On Thursday, July 28, we completed the Redmond Cycling Club’s annual event “Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day” (RAMROD). It is 155 miles. That’s about the same distance as from Portland to Seattle on the freeway. It has 10,000 feet of elevation gain, which is almost 2 miles! It was a fantastic ride, largely because we’d put in more than 2,000 miles of training since February. We were strong. The weather was beautiful, crisp in the morning, yielding to sunny skies and moderate temperatures, around 80. We had no mechanical problems. We saw deer and heard Canada geese. The wildflowers were gorgeous. We finished in exactly 13 hours (10:25 saddle time) with an average speed of 14.5 mph.
The full RAMROD report:
We drove the hour down to Enumclaw the night before the ride to pick up our ride packets and prepare. We spent the night getting last minute tips from our friends Steve and Denise, and got to bed early in our hotel.
We rose at 3:50 am, drank our protein shakes, then drove to the start line. It was still pretty dark as the 200 cyclists lined up at the banner. Tiny red blinky lights flashed everywhere. Each rider had been given one for added visibility. It made quite a sight. At 5:00 we were released onto the course. We were probably in the front half of the expedition as we wheeled south toward Orting.
The first section of the trip was ideal for tandems. It was generally downhill with the few up hill sections gentle enough for our momentum to carry us over. We rapidly passed many riders, who would immediately latch on to our wheel to take advantage of our draft. We were pulling a train of about 20 bikes at 25 mph most of the way to Orting. Then we backed off and the real speedsters left us behind. It was just as well because they’d have lost us on the climbs anyway.
As the sun rose, so did the mist from the farmlands. The land was steaming. The mountain rose to our left catching the early rays of sunshine. It was quite striking. As we toured past Lake Kapowsin, fog was rising off the lake’s surface. It made the early morning kind of surreal. After an hour we found a sanican for a break. This was to be our pattern. We have bladders that last about one hour. I can’t believe the number of riders that never seemed to stop to pee. Oh well. Probably TMI. Feeling refreshed we continued along.
At the Eatonville rest stop we began peeling layers of clothes, and I broke my prescription sunglasses. I’d been keeping them in my back pocket because they were getting just as foggy as the farmland. When I took off my jacket they flipped to the pavement. It’s a good thing I can see well enough to ride without them!
As we approached Ashford, we rode with a man who’d come over from the UK just to do the ride. He said he had to go to Scotland to find enough hills to train on. Amazingly he said the countryside reminded him of South Africa.
At 8:30 we’d arrived at the entrance to the national park at Ashford. This was where the serious climbing started. We were facing 3400 feet of climbing over the next 20 miles. It was fairly gentle, but unrelenting. We were able to hold a decent pace (7-9 mph) up much of it. We dropped to 5 at the very top when the switchbacks came fast and furious.
We were right on the mountain’s flanks now. It seemed to rise from our feet as we pedaled along. It is a stunning sight on a clear summer’s day. Our moods were good. We’d pedaled about 70+ miles and felt like it was all doable. We even passed a few singles on the way up.
The most unusual single we passed was a man running up the mountain carrying a croquet mallet. He said he was doing the CAMROD – Croquet Around Mount Rainier. About a mile up we found his partner waiting by the side of the road. A ball was sitting in front of a wicket waiting for the striker to arrive. Later we saw the same guy setting up a few more miles up the road. He said his buddy would likely run between 15 and 30 miles that day, hitting the ball through the wicket whenever the opportunity presented itself. And you think WE are crazy!
For those of you who don’t know, tandems are strong on flat ground (particularly into headwinds), scary fast on downhills, but generally fairly slow on ups. Most of the riders on singles told us they couldn’t imagine doing RAMROD on a tandem. We always felt that the tandem’s perceived climbing disadvantage is mostly an engine problem. We enjoy tackling hills. That being said, it is tougher to climb on a tandem than a single.
We made it to Paradise by 11:30. We beat our arbitrary “Paradise by noon” deadline! There wasn’t any food at the rest stop there, so we just balanced our fluids and headed down.
The run from Paradise to Box Canyon was 11 miles long and took us 20 minutes. Long sweeping curves were filled with vistas of meadows teeming with wildflowers, crystalline lakes, rugged canyons, and, of course, the mountain. We topped out at 44 mph, cruising by any number of singles. We were honking our horn constantly to alert them to our impending presence. However, our horn sounded too goose-like for one rider. Instead of moving to the right, he kept looking to the sky to see where the birds were. Geez!
We were overly hungry when we got to Box Canyon and we departed from our eating routine. We’d packed 4 PB&J sandwiches, quartered. We’d been eating a quarter each time we stopped. Where food was available we’d grab some fruit to augment it. I’d also had a couple of energy gels. Box Canyon had chocolate-filled croissants which were too tempting. We ended up grazing on too much food. It settled like a rock in our guts. It took a few miles to ride it out.
From Box Canyon to the Stevens Canyon entrance to the park was mostly downhill, interrupted with a short 3-mile climb over Backbone Ridge. So we flew through most of that. That just got us to the start of the day’s toughest challenge, Cayuse Pass.
Cayuse is 8 miles long and about 2500 feet of elevation gain. That’s similar in distance and grade to the Tour de France’s Tourmalet. Of course we can’t go up it at even 1/3 their speed! It starts at mile 100. We were not feeling fresh, but we still felt strong. Cayuse did its best to knock us down. The sun was now pretty hot. We’d been told to expect no shade so were pleasantly surprised to find some patches of cool, refreshing shadows. We weren’t happy to find the road construction. It meant that we were trailed by an enormous dump truck for a mile up the hill at 5 mph because we couldn’t go faster and he couldn’t go around us.
Halfway up there was a water stop. Volunteers with spray bottles cooled weary cyclists. We refilled our bottles, stretched and headed up to finish the climb. We summited at 2:45. Now we were looking at 40 miles of mostly downhill, a welcome prospect.
Again we flew down at 40+ mph until we were forced to slow for a tour bus. Still we were off the pass in less than 30 minutes. They were serving made-to-order deli sandwiches at the last rest stop. But we got bit by barn fever. That combined with the fact that there was no vegan food convinced us to make the stop short. We took off. As we moved down the hill we realized we had an outside shot at getting in by 6 PM. Suddenly, a 13 hour RAMROD was a goal. We pushed ourselves against relentless headwinds for the last hour and a half to try to make it. Several singles caught our tail as we streaked toward the finish. One pair of guys even took turns pulling us for a brief time. On the outskirts of Enumclaw, we passed a driveway filled with a family in deck chairs. They applauded loudly as we sailed by. They must have felt like they were watching their own personal Tour de France.
The clock was ticking down. The finish was 1 minute, 2 blocks and a traffic signal away. We caught the signal perfectly, charged up the street to where the police officer was waving us through the last stop sign. We’d made it! Cheering crowds of riders, already in, greeted us. We collected our finisher patches, changed clothes and sprawled out on the grass sipping cold water and waiting for Steve and Denise to come in.
They arrived 40 minutes later, setting a personal best on their third trip around the mountain. As for us, it was probably our only trip around the mountain. For now we’re ready to ease off on any major cycling goals.