Death Ride -- a truly unique experience

ALPINE COUNTY, Calif. -- Participants in the 21st annual Death Ride -- Tour of the California Alps on Saturday came in all shapes and sizes. They were riding various road bicycles, tandem cycles, even a few three-wheelers. There were 2,700 cyclists overall, and they came for various reasons.

For example, Jill Hetherton of Gardnerville wanted to find out first-hand what the Death Ride was all about.

"I've always heard of the Death Ride and I'd always thought, 'What an impossible thing to do.' Then we started riding bicycles about three years ago and I thought, 'What a fun thing to do,'" said Hetherton, a Douglas High School teacher who rode the 40-mile distance from Turtle Rock Park to the summit of Monitor Pass and back with her husband, Rich Torok. "We went on rides around Lake Tahoe and some other rides, so then I said I'd like to try one pass.

"It was a lot of fun," she added. "I'd love to come back and try Ebbetts some time. It looks like the prettiest pass, the way it winds through the trees. But Monitor was beautiful, too."

The event is sponsored by the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce, co-produced with the Alta Alpina Cycling Club and the assistance of more than 700 volunteers.

"We could not do this without all the help," said Jackie Johnson, who has served as Death Ride Coordinator for three years. "A lot of pride goes into putting this ride on. Almost 50 percent of the (Alta Alpina) club members volunteer over eight hours. Some of them even take vacation time to help out. People that go out and do rides know what it takes; that's one of the secrets to our success, along with having various other volunteer groups come out and man certain spots."

This is not a race, but rather a test of personal goals. And contrary to its name, no fatalities were reported Saturday, although there were understandably some tired riders on the road. The 2,700 entrants had their choices of one-, two-, three- four- and five-pass options. The five-pass route covered a total of 129 miles and about 16,000 vertical feet of climbing. It also included two ascents over 8,314-foot Monitor Pass (both the east and west slopes), 8,730-foot Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4 (both sides) and finally Carson Pass.

Support for the ride was evident everywhere on a day when temperatures rose into the 90s, though conditions cooled off later in the day when clouds gathered overhead and showered for a brief time.

In Markleeville, spectators sat on the lawn at the Alpine County Courthouse and cheered for riders as they passed by, while another group of spectators was seated in front of the J. Marklee Toll Station.

Then there was the Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care, Inc., support station in Woodfords, where volunteers wore Hawaiian shirts and leis. Tom Millham and Kirk Gillaspey were there to greet the riders, and to point out that only Carson Pass remained to conquer.

"Showers on the right, ice water on the left ... No line, no waiting ... Carson Pass straight ahead," they called out.

Hetherton and Torok were part of a contingent of 85 Bently Nevada riders who rode in the event. Jeremee Wetherby, an engineer for GE Power Systems, traveled from Atlanta as part of a business trip -- and to do the Death Ride's 40-mile Monitor Pass leg.

"The vice-president for engineering at Bently (Randy Chitwood) is a big bike guy and I used to ride all the time in college, so he talked me into doing this. Unfortunately, there's no places in Atlanta to train, so I came out a week early to try and get used to the elevation.

"I went up half of Monitor on Tuesday and said, 'I'm in deep trouble.'"

The heat and humidity even seemed mild in comparison to the dry climate of the Sierra.

"I've got to drink water constantly to just survive, where in Atlanta, they've got all the humidity in the air. You can actually drink for the air there," he said.

The Death Ride was a family affair for Carson City's Dennis Pederson and his son Andrew, who completed the five-pass ride together for the second year in a row. They finished in 11 hour and 20 minutes, an improvement by nearly two hours from last year.

"It went much better this year ," said Andrew, 17, who used this ride to prepare for his senior cross country season at Carson High School. "It's still not easy. You can always be better prepared, but it's always painful. Right now, I'm hurting in places that can't be printed."

The ride makes for a great family outing.

"It's great," said Dennis Pederson, who was in his third Death Ride. "There's nothing like spending 12 hours with your son in an endurance event."


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