Mt Rainier, finally!

After a cold derailed my plans to repeat last year’s Sunrise-Cayuse-Chinook ride on Mt Rainier before STP, I was trying to figure out when I could get that ride in. Both for the training benefit, and because it’s gorgeous.

Looking at my calendar, this past Wednesday was the only time I really had a chance to get it in, as long as I got up early enough. I really don’t like mornings. But at 5:45AM I bounded out of bed (or crawled) and was on the road by 6:15AM.

Oh, and if you’re counting, yes, I was heading off to ride up a mountain a couple times just 4 days after STP. Pushing yourself is how you build strength. And spoiler alert: my legs are now tired. And I am giving them a chance to rest.

The drive to the ride’s starting point (the parking lot at the turn-off for Crystal Mountain) was uneventful. Though there is a part, about 40 miles before you get to the parking lot, when Mt Rainier starts filling your field of vision. And it gets bigger. And bigger. And you’re not even close yet. And you start to wonder about your plans to bike up it today, and do RAMROD in a couple weeks.

Anyway.

After the heat wave we’ve been having, it was very bizarre to step out of the car into 48 degree weather. It was a cloudless and sunny day, but the morning can be chilly on a mountain! I was quite glad that I had grabbed my leg warmers at the last minute–they stayed on the entire ride. But since the road goes uphill immediately, I knew that being cold wouldn’t last long. I was right.

The nice thing about doing this ride on a weekday was that, as compared to a nice weekend day, there was hardly any traffic. No line at the booth to enter the National Park, very few cars going by me–and thank you to all of them who did for leaving lots of room when they passed me.

It’s a good steady climb up to Sunrise–in fact, pretty much the same as when I wrote about it last year… The wildflowers were in riotous full bloom, and made a beautiful contrast of bright color against the dark evergreen of the trees. This is one of the things I really enjoy about biking up mountains–not only can you enjoy grand vistas (which I did), but you can also see the small details of a flower’s petals.

Rainier

I didn’t stop to take pictures, because I had to get back home in time to get to work. But here’s a photo from the Mt Rainier page on wildflowers. Click on the photo to get to the page, with links to info about the gazillion different wildflowers up there.

About a third of the way up to Sunrise, I noticed a car up ahead, pulled over with its hazards flashing. I slowed a bit and looked around, and just then a bear wandered onto the road ahead of the car.

I stopped.

I stayed stopped.

The bear meandered across the road, taking its time, and eventually got to the other side. (Q. Why did the bear cross the road? A. It’s a bear, it can do whatever it wants.)

I stayed stopped.

And sure enough, two little bear cubs bounded onto the road, bouncing their way across. I think that bears are pretty cute, and bear cubs are even cuter, but I was really glad that I did not have a closer view of them!

Bear family hung out on the side of the road for a bit, then continued up the mountainside, and I finally resumed pedaling. Given that I saw what was going on and stopped in time, it was a really neat experience–I was far enough away that they didn’t even bother glancing in my direction, not when there were yummy plant bits to nibble on the side of the road (apparently). But it was still a little closer than I felt I needed to be to a mother bear and her cubs!

The rest of the ride up to Sunrise continued without incident. As soon after STP as it was, I was pleased at how good my legs felt–my time from the car up to the top of Sunrise was about 12 minutes faster than last year.

I had really been looking forward to chocolate milk and a hot dog at the cafeteria (why a hot dog? I don’t know–it just sounded really good.) Alas, the kitchen didn’t open until 11:00AM, and it was only 10:15. That’s what I get for getting out of bed so early in the morning. So I had chocolate milk and some snacks from their cooler, and 15 minutes later, was rolling back downhill.

Besides my improved time up to Sunrise, I was also pleased by how ready to go I felt–when I got to the top, I didn’t need to rest and recover for a long time. I just wanted to fuel up and keep going. When I did this ride last year, I definitely appreciated taking some long breaks along the way.

Up to Cayuse Pass, and then the switchbacks to Chinook Pass. This continues to be a really fun part for me–the grade lessens considerably for a while, and you suddenly feel like you’re going so fast! Uphill! And then a last little push, and you’re there! No need to pedal from this point onwards, unless you feel like it.

After the great descent, I got back to the car, just 4:15 after I left it. Not bad for a 55 mile, 6,000′ elevation gain ride. After feeling strong on STP, and not feeling like I needed tons of recovery time between climbs on this ride, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic for RAMROD.

This is a pretty great ride to do–but you know what’s really awesome? Sitting on the couch. That’s pretty much the bee’s knees.

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STP #5

Five 1-day STP's in a row!

Five 1-day STP’s in a row!

Really, it is amazing that a person can get from Seattle to Portland completely under her own power in a single day. The bicycle is a marvel of mechanical efficiency. Which is to say that Saturday was my fifth STP ride in a row. Each year it gets easier in certain respects, yet each year I look back the next day and think “really?!?! I did that?!?! Wow!”

And even more impressive than the fact that I got to Portland under my own power, is that about 10,000 people did the same thing, spread between one and two-day riders. It’s pretty neat.

Anyway, the annual endurance tradition went well. You may recall that last year saw us dealing with temperatures well into the 90’s. With the heat wave that we’ve been having, I was worried about a repeat. But it was cloudy with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s–my power weather.

The flip side was that we did not have the usual tailwind (last year’s was especially impressive), but instead had a slight headwind. We grumbled quite a bit about it, but I’ll still take this year’s weather over last year’s. And despite the big difference in wind, we got to Portland at about the same time as last year–that’s how much extra time the heat took out of us in longer rest stops, and having to keep our effort level low while riding.

This year was an interesting experience for me in the differing fitnesses on the bike.

After doing this four times, I didn’t have any doubt about my ability to finish, barring freak accidents. But it is true that this year, I have fewer long (80 mile plus) rides under my belt that in previous years. But I’ve also been feeling really strong, and have smashed some personal best times on hills that I have ridden up dozens of times.

So STP turned out pretty much how one might expect. The things on the bike that are more durational fitness-related were barking at me a little–for me, my wrists and neck, mostly. Yet I was overall riding really strongly. For example, I went up “The Hill” in Puyallup about 15% faster than before, without feeling like I was working any harder. And 140 miles in, I felt like I was flying, and collected quite a paceline of people happy to draft me–but later on, I looked back and they were gone. I wasn’t trying to ride them off my wheel, I just felt good and was going.

There are a couple sections that tend to be lows for me, and they were again. But I overall felt better and stronger on the ride–enough so that I didn’t mind that my neck and wrists were a little annoyed with me.

A piece of information that I got at the finish line was that I was the 44th woman to cross the line. Now, mind you, I don’t know how many women do the ride in one day, so I don’t exactly know what that number means–but my hunch is that it’s something to feel good about!

We had a great time on the ride, and were pretty happy to be done!

We had a great time on the ride, and were pretty happy to be done!

In other news, a cold derailed me from my plans to ride on Mt Rainier last weekend, which I’m still bummed about. I’m going to see if I can squeeze that in this week. And the tail end of the cold also interrupted my Tenth of the Tour run–I was doing ok, but woke up the day before STP feeling not so great again, and decided that I was better off getting as much rest as I could. Luckily I felt good again on Saturday for STP. I’m bummed about all of that, but I made the right decisions. I’m going to keep as much of the Tenth of the Tour going as I can, just as a way to keep me biking, even if I won’t get “credit” for having done the whole thing.

And I’m going to try to get rid of this lingering congestion and cough!