents. Therefore, we are discouraging all visitors – not residents – from coming to Alpine County for recreation. That also violates the Governor’s order to stay at home.

So, there you have it. A bit of green light, red light. Another irony, unfortunately. We like visitors. Visitors like us. There’s no one around and even less traffic than usual. Sadly, it’s just not a good idea right now and we’re all suffering for it. I’m planning on re-doubling my efforts to help with that damn curve. Flatten baby, flatten! Save lives, stay home. Or perhaps: Save lives, stay away (works both ways as far as I’m concerned – We Markleevillians, and Bear Vallians, and Woodfordsians, need to stay the heck away from you too! Hey, I’ve seen this one before…How about: Save lives, ride a bike.

I like this one best: Stay Away – BUT just for little while; looking forward to seeing you one day soon!

Deathride Update

As this point, the Deathride – Tour of the California Alps, is a GO! As many of you know, tons of cycling events, including UCI races, have been canceled or postponed. I was going to ride the Wildflower Century in April in Chico, CA but it was canceled. The Truckee Dirt Fondo, on the other hand, scheduled for June 13th, emailed me to say it was a go. I suspect, based on the recent extension of the social distancing guidelines, that it might not fly, however. It’s hard to say at this point if “the DR” is going to go for sure but we here in Alpine Co. sure hope so. It’s our mainstay event and keeps our little Chamber solvent and more importantly it puts TONS OF DUCATS into our local economy, which relies primarily on tourism. Fingers crossed; the eternal optimist…We will of course be having that conversation soon and any updates will be forthcoming. In the meantime…

Please be well and do stay healthy and let’s all kick some viruses asses!

Jumping on the Gravel Train

I’ve taken my road bike off-road before but only for some “sectors” here and there, not for anything of decent length. So, this was my first true gravel ride experience and I was excited (and admittedly, a bit anxious). I’m blessed to be able to live, work and ride in the California Alps yet I also realize that I need to break things up a bit. Here was my gravelly opportunity to do just that!

Gravel i.e. sand, dirt and rocks, on Sierra Vista Lane. That’s the Carson Range to the right.

What Gravel Riding Isn’t

Coincidentally, I had just read the March/April issue of VeloNews and in it was an article entitled “Harder than Robaix,” by Andrew Hood (the article’s about the Strade Bianche). He writes: “Gravel racing has deep roots in Europe. In its earliest iteration, nearly all bike racing that wasn’t on a velodrome was held across gravel or cobblestone roads, simply because paved roads were a luxury at the turn of the last century.” Luxury, indeed. I realized immediately that I wasn’t in Kansas any longer.

Note to self: Gravel riding isn’t riding on nicely graded roads covered in decomposed granite. Yup, I was pretty naive but I had this picture in my head that this was not mountain bike riding on a road bike but was instead something much more civilized. That isn’t the case! At least not on this particular ride.

Jobs Peak and Jobs Sister, and other peaks of the Carson Range, as seen from Sunrise Pass Rd.

Setting Up the Bike

My faithful steed, Roscoe (named after an Italian Gentlemen – Roscoe Fanucci, because my Domane thinks he’s Italian) has been with me for many years and we’ve put in thousands of miles together. But, after getting an Emonda last year, I decided to convert Roscoe to a gravel bike. Really wouldn’t be too hard I thought. Not going to change out the fork or do anything too drastically complicated, so it’s really just about new tires and pedals, right?

Tubeless and Platform

Tubeless I thought for the former (my wheels were tubeless-ready after all) and as for the latter, my braddah suggested pedals that are clip-in on one side and platform on the other. Found a nice set of pedals at REI that fit the bill – Shimano EH500 SPD Sport Road Pedals. As for the tires, I’m thinkin’ hey, I run tubeless on my Fuel so I know what I’m doing. I’ve got Stan’s NoTubes and that injector thingy. I’ve done this before.

Not that Easy – the Tubeless Part That Is

So I ordered the stems and some Panaracer Gravel Kings. I should mention that the Domane is not a true gravel bike so my clearance is limited to 32mm in back and 35mm in front, which is what I set out to mount on my trusty stallion. The wheels had the right rim-tape on them and I put in the stems and got the tires on. As for the “tubeless but holding air part” I looked at the instructions and did what I could to interpret the petroglyphs, arrows and “cross-out, no you dufus” icons. I failed in the translation. I could not for the life of me get a seal on those tires! And, I reminded myself, I hadn’t done this before. I’ve added sealant to tires that the shop set up but I’ve never actually installed tubeless tires from scratch. So, after a couple tries I decided to cut my losses and I filled the tubes with Stan’s; I’ll seek expert advice from Jay at Big Daddy’s, or via YouTube.

Roscoe on the left and Chris’ steed (with Chris) on the right.
Photo taken at Riverview Park in Carson City, NV

Ready to Roll

Chris, our fearless leader, and I went with the hydration pack approach since we weren’t sure what to expect. Good call since we were out there for about five (5) hours. I also carried a couple bottles with Skratch’s Sport Hydration Mix (that stuff is awesome!). We packed some sandwiches and the obligatory gels and bars, too. We met at Riverview Park at about 10:00 a.m. (not too cold but not too hot either, we figured) and after the typical pre-ride prep. (that’s where Chris waits for me to get my shit together), off we went.

Definitely not a flat ride!

Gravel Riding is Challenging

But oh so fun. I giggled like a crazy-man while fish-tailing and sliding around in that sand. I was stoked that I was able to stay upright and power through, having never ridden in sand that deep, for so many miles. That all changed about two-thirds of the way through the ride, though. I became an uber-whiner (Chris was much more stoic and bore the pain silently). The terrain had become very challenging with some big ol’ rocks (some loose, some not), sand, mud, steep climbs and creek crossings. — Great suggestion on the pedals, by the way Scotty! — My lower back and glutes were screaming and I was kinda pissed off at myself that I hadn’t set my expectations properly; this was TRULY challenging. I am a strong cyclist after, all. This ca-ca, though, is different – mountain biking with a twist. Now I understand why cyclocross riders are true bad-asses! Roscoe, by the way, wasn’t challenged at all. He handled everything that was thrown at him. And those tires…I was blown away by their traction and durability!

The Light at the End of the Gravel

The sand was a kick (and meant that coasting was not an option); the climbs were made more difficult by that constant sucking feeling (I swear I heard sucking sounds), the rocks were scary but at the same time exhilarating when I cleared them, the creek-crossings (sorry, too tired to take pix at that point) were disconcerting, BUT IN THE END, it was a great day. Cycling (and gravel riding) is pain, right? If so, lots of weakness left my body. Seriously, though, I will do it again; especially now that I know what to expect, and what to bring: more GRIT, or dare I say…True Grit?)

All smiles AFTER our epic ride. Cold cervezas await.

Epilogue – How Do They Know That?

As it turns out, five days after the ride. I received an email from Bicycling. Subject line: Are you ready for gravel? Okay, that’s just too weird. From the email: “Thing is, gravel can also be hell, especially if you hit terrain you’re not expecting. To crush it, you not only need special equipment, but also a different kind of fitness, fueling, finesse, gear, and grit.”

Grit? If grit means stoically taking the pain and quietly dealing with all that’s thrown at you, I didn’t have that. Chris did. But, if grit is persevering, even if vocalizing a little (okay, a lot), then I DID HAVE THAT. Perhaps I need some more of that, I decided. I ordered the book. Should be here this week. Stay tuned for a review.

A Deathride Resurgence in the California Alps

Well, in case you don’t already know…It’s official! Registration is open for the 40th anniversary of the Tour of the California Alps (aka The Deathride)!

The Alpine Co. Chamber of Commerce, located here in Markleeville, CA, hosts and owns the ride, and this year, as I alluded to back in September, we’ve (full disclosure – I’m on the Board of Directors) decided to up our game, hence the tagline: “Deathride Resurgence.”

First and foremost, we’ve hired the Bike the West team! These are the same professionals that put on “America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride” and “Tour de Tahoe” so we are stoked! (I’ll be riding the former in June, by the way).

We’ve also inked a deal with Alta Alpina Cycling Club to host a training series of approximately five (5) different rides in the Deathride area. This club (it is based in Carson Valley – Lake Tahoe but members, including yours truly, do a lot of riding in Alpine Co.) does a lot of good works in the area (among other things they are one of our “Adopt-a-Highway” neighbors) and also has great experience putting on races and rides of their own, including the Alta Alpina Challenge.

As the only hard-core cyclist on the board, I’ve also been making it my mission to help my colleagues better understand why we cyclists do what we do and why we like what we like; I’ve been able to bring some of what I’ve learned doing organized rides over the years as well as share some insights about the Deathride course and the mountains that we climb.

15000 Feet of Elevation and 5 Categorized Climbs

Like I mentioned above, a change in terminology…We’ll still be climbing both sides of Monitor Pass, both sides of Ebbett’s Pass (albeit not all the way into Bear Valley – keep reading) and the eastern side of Carson Pass. In the past we referred each of these as passes but this year we’ve begun using the UCI lexicon – climbs. Technically, we only climb to three passes, right? We do, however, do five categorized climbs, four of which are hors catégorie (the other is a Cat. 1).

A Renewed Emphasis on Safety

With a strong(er) emphasis on safety this year, including more outreach to neophyte deathriders, we will make the ride even safer. We’re talking hay bales at risky corners (think Cadillac Curve), better signage, more robust outreach to non-riders, course marshals, safety talks and training, SAG and sweep support, HAM radio communications and staggered starts. For you early birds, including this guy, that means no more getting on the course at 3:30 a.m. The ride begins no earlier than 5:00 a.m.; we’ll have groups of riders departing every 15 minutes (you can pick your start time when you register). While we’ve got an excellent safety record, thanks to Curtis and Team, we’ll be even safer this year.

Other Route Options Being Explored

We had hoped to change the route this year to include Pacific Grade, and to remove Carson Pass. Unfortunately due to various concerns from CalTrans, local and state law enforcement, business owners, and others, we were not able to make it happen. Many riders have expressed support for this change and we appreciate that but currently there are so many logistical concerns we decided we needed to move on, at least this year. We’ll continue to work on it with the hopes that we can bring our neighbors to the southwest into the Deathride fold. Wouldn’t it be awesome to ride into Bear Valley or Lake Alpine next year? And, while Carson Pass is beautiful, I personally would much rather do a longer stretch of Highway 4 instead. Have some thoughts on this? Comment on this post or our Facebook page or better yet, bring your fine self and your voice to the ride this year and let us, and others, know how you feel. We’d love to hear from you!

You coming?

It’s a grueling and painful, yet amazing experience to do the Deathride. I’ve ridden it three (3) times yet only completed all the climbs one time (in 2017). In 2018 I was only able to complete three (3) climbs and last year, while I was the strongest I had ever been, I caught a nasty cough the day before the ride. Still, I was able to complete four (4) climbs: 7.5 hours on the bike, 10,433 feet of elevation and about 83 miles of distance. This year, I’m hoping to PR this bad boy and it would be great if you could join us too. Whether you’re all in and planning on doing all the climbs or doing fewer, I promise you’ll have fun and most importantly, you’ll learn a lot about yourself. And remember, there will be no cars on Monitor or Ebbett’s for most of the day – and that makes for an even more remarkable (dare I say mind-blowing?) experience.

I should also mention that we’re looking to up our game when it comes to food, fun and other amenities. Those things are still a work in progress so stay tuned for further updates but suffice it to say we’ve heard you, and our community, so it’s all on the table and our goal is to impress.

So, if you’ve joined us before, we’d love to have you back and if you haven’t and you’re looking for a world-class ride in a world-class setting, come and check it out. Alpine Co. would love to see you!

Some photos from past Deathrides

I’ll leave you all with some images that I’ve taken from past rides. Enjoy!

Oh and by the way, there’s been some confusion over the years about the relationship between California Alps Cycling and the Deathride. While the ride is near and dear to our (and mine) hearts, and were are both in Markleeville, California Alps Cycling is not affiliated with the Deathride.

A Walk on the Wildlife Side

As a follow up to my last post, and since we recently installed a wildlife camera here at California Alps Cycling HQ, I thought I’d regale you with some photos of the wild things that we see here in the California Alps.

Here’s “Yogi” in action!

This time of year we see more eagles than usual. While there are a couple regular mating pairs of baldies at two (2) of our local lakes, during the winter we tend to see more of them, as well as some Goldens (alas, no good pix of them yet) due to the calf-birthing that takes place nearby in Carson (aka Eagle) Valley. They are here for the after-birth (births?). Yeah, somewhat gross but I like the fact that the eagles don’t mind cleaning up after the mama-cows. I suspect the ranchers like it too – nothing worse than stepping in a gut-pile!

We’ve got a rafter of wild turkeys that hang out nearby too. While I am a hunter (and have taken one in the past) I don’t hunt anything here on the property – we enjoy the company too much. I can’t speak for the resident coyote(s) though.

Many people don’t know that if Benjamin Franklin had his way the wild turkey would be our national bird. While they are beautiful birds (and big too), and have the vision of an eagle, I personally think the Founding Fathers made the right choice.

Speaking of coyotes…There’s a sizable number of them here in Markleeville and they’ve been known to work together to take outdoor pets. Just last week we saw three (3) of them here at HQ just after dusk. Last summer, one of them took one of our neighbor’s chickens. They are wiley (pun intended) suckers.

Caught this guy on our wildlife camera just last week.
SQUIRREL!
Looks like it’s thinking about what to do next or perhaps trying to figure out where it put those pine nuts.

We’re pretty sure we’ve got a mountain lion in the area and so I’m hoping to get a shot of it soon. I’ll keep you posted!

We knew there were WILD animals here, no doubt, but to see them, or evidence of them, in person, makes it much more real. Have any photos of wildlife you’ve taken while on a ride or hike in the California Alps? Feel free to post them on our Facebook page (@bikedalps) if so!

Stay wild my friends, and ride safe!

A Walk on the Wild er…Urban Side

I do travel sometimes for my day job and most of the time when I do, I don’t take a bike. I do feel bad for leaving Blue, Bullitt or Roscoe II at home (yes, I name my bikes, don’t you?) but alas, when I’m off on a business trip, it is after all, about business. Add the fact that I often fly, and even when I don’t I’ve got, as I did on this most recent trip, several wardrobe changes, it just makes it a bit difficult to bring one of my faithful steeds and the gear that goes with it.

A good time to spend some time off the bike

But…it forces me, as I suspect it may with some of you, to focus on something else. If you’re like me, and most of my cycling/riding friends, than jumping on the bike is what we do. It’s easy, it’s familiar and most of all it’s what we love doing (almost more than anything else, I’m afraid). So, on this last trip, a pilgrimage from my home turf here in the California Alps, across the state to the North Bay, I made the best of it and partook of the local walking path near my hotel in San Rafael.

Near enough to the Pacific…

…to reap the benefits of fog, gulls — and their oh so familiar, and for me comforting, chortels, calls and caws. I grew up in the So. San Jose/Los Gatos area so gulls were always there it seemed. The smell of seaweed often hangs in the air too. Add the warmer temps, humidity and slow moving creeks or sloughs and that’s the environment where I found myself last week.

Urban yet wild

Off I went to enjoy what the locals get to enjoy every day. I was close enough to the Marin Civic Center to see the iconic spire (Frank Lloyd Wright designed the building) yet it felt like I was in the country, too. Every now and then, though, I was reminded that I was in the big city.

A SMART train makes it way through the area. Yup, I was not in Kansas, Dorothy.

Funny, after three-plus years in Markleeville I now refer to the areas where I lived as “the big city” and my family and I often joke that we’re hitching up the wagon to go into that big city.

The walk, though, was great reminder that no matter where one lives there are some wild things about and a chance to escape city-life, even when you’re in it.

Now that I’m back home, and the snow is coming tomorrow, I’m thinking snowshoe this weekend. It’s all about balance, right?

Cycling in Britain and France on the Same Day

I did it virtually, courtesy of FulGaz, but I guess it could be done physically via the Chunnel train (added to my list). I however rode in both countries last Sunday from the comfort (kinda) of my pain cave.

I got the idea after getting an email from FulGaz telling me that Alpe d’Huez was now available on their app. I had started it on Zwift one day last year but wasn’t able to finish – life got in the way. Then I had forgotten about it until my brother from another mother, and California Alps Cycling member, Scott Keno, did it (or shall I say “smoked it”) last week. Now Scotty is a freak of nature and so I knew there was no way I was going to even come close to his time but I thought I’d give it a whirl, until I realized I couldn’t figure out how to get there in that virtual Zwift world.

As it turns out, I was more into the solo, non-game ride anyway and having seen “the Alpe” so many times while watching the TDF I wanted to see and ride the real thing (or as real as it could be if I wasn’t on the actual pavement) not the cartoon version. So, rather than try to figure out the right path on Zwift, I went with the FulGaz version.

The summit looms – just over an hour into the climb.
At the top. Pretty cool, eh?

Okay, so you’re asking: “What about Britain?” Well, that was my warm up. I did the Tour of Britain 2019 Stage 6 Pershore iTT and it was a kick. Again, fun to see real roads, real trees and real cars (that can’t hit or door you).

‘Twas a bright and sunny day in Pershore!

So, when you can’t get outside, and you’re looking for an alternative to gamification, check out FulGaz and you too can ride in two (2) countries (or more) on the same day, or even the same morning! Happy New Year!

My combined stats from both rides…Perhaps you want to give it a whirl and see if you can do better?