[For Honor]Defying the ‘Death Ride’ in honor of his dad

Tag: 2021-07-14 18:56

  SEASIDE — Blake Stocker kept his shoulders relaxed and dropped, his body balanced, and his grip light, but he was riding hard. Engaged in less thinking and more doing, he was feeling not emotion, so much as the exertion of his body as he pushed forward on his father’s Colnago road bike.

  It was the first time Stocker, 24, had sat on the saddle of his dad’s bike since the senior Stocker, out on a training ride, had suffered a fatal sudden heart failure three days after Christmas 2020. He was 56. Blake Stocker counted Eric Stocker not just as his father but also his friend. This ride on his father’s bike was not meant to serve as a tribute or to heal anything in particular, but it was preparing Stocker for the ride that will.

  Eric Stocker was an avid cyclist and endurance athlete, known for his legendary tradition of completing the demanding “Tour of the California Alps,” a world-class cycling event, which covers 103 miles and includes six rated climbs over three Sierra Nevada passes.?Starting and finishing at Turtle Rock Park in Markleeville, the event, established in 1978, was formerly known as the “Markleeville Death Ride” by those who have attempted or completed the feat. It is still casually called “The Death Ride.”

  The event, which has always catered to elite mountain cyclists, reportedly offers a range of challenge levels, from completing one pass, up to conquering the six highly categorized climbs over Monitor Pass, Ebbetts Pass, and the Pacific Grade. The category of a climb is calculated by multiplying the length of the climb in meters by the grade of the climb, in percent. To be classified as a categorized climb, the total must be a summit elevation of 8,000 feet or more.

  “My father and I had a good relationship,” Blake Stocker, right, said. “He was a parent first, but we were buddies. Had he still been here, Dad (pictured on the left) would have been doing this ride with me. I think he was already registered.” (Photo courtesy of Blake Stocker)

  The summit elevations in the Tour of the California Alps range between 8,330 and 8,750 feet.

  “My dad did Markleeville 11 or maybe 13 times,” said Stocker, “and he always completed it. There was no other option for him; he always intended to finish, and he always did.”

  On July 17, the 40th anniversary of the legendary ride, Blake Stocker will sit on the saddle of his father’s Colnago to climb the same mountains in memory of his father. He has every intention of completing the full event; like his father before him, there is no other option.

  In the saddle

  The brother to two younger sisters, Blake Stocker was born in Boulder but grew up in San Mateo. An active, outdoors kid, he started surfing early at Half Moon Bay and off the coast of Pacifica. He also played baseball in school until he got his driver’s license, which drove him off the field and into other activities, but he never stopped surfing.

  Family travel and surfing safaris took him all over the world, including Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Switzerland, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Vancouver, before he settled into his studies at CSU Monterey Bay. He graduated in 2018 with a degree in business but missed his commencement ceremonies in favor of a surfing trip to Nicaragua.

  After a few “practice” jobs, in 2019, Stocker got a job with Lewis Builders residential design-build firm in Carmel by promising to work hard and learn the business. After beginning as a laborer, a year later, he’d been named Production Manager.

  Three years ago, inspired by his father, Stocker decided to try cycling. He set a goal to run 1,000 miles in one year, with a plan to run 3 miles a day to ensure he reached his goal. He told himself, if he missed a day, those 3 miles would be added to the subsequent day’s total. With just under a month remaining, Stocker achieved his goal. Neither he nor his father has ever started or finished small.

  Stocker’s next goal was to ride 100 miles in one day. After a 20-mile training ride, he recruited his dad to join him, and the pair completed their “century ride” together.

  “We started in San Mateo,” said Stocker, “and rode across the Golden Gate Bridge and up into the North Bay. Just 10 miles from home, we realized we were 19 miles short of our 100-mile goal, so we had to turn around to add miles. By then, it was getting dark, cold, and windy, but we did it.”

  As Stocker finished the ride, he thought about triathletes, who get out of the saddle after a long ride and start running. So, he ran a quick and painful mile before he abandoned the idea. Still, it inspired him to train for a Half Ironman triathlon, which requires a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run to the finish line.

  “That was the 2019 Santa Rosa Half Ironman,” he said, “which I completed in 5 hours, 26 minutes. Just before the event, I got a triathlon bike off Craigslist. I test-rode the bike just once before the race. I still have that bike.”


  Stocker’s next goal, once he’s completed the “Markleeville” ride, is to complete a full Ironman triathlon. There is a definite addiction to this level of training and competition, he says, but he believes it’s a healthy one.

  On behalf of his upcoming ride, Stocker has increased his time in the saddle, logging in about 200 miles per week, often through Fort Ord, up around San Benancio to the backside of Los Laureles Grade, and down into Carmel Valley. Then he rides west to Carmel, over to Pebble Beach, and back around to his Seaside home. Sometimes, to get in some altitude, he drives out to Hollister to ride his bike 11 miles straight up Fremont Peak.

  Although he typically maintains a healthy diet, Stocker’s also eating more. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound athlete has always been lean, while his dad, a former bodybuilder weighed a solid 210.

  “My dad was built,” he said. “He was a buff dude. I absolutely did not get his genes.”

  Which just might save him. Through an investigation into family health history, Stocker has learned that “sudden death syndrome” runs in his family, having shortened the life of a few others in his lineage.

  “If my father’s death had to happen,” he said, “I’m glad it was fast and not a drawn-out experience. He was so vital; he would have hated that. Still, I’m going to meet with a cardiologist to learn what I can do to stop the tradition.”

  While Stocker has learned from his father’s passing to pursue his own preventive health, he recognizes his father instilled a lot of other lessons in him, along the way.

  On behalf of his upcoming ride, Blake Stocker has increased his time in the saddle, logging in about 200 miles per week. (Photo by Mark Zahnlecker)

  “My dad always enjoyed his life, had fun, and did what he wanted. Ironically, perhaps, he worked in risk management,” said Stocker, “filling two passports, between his 30s and 40s, with international business travel. He also was super charitable. I recently learned he was paying the college tuition of a family friend just because he heard he needed it.”

  Eric Stocker has been gone six months, which seems like mere minutes and yet years to his son. Yet, when he looks back on his relationship with Dad, Blake Stocker has no regrets.

  “My father and I had a good relationship,” Stocker said. “He was a parent first, but we were buddies. Had he still been here, Dad would have been doing this ride with me. I think he was already registered.”