Tuesday, July 31, 2007

RAMROD 2007 – Jeff’s Trip Report

Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day is what this stands for. It is the most epic one-day Washington state ride of all time. The Redmond Cycling Club has been putting this ride on for many years.

The Facts:
143 miles
11,000 feet of climbing
3 separate climbs
875+ riders
1 day

The Jeff Facts:
Very few base miles in 2007
2 rides of 100 miles in 2007
Riding with good friend Joan Studley
Previous RAMROD 2004 experience was good but very tiring, heat was an issue
Ride up Stevens Pass in May 2007 did not go well
Confidence level was in the worry zone
Ego still upset at lack of current uphill climbing speeds

How did the day start?
3:00am the alarm goes off and I groan and roll out of bed. Now I’m sure you are saying “Jeff, 3am? WTF?” and I would agree with your sentiment, but Joan and I decided that we would try to arrive in Enumclaw at 5am in order to start by 5:30am. The goal was to ride early so we could avoid as much of the heat of the day. I rode RAMROD in 2004 and left at 7:30am. I was sorry about that all day as I suffered immensely in the heat that day. For us the heat hit around 85 degrees. Joan and I drove to Enumclaw in the dark, parked, got ready and started riding at 5:30am.

It was a cool morning, around 60 degrees and a bit muggy when we started. We basically jumped out on Highway 410 and started our ride to Sunrise. The ride to Sunrise is 57 miles and takes us to 6400 feet of elevation. The entire 57 miles were pretty much up hill. We warmed up well and rode conservatively. It was funny to see packs of riders blow by us in various pacelines. Joan and I were just glad to ride our ride and not try to pace ourselves into the red zone.

The Climb to Sunrise
Some where around mile 40 or so we turned off Highway 410 and headed up to Sunrise. We climbed and climbed, staying together mostly even though Joan was a bit ahead of me. I like to say that Joan has 1 speed and it’s the same on the flat, uphill and downhill. We rode together, passing a few and getting passed by others. Around mile 48 we got to a rest stop. Thinking we only had about 1 mile to go to the top we passed it and kept going. I let Joan dance ahead thinking I’d see her in a minute. Well, 2 miles later and a steeper grade made me realize we calculated wrong. I pulled over to drink and eat something really quick and then headed back out feeling better having eaten a GU packet (a nice sugary gel pack). I had another 5 miles of up to. My pace was pretty slow and my Ego was being his usual drama queen self in being upset with me, but I gave him a rude gesture and told him to shut up. I pedaled on.

A lot goes through my head as I make a slow steady climb. Things like “did I put the garage down when I left?” “Should my knee hurt like that?” “Can my hamstring be played like a banjo when it is this tight?” “Where the heck is Joan?” “I know why the pro’s dope in races” “I sure wish my cliff bar was a shot of testosterone.” And so on. I always say that there is no hiding on the hillside. When you climb it is hard to get any help. It’s just you and some times it is truly revealing. For me, using my mental strength to get through the doubt is the best challenge.

I rode up and got to a scenic look out point and as I turned around Mt Rainier was right there. BAM! What a site to behold. It helped pick up the tempo and I cruised into Sunrise at a startling 6400 feet. Joan was there and we got some more water and ate. At this point we had ridden 55 miles and it took us 4:30 hours.

We headed out of Sunrise and back down to 410. It was 15 miles of downhill. I rode fairly slowly. I like to think I have good descending skills. The key is to ride controlled but relaxed. You don’t want to waste energy going downhill. Let gravity work for you. Well gravity is friends with my 185 pound frame, but just gets frustrated trying to push Joan downhill with her 105 pound frame. So I would zip ahead and the brake/slow to let her catch up. I wanted to keep her in sight in case of a flat. I’m notorious for leaving you behind when I’m in the lead. We cruised on down and back out to 410 and headed 10 miles to the next turn off for the next climb. We had a nice downhill ride to the road to Crystal Ski Lodge and were there before we knew it.

The Climb to Crystal Ski Lodge
This climb was about 10 miles long and we climbed up 1800 feet if I calculated it right. The first part was steep and the road was not as smooth as the Sunrise road. The road was a great forest road with the thick brush and trees lining the road as we pedaled along. Joan and I stopped once to eat and stretch. That much time climbing will tighten up your back a bit. My hammy was chattering at me a bit too. But soon we were off and climbing again. The scenery was fun and we were passing people at a steady rate. I would say “On your left…. Really slowly, but on your left” and we would pass with the authority of a turtle in the fast lane, but pass we would.

This was the one climb that we were pretty exposed to the sun the whole climb and I sure felt it. The heat is rough on me, being a NW bred boy. I don’t seem to be able to, how you say… ah yes “cool down” adequately. Now my pregnant Panamanian wife on the hottest day of the summer asked for a blanket while we were watching TV because she was cold, which I passed to her while sitting in my shorts in front of a fan drinking cold water and sweating in areas that I didn’t know possible. Least to say I was not keen on the hot sun, but our goal of leaving early worked out because this was the second climb and not the first one so I was feeling okay.

Through out training Joan pretty much led me uphill and I was happy to oblige. On this climb I led her up the whole way. Not sure if it meant I was feeling good or she was feeling poor or if she knew that my Ego needed a win and she let me lead. Probably the later I’m sure. We wheeled into the Ski Lodge area and took a rest. We had some yummy treats and set off again. The downhill we were cautious about because the road was pretty beat up. For some reason DOT thought it was necessary to stripe the road that day. So we had to pass on the left a couple of large DOT trucks while not colliding with riders coming up. We got back to 410 and headed to the next climb. At this point we had ridden about 90 miles and climbed close to 8500 feet from our calculations. Our time was looking good and the hope of finishing in 10:00 hours of ride time seemed doable. We were feeling encouraged and pretty fresh.

Now I’m asked if I ride with an iPod and I will say that I do not. I love my iPod but on the bike I need to be able to hear. Plus, as Joan will testify to I bring my own music with me and am often humming or singing a tune as we ride along, much to her displeasure I’m sure. I recall the following songs going through my mind and over my lips as we cruised along.
Get Up – Van Halen
Downslide – Green Pjamas
Patience – Guns & Roses
Super Unknown – Soundgarden

Wind: Friend or Foe?
Back on 410 my old nemesis “Mr. Wind” was in our face. Now Mr. Wind and I share a love hate relationship. When he’s at my back I love him like a high school sweetheart. When he’s in my face I hate him with a power that is great. He was in our face and even with the slightly downhill gradient it made pushing along 410 pretty hard. Joan sat in my draft, because out of the two of us I offer the most, let’s just acknowledge it and move on. We have 10 miles to the next turn off from 410 before another 10 mile climb which would get us close to the elusive 11,000 feet of climbing mark. The wind took a bit of our luster out and when we made our turn onto Fire Service Road 70 we stopped to eat a bit and then headed out. We were getting tired, but felt that if the climb was a nice steady one like the last one we’d be fine. Now I should point out that many riders just sailed by this climb and headed home.

The Last Climb 12%
Now when I’m riding and I don’t know what lies ahead on the road I’m left to guess. As we were riding this 10 mile climb the first 2 miles were pretty flat. It was another forested area that was pretty but offered no vista points at all to reward you for the effort. I’m thinking to myself… “8 miles to go, still need to start climbing, I think we are in for a surprise.” The road started up at 3 miles and was steep but manageable. Then we saw it. A sign on the road indicating 12% grades ahead. Now a 12% grade is just down right steep. The Tour de France will race up slopes like this and TV just doesn’t do it justice. On the climb I felt like I was going to fall over backwards. There are two ways I can take a climb like this, (1) out of the saddle or (2) staying seated. Out of the saddle my heart rate would have surely spiked and I was still trying to conserve my energy as we had 35 miles to go still. So I stayed seated and just knuckled down and let years of soccer and cycling thigh muscles get me over the hill. We crested the hill to be rewarded with a 12% grade downhill and another climb back up to the rest area, meaning we would climb out of this rest area back up 12% before heading down. A nice twist to the end of the day.

We took a short rest and I will say that we were both pretty whooped by the last climb. We headed out and climbed up the 12% again and then raced down to 410. The ride down the 12% was a bit too steep to be fun in my opinion because the road was pretty bad. I saw riders taking more risk then I felt comfortable. A true sign of how conservatively I was riding that day.

The last 23
After coming off the last hill we were once again on 410. We rode out at a good pace. The previous headwind seemed to die down a bit, but was still there. The gradient was also slightly downhill. We cruised along at a good pace with me leading and Joan behind. It felt good to lead because on my previous RAMROD ride (2004) I was the one on the back just suffering like a dog. I felt as if I was putting back into the 410 karma pool. We zipped along at a nice clip and rolled back into Enumclaw. At mile 140 of 143 I looked at Joan and admitted that I really had zero left in the tank and was glad we were almost done.

A few pictures of us on the ride were taken:

Joan behind the mountain

143 miles and 11,000 feet of climbing, what’s next?
I’m happy to say my cycling goal for the year is over. I’m now going to ramp it back down to bike commuting and the occasional weekend ride here and there. With Sheppito on his way I have plenty to keep me busy at home. Joan has a European bicycle adventure in September before she ramps down and gets ready for school starting (MBA) in January.

I want to thank everyone who has encouraged me to do well on the ride. I really appreciate it. Thanks to Lavinia for helping me find time to train for unflappable support. I really want to thank Joan for riding with me. Having a buddy along for the ride makes it that much more fun. It was great to train with her this year. I never doubted she get up and down the mountain and she did really well.

That’s all for now.

On your left,

1 comment:

chris.gov said...

12% grade, ey--- quite a surprise!