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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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.