Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Climbing to Paradise
Nearly one month has passed since RAMROD (Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day), so this writeup has been smoldering for a good time.

Training consisted of mostly casual rides of up to 70 miles. I've long encouraged other riders attempting great distances that if they can ride half of it comfortably they can ride the full distance. "All you need is more food, water, and time," I say. It's a helpful little distillation, but I had major doubts throughout the summer when putting it to the test. I remember sitting down for a beer with Josh Rice in Lincoln about 10 days before the ride when he said something very true after I elaborated on my training plans for when I flew back home the next day: "It's too late at this point. You'll either have it or you won't." I shuddered a little. He was right!

Here are my field notes from the ride:

1) Mile 1: Enumclaw High School has views of Rainier from afar. It's startling to think you'll circumnavigate it from that vantage point.

2) Mile ~33: I spoke with a construction worker who was holding a two-sided STOP/SLOW sign on a section of highway. He was grizzled, bearded, and wearing sunglasses; we were stopped for about 3 minutes there. I started asking him about his job, and eventually he explained with bewilderment that they get no respect. He said he stands there for 8 hours with no bathroom breaks and no relief for lunch. I was dumbfounded. I always wave at these people or ding my bell but don't seem to get much response back from most. Maybe I understand why now. After hearing that I stuck out my hand and said, "Here's the respect you deserve." He shook my hand, laughed, and flipped the sign to SLOW.

3) Mile 58: Two food stops behind us and rolling hills through chilly, foggy valleys and sunny vistas. This is the park entrance and the start of the climb to Paradise. A couple miles before I popped some Ibuprofen to push back at pains surfacing in my seat and right foot. More pills at 3 hour intervals probably saved my day.

4) Mile 73: Atop Paradise the mountain is staring you in the face. The road points down as far as one can see from here.

5) Mile 86: The descent is unforgettable and worth the entire day's suffering. Imagine sitting on a 35mph office chair for half an hour as it wraps its way around stunning summit views, lakes, hairpins, and rocky ledges. 15 miles up to Paradise took 2 hours; 13 down, 30 minutes.

6) Mile 93: I wasn't aware Cayuse Pass had started. I was crawling along at 6-7 mph for about 45 minutes before I realized I had reached the water stop halfway up the pass. That was a great feeling, because I was almost out of water. Pain in my right foot was now very intense, so I took a couple more pills. I noticed the pain had developed from constantly reaching down on my right side to pull out my water bottles. The repeated movement of angling my right knee out was forcing most of the resulting pedaling pressure to fall on my smaller toe bones of that foot.

7) Mile 100: The bummer about reaching the top of Cayuse Pass and knowing it's all very literally downhill from there is Cayuse Pass is also where the headwinds start. So even though you have essentially 50 miles left of 2% grade downhill, you're never able to hold a steady 18-19 mph like you would expect. Instead, you have to slog through the wind at 14-15.

8) Mile 126: I waived at some people in lawn chairs on the side of the road thinking it was fun that they were out there watching people ride. About 5 miles later as I reached for water bottle #2 I realized that the final water stop and that I would ride the final 20 miles into the wind and in the hottest part of the day without reserves. Very shortly thereafter I got a left hammy cramp and had to get off the bike to stretch. I had about 8 ounces of water left, so I dumped 4 Nuun tabs into it to create some delicious electrolyte sludge. I got back on the bike but didn't make it another 100' before another cramp wave struck. I drank my sludge then, I stretched, and I hoped for the best.

9) Mile 144: The best happened. A policeman directing traffic offered me about 4 more ounces of water and encouragement that I was there at the final turn off the highway into town. I made it to the home stretch of curvy downhill roads back to Enumclaw and the high school.

10) Mile 150: I bunny-hopped across the line and almost took out one of the volunteers needing to retrieve my electronic tracker. Ha. I heard the announcer saying something about having had too much sugar. He wasn't far off--all those caffeinated Nuun tabs! Then it was time for a shower and sharing of war stories with my fellow REI riders.

When morning came the next day I had a fun moment looking out the window in my kitchen at the mountain. It looks totally different now. I know it. I know around it. I know behind it. I know on it. It appears less imperious to me now and somehow less huge. It's not that it was brought to my level; I ascended to it. This is a key point, I think.

Having attempted and finished rides approaching RAMROD before (150 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing), I had a decent idea what to expect. Gravel Worlds in Lincoln, NE is 150 miles and about 5,000 feet of (mostly rolling) climbs. Knowing this, my training was probably still insufficient. I kept thinking to myself, "Those extra 5,000 feet will be tough, but it's road not gravel!" I wasn't all wrong as it turns out. I certainly had some dark spots on Cayuse Pass, the third and biggest climb of the day beginning at mile 93. I definitely missed the final water stop had those cramps as a result. But overall, I think I felt more beat up by Gravel Worlds. I'm fully willing to believe that the fact that I knew I could do it was enough to make RAMROD feel like less of an achievement than Gravel Worlds, a race I had serious doubts about finishing in 2014.

Here is the route. Notice the profile below, too. Green is speed; brown is elevation change.

Phone died 6 miles from the end

1 comment:

Chris said...

awesome job buddy. i'm trying to figure out the logistics of my first century. i'm thinking a quad traverse of petrified forest.