Son of Death Ride 2009

Garmin Connect:

In 2006 I registered for the Son of Death Ride, but when I got to the start I found out the ride had been cancelled at the last minute due to problems getting a permit from the Forest Service.  I wound up riding the route anyway with 3 other guys.  One guy abandoned, but three of us finished unofficially.  Back then the route started near the Kern River and went over the mountain to route 395 and back.  It was incredibly hard.

In 2009, the Son of Death Ride is BACK!  This is one finishing medal I had earned in 2006 and REALLY wanted, so I went back to do it again.  This time the route was reversed, starting at Route 395 and headed to the Kern River and back.  It’s an easier route overall.  The route change meant the majority of climbing came in the first half.  The temperature at the Kern River would be less than the high desert floor at route 395.  And there would be a tail wind, instead of a head wind for the return.

Leo made the trip to Ridgecrest with me.  That is one LONG drive!  We left a bit late on Friday, but once again, my lead foot got us into town at 7pm, an hour before registration closed at 8pm.  But we spent 1/2 hour driving around town looking for the brand new Marriot suites that wasn’t on any of our GPS systems yet (my car, my Sprint phone or Leo’s Verizon phone).  We had some really good pizza for dinner before heading to our hotel for bed.  We were up at 4:15 am to get ready, have a quick Denny’s breakfast, then head over to the start.

It was still quite dark out while I prepared to leave.  Cyclists could leave as early as 5:30, but I didn’t get checked-out and start rolling until 5:55.  There was a full moon out and it didn’t take long before the sun started to lighten the sky.  The ride starts with an immediate climb up 9 mile canyon.  A long climb with an average 7% grade.  Because of the knee problems I’ve had recently, my plan was to take all the climbs slow and easy, using the 30×27 granny gear on my Calfee.  It was a slow, easy spin to the top with that gear!  I think I probably averaged around 5 mph!

I really need to start bringing a camera along for these rides.  The view with that full moon hitting the top of the mountains was impressive.  When the road turned and I could look back, there were rows of mountain ranges with low lying smoke from the CA fires that were also very picturesque.

There was a water stop at the top of 9 mile canyon followed by 4 or 5 miles of continued climbing.  This is a “no middle ring” type ride.  The hills are steep, so I was either crawling up in my granny gear, or flying down in my big ring.  At the top of the first major climb, there’s a discouraging 5 mile descent.  Discouraging because this is an out-and-back ride, so I’d have to climb that 5 miles after 120 miles of hard riding!

20 miles into the ride is a small community with a country store, but I didn’t need anything and kept plugging along, with another long 6-8% climb that went for about 5 miles.  There was another water stop half way up that, so I stopped for a coke and some snacks.  But I didn’t stay too long.  It was nice and cool riding in the pines and even using my granny gear most of the time I felt like I was making pretty good time.

There were two long descents before we started the last climb up to Sherman pass.  I tried to keep track of the descents and how long they were so I’d be mentally prepared for them on the return.  The route peaks at 9,200 feet  — it was pretty cold at the top!  With the sweating from all that climbing, my jersey and gloves were soaked.  That made for a really cold descent!

The ride down to the Kern River is one of the harshest, most technical descents I’ve done.  In 2006 it was especially hairy because the sun was going down and it was hard to see the potholes and sand because of the shadows from the trees and surrounding hills.  This year I felt much more confidant because I was doing the descent in daylight.  I made the 15 mile descent pretty fast, passing one truck on the way down.  There’s almost a thermo-layer where the temperature quickly transitions from the cool breezes of the pines to the heat of the Kern valley.  In the course of less than a mile I went from cold and damp to dry and hot.

The checkpoint for the turn-around was actually a mile or so before the stop sign at the bottom.  They were flagging people to keep going down to the stop sign and stopping on the way back up.  The temperature along the river was in the high 90’s.  Pretty hot, especially considering the grade went from 5-11% (never under 5%, most at 7-8%).  I made the turn and dropped back into my granny gear to start the long climb back into the pines.  They had nectarines at the stop on the way up that were quite tasty.  They also had ice for our bottles that really helped!  I didn’t stay too long because I wanted to get out of that heat.

Several people passed me on the climb, but shortly I started coming up to people who had taken the course too hard and were suffering from leg cramps.  There was one guy who seemed to be using me as a pacer.  He’d come close, then drop back for a while.  A bit over half  way up he asked if I had water.  I was down to about a half bottle.  Uh oh.  A car that had been driving the course all day started to come by and he yelled “water!”  I don’t think the lady driving was an official SAG vehicle, but she stopped to give him water.  When she came up to me she asked if I needed water too.  She said there was about 6 miles to the top.  There’s no way I would have made it if she hadn’t stopped and given me water.  They really needed a water stop half way up that climb!

I was pretty wasted when I got to the top of the climb, so I sat in a chair and drank a coke at the rest stop.  I probably sat there for a good 20 minutes resting and snacking.  Even though it’s generally descending on the way back, there was still a good 2,000 feet of climbing remaining.  And that 5 mile climb near the end.

I had told Leo I expected to finish between 3:30 and 5:30.  It was about 3pm when I left that rest stop.  I would be at least an hour later than I expected.  There were quite a few short sections where the road would tilt up.  I hadn’t noticed them on the way over, but definitely felt them on the way back!  But I kept my easy pace up the hills and my legs seemed to be recovering.  I stopped again at the next rest stop and sat for another 10-15 minutes drinking another coke and eating salty peanuts.  My stomach had started to get queasy.  Probably from the altitude and not eating enough.  With the amount of climbing we were doing I should have been eating a lot more than I did.  But I was doing surprisingly well with my hydration given all the sweating throughout the day.  I had to pull over several times during the ride to answer nature’s call.

There was another SAG stop at that convenience store on the way back.  They had ice there too, so I filled another bottle with ice water before heading out.  8 miles until I reached the long 15 mile descent.  3 miles of rolling hills, then 5 miles of climbing.  The guys at the SAG stop said it wasn’t bad, “nothing like what you’ve already done.”  Liars!  I remembered going pretty fast down that descent on the way out.  Fast = steep!  Sure enough, the road tipped up to 6 then 8% for a while before topping out at 11%!  That was mentally tough.  My legs were doing ok, but I just felt wasted at that point.  I kept hoping to see the summit.  Several times it looked like I might be getting close, then the road would turn and go up some more.

But I finally got to the top, ready for the long coast to the finish.  The sun was starting to set and I could see I would be in shade all the way down.  With how tired I was, I kept my speed relatively slow at 35-45 mph most of the way down.  It’s another technical descent, but the road surface is really nice (unlike the other side).  3 or 4 miles from the finish, the road straightens out, so I was done with my brakes, getting into a nice tuck and hitting my top speed of 55.8 mph.

Man, it was nice to pull into the finish!  Steve Barnes was there handing out finishers medals.  I’ve traded email with Steve several times in the past, but this was the first time we’ve met face to face.  It was a pleasure meeting you Steve!  The lady who saved me with water on the climb back up from the Kern river was also there and handed me an ice cold cerveza!  Wow, she saved me twice!

I needed food and a shower, so we didn’t stay at the finish too long before heading back to the hotel in Ridgecrest.  Overall, I think this route was easier than in 2006, but I’m still not quite in the same shape I was in back then.  But I accomplished my goal …. I FINISHED and without any knee pain!  Not bad for a 136 mile ride with 16,995 feet of cumulative ascent!  Now I have an official “IMMORTALS” finisher’s medal and have done this incredibly hard route starting from both sides.

Funny next day story.  Leo and I were walking out of our hotel room and there was a lady sitting on the ground outside her room chatting with a couple guys.  I was rolling my bike out in front of me and when I stepped out of my room she glanced over and said “Dude!  Nice calves!”  One of the guys she was talking to said “Probably from riding that bike…” 🙂

    1 comment to Son of Death Ride 2009

    • Great report!

      Steve Barnes is one of the best reasons to ride in CA. Everything that guy says is funny, smart, or both.

      For the record…you DO have the calves of a mythological diety. Of course, most 6-year olds have bigger calves than me:)