July, 2010

Death Ride Report

July 22, 2010

The Death Ride I drove up early Thursday morning, waking up at 5:15AM to start my acclimation to both altitude and early rising. What a beautiful drive. Passing through Bear Valley and then up through Hermit Valley and finally the backside of Ebbetts. The backside of Ebbett’s was just spectacular, with views of mountains still dotted with snow in the first morning’s light. Up and over Ebbetts, I found my campsite at 7,000 feet above sea level, which I thought would be a good idea to acclimate overnight in that kind of altitude. The campsite was perfect and requires a trip back to learn how to fly fish.
Ebbetts Pass

Ebbetts Pass

After a day of driving around a bit, getting my campsite set up, a short 1 hour bike ride through the “flat” part of the Death Ride, and checking in at Death Ride Registration, I finally started dinner. I LOVED being by myself, in the woods, cooking up a storm with just camping equipment and a campfire to grill.
Campsite

Campsite

Dinner Prep

Dinner Prep

Grilling Sausage

Grilling Sausage

Stoking the Fire

Stoking the Fire

Of course, being by yourself means you have to fend off the bears by yourself. After doing an 8-day trek through Yosemite last August, I’ve learned all the tricks and necessary precautions to reduce the likelihood of a visit by a bear while at camp and sleeping. Unfortunately, I still feared a bear visit and slept very little, waiting, listening, and worrying. I set my alarm to go off at 4:30 AM to acclimate to a 3:30 AM wake up call the morning of the Death Ride. Having very little sleep since I was waiting for a bear to poke his/her head through my tent and sleeping on a thermarest, I felt like crap. And all that worrying was for nothing… no bear, no marmots, no sign of wildlife invading my campsite whatsoever. To make matters worse, I was suffering from some altitude sickness, with headaches and nausea. I popped a couple of advil, made a mean cup of French Roast in the French Press, and drove back up Ebbetts to take some pictures of the first rays of light peeking through the mountains.
Sunrise on Ebbett's Pass

Sunrise on Ebbett's Pass

Lake near the summit of Ebbett's Pass

Lake near the summit of Ebbett's Pass

Flower on Ebbett's

Flower on Ebbett's

Spider webs

Spider webs

The rest of the day was spent trying to read to relax and rid my head of the pounding and nausea. Before I could leave, I made myself a “wilderness frittata” to eat on the way from my hotel room to the Death Ride start. I used the leftover whole wheat pasta, the grilled sausages, basil, and arugula mixed with eggs to make the frittata and then wrapped it up in tin foil for easy eating on the drive. Then I packed up, left the campsite, and headed to the Holiday Inn Express in Minden, NV where I got cell reception, Internet, and cable TV! I ordered take-out Italian for myself and Kim who would be joining me just after dinnertime with Sunny, “The Terror,” a 4 month old yellow lab. Thankfully, the Holiday Inn allowed pets.
Sunny the Terror

Sunny the Terror

Now I realize why TV is evil. We found The Titanic playing on one of the cable stations and if you know that movie, it’s very long. I got sucked in and couldn’t read to put myself to sleep. I finally shut it off at 9PM and tried to read. I thought I would fall asleep by 9:30, but nerves must have gotten the best of me as I couldn’t fall asleep until after 10PM. Frustrating as I had to get up at 3:30AM and didn’t get much sleep the night before. 3:30AM, the alarm went off and Kim kindly awoke to fill up the French Press with hot water from downstairs. I put on my jersey I set up the night before, WEIGHED DOWN with bars, Hammer Perpetuem, Gu’s, Hammer Gels, advil, sunscreen, and lip balm. This will come back to haunt me in about 3 hours. I don’t really remember the drive to the start, maybe I was still asleep, maybe I was nervous and in a “zone”. I managed to eat a bit of the frittata and drink my coffee as well as some water with electrolytes. I finally arrived at the start around 4:15AM. Despite my best efforts to get as much done the night before, it STILL took me 30 minutes to get on the road with a start time of around 4:45AM. Armed with my light pointing about 10-15 yards in front of me, I ate my whole wheat bagel with honey and peanut butter Kim made me the night before. Biking in the dark was more fun than I expected and the stars were spectacular. People were awfully quiet, which surprised me. Arriving at the start of the first pass, the front side of Monitor, I realized I should use the restroom before the big climb. After waiting 10 minutes for two men to get out of the portapotties, I was ready to hit the road and check off the first pass. Well, not so fast. Monitor was harder than I expected. The climbs were steeper than the climbs I had trained on and I was severely weighed down by all the food in my jersey pockets, which also poked me in the back, creating moderate back pain. One of the most spectacular experiences was biking up the front side of monitor as the sun rose. As we rode higher and higher, the sun exposed more and more of our surroundings. Snow-spotted mountains, blue sky, and open valleys appeared slowly before us, giving us something to focus on other than the rude awakening to our legs. The top of Monitor came before I knew it and I kissed the button pinned to my jersey that my patient made me with a picture of Bix and “Go Dr. Jess, Five Passes!” I sent a message to Bix, “Pass 1. We raised some money for the animal shelters!” Didn’t stop at the rest stop, got my sticker and started descending the backside of Monitor. WOW! Amazing view of the sun soaked mountains, a gorgeous meadow and a snake of cyclists descending the 8,300 foot mountain pass. The descent was pretty fast, and as I sped down, I realized that meant that the road was rather steep after the first 2 miles, and that I’m going to have to climb UP that. Got down to the rest stop at the bottom of Monitors, got my second pass sticker, and ate a bit, refilled my electrolyte bottle and headed back up. With the sun on my back and loaded down by my food in my jersey pockets, I had to stop and shed my arm and leg warmers and vest. The steepness was relentless and once again, I was amazed how CONSISTENTLY steep the climbing was here at the Death Ride. In the bay area, we have steep climbs, but they don’t last for miles. They last for ¼ - ½ of a mile. And often they are steeper, but I find it easier to hammer out a steep section knowing it’ll subside after a few yards. Climbing on the Death Ride meant sustained 9-10% climbs with the occasional 12-14% grades slipped in. Now I’m realizing two things. One- my gearing and crank arm length were all wrong. (Or I didn’t train appropriately for the gearing I had.) And two- I can’t carry all that food as it was weighing me down and pushing into my back, making Monitor just not enjoyable to climb. I pushed on to the flattish section of the climb, which fortunately lasted about 2 miles. Finally a little break. Summiting the second pass, I kissed Bix’s pin, ate a half bagel and cream cheese, and refilled with water with the help of some boy scout volunteers. The head Boy Scout said on my way down the front side of Monitor, “Now just about 100 miles to go!” Like I needed to hear that. In actuality, I wasn’t feeling all that bad at that point. I didn’t feel tired, fatigued, strained, or injured. I think I was eating well, drinking well, and going so slow as to not burn out and bonk. Now, it’s time to climb the infamous Ebbett’s pass, with supposedly 24% grades and rolling hills which meant the down or flat parts were at 7 -10% and the rollers were 12-24%. We passed 4 “Geisha’s” with sake and umbrellas, some BEAUTIFUL landscapes with mountain rocks, trees, streams, creeks, snow, and an inviting lake. Surprisingly, a patient of mine rode up along side me recognizing my Press Play/Berkeley Billy Goats jersey and joined me for part of Ebbett’s climb. At this point it was perfect timing to have someone to talk to and get your mind off the steepness of Ebbetts. What was even more surprising was that Kevin decided the Wednesday before to do the ride! Isn’t this a ride people sign up for 6-8 months ahead of time, plan and train for? Not Kevin. On a whim, he decide to drive up and find a place to stay for one night, do the Death Ride, then drive home afterwards, stopping at In and Out for a cheeseburger, minus the burger. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Must be nice to have that kind of fitness, athletic ability, and youth, all of which I envied at that moment. For those of you who don’t know much about the Death Ride and why it REALLY should own up to it’s name, Ebbett’s can be a little scary to ascend and descend, and here’s why: As you are climbing the very steep parts, you have varying abilities, speeds, and skills going up. A common scenario is someone to the right or not far enough to the right, barely able to handle their bike climbing very slowly up a steep grade. You decide you can’t go THAT slow because you have all the wrong gearing and if you pedal any slower, you’ll stop. So you decide to pass said squirrely cyclist on the left. Meanwhile, of course there are much faster and better ascenders wanting to pass BOTH of you on the left. So he does. Unfortunately, by this time, we are taking up ¾ of the road up the mountain pass. Not such a bad thing, until the guys that are RACING the Death Ride, decide to FLY down the windy, dangerous curves of Ebbetts. Thankfully, those going up were calling out, “biker up” meaning someone was flying down as we were going up, alerting us to stay to the right. The road is so narrow that there’s no double yellow line to split the traffic going in opposite directions. So far, no accidents occurred to my knowledge on Ebbets. I summited Ebbetts ecstatic, kissing Bix’s pin once again. I LOVED that climb. It was like climbing Happy Valley Road, but in the mountains and for 7 miles. At 8,7000 feet above sea level, I was feeling the altitude in my abdomen, so I spent very little time at the rest stop, only to grab more water, a bagel and some peanut butter pretzels. I quickly descended the 5.5 miles and ran into another patient who told me the ride back up the backside of Ebbetts was short, only 5.5 miles and only 1700 feet of climbing. I was shocked because all of our other climbs were 7-15 miles and this one was supposedly short and sweet. Piece of cake. Not.
Top of Ebbetts

Top of Ebbetts

I’m not sure if it was the short rest of only getting 5.5 miles downhill to recover, or over eating, or the backside was just that much steeper than I thought, I struggled ascending the 4th pass. In retrospect, I just did the most climbing I have ever done in my life and had very little training all month of June and the first week in July. So, I basically tapered for 5 weeks. And maybe the lack of fitness was catching up with me. Maybe I wouldn’t have suffered with the proper training and if I was able to follow my coach’s training regimen. Maybe it was the poor gearing I had on my bike. I SHOULD have had crank arm lengths of 170 instead of 172.5 and I SHOULD have had a 34 on the back with a compact crank instead of 27. As I was biking up the front side I was noticing riders just spinning comfortably up Ebbetts while I had to mash my way up, passing them since I couldn’t pedal any slower. There are a lot of MAYBE’s and SHOULD HAVE’s. And those MAYBE’s and SHOULD HAVE’s may not have made a difference. Maybe they call it the Death Ride for a reason, did I ever think of that? Barely made it up the back side of Ebbetts, kissed Bix’s pin, and started feeling the altitude even more, and the strain, and fatigue, and nausea, and just overall malaise. I very slowly descended the front side of Ebbett’s, not just because it was a dangerous decent, but because I felt like crap and started doubting the ability to do the 5th pass which apparently was hot, exposed and long. How was I going to do this? I stopped at lunch and remembered what I’ve been telling myself the last 2 weeks. I usually can do anything as long as I get a chance to eat real food and recover. So, I sat down at lunch, ate a turkey sandwich, but felt too ill and full to eat anything else. I managed to down a diet coke and went back on the road before I could think too much about how miserable and full I felt. At this point, I am thinking of all the donations I was receiving for Bix’s cause. And so I must move forward with all that is on the line. The ride to the 5th pass included some annoying rollers, but nothing too steep or long. For those of you who don’t know much about the Death Ride, you have to bike by your car between the 4th and 5th passes, tempting you to stop and call it a day. Fortunately, my patient caught up with me at that point and we chatted and I, distracted, didn’t even see my car. I finally made it to Woodfords and the second to last rest stop of the ride. There, my friends Kim, Laura, and Patricia were waiting with me with two dogs. They were invaluable with helping me fill up on cold water, Perpeteum, food, and a coke. After a few pictures and little discussion of the previous four passes, I gave the Death Ride mascot a high five and was off on the 5th and final pass, Carson’s Pass. For those of you who don’t know the details of the Death Ride, the first 4 passes are closed to cars and have just beautiful scenery with little wind. Carson’s pass is different. It’s open to cars, has a nasty headwind, and is 15 plus miles long. The climbs are not as steep, but after 100 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing, Carson’s felt like the Alps or Pyrenees. I found a wheel to latch on to for the flattish sections of Carson’s, not realizing how beautiful the meadows were as we rode to the steeper sections of the pass.
Watermelon was delicious!

Watermelon was delicious!

Rest stop food. Watermelon hit the spot!

Rest stop food. Watermelon hit the spot!

Rest stop volunteers

Rest stop volunteers

The not so healthy rest stop option

The not so healthy rest stop option

Sunny enjoying a cold one.

Sunny enjoying a cold one.

Stopping for a little encouragement and stocking up on cold water

Stopping for a little encouragement and stocking up on cold water

What, another 15 mile climb with a head wind????

What, another 15 mile climb with a head wind????

Press Play Kit

Press Play Kit

1123- my soccer jersey number was 23...

1123- my soccer jersey number was 23...

Filling up before the big climb up Carson's Pass

Filling up before the big climb up Carson's Pass

The pass seemed to last forever and just as I was thinking how sick and DONE I was with the Death Ride, we turned a corner and saw a steep climb for the last 2 miles. Ugh. That mentally hurt. Pedal over pedal, one at a time, I kept ascending wondering where the end was. And once again, I thought of Bix, and him running beside me carrying his leash, pulling me up the mountain. I thought of all those donations, of the generosity of those who pledged per pass, their kind and empathic remarks, cards, phone calls, and emails. And the end of the pass came. As I kissed Bix’s pin a fifth and final time, emotions got the best of me and I was struggling to keep my composure. On the verge of hyperventilation, I summited pumping my fists and letting the tears roll as the event photographer snapped away. Ran into my patient again at the summit rest stop, signed the finisher’s poster, got my 5th pass sticker, ate half an ice cream sandwich, and thought I had enough rest to descend the dangerous pass back to the start. The ride wasn’t over. The descent required immense concentration. As cyclists were climbing up, passing each other, cars were passing 2-3 abreast. As cyclists were descending the same road, cars were trying to pass THEM as well. Which meant cars were playing chicken, crossing the yellow line. Unfortunately, we saw a rider on a stretcher, being cared for by the paramedics. As if that scene wasn’t sobering enough, we saw his bike, wheel taco’d. Not a comforting site as we were descending rather fast. The stress getting the best of me, my patient finally said, “can you believe this view?” Wow, I can’t believe I was so engrossed in the descent and “in the zone” that I forgot to look around and enjoy the view. The meadows I passed going up were absolutely beautiful. I so often would find myself marveling the views we have in the bay area and feeling fortunate for living here. Once again, my surrounds while on a bike mesmerize me. What a way to see California. On a bike, completing the Death Ride. Back to the hotel for pizza and a shower, I made sure we had a late check-out the next day to watch the World Cup Finals at 11:30. Luckily, Spain scored 2 minutes before it was check-out time, or we would have missed the shoot-out. The weekend couldn’t have gone any better, completing the Death Ride, raising over $5000 for pound puppies and cats, and watching the World Cup Final with more pizza and good friends. Special thanks to Kim, Laura, and Patricia for your support on the Death Ride, to Kim and Liz Varner, my coach for your training expertise and encouragement, and to all the sponsors and donors to Bix’s cause. I couldn’t have done it without you. All the pound puppies and cats at 3 Animal Shelters will have an opportunity for a better life, thanks to you. R.I.P. Bix. Your loyalty and companionship will be missed.
Bix

Bix

Other pictures by Laura from the Ride:
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Back Pain, an Allergy?

July 15, 2010

Unfortunately, failed back surgery has become a "syndrome". To learn more about Failed Back Surgery Syndrome, click here. I found an interesting article to share as well. Dr. Gabe Mirkin of www.drmirkin.com wrote a blog titled: Why Back Surgery Fails So Often. WIth his permission, I am passing this along. More research is needed, of course, but it's something to think about with unresolved back pain. Dr. Gabe Mirkin's Fitness and Health E-Zine July 18, 2010 Why Back Surgery Fails So Often
Researchers from Duke University show that back pain is usually caused by a person's immunity attacking the disc in the same way that it attacks invading germs, not by a broken disc pressing on a nerve (Arthritis & Rheumatism, July 2010). They found that people with back pain associated with damaged discs have high levels of Interleukin-17, produced by your immune lymphocytes and known to cause asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. The natural history of back pain from "disc disease" usually starts after you hurt your back. You often appear to recover after several weeks or months of pain. However, the back pain can recur any time later, even many years after your original back problem. The bones of your spine are separated by pads called discs . When you hurt your back, you can crack the outer layers of a disc, so the softer inner layers protrude through the cracks into the spinal canal. The softer inner layers of a disc normally are not exposed to the immune system. So the human immune system does not recognize it as self and attacks it in the same way that it attacks invading bacteria and viruses. The protruding inner portions of the disc then swell to press against nearby nerves to cause pain. This research implies that the immune reaction that attacks the protruding broken inner portion of the disc causes the disc to swell and press on nerves. The authors feel that the pain is not caused primarily by broken pieces of a disc pressing on nerves so it is incorrect to use the common term "slipped disc". If this is true, future treatment for disc disease would be to inhibit the lymphocytes that make interleukin-17. This would allow the treatment to reduce pain without blocking the body's ability to prevent infections and tumors. Either way, surgery for "disc disease of the back" has among the highest failure rates of any surgery today.
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