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!

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!

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.

ROMROD then RAMROD

(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.

RAMROD

RAMROD

RAMROD elevation profile. The beginning and end are essentially long flat miles. Most of the climbing is packed into the middle.

RAMROD elevation profile. The beginning and end are essentially long flat miles. Most of the climbing is packed into the middle.

ROMROD

ROMROD

ROMROD elevation profile. Note the lack of flat bits.

ROMROD elevation profile. Note the lack of flat bits.

(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.

 

What you see upon cresting Backbone Ridge

What you see upon cresting Backbone Ridge

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.

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

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

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.

I intended to take more pictures on the descent, but I was having too much fun to stop again.

I intended to take more pictures on the descent, but I was having too much fun to stop again.

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.

Grove of the Patriarchs trail. The trees in the background are big--the fallen tree in the foreground is really really big!

Grove of the Patriarchs trail. The trees in the background are big–the fallen trees in the foreground are really really big!

Some of this tree cover would have been nice on the way up to Paradise

Some of this tree cover would have been nice on the way up to Paradise

Grove of the Patriarchs

Grove of the Patriarchs trail

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.

Goals for the week of 7/28, miscellany

So I have completed the Tenth of the Tour (woo hoo!), and the Rapha Rising challenge (that one was a push…)–now what?

So: goals for the week of 7/28. First off, it turns out there are other things in my life–projects and chores–that need to get done, so some of that is in order for this week.

Secondly, I did a lot of riding in the last three weeks, and a lot of climbing in the last week, and my legs are tired! Today and tomorrow are rest days, and for doing non-strenuous projects and chores…

Though a computer crisis (I’m very unimpressed with Sony and their laptop quality control) has somewhat derailed the first goal, it has abetted the second, as I have been sitting around waiting on computer stuff. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my time, but I’ll count it towards my rest goal I guess, and call it good.

Thirdly, Wednesday I’ll be riding my bike on Mt Rainier again!!!! I enjoyed myself so much last time, and I’m really looking forward to being back there. Then I’m staying overnight and volunteering for RAMROD Thursday morning. Despite having to get up incredibly early for this (I’m not even willing to type the numbers of the o’ clock I’ll be starting at…), I’m looking forward to it also. I have been the beneficiary of fabulous volunteers at a number of events, and it will be good to give back a bit.

Lastly, on Sunday, depending on weather and life, as mentioned before we might do Ride the Hurricane.

And some navel-gazing miscellany:

Kicking around in my head is the awareness that, as much as this blog has already been really useful for me in setting goals and holding myself accountable, there are also much more systematic training programs that I could be following. I could have a professional cycling coach draw up a plan for me. I could get a power meter, and do targeted intervals. I could push myself harder more often.

Kicking around in my head also is that I have the tendency to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Just because I could be training better, could be improving more, doesn’t mean that what I am doing is worthless. (And this is a concept that I sometimes have a hard time with.)

I have gotten a lot stronger this year. I can see this both in absolute results, with steadily improving times on roads I do often, and in my attitude. I’m not having as much energy sapped by the worry that I can’t do something.

I really enjoy getting better on the bike, and I also enjoy enjoying myself on the bike. Sometimes those things intersect, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s fun to push myself as hard as I can up a hill, sometimes it just isn’t. And when it isn’t, I usually don’t. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit up and admire the scenery.

This summer hasn’t been as methodical as it could have been, but it’s been a lot of fun so far. I was looking back at my to-do rides of the summer post, and realized that I’ve done most of them, and had a blast in the process! Despite growing up here, there are a number of amazing places I had never been until I biked their roads in the last couple months. (And that includes some in-city nooks and crannies…)

Even though it’s important to me to get better, nothing is depending on it. It’s not my job. And even though I have a lot invested in this Italy trip, if I’m not feeling it, I can stay in the hotel for the day, or hop in the follow van, or turn around and  head back down the mountain. So why suffer more than I find entertaining to suffer?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that on the bike I’d rather do a mediocre job of getting better than do a mediocre job of having fun. So far, so good.

PS: our house has too many stairs. By which I mean it has stairs.

Mt Rainier by bike!

Yesterday’s ride was amazing! Biking up to Sunrise and Chinook Pass was so much fun, and stunningly beautiful. I want to go do it again!

At the last minute, my dad ending up signing up for the trip too, so the three of us got started first thing in the morning–judging by the traffic, a lot of people were still sleeping off their 4th of July parties…

(And for the record, even though it was super-fun to have my dad along, and I’m really glad he joined us, one has to wonder… Someone calls you up, and in the course of conversation mentions that because she is either stupid or a glutton for punishment or both, she is going to spend the next day–on a holiday weekend–riding up mountains. And instead of wishing her well and going on at length about the lazy morning you are planning, involving sleeping in, coffee, and a delicious breakfast, you say “sounds fun!” and join in. I am a little worried that I have inherited some questionable DNA here…)

Anyway. We started at Crystal Mountain Boulevard, and immediately headed uphill. There was a little downhill to the National Park entrance (bad… it’s elevation that we just have to re-climb), and then just steadily up from 3700′ to 6400′ at the Sunrise Visitor’s Center, the highest paved road in the state. It’s a nice climb–in the woods for the first part, and then the trees start to thin, and you start getting glimpses of the surrounding mountains–and their peaks are at eye level… Though constantly uphill, it’s not outrageously steep–I didn’t need my easiest gear, and felt very comfortable climbing the whole way.

View from Sunrise Point, 6100'

View from Sunrise Point, 6100′

We weren't the only ones biking up to Sunrise!

We weren’t the only ones biking up to Sunrise!

The last stretch towards the Visitor’s Center has you staring straight at the giant, so-close-you-could-touch-it summit of Mt Rainier. Though I still don’t have any interest in climbing it, seeing the mountain like that made me start to understand those who do.

We enjoyed lunch at the Visitor’s Center, and then headed back down for a super fun descent. Since it wasn’t overly steep, I didn’t feel like I had to ride the brakes (the steeper it is, the slower I tend to descend, as your speed can get away from you very quickly. Plus, it’s freaky-feeling to be pitched headfirst down a 15 or 20% slope…) Plus there were great swoopy bends in the road–not difficult, technical corners, just fun curves to lean into.

All bundled up for the descent from Sunrise. That cloud-shrouded looming presence in the background? Mt Rainier. It's really big!

All bundled up for the descent from Sunrise. That cloud-shrouded looming presence in the background? Mt Rainier. It’s really big…

Then, Chinook Pass (via Cayuse). I had been up Cayuse Pass two years ago, on an out-and-back from Enumclaw. It was my first time up a mountain, and I was pretty shattered at the end of the day. Granted, this time we were starting from partway up the climb (but after climbing several thousand feet to Sunrise), and it felt so much easier.

Up to Cayuse is a pretty steady climb, in the trees for the most part. Then you make the turn to go up to Chinook Pass, and suddenly this vista opens up as you go through a couple long switchbacks, with a view so silly amazing I was almost giggling. No photos of that bit–go see it for yourself.

At the top of Chinook Pass. Behind us, the road slopes down to Eastern Washington.

At the top of Chinook Pass. Behind us, the road slopes down to Eastern Washington.

From there it was all downhill–no more pedaling needed! After the Chinook Pass switchbacks, the road is pretty straight, and my speed didn’t drop below 30 mph until I was back at the car. Whee!

I already have planned a pre-RAMROD ride at the end of the month, and now I’m thinking that I want to get back there before or after that too. Or both.

And in closing, a plug for the National Park Service. Mt Rainier National Park is an amazing place, a true public treasure. There were tourists from all over the world there, wide-eyed. We had several interactions with Park employees, and they were all cheerful, knowledgeable, helpful, and very into their job. That even includes the people working the cafeteria. So support your National Parks, people!!!