So, I’ll start in the middle and work my way out.
Thursday was RAMROD, which I had a guaranteed spot for after volunteering last year. Though for STP we lucked out with cool weather breaking the region’s record heat wave, no such luck here. The forecast was for the 90’s, and I’ve read enough blogs to know that Cayuse Pass is an unbelievable oven in the afternoon sun. Yikes.
The start line was open from 5:00AM to 7:00AM. I had originally though to take advantage of our hotel room in Enumclaw to get a bit more sleep, and start around 6:00AM. After all, shouldn’t one of the advantages of staying in Enumclaw be that you don’t have to get up super early in the morning?
Instead, I decided to take advantage of every cool minute of the day, so my alarm went off at 4:00 while Ian grumbled. (While I was riding, Ian would be volunteering at the Crystal Mountain stop–aka the wonderful place 110 miles in where they make you a sandwich. But at 110 miles in you have enough time before the cyclists get there that you can get up at a reasonable time.) (I would like to remind you that last year, I had to report for my volunteer assignment at 3:15AM…)
I rolled over to the start, choked down a little breakfast (eating before I’m used to, while also being a little nervous, is excruciatingly difficult for me) (note that my nerves are always only in anticipation–the moment I start, no more nerves. And I’m suddenly hungry…), and crossed the start line at 5:01AM. Deliciously, it was in the 50’s and I was a little chilly, even with my vest and arm warmers on. I told myself to enjoy it, because it wouldn’t last. I love being right.
Interjection–in case I don’t remember to say it enough times, the organization and support on RAMROD is really impressive. Thank you!
I have ridden almost the whole RAMROD course, except for the opening section from Enumclaw up to Inspiration Point. From the profile, I expected it to be a long, flattish slog before you get to the fun (=painful climbing) stuff. What I did not expect is how beautiful it would be.
The opening section sends you through fields and forests, and along lakes and rivers. Mist still hung over the fields, floating away into nothing as the light started to hit it. Mt Rainier shone, brightly lit up against a still-dark sky. The early-morning quiet was peaceful yet somehow energizing.
And I saw a horse with markings like a Holstein cow, so that was cool too.
The climb up to Inspiration Point from that direction is much more wooded than the other way, and really magical. You’re threading your way through the trees, and every once in a while, the peak of Rainier would burst through the gap made by the road, stretching out and over the trees like a cape.
Throughout the beginning, I was feeling pretty good, and so pushed a bit on the bike, and kept my stops short, in hopes of getting to Cayuse Pass as early as possible.
Inspiration Point summited, I rolled down to the second main food stop, the one with chocolate croissants and baby potatoes. They were as welcome and delicious as all the accounts I had read of them. A nice thing about RAMROD is that with a comparatively small rider count, the stops can be laid out pretty compactly, and you can get what you need and get out in very good time.
Backbone Ridge, if you know to expect it, really isn’t that bad. The descent from it in that direction is really fun and swoopy, and then… Then it’s the left turn to head you towards Cayuse Pass. Which is an oven in the afternoon.
But I made the turn at 11:30AM.
Here is where I was so glad I had pushed myself on the road and at the stops. Most of the way up Cayuse, I was able to ride in the shade, and while it was certainly hot, it was not extreme by any means. I did go through both my water bottles, but I didn’t need to stop and refill at the water station partway up.
(Have I mentioned how great the support and organization is on RAMROD? Thank you!)
The climb up Cayuse is really steady, and I was able to get into a good pedaling and breathing rhythm, and just keep it going. When I would start to flag a bit, I would just focus on the rhythm, rather than on how I was feeling (and I would eat a bite or drink a little), and found that I could keep the effort up.
Throughout RAMROD, and particularly here, I experienced a lot of tortoise-and-the-hare effect (hint, I was the tortoise). Since I just kept going (and earlier, kept my stops short), I kept on getting passed by the same people–they were faster than me on the road, but kept stopping. One guy in particular had a lovely Hampsten Cycles Maglia Rosa. I admired it, and mentioned that I had been thinking about a Hampsten Strada Bianca. About the 3rd or 4th time he passed me, he joked that he was being paid big money to ride the bike slowly past me…
At the top of Cayuse, I gratefully filled my water bottles, and then rolled down the fun descent(!) to the deli stop, where I did not yell any of the silly/embarrassing things at Ian that I had threatened to. As much as I had been working hard, he wasn’t having an easy day either–he and all the volunteers were constantly on the go at the stop keeping riders fed. Ian said he sat down once for about 5 minutes the entire day. The rest of the time he was trying to keep the stop stocked in sliced watermelon, tomatoes, nectarines, and basically anything else that needed to be sliced.
Anyway, I had a delicious sandwich, some very expertly sliced watermelon, an *ice-cold* Coke, and sat down on something not my bike saddle for the first time in the day. (Thanks to the cyclist next to me, who just after watching me painfully grunt my way down to sitting on the ground, got up to get me a Coke after I saw his and said, with wonder and joy, “they have Coke here?!?!?!?!”)
At this point, since I had made it up Cayuse Pass before the worst heat of the day, I saw no reason any more to push like mad. I rode the last 35ish miles back at a relaxed pace, letting the usual headwind into Enumclaw slow me down, rather than fight it. I latched onto a couple pacelines for a bit, but for the most part found it easier to go my own pace and look around, rather than maintain the focus necessary to take advantage of drafting a group.
In fact, for the most part I rode RAMROD on my own. In the beginning, it was so beautiful that I wanted to look around at the scenery, rather than at the butt of the cyclist in front of me. And at the end, because I was tired enough, to me it was easier to just go slow.
Thinking about how long it had taken me to do earlier rides, and knowing that you can’t assume that you can do a ride twice as long in just twice the time, I had a goal time of 12 hours. And I thought that might be ambitious–I was hesitant to even mention my goal time to Ian or anyone else. And given that heat slows me down, well… At least it’s nice to have goals, even if they aren’t realistic.
I crossed the finish line at 3:40PM.
10:39 elapsed time.
That’s right, even without taking advantage of pacelines, and softpedaling to Enumclaw from the deli stop, I beat my stretch goal by 1 hour 21 minutes.
Yes, I’m still pretty excited about that.
At the finish line, I was quite surprised to hear my dad call out my name. He had told me he would be away sailing. Instead he came to the RAMROD finish line to surprise me. He lied to me!
Lies aside, it was a really wonderful treat to see him at the end, and get to hang out until Ian finished volunteering. Between getting a shower and a massage at the finish line, Dad commented when Ian showed up that he looked more wiped out than I did! Slicing tomatoes all day in the heat is tough work!
It was a great ride (seriously, I can’t thank the volunteers and organizers enough–I felt the whole ride through that I had what I needed, when I needed it, to allow me to ride my best ride), and a fabulous finish. I can’t wait till next year!
Oh, I mentioned a couple other rides at the top of the post too, didn’t I…
The week before RAMROD, we were at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, and met up with a cyclist who will be on the Dolomites trip also. She very generously took us on a great mountain loop in the area (note, we did it clockwise, not counterclockwise. This meant a steeper climb in the beginning, and an amazing fun twisty descent at the end.) She’s a fun person and a strong cyclist–I’m really looking forward to spending more time with her in Italy. Thanks again, M!
And then today, I rode the Ride the Hurricane event again. And since you asked, yes, my legs were still tired from RAMROD. So, why?
(A couple preliminary reasons:)
1) Riding up Hurricane Ridge car-free is WONDERFUL. This might be becoming one of my favorite cycling events.
2) I talked it up so much that I talked my dad into doing it to, so it was fun to ride and hang out with him.
3) Doing it after RAMROD, and then (here’s the important part) giving myself a few days of rest and recovery, should hopefully have a positive training effect–the idea is to freak my muscles out with what I might be crazy enough to throw at them next (like a trip to the Dolomites) and convince them to build themselves up a bit more…
Interestingly (at least to me), though my overall time was slower up Hurricane Ridge than the previous two times I’ve done it, I felt better as I went along, and actually rode the last part of it the fastest I ever have. (“Ever” being a sample size of three, but still…)
Anyway, it’s been a challenging and fun couple weeks, and on the calendar for the next few days is taking it easy.
Congrats to anyone who made it through to the end of this over-long post. Conceptual gold star to you!