Monthly Archives: July 2013

RAMROD 2013 Ride Report

This year marks the fourth time that I have gotten up far too early, journeyed to Enumclaw, and hauled my body around the mountain (to be fair, in 2007, road closures meant that I hauled my body back and forth along the east side of the mountain). Perhaps it is true that as one gets older, one loses the capability to learn.

The event has not been particularly kind to me. A lesser man might blame the tides of fate, the sands of time, the grapes of wrath, or the whims of mother nature. I do not. The problem is my simple lack of willingness to train properly for the event. I’m only willing to devote about 8 hours/week to training during the season, and that hasn’t really been enough to thrive on the ride. I also have had some bad luck. If you want the the details, you can find them here, here, and here

This year, I decided to try something different. I bought a copy of Carmichael’s, “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”, went out and did a field test (always a fun way to spend 20 minutes), and started making up a training schedule. This was a bit challenging, since I lead a ride for Cascade Bicycle Club two evenings a week, and I have to figure out how to fit the workouts into the rides. This hasn’t always worked, but I can say that the loads of time I’ve spent on the intervals has made it much more comfortable to ride at my aerobic threshold than before; my legs are hurting but I’m not out of breath. When I get a bit of rest, I’ll redo my field test and write a more in-depth report.

This is also my first year “training with power”, since I picked up a Powertap hub last December. I expect to lean on it heavily to ride at a reasonable speed on the climbs.

I’ve also cut out some snacking at work and at home. Back in April, I saw 181.6 on the scale, and the morning before the ride, the scale ticked back from 170.0 to 169.8. Bike + Eric is now about 6% lighter.

My big goal on the ride is to get my nutrition better. I’ve been okay on hydration – working through a bottle of my Accelerade-based drink and a bottle of Nuun over two hours or so – but I have not been eating enough. So, I’ll be trying to eat more.

As for the ride, I plan on riding easy for the first 60 miles, riding a bit harder but conservatively up the Paradise climb, and then – assuming I’m feeling good – pushing the pace up Cayuse.

Prequel: The crisis

After leading an Eastside Tours group ride two weeks before the ride, I come home with a slight cough, which worsens over the weekend. It’s not horrible during the day, but I’m spending the nights on the couch in the basement trying stop coughing, generally for 3 hours or so.

The next week I’m in training at work, so I can’t get to the doctor, so to make sure I don’t get sicker, I find somebody else to lead on the evening rides that week. Not really… what I actually do is lead the rides, cough deeply whenever we stop, and ask the other riders to help out because I can’t talk in a loud enough voice to give directions. I finally get to the doctor on Friday – he interviews me, tells me that he’s seen some “really strange symptoms” recently, and hooks me up with a five-day course of Azythromycin and a bottle of old-school cough syrup (you know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout). This wasn’t the kind of taper I was planning to do, but I’m stuck with it, and the antibiotics do help after a couple of days. I’m not coughing my lungs up any more, but I’m a bit tired and I have a weird tightness in my right IT band near the hip, presumably from the nights “sleeping” on the couch…

Episode I: Preparation and Exploration

I get up at 3AM, eat a small bowl of cereal, get dressed, and hit the road. I arrive in Enumclaw about 10 minutes before the start, pull the bike out of the car, and do a weather check. Despite wearing my rails to trails jersey – which has lots of pocket space – I have a lot of stuff to put in it, and anything I wear in the morning I have to carry the rest of the day. My hope was to just get by with arm warmers, but 90 seconds of exposure tells me it’s a very cold 58 degrees, so the vest goes on as well. I head over to the starting line, take a quick nature break, and roll to the start line. The volunteers pull my starting tag (the track riders around the course), and I head off into the predawn, turning on my flashing LED front light. The time is 5:08.

According to reputable sources, the word “Enumclaw” translates to “place of evil spirits” in the language of the Salish Native Americans. In the gradually lightening skies, that does not seem too far-fetched.

I roll out into the darkness, a bit apprehensive of what is to come. A week of gentle tapering and illness have left me with quads that hurt, an unsettled stomach, and a sort IT band. After a few minutes, I turn left into Buckley, almost miss the same right turn I almost missed last time, and am quickly passed by a group of four. I generally like to warm up a bit before I latch onto a group, but I have a new source of information – my power meter. I hook on and find out that I can easily hang with the group at 110 watts, which is pretty easy, so I stay with them. I am expecting to roll through the group to take a turn on the front, but the guy in front isn’t budging, so I settle in at the back. We ride for about 30 minutes, hit the low point of the ride, and head left on Orville road.

At this point, the workers in the group pull off for a “nature break”. Being the first person left – and therefore the defactor leader of the remaining group – I keep riding but at a reduced pace since we’re no longer descending. I reach into my bento box and pull out a Honey Stinger Chocolate Waffle.

I bought these because they have a picture of Lance on them, and I’m hoping that they contain some of the “special ingredients” that Lance used to get from Dr. Ferrari. After a little bit, we hit some slight hills and the group breaks apart. I end following a guy with aero bars and a very creaky drivetrain. This is one of my favorite parts of the ride; on the left we can see the waters of lake Kapowsin with an early morning mist rising off of them. A group of 3 riders slowly passes us, and I notice that the last rider in the group has a very special number attached to his jersey.

RAMROD has this interesting tradition – it assigns jersey numbers by the age of the rider, with the oldest riders getting the lowest numbers. The rider who has passed me is wearing the single-digit number “1” on his jersey, and – if I recall the history of RAMROD correctly – is in the early stages of his 30th ride. After a while, he tires of the pace, and goes to the front of our group to pull for 5 minutes. He pulls off, and I’m now second-wheel to a woman in a team kit. She pulls for a couple of minutes, I prepare for my turn at the front, and in a bit of exquisite timing on my part, we hit highway 161 and turn left. This is the first real hill of the course, a short 280’ climb up into Eatonville. I make my usual “nobody told me there would be hills on this ride” joke, and she laughs. We roll into the first food stop.

I park the bike, take a nature break, eat a small blueberry scone, and then refill my bottles. I’ve pretty much hit my nutrition plan; I went through both bottles and had a waffle and some triscuits. As I’m heading out, I run into my friend Alan who has just gotten in; he left 20 minutes after I did but was riding with a group that was much faster. This will be a recurring – and expected – theme for me today. I spent 12 minutes at the stop.

The next section is 25 miles and we will climb up about 1300’ during the section. It starts with a few hills, a slight descent, and then a slow climb in the 2-3% range. I end up pulling a group at perhaps 175 watts; this is a little more than I wanted to be doing, but I keep doing it. I do eat some more, but I don’t drink as much as I should. My stomach is still feeling unsettled, and every once in a while rises above that to reach the “nauseous” level. My legs also still feel weird. This is a really pretty part of the ride, and I spend quite a bit of time looking at the scenery and chatting with the rider behind me. Pretty soon, we reach the Wildwood food stop, at 58 miles in.

It’s old home week at the rest stop; I talk with Alan, Francis, Mark, Lizza, Daniel, Laurie, and a few others who I can’t place (being a ride leader means that that I have a lot of asymmetrical acquaintances, where somebody knows me (and knows my name) better than I know them. It’s a little weird and embarrassing at first, but I’ve run into this in the past in some work-related settings). Two people thank me for my RAMROD 101 post. I do not feel as good as I had hoped, in fact, I don’t feel very good at all, but there is nothing to do but keep riding. Time off the bike = 12 minutes.

Episode II – The Test

I head out from the stop, and very soon, the route enters the national park. At the entrance, they have a lane for us (we have already paid for park entrance as part of our fee). There are volunteers out to record rider numbers, so they know where to look for riders if they don’t show up (this is a significant concern; with fast-ish alpine descents and not-so-great road conditions, there are incidents, and last year a rider went off the road on one of them and ended up dying, so it’s important that they know where to look for missing riders). I don’t put a number on my bike because it gets in the way and flaps around on the faster sections, I don’t put it on my helmet because it looks stupid, but I do have my number on my back. One of the volunteers repeatedly yells “what is your number! I need your number!”. Well, first of all, all that I know right now is that my number is in the 400s, second of all, they shouldn’t listen to what I say because I might have it wrong, and thirdly, I can’t talk loudly because my throat is bothering me.  If I was in a group I would have stopped to make sure, but since I’m all alone I figure that can read it from my back and I just roll through. I then roll through the RFID reader that they’re trying out this year, and I’m on the way up. The entrance to the park is at 1800’, and we’re going to top out at a little over 4800’, so we’re talking a 3000’ climb in the next 19.5 miles.

The first section of the road is about 10 miles, and has us winding through the woods and up to Longmire on a 2-3% grade. The forest canopy totally covers us, and there isn’t much traffic, so it is very peaceful. I settle for climbing at about 175 watts at a cadence of about 90; I’m a stronger climber at 80 RPM but I’m a bit concerned that I can’t push that for the rest of the day. My heart rate is about 130, which is in the meat of my range, but this feels harder than I had hoped; I think the time off and the sickness are coming back to get me. We pass through Longmire, and the grade stiffens a bit, into the 4-5% range. I stop for a minute to stretch and rearrange my food for better access. I’m probably not drinking as much as I should here. I’ve passed a few people so far, and been passed by a lot more – this is also expected. At one point, as I pass a triathlete I’ve been slowly catching for a while (the bottle holders on the back of the seat are a giveaway), I say hello, and he says, “How are you doing today?” That’s a little chatty for this sort of climb, so I take a closer look, and it’s Paul, a friend of mine. Paul is a serious triathlete – Ironmans (Ironmen?), marathons, that sort of thing – which either means I’m climbing pretty well, or he’s slow. It turns out that it’s a little of both; he hasn’t been doing as much riding as usual. I drop my pace to ride with him, and we chat as we keep climbing, which is hugely useful to me – this climb keeps going and going, and I’m keep thinking we’re near the top, only to get disappointed. We pull into a water stop, which surprises me, as the traditional water stop is at the top of the climb. I spend 7 minutes there; just long enough to refill my bottles and talk to Laurie and a few other cyclists a bit. There are two ways out of the parking lot; you can go back to where you came in and continue the climb, or you can head straight. Straight seems shorter – and it is – but what I fail to notice is that the parking lot is flat, so I have a nice 10% climb to get back to the road. Thankfully, it only takes 5 minutes to dispatch the rest of the climb, and then we are greeted by a nice section of gravel road – the reason for the water stop being lower on the climb – which is a bit of joy. It’s okay except for the one point where I hit a section of deep gravel and the bike has a different idea about direction than I do, but I roll through.

Climb stats (from Strava)

Distance: 19.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 3012’
Time: 2:02:07
Average speed: 9.5 MPH
Power: 167 watts
HR: 133 BPM

I know I wasn’t doing great on the climb and not feeling well, so I’m okay with that. It’s a PR for me only because my previous trip up was an angst-ridden slice of not-fun.

I take a picture (which comes out pretty nice for a phone), and head out to the Stevens Canyon descent. This is generally a fun descent; the grade is a fairly steady 5%, and it will take me from 4800’ down to about 3000’ in about 13 minutes; a bit faster than the way up. I would normally lightly pedal this out to keep my legs warm, but for some reason the upper right part of my right calf (near the IT band) is hurting quite a bit, and I decide to rest and coast. That doesn’t work very well either – it hurts just as much. So, I HTFU, and try to bear it on the way down. That takes me to the Upper box Canyon food stop. I grab a cookie, have some potatoes with seasoned salt (but perhaps too much salt…), and refill my bottles. I know that NSAIDS and exercise don’t really go well together, but the pain in my leg has me concerned, so I take a couple of ibuprofen and head out riding with Laurie. Elapsed stop time, 13 minutes.

Episode III – Dehydration and Disillusion

We descend another 200’, and then start the backbone ridge climb. The 2.3 mile, 563’ climb is dispatched in a hair over 19 minutes at 171 watts. I reach the top quicker than I expect, and run into one of my riding group logging rider numbers. As I head over towards the descent, one of the volunteers tells me that this crappy, torn-up, borderline-unsafe road is newly paved. The 1100’ descent is glorious; the pavement is perfect, and the 20 MPH curves that used to be torn up and bumpy are smooth and easy. The only thing that would make it better is if I felt better, but even so, it is over too soon.

Which brings us, finally, to Cayuse Pass. I ride the first 3 miles – a bit of a preamble – and then I’m in the meat of the climb. 8.8 miles, 2500’ of climbing, but at a 6% grade, steeper than Paradise was. Status check: I’m hot, I’m dehydrated, and I don’t feel very good. Mood=cranky, which is normal for Cayuse, but makes 90 minutes of climbing seem daunting.

So, I take the climb a little bit at a time. I’m riding at 6MPH at around 170 watts, which means it takes 10 minutes to climb a mile. I ride a mile, stop to drink and rearrange my food and have a little snack, ride a mile, spot an empty patch of shade desperately in need of an occupant, etc. As I climb, I’m listening for a very specific sound – the sound of falling water. When I hear it and feel a cool breeze, I pull off to the side, set my bike carefully into the ditch, take off my helmet, and carefully go on a short hike over to the waterfall (If you haven’t tried to hike over loose rock wearing cycling shoes with cleats on the bottom, give it a try). To reach the water requires me to basically stand in the stream, so I get wet feet, and then I reach down, grab handfuls of water, and throw them onto my head, my front, my back. The water tastes salty because I am pretty salt-encrusted at this point, but it makes me so feel so much better. Back on the bike, and back to the same scheme – climb a mile, take a break, climb a mile. The cooling effect from the waterfall water lasts about 20 minutes, then I start getting hot again. I am not the only one taking these short breaks, where we get to admire the scenery, and the others slogging their way up. We are little islands of suffering, each emptying a personal basket of pain, coming together and drifting apart.

Several days later, I reach the water stop, where I toss my accelerade and refill one bottle with water so I can pour it on myself in the future. I sit down and stretch for a minute. I run into ex-Eastside Tours ride leader Dan, and we chat for a bit. On the way out, I say, “only 3 miles, right?”, and he replies, “4 miles”…


Back on the bike, but the grade drops down to 5%, and the combination of that with pouring water on me allows me to ride a whole 23 minutes without a break. Then 15 minutes, then one final push, and I finally come to the highway 410 junction sign, and I roll into the water stop. A very quick stop, and I roll out down towards the deli stop.

I’m hot, tired, cranky, and as soon as I start heading down, my leg hurts again. But, 12 minutes at 30 MPH and 8 minutes at 20 MPH takes me to the deli stop.

The deli stop features custom sandwiches, and is one of the nice things that make RAMROD different. But… and there is a big but… the deli stop sometimes works well, and sometimes doesn’t. In this case there is a long line in the sun, and it’s moving slowly. I grab my nuun and try to rehydrate as I wait for my turn. The problem is easily apparent; you have to wait for the person to get your bread, then you have to wait for the next person to put mustard on it, then you wait for your meat, then for your cheese, and finally for your tomato and lettuce. This is the kind of thing that drives me crazy; a little optimization would easily double the throughput and get rid of the line. Then there’s a volunteer in charge of chips doing nothing because she already has 50 servings ready. I open the coolers to grab a drink, find one is full of juice, and the other has 8 cans of Coke. I can’t drink the coke because fructose doesn’t sit well with me, so I look around, spy a bunchy of diet coke in the refer truck, and tell a nearby volunteer that the there is no diet coke in the coolers. She pulls out one can, hands it to me, and goes back to what she was doing.

Drives. Me. Crazy.

Finally provisioned with food, I score a chair near the amateur radio setup (no cell phones for most of this core so local amateur radio “hams” do communication for the ride), eat my sandwich, chips, drink my pop, and try to recuperate. The deli stop is always a place of bittersweet feelings; no matter how you feel about your performance so far, you have survived it, and the hardest work of the day is done. On the other hand, you have 36 miles to go, and it’s hot, and there’s always a headwind.

Episode IV – A New Hope

After 60 minutes off the bike, I pull the bike off the rack, roll back out onto 410 and head towards the finish. This is a nice section; it’s pretty consistently downhill for about 17 miles, and – unlike the big hills of earlier – this section is more about power/drag ratio and less about power/weight ratio, which is a better fit for me. I’m cruising along, making okay time, hoping that a nice group will pass me and I can hop on. For the first 9 miles or so, I have no luck; I pass 6 or 7 tired souls, but none of them look able to ride the pace I’m currently at, and nobody passes me. I start to get depressed; the flats in the last 20 miles are going to uncomfortable if I am alone.

Then, I hear a bell next to me, and a group passes me. They are going a bit faster than I would like, but, as the old say goes, “coming down the 410, wheel-suckers can’t be choosers”, so I jump and get on the back of the group. Normally, just jumping on without asking would be a breach of etiquette, but it’s pretty much expected on this section of the ride. There are three of them; two of them wearing Speedy Reedy team kit, and another one (friend?) in blue. We’re heading down at 24-26 MPH, which wouldn’t be very impressive on a downhill, but the headwind today is pretty intense. The guy in blue is in front; he peels off, as he drifts back, I tell him “one more on the back”, and he slots in behind me. I tag the guy in the front “Puller”, because he’s working hard and doing a nice job; very predictable pace, and it’s easy to sit behind him. He pulls for perhaps 7 minutes – a long time in this wind – and pulls off. His teammate immediately jumps the pace up 2 MPH (rookie mistake), and I pull up close behind him to prepare for my turn at the front. Four minutes pass, and he’s starting to tire out and slow down, but he stays out there. Another minute goes by, Puller pulls out, rides forward next to teammate, pats him on the back, and they exchange a few words. Puller drifts back, ding’s his bell, and his teammate (who is now tagged “Trainee”) pulls off, and I’m on the front.

The wind is honking bad; I take a quick look at my power meter, and see that I’m at about 250 watts, which is okay for the two-minute pull I have in mind. I concentrate on being smooth and predictable. Riding smoothly has been a goal for me for quite some time, and two years of being in front of groups rides on the flats have improved my skills, so – if I do say so myself – I’m pretty good at this. Looking at your GPS to figure out how much time has passed is a bad idea at the front of a fast paceline, so I count revolutions of my pedals. When I get to 180, I check my mirrors, look over my shoulders, and pull off the the left. As I drift back, I get a “good job” from Puller, and I settle into the back, rehydrate, and wait for my next pull. “Blue” spends about two minutes before he drifts back, which makes me happy – he’s about at my level – and we continue the rotation. On the first half, because of the descent and the headwind, I’m only using 100 watts to stay in the pack, but 250 out front, which is a huge difference (and the reason I really wanted a group for this section). After what seems like a very short time – time travels quickly for me in a paceline), we’re in Greenwater, where the grade flattens out, and in this section, there are even a few uphills. I am grateful that the pace slows to something reasonable – more like 17-20MPH – because the paceline advantages go down as it flattens, and I’m getting a bit tired from my pulls. My toes are also really starting to hurt; wet feet do not improve the foot/shoe interface.

We eventually get to mud mountain dam, and head over towards the descent. Puller and Trainee talk about racing on this, which has me a bit apprehensive; the descent here has a couple of tricky corners, and I don’t think I’m up to “race speed”. Puller is in the front; we descend quickly but conservatively in the tight places, and pull out onto the flats. If this were a just world, the ride would end right here, but we still have 4.5 miles to the finish. Puller pulls for a bit and hops to the back, Trainee pulls for a few minutes and then blows right by a left turn. It wasn’t particularly well marked, but from second wheel I saw a group of riders make the turn 45 seconds earlier, so I figure he’s just living up to his tag. I can’t safely turn in time, but Puller and Blue make it, and keep riding up the road at a reduced pace. I follow Trainee in a U-turn, and we head back, but he’s clearly tired and the headwind is still there, so I pull him back to Puller and Blue. We cross the highway, turn into the school, stop at the finish line to have our tags pulled, and Puller introduces himself (I *think* his name was Jay), and we thank each other for the help in the group (I got more benefit going from solo to a group of four, but going from three to four also has a decent benefit).

I roll to my car, throw the bike in the back, take off my still-wet-from-the-waterfall shoes and socks, and drive around to the parking lot, so that I can head in for a shower. Another diet coke, some chips, and I head for home.



Distance: 149.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 9740’
Rolling time: 9:50:03
Elapsed time: 12:16:46
Average speed: 15.2 MPH
Average HR: 125 BPM
Weighted Average Power: 158 watts
Garmin Calories 12530
Powertap KJ 5235

(Note just how bad the Garmin calorie model is. Even if you factor in driveline losses (which bump the KJ number up to 5500), and adding in basal metabolism (12 hours * 100 cal/hour = 1200 calories), you only end up with perhaps 7000 calories expended. So, if you have a Garmin 500/705, don’t trust the model very much. The newer models have an option to use a better model that should yield better results).

While I was climbing Cayuse, a made a pact with myself – a pact to recognize that I don’t train in a way that works for this ride, and to just admit that and stop doing it. And I felt that way until I got out of the shower at the finish line. But in writing this, I found that the physical memories are gone; I have a hard time remembering just what was making me cranky during a specific section, so we shall see, as they say.

My overall feeling was that my performance really wasn’t any different than my 2011 ride, but the data tells a different story. I was 1 minute slower on Cayuse this year, but 20 minutes faster on the Paradise climb, and 4.5 minutes faster on the Backbone ridge climb. Overall, I took 42 minutes of my overall time, and pushed my average speed a full 1 MPH faster. So – despite how I felt – I did improve quite a bit.

I certainly wasn’t properly hydrated on Cayuse. Some was probably stomach weirdness after being sick, some was probably bad implementation on my part. If/when I do the ride again, I’m going to have to be much better about that section.

I made a second pact, one that I will volunteer to run the deli stop next year and fix it. That one has a better chance of happening.  

What I carried

On the bike:

  • Seat wedge
    • Multi-tool
    • 1 pack sport beans (emergency food)
    • tire levels
    • Spare tube, CO2, inflator
    • Patch kit
    • Blinkie
    • Wallet
    • Keys
  • Garmin Edge 705 GPS
  • CycleOps PowerTap (okay, in the rear hub)
  • Small LED front light
  • Salt tablets
  • Phone

On my person

  • Arm warmers
  • Vest
  • Sunscreen (purely decorative, since I always forget to use it).
  • Assorted Nuun tablets (mix multiple flavors in one tube)
  • 5 ziploc snack-size bags of my custom Accelerade mix (180 cal/bottle)
  • Beef jerky
  • Honey stinger waffles, 3 (160 cal each)
  • Reduced fat triscuits (160 cal/10 crackers), two bags
  • Reduced fat cheese-its (160 calories/40 crackers), two bags

Nutrition and Hydration Plan

My goal is to hit around 250 cal/hour on the ride. Enough to keep my blood sugar up, but light enough to not do an impression of a 40 lb sack of concrete in my stomach.

I typically go through a bottle of my drink mix and a bottle of Nuun every two hours. That’s 90 calories/hour.

Let’s do some calculations. For each hour, I’ll get 90 calories from my nutrition drink, so I need 160 calories from something else.  That means a waffle, or a little bag of triscuits or cheese-its every hour. Plus what I supplement from the food stops.

About the data

All data is collected with a  Garmin 705 GPS and a CycleOps PowerTap power meter.

I used three programs to analyze and reduce the data:

  • Garmin Training Center, which runs on my laptop. This is probably the least useful of the programs; I only used it to pull the ridiculous Garmin calorie number.
  • Strava. Strava provides a wealth of data. If you have a power meter, it’s worth it to upgrade to premium.
  • Golden Cheetah. Golden Cheetah is a freeware program that runs on a variety of platforms. It is uneven and opaque, but has some really nice analysis features. If, for example, you are doing an interval workout, it can easily pull out your top <n> minute intervals from your ride and let you explore them.

About the author

Eric rides a 2004 Trek Madone 5.2. Clothing by deFeet, Cannondale, and Pearl Izumi. Hair by crystal clear cascade snow runoff.


Yesterday afternoon, we went to a wedding, and for the food, they had catered barbecue.

(I must insert a note that my idea of a nice wedding has been redefined; this one had an open bar that was open before the ceremony, which meant the men could sip on a glass of beer during the ceremony, which was mercifully short (15 minutes), and then there was barbecue for dinner).

Anyway, the barbecue guys pull up with a smoking smoker behind their truck, and then start setting stuff up. Pulled pork. Brisket. Chicken. Ribs. Baked beans. Slaw. Corn bread. The odors were quite enchanting…

So, I filled my plate with a sample of them all. As a bit of an afficianado, I was excited to try them all. I am not a big fan of sauce on my barbecue; I want to taste the meat and judge it by itself; you can cover a number of sins by slathering on the sauce.

The ribs were okay, but ribs are the easiest because of all the fat. The chicken – overcooked and dry. The brisket – undercooked and dry. Or perhaps overcooked and dry – it’s sometimes hard to tell with brisket. And the pulled pork – dry and stringy. No smoke ring on any of them, and a distinct lack of any smoky flavor.

Pork shoulder has quite a bit of fat which helps it stay moist even if you cook it too long, so it’s impressive if you can make it dry and stringy.

What is it with barbecue in the Seattle area?


A number of first-time RAMROD riders have asked for my advice recently, so I thought I would save some time and write this up.

After you’ve read this, you might want to read my ride reports as well:

Congratulations on choosing to try RAMROD. If you you have never ridden a long race with big mountain climbs, this ride is likely to change the way you think about climbing, challenge, and cycling in general.

First off, a bit of clarification on the ride statistics. In the olden days, the RAMROD course went all of the way up to the Paradise visitor center before descending back down. A while back, the Park Service decided that having the bicycles up there was becoming an issue, so the climb up to Paradise now stops at inspiration point and skips the last little loop up to the visitor center and back. The ride description, however, has not been updated. This means that instead of 155 miles and 10,000’ of climbing, you are looking at 149 miles and 9300’ of climbing.


A few thoughts on preparing for the ride…

Because it starts so early, it’s going to be a little cold. But in the afternoon it’s going to be a little hot (see Packwood forecast here for Cayuse conditions). Planning for both can be a bit of a challenge. You can go with the normal arm and/or leg warmers, or you can wear something disposable (like an STP tyvek jacket or a thrift store coat) and lose it at one of the food stops.

It will be a bit dark at 5AM in the morning. If you are going to start then, it would be a good idea to have a blinkie in back and a small white LED for the front.

I also recommend bringing a change of clothes and a towel; you can shower in the school when you’re done, and it’s so nice to be clean and cool for the drive home.

Nutrition & Hydration

This is a long – and often hot – ride. When a ride is 5-6 hours long, you can get away with not keeping up on your hydration and nutrition. On longer rides, there is less margin for error.  This is not the time to make big changes to your plan, but here are a few things to think about:

Food – Start eating early, and eat all the time, aiming for 200-300 calories/hour. You probably don’t eat and drink now when you are climbing, but you will need to do that on these climbs.

Water – Drink water – or preferably, something with electrolytes in it often; more if it’s hotter.

Salt – You can lose a lot of salt, especially if its hot. Look for salty foods to eat, or use other salt supplementation. A drink like Nuun is better than water, but may not have enough electrolytes to keep you going. I’ve you are a salty sweater (if you can feel the salt crystalized on your face after long rides) I recommend a electrolyte tablet, like Succeed S-caps or Rocketlytes. I’m not a fan of endurolytes as they don’t have that much salt in them.

Overview of the route

RAMROD has three main sections; there’s a commute to the start, a hard mountain section, and then a commute back to the start point.

The commute to Eatonville (33 miles)

The course opens at 5AM. I tend to start right around that time, because I’m a big and not-particularly-fast cyclist, and RAMROD is beyond what I usually ride, so I like to be conservative. If you do century + hard climbing rides, you may choose to start later. If it looks like the weather is going to be hot, you may want to shift earlier.

Make sure to roll through the actual starting line so that the volunteers can pull off the tracking ticket part of your ride number. Not to scare you, but there are parts of the ride where you could make a bad choice and end up off the road where you wouldn’t be visible to others, so the organizers track the start and finish of all the riders. Making sure to go through the finish line is equally important.

After a few miles with an annoying amount of truck traffic, the route will turn left and head towards Eatonville. This left turn is about the only place you could easily make a wrong turn. Once you turn, you’re in for a pretty section to ride through, and an important decision.

You can choose to ride this section as a warm-up section at your own pace, or you can shop for a paceline to make it easier and faster. I do this by riding around 3 MPH slower than my target rate; if I want a 19-20MPH paceline, I ride at around 16MPH. If I ride faster, it’s harder for a  paceline to catch up to me, and it’s more likely I’ll ride the whole section by myself.  When a paceline passes me, I have a look at it and decide whether it meets my requirements.

It is very easy to ride too hard on this section of the course, and regret it later. Keep that in mind.

You are going to be a little sleepy and probably not that hungry during this section. Make sure to eat and drink anyway; you don’t want to get behind on calories or hydration.

The Fun Part

We have now reached the meat of the ride. For the next 88 miles, you are going to either be climbing or descending, and given the speed differences of the two, most of the time will be spent climbing. It starts with some short steep hills, and then just a slowly increasing gradient (elevation plot here). Be careful with your effort here; the section until the food stop feels mostly flat but in fact it’s a 1-3% climb, so if you have your mind set on 19MPH in the flat, you may cook yourself.

You have about 1300’ to climb before the next food stop. When you get there, walk around a bit, stretch, eat something, and make sure you have plenty of fluids. In the next 15 miles you are going to climb 2800’. You will enter the national park, and the first few miles after that is pretty easy, but then it kicks up to the 5-6% that it will hold all the way to the top (If you look at the official course elevation profile, there appears to be a very steep section right before the top. This does not exist in my memory or in my strava plot; I think there’s a slight kick-up there but it’s nothing like what the profile makes you think).

Paradise climb

My advice for the climb is simple. Ride your own pace, switch hand positions often, stand up often, and don’t be afraid to stop to stretch and/or rest if you need to. At the top there is water and a nice photo op (several, in fact), but don’t dawdle (feel free to frolic or gallivant); the next food stop is only a quick descent away….

Stevens Canyon descent

If you’ve ever watched the Tour on TV, you’ve seen mountain descents. Now, it’s your turn. Stevens Canyon is what we call an exposed road; there is no guardrail for most of it, the pavement is what I would call “variable”, and there is one tight hairpin a couple of miles in. It is also a lot of fun.

Enjoy it, but be careful. Note that there may be other riders who wish to descend much faster than you. My last trip down I was hovering around 30 MPH for most of the descent.

A note for descents in general; road conditions can be variable, so pay attention. Look for signs at the top of the descents, but don’t assume that the lack of the sign means its perfect. Also watch out for wildlife.

At the bottom, you’ll have another food stop. Make sure to fill your bottles and eat something salty.

Backbone Ridge

This is a small “cat 3” climb, and after the HC one you just completed, it probably won’t seem too bad. In 2011, I had just gotten settled back into climbing when I found myself at the top. After this, there’s another nice descent.

Cayuse Pass

Which, after 93 miles on the bike, brings us finally to Cayuse pass. Your challenge is to climb 2400’ over the next 11 miles.  The first three miles are pretty flat, so it’s really 2300’ over 8 miles. That sounds relatively easy, but reference the distance you’ve already ridden, and remember that, unless you are pretty fast, it is now early afternoon, and you are dealing with the weather on the south side of the mountain. Eighty degrees is common, ninety is possible, and in 09’, it was over 100.

After the first few miles, the climb is quite exposed, so you get little respite from the sun, and the gradient is dead-steady. There is typically a water stop 6.8 miles into the climb, and, if the weather hasn’t been too hot, you may find a waterfall to stand in to cool off before that.

So, basically, this climb is going to suck. It’s not about gear ratios, it’s not about pacing yourself, it’s just about enduring the suffering. It is *hugely* important to remember to keep eating and drinking in this section. Yes, I know how bad 105 degree accelerade tastes, yes, I know that you could brew tea with the contents of your water bottle. You have to keep eating and hydrating. Even if you prefer liquid nourishment, this isn’t a bad time for some solid food.

Eventually, you will top out where Cayuse pass hits highway 410. There will be water there. Just as you had 8 miles to climb up Cayuse, you have another 8 miles to travel, but this time it’s down, down, gloriously down, and since you are on the north side, it will likely be a bit cooler.

After 20 minutes or so (less if you’re faster), you will come to the deli stop, where you can get a custom deli sandwich, a can of pop, and assorted other snacks. Take the time to get a sandwich and sit in the shade a bit; you have done the hard part, and all you have to do is get back home. Fuel up, sodium up, hydrate, and savor the moment, because it isn’t quite over yet.

Commute to Enumclaw

This part looks easy on the map. It’s only 36 miles, and you are going to lose 1600’ along the way. However, what the maps and guide don’t tell you is that there is *always* a headwind during that section. It is much easier to ride in a paceline during this section, but beware: most people are as tired as you are, and some are more tired. Be careful, and remember that you may need to decide to hop out of a paceline if it’s getting dicey.

Near the bottom you will have a left turn towards Mud Mountain Dam; pay attention and make sure you do it safely. This will lead you to a bit of a curvy descent; pay attention and don’t go too fast. At the bottom, you have just a few miles left to head back to the high school. And then you are done.


Eagle, PC Board FAB, SMD components…

About a year ago, I built my DUMBo display board (post 1 post 2 post 3). It has functioned flawlessly since; I haven’t touched the hardware or the firmware for the last 13 months.

It isn’t, however, the nicest looking thing out there; it’s hand-wired on perfboard, and it uses what I would call normal-sized (and most people would call giant) transistors and resistors. I’d wanted to have another one but didn’t want to hand-wire it, I wanted to do some pc-design work, and I wanted to ramp up on SMD components. So, building a real version of DUMBo seemed like a nice thing to do.


The first step was doing the design, which meant choosing a design program. I settled on Cadsoft EAGLE, partly because it’s commonly used, but mostly because it’s free if you limit yourself to 2-sided boards that are no bigger than 100mm x 80mm (4” x 3.2”) and don’t use it commercially. There are also hobbyist and (of course) standard versions.

Eagle is fairly typical to many CAD programs, which means the UI approach will make you scratch your head at times. CAD companies invented UI paradigms before the standard Xerox PARC/Windows/Mac ones became popular, and it’s not uncommon for them to still follow those sorts of approaches.  In instead of doing a “select/modify” approach (common in Visio/Word/PP), it uses a “choose tool/apply” paradigm.

Using Eagle basically has two steps. First, you go to the schematic for the board that you are working on, and add items to it. There are lots of built-in libraries, and there are other ones available. In this case, I was building an Arduino shield, so I downloaded the Adafruit library, and used their shield as a starting point. Note that their arduino is lacking some of the additional pins from newer revisions. I also had 12 resistors (I chose 1206 SMD resistors as they looked doable; there are some that are much smaller) and 4 NPN transistors (I chose SOT-23 devices). The 1” common-cathode 7 segment LED displays (green, but they also come in red,  yellow, and blue, though you may need to change your resistor values) I’m using from Futurelec didn’t have a eagle definition I could find, so I modified one of the other displays based on the data sheet to have the proper dimensions and pinout, and then added those to my schematic. After I had placed all the components in the schematic (the placement is arbitrary), I started wiring them together. This is a simple manner of connecting the devices together appropriately. After a few iterations, I was left with the following:

The design is pretty simple; each of the displays has 7 segments plus a decimal point, so there are 8 resistors. I choose 150 ohms to be conservative, but after looking at the result, I think that’s not bright enough. The displays are multiplexed, with a separate NPN transistor turning them on and off.

There is a 4-pin header for an LPD8806 RGB LED string, which merely has +5V, ground, a clock pin, and a data pin. And finally, there is a connection for a Adafruit XBee adapter board, so you can make it wireless if you’d like, along with two headers that control whether the xbee is set up or not (if they are connected, you can’t program the arduino). And, of course, the arduino, though it’s only an R2 so it is missing a few pins.


Once the schematic is drawn, you can switch to the board layout page and start laying out the board. Initially, you see the empty board with all the components off to the side. In my case, I had some fixed components; the arduino pin layout is fixed, and the displays need to be next to each other as well. Also, the pin headers for the LED strip and the XBee have a preferred location as well.

When you add each component, Eagle will draw lines between pins that need to be connected by traces. If you are feeling lucky, you can ask Eagle to autoroute, but unless the board is simple, you probably won’t  excited by the result. You can also draw routes by hand, and whenever you complete a route, it will get rid of the line saying it needs to be connected.

Routing is a puzzle, and for me, it’s a fun puzzle. Start with the simple lines, and go from there. Don’t be afraid to rip existing traces up to make them better. Pro Tip: If, in the middle of a route, you click the center wheel on the mouse, Eagle will switch the route from one layer to another and create a via automatically. This is much easier.

Here is the board layout:

The routing for Q1/Q2/Q3 was quite interesting. To get the drive signal to Q2 and Q3, I ended up looping the signals up and around, and then I rotated Q1 to make it work around.


Eagle has a set of rules that you can use to verify that your design is workable. You may also be able to download a different set of rules from your PCB maker to verify that they can make it.


I’ve etched a few boards on my own in the past, but it’s so much easier to have somebody else do it for you. In this case, I chose to use OSH Park (which has taken over for SparkFun’s BatchPCB service). It is very simple to do; you upload your Eagle board file, their system verifies it, batches it up with other designs in a single big order, and then sends it out. A few weeks later, you get your boards in the mail. The cost is currently $5 per square inch for 3 boards.

Here are the boards:

Front side


Back side

The boards have a purple solder mask on them, and are very nicely made.

Populating the board

I did some reading on hand-soldering SMDs, and ordered some fine-pitch tweezers and other supplies. I already have reading glasses and a 2x head magnifier.

My workbench is a nice golden quartz, which makes it hard to see normal components sometimes. I put a sheet of paper down so I could see everything better.

I started with the resistors. I put a small drop of solder on each pad, held the resistor on top of the solder pads, and then touched it with the iron. Did that on both ends, and the resistor was done. I did that on the first four, and got a bit better, but I wasn’t excited about the result.

For the bottom components, I got out the solder paste. Solder paste is a mix of very tiny solder balls and flux. You put a bit of it on all the pads, carefully put the component on the board, hold down the component with the tweezers, and just touch the fluxed end with the iron. This heats the flux and melts the solder, and you get a very nice joint. Getting the right amount of solder paste takes a bit of experimenting but is relatively easy to do. I finished the resistors and started the SOT-23 transistors. Those went pretty well.

I went on to add the displays and the headers. Because this is a top board (ie you would never plug another shield into this one), I used normal headers rather than the plug-through male/female ones. Headers can be hard to get in straight; normally this is hard to do because you need three hands; one to hold the header in, one to hold the solder, one to hold the iron. However, you can hold the header in, put a bit of solder paste on one of the pins, and then solder it. Only two hands needed, though I would recommend not holding the pin you are soldering. After that gets the header tacked in place, solder all the pin headers normally.

Here’s the front of the board:

Okay, so those aren’t the nicest SMD soldering examples I’ve ever seen, but they aren’t bad for a first try *and* every one was functional; no bad connections, no bridged pins.

Back of the board:

At lower left, you’ll see a female header. This is used to connect the XBee breakout board.

Final View

Here are the final views of the board, with the arduino and xbee breakout board attached.

Issues/future improvements:

  1. It would be nice to use the additional arduino pins that aren’t on the Adafruit library layout.
  2. Add a triple header (5V on the outside, ground on the middle) to supply regulated 5V, so a longer LED string can be used.
  3. Calculate resistor values for the different color displays, and put those values on the silkscreen layer.
  4. The Arduino ethernet connector has a metal shield around it, which can short out the pins for one of the LEDs display if the shield is tightly pushed against the arduino. This is a common problem. It *might* be possible to shift the displays up enough on the shield to fix this issue.

Ride report: Food Bank Challenge July 2013

269.5 pounds of food…

This ride report is a bit different, because the event is a bit different…

It will probably come as no surprise to you that the goal of a ride name the Food Bank Challenge is to collect food to donate to a food bank. In that respect, it is no different than most food drives. It is the particular expression of the word “challenge” that makes it different; rather than challenging everybody to bring in food and donate it, the challenge is to bring food with you and carry it on the ride before you donate it.

When polled, 78% of adult Americans rated this as a “moderately stupid” or “quite stupid” thing to do. I agree with them. That is, in fact, the whole point of the event – to do something that is, when you come down to it, stupid, but in a very special way.

The official challenge rules are as follows:

  1. Show up with some food.
  2. Carry it with you on your ride. Backpacks, panniers, or fanny packs are all okay. You can duct tape a pound of spaghetti to the top of your thighs if you’d like.
  3. Ride a normal ride for the group.
  4. Put all the food together so that somebody can take it to a food bank.
  5. Go out for burritos.

Strictly speaking, option #4 is not an actual rule, though with our group, it’s pretty close. We have one additional rule that may be invoked at the ride leader’s or group’s discretion:

  • If one of your regulars appears to have wimped out (ie “forget” his or her backpack), they get to wear a kid’s backpack (the more obvious the better) with 1 pound of baby cereal in it.

If the amount of food you wish to donate is less than the amount of food you wish to carry, that is okay. Any extra food will gladly be accepted. If you are looking for a guideline, something like 5% of your body weight is a good amount to carry on your first time.  If you want to up the stupid, 15% will accomplish that. Anything above that, and you’re on your own.

Day – 1:

Like any important event, it is critical to consider the food that you will carry. I went to Uwajimaya to buy a 20 pound bag of brown rice (plus some nice Sockeye for dinner; they have the best fish on the eastside), and stopped by Fred Meyer for 5 pounds of pasta. I also picked up an appropriate kid’s backpack and contents for the additional rule. When I got home, I stuffed it in my REI backpack; rice in the big section, spaghetti in the spaghetti side pockets, and the remainder of pocket in the front pocket. It tipped the scales at 29 pounds (I think the rice was heavier than 20 pounds).

If you are going up the stupid, I highly recommend a backpack with a good waist and shoulder straps. I also recommend food that isn’t going to be sticking you in the back when you ride. I did without a waist strap on the inaugural edition of this event, and was crankier than usual for a few days afterward.

The next problem I had was one of route. This was complicated by the weather forecast, which asserted that it would be 92 degrees. That meant I needed a route in the cooler part of our range – to avoid the urban heat island effect – and I also needed a route where we could stop for water along the way. And I wanted it to not be too steep; nothing more than 10% or so. I came up with a route, and went to bed.

Day – 0:

Nicely, the weather has moderated, so I’m not concerned about us dying due to the heat. As the riders start showing up, I notice that there are several different approaches.

Mark and Joe have showed up with panniers full of food. I’m not sure how much Joe has, but Mark has 38 pounds of weight in his.

Joe showed up with a whole bunch of food – 8 bags full, along with a big bag of rice – which he hopes will distract anybody from noticing that he has no backpack. Nobody is fooled. That makes him the obvious candidate to wear the bright pink “Just Do It” backpack with the box of baby cereal in it, which he accepts graciously. In a fortuitous bit of synchronicity, the weight of the cereal and the backpack is precisely 5% of Joe’s weight.

David has brought a medium-sized backpack with him, but has discovered that straps are “too painful” against the screws in his collarbone. Conveniently, he has brought a spare teammate with him to carry the backpack during the ride. Recognizing his brilliance, I immediately claim a debilitating “Halo injury”, but am unable to convince anyone to take my backpack from me.

We head out on East Lake Sammamish. I spend the first 4 miles warming up, wondering who the idiot was who came up with this idea, and loosening my shoulder straps and tightening my waist strap to try to stop my muscles from cramping. After a few miles of this, the weight and my musculature reach a tentative agreement, and we are nearing Thompson Hill road.

Thompson is a pretty common way to head up the plateau, rising 311’ and averaging about 8% in gradient. I like to climb this at around 250 watts; it’s a level that hurts but is sustainable. As we head towards the start of the climb, the CR2032 lithium battery powering my Powertap ekes out its final joule, and my power meter drops off the air. So, instead of taking a sophisticated “power” approach, I gear down, peg my heart rate, and rock it old school – at least, to the extent that anybody climbing with a 30/27 can be said to be “rocking it”. Uncharacteristically, I stay near the front of the group for about half the climb, when the non-encumbered riders and the faster encumbered riders stream by me.




We crest the hill, and regroup at our usual point. The rest of the ride passes pleasantly except for the monkey on my back (a rather large adult male Colobus guereza, if weight is any indication), and the route that I picked turns out to be pretty good.






The evening is delightful, and after our final descent back to East Lake Sam, we head back to Marymoor at our usual measured pace. Which involves a very-non-cooperative paceline with the faster riders, and various slightly-more-cooperative pacelines behind the first one. I pull those that prefer a more casual approach back to the park, and marvel at how much harder it is to ride up a 2% slope with the extra weight.

We all get together for a picture, and then it’s time for Burritos…