This season we decided to make RAMROD (July 28) our major goal. Being a month later than STP, it allows us to start training later in the season with possibly better weather. Given the 155 mile, 10,000 foot elevation gain, it requires training one long, hilly ride per weekend, freeing more time for friends during the riding season. Click the image to the left to see the elevation profile.

We got an early start to our riding as the winter was unbelievably dry and mild. We kicked into training mode in April. The plan was to do lots of hills and some long rides. Our winter spinning classes have us feeling strong going into the season.

One of the hill routes we mapped out included the Queen Anne Counterbalance (13% grade) and the climb up Dravus to Magnolia (the sign says 19%, but our topo program shows one block as 20%). Two other climbs start with 13 and 15% grades, but even out to a mere 9% by the tops. Whew! That’s climbing!

Saturday, May 21, 2005: We rode our first century since 2003! We made it up ourselves. We started at 9 a.m. in Mt. Vernon, looped around a bit to get onto Hwy 20, then headed for the hills. Burlington, Sedro Wooley, Lyman, Concrete, and Rockport. The first 35 miles had the old horizontal hill working against us, but we still clipped along at a 17.3 pace. Saw a mess of motorcyclists in Rockport, then turned onto the Concrete-Sauk Valley Road, 23 miles of chip seal. Oh boy!

Still, we made excellent time. After our last major stop for the day in Concrete, we pushed through the last 33 miles. Our goal was to keep our average above 17.3. We pushed. We were spending a lot of time at 20 mph. We started feeling drops of rain around mile 85. That spurred us onward even more.

The last bit into Mt. V was uphill (naturally) so we lost some of our hard-won average. But we still finished at 17.4 (my computer) or 17.6 (hers). Did 103.3 miles in just over 7 hours of total time, 6 hours on the saddle. And we beat the rain.

We changed clothes, put up the bike and were greeted by rain as we got to I-5. It poured all the way home, which took 2 hours for no apparent reason. It only took us one to go up. The trip home was waaaay harder than the last 30 miles of the century.

Click to enlargeFriday, May 27, 2005: We did our own Tour d’Blast riding from I-5 to Coldwater Ridge, 43 miles of unrelenting climbing to incredible views of Mount St. Helens. (Well, the first 20 or so are flat or rollers, but the last half is hilly!) Click the photo to the right to see it larger. When we were here in 2000, there was only 10′ of visibility!

We took Sheila’s nieces, who are visiting from Rhode Island, with us. They watched the Omnidome movie about the blast while we started up the hill. An hour later, they passed us at the 17 mile mark. We played tag for the next couple of hours. They’d wait at rest stops and visit. Then take off again. We lost them after Hoffstadt Bluffs. Tooooo much hill following that one.

AND it was HOT!!! 88 degrees at the Forestry Center. 90 at the top. We just kept pedaling and drinking. Sloshed down 11 bottles of fluids between the two of us during our 3.5 hour ride. (4.5 elapsed time). It was something else. I hope RAMROD’s climbs aren’t any more difficult. It was pretty tough in the record-setting heat.

Monday, May 30, 2005: On Memorial Day we rode the 7 Hills of Kirkland, a benefit for Kirkland Interfaith Transitional Housing. It was a wonderful ride, but VERY hilly. I guess that’s not surprising. We did the 102 mile route which actually had more like 13 hills and 7200′ of elevation gain.

The day started nicely as we rode “with” our neighbor, Dave the Randonneur, for the first 4 hills. Actually, he pretty much left us behind on the third, but rejoined us for the fourth. Then he went away at his own, much faster, pace. After that we got caught up with a big bunch of singles that we played leapfrog with all day long.

The course was VERY well marked. They even had marks to stop you if you missed a turn! Saw a good number of people during the first half, although we were pretty lonely on the 30 mile loop up Stillwater Hill to Tualco and back. One of the singles we’d been chasing pace-lined with us for a bit on West Snoqualmie Valley Road and took a long pull in front at 21 mph. We needed that boost! He was strong. He stopped to wait for friends and we never saw him again.

The last 10 miles were getting pretty tough. Most of it was uphill again. But we finished in exactly 8 hours on the road (6.5 in the saddle) with a 15.6 average. Felt strong throughout. RAMROD is looking within reach.

June 4-5, 2005: RCC’s Mazama Ride, said to be a trial balloon for RAMROD preparedness! After not-quite-completing it, we feel ready. This is a long story. The short version is Beautiful Saturday. Horrible Sunday. Had to be sagged off the course. If you’re a real cycling geek and want to see the Mazama ride profile for the first day click here to see a PDF of it.

We drove up Friday night and stayed in a lodge near Marblemount. Had a (fairly) leisurely morning because they wanted us to start riding between 8-9. the skies were threatening rain as we left, but we just had on our arm and leg warmers and our windjackets. Our panniers were stuffed, though. 17 miles of rolling uphills led to the real climbing near Diablo Dam. The day was gorgeous by then.

Denise, who was terrified of being the last one in, had left an hour early to get a head start. We rode with Steve quite a bit as we climbed up and up in the rapidly clearing weather. Didn’t catch Denise until we were most of the way up Rainy Pass. That’s us at the top of Rainy at 4855’ (click to see photo enlarged). That’s the elevation size in the distance.

The run down from Rainy was far too short, leading to a 4 mile climb up to Washington Pass. That was pretty steep and hard. But it was 65 degrees out so we weren’t complaining.

At the top of Washington, we took pictures and then went flying down the back side. It was about 18 miles of downhill. Couldn’t go all out because of the twistiness of the road, but held 35 quite a bit of the time. Got into Mazama by 3:30.

While we were sitting on the grass with other riders someone noticed our captain-side chain ring was missing two bolts! They were completely gone! I’m glad that didn’t cause problems. Turns out there is a bike shop next door to the lodge, so I was able to get replacements. But then I found our front tire was going flat, so I had to fix it too.

We had a HUGE dinner at the lodge and after we tried walking it off, we retired for the night.

It was raining when we got up the next morning. And cold. We were the last ones to leave the lodge (at 8:50). We had all our rain gear on and thought we were ready for anything. We were wrong.

The 18 mile downhill was now a steady uphill ending with 7 miles at 7%. We were doing ok, passing some singles, then getting passed back. But our gloves were literally wringing wet. Sheila had borrowed a pair of long-fingered gloves, thank goodness. When we finally got to the top, it was snowing. Didn’t stop long, though there was a sag car there. Steve and Denise had just made it up, and we all headed down together. It was too dangerous to speed even though we could have really ripped on a nice day. Plus our faces were freezing, the snow was making it hard to see and our fingers were going numb. Hooray!

At the bottom between the passes was a pit toilet with a shelter. We stopped there and tried to warm up. Ate M&Ms, put on rubber examination gloves under my thermal gloves, etc. It was only raining there, but by the time we got back up to Rainy Pass, it was really snowing. Big flakes. The SAG wagons (2) were filled with bikers getting off the road. We were ready to get off too. But they didn’t have room nor did they have a tandem rack. So we wrapped up again. I put a scarf across my face. Sheila put plastic bags over her hands.

Within two miles we were out of the snow, but the rain was still pounding down and the windchill (we were going about 30) was devastating. I could not use the hand brakes because my fingers were so cold, but I could adjust the drag brake. So we pedaled and rolled down, down, down.

A couple miles off the top we passed Steve and Denise getting a SAG. From then on, we were the only idiots on the road. It was 26 miles to the next rest stop, virtually all downhill. We got into warmer air, but neither of us could hold anything so we didn’t eat or drink for most of an hour. Had to stop and pull off the baggies to have any hope of eating. A SAG stopped near us there and we were able to get them to unwrap a power bar. Then we rode the last 5 miles to the lunch stop. The winds were so strong in the last bit that it almost stopped us while we were gong DOWNhill in our highest gear.

Greg Sneed (bless his heart) was there with his tandem topper and we chucked it in. We’d done 49 miserable miles. It took quite a while in the warm car for us to stop shaking.

We were happy to have gone so far. We’d at least finished both passes. Some folks hadn’t even started the second day. And about half were sagged off the course. As it turns out only 12 of the 55 riders completed the ride!

Saturday, June 11, we joined our tandem buddies Eric and Arden for a loop around Whidbey Island. It was a grey and wet day. I’m afraid they’ll think that’s the only kind of riding we do! But the course was pleasant, lots of up, lots of down in true island-style. The rain held off for most of the 50-mile ride. Afterwards, Sheila and I visited with friends on the island to conclude an enjoyable day.

Group at the top of the big hill on Camano IslandSunday, June 12, three tandem teams did the loop around Camano Island. This was an ETC club ride. We started in Stanwood and were blessed with rapidly improving weather. The first layers began peeling off after only one hill. We climbed, descended, climbed, descended, and climbed some more. We all broke 49 mph on the big downhill near Camano State Park and none of us were trying to set speed records. We blasted through the rollers on the east side of the island. Nothing like a tandem for cruising trough rollers! We all wore happy smiles as we returned to Heritage Park at the end. A fourth team, Eric and Arden, was running late, so they did the loop with our cue sheet, but about 45 minutes behind the peleton. Extra points for them as the lantern rouge!

Saturday, June 18, we did a quick tour of Vashon Island in keeping with our recent island theme. We got up early and were riding by 9. Encountered an organized ride circling the island in the reverse direction. That was fun. Also met some residents who we practicing for their next cross-country bike trip tootling around the island with full camping gear. Afterwards we stopped at niece Jenna’s and visited with family, including my mom, for a few hours. The sun was out all day. It was gorgeous.
Spencer & Sheila at Paradise in front of Mt. RainierSunday, June 19: We awoke needing to do a hard ride, a century perhaps. The weather was beautiful, so we decided to do a practice run up to Paradise instead. Billed as “Sara’s Saunter” on the CBC pages, this ride starts at Ashford, climbs to Paradise, careens down Box Canyon, humps up Rattlesnake Ridge, then down to Packwood before returning to Ashford along picturesque Skate Creek Road.

It was beautiful as we started. Sleeveless top beautiful. The trip up to Paradise was just a long, steady climb. Nothing terribly steep, just endless. About 22 miles of gentle up to the 5400′ level. Started at 9:30 and topped out at 12:30. Snapped some shots at the top, then started down the back side.

It was fairly steep so imagine my surprise when the drag brake went KA-PHLOOOIE when I pulled it on. Pieces must have flown everywhere. The cable frayed, the restraining nuts disappeared, it was a mess. The brake itself was fine, but no longer functional. Fortunately, it didn’t impede our rolling. So we continued down with me gently tapping the brakes to navigate the hairpin turns.

Got down to Box Canyon overlook and stopped to refill water and stretch. Oooops. A rear flat appeared when it was time to leave. Argghhhh! Two mechanicals in an hour! This was not our day! Again, fortune smiled on us. A hiker saw me changing the tire and said, “Would you like to use my floor pump?” Now that was a welcome, though stupid, question! A little while later we were cruising again.

From Rattlesnake Ridge to Packwood was nearly all down hill. Our average speed jumped from 10.1 at the top of Paradise to 13.7 in Packwood. This was followed by 13 miles of gentle climbing up Skate Creek and 8 screaming miles down to the finish. We wrapped up at 4:30 with an average of 14.8. Nothing like long downhills to perk up your stats!

Thursday, June 23: Our first 200k ride of the year. We’ve got a wedding this weekend in Oregon, so had to take our ride where we could get it.

Starting on May Valley Road in Issaquah, we headed north to Cougar Mountain. We crawled up the mountain on 51st, then blasted down the backside to Coal Creek Parkway. A quick trip down May Valley brought us to the end of our first loop. Then we headed for Enumclaw. We passed through Cedar Grove, Hobart, Ravensdale, Kangley, until we got to the fairgrounds. Then we turned left and rode up 410 past Mud Mt. Dam. The weather was finally settling on sunny and warm, so it was pleasant enough. We returned to Enumclaw on Mud Mt Dam road. By the time we got to the High School we were 70 miles into it and feeling cranky.

It’s funny. This ride just was feeling like a drudgery. Ride, ride, ride, ride, ride, ride, ride, just because we have to. We weren’t getting our usual enjoyment out of being on the saddle. Then, at Flaming Geyser, we got a rear flat! Worse, since I’d blown out the drum brake the week before, I didn’t have the quick release cable on the temporary fix. I had to practically take the wheel apart to get it off. What a pain! I hope we are through with the mechanicals for a while.

On Green River Valley Road we chased a single for 8 miles. He was almost exactly our speed, even when we kicked it up. We were going 20-24 the entire time. We couldn’t catch him until he turned around. But it was fun trying.

Back to Ravensdale, back to Hobart, and then up Tiger Mountain Road. We climbed ever so long. It was good practice to have a long climb at 112 miles, I thought. Then we got a long, screaming downhill as a reward. Back at the car at 118, just shy of our planned 200k, but close enough. We figure we had over 6000 feet of elevation gain, so we called it good. We averaged 16.5 for the trip and completed it in 9.5 clock hours. Given the lengthy mechanical stop, we felt pretty good about our times. We’re thinking we are just about ready for the big ride!

2005 NWTR