The RAMROD is a bicycle ride; a 154-mile day long road ride around Mt Rainer with an estimated 10,000 feet of total elevation gain. It’s a loop, starting and ending in Enumclaw, so there is also 10,000 total feet of downhill riding.
Pre ride impressions
We drove into the park. The hills were long. In pieces, they were similar to many that I had done before. They were longer than anything I’d ever biked up before. In this ride the hills would start after 60 some miles of gradual uphill riding; I’d be starting to hit the passes tired. Psyched. I’d recently completed a 150-mile ride (day 1 of the STP) and a 105-mile ride (a week later, a reprise of the local century, plus some bonus miles). Both experiences were somewhat painful. Psyched again.
Dad and I drove the out to Enumclaw, the starting point of the ride, the night before; ostensible to pick up my packet; but basically I needed to see the route, and needed to start thinking about how to do the ride in some detail. The drive turns out to be much longer than estimated (2 hours each way from National Park Inn). We barely make the last call for dinner at Eatonville; grabbing a burger at Aarons just before close at 9pm. Got back to National Park Inn a little after 10pm. Did my final packing for the ride and went to sleep.
Started the morning getting up a little after 3am. Got dressed. Took some stuff out to the car. Put the rack on. Woke up Julie and we left. Arrived eventually at Enumclaw. Started riding around 6? Maybe sometime after; hit the restroom etc. before heading off. It was cold. I was wondering what the hell I was doing out there. As I was clearly and evidently apprehensive, Julie reminded me that it was my vacation; and that I needed to enjoy the ride. I remembered this during the ride; but still didn’t stop for coffee in Elbe.
It was cold, 50 degrees and foggy. Didn’t get a good breakfast and missed my coffee. But, starting was the first thing to do. Found a paceline early; invited in. Pulled me out of a funk; all the way to Eatonville. Got to re-ride part of another organized ride, the Daffodil, with that line. Nice to see it again; I’d ridden that with my son David and daughter Rhea earlier this year. That paceline and the first hill out of Eatonville did a good job of reviving me. It was great to get to the park. Spoke with a few riders as they passed me. We were all glad to see the sun out; as we were cold at the start. It was good to start the long climb into the park, and eventually up to Paradise.
A bicyclist got pulled over in Eatonville. Maybe ran The Stop Sign? The hills up outside of Eatonville were significant; but, well within bounds. Weber canyon-like; although not as steady. Although when I hit the resistance of the first hill; I though something was wrong with the back (tire rubbing). Nope; just uphill. Kept riding.
The sun came out for me first near Aldar Lake; outside of Elbe. It felt good. Had good speed. Had a good view of the lake. Probably should have had the coffee in Elbe. No big lines.
The ride from Elbe into the park; up to Longmire, is similar to heading up Edison/Union from the river; but longer. From Longmire up to Paradise is like heading up Leslie, but a whole lot longer.
At this point I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. But, I’d felt that way on other rides and completed them.
In the Park
Enjoyed the park entrance to Kautz creek. The bike provided a great view of the undergrowth in the rain forest. Much moss and fern. Good riding.
Lunch at Kautz creek; A bagel, banana, fruit. Filled the water bottles with Gatorade. Someone made a crack about the sanitary conditions. Lunch was set up right by the can. I agreed and then dove into the bagel.
Saw Dad and Laura watching for me outside of National Park Inn. Stopped; talked; some pictures happened. Claimed I was on course for a 12 hour ride. And then took off as best I could. Did alright up
Got passed a lot by skinny people on good bikes, with a good cadence, in groups. Saw a lot of familiar sights. Even on a bike, going uphill, it seemed a little too fast to take it all in. The park is great. The road and traffic were favorable. The road grade varied, which is helpful. Built in rest.
Hit the top; tired. Saw a water stop. Rolled right by. Once I started downhill, I figured I would be finally committed to the completing the whole ride. I started downhill.
The descent from
Up Backbone ridge
Did well on the climb up backbone ridge. Kept folks in sight and didn’t get passed. Pushed it well; another checkpoint near the top. Stopped just before beginning the descent to refuel; thinking of the final climb to come.
Lots of bumps in the rode to watch for; got by them well enough. More fun on good switchbacks; can take them faster on a bike than in a car. A longer descent than the previous uphill, since we were going to a fairly low elevation (somewhere in the low 2000’s above sea level).
Up Cayuse pass
Up Cayuse pass is very steep. And long. During the ride up, the grade appeared flat but the inclometer indicated a steady 7-8% grade. That was almost comical given the contrast in appearance. I was working to go 5-6 mph. I knew that if I looked back it would look downhill. I didn’t look back. A little steeper than Weber canyon; but consistently steeper. I was in danger of overheating and so planned to stop about half way up. That turned out to be the Deer Creek watering stop. The watering down I got at the Deer Creek stop was a lifesaver; there for a good 15 minutes. Shade. Watered both inside and out. From there I was in trouble; still in danger of overheating. Had to stop one more time in the shade. More water and maybe downed my last gell there. My heart rate was in an easy enough place (around 140 BPM); but I had no push in the legs. It turns out I wasn’t eating enough (about half as much as a recommended .5g of carbo per pound of body weight per hour). I finished the pass at a paltry 4-5mph. Spoke with a woman on the way up. She was resting, so I could catch her. She rode with me a few hundred yards. Training for triathlons. Going to switch from endurance mountain events to track riding; thinking she’d enjoy sprinting hard more. Then she powered on up and away.
Cayuse pass was hard. I’d fueled up for it at the top of Backbone ridge. Had a gel; drank half a bottle. Clearly, I should have pounded down some more (note: used up all the gels I’d packed (5?), but left a couple of bars in the saddle bag. Gels win. No noticeable stomach problems (Clif brand)).
Got to the top. And there, even with 45 miles left, the ride was in hand. Downhill all the way; and I was conscious, reasonably coherent and could turn the cranks. The ride folk stationed at the top of the pass took a look at my number (keeping track of who still existed where) and down the other side I went.
The downhill from the pass is likely the steepest, longest descent on the ride. It’s straight, down a bumpy road. Fortunately, there were no cars to deal with; turns out that most of the cars were backed up behind a tandem. Lightly peddled down to keep the legs loose.
Ride back into Enumclaw
Nobody passed me for the longest time on the downhill. My goal at this point was to get to the next rest stop and have a sandwich. It took longer than I thought it would. Fortunately, there were folks pointing out the stop to weary cyclist. I pulled in, laid my bike down on the ground (I was tired, and mistakenly laid it drivetrain side down. No penalty apparent for that mistake though). And got in line for a sandwich (nobody ever uses the restroom in movies, so it’s the same in this narrative). Ham, white cheese, mustard, lettuce, tomato. Pounded it down. Had a few ounces of Coke. Refilled the water bottle. Overhead someone say: “Our next assignment is to find a tandem and follow it on home”. Tandems are fast on the flats. I headed out. Trying to make as good a speed as I could. Held 20 mph awhile (remember: it’s still downhill somewhat). The wind seemed against me somewhat, but it always does on a bike. Saw a cyclist ahead of me and tried to catch him. Couldn’t, but kept him in sight. Good for pacing. Rode and rode. I was passed by a somewhat faster rider; didn’t latch on to draft. Next I was passed by a much faster group of 4; didn’t try to latch on. The single rider ahead, that had recently passed me, did latch on. Then a paceline lead by a tandem passed. The recently formed group latched on, and I pedaled hard and grabbed on as well. We were going a safe-and-sane 25mph, my heart rate was up (for this stage of the ride) to 149 BPM. I wasn’t going to hang on with this group all the way for the rest of the ride. We passed the solitary rider that I’d been tracking, went through some town (
My bike computer reset itself at some point during this stretch; not a good thing, as the total mileage, in conjunction with ride sheet, was how I was going to not get too lost. Fortunately, the final key turn I had to make was well marked by a sign and some people, apparently there to make sure bleary/weary riders didn’t just pedal on past. Made the turn. Reset the computer to zero, so I could wander on in the last 6.1 miles. Found the final curvy downhill. I was taking it easy down the switchbacks and got passed again by a fast group. One of them almost lost it. I wandered on in and was greeted by the family, and some food. A warm welcome. A good ride; barely in bounds for my ability.
Post ride impressions
A good ride. A good goal achieved. But, very difficult and nearly too difficult. About 12 hours and 20 minutes total duration. Maybe as short as 12 hrs 5 minutes with the time it took to get started.
There were lots of small groups on the ride; I needed one as well. Pacelines are good for almost 90 miles of the 154 mile ride, and could easily cut an hour off of the total ride.
Screwed up the logistics (although it’s hard to call staying in Mt Rainer park a screwup). Needed to be closer to the starting line the night before, so I could grab a good breakfast, maximize sleep etc.
Still have to learn to eat and drink more. The Clif stuff and Gatoraid seem to work fine though. The salt tablets are good. I cramped up on the drive home, indicating I hadn’t eaten and drank enough. Lack of push up Cayuse could have also been fuel-related.
The bike worked. The tires worked (Vittoria’s). No flats. The cheapo large water bottles were champs (Diamondback; purchased at GART. Nothing fancy). The sunglasses were poor; too scratched up. Ditched them except for the downhills. I’m replacing them. The bike computer failed AGAIN (Specialized pro model). Managed to reset itself around mile 135. On the STP it reset itself (back to zero) around mile 155. It’s out of here.
Clothing was fine. Minor saddle soreness. Still need to look into a leg length inequality. Might be worth trying another saddle. The bike shorts are starting to get a little baggy due to weight loss. Could use some knee warmers. Not sure how to carry enough food for 154 miles (with altitude gains).
Empty gell-packs are disgusting. How to contain them until a trash can appears is a problem.
Training and Conditioning
Lost ~15 pounds since Jan, and am back in some previous clothes, but still have 25 pounds to give.
Lungs/heart seem good, but need to work on leg strength.
Lower back soreness; the recommended cure is crunches. While I did some weight training, and crunched on the weight days, can always crunch more.
Do it again?
Yes; but, only if I’m in better shape and a better rider. Need to be in better condition to get the maximum enjoyment from the ride. See notes on training, fuel and pacelines. A good group of 3 or 4 would make a huge difference in the effort required.
Didn’t stop long at rest stops; I think this was good. Never stopped at a rest stop at the top of a long climb, as there were food/drink stops shortly after down the hill, and I could always coast to food. Kept getting passed by the same folk throughout the ride who were better riders, but stopped longer. This efficiency was good to keep the total day’s duration in bounds.
Figure I’m a 5 to 10-th percentile RAMROD rider. They were a lot of young, skinny folks on really nice bikes. Only saw a couple of Mt bikes; although the gearing is clearly favorable. I could have used an even lower gear up Cayuse.