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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Hello, Haleakala!

Short Version: We continued the tradition of freezing our butts off on vacation, and rode up Mt Haleakala in Maui. Because who goes to Hawaii to be warm?!?! 36 miles riding continuously up, to 10,023 feet, where the air is very thin. Then roll back down to sea level and breathe again. Some photos (as usual, if you click to embiggen, they’re embetter):

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At the top of Haleakala, with the crater (or, more properly, erosional valley…) in the background. We figured our jerseys from the Cinghiale trip were appropriate for such a ride.

 

Another view, the Big Island in the background. You really feel on top of the world up there.

Another view, the Big Island in the background. You really feel on top of the world up there.

 

Obligatory elevation sign photo. We really did it!

Obligatory elevation sign photo. We did it!

 

Better shot of the moon-scape crater without us in the way messing up the view.

Better shot of the moon-scape crater without us in the way messing up the view.

 

Long version:

During a cold snap around Thanksgiving, Ian couldn’t take it any more. He looked at our gobs of frequent flyer miles, and started researching flight options to Maui. So, post-Christmas, we headed out for four days in tropical warmth. To our amusement, another cold snap settled in to Seattle right as we left…

Beaches and tropical paradise are nice and all, but we wouldn’t want to enjoy ourselves too much on vacation, so we looked into the options for bicycling up Mt Haleakala. It’s supposedly the longest paved, continuous climb in the world.

The climb goes from sea level to 10,023 feet with just a couple flat or downhill sections so brief if you blinked you’d miss them. I quibbled with the “continuous” label for the climb because of these, but Ian said I was being silly.

At any rate, it looked like the good options were to rent road bikes from Maui Cyclery, or sign up to do a supported ride with them, their schedule permitting. Their schedule did permit, so we opted for the latter, meaning that an angel named Ed drove up, periodically stopping and offering us and a couple others food, water, and encouragement.

It also meant we could pack all sorts of “just in case” gear for the descent, and then choose what the conditions merited once we got up to 6500′ (Ed had to leave off there because commercial operations aren’t allowed past the National Park entrance, after some people on downhill-only bike tours died…)

Sure, we could have done the ride on our own, lots of people do, but it sure was nice to have the support of someone else taking care of our water and food and gear. The less you have to carry on your bike uphill, the better. Not to mention that Ed was nice, fun, and encouraging. Thanks Ed and Maui Cyclery!

Pre-trip, as usual I dealt with my anxiety about this epic and difficult ride by reading as many accounts as I could of it. The ride sounded really hard–but also like something that I could do. There are a couple brief steep sections (best of all is the final steep kicker at the very end when there is no air to breathe, and you are so ready to be done. That’s a fun little treat…) but the grade overall isn’t that steep. It certainly wasn’t as steep as a bunch of the climbs we did this summer. The trick is that it just keeps going.

For 36 miles.

To over 10,000 feet.

But though I’m not the fastest person on a bike around, I am decent at pacing myself so that I can keep going. That seemed like one of the keys to this ride–calm and steady.

The other key was what I couldn’t control: the weather. At any time of the year, you can encounter gale-force winds, freezing rain, impenetrable fog, or sunshine and warmth. We got the latter. We had about as good weather as one could possibly have for this: sunny, warm, and barely any wind.

To contrast, here is us at the summit two days later (the overnight gusts to 70mph had calmed down, but even the people who work there were noting that it was a pretty windy day):

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A slightly breezy day.

It was hard to stand up in the wind that day. Much less walk into it. Much less bike into it. As we drove up, we passed several cyclists making the ascent that day–I have huge respect for them. This was an unbelievably difficult ride in calm weather, and I don’t think I would have made it had we been riding up that day.

Meanwhile, two days earlier in calm weather, we picked up bikes at Maui Cyclery (titanium Litespeeds, if you’re curious. In an instance of epic unfairness, my bike had a compact double with great low end gearing, but Ian’s had a triple crankset with even better low end gearing. I really could have used those couple extra gears he had…) and after some time getting set up, headed uphill at around 8:45AM.

And about 5 minutes later, Ian decided his saddle was too low, rode a little longer, decided it really was too too low, and turned around for the shop to get it raised and get a multi-tool in case he needed to adjust it again. The bikes were really nice, but a rental just isn’t the same as your own.

Also, I know that if I rent a bike again in the future for a ride of any length, I need to bring my own saddle. I’ll save you the details.

It’s Maui–it seems a little ridiculous to state that the ride was beautiful. Duh. You go through a variety of landscapes–small town, farmland, forest, grassland, volcanic moonscape, and so on.

Not only is the landscape around you beautiful, but pretty soon, so are the views out over the landscape. The beginning of the ride is a pretty gentle ascent (most of the ride is a pretty gentle ascent–but in the beginning, it still feels like a gentle ascent too), but it’s steady.

Before you’ve really even done much of the ride, you’ve already ascended a long ways, and can see northwest out past Paia to the ocean, the view already looking like an aerial photograph. Whatever tropical magic it is, the angle of the light, the temperature of the water, whatever, the ocean is that magical tropical blue, and the breaking waves that are so impressive close up are just a pencil line of white outlining the coast.

And a little bit further on, you can see across the isthmus connecting the older mountains of West Maui and the newer mass formed by Haleakala, all the way to the ocean on the southwest. And the peaks of West Maui start to look about eye-level.

Looking out towards West Maui from near the summit. (Taken on the day we drove up. Because there wasn't much extra fiddle-fiddle going on the day we biked.)

Looking out towards West Maui from near the summit. (Taken on the day we drove up. Because there wasn’t much extra fiddle-faddle going on the day we biked.)

Another fun part about the ascent was that, until the 6,500 foot mark, you can wave at all the groups of downhill cyclists, and feel pretty bad-ass that you’re biking in the other direction. This downhill Haleakala cycling is a big tourist attraction on Maui.

Some outfits pick you up at your resort at 2AM, drive you up to the summit to watch the sunrise (and nearly freeze to death), then drive back out of the park to 6,500 feet, and put you on some sort of upright cruiser or mountain bike with squealing brakes and a full-face motorcycle helmet, and follow a guide back down to sea-level. Other tours omit the sunrise, and just let you off at 6,500 feet at a more reasonable time of day.

Some people love it. Some people have gotten seriously injured or killed doing it (hence the Park not letting them start their rides from the summit any more). Instead of completely bad-mouthing the experience, I’ll just say it’s not my thing.

But thanks to these tours, there’s a lot of awareness of cyclists on the road to Haleakala. And the guides know what it means when you’re biking the other way–they cheer you on as they lead their group down, as do some of the people on the tour. Occasionally I gave in to the impulse, and cheerfully called out to them “you’re going the wrong way!”

But scenery, views, and other cyclists aside, it’s a daunting climb. Normally when I get to the half-way point of a climb, I start to feel a sense of accomplishment, and get more optimistic about it, as I can start telling myself that I’ve already completed more than I have left to do.

But when I passed the 5,000 foot mark, I had a hard time convincing myself that there wasn’t so much left, comparatively speaking. After all, the remaining 5,000 feet still counted as a REALLY BIG CLIMB!

For perspective, Haleakala is somewhat comparable to climbing Hurricane Ridge, one of my big rides of the summer, twice. Without any break in the middle for descending back to the bottom. And the second time, you’re already really tired, and now you can’t breathe either.

This post is too long, so here's a nice random bit of West Maui from another day.

This post is too long, so here’s a nice random bit of West Maui from another day.

From about 5,500 feet to the Visitor Center at 7,000 feet, I was really feeling the magnitude of what I still had left to do, and not feeling like I was making much progress. And the switchbacks in that section are a bit steeper overall than most of the rest of the ride. I never went to my dark place on this ride, but this was the hardest section for me.

At 7,000 feet, something flipped for me. I only had three 1,000-foot climbs remaining, which seemed completely doable. 1,000 feet is still a chunk of climbing, but it’s a chunk that is conceptually manageable–and only three of them. That I could do!

And I did. One key for me to those last 3,000 feet was focusing on a couple hundred feet at a time. That’s not much climbing, and it makes a measurable dent in each 1,000-foot chunk.

Another key was never to push so hard that I needed to take a deep breath. Because the air just wasn’t there. Which wasn’t a problem–as long as I didn’t need to breathe that hard.

So, yeah, I didn’t set any land speed records over those last 3,000 feet…

Through all of this, I could also look out and down onto mountains of West Maui, and even the clouds. It was an incredible sensation. Mind-blowing doesn’t even get there.

More West Maui :)

More West Maui 🙂

So yes, biking up Haleakala is a pretty insane thing to do, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a reason to do it. It’s not the same in a car–as I know because we drove up two days later. You get the same views, but not the same opportunity to study them and their evolution, nor the sense of ownership and accomplishment.

At any rate, we made the summit. The last little kicker of steepness wasn’t as bad as I worried. I won’t say it was pretty getting up it, but it was more of the same slog of just-keep-going, but even slower.

I almost had a tragic tale to tell, as negotiating the turn from the poorly placed curb cut to the path to the very top exceeded my bike-handling skills at the moment. But all’s well that ends well, or so they say.

One fun part of biking to the summit is that you become a minor celebrity up there. People gawk and ask about the ride and act generally impressed with you. One nice woman–another athlete who does (I believe) trail running and other such extreme things, and so could really understand the effort we had just put in–insisted on taking lots of photos for us, with different parts of the view as backgrounds. Thanks, nice woman whose name we didn’t get!

Great as all that is, the prospect of a shower and real food beckons seductively. But at 10,023 feet, even a fast descent will still take a while. So we didn’t linger too much at the top, somewhat anxious to be done with the day.

The descent was really spectacular. At first I was pretty cautious, as I was on an unfamiliar bike (and my lower back was cramping up, the brakes didn’t feel as grippy as mine, and my wrists were fatigued and sore).

But, especially after a stop to stretch out our backs and other bits at the Visitor’s Center, at which point I was able to adjust the brakes a bit too, my confidence grew. The rental bikes actually handled great on the descent, and the road was beautifully constructed and banked for descending. Even getting a flat tire around 4,500 feet couldn’t put much of a damper in the fun of the descent. (Also, thanks to the guy in the Castelli kit who stopped to make sure we had everything we needed, and helped us committed pump-users with the CO2 cartridge the rental bike had in case of a flat.)

Afterward, Ian commented that he would come back to do that ride again just to do the descent–and this from someone who doesn’t always consider descending to be very fun. It really was that good. Or, I should say, it really was that good on well-handling road bikes, after earning every inch of the descent by climbing it.

I found a better shot of the view out to West Maui. I'm too lazy to rearrange the photos in the post, so I'm just adding this one in here.

I found a better shot of the view out to West Maui. I’m too lazy to rearrange the photos in the post, so I’m just adding this one in here.

Nope, those downhill tours really aren’t my thing.

We made it in to town, happily rolling past several blocks of backed up car traffic (I will own the gleeful cackle I let out when we went past a car that had refused to go around us for quite a while–when we were biking on the shoulder–and then after turning onto a road without a shoulder, got upset and zoomed by in a huff, veering out into oncoming traffic unnecessarily to get around us…)

And then one of the best parts of a ride like this–a life-affirming shower, clean clothes, and DINNER!

We spent most of the rest of the evening discussing what a crazy, amazing, difficult, fun, crazy thing that had been to do. The phrase “I can’t believe we just did that!!!” was uttered more than once.

Riding up Mt Haleakala is definitely the most difficult ride I’ve done–but as far as personal challenge, much easier rides have been much harder for me.

This was a ride I felt that I had the tools to be able to do. The first time I rode up Zoo Hill, I spent the whole two days before with waves of adrenaline and cold sweats sweeping over me, not even knowing if I could make it. I started this blog to help deal with my anxiety that, in signing up for the Cinghiale Dolomites trip, I had gotten in way over my head.

One of the great things about the last couple years of cycling has been not so much the growth in my abilities on the bike, but the growth in my confidence in my abilities and what I can accomplish on the bike.

After all, there has to be some reason that I keep on doing stupid things like shivering with cold on top of a mountain when visiting Hawaii to get away from the cold.

In all seriousness, it was an amazing day. Challenging, fun, and really really astonishingly beautiful. I’m not exactly sure I would recommend doing it… But it was so worth doing.

Not from the ride, but a representative sample of beautiful Maui-ness

Not from the ride, but a representative sample of beautiful Maui-ness

 

The biggest single climb I've ever done, to the highest altitude I've ever been at not in an airplane.

The biggest single climb I’ve ever done, to the highest altitude I’ve ever been at not in an airplane.

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.

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!!!