Since I celebrated my birthday recently, it was time for another birthday challenge. Last year I lamely didn't do one, I had planned on trying to ride the White Rim Trail in Moab in a day (160km mtb ride) which would have been perfect, but I never mustered the gumption to make the 5 hour drive to Moab and do the challenge. I really regret this, so this year I was adamant that I would not make the same mistake (of ducking out on my birthday challenge).
For my 2010 challenge (marking my 33rd year on planet earth), I had decided to do the RAMRODWET. What is that, you might ask? Well, it is a long acronym. Some of you may have heard of RAMROD, which stands for Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day and is an organized group ride/tour that occurs here in Washington every year. It is a popular event, and sells out quickly. Of course, I would not be doing the sanctioned version (why pay to do a ride on a specific day when you could do it any day you want for free?!?), and to up the challenge I decided to do not just the RAMROD, but the RAMRODWET: Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day Without Enough Training.
I had only decided on this as a challenge about two weeks before my birthday, and at that point I hadn't been riding my bike very much (having been distracted by climbing and dissuaded by lackluster weather). That left only two weeks to ramp up training, and my training consisted of two long rides, one 170km loop up to Sultan, and on 186km loop down to Enumclaw. These were good prep from a distance perspective, but unfortunately they didn't have much climbing in them so I was not overly well prepared for my RAMROD ride, which would be just shy of 250km in length with 10,000 feet of climbing.
I was prevented from doing this on my actual birthday by poor weather and being sick with a cold, and the following weekend brought more bad weather which forced another rain delay. Finally on Saturday, June 26 the weather forecast looked good, so the night before I prepped my bike, and packed my clothes and food. Here is a rundown of the food that I brought:
- 4 sweet and salt Clif Mojo Bars (the best energy bars on earth)
- 1 double chocolate Harvest Power Bar (disgusting)
- a bag of carob energy nuggets from the bulk section at QFC
- 1 pear
- 1 peach
- 1 apple
- some powdered gatorade mix in a ziplock for water bottle refills
You might think it is weird to bring a bunch of fruit on a ride like this, but when you are out there all day it can be pretty sickening to have to eat a ton of energy bars. More importantly, I like to be in the fruit club every day, which is joined by eating at least 4 pieces of fruit per day (I always eat a banana with breakfast). Fruit club membership doesn't take a holiday just because I am doing a birthday challenge. By the time I got everything in order it was 10:30pm so I decided to get to bed early (Roanne was already sleeping on the couch, her standard Friday evening activity after getting up way too early to work way too hard every day of the week). We went to bed, but I had trouble falling asleep as I was really excited about the next day's festivities. At one point I had an idea that I should get up and go start the ride, but I decided that doing it in darkness would make it a little too challenging even for a birthday challenge so I forced myself to lie still and eventually drifted off to sleep, with dreams of long, grinding hill climbs dancing through my head.
The next morning my alarm went off at 5:00am, and I bolted out of bed and ran downstairs. Birthday challenge days are like Christmas, I have no problem at all getting up early. I made my standard weekend breakfast (oatmeal with blueberries, banana, ground flax seeds, and yogurt), some coffee and a glass of orange juice and sat down for a delicious feast:
It was just starting to get light out, so I quickly finished breakfast, loaded my bike into the car, and started the hour-long drive to Enumclaw where my adventure would begin. Upon arrival at the Enumclaw Highschool I suited up, and hit the road at 6:45am. I like starting these sort of rides early for 2 reasons: firstly, it is nice to be riding when there isn't much traffic on the roads, and secondly, it is always a nice to finish before it gets dark. My ride would take me on a counterclockwise circumnavigation of Mount Rainier, here is a map of the route (from the website www.mapmyride.com which is a great website for those who have not tried it):
Enumclaw is in the top middle of the frame. It was pretty cloudy when I started, and Rainier was enveloped in clouds and not visible. I rolled along uneventfully, it was pretty flat for the first part of the ride. I made my first stop in Eatonville after 57km, where I went into a grocery store to confirm my directions and drop the kids off at the pool. I continued on, feeling pretty good and averaging about 29km/hour on this flat lead in to the first climb. After reaching the bottom of the loop I continued east on the National Park Highway, enjoying some nice scenery as the sun had come out and I rode alongside a few lakes (with my enjoyment enhanced by the strong tailwind that was boosting my speed). At about 80km in I had my first sighting of Mount Rainier which was visible in all it's glory now that the clouds had parted and the sun had come out:
At about 100km I entered Mount Rainier National Park, and was disappointed to find out that cyclists have to pay to enter the park ($5). I paid my dues and continued on, as the road began to angle up towards the high point at Paradise. Here is an elevation profile, as you can see there are only two real climbs on the course and I was starting the first one that would take me up to the visitors center at Paradise:
I had started with a vest and armwarmers on since it had been quite cool and cloudy when I set off, but with the sunshine and now the climbing it was time to shed my vest so I stopped at a pullout to stow the vest, eat some carob blocks, and take a self portrait:
I remounted and continued the long grind upwards. About halfway into the climb I thought I was feeling a twinge in my right knee, so I decided to take the precautionary measure of stopping to stretch. After continuing on, at first it seemed fine but then the sensation was back, so I was a little worried. I have had my share of cycling-related knee problems in the past, so while it wasn't actually hurting yet I was pretty sure it was just a matter of time before it would be, and I was just 115km into a 250km bike ride. Still hoping I was just imagining things I continued on, and eventually reached the highpoint at Paradise which is right up on the shoulder of the mountain. There was still lots of snow at this elevation, as seen here:
I ventured into the cafeteria at the visitors center where I mingled with overweight tourists while refilling my waterbottles and purchasing a piece of apple pie and a delicious lemon square. I ate these outside by my bike, while stretching and fielding questions from passersby about whether or not I was a professional cyclist (to which I answered yes and offered to sign their National Park maps for them).
Having finished my pie and lemon square (we professional cyclists need to be careful about what we eat), I put my vest back on and prepared to head down the descent. At this point I was 125km into the ride, and even though I was pretty sure I was going to be a hurting unit by the end as a result of my sore knee, I decided I might as well ride the 125km around the rest of the loop instead of riding the 125km back the way I came. The latter option had the advantage of no more real climbing, but the former had the advantage of allowing me to finish the birthday challenge so it won out despite the impending knee pain. The descent was fast and fun, though it would have been better with a few more corners. Upon reaching the bottom I continued on up a short climb before more descending to the start of the second major climb. By now my knee was definitely hurting, and I stopped every 5km or so during the climb to stretch it (this was more for the psychological benefit than anything else, since I don't think a swollen knee will allow you to use 2 minutes of stretching to cancel out the fact that you are forcing it to propel you up another 4000 foot mountain pass). Once I got higher up the climb there was once again snow on the side of the road, so during my stretch breaks I was able to use snowballs to ice my knee, and this seemed to help.
At 175km I was happy to see the top of the pass, and I continued down the other side. At this point I was unsure if there were any more significant climbs since I couldn't remember the elevation profile and had only brought a shoddy hand drawn map, but it turned out to be mostly down hill for the rest of the ride. The kilometers ticked by (or maybe they were miles, since I was in 'merica) as I tried to spin an easy enough gear that allowed me to not do much with my right leg and do most of the pedaling with my left leg that still had a good knee. The worst pain came when I got out of the saddle, so I tried to avoid that as much as possible, but at times I had to give my poor posterior a break. The butt problem was made doubly worse by the fact that when you are not pedaling hard you have more force pushing down on your butt (as opposed to going into the pedals), so I was definitely counting down the km until the finish in Enumclaw.
I finally rolled into town just after 5:30pm, almost 11 hours after I had started. My average speed ended up being just under 26km/hour, not too bad considering that I had to soft-pedal most of the latter part. Here I am with my faithful pony after completing the ride, wearing a happy smile (or is that a grimace?):
Man was that ever fun! What an awesome ride, it would have been better if my knee hadn't acted up, but those were awesome roads and it was an amazing day. I think my knee problems might have been prevented if I had worked some hill climbs into the run-up to the birthday challenge, but then I might not have been able to qualify for RAMRODWET status. Well, another birthday challenge in the books, I'm already getting excited for next year! The only crappy thing about this whole business is that birthdays only come once a year, I wish I could do these things more often!
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