Tougher test awaits Death Riders
By Steve Yingling
Tribune sports editor
If 129 miles and five passes totaling 16,000 feet of climbing isn’t arduous enough, the 24th Tour of the California Alps Death Ride has an extra test on Saturday.
Riders will have the option of a sixth pass – Blue Lakes Road – a 24-mile and 1,200-foot climb into the tranquil and eye-pleasing vegetation between Hope Valley and Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
Organizers added the extra mileage for the third time in the ride’s history because of the improved condition of Blue Lakes Road.
“One of the reasons is Blue Lakes Road is freshly paved and re-engineered,” said former course coordinator Jackie Johnson.
Johnson has relinquished her coordinating duties but will participate in the event Saturday morning.
“It’s time to pass the baton and get some new ideas in there,” said Johnson, who has been replaced by Joe Marzocco. “I just want to go out there and have a good day and see how it evolves.”
Johnson completed five passes for the first time last year.
As many as 3,000 cyclists will participate in the annual endurance ride that starts and ends at Turtle Rock Park near Markleeville. Riders have the option of completing one to six passes. Cyclists, however, won’t have to complete the sixth-and-extra pass to receive a coveted Death Ride pin.
The ride was started by former Markleeville resident Wayne Martin in 1980. Without any road closures and a limited numbers of volunteers, 15 riders took the challenge.
Now, cyclists eagerly put their names on a waiting list to be part of the ride. The Alpine County Chamber, which took over for Martin in 1982, selects 2,500 of the 3,000-rider field through a random computerized draw. The other 500 spots are filled by volunteers who have contributed two or more years to the event and corporate sponsors.
No more than 3,000 riders can be accommodated because the California Highway Patrol limits how many cyclists can be on the highways at once.
Anyone who didn’t get selected this year should focus on the 25th annual ride in 2005. Cyclists should go to deathride.com to enter the lottery before December.
With the cooperation of law enforcement agencies, ambulance services and 700 volunteers, riders can focus on the demanding challenges of ascending 8,730-foot Ebbett’s Pass and 8,573-foot Carson Pass. Getting volunteers isn’t any harder than signing up cyclists since the Alpine County Chamber disperses money to the 50 or so charities assisting with the ride.
“It has a life of its own,” said Sandy Baenen, who along with chamber executive director Teresa Burkhauser, coordinate the Death Ride from Alpine County’s end. “Everybody knows exactly what has to done and it just happens.”
Riders have to meet the required cutoff times to continue to the next pass. Staying hydrated and energized is less likely to become a problem, not with seven full rest stops and four water stops along the route.
Motorists planning to use Ebbett’s or Monitor passes on Saturday should delay travel or find alternative routes. State Route 4 over Ebbett’s Pass will be closed to all traffic from 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and State Route 89 over Monitor Pass to State Route 4 will shut down from 5:30 a.m. to noon.
“People like it because it’s very remote and it’s difficult for rides to take place where roads actually close,” Baenen said.
Festivities actually begin on Friday with a cycling expo. Vendors and various bicycle companies will set up shop to augment registration. Registration will take place from noon until 10 p.m., with the expo ending at approximately 7 p.m. A spaghetti feed to benefit the Alpine County Children’s Center will serve the cyclist’s carbo-loading needs.