Ride Report 9/5/09 – Son of Death Ride (Pearsonville, CA)

The Son of Death Ride had officially arisen once again after a 4 year hiatus. The 2005 event had claimed its share of victims and an impromptu repeat of the ride in 2006 after it had been unceremoniously cancelled by the organizers by a few hardy souls had not failed to impress.

I had found out about SOD back in late 2007 when I was just getting into riding centuries. While doing Google searches I stumbled upon the SOD website.  My email inquiries to the organizers came up dry, but my persistent web wanderings finally led me to Mike Enfield’s site where he had documented the 2006 ride. I contacted him, but alas he could provide no further insights as to the future of the ride. Then, out of nowhere it showed up on the Western States Ride calendar for 2009 in February. I tracked the SOD website religiously looking for some signs of life, but nothing seemed to change. Then, by chance, while Jana was on one of her photo excursions to the upper desert she just happened to stay at the same lodge as the Cycling Escapes crew. BINGO! She got contact info and when she returned I sent an inquiry to Rich who confirmed that SOD was on for 2009.

Ok, that was the good news, but after my less than stellar performances on both Kaiser and Death Ride I wanted to do everything I could to get myself ready for this one. First and foremost was getting back on the bike big time. I waited 2 weeks to allow my left knee to recover from the pounding it took on Death Ride and then proceed to put 550 miles and 60,000 feet of climbing into my legs just in August, including a solo ride of the ACC course (92 miles and 10,700 feet of climbing).

I concentrated on staying seated as much as possible. I felt I was relying too much on standing and stomping the pedals which is less efficient and tends to put me in too big a gear. I also returned my left cleat to its original pre Ride Around the Bear geometry and installed a 7900 compact crank PERMANENTLY.  It all paid off, knee pain GONE!

Ok, all set. I left early Friday morning to beat the traffic. My plan was to ride Nine Mile Canyon as a recon and then check into the hotel to focus on final preparations.  I pulled off 395 just north of Ridgecrest at around 9 am. I intended to go as far as two 20 oz bottles would carry me.

Nine Mile is a fantastic climb. It reminded me a bit of the road up Palomar. The grades were pretty consistent with a few flat spots and the conditions were hot and dry. The road just wound up the mountain side with huge sweeping turns. I would watch cars pass me and then reappear Matchbox size as they rounded the next bend a mile up the road.

The grades ran from 4 to 13% as I moved up the mountain. It turned out to be 4,000 feet in around ten miles. At that point I was well into the forest and at around 6,000 feet. I headed west another 7 miles and up another 1,500 feet before the road started heading down. At that point I was running low on water so I decided to make a U-turn and head back.  It was a fantastic descent with excellent road conditions. I was back at the car by noon and after a few detours finally checked-in at the Spring Hill Suites on the east side of Ridgecrest at about one in the afternoon.

After dropping off my bags and bike I grabbed a Subway for lunch and then dozed in my hotel room until about 3.  I then headed over to the lobby to check-in for the ride. Rich was there signing us in. He picked up my bib number and then hesitated. Uh, its #13, do you mind? Someone’s got to wear it I replied with a smile. After that I headed out to Stater Bros to stock up on food – pasta, cereal, yogurt, Starbucks Cappuccino drinks, orange juice, bananas and of course a donut or two. I was sticking to the plan and intended to eat a hearty dinner and a huge breakfast.

They had decent Wi-Fi at the hotel so I watched some of the Vuelta as the evening wore on. I consumed dinner over a 2 hour period not wanting to have too heavy a stomach before going to bed. One more final check of my kit and gear and it was lights out.

Wake-up was at 4 am. Having gotten everything in order the night before, getting ready was quick work. I loaded up the truck and headed back to the junction of Nine Mile Canyon with 395. Under the full moon riders were already assembling and readying themselves in the impromptu dirt parking lot we’d created by the roadside. I took my time getting ready, making sure my food stuffs were in order and I had everything I think I’d need.  I had installed my Dinotte since my plan was to be on the road at or around 5:30 to take full advantage of the 14 hour ride window. This would require lighting for at least the first half hour since there would probably be some traffic on the road for the Labor Day weekend. I decided to wear a base layer under my jersey to help fight the chill I knew would be waiting at the top of the climb, but that was it. Sun screened, Gu’d, Advil’d, chamois buttered and well fed I headed over to the registration table to announce my departure and then I was off.

As I headed due west with the full moon for company the eastern horizon was just starting to show the first hues of the rising sun. The sky was crystal clear and the temperature comfortable with no wind. I quickly passed several early starters as the road gradually tipped upward and the first mountain curves appeared. But I kept the pace steady in an easy gear and had already consumed most of a Powerbar.

About 3 miles up the road I was passed by two riders who looked strong. As they glided by the grade tipped up and a head wind materialized, and momentarily we formed a three-man. However, as soon as conditions improved they were off and within a few turns were gone. I recall being passed by one other rider along this portion of the route, but most of the time it was just me and the climb. It was a great way to start what would surely be a challenging and long day in the saddle.

Within about an hour and a half I was at the top and the first SAG stop so I pulled over to refill both my bottles. It was pretty Spartan, 3 dudes, two 2 gallon Sparklets containers, a few chairs and a guitar.  No matter, all I needed was more liquids and they enthusiastically topped me off and got me back on my way.

The next 6 miles consisted of a mild climb that gradually gained another 1,500 feet.  It was a meandering traverse through the lower forest up to Tulare Pass at 7,400 feet.  I hardly noticed the ascent and enjoyed rolling along at a pretty good clip through this scenic and peaceful stretch of forest.  To the south was abundant evidence of a fire that must have passed through several years ago. The mountain sides were covered with the dead carcasses of burnt out trees, though the underbrush had started to recover. To the north the forest was still lush and green making for an interesting contrast. 

At mile 15 I crested Tulare Summit and then proceed down the 8 mile descent that bisected Kennedy meadows. It was a fun set of twists and turns that provided a great view of the valley in the early morning light. Stands of trees and several large open meadows made for quite the picturesque backdrop as the road wound its way through the valley.  As I descended I knew I’d be tackling this as the final ascent on the way back.  But, its grades were mild and there was a good chance a tailwind would help push me back up its slopes.

A few sweeping turns and a long straight away brought me to the General Store at around mile 24 where I made the left turn onto 22S05. The road headed down, crossing a small bridge and then made a sweeping right under the granite slopes of Pine Mountain, to deposit me at the base of the next major climb of the day. On paper it was 4,500 feet over roughly 5 miles followed by another 6 miles of climbing rollers to the next rest stop at mile 36 at 8,000 feet. Although I was still feeling great, it seemed at this point that I’d worked awfully hard and not made more than a dent in the 138 miles I’d be covering. I didn’t let it bother me though knowing that the slow ups would soon be fast downs and miles would tick by a bit more quickly.

As I cleared the pass I was overtaken by another rider who I then followed down a brief, twisting descent.  As the road flattened out though his pace slackened so I passed him. It was then a fairly fast 5 miles to the first real rest stop at Blackrock Junction. It was situated at a crest in the road just before the left turn that took us up to Sherman.  I was glad when it came into view since I was once again running low on liquids and welcomed a few minutes off the bike.

Here they had a great assortment of real ride stuff, lots of bars and gels, some fruit and salty stuff plus a great assortment of sports drinks. The SAG staff was really friendly and helpful too.  As I was reloading my bottles they commented on a young rider that had just blasted past about an hour before my arrival. This must have been the fellow who overtook me as I was climbing up Tulare Pass. I later saw that he finished the course in nine and quarter hours - the guy’s a beast!

After signing in I remounted and then headed to the turn off. What came next was what turned out to be the most tedious stretch of the course. Lots of ups and downs, which was ok, but the road conditions were seriously squirrelly. It was peppered with really rough spots, sink holes, bad patches, gravel and some wash tub size pot holes. The long shadows from the trees didn’t help either. My light to dark perception isn’t the best so I had to take it really easy. I was on the brakes for most of the downhill portions since I wasn’t sure what might lie ahead. I probably should have more faith in my equipment, but some of the holes would have surely taken out a front wheel at speed. Needless to say what could have been a nice spin through the woods turned out to be somewhat of a nerve-racking run through an obstacle course. I think my hands and rump took the most abuse, but I managed to keep myself out of any serious trouble with only one near miss that would have surely sent me over the handlebars.

This lasted for about 10 miles and included about 1,500 feet of cumulative climbing and 500 feet of descending before the road sort of widened out and the final ascent to Sherman materialized. This last 3 mile stretch took me from 8,300 to 9,200 feet, but the grades were all manageable and the slightly improved road conditions a blessing.

I arrived at Sherman somewhat triumphant. Though I had only traveled 53 miles in five and a half hours, I had clocked 8,600 feet of total climbing.  What a morning!

As I pulled into the vista’s parking lot several other riders were in various states of departure and arrival. It was my first real interaction with more than one or two since the start of the ride. Everyone seemed in good spirits and, on such a beautiful day, who wouldn’t be? The views were spectacular and the weather ideal. Well, at least so far.

By this point in the ride I had consumed well over 100 ounces of water, five Powerbars and a countless gels. All good; knees, feet, legs and energy levels were all well in the green.  I’d also been popping electrolyte capsules intermittently along with a homeopathic cramp remedy that I’d been using successfully since Breathless Agony.

I didn’t linger too long at this stop, though the chairs did look inviting. Fresh liquids along with a bar or two and some gels for the ride down were all I needed. Restocked, I bid my farewells and then headed down the 15 mile run to the Kern River.

I’d read that this descent was quite technical primarily due to poor road conditions. Based on my standards, it was anything but. Although there were some sketchy sections, in general the road was wide with good visibility on the corners and relatively smooth.  Also, since it was on a western slope, the lighting was ideal, though it made for an Easy Bake Oven climb on the way back out. It wasn’t even close to Spooktacular’s white knuckle descent down Breckenridge which is one step above a dirt road scraped out of a mountain side.

I was able to average about 30 mph on the way down and things gradually transitioned from the cool shadows of the high forest to the dry heat of the central valley. A good majority of the descent traversed some pretty barren hillsides. The hulks of burnt out trees hinted that a major fire had ravaged this area sometime in the distant past. About 6 miles from the bottom I encountered my first ascending riders.  There were quite a few and we exchanged nods of encouragement as I sped by.

As I rounded a corner I saw what appeared to be the rest stop on the other side of the road nestled in a dirt parking lot. It was, but the SAG crew waved me on. As I passed he directed me to continue down to the bottom and make a U at the stop sign. OK, not problem. Um, now where is that stop sign?  The turns kept coming, but the bottom wasn’t and there were more riders going up, looking hot and tired. Well, two miles later I found the intersection and the turn around. It was then two miles back up the hill with around 500 feet of climbing; unexpected, but not a problem.

As the SAG stop comes into sight I pulled in and quickly found myself lying sideways in the dirt as by rear wheel got stuck in a rut. I’m down!! Of course all that’s hurt was my pride, though the support crew was on me like I’d just hit the deck at full clip. I dusted myself off, a bit embarrassed, as a nice young lady offered to take my bike which I gratefully accepted.

Here they had a large assortment of rider friendly grub and drinks. I snacked on some fruit, got my bottles filled with ice and water, and pocketed a few more gels.  The descent plus the small climb to the rest stop had taken about 50 minutes. My goal for the day was to complete the ride in less than 12 hours so I felt it prudent not to linger since I had been riding for a little over six hours and was only a little over half done with the miles and climbing.

The most challenging part of the climb up from the Kern River should have been the heat. The grade hovered around the 7% mark and was pretty steady with a few stretches that tickled +10%. But the reality was that at about 5 miles in I was hit with my worst case of hot foot (metatarslgia) to date.  It was immensely excruciating this time and I can report as I write this that I still have some numbness in my right foot which I think may be due to dealing with this particular bout.  I was helpless and became concerned that I’d have to stop and at best walk my bike. Nothing I’d tried in the past (pulling up on the pedal strokes, loosening the shoes, swearing) could make it abate.  But I kept going trying to concentrate on getting the pressure of each down stroke more evenly distributed across the bottom of my feet.

As I was dealing with this irritation, my supply of liquids was of course dwindling quickly. At my projected consumption rate I figured I’d be dry at about five miles from the summit. This set off a whole new set of worries, specifically dehydration and cramping.

Well, after a mile or so the hot foot lessened and I got back to climbing. But, since I was immersed in the exact kind of conditions that induced it, flare ups continued to haunt me.

As all this was unfolding I was still passing a few riders struggling up the slope. Everybody appeared to be suffering and I encountered one rider who had paused for some respite in one of the few shady spots on the lower slopes of the climb. Carnage.

As I concentrated on trying to keep my feet from exploding, one of the SAG supporters drove past and slowed. As she rolled by she told me that she was heading down to SAG a rider and would return with water. Her timing had been perfect since I was literally down to my last few gulps. Within about 10 minutes she pulled up behind me and another rider I’d been sharing the fun with and stopped in front of us. She said she was out of water but had a good assortment of cold energy drinks. She handed me two 16 ounces bottles of something that I transferred to my bottles. I don’t recall exactly what it was but Nectar from the Gods comes to mind. I was saved.

Reloaded, I thanked her again and then continued on to finish the last four miles of the climb.  The grade along this section was a bit milder and, with a return to the trees, the temperature dropped back to a more comfortable level. My feet behaved for the remainder of the ascent and with great relief I pulled back into the Sherman Pass rest stop.

Now I felt mentally re-energized. I had 13,300 feet of cumulative climbing in the bank which meant there would be no more than 4,000 feet of “up” to go.  The 53 miles ahead seemed a bit daunting, but it had some good down hills that would help the miles fly by.

A fast, clean but short downhill ensued and then a set of rollers. The sun had migrated to the west so the long shadows once again bisected the road. I throttled back and started picking my way down trying to discern shadow from patch from pot hole. It was tedious, but having traversed it only hours earlier I pretty much knew what lay ahead. The last mile or so to the Blackrock Junction rest stop was the worse and had me swearing under my breath.

But the intersection finally arrived and I made the right and headed up a small incline to the rest stop. When I arrived there were already two riders firmly ensconced in a pair of chairs, relaxing and refueling.  Within a minute two other riders in Ironfly kits pulled up. Everyone seemed to be tapped out, but I was glad that the rough patches were essentially behind me.

Immortals Medal

After getting more liquids and eating a bar I got back on my bike and left the others behind. It was a fast and fun descent back down to Kennedy Meadows. The road opened up once again and I was able to touch speeds up around 40 mph. I glanced down at my Garmin and saw that I was approaching the 11 hour ride time mark. It would be close, but under 12 hours was still seemed feasible

Back down in the valley I crossed the bridge and, after a short climb, pulled into the last rest stop at the General Store. All they had was ice and water, so I topped off my bottles, sucked down another gel and quickly got rolling. I was really feeling good with no fatigue in my legs. On the initial climb out of the valley I passed several riders I’d seen going up back on my descent to the Kern River. There was also a great tailwind that really helped move me along.

On que, as the road tipped up, my hot foot returned.  Drat, everything was going so well too. I pretty much resigned myself to enduring it all the way up to Tulare Pass, no way was I going to slow down. I gritted my teeth and cleared the pass at 7,400 feet and then hit it.

I basically bombed this part of the course, quickly spinning out my 50/12 gearing and just tucking. Then the steep stuff hit as I headed down Nine Mile Canyon. What a view! The only interruption in an otherwise perfect run to the finish was a lumbering Winnebago that graciously gave me a wide berth as I whipped around his smoking rear brakes. I managed to hit 53 mph on this stretch which felt fantastic. As the road leveled out on the final approach to 395 the persistent tailwind urged me on.

And with that, after 137.1 miles and 17,349 feet of climbing, I was done. No fanfare was necessary, it all felt great and my Garmin had clocked me at 11:57! My under 12 hour goal had been achieved. I pulled up to the van to a few claps from the supporters to receive my finisher’s medal. I was an Immortal. Cheeseburger time!

Back at the truck I got myself changed, packed the bike and called home to check-in and announce my safe completion of the ride. I then drove back to Ridgecrest to grab some Carl’s, fill the tank and get back to the hotel. I fell asleep early and was up and on the road back home by 5:30 the following morning.

This was a great ride bar none. Going into it I was very apprehensive on multiple fronts. Exhaustion, cramping, knee pain, dehydration, bonking and hot foot all had plagued me throughout the latter part of the year and any one of these could have deep sixed this ride. Fortunately only hot foot reared its ugly head and I was able to deal with it. Also, the fact that only 43 attempted it and 31 finished made it seem a bit more elite and exclusive.  The organizers did a bang up job and I am sure they’ll add a water stop halfway up the climb from the Kern River.  Will I ride it again, damn straight I will.

Total Distance:  137.1 miles

Total Time: 11:57

Average speed: 11.5 mph

Maximum speed: 53.4 mph

Total altitude gained: 17,349 feet

Maximum grade: 14%


PROLOGUE   I had to deal with the hot foot. It had been haunting me on my longer (greater than 7 hours), hotter rides. With the excruciating pain still fresh in my mind I did a bit of research.  Without pretending to know that much about it, it’s essentially the result of too much pressure concentrated on too small an area on the bottom of your foot. Nerves go thermo nuclear and you know the rest. If you get that area spread out it can be prevented.

After a few Google searches I found out that Specialized makes foot beds specifically for this. I headed up to PV Cycle, got measured and purchased a pair. They include a set of shims that get the inside of the foot to take some of the load off the outside. When I walk it’s the part of the foot just behind my little toe that takes the hit and that's ground zero for my hot foot. The arch support and shims help correct this in your pedal stroke. I’ve been using them for about two weeks and they’ve taken some getting used to. Won’t really know until I test them on a long ride, but at least I feel I’ve done something to address the issue.