I’m about to head back to the Dolomites–what have I been doing with myself?!?

Here I am, like last year, cringing about my lack of preparedness for the Alps and Dolomites, when it’s way past too late being able to do anything about it. And I’m also setting some “above and beyond” goals for myself. Because that makes sense.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s not like I’ve been doing nothing, it’s just… I guess I have a hard time even envisioning the situation where I have trained enough to feel prepared. But I won’t let that stand in the way of enjoying myself!

But what have I been doing? This was one of the things that I really wanted to know from other people when I was preparing for my first trip.  What sort of benchmarks that I could relate to my own experience were people doing before they cycled these awe-inspiring (and somewhat terrifying) climbs? So maybe this post is useful for someone, or maybe it’s a chance for me to ramble and post more pictures.

TLDR: Wet winter, Zwift, Santa Monica Mountains, Mazama weekend, STP, RAMROD, Ride the Hurricane, Mt Rainier, hope I’m ready.

Long version:

You may or may not be aware that the Pacific Northwet lived up to its moniker this winter in a “one for the record books” kind of way. Between that and some stressful and exhausting work things, I was having a really hard time getting on the bike. It got so bad that I bought an indoor turbo trainer to put my bike on, and signed up for Zwift and a couple other similar services.

This had a twofold effect: one, I could do some hard riding with some structured training plans and not come home hypothermic and sodden. Two, if the weather was ok, I could have a pleasant ride outside and go as my whimsy took me, rather than having a voice in my head telling me I should make sure to get some training benefit out of the ride. With the way everything else was going, having outside rides as pure stress-relief enjoyment was golden.

Next up, in April we did Cycling Escapes’ Santa Monica Mountains Climbing Camp. Like two years ago, it was a week of excellent routes and ride support. I really like how Cycling Escapes puts together the week, and would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested. I will note that it’s probably a good idea to do a bit of training for the week.

Instead we used the week to kick off our training… Yeah, there was some sore and tiredness going on.

Unlike the last time I did this trip, this year I was the only woman (out of about 15 riders). Not only were the rest of the riders all men, there were a few of them who were super dude-bro’s. Amongst various dude-bro antics, the highlight was the ostentatiously loud conversation that took place on the first day’s lunch stop about how “compact cranksets are for amateur riders who don’t train a lot.” Yup, I totally agree. After all, I am an amateur rider who doesn’t train a lot. Love my compact. I know another person who rides a compact crankset who fits that description–as a *former* pro, Andy Hampsten is now an amateur rider. And though he rides a ton, I don’t think he really trains any more–he just goes out and has fun on his bike. Not sure that’s what dude-bro had in mind.

I did a shorter option for a couple of the rides, but over the 5 lovely days of riding, still managed to ride 250 miles with about 30,000 feet of elevation.

Thence, more Zwifting, commuting, and working too much.

Until the delights of Redmond Cycling Club’s Mazama Weekend.

The fun hairpin coming down from Washington Pass

Like last year, I was lucky enough to ride it with my dad. We had a blast, despite the record heat (which seemed especially unfair, given how the rest of the year to date had been unseasonably cold!) I had a good ride and felt strong on both days, though as I rode into the hair dryer-like headwind at the end of the second day, I will admit that there was a repetitive chorus of “you’ve got to be f*cking kidding me” going through my head.

We’re at 5400 feet, and it’s already toasty… At least I was still smiling at this point.

My dad also had a strong ride, though his first day was interrupted by a series of flats. Which then led to a series of the messiest, dirtiest flat changes known to man. Which then led to him being given the ironic nickname “Mr. Clean” by the very entertained people from the Redmond Cycling Club as they regarded his dirt and grease-covered person with awe and amazement.

Mr. Clean having an adventure in the snow

The astute observer might note that I am riding a different bike than my beloved Colnago…

Despite the heat, a great weekend!

A couple more training rides, and then it was time for STP! I could definitely tell that my next-longest ride of the year to date had been just half the miles, but it still went pretty well. We had mostly good weather, despite a cross wind that made us very nervous about whether the usual tailwind at the end would instead be a headwind. Thankfully, the tailwind on US 30 materialized, and we still had some pep in our legs as we rolled into Portland. It was neat to get my 7th patch–even neater for Ian as he collected his 10th!

As if to make up for the previous two years of torrid temperatures, this year’s RAMROD was delightful. The day started with heavy marine layer that was just on the edge of being rain, but it was also quite warm (for 6AM). Just as I was starting to worry that it could be a bit chilly on the descents if this kept up, the clouds parted, right on time for the peek-a-boo views of the summit that make the climb up to Inspiration Point such a delight. And going up Cayuse was a positively civilized experience–I summited with plenty of water left, and without any threat of heat rash.

I call this “I’m happy about a successful RAMROD, Ian’s worried I’ll make him do it again some day”

This year, the Ride the Hurricane event advertised that “it surely couldn’t be as cold and wet as last year!” which was correct. For next year they should advertise “surely this year there will be a view!” Though it was a warm sunny day, smoke from the BC wildfires was pretty thick, so for a second year in a row, there was no view from the top. But my dad and I had a good time anyway. I was really pleased, because for the first time ever, I felt quite good all they way up the climb, and never had to go to my dark place. My time was pretty consistent with previous years’ but it felt easier, more doable, less daunting.

Interesting… Still not on my Colnago…

The “view” from the top. At least it’s dry!

The horrible, wet winter has meant a spectacular summer of wildflowers in the mountains!

I still can’t even begin to express how amazing it is to do that climb without cars. I felt like a little kid on a playground as I descended, thinking “all this space, just for us to have fun in?!?!” So we took advantage of every car-free minute, and climbed halfway back up, to the point that the smoke started getting thicker. A fun chat with some ride volunteers, and then it was time to head down, and let the cars take over again. A huge thank you to the organizers and to the National Park for making this happen!

After Hurricane Ridge, I had a couple weeks with just commutes, errands by bike, and a couple indoor trainer workouts. Instead, I focused on cross-training via teaching and taking ballet and modern dance classes. In other words, work got busy. But seriously–you take a ballet class, and tell me how your legs feel after. It’s actually quite brilliant cross-training for cycling.

This last weekend, we did one of my favorite training rides. We parked at the turn off for Crystal Mountain, and rode up to Sunrise, back down, and then up Cayuse to Chinook Pass. Hurricane Ridge had been good, but the wildflowers on the way up to Sunrise were more profuse and more colorful than I have ever seen–between the grand vistas and the close up details of the flowers, there was impossibly much to gawk at. Naturally, I didn’t take any photos of this section.

Demonstrating questionable selfie skills atop Chinook Pass

This ride has made me feel cautiously optimistic about how I will fare on this year’s Cinghiale trip. I wasn’t really faster than I have been on this ride in the past, but at the end, I didn’t feel nearly as drained or beat up as I have in the past. (Well, I might have napped on the car ride home, but I think that had more to do with how little sleep I got during the week before…)

This has more and more been the theme of my riding this year. I am doing less than I did in 2014, but on a lot of the same rides, I feel much better, much more capable of carrying on, and not like it is taking every physical and mental resource I have to complete the ride.

Which is good, because the Cinghiale trip will be challenging enough in itself, and I have some goals of my own that aren’t going to make it any easier. And in the spirit of the original purpose of this blog–to keep me honest and accountable in my training for the Alps and Dolomites–I’m going to reluctantly commit to them publicly. Before I’ve done them. Meaning I might have to come back here and eat crow…

  1. I want to ride both sides of the Gavia this year. I made the right decision when I decided not to my first year, but I understand my limits and capabilities better now, and want to ride it the Giro ’88 direction!
  2. I want to ride up the 3rd side of the Stelvio, the Switzerland side. Again, it worked well for my goals not to do so in 2014, but now I want to do it.
  3. So, I’ve done one side of the Pordoi… Yup, now I’d like to do the other.

At any rate, that’s some of what I’ve been up to this year in preparation for the Alps and Dolomites. I wish it were more, but I’m also heartened that, especially as the summer has progressed, these rides have felt so… doable. It was not long ago that they were pretty intimidating. In fact, it was not long ago that some moderate 1 or 2 block rises were intimidating. Now, the question for me is not whether I can get up something, but how much I do or don’t want it to hurt. So, fingers crossed, Alps and Dolomites–here I come!

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RAMROD and more

TLDR: Triple whammy. 7/20 Oregon Lakes Loop, 52 miles, 4,750′ elevation. 7/30 RAMROD, 146 miles, 8,950′ elevation. 8/2, Ride the Hurricane, 45 miles, 5,700′ elevation. Legs tired. Post too long.

Happy after finishing RAMROD! What you can’t see are my black helmet straps turned white with encrusted salt after riding in 90+ degree weather…

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.

One benefit of climbing slowly was getting to spend a lot of time staring at this.

So, what with the whole keep-stops-short thing, I didn’t take photos. But it looked a lot like it did when I did ROMROD last year, just with more cyclists.

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:)

150802_Hurricane_020.jpg

150802_Hurricane_018.jpg

Furthermore:

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!