Death Ride heats up
Many average Joes would say the Death Ride set for Saturday lives up to its name by resembling Dante’s Inferno — especially during this year’s heat wave.
But when Mike Pate, 41, climbs five passes gaining 16,000 feet in elevation over 129 miles, he’s counts on a higher source.
“For me, it’s a faith thing. It’s not relying on just my strength. It takes God’s strength,” Pate said of his mind-set Thursday.
And then for others there’s another goal: the treasured Death Ride pin.
A successful Death Ride may also take some help from Mother Nature. Record temperatures over the last few days have sent people indoors for air conditioning, to cafes for ice cream and into swimming pools to chill out.
Death Ride organizer Jackie Johnson, with the Alta Alpina Cycling Club, expects to see more riders this year dipping their heads in the Carson River at Pickett’s Junction, reaching into their coolers for ice and making the water stations popular gathering places.
Johnson has arranged to bring more water, ice and a (SAG) support vehicle on the course for those who feel they can’t continue, need to drink more or have some other difficulty.
The ride’s history dictates the cycling club and sponsor, the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce, be prepared for hail, rain, thunder and lightning.
Four years ago, the challenging event was rained out when riders were forced to turn around between Ebbett’s and Monitor passes, Pate recalled.
“When the rain comes down, the temperature can drop 40 to 45 degrees on Ebbett’s Pass, and it can snow,” the Meyers man said.
Pate is ready to ride in whatever weather is dished out.
To train, he rides 150 to 200 miles a week with an average 12,000- to 15,000-foot elevation gain. He starts road training in March.
During the winter months, he sets up a Performance wind trainer to keep his bike stationary at Ponderosa Glass with buddy Randy Volkmar.
He also cross trains with weights.
Pate began riding 15 years ago after injuring his ankle during a softball game. He played on a team for Raley’s, where he is the assistant drug center director for the Crescent V location.
His doctor told him to take up the sport as therapy.
Even though softball was his primary sport, he never returned to it because of his unanticipated love for cycling.
“I grew up on baseball. A bicycle was something you just got around on,” he said.
Pate said he enjoys long-distance cycling because it’s a way of challenging himself.
That’s precisely what he’s done by completing all five passes on two Death Rides — one six years ago and another last year.
His time has improved from riding 11 hours the first time to 2001’s 9-1/2-hour personal best. He’ll ride a $3,600 Trek 5500, the model Lance Armstrong rode in the Tour de France in 2000.
“Hopefully I’ll do better this year,” Pate said.
Many entrants who scored a spot through the ride’s first lottery this year live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Pate, one of 2,700 who have signed up from the 6,000 applicants, believes living at high altitude will give him an advantage.
Death Ride participants have relied on each other for morale and mechanical support, keeping with the spirit of a “fun ride,” a term that may seem like an oxymoron to couch potatoes.
Pate’s favorite part of the ride involves food — ice cream bars doled out at the top of Carson Pass.
The toughest point comes up at about mile 90 when riders, after completing four passes, pass the starting and ending point at Turtle Rock Park. The thought of bailing where their vehicles are parked can be overwhelming.
Beyond the prospect of resting, Pate usually harbors fantasies of energy drinks, water and V8 used to replenish salt that is waiting for him in his ice-filled cooler.
“By that time, you think you don’t have it in you,” Pate said.
His advice to first timers is simple.
“The important thing is, pace yourself and eat and drink a lot. Don’t pass any rest stop without stopping,” he said.