Death Ride doesn’t live up to name |

Death Ride doesn’t live up to name

Chris Matthews of Redwood City, Calif. flies along Highway 89 outside of Markleeville Saturday during the Death Ride.
Brad Coman / |

A festive atmosphere prevailed on Saturday as waves of cyclists passed through Markleeville to the cheers from dozens of spectators, many clanging cowbells.

Welcome to Death Ride, Tour of the California Alps, which celebrated its 35th anniversary with more than 3,000 riders of all ages, sizes and riding every imaginable type of bike on Alpine County’s roadways under sunny and near ideal weather conditions.

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 in a test of endurance and of personal goals hosted by the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce.

A group of about 15 Pedal Addicts club members from San Jose, Calif., returned to continue what has turned into a traditional July experience. The riders were accompanied by an entourage of about two dozen supporters who set up in Markleeville to support their riders — and others who passed by.

“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.

“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 the way it’s run, we just love the way it’s organized,” he added when asked about the Death Ride’s attraction.

Those sentiments held up the following day, too.

“We had a blast and all of our riders finished five passes,” Micael noted in an email on Sunday.

Keeping with its reputation as a unique event, the Death Ride attracted at least 13 elliptical bicycles, which weighs 40 pounds with 20-inch wheels and a standing rider whose running-like motion powers the bicycle. Those ElliptiGO Inc. riders included retired American running legend Mary Decker Slaney.

Slaney, 56, a four-time U.S. Olympian and two-time world champion from Eugene, Ore., pulled into the Woodfords aid station in the early afternoon focused on her goal to ride the five-pass distance. At that time, four passes were behind her, with a daunting ascent of Carson Pass still to go.

“I haven’t done the last one yet,” she said, flashing a smile.

So, why the Death Ride?

“There are about 12-15 of us ElliptiGO people riding … it’s just kind of a challenge,” she said.

Jesus Peinado, 41, of Denver completed two passes before his first attempt at the Death Ride was cut short near Turtle Rock Park. As it turns out, he found out before starting that he had not brought his cycling shorts.

“I planned to do all five, but not today,” he said, adding with a laugh. “I’m disappointed I forgot my shorts. But this is all my tail can handle. You can only suffer so much before you just get on the SAG (Support And Gear vehicle), and I don’t SAG.”

Riding both sides of daunting Monitor Pass — especially the 3,000-foot-plus climb from the Nevada side — is still a considerable achievement.

“For 240 pounds, I would say so,” Peinado said.

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 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).”

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