Ride Report: Seven Deadly Centuries
(Thanks to Cordelia for the great idea on how to structure this story.)
(FAQ: did I sleep at all? No, the ~10 hours of non-moving time is just
eating/bio breaks/etc. It adds up.)
The idea for this ride came about a year ago. A coworker
of mine, Rupesh, mentioned that someone he knew (Giles) had
ridden the Death Ride and then ridden home the next day (Strava here). This was
also mentioned on the SF2G list in a thread Lurch started, entitled
"more challenges for peter colijn", in which I was "encouraged" to
ride to AND from the Death Ride, in addition to riding the ride itself.
So this time, I can honestly say the idea wasn't mine. I thought about
it a lot after that thread, though, and even briefly looked into routing to
see how far it would be and think about how long it would take. When
I realized I could, with a few "upgrades" to the route, make it a total
of 700 miles, I came up with the idea of calling the ride "seven deadly
centuries". And really, when you already have a Strava title in mind for
a ride almost a year in advance, you pretty much have to do it,
The only problem was that I really, really doubted I could actually do
it. At that time, my longest ride was 400 miles without much climbing,
and it had been a real struggle. Could I actually ride another 300 miles,
with way more climbing and probably a lot more heat? I was skeptical.
Overcoming that skepticism was largely possible due to my infatuation
and almost romantic obsession with the idea of this ride. And
although I had other reasons, my two other long rides this year
(the Devil Mountain Quadruple
and Davis Quintuple) were also,
in some sense, "training" for this ride: the quad to convince myself
that I could do distance and climbing, and the quin to work on more
Before heading out on Friday, I went to my local diner to grab a breakfast
burrito and then to Kahnfections
to pick up my 700 mile "gas tank" for the ride. Then quickly home to pack
up the food and roll out.
I rolled at about 0915, and was feeling pretty good. The ride up to Point
Reyes Station went smoothly, and I stopped there for a bio break and some
food. I then made my way over to Petaluma and on to Napa. By the time
I reached Napa, it was quite warm and I wanted some cold drinks for the
ride over to Winters on CA-128. I bought some Cokes and continued on to
Silverado Trail and then CA-128. It was interesting to see this stretch
during the day; I had ridden it twice before, but always at night.
By the time I reached Winters, my stomach was bothering me. I had
been drinking a lot of Coke, sometimes quickly, and it was probably
too much. The upset stomach made it hard to eat, but I knew I had
to try. I stopped for a while to get more drinks and eat, though
I couldn't eat as much as I probably needed to. I decided to keep
moving and rode straight through Davis and on to Sacramento. I felt
a bit better once I was back on the road, and it was starting to cool
down a bit, which helped as well.
As I made my way through Sacramento at dusk, I happened upon a Black
Lives Matter protest. Upon seeing this, I felt pretty stupid. With all
the things that had been going on, here I was on a narcissistic quest to
prove.. what? As it is with pretty much anything athletic, no matter
what one does, there is always someone else who has done 10x more. So
really, even if I succeeded at this ride, it wouldn't be the
most/best/longest/whatever of anything. Of course, if I followed that
line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, I'd never ride my bike (or
indeed do anything else) at all; by definition, only one person gets to
be "the best" at something. The rest of us are condemned to mediocrity.
I reflected on that, and on how ridiculously indulgent this whole
endeavor was. I managed to find, simultaneously, both comfort and axiety
in the notion that whatever happened, whether I finished the ride or
not, it wasn't really very important in the grand scheme of things.
During this somewhat melancholy thought process, I came across a Starbucks
that was still open and decided to load up on caffeine before leaving
civilization and starting the climb up to Markleeville. I chugged a large
(sorry, Venti) iced coffee and filled a bottle with more.
I was about to be confronted by another major arrogant misstep: the
climb. I had thought about it when planning the ride, and figured that
since the climb was so long, the average gradient could only be about 2%
or so, and that it would therefore be a very pleasant and relatively
speedy affair. That turned out to be incredibly wishful thinking: the
climb actually rolled a lot, so of course the actual climby bits were
steeper. It also climbs to 8,000 feet, descends to 6,000 and then
back up to 8,500 (Carson pass) before descending back down to 5,000
ish at the start/finish. In short: I Murphy'd myself.
This part of the ride was also the first part where I didn't really know
the way, so I was relying on my Garmin for navigation. I made
ridewithgps routes, but when they get longer than about 200km, you need
to use a special sub-sampling option, or the Garmin won't have enough
memory to process the route when it starts up. As a result, my routes
weren't very accurate and the bloody thing was constantly beeping "off
course", "course found" and so on every few minutes. I had gotten so
accustomed to ignoring it that I did actually miss a turn, and ended up
pretty far off my intended route. Luckily, a few minutes after I
realized this I entered a small town (Mt. Aukum I think) with a bar that
was still open (it was about midnight at this point)! I went inside and
asked them how to get to Markleeville. They were, um, surprised!
Bartender 1: "You're going to Markleeville? On your bike? You know
it's far, right?"
Bartender 2: "He can do it. Look at him!" (not sure what he meant;
I must have looked like shit at this point)
Bartender 1: "You're going now?"
Me: "yeah, I need to get there by morning"
Bartender 2: <tells me where to go>
Bartender 1: "You have lights, right?"
Me: "yep, thanks!"
I followed the bartender's route and it did eventually take me over to
CA-88, which is where I wanted to be. The climbing was pretty slow-going.
I was tired and just didn't have my normal climbing legs. At one point
the road turned to shit; the asphalt was "scraped" off, in preparation for
re-surfacing. I hit a bump and got a flat. Fuck. I really did not
feel like fixing a flat at this point. With my front light in my mouth,
I searched fruitlessly for the source of the puncture or pinch. Pumping
up the dead tube, I found a few spots where I could feel air coming out,
but the punctures were so small I couldn't actually see them. I also
couldn't find anything poking through the tire, so I just gave up and
swapped in a new tube. This seemed ok, since it lasted for the rest of
It was at this point that I began to seriously question whether I had
finally bitten off more than I could chew with this ride. I still had
another 80km or so to go to the start after fixing my flat, and time
was not on my side; most of it was climbing.
I slogged through it and made it to the start just before 0700. That
was way later than I wanted; I was planning to get there between
0530 and 0600. I still had to get my number, and the registration
actually closed at 0700, so I was at risk of missing that. Luckily
they were still open. I got the number, put it on, chugged 3 or 4
cups of coffee and then rolled out.
The Death Ride talks about having "five" passes, but there are
really only three: Monitor Pass, Ebetts Pass and Carson Pass. You
do five climbs by climbing the first two twice, from different
As I made my way up the first approach to Monitor, there were a lot
of folks descending, having already done the first and second
approaches to the summit. I was worried about how far back I was, but
continued on. When I reached the summit, I noticed a bunch of cut off
times, and while I was easily within the cut off time for the first
approach, I was pretty worried about the second. It turns out the
cut off times were not very strictly or consistently enforced. At some
points, the "ascend X" cut off would refer to the last time you
could start the ascent; at others, it would refer to the time
by which you needed to finish.
This inconsistency, combined with how close I was to some of the times,
caused me a significant amount of stress and worry. Eventually I
decided to relax and not worry about the cut off times, and just ride
the course by myself if I ended up missing a cut off. After the third
climb (Ebetts #1), which had been annoyingly "breezy", I decided to
really stop and take a break at the rest stop. I sat down in a camping
chair and drank a Pepsi (no Coke, sadly) slow enough that it didn't upset
my stomach further, ate a bunch of food, and left feeling much better.
I finished Ebetts #2 and the following descent pretty quickly, and
decided to stop in the actual town of Markleeville for lunch, since
the ride lunch was not veg-friendly (BBQ tri-tip or something; it
was probably good, just not for me). I found a little sandwich shop
and had a grilled cheese and a massive iced coffee before heading
off for the final ascent.
I had already ridden the stretch of road between the start/finish
and the Carson summit, in the opposite direction, on my way in. It had
been quite a nice descent. However, as soon as I made the left turn
from CA-89 on to CA-88, the wind was fierce. I'll dispense with
all of the normal euphemisms here: it wasn't "breezy", it wasn't
"drafty", it wasn't "blustery". It was just downright fucking windy.
I'm not sure what it was (perhaps the recent and significant infusion
of caffeine) but I seemed to be slogging through it slightly better
than most, and ended up passing quite a few people to reach the summit
within the cutoff by a comfortable margin.
It was definitely cool at the summit, and after checking in I didn't
waste much time there before turning around to head back to the
start/finish. Unbelievably, there were people there eating ice cream!
Maybe that was nice for the leaders who finished early afternoon, but
I couldn't imagine eating ice cream at this point; it wasn't exactly
late, but the rest stop area was shaded due to the surrounding hills.
When I got to the finish, I felt like taking another decent break; I
wanted to get some food and order a jersey, and also needed to swap
lights and re-apply ye olde chammy cream. While I was eating, I sat
next to some folks who had come all the way from Eugene, Oregon for
the ride. They had enjoyed it and were happy to have finished. I was
glad I didn't have to ride all the way to Eugene, but San Francisco
still seemed far.
As I was getting ready to roll out, I saw everyone else loading their
bikes into cars, trucks, and SUVs and I couldn't help feeling a bit
jealous. How nice would it be to pass out in a car while somebody
else drove me home, or to just go pass out in a hotel? Sadly, that
was not to be. Instead, I had another gruelling headwindy ascent
of Carson Pass ahead of me, followed by 120km of night descending.
It would not be easy.
The second (or third, if you count my approach from Sacramento) ascent
up Carson didn't seem as bad as the previous one. Perhaps I was just
more mentally prepared for how much it was going to suck, or perhaps
the wind really wasn't as bad. Pretty close to the summit, a CHP car
stopped me and asked if I had seen anyone walking along the road.
"Just a few deer" was my attempt at a humorous response. They seemed
unimpressed but didn't bother me further.
Shortly after that encounter, an SUV whose driver had also ridden that
day pulled up along side me and offered a ride. I have to admit, it
was tempting. But somehow I mustered the willpower to decline
and say that I was good.
I rolled through the summit and on to the descent, the first part of
which would be short-lived: from this point I would drop below 6,000
feet but then have to climb back up above 8,000 before starting the
"real" descent. After that "roller", it became incredibly challenging
for me to maintain my focus. Every few minutes I could feel myself
starting to nod off, and I would shake myself awake to keep going
some more. I stopped several times to eat, and that always helped as
This was also where I made my second navigational error. My route
said the next turn was some huge distance away, so I hadn't been
giving much thought to the constant "off course", "course found"
beeps. It turns out there was an intersection where I had to make
a right turn to stay on CA-88, and going straight was the wrong
move. I guess because this counted as staying on the same road,
the ridewithgps route didn't have a turn notification for it, and
I totally missed it. I had to back-track about 10km uphill as a
When I finally popped out into the flat valley, I was desperately
in need of something to warm me up. I found a gas station and had
two hot chocolates and a coffee, and started to feel a lot more awake
now that the sun was up again.
As I made my way through Sacramento and on to Davis and then Winters, it
warmed up quickly. By the time I was through Winters it was downright
hot. It was hot enough that I'll again dispense with the euphemisms: it
was not "warm", it was a fucking oven. My Garmin temperature maxed out
at 37C, but I swear it must have been hotter in the sun and on the black
tarmac. The 62km on CA-128 over to Silverado Trail was pretty miserable
and slow-going as a result. I really suffer in the heat in general, but
especially at this point in the ride when I was already so tired, it was
brutal. I went through 2 liters of Gatorade in that 62km, and it didn't
really seem to help.
When I finally rolled in to Napa, I hit up a gas station for more cold
drinks. They also had ice cream, and that seemed like a fantastic idea.
I imagine I must have been an odd sight, splayed out on the sidewalk
outside the convenience store in my now-filthy kit, scarfing down my
ice cream sandwich like someone who hadn't eaten in a week.
It was still hot as I rolled out of Napa and on to Petaluma. Petaluma
was a huge milestone for me: from there, I would feel relatively "close"
to home, having done that ride many times before. Unfortunately, the
ride over to Petaluma seemed way longer, windier and climbier than I
remember, and I became increasingly frustrated and even angry with
myself for being so slow and struggling so much on this "easy" part of
When I finally rolled in to Petaluma, I had an idea: I would check my
total distance so far, and see if I could get away with taking a shorter
route home. Because of my navigational errors earlier in the ride, I had
a bit more distance than I had originally planned. Adding up all the
rides I had recorded on my Garmins, and using Google Maps to estimate a
few different routes, I determined I could take Lurch's normal route
back instead of going all the way through Point Reyes, and still end up
with over 700 miles. The laziness would save me at least an hour, which
seemed pretty good right about then.
The Lurch route back from Petaluma has 4 little climbs before
entering Fairfax: D street, Fromage, Red's and White's. As I made
my way out of town, I kept repeating "D, Fromage, Red's, White's"
in my mind. Mercifully, dusk was approaching and it was finally
starting to cool down. Because I know this route so well, there wasn't
anything unexpected and I made it to Fairfax in fairly good spirits,
It got dark as I was doing the crap miles from Fairfax to the bridge,
and like an idiot I hadn't bothered to charge my lights during the
day, figuring that of course I would be home before dark! My
front light was dying, and while I had the other one charging it would
be a while before it would be usable. As a result, I was trying to use
the front light sparingly, only when I needed it. Fortunately it lasted
all the way through Camino Alto and some of the dark stretches of the
Mill Valley bike path.
When I finally got to the bridge, I was beat. I was kind of excited to
finally be back, but mostly I was just tired. So tired that even the
ride home from the bridge seemed like a dubious endeavor. My butt was
also not happy with me, and I rode all the way from the bridge to
Bernal out of the saddle.
As I made my final slog up Anderson to my house, I noticed Christine
at the corner! She had been using the Google equivalent of stalk my
friends to see my progress, and had come outside to see me roll in.
It was a most welcome sight.
Finally at home, I hit the shower, embrocation cream and food HARD
before uploading the Stravas and heading to bed. Sadly I would only
have about 6 hours of sleep before heading off to work the next
morning, but I didn't even think about riding.