Roger Heath passes test in Death Ride

Roger Heath says he has respect for anyone who completes any part of the Tour of the California Alps endurance bicycle ride in Alpine County.

And any of the participants in the 23rd annual Tour of the California Alps -- also known as the "Death Ride" -- can appreciate Heath's achievement of riding his yellow GT mountain bike into Turtle Rock Park late Saturday morning. Even though the 50-year-old Carson City man fell halfway short of his goal to ride four mountain passes, he did negotiate both sides of Monitor (8,314 feet) in the non-competitive event.

A capacity field of 2,750 riders participated in Saturday's event, coordinated by the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce and the Alta Alpina Cycling Club and assisted by more than 700 volunteers.

"It's always fun and a challenge," said Heath, who rode in the Tour for the second year in a row.

Despite missing his quadruple pass ride goal, Heath feels fortunate to ride at all. You see, it was just three years ago he had quadruple bypass surgery.

"Thank goodness for modern medicine," Heath said.

The comeback has been complete for the 1971 Carson High School graduate, who rode in the Tour last year and finished all five passes -- Monitor, Ebbetts (8,730) and Carson (8,574). Riding any one of those passes is an achievement in itself, according to Heath.

"I think it's a pretty good accomplishment for anybody," he said. "I have respect for anybody who can do even one pass."

Heath, who works as global project manager for Bently Nevada in Minden, renewed his fitness regimen in 2000 and felt good about the way the program was going.

Then came a big shock.

"A friend of mine, one of my neighbors, beat me on a bike ride up this hill one night," Heath said. "I remember thinking that my lungs were burning, but I figured it was just one of those things where I was hurting more because I was getting older."

Instead, it was a warning sign. Another came a few days later.

"My wife and I took our dog out for a walk and after we went up a slight incline, I got this shortness of breath. I realized then that it wasn't the side of my chest that was burning, it was the center ... my heart," Heath said. "I called my doctor the following Monday, which was actually a big mistake. I should have admitted myself to emergency right away. Some people may think when you have a heart problem, you have intense pain, but that's not always the case."

Heath vividly remembers April 4, 2000 as the date he had quadruple bypass surgery. He also well remembers the doctor's advice afterward.

"The doctor told me I needed to exercise and he said walking and riding a bicycle were the best way to do it," Heath said.

But riding a mountain bike on a 129-mile route known as the Death Ride?

"There was some peer pressure," said Heath, who was part of a 75-member Bently corporate team that participated in the event Saturday.

Bently has fielded a team and been a sponsor of the Death Ride each of the last four years. The influence at work helped motivate him to try it in the first place.

"A couple of people told me some things that helped me feel more confident going in," Heath said. "One was that if you can get through the training, the Death Ride is doable."

The five-pass route measures 129 miles and includes 16,000 feet of vertical climbing. Heath finished his ride last year in 13-and-a-half hours.

"I remember my first training attempt last year. I did Monitor from the river side, got up to Heenan Lake, looked up the road to the top and didn't think I was going to make it," Heath said.

He did succeed in reaching the summit.

"I just kind of persevered," Heath said.

That's what the Tour of the California Alps is all about. This is no race, but rather a test of personal satisfaction on one of the nation's most challenging cycling routes.

Heath was out on the road at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, but after ascending Monitor twice, he realized enough was enough on a hot summer day. He ended his ride by 11 o'clock.

"It was a little hot, but everything seemed to get to me," Heath said. "I changed my seat and maybe that caused some problems with my legs and feet. Maybe I didn't have enough training; my wife pointed out that I was pretty intense with my training last year -- six days a week, I rode and rode -- whereas I was more lackadaisical this year. Whatever happened, I decided to call it quits and realize what I did last year was even more remarkable."

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