(Well this turned into an over-long post. TLDR: Rode On Mt Rainier in One Day, then volunteered at Ride Around Mt Rainier in One Day. Both were good. Success on one of the week’s goals.)
Redmond Cycling Club’s RAMROD (Ride Around Mt Rainier in One Day) is so popular that there is a lottery for the 800 available spots. Though the mountainous ride is great training for what we’ll be doing in Italy, I inexplicably was not one of the lucky ones in the lottery. Inconceivable!
But before I even knew the lottery results, I decided that I’d ride Rainier one way or another, so way back in March I booked a room in Enumclaw to make it harder to wimp out. After I got the lottery results, I signed up to volunteer the day of RAMROD (I’m so altruistic!) (coincidentally, this also guarantees me a spot next year…), and started planning my own RAMROD for the day before.
Because of construction-caused route alteration, and my being a genius, I ended up not doing RAMROD. Instead I did ROMROD–Ride On Mt Rainier in One Day.
One of the issues of doing RAMROD on your own is that there are long stretches without services. This means carrying a ton of heavy supplies on your bike, or worrying about running low on food and water, or both. Since I was mostly interested in the mountain climbs of the route, not the long flat sections at the beginning and the end, I had the brilliant idea of parking my car in between a couple climbs, and stocking it with extra food and drink–my own personal pit stop! Genius!
So the route plan was to park at the Grove of the Patriarchs, ride up Cayuse Pass and continue on to Chinook Pass, return to the car, and then head up to Paradise, climbing Backbone Ridge in the process (and re-climbing it on the way back down…).* ROMROD: 72 miles, 7,800′ elevation. RAMROD (traditional route): 150 miles, 9,000-10,000′ elevation, depending on who’s counting. I had less total elevation gain, but WAY less flat mileage.
(Fussy route details–feel free to skip. I started by climbing up Cayuse Pass from the other side than I had done before, going in the same direction that RAMROD takes, then instead of going down the other side to finish in Enumclaw, I continued up to Chinook Pass, and back down the way I came. Then I went up to Paradise, in the opposite direction as RAMROD–and going slightly higher, as RAMROD only goes as far up as Inspiration Point–which meant first climbing Backbone Ridge from the longer side, descending a few hundred feet, then going up again. Rolled almost all the way down from Paradise to my car, except for the pesky several hundred feet I had to regain at Backbone.)
As I have mentioned previously, I sometimes tend to deal with anxiety by hyper-preparing. Which means that I had read as many RAMROD ride reports as I could find. One constant theme was what a brutal slog Cayuse pass from that direction was–post after post described baking in the afternoon sun, running out of water, and a steep climb that wouldn’t end.
Consequently, I felt pretty genius for putting this at the beginning of my ride. I left home at 6:30AM, and was riding by 9AM. The air was still cool and refreshing, and the road was pleasantly shaded.
Add in that the road seems not nearly so long nor steep when your legs are fresh, rather than after 100 miles and a mountain, and you can imagine how smug I was starting to feel at my own cleverness. Hold that thought.
Anyway, I had a great ride up to Cayuse, and still love those switchbacks up Chinook Pass. My time at the top of Chinook was enlivened by the swarming mosquito hordes. It’s really hard to put on leg warmers for a descent when you’re standing on one leg, hopping, flapping your arms, and slapping yourself. Much longer up there, and there would only be my desiccated corpse left… So, no pictures.
An awesome downhill later, I was at the car, refilling my water bottles and eating. Genius!
Going up Backbone, I had a bit of a hard time getting my legs going again. Looking back at my ride data, my speed wasn’t that pitiful, but it felt effortful to put in an effort, rather than effortless to put in an effort like it had on Cayuse. Obvious conclusion: I must be a horrible cyclist. Some might suggest that I was still tired and hungry, despite my refueling stop. They obviously don’t know what they are talking about.
The brief downhill before starting the climb up to Paradise was very welcome. And then the road started up again. And here I began to perceive the flaws in my genius plan. It was midday, the sun was beating down on me on a shadeless, steep (5-6% grade, same as Cayuse…) climb that would not end. Eerily akin to how most people doing RAMROD experience Cayuse. Whoops on the whole smug thing…
I wasn’t continually my happiest climbing up to Paradise, but I will admit that the view was (yawn, what a surprise) particularly spectacular. I really liked a section where I could see the road winding around above me–for some reason I don’t find that daunting, but rather, a sense of accomplishment to look forward to. And when I got there, I was sometimes able to crane my head around and see way below back to where I had been. That was fun.
The last bit up to Paradise merges with the road from Longmire, and there was suddenly a ton of traffic, which made the final push kind of unpleasant. At the same time, knowing I was almost there put an extra pep into my legs that made me feel much better about my cycling abilities. Finally I made it to the cafeteria at the Paradise Visitor Center, and was more thrilled than I can say to sit down and eat some lunch! I must have looked a little pitiful, because one of the guys working the cafeteria brought me out a little cup of soft serve ice cream–thank you, very nice man, you made my day! Have I mentioned recently how much I love Mt Rainier National Park and the awesome people who work there?
At this point, the only real work facing me was the few hundred feet I’d have to regain on Backbone Ridge, and I gave myself permission to be the slowest, most lazy and relaxed cyclist on that section if I wanted to be… The descent to there was a blast (I can fly!!!), and the 600′ I had to ascend felt like nothing. Obvious conclusion: I’m an awesome cyclist. Some might suggest that having a rest and a ton of food helped out. They obviously don’t know what they’re talking about.
Back at the car, I drank a bunch of water from one of my back up water bottles, dumped the rest over my head, and changed into clean clothes. Clean, dry, non-sweaty clothes! I didn’t feel like sitting and driving immediately, so I did the “easy” little walking trail at the Grove of the Patriarchs. It’s one of the trails in the park that is supposed to be accessible to the proverbial children, elderly, and infirm. Post-ride, I think I belonged to the latter category, and found it a plenty challenging hike. All 1.5 mostly level miles of it… But it was a great way to wind down, and should be on your list if you go near the area.
I had no problem going to sleep that night, which was a good thing, since my alarm was set for 2:45AM so that I could check in at 3:15 for my RAMROD volunteering. I was one of the parking lot traffic directors–the RAMROD start line opens at 5AM, and there’s a breakfast that opens at 4AM. That’s early. Though I got to my station at 3:30, there were already riders there… Pro tip: if you want to park in one of the close parking lots for RAMROD, better get there before 4:30…
It was kind of fun to wave people in different directions and help folks with questions out–though I owe an apology to a number of people who rode by and thanked me for volunteering. My brain was going a little slowly, and I usually looked surprised, grunted or something, and only managed to get a “you’re welcome” or other appropriate response out when they were half a block away… At any rate, a lot of people put a lot of work into making RAMROD run smoothly, and getting a little glimpse behind the scenes makes me even more impressed by the job that the ride organizers do–there’s a reason this is one of the bucket list rides in the area.
I also got to watch Mt Rainier slowly appear with a ghostly gleam before there was light anywhere else in the sky, and that heralded a lovely sunrise and a beautiful day. I hope people had as great a day on RAMROD as I did on ROMROD.
It was a great couple of days. I’m still pondering more Mt Rainier rides. I think I liked my earlier ride up to Sunrise and Chinook Pass a little better, just because there was less traffic at Sunrise than at Paradise, but really, it’s hard to go wrong… If I were to do that again, I think I would park at the White River entrance (bathrooms and drinking fountains!) and go up to Chinook Pass first, then celebrate at the top of Sunrise with a nice big meal.
As I drove back to Enumclaw, I was reminded of what a long slog it is from the top of Cayuse Pass to town. I know from biking that a couple years ago, and from RAMROD ride reports, that mentally, once you reach the top of Cayuse, you feel like you’ve done it. But there are still a lot of miles to cover–and they’re flat enough (though trending downhill) that you have to do a lot of pedaling, often into a headwind. So while I do want to do RAMROD, and should be able to next summer, I also really like my compact ROMROD version–pretty much all the climbing, and then done.
Meanwhile, it’s looking like a go for Hurricane Ridge on Sunday. Yay! And since I didn’t finish this post last night, I can now add in that…we leave for Italy…This…Month……… !!?*&%#!?!
*Route info if you’re thinking about doing this–the parking area at Grove of the Patriarchs has bathrooms and a drinking fountain. I noticed bathrooms at Tipsoo Lake, just below Chinook Pass, but did not notice if there was water also. Paradise has of course, bathrooms, water, a cafeteria, and at meal times a sit-down fancy restaurant.