Extreme weather — heat, rain, sleet, maybe even a snow flake or two — have challenged cyclists over the years during the Death Ride, Tour of the California Alps.
Having recently survived another type of weather-related challenge posed recently when the lightning-ignited Washington Fire burned 17,790 acres near Markleeville, all lights are now green for 3,000-plus participants to take to Alpine County’s roads Saturday for the 35th annual Death Ride.
Hosted by the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce, the Death Ride features 129 miles and 15,000 feet of climbing over 8,314-foot Monitor, 8,730-foot Ebbetts and 8,580-foot Carson passes. Coupled with the scenic beauty of Alpine County, the event annually attracts participants from across the nation and world.
“Everything is business as usual,” said Mark Phillips, an Alpine County Chamber of Commerce board member. “All of the agencies have done a tremendous job of getting everything ready … they’ve given us the two thumbs-up, and we’re happy to have it.”
Five-pass riders will begin departing from Turtle Rock Park between 5 and 6:30 a.m. Riders have options of trying anywhere from one to five passes, however, all participants are required to finish by 8 p.m.
The Death Ride is a worthy achievement no matter how many passes a cyclist completes, and that doesn’t take into account weather conditions which can test riders.While afternoon thundershowers have been normal for more than a week, the National Weather Service forecast for Saturday calls for temperatures in the mid-70s and mostly sunny with 20 percent chance of rain.
By comparison, look at the contrast during a two-year stretch in 1992 (heavy rain and about a dozen cases of hypothermia treated) and 1993 (sunny and 90 degrees). Then again, there’s no denying the scenic Sierra views and difficulty of riding those mountain passes. That’s why the Death Ride attracts cyclists of all ages, shapes and sizes, and riding every type of bike.
Reputation of the Death Ride has spread around the world.
“There is a group of about a dozen riders from Japan that comes here every year,” Phillips said. “They have an entourage that usually sets up across from the Chamber office (in Markleeville). They cheer for all the riders, but they’re particularly loud whenever their riders pass by.”
This is not a race, but rather a test of endurance and of personal goals. Not everyone rides the 129-mile distance, either, because participants have their choice of one-, two-, three- four- and five-pass options. The course includes both sides of Monitor and Ebbetts to create a five-pass challenge.
Phillips said he has never participated in the Death Ride, but has ridden sections of the route and also worked various aid stations (more than 700 volunteers contribute to this event). He describes it as a special and unique event.
“It is special in a variety of ways,” he said. “One, it is a key event for the county. And two, it is unique, a bragging rights or coming-of-age type event. It’s always fun to be part of. I know I always enjoy talking to all the people. It’s amazing because you see people of all ages, from teens to people in their 80s.”
Riders this year will have views of the Washington fire damage along highways 4 and 89 above Markleeville.
“My guess, it’s under 10 miles where you’re in burn areas,” Phillips said. “Once you start climbing, it’s gorgeous. But to see the destruction fire causes is sobering, for sure.”
Cleanup has been done, including removal of trees that were burned near roadsides, he added.
“All of the agencies involved have done a tremendous job getting everything ready, not only for the riders but for people who drive those roads,” Phillips said.