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By Karen Kefauver – Sentinel correspondent
June 11, 2010
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Summer  cycling eventsSanta Cruz County is a cyclist’s paradise. For road bikers, beautiful roads wind through farmland and pass scenic coastal stretches. For mountain bikers, singletrack trails and fire roads carve through redwood forests and provide panoramic bay views.

Despite the natural beauty here, local cyclists are still hungry to explore new terrain, whether they are tackling a race, are on vacation or on an extended bike tour. Now’s the time to explore your summer cycling options.

Regardless of its intimidating name, The Death Ride: Tour of the California Alps is a top attraction for many Santa Cruz cyclists. Celebrating its 30th anniversary on July 10, the 129-mile road bike ride tests the limits of riders’ legs and lungs with 15,000 feet of climbing through five mountain passes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

This super-challenging course includes climbs up both sides of Monitor Pass [8,314 feet], both sides of Ebbetts Pass [8,730], and a final climb up the east side of Carson Pass [8,573]. Cyclists will finish at Turtle Rock Park, located two miles north of Markleeville.

Riders who plan to attempt all five passes during the grueling one-day ride can start pedaling at 5:30 a.m. and all cyclists must be off the course by 8 p.m.

Santa Cruz resident and competitive endurance athlete Mary Straley feels fortunate to have secured a spot in next month’s Death Ride. Considered one of the premiere events in the West, it sells out quickly.

“The Death Ride was absolutely amazing and the hardest ride I’ve ever done,” said Straley of her Death Ride debut in 2009. “I was definitely ready, but it’s tough to be in the saddle 10½ hours.

“My only doubt was pedaling from Woodfords to Picketts. It was about 90 miles into the ride and I was mentally exhausted. The winds were picking up and it was beginning to rain. Knowing I only had 15 miles or so to the top of Carson Pass kept me going. I was able to remain focused.”

For Straley, who went on the Death Ride with Ray King, also of Santa Cruz, a highlight was “riding into the top of Carso with the biggest smile on my face. I had done it! The rest would be a fast downhill descent. I clocked myself going 43 mph!”

Best of all, she said, was that she was riding to raise money for Turning Wheels for Kids, a charity dedicated to providing a new bike to underprivileged children who want to ride.

While Straley returns for her second shot at the Death Ride, Steve Hess of Santa Cruz has ridden it eight times, completing all five passes each year. He will return in July for his ninth attempt at finishing the grueling test of mental and physical fitness.

Last week, Wade Hall, owner of Spokesman Bicycles in downtown Santa Cruz, was hoping someone might sell him a spot in the ride.

“I go every year and usually ride three or four passes, depending on my motivation,” said Hall. “It’s some of the best riding in the state and there are no cars for nine hours.”

Visitors to the area can attend the Death Ride Expo that takes place on Friday and Saturday, July 9-10. For details, visit www.deathride.com.

Closer to home, riders who want to test their hill-climbing endurance on their road bikes can sign up for the 12th annual Santa Cruz Mountains Challenge [SCMC] on July 31.

A fundraising event for the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club’s bike education programs, the SCMC offers two challenging routes. Both start and end at Scotts Valley High. The 100-mile course [the century] features more than 11,000 feet of elevation gain and the 65-mile route includes 6,500 feet of elevation gain.

The Century Challenge starts with the famous, twisting uphill climb on Mt. Charlie Road and then really gets the heart rate elevated going up China Grade and Jamison Creek. The course then descends to the coast on Bonny Doon Road, going around the Swanton Loop to Greyhound Rock for a stop.

A section from the Tour of California route is included when riders head back up Bonny Doon Road. The ride continues down Empire Grade, along West Cliff Drive, and through Santa Cruz to finish in Scotts Valley.

The Metric Century Challenge will cover some of the same roads as the full century and will still be demanding for even the most experienced riders. The route includes sharp switchbacks on steep descents that will require alert technical riding. Registration is open for the SCMC at www.santacruzcycling.org.

For those who don’t want to push the limits of their fitness, stop in a local bike shop, pick up a bike map, or contact the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club, the Mountain Bikers of Santa Cruz or The Bike Dojo to learn about a ride that suits your skill level and preferences for road biking or mountain biking.

Karen Kefauver, www.karenkefauver.com, is a freelance sports and travel journalist. She blogs weekly about bicycling for the Sentinel at www.santacruzlive.com/blogs/outside.

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