All lights are green for 3,000-plus participants who will take to Alpine County roadways Saturday for the 36th annual Death Ride, Tour of the California Alps.
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 attracts participants from across the nation and world.
A variety of weather — from extreme heat to a snow flurry or two — has challenged cyclists over the years. Saturday’s forecast calls for sunshine, a high of 73 degrees and wind in the 18 mph range.
Five-pass riders start from Turtle Rock Park (above Woodfords on Highway 89) between 5 and 6:30 a.m. Riders have options of trying anywhere from one to five passes, however, all participants are required to complete their rides by 8 p.m.
The course includes both sides of Monitor and Ebbetts to create a five-pass challenge.
This 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 Death Ride attracts cyclists of all ages, shapes and sizes, and riding every imaginable type of bikes — both foot and hand powered.
Pedal Addicts club members from San Jose, Calif., have turned the Death Rider into a traditional July experience.
“It’s a family group … the whole family has been coming up for over five years just to camp and get ready for this event,” Ricky Micael said in Markleeville during the 2015 Death Ride. “It’s a well-known special event worldwide. We just come here to try it and see what we can do, the beautiful scenery and we just love the way it’s organized.”
Unique ride? At least 13 elliptical bicycles were part of last year’s Death Ride. Elliptical bicycles — which typically weigh 40 pounds with 20-inch wheels — are powered by a standing rider using a running-like motion.
ElliptiGO had 13 riders in 2015 and CEO Bryan Pate said that the company has had participants in the Death Ride since 2009.
The elliptical trainer “delivers a high-performance workout experience that closely mimics running outdoors while eliminating the impact,” according to the ElliptiGO website.
While Death Ride participants regard this as a special event, so do the 700-plus volunteers who work behind the scenes to help make the event run smoothly and safely. Mike Gard, who has been involved with the Eastern Alpine Fire and Rescue aid station at Woodfords for 15 years, explained last year that there is no place he would rather be.
“We always look forward to coming out here. It’s as much a highlight for us as it is for them (the participants),” Gard said. “This is a fun place to be. We have a lot of people here after they’ve done four passes. We keep the music going, just a little something to help them get up that last hill (to Carson Pass).”