When the 416 Fire altered the route for the 2018 Death Ride Challenge cycling event through the San Juan Mountains, Nick Gould’s chance to chase a record time was extinguished.
That challenge stuck in Gould’s head for another year until he was able to give it a go June 9. At 3 a.m. in front of the Stater Hotel in his former home of Durango, he began a journey to ride 225 miles over numerous mountain passes with nearly 16,500 feet of climbing separating him from a return on a counter-clockwise loop that would include Silverton, Ouray, Ridgway, Telluride, Dolores, Mancos and back to Durango.
Gould targeted Caleb Carl’s record time of 12 hours, 15 minutes during the one-day challenge event, part of a bigger weekend for the Death Ride Challenge that offers one-and three-day rides in a charity fundraiser for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. ALS is an incurable nervous system disease that weakens muscles and impacts physical function.
Gould, who now resides in Colorado Springs, finished in 12 hours, 13 minutes, 20 seconds, aided a bit by a tailwind on the final push from Mancos to Durango and motivated by the cause for which he rode. It is the new record time.
“I’ve never looked at my Garmin so many time than that last hour,” Gould said. “When I knew I did it, I was just so happy, so proud of the accomplishment. I wanted to give up so many times.
Gould was one of 13 cyclists who completed the Death Ride’s one-day challenge this year. What used to be an unofficial beginning in 1979 and started by Robert “Bicycle Bob” Gregorio, who has completed the ride 17 times, this year’s Death Ride celebrated the 10th year as an official event created by Barry Sopinsky, whose father died of ALS 40 years ago.
When the 40-year-old Gould returned to the Strater Hotel, he threw down his bike and was greeted by Sopinsky as well as his mother-in-law Cheryle Brandsma, who has Parkinson’s disease and is a big advocate for the Davis Phinney Foundation. Brandsma helped Gould raise money for the race that requires riders to fundraise $300 of donations for ALS research. Gould raised $600, and the Death Ride has raised roughly $300,000 in the 10 years since becoming an official charity ride.
“It was just a great day,” Gould said. “I race a lot and do a lot of big rides. Some are more special than others, and this one was. That tailwind the last 40 miles, it was unheard of. It was like the wind was at my back all day. It wasn’t, but it felt like it was, just that kind of day. I was grateful to come away from it safe without any overuse injuries. When roads are open, there’s a lot that can happen, and I’m grateful for everyone that it was safe and such a good day.”
Gould stopped four times for a total of 35 minutes. His moving time was 11:38. He averaged 19.3 mph and 206 watts. His goal was to average 200 watts on flat sections and 250 on climbs. He kept his heart rate at a steady aerobic endurance pace.
When he departed at 3 a.m., two other riders stuck with him through the Animas Valley. It was windy, and the three riders worked together until Gould broke away climbing up Shalona Hill. He rode by himself the rest of the day, though he had race-provided support with bottle hand-ups from Sopinsky himself while being able to stash layers of clothing and food in a race vehicle.
Gould said the hardest part was riding at night during a cold morning.
“I’m not a big night rider. I was so lost in space out there,” he said. “You know where you are when you start climbing over Shalona. It was really peaceful but really cold. Once I got up to Molas Pass, it was like only 30 degrees. It was super sweet when the sun was coming up over the pass, though. Pretty epic.
“I froze descending into Silverton. I didn’t have warm enough gloves. I had a jacket, but the wind numbed me, and my fingers and toes froze. I thought I would warm up climbing Red Mountain pass, but I never did. I wasn’t in the sun until the left turn in Ridgway. It never got warm until about a mile to the Dallas Divide. I hit the sun, and it got 20 degrees warmer.”
Because of the cold, Gould had a hard time eating. His fingers wouldn’t operate to open packaging, and his stomach felt queasy. He said he went more than four hours with only eating two gels. Once he got warm, he was able to eat some food. His go-to was a Zia Taqueria burrito and three bottles of Carbo Rocket to take in calories without upsetting his stomach too much.
Once over and down Lizard Head Pass, Gould used the aerobars on his Trek Emonda bike for the first time for the 40 miles of false-flat downhill riding into Dolores. He called that the worst section of the ride. But the pain would only intensify once he got to Dolores.
“That last two hours from Dolores to Durango, I knew it was going to be super close for the record,” he said. “I didn’t know if it was possible. I was hurting pretty bad in Dolores after being in a bit of a headwind, but I knew it would turn into a crazy cross-tailwind at the top of Dolores Hill and going toward Mancos. Once I hit Mancos, it was even more at my back. My legs felt pretty good, and I put my head down and gave 100% on every little climb.
“I got from Dolores to Mancos, the 18 miles, in 45 minutes. The 27 miles from Mancos to Durango, I did that in 1 hour, 4 minutes. I died so many times on the last couple climbs from Mancos to Durango, but I never gave up.”
As Gould tackled the final 50 miles, several riders in the midst of the three-day ride cheered him along the way. That and the cause of the ride kept him going.
“When I was in that dark place and hurting, I kept thinking of people who have ALS who can’t even ride a bike,” he said. “People gave me money and funds, and all of that was motivating me. The groups of riders on the side of the road cheering, the people on top of Hesperus Hill and in Mancos cheering for me, that was motivation.”
Gould had done the Death Ride before, but it was 13 years earlier. Back then, it took him and a couple of friends 15½ hours.
The Team Ska/Zia/Trek team rider is a personal trainer in Colorado Springs and operates PurEnergy Performance Coaching. He also is a high school mountain bike coach for the Highlander Composite team and coaches the Summit Bike Club’s development program’s age 15-18 mountain bikers.
While he hopes to hold the record for the Death Ride for a few years, he’s also excited to see the world of cycling embrace FKT attempts and knows his record time will inspire others to tackle the loop.
“It’s really cool to see everyone getting excited about FKTs at the White Rim and a few other places,” Gould said. “I hope I have this one for awhile. I’ve had a few others that have since been broken, and it’s just a lot of fun to get on Strava and see what guys can go do. It makes it fun, and that’s what it’s all about.”