Readers note: This is also a record for my benefit, so if I digress and make comments on equipment, training or food, it is for my future benefit.
El Falcon and I had only shared a couple of training rides this season; otherwise we had prepared independently from each other and trusted that our fitness would be sufficient not to disgrace ourselves for this event. A ride with the hills group had shown me I was strong enough on the hills, but lacked endurance as I was bonked near the end of that secession. Accordingly, I had gone on a 133 mile hilly loop a couple weeks before RAMROD and think that had a positive impact on my ride.
The days before the ride featured rain, sometimes heavy rains, so clothing and weather forecasts were definite topic of discussion and concern.
Seeking to avoid the rush hour traffic El Falcon and I had planned to rendezvous at his place and roll from there early enough to miss the afternoon escape from Seattle. I was comforted to see he too appeared over packed as the questionable weather necessitated additional clothing options.
An uneventful drive brought us to the packet pick up at the starting line, Enumclaw high school. The riders talked about bikes, the Tour de France and food, but everyone kept looking over their shoulders toward the clouds that hid Mount Rainer. As the clock approached five in the afternoon, the sun had finally broken though, but it had taken nearly all day to do so. The other OCD riders carried their packets back to their cars and went in search of pasta.
After getting our packets we drove to find our quarters for the night. There is always a scurry to reserve hotel rooms as soon as the results of the entry lottery are released and this year I was too slow and had to take what was available The room I had booked promised to be an “experience.” We found our motel and checked in. The owner and her daughter appeared to be either retired tag team wrestlers or former football linemen who had gained weight and taken up smoking since their playing days. Having already lowered our expectations, we took it all in good naturedly and loaded our gear into what El Falcon referred to from this point forward as “the honeymoon suite.”
The first time I did this ride I packed everything into a single bag and kept finding myself fishing for clothing, a gel packet, sunscreen, my riding gloves, etc. so I had taken to packing smaller bags. One bag for everything I would need at the hotel, another for the shower, a shopping bag for all the stuff I would put in my pockets and my water bottles. This system worked well, and I would do it again if needed.
We bid adieu to our chateau and struck out for our pre ride dinner. After eating we returned and fiddled with our gear, watched the Mariners lose again and got to sleep at a reasonable time.
In prior RAMROD years the weather had reached the mid eighties so in those years there was a strong incentive to start early so as to beat the heat going up Cayuse pass. This year the high might barely touch seventy degrees so we decided to sleep a little more and start later. After the alarm went off El Falcon opened the door and we noted the clear sky, dew on the car and cold temperature.
We rolled out of the starting gate sometime after five thirty wearing arm and leg warmers with food stuffed in our pockets and oatmeal in our bellies. El Falcon opted for a vest and I had on my ear band and we both had mistakenly decided to leave our toe covers in the car.
Starting slow we got warmed up about the same time and the chill of the morning hit us. The rural pastures had fog clinging to them and the morning sunlight was diffused by these low clouds. We picked up the pace over some small rollers and enjoyed the peace of the scene. The silence was broken by the occasional logging truck that would assert its dominance of the road and remind us that the laws of physics were not in our favor.
Every now and then we could glimpse Mt. Rainier over our left shoulders and when we first saw it ten miles into the ride, it was glowing pink. Then it appeared orange and finally white against a blue sky with bright white clouds.
New pave’ next to Lake Kapowsin was a pleasant surprise. A quality paceline came along and we jumped on. This group took us to Eatonville and the first water stop at 32 miles. This stop has been at a different location in this tiny hamlet every year I have done this ride (four) and this year the stop was right on the main street. When I say on the main street I mean on the street itself. I parked my bike on the curb and they had port-o-potties on the street and traffic cones blocking off one of the two lanes. Up the road were big parking lots and several areas that looked to be better locations for the stop, but I am sure there was a reason we were here.
I grabbed a scone and it was good. We topped our water bottles and took off. In warm years I would ditch disposable arm warmers here, but thus year we were still cold, so on we went.
The route went along some shady roads and that kept us quite cool. Pacelines formed, split and formed again. We faired fine as we gradually gained elevation and caught an occasional ray of sunshine. Soon we were making our way through Ashland and then the food stop at 58 miles. We ate cookies, fruit and filled our empty bottles and mixed our respective potions. I still think Accelerade is the miracle drink. We departed and entered the park. I remarked to El Falcon that the good news was we wouldn’t be cold too much longer; the bad news was the next paceline would be in sixty miles as the climbing had begun.
The gentle climb along the Nisqually along the shady forested road was pleasant. I tried in vain to photograph the occasional glimpses of the slopes of Rainier though the tree tops. We were passing people like crazy, but neither of us was in any difficulty; in fact it felt like a relaxed FSI lunchtime ride.
Through the trees I could see the river flowing through what looked like a two hundred yard wide path of destruction. The washout of a couple years ago was dramatic and resembled avalanche areas I have seen higher up in the mountains, but I have never seen mile after mile like the Nisqually river to my right.
We passed though Longmire and savored the view of the mountain. The grade increases at this point and our conversation quieted as we continued to work our way past other riders. Although I didn’t feel cold, we both kept our arm and leg warmers on and I could tell my feet were cold still. At 3,840’ we crossed the Nisqually river bridge and could look down the canyon we had just ridden up. We climbed strong and I slowed to take some photos and El Falcon gained some seconds.
As we approached the turn to Paradise, El Falcon stood and danced on the pedals while Crusher was content to sit and spin his way to the top. El Falcon opened a gap and held it. For reasons unknown to me, we did not get to go to Paradise, which truly disappointed me. We made our way to inspiration point where we took picture and finally, after seventy plus miles, took off our leg warmers. I removed my shoes and socks and tried to rub some blood into my stiff, icy toes.
We departed and El Flacon clung to a racing Crusher as we flew past Reflection Lake and then bombed down Stevens Canyon toward the food stop. Passing through two tunnels at between thirty and forty miles per hour we arrived at the food stop with over half of our miles behind us and only one big pass remaining.
Snacking on baked potatoes we took the chance to stretch and put on more sunscreen. Realizing we weren’t cold and that it felt pretty good to stop we were in no hurry to resume. Again we mixed our favorite drinks and I dropped in a nuun tablet for some added flavor and electrolytes. I had consumed some Hammer Gel on the ascent to Paradise and expected to have more on the climb up Cayuse. Reluctantly, we cinched up our suitcases in anticipation of the climb ahead, removed our arm warmers, then put sunscreen on our forearms and headed up the road to Backbone Ridge.
The climb felt good and the sunshine on our backs was welcome. My altimeter told me we would climb another three hundred feet than descend a thousand feet before starting the climb to Cayuse. The descent is a joy and the corners are banked and my Seven performed wonderfully. I leaned into the corners and the machine held its line perfectly. I felt like I could lean the bike over until the decals on the top tube touched the pavement and it could hold like it was on a rail.
After a thrilling descent we reached the bottom and turned left and headed north to greet the suffering that was waiting for us. For the first few miles the road gained altitude almost without noticing. We weren’t flying but the winding road didn’t seem that steep. Then the grade kicked up in earnest. There was road repair going on and we crossed stretches of gravel that ranged in length from fifty yards to a quarter mile. Feeling like we were climbing in the Giro we made our way along the loose stuff without complaining.
We were steadily passing people and the road was silent. No more friendly conversation, just huffing and puffing. Kind words offered while passing usually only brought grunts in reply. Once again, El Falcon stood and gained some time and held it. Crusher wasn’t blown, just being more conservative for the time being.
Shortly after the cycle computer ticked past one hundred miles we reached a water stop and topped our bottles for the final miles of the climb. Although we had some cloud cover on the lower slopes, now it was all sunshine as we found ourselves in our lowest gears. A particularly long stretch of construction had traffic control and we had to stop while opposing traffic passed. When we started out again, Crusher and El Falcon were quickly among the elite riders. Reaching deep in our suitcases we found the courage to continue up and reached the top together in fine form.
Knowing that food and drink was only minutes away, we sped down to the Crystal Mountain turn off and the infamous “deli-stop.” Sandwiches made to order, and a can of soda tasted wonderful. We found two folding chairs and sat down assuming if someone else wanted these seats they would kick us out. El Falcon confided that any fantasy’s he held about quitting his job and becoming a tour rider were squashed on the climb up Cayuse. “I’ve never gone so slow, for so long,” a weary El Falcon confessed. Although sitting was wonderful, being done sounded even better, so after emptying the balance of our drink mixes into our bottles and consuming any other magic elixirs, we set out.
Once we left the deli stop the headwind was typically fierce and we traded leads waiting to catch a paceline to take to the finish. Finally two guys in matching team kits came along and we tagged on. The first guy peeled off and latched onto my wheel. The other guy kept going and El Falcon was on his wheel and I was right behind. A minute later I checked and nobody was behind me. Then I saw the fellow who had been there leading a paceline with several of his teammates followed by a rag tag bunch hanging on for dear life. El Falcon and I grabbed onto the back of this train.
Almost at once I sensed something was wrong. On our own we had been near twenty miles an hour and when we were with the other two we were twenty three mph. Now we were about twenty one and the guys in front of us were racing, braking, swerving and making me nervous. The uniformed riders didn’t seem concerned about holding a steady pace and those following only exacerbated the accordion effect. It was as if the riders had learned about pace lines after reading a single work of fiction that mentioned them in passing.
With one hundred and twenty miles in our legs and the headwind blasting us if we got out of line, we reluctantly held on. I watched the fellow in front of me (who was riding a bike with a rack on the back, cantilever brakes and a reflector the size of a small pizza) grab his water bottle and fumble with the nozzle. I was constantly looking for my out; where I would go when he dropped the bottle or touched wheels with the guy in front of him. When he went fishing for something in his jersey pocket he swerved and I just gave him even more room. Recalling seeing riders in other years with scrapes and torn clothing I knew the likelihood of being involved in a crash was higher than I wanted. When we hit a slow section I told El Falcon that when the route turned on Mud Mountain road I was going to take off to avoid being in the rolling circus that this paceline was.
Finally the turn came and true to my word I went off on my breakaway. I looked over my shoulder and no Falcon. I saw the paceline had reformed and not wanting to follow the clowns down the zig-zag descent over rough pavement, I kept going hard. Making the turn I was greeted by new pavement. I took the corners hard and was down on the flats by the time the peloton caught me. El Falcon was sitting fifth in line and I forced my way in behind him. Then to my horror, upon catching me, the pack slowed and according to my speedometer, we were going slower than when I was riding solo. These guys should be flogged with chain whips.
Content to hold my position near the front of this crazy parade, we made our way back to the finish. We crossed the line with exactly 150.00 miles on the machine and eight hours and fifty six minutes was the time. We finished the day with an average speed of 16.8 mph with 9,062 feet of climbing.
After locking the bikes we showered, ate, drank and made our way back home. Somewhere south of Renton it began to rain. I assumed the rain would pass, but it did not. By the time I got home, it was raining hard and I was glad we didn’t have to face that during our ride.
I slept like a baby; that is, I woke up every two hours and cried. Actually, neither El Falcon nor I reported being too sore the next day. That isn’t to say we were ready to do it again, but the pain is so quickly forgotten isn’t it ?
I truly enjoyed riding with Lindsay and he was not just a fit rider, but a good friend and considerate riding companion.