For many years, an epic bicycle ride has been staged on the mountain roads of the High Sierra. It’s called The Tour of the California Alps - Death Ride. Held on one day in July, it attracts 2,800 avid cyclists from across the country who test their fitness climbing the high and spectacular roads of the California Sierra Nevada mountain range. It is one of the most difficult one-day rides in the country.
The Death Ride has become so popular that it sells out months in advance. Many riders don’t get in, and the ones that do get in have to compete with all the other riders for dining, hotel rooms, and space on the road.
In 2003, UDC thought that a smaller, quieter, but just as challenging cycling experience over the same mountain roads would be a fun alternative. Thus was founded the Kiss of Death™. Instead of three thousand or more riders, Kiss of Death is limited to just 14. We challenge ourselves on all of the same bicycles climbs of the Death Ride, plus a few more. But instead of doing them all in one day, we do them over a long weekend.
What type of riders come on this trip? People training for the Death Ride. People who want to do the Death Ride but didn't win an entry. People who want a quieter, more relaxed version of the Death Ride. Or mostly, people who love the exhiliration and challenge of cycling the majestic and peaceful High Sierra of Alpine County—the least populated county in California.
We schedule the Kiss of Death in the weeks prior to the official Markleeville Death Ride. The roads are very quiet at this time in the High Sierra, and the selected date gives riders planning to do the Death Ride the ability to get in some high altitude training on the same hills they will be climbing.
My wife and I rode with another couple who we hadn't met previously and were accompanied by one guide; it was one of the best trips we have ever had.
Guide and support - It's hard to believe that UDC could have another guide as good as Susan, there was nothing more she could have done for us (guide rating = 6 stars). She has all the skills and more right down to being a paramedic (very handy for patching up some scrapes that I brought upon myself). Riding with Susan on the rest day was a highlight.
Food - quality of all meals, snacks, restaurant ambience, American regional experiences (e.g., peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ollaliberries, and so-called biscuits), right down to the electrolyte water was excellent. Lodgings - perfectly pitched and probably all rate high on TripAdvisor (we'd give them all 4-5 stars, especially the Burton Inn in Cambria but they were all of similarly high standard).
Bikes - I ride a TDF Cannondale EVO back home and was more than satisfied with our Scott Carbon Ultegras. Perfectly set up to our specifications, brought our own saddles just to be fussy, and rode well all week. The ladies had the uber-comfort frames with thinned rear stays and the boys got more standard racing styles - perfectly pitched! They even provided a USB stick with all the routes that could be downloaded to a Garmin.
Riding in company - UDC are very skilled at managing different clients with different preferences, speeds and so on. We were fortunate to be paired with a lovely couple of cycle enthusiasts and enjoyed their company as much as the ride, learning a lot about life in America, the various nuances of language and etiquette (and snow globes!) We breathed a sigh of relief every time we rode past a different tour company with dozens of people, phew!
Countryside and routes - Lovely little maps were provided every day at nightly briefings that clipped on to the handlebars. These were apparently the work of "Terry", who's a bit like Charlie of Charlie's Angels fame - omnipresent but never seen. The daily rides were very well chosen and reflect a lot of thought and planning. The option to do top ups and extras like the Nascimento hill and loops on the rest day ensured that everyone got their fill of good riding.
Value for money - worth every penny and apparently considerably cheaper than some other companies. I would be surprised if anyone else could deliver a better experience.
Wouldn't hesitate to recommend them and wouldn't hesitate to do another ride with them, including trying to match our schedule with Susan's.
TripAdvisor September 2012