Alta Alpina Challenge double century

Wow. This was over a month ago now. But back in June, as part of a 10-day trip, Max and I rode the Alta Alpina Challenge in Markleeville, California. It’s put on by the same cycling club that used to do the infamous Death ride, but apparently some conflict led to the local Chamber of Commerce taking it over. This year was the inaugural Alta Alpina Challenge and I rode the double century.

(Carson Pass avalanche warning)

Thursday night we stayed with an ex-Angeleno in Mammoth Lakes with the idea that we’d go for a mountain bike ride Friday morning. A 7800ft headache kept that from happening, so instead we continued up the 395 past Yosemite into the ‘California Alps’. This state never ceases to surprise me. I’ve spent time in Alaska, Montana and New Zealand and this part of California can hang with the best awe-inspiring, expansive landscapes. The first plus of this ride? It starts at a park with a campground. Score. After running into yet another Angeleno (the organizer of the Midnight Express ride), the three of us headed out for a 30-mile spin that meandered along a river, out of the valley which contains Markleeville and up toward Ebbetts Pass. We had no idea that we had turned around just before it gets gnarly.

(Near Ebbetts Pass. How beautiful is this?)

I signed up for the latest start time, 516am, while Stephen (who joined us from Mammoth Lakes late Fri evening) opted for the 330am start. I heard his alarm, but not mine. Getting out of my tent and dressed at 545am, I made my way to the start and left Swarm! style: alone and late. This route (see map) utilizes 6 major passes in the area, 4 of which you climb from one side (Kingsbury, Luther, Carson and Blue Lakes) and then turn around while on the last two (Ebbetts, Monitor) you climb over, descend and climb back up the other side. I usually avoid out-and-back routes because my interest is in transversing and seeing as much as possible, but the magnificence of this area cannot be understated. I didn’t want to leave! Seeing the same area from multiple perspectives was actually quite enjoyable.

(Carson Pass, looking out from the checkpoint ran by a Pearl Izumi store. The woman was chastising me
for only having a vest and sleeves. I teased her about just wanting to sell me leg warmers.)

I’m not a great climber, so 20,000 feet comes only with significant work. What I found to be helpful is tolerance for poor weather (had rain, storms, temps in the 30’s and even snow flurries on the passes), ability to descend quickly and being diligent about time at checkpoints or skipping them altogether. What’s also fun about starting late is you spend the day catching people- makes you feel faster than you really are. I also got to ride a few miles with Stephen and then with Max as they did their rides.

I have not been riding a ton so it felt fantastic to be out on such a well-supported ride with so many strong cyclists. The roads were quiet, with ample 7mph speeds; perfect for absorbing the environment and thinking through all of those deep, hidden ideas that only come to you on a 15hr bike ride. I flatted once, but was still happy with my results. Riding, eating and then passing out in my tent is second nature and it brings back great memories of bike touring. I always feel so fortunate to be able to live, ride and explore where I do and all of it seems that much more magical when the day ends in a tent.


Filed under double, travel