Death Ride is all about personal achievement | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Death Ride is all about personal achievement

Dave Price, Tribune News Service

So, why would anyone want to attempt to ride their bicycle in the Death Ride – Tour of the California Alps?

To start with, the route covers a total of 129 miles and about 15,000 vertical feet of climbing, which includes the east and west slopes of 8,314-foot Monitor Pass, both slopes of 8,730-foot Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4 and finally 8,573-foot Carson Pass on State Route 88. Yet, nearly 3,000 cyclists will be out on the roadways of Alpine County on Saturday for the 29th anniversary of the Death Ride.

Cyclists of all ages turn out for this event – the 2008 field ranged from 11 to 81 – they come in all shapes and sizes, riding various road bicycles, tandem cycles, three-wheelers, single-speed and recumbents. The first riders will embark from Turtle Rock Park, located between Woodfords and Markleeville, and will be on the roads until the course is closed at 8 p.m.

The Death Ride is put on by the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce with the assistance of more than 700 volunteers.

“We couldn’t do it without the support of the county and support of all the nonprofit groups that help out … search and rescue, Tahoe Special Olympics, this year the Boy Scouts, and all the others,” said Teresa Burkhauser, who is in her eighth year as the event’s executive director. “This is one of the best-supported events you’re going to find anywhere.”

Here are some facts and figures. In 2008, a total of 4,263 people registered for the ride, although only 2,800 were selected to participate and 2,751 actually did the ride. Of those, 516 were women … participants came from across the nation and 19 came from outside the U.S. … and, despite afternoon thunder showers, 1,654 rode all five passes.

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One of the riders who went the full distance last year was Gary Clelan of Grass Valley, Calif., who will return for his second Death Ride on Saturday.

“I love it when I tell people I’m doing the Death Ride, and they look at me and say, ‘You’re crazy!'” Clelan said. “But after doing it one time, I can see why people do it year after year. It is a great event. People line the roads and sit out and clap and cheer as you ride by. The entire town, and county, turns out to support it.”

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 is a worthy achievement no matter how many passes a cyclist completes.

“I think my basic motivation was simply to see if I could do it. I wanted to find out if I could train myself to finish all five passes – 15,000 feet of elevation gain is no small task,” Clelan said. “And I had a great feeling of satisfaction when I got that little pin on top of Carson Pass.”

Oh, and there’s another reward for those who are successful in the final climb to the top of Carson Pass – everybody gets an ice cream.

Burkhauser estimates the event attracts about 6,000 people to Alpine County and the surrounding area, including Carson Valley and Lake Tahoe.

“I think it’s a great event … for the riders, for Alpine County and for the outlying areas,” Burkhauser said.

“It’s pretty overwhelming when you look out in the morning at the crack of dawn, look both east and west, and see car after car after car parked on the side of the road. It’s pretty amazing.”