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Passport2Pain 2013

(edit: in the original version, I stated that Marcel was wearing the KoM jersey. I was, in fact, mistaken. Those responsible have been sent to bed without any beer. )

In my continuing quest to do stupid things, I signed up for the 2013 Passport2Pain.

This ride is a fundraiser for the Vashon Island Rowing Club. Apparently, the club was sitting around one day and said, “let’s do a cycling ride to raise some money for the club”, and a plan was formed. They quickly agreed that the ride should be “hilly”, but were unable to agree which hills should be included. The impasse was finally broken when somebody suggested, “let’s just do all of them!”.

And the Passport2Pain was born.

I confess that I am engaging in a bit of hyperbole. It does not include all the hills on Vashon Island; a look at the course map shows that it skips at least two or three of them. To make the ride more accessible to those who are only slightly disturbed, they offer three different routes:

Route Distance Elevation Gain
Passport 30 miles 3,400’
2 50 miles 6,300’
Pain 80 miles 10,000’

Okay, those aren’t the real route names; I’ll explain the real route names as we go along.

I will note that the short ride appears to be roughly comparable to the very popular “7 hills of Kirkland” ride, though I have reason to believe that many of the hills are worse than those on 7 hills, and the longer routes are clearly much worse than the 7 hills metric and full century.

I thought I would try something different, and actually do some training for this ride, so I’ve been spending some time in the hills recently, including a trip up the ever-unpopular Montreaux-Zoo hybrid last weekend, and I also did a couple of hard 3500’ HC climbs on my recent vacation. Having said that, I’m not a natural climber, and I rode a little harder this week than I had planned, so – as usual – I’m not really in the form that I would like to be. Stava says that my fitness is near 60, which is pretty much my peak for the year, but it also says my fatigue is 60, so my form is a neutral 0.

The Ride

The ride starts at 8AM, and I want to start pretty close to that time, so I get up at 5AM. The start isn’t very far as the crow flies (why is the benchmark a crow? why not the pileated woodpecker?), but there’s a ferry ride in the middle and I want to make sure I catch the ferry I want. A quick breakfast, I get dressed, and then I grab my riding bag (a cloth shopping bag that holds my usual stuff; shoes/helmet/gloves/arm & leg warmers/thin coat/booties/etc.), my food bag (two baggies accelerade, tube of mixed Nuun flavors, cheese-its, garlic naan, shot blocks, two honey stingers, camera), and my water bottles (Camelbacks), and head out to the car. It’s 5:53, and there is a slight mist in the air.

The trip there is mostly uneventful. I chat with some friends while waiting for the ferry about what is coming. I catch the ferry I want to catch, and get to the start at about 7:30. I pull the bike out of the car, get it ready (GPS, phone, wallet, keys, water bottles all in the right places), and proceed to have a discussion with myself about what I’m going to wear. The ideal amount of clothing is such that you are just a tiny bit chilly when you start. If you wear too much, you get sweaty, and then you get colder. If you take it off, you are stuck trying to carry it around. I have a vest and coat that pack up very tiny, but I have pockets full of food, so I don’t want to take up the space. I finally settle on a pair of arm warmers, and ride over to the start area.

As I ride in, I pass a guy wearing the full Liquigas Polka dot jersey Kit, including the shorts. It looks something like this.

During the Tour de France, the different leaders wear distinctive jerseys. The overall time leader wears the yellow jersey, the points leader wears green, the best your rider wears white, and the rider who has performed best on the climbs is “King of the Mountains”, and wears the understated polka dot jersey.  The other big races of the year (the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta de Espanaa) use their own color codes.

In the tour, possessing the jersey is an honor – some cyclists may go their whole career and ride many tours without ever wearing one of the jerseys. It is to be respected and not used frivolously. When somebody shows up in a polka-dot jersey at a hilly ride, it’s essentially stating “I’m all that”, and a rider that chooses to do it should be able to back it up.

Note that there is one exception to this guideline; if, for example, you are a guy who weights 250 pounds and has a visible beer gut, you are allowed to wear the polka dot jersey because it is clear that you are wearing it ironically.

I find out later that the rider wearing the kit was local rider and fellow Microsoftie Larry Beck. He finished in 5:18, with an average speed of 15.2 MPH. I think that classes him as “doing the jersey honor”.

Anyway, I lean my bike against a convenient trailer with rowing shells on it, wait in line to use the facilities, and then head to check in. To register for the ride costs $100 – which is a lot of money, even for a fundraiser – but the organizers have come up with an interesting way of making it accessible for those who have less free money. As we ride around, we will get our passports stamped, and at the end, you can get a $4 rebate on your registration fee. Hit all 18 checkpoints, and you can get $72 back, making the cost only $28. Or, you can choose not to ask for the rebate.

I have opted to go “all-in” (no rebate), and the organizers have kindly given me a separate registration line. I pick up my course map, my passport (in a ziploc because it’s going to live in a sweaty jersey pocket), and a single “P2P” sticker for the front of my helmet.

About this time, the ride director calls us over for a rider meeting. He tells us that the course has a slight detour, missing one hill because of construction, but we can double one if we’d like. He tells us about the roads (not wide), the pavement (poor in places), the descents (windy (as in “lots of turns”, not as in “lots of fast-moving air”)), and the residents (nice). He tells us how the start will work so we don’t put a huge group of riders on the road all together.

Another benefit of those who went “all-in” on their donation is that we get to start first. There are a lot of us, so they will send out 5 riders every minute (I think they could probably do it every 30 seconds and it would be fine). I have cleverly put my bike right near the front of the start group, so I roll out as the 10th rider on the road.

My plan for the day is simple. I’m going to ride the first section of the course, and then, when I get to the turnoff for the short course, I’m going to do a quick evaluation of how I feel, and then decide. If I keep riding, I’ll make the same decision at the medium course.

My *prediction* for the day is that I’ll do the short+medium sections and skip the last loop. But who knows – I might surprise myself.

We head out, off the little Island where the start is, and head up our first hill (all of 75’ of climbing). I’m spinning and trying to warm my legs up a bit. I worked out a little harder than I had planned the week before, but my legs feel okay. We end up on the main North/South road, and then turn off on our first descent, and at the bottom, find the first checkpoint. I get my passport stamped, and the little chinese character looks very lonely, one box filled on a page with 17 empty boxes left. We head up, and the pitch quickly increases to 13% or so. I’m running in my lowest gear (30/28), and looking at the others around me, most people have chosen some form of mountain gear. The few that haven’t are in for a long day – or perhaps a short one if they only do part of the ride.

The weather is misty up near the highway, and mistier when we’re down by the water. I’m a little wet because of it, and my sunglasses have beads of water on them. It’s a little chilly on the descents. I believe this is known as “typical Vashon weather”.

It’s back up to the highway, and a nice long fast descent. I’m thinking that this won’t be too hard to climb back up. A bunch of riders at the turnoff make sure I don’t miss it, and I turn onto a curvy road that descends a bit more. I’m looking to the left, searching for a checkpoint as the road bottoms. There is no checkpoint, but there is a nice steep hill in front of me. The garmin says 18% as I stand to attack it. On the other side, we keep climbing away from the water, and finally top out at the top of a small climb at checkpoint #2 (bicycle stamp). We retrace our path and head north on the island. This is what I call a double; the route to the checkpoint and back to the main route involves not one, but two separate climbs.

Rest assured, dear reader, that I am not going to recount in detail the remaining 16 checkpoints for the ride. I think I could, but I’m pretty sure we would both find it pretty boring. I will therefore just give you the highlights.

At this point I hear a familiar voice, and find that it’s Jeanne, who rides with our group. We ride together for a while and chat, and then, on the next hill, her natural riding talent leaves me behind. I ride on.

There is now a decision to make. One can continue on the ride, or one can call it a day, and head back to the start on the aptly-named “The Weenie” route. I’m feeling fine, so I ride on.

In the near future (the whole day has mushed together in my memory), I do a hill that has my Garmin reading 20% on the ascent. Soon afterwards, it gets scared and stops recording altitude all together; it does not show the incline, nor is it recording altitude gained. Everything else is find – speed, cadence, power.  I turn it off, turn it on again, and it starts working fine.

More hills, more checkpoints. The checkpoints are all staffed by volunteers; the stamping is typically done by young rowers (which is what the money raised is for), with a few adults. They are uniformly pleasant, each of them (the checkpoints, not the adults) feature something slightly different to eat, and when they (once again, the checkpoint) have cookies, they (this time it’s not the checkpoint, but the cookies) are generally homemade, and quite tasty. Because there are so many of them (checkpoints), I don’t really need two full water bottles, so I switch to just filling up one. I don’t need to carry an extra pound up these hills.

We are now riding a curvy road (well, it’s more of a glorified goat track) that winds through the woods between the trees, and we come to a small sign that says, “Here is where P2P turns ugly”. Most of the hills we’ve climbed feature sections from 13-15% in gradient, and I am pleasantly surprised when I’m only climbing a 9-10% grade. And we’ve already seen some grades right about 20%. I wonder what “ugly” is going to mean; I’ve heard people talk about the “Burma Road” section, and I’m hoping this is it so we can get it over with.

We turn the corner, and find out. I’ve heard several hills referred to as “the wall”:

  • A one mile, 350’, 7% climb in Puyallup on the STP route.
  • A one mile, 200’ climb on the RSVP route that has a section that’s around 13%
  • A short 1/5th mile climb up to the Sammamish plateau that averages 15% but tops out a bit higher (this is more properly known as “the gate”).

I start the climb. I am in my lowest gear, and I end up standing and tacking back and forth to keep going forward. I watch the gradient numbers on my garmin spool up, and as they hit the mid-20s, I think “okay, 25%, I could believe that”. Then they just keep going up, ending up at 39%. The hill is steep – super steep – but I think the tree cover was messing with the Garmin, so I’m going to say 25%, and be done with it. There is more than one person walking their bike up it.

This hill is followed by another that is just as bad. If any hill qualifies the “wall” designation, these qualify.

And, so it continues. At one point, I think we’re heading down towards the ferry dock, which makes me happy, because the climb up from the ferry dock is supposedly only 9-10%, but then we turn off to the West, and descend down another way. The way up features another honest 20%. And another hill, and then we ride back into town. I run into my friend Joe outside of the bakery. We talk briefly, but I’m not very social on long rides. I lead Tue/Thu nights, and when I’m riding on the weekends I’d generally prefer not to have to deal with people much.

There are two things I need. I need a bathroom – which I find behind the very busy farmer’s market – and I need some caffeine. I buy a diet coke (the fructose in real coke gives me stomach cramps) from the Thriftway and stand outside, chugging it down. While I am there, I am approached by a bee asking me if I know how to identify GMO foods. It is possible that it was a *person* dressed in a bee, but given my mental state at the point, I can’t make a definitive determination. I head out again, and the liquid and caffeine have helped me quite a bit, and I feel pretty good. My legs – which were hurting quite a bit after the Burma road section – have calmed down a bit, and the hills here seem to be content to limiting themselves to the 13% range or so.

We do one section here (or perhaps it’s before town, things are a bit hazy) where, at the checkpoint at the bottom of the hill (I almost said “steep hill”, but that would be redundant here), near the beach, there is a sign that says “no guilt option”. It is pinned to the cushion of a nice chaise lounge underneath an umbrella; there are fuzzy slippers, a few books, and a cooler of cold beer. You can be done; all you have to do is surrender your passport, park your bike, and relax. This is manipulative and mean. I love it.

We come to an intersection, climb up “evil twin #1” to a checkpoint, descend back down to the same intersection, and then climb “evil twin #2”. The past 3 checkpoints, I’ve been just ahead of a few guys from my group, and I keep expecting them to pass me, but we end up keeping the same gap.

A bit of flat(ish) road along the water, and we come to decision point #2. The choice is whether to head straight towards the remaining checkpoints on Maury Island (I think there are 5 left), or to turn right, ride the mostly-flat section back to the starting point, and get to the finish line food and beverages early, weaseling out on the rest of the ride. I’m as surprised as anybody that I don’t give “The Weasel” route any real consideration, and ride straight onto Maury island. Which means I’m on the long ride, the full-mean deal, the big chihuahua, known as “The Idiot”.

Checkpoints 14 and 15 (“Air Mail” and “? um. Rythmic gymnast?”) are dispatched reasonably quickly, and then the ride once again gets meaner. We are down near the water in the part of the island known as Docton. We do a long climb up the island, and then we have a very steep descent back down to the water. I refuel and rewater at the checkpoint, and start the climb out. It is stiff – an extended section in the 15-16% range. I have been tacking (riding back and forth across the road to make the climb less steep) on the steeper sections when practical and safe, and I continue it here. That pulls the effective gradient down to about 13%, and I slowly climb out at around 200 watts. I catch and pass a few people on the climbs (huh? I’m surprised to be catching people), and we descend down to Dockton – only to turn off and start climbing, up again, and then down to the water again. For the second double in a row. This one is a bit worse on the way out.

Near the top of this one, I ask a rider with me, “How do you feel about profanity?”. She replies, “I don’t have a problem with it on a ride”. I pause, and then say, “I have *had it* with these motherfucking hills on this motherfucking ride” (reference). She laughs.

There is only one checkpoint left. We start climbing, and it’s rolling, with a 10% base grade and short little uphills in the 14-15%. I see a sign to turn left, and as I get closer, I see a joyous sight; a car, and a group of riders standing around, which means this one is not going to be another double.

A minute or so after this, Kevin pulls in, and we get our pictures taken in front of a vintage TdF climb picture holding a crystal cup. I eat a brownie. Then it’s a nice fast descent, a bit of spinning, and we’re back at the finish, where I pick up my finisher’s packet, eat a burrito that I would rather forget, and drink a mexican coke (sugar, not HFCS).

And here’s the proof:


Here are the vital statistics:

Distance: 82.4 miles
Elevation: 9,996’ (I’ll just say “10,000”)
Time: 7:13:27
Average Speed: 11.4 MPH
Energy: 3,605 kJ
Strava: Link

And here is the elevation map.

It was nuts. Truly nuts. As you can see, it’s there is perhaps 5 miles of flat(ish) the whole ride. I count 22 major climbs, and virtually all of them have sections in the 13% range. If you have done 7 hills, think of the worst hills on that ride – Seminary and Winery – and now think of doing each of them 11 times, except that some of them are steeper than either of those climbs.

I felt pretty strong most of the way through – stronger than I’ve felt on a long ride the whole summer. Part of it was the weather; the cool definitely agrees with me. I also think that I ate more than I have in the past, and that helped out as well.

Organization and logistics

Overall, the logistics around the ride were excellent. The yellow signs were clear in most cases, and it was nice not having to look for Dan Henry’s on the road. The food was good at the checkpoints, and there was nice variety. The volunteers were all helpful. 9/10, would ride again.

A few suggestions for next time:

  1. The parking situation was a bit confusing.
  2. It would be nice to have something salty at the checkpoints and/or salt to put on the potatoes.
  3. The yellow P2P signs were very visible, but the arrows on them were hard to read until you got pretty close to them. I would prefer the arrows at the top of the sign, and either on the left, center, or right part of the sign, meaning left, straight, or right.
  4. 4PM is too early for the barbecue to end; I spent very little time in the checkpoints but still finished barely before 4PM.
  5. The burritos at the finish line were pretty underwhelming.
  6. It seems that the checkpoint locations weren’t well thought out – riders were often forced to ride a lot of extra distance and climb hills just to reach them.

Inaugural Eastside Tours Food Bank Challenge

Because I lead a Tuesday and Thursday night hilly ride and manage a popular internet bicycle climbing site, some have assume that I am a climber. And they are correct, at least by some measures; if you compare me to the average fifth grader, I am quite the climber. Compared to the people that I ride with, not so much; we hit the base of the hill, I tell them where the top will be, and they ride off.

The 6’2” frame that I got from my parents has been good to me over the years, but it is not especially optimized to cycling, especially when compared to the undersized runts that I ride with. What I need is a way to handicap them in some ways, to even the odds. A way to get them to handicap *themselves*.

And thus the Food Bank Challenge was born…

By disguising the event as a fundraiser (foodraiser?) for Northwest Harvest, I could get the riders in my group to self-handicap themselves.

The rules are simple.

  1. Show up to the ride with a backpack (or panniers) filled with food.
  2. Ride carrying all the extra weight.
  3. At the end you put all the food in the back of Eric’s car
  4. Go out for burritos.

Unfortunately, the weather was not as clement as hoped and many of the lighter climbers that I targeted did not show up, but we still managed to collect about 75 pounds of food.


My backpack held the 20 pound bag of rice on the left plus 5 pasta boxes for a total of 25 lbs.

RAMROD 2009 Ride Report

RAMROD is a yearly stage ride that is held in Washington state, involving a circumnavigation of the state’s highest peak, Mt. Rainier. It attracts a large variety of riders from throughout the state and other areas, drawn to the ride for its challenge and pain potential.

Two days before the ride, I get up and notice that my back is hurting, but it gets better as the day goes on. The day before, I wake up and it hurts more, so I head off to the gym to spend 15 minutes on the exercise bike and do a few stretches. This quite effective – by the time I get back to the locker room to take a shower, my lower right back is totally in spasm, and I can barely take my shoes off. A soak in the hot tub and the shower makes it a bit better, so I resolve to ignore it and hope it doesn’t cause problems.

On the day of the ride, I arise at 2:45, eat a bagel, get dressed (slathering on SPF 50 sunscreen), and grab my bag of stuff. It contains a bagel, 7 snack bags of accelerade (actually, my custom mix of 3/4 accelerade and 1/4 maltodextrin to increase the glucose content and reduce the sweetness a bit), a bag of salt pills and ibuprofen, and a couple of bottles (one water, one ‘ade). And 6 newtons, and some jerky. When I leave the house I glance at the thermometer, which reads 78 degrees, considerably cooler than yesterday’s high of 107.

The drive to Enumclaw is uneventful. I’m pretty tired and it’s pretty dark, but I find my way into Enumclaw and grope my way to the school. I park, get out, put my stuff on the bike, and put on my gear. Normally at this point, I’d be debating what to wear for the weather, but since it’s still in the mid 70’s, the choice is pretty simple. I stuff my pockets full of food, and ride towards the starting line.

I run into a few friends at my pit stop inside the very warm (“why are they heating the school?”) building, and head out. I generally ride by myself on hilly rides as the downside of riding with people who are faster than you is significant, and I believe in that area I have learned my lesson. I roll to the starting area, and make one final check.

It’s 147 miles back to Enumclaw. I have one bagel, half a bag of beef jerky, it’s dark, and I’m wearing sunglasses.

(If you don’t recognize the quote, please rectify the deficiency in your education before continuing)


 Stage 1: Enumclaw to Eatonville

Distance: 32 miles (about the distance from Anacortes to Coupeville)

I stop by the volunteers at the start line so they can pull off my start tag (so they know who’s on the course) and ride through. Down the road, then right onto the highway, then a quick left/right onto a side street.

At which point I’m alone – I can’t see anybody in front, and I can’t see anybody behind. Which is a bit weird, but it’s not possible for me to have gotten lost this early. It doesn’t last for very long, as I catch up with a few people and few people come by. I hook up with a small group for about 20 minutes, but I don’t want to push early i the morning, so I drop off the back and ride by myself. As I spin along, my only company is the beauteous scenery, my own thoughts, and 12,000 dual-trailer gravel trucks, the whine of their turbochargers spooling up bidding a happy “good morning” to all they pass.

A few minutes later I get passed by a group of 20 riders or so, including my nutcase (but in a good way) friend Joe, who says hi. He’s taking it easy today because he has a mountain bike race this weekend, and will still finish hours before I do. He’s only behind now because he wanted to wait until it was light to leave.

I slow down to ride next to a lone rider who I’ll call “Frank” (on account of forgetting his name), who is up from Portland to ride in his first Ramrod. We talk for a while, and then ride off ahead. At his pace, I think he’s in for a long hot day. My legs feel good and my back doesn’t hurt at all, so I’m doing better than expected.

About 10 minutes out of Eatonville I hear my name, and my friends Tristan and Alan come by with two other riders (Vladimir? Alphonso? Julie? – their names have vanished into a haze of exhaustion), and I break my rule (apparently, more of a guideline than a rule) and ride to the next stop with them. We get off the bikes, I refill my water and ‘ade bottles, and grab a small muffin (I’m trying to eat more on this ride), and we head back out.







31.5 miles

17.5 mph


981 kcal

Stage 2: Eatonville to Packwood

Distance: 46.1 miles (about the distance from Cheney to Davenport)

We start climbing immediately outside of Eatonville, on a couple of steep pitches that bump my heart rate up to the low 150s. I drop my cadence down to the 80s and my heart rate goes down a bit and things get easier (interestingly, 140 BPM at 80 RPM is a lot easier for me than 140BPM at 95 RPM) and I decide to stay with the group for a while. We pass some people up the hills, and then ease by a few groups on the flats. A quick stop for a “nature break” (just like on the tour!), and we roll into the Ashford food stop. I refill my ‘ade and water bottles and grab a big handfull of cheese-its (glad they have the underrated “its” rather than the thoroughly pedestrian “nips”), and say hello to my friend Bret, who is waiting in line.

We roll out, and almost immediately turn right onto Skate Creek road, amid many warnings from the volunteers about the rough road 11 miles in, and immediately start climbing again. The natural order of things is upset when I find myself riding either with Tristan (who weights in at about 28 pounds) or Alan (at around 25 pounds) and chatting comfortably (or, as the rest of the group will likely protest, excessively), or, even more surprisingly, riding off the front of the group because they aren’t going fast enough. At my size (6’2″ and 175 pounds), I don’t tend to be the first one up the hill, though the slope of this one is more in tune with my talents as it’s only in the 3-5% range, and being tall is less of a disadvantage if the slope is flatter. I’m apparently channeling Big ole’ George Hincapie. A bit.

In short, I’m having a great time. The conditions can only be described as “delightful” – it’s in the low 80s and the climb is nicely shaded. We top out the climb and start looking for the promised rough road on the descent. We find a lot of uneven road and small sinkholes that are fairly easily avoided (if you’re riding 25 rather than 40) and then we find out that the “rough road” is really “missing road” – there are sections where the entire road has been sliced out and replaced with gravel. The first few of these aren’t that bad – they’re only about 5-10′ long – but the last one is about 30′ long with a lot of loose gravel – an excess of fun on a road bike with 23mm tires on it. We all make it through fine, finish the descent, and as we roll into Packwood, we feel the heat – it’s somewhere in the 90s. Or 900s. One of those.

A quick nature break, and some ice in a ziploc bag with slits in it to go inside my underarmour on the back of my neck. A bottle of ‘ade and one of water, and another salt tablet (I’ve been taking one every 30 minutes), and we head out into the heat.







46.1 miles

17.1 mph


1933 kcal

  Stage 3: Packwood to Cayuse base

Distance: 7.1 miles (about the distance from Richland to Kennewick)

On paper, this looks like a pretty easy section, but it’s a lot harder than I expected. It’s a series of climbs followed by flatish sections, and I’m noticing the heat. They have officers and volunteers out to make sure we get from the right shoulder of the highway over to the left side, and they are batching up riders to do so. In front of us we see one rider overbalance to the right and only save it through a miracle leg move. When we get to this point, I’ve decide to make things interesting and stay in a middle gear, and nearly fall over when we need to ride across the road to rest stop. As does everybody else.

We drop our bikes, and get in line for food and ice. The wait here is probably 15 minutes, mostly because of the time to get ice socks. I skip the ice sock (for some stupid reason) and fill my ziplocs with ice for the front and back, and that helps a little. I try to eat, but the heat makes it difficult so I don’t each much. I do get two bottles of water.

I know the grade here is steeper and I won’t be riding with the rest of the group, so I roll out a little early.







7.1 miles

15.6 mph


327 kcal


 Stage 4: Cayuse Pass to Deli stop

Distance: 25 miles (about the distance from Renton to Tacoma)

Now, we’ve gotten to the meat of the ride. 17 miles of uphill, followed by 8 miles of downhill, followed by sandwiches and soft drinks.

The early part of the pass is a surprise – it’s (yet another) set of climbs and flatish parts, but it has reasonable amounts of shade, so I’m feeling okay. I do kick down to my granny gear on the front, and figure I’ll be in it all the way to the top. This continues for the first 9 miles of the climb, during which we climb about 800′.

Then something happens to the road. I don’t know if there were budgetary concerns or the upper pass was done by a different group than the lower pass, but at the 9 mile mark, some nameless highway engineer gets out his 7% grade ruler, and that’s what we will follow all the way to the top. Take a look at the profile and you’ll see what I mean. I settle into a pattern:

Each minute I turn the cranks over about 70 times, progress a tenth of a mile forward, and climb 170′. Just do that 80 times, and I’ll be at the top.

After about 10 minutes of this, I pass a waterfall on the side of the road, and see a rider climbing down to it. I get off the bike, climb down, and wet down my face, head, and body. The water tastes salty – not from dissolved minerals in it, but from the salt that is dissolving off my head as I rinse down. I get back on the bike, and then it’s back to my unhappy place as I progress upwards.

Every 15 minutes or so I pass somebody, and every 15 minutes or so somebody passes me, but generally all the riders are progressing at the same slow pace, a steady 6MPH.

Did I mention it’s hot? At the same time we hopped on the 7% treadmill, we lost most of our shade, and it’s above 90 (my guess is that it’s well above 90) at this point.

At just over 98 miles, I hit the water stop, which is good, because I’ve been riding 15 minutes without any water. It’s taken me 80 minutes to ride the last 13 miles and climb 2000′. As I’m waiting for the facilities, I run into Bret again, and give him some of the extra food that I have. We refill our bottles, and ride onward. The sign at the stop says “4.8 miles” to go, and we do it without any stops, except for the time we stop in a thin slice of shade for a couple of minutes, and the time we join a horde (perhaps 1.5 hordes) of riders on the opposite shoulder in a thin slice of shade about a mile from the top. I’m out of water with about 3 miles left. We finish the remaining 1000′ of the climb in around 40 minutes, get some water, and then scream (personally, I say “whee!”, though I don’t have much voice left because of heat and dryness) down the north side of the pass, dropping 2000′ in about 18 minutes.

We roll into the deli stop, and a volunteer hands me an icy Diet Coke (can’t drink the HFCS stuff when I’m riding) as we wait in line. One of the things that RAMROD does so well.

We are done, not in actuality, but done in the sense that there is no longer any doubt that we will finish. I get a ramrod special sandwich (meat/cheese/tomato/lettuce on whole wheat), and we grab a couple of camp chairs in the shade, and relax, at least as much as one can relax with a couple of hours of riding left.







25.7 miles

10.7 mph


1540 kcal


Stage 4B: Crystal Mountain

Distance: 12 miles (about the distance from Aberdeen to Montesano)

At this point, there is a “out-and-back” climb up to the base of Crystal Mountain ski area and back, a special section for the faster yet stupider riders who are unable to figure out what “RA” means. It’s like a snipe hunt – a sort of hazing thing. Even if the “out and back” part wasn’t enough, the fact that the pavement on Skate Creek is wonderful compared to the pavement on the crystal climb (and descent) should make the hazing part obvious. And yet many still do the climb…

As wily college graduates, we take a pass on this one. As we get ready to leave the deli stop, we run into Alan and Tristan who are down from climbing up Crystal Mountain. We don’t let them in on the joke and I resist the temptation to ask them to find me some elbow grease for my bike.

 Stage 5: Deli stop to done

Distance: 36 miles (about the distance from Ellensburg to Yakima)

This appears to be the easiest section of the ride – a steady downhill nearly all the way back, with a drop of 1900′ and only a few short climbs. But those who have ridden this in the past know that, almost without exception, there is a headwind the whole way down.

Today is an exception of the rule. We don’t have a headwind, we have a intense and hot headwind. Bret thinks the result is a bit like riding in a toaster oven, while I think it’s more like riding into a hair dryer, and we are unable to reach a consensus. We are riding by ourselves and we alternate on the front every 3 minutes. We’re going fairly slowly, in the hope that a paceline will pass us and we can hook up with them. We don’t find any pacelines, but we do pass a number of riders who are hurting units. One of them tries to draft us but drops off – I hope he makes it back okay.

Eventually, we come into Greenwater, and spend a while riding through the sprinkler that’s been set out for us, and I especially enjoy the way the sprinkler hits Bret right in the face. We skip the store and therefore don’t pick up any water. Which is a tactical error.

This takes us into my least favorite section of the ride. The headwinds are worse, and there are a few real climbs in this section as well. As we get into the meat of it, a paceline catches up with us. We do our turns on the front, and drop to the back to wheelsuck. The 4 guys at the front are pretty well organized but don’t understand the concept of “constant effort” (when you’re at the front of a paceline you should slow down a bit on the uphills so the group can stay together), so they keep breaking the group up. That makes our effort in the back higher than it should be, and the result is that we’re working harder in the group than we were by ourselves, so at the next break we just stay behind the group, along with another woman from the group. We trade off pulls and I go through the last of my water.

We finally get to the Mud mountain dam turnoff and fly down the descent (usually a bit cold, but today just a bit less hot), and then ride the last 4 miles back to the school, where we are greeted by well-wishers, have our tags pulled off, and partake in frozen confections (I have a orange/vanilla bar).







36.3 miles

19.1 MPH


1139 cal


Distance: 147 miles, about the distance from Chehalis to Yakima

I’m pretty happy about this – I hadn’t thought that I’d be up for that kind of speed on a ride as long and as hot as this one. The diluted ‘ade worked well as did the salt tablets, but I think I should have taken in more calories before the Cayuse climb (hard to remember to do so when it’s that hot). I’m not sorry that we did a different route, as my guess is that the climb up to Paradise would have been much hotter than the skate creek one.

Ramrod support is second to none – they have lots of volunteers, the food is good and has variety, and things are well-though-out. It’s also nice to be in a more hardcore group of riders, though being passed so much can be a bit hard on my ego at times.

I’m very happy about my condition. My legs felt strong the whole day, and my back didn’t hurt at all.

The overall amount of climbing has me scratching my head. Different ways of measuring elevation gain lead to vastly different results (livestrong was either 4500′ or 8000′ depending on what you look at), but most routes have traditionally been measured with the Polar watches because they were the first ones there. Even if I added in the 1600′ of crystal, I’d only be at 8000′ of climbing overall.

Our route substituted the skate creek climb (about 700′) and the base of cayuse (about 1000′) for paradise and steven’s canyon. That puts the base elevation gain at around 4700′ without the Paradise section, and if you add in the paradise climb (at 3150′) and stevens canyon (1000′) the total you get is only 8800′, which is a bit less than the advertised 10K. Not that I’m complaining, I just find it perplexing.

However, if you are thinking of doing RAMROD, the fact that you need to get into the lottery so early and do a bunch of training without knowing if you’ll be in the ride means that I think you shouldn’t try to do it. Better to leave it to those of us who are really interested in it.






Elapsed Time


147 miles

15.8 mph


6157 kcal


Livestrong Seattle Century 2009…

T-35 hours

At this point, I think I’m ready. Or, as ready as I’m going to be…

There are two main philosophies that people use before a big event. Well, perhaps “philosophies” is a bit too grandiose of a word, so I think I’ll use the word “approaches” instead.

The first approach is to ignore the impending event and do whatever . From a psychological perspective, this may make a bit of sense, but from a physical perspective, doing a really hard 50 mile ride the day before a really hard century would seem to be an obvious thing to avoid, but I see it all the time.

The second approach is known as “tapering”. The goal is to reduce the amount of the training load to allow the body to recover while doing a tiny bit of fine-tuning to reach a finely-tuned edge at precisely the same time. It’s a time-proven technique that is used by top professionals all over the world. And it works, but really, you’re only training like 7 hours a week, and pretending that you’re getting ready for the Giro is a bit over-the-top.

I prefer a policy of benign neglect. Take some time off, let your legs stop aching when you walk up stairs, and do a few short rides to help things along. So, I haven’t been on the bike since last Saturday, and I only did about 30 miles then. I plan to go out for an hour tomorrow, and then make sure my bike and gear are ready.

The bad news is that it’s raining tonight, raining like it was June in Seattle. Everybody is acting as if this doesn’t happen ever single June in the Seattle area, but I am not really looking forward to riding in the rain. I’m thinking that I might put my race blades on my bike, which at least would help keep some of the rain off me. If its wet you can either get wet from the rain or you can wear something to keep the water out, and get wet from the sweat.

The other thing is a little souvenir that I picked up about 46 years ago, a nice case of the chicken pox that revisited this year like a long-lost cousin who shows up when your cool friends are over for dinner. It shows up as Shingles, and I felt a bit under the weather for a couple weeks this spring when I got them, but some rest and expensive meds fixed me up. Two days ago I started getting these weird numb/sensitive places across my torso that feel like I got a bad sunburn the day before. I’ve decided I’m just going to ignore it until after the ride.

Fundraising has been great – thanks to donations from people I work with, people I ride with, and blog readers, I hit $330 by last Wednesday, so, I put in $335 and Microsoft matched it, netting nice round $1000. Add in a late $100 donation on Friday, and my total is $1300 (as soon as the MS matches make it to the Livestrong folks…)

T-23 hours

I’ve been playing around with taking some time-lapse pictures from the bike – I mount my Canon Elph 850 IS on the front of the bike, and then use the CHDK firmware add-on to run a script that takes a picture every 3 seconds or so. Then, a bit of software from the Internets, and you end up with a time-lapse movie of the ride. I’m considering doing it for this ride, but I’ll need an extra battery and a bag for the camera if it rains.

T-10 hours

All checked-in, and my alarm is set for 4:45 in the morning, so I can get there in time to get our team picture taken. It’s not like I’m going to get much sleep tonight anyway, and they say it’s the amount of sleep that you got the night before that’s important, so I’m happy that I got to bed early. Except I didn’t. Drat.

T-some hours

(I’m writing this up home sick with the cold, so I apologize if it is up to my usual standards).

I wake up unhappy. Not just because of the hour, but because the hint of a cold that I felt last night has become a real cold. I eat breakfast, grab my keys and pre-mixed bottles out of the fridge (put the keys in the fridge and you don’t show up late because you forgot the bottles), phone and wallet from the cabinet (same reason), and get into the truck. A few drops speckle the windshield when I pull into the gas station, and then it’s on to the ATM, where the BoA machine eats my card. I take I-90 across the lake (520 is closed this weekend) and find a place to park a block or so from the Key. I’ve wearing my yellow Rails to Trails Gore jersey, arm and leg warmers, and my Fatty hat underneath the helmet. My pockets hold 5 snak-pak ziplocs full of accelerade (orange, because Performance Bikes seems unable to keep the far superior mountain berry flavor in stock), a ziploc of endurox for after, plus a couple of slices of good bread, which helps settle my stomach on big rides.

II mount the camera and make sure it’s set up. Trying to make movies from the pictures is a work in progress, as testing has mostly generated a few sharp pictures and lots of blurry ones, but at least I’ll have some pictures during the ride to keep (that was foreshadowing, in case you didn’t catch it…).

I roll past the ex-home of the Sonics, and find my way to the stating point. Since Team Fatty won the team competition, we all got to be in a separate spot in front of the rest of the century riders and right next to the stage. I don’t usually do rides that have group starts, and doing something important as part of the ride made it pretty emotional.

We sign the team banner (sorry for the other locations – my guess is there’s not going to be much space left for you), stand around, catch a few rays, and then finally we roll out.

About two blocks in, I see Per and Shanna – two ride leaders on the group ride I sometimes lead – next to their tandem that they will be riding as course marshals. We head south following the lead group (or, to be more correct, with the lead group visible in the hazy distance), and immediately miss the first turn, but I use my made belltown skilz and navigate us from 2nd back to 5th without incident.

Yellow light, but we’re not stopping. There’s a police officer waving us through. Turns out you can get from the Seattle Center to the stadiums pretty darn quickly on a bicycle if you don’t have to stop for lights. On the last descent, the lens of my blinky jumps off. That was a point of mention at least 5 times during the ride.


We head up the onramp onto the I-90 express lanes entrance and then head into the Mt. Baker tunnel. All the pavement here and across the bridge was really nice, and there was a lot of whooping and hollering to take advantage of the excellent acoustics.

In this section I get passed by a number of pacelines. If you have great fitness, then that’s a great thing to do, but I spend my time spinning along.

We exit off the freeway and onto Mercer Island. The Mercer loops is a really nice ride with a lot of swooping curves that I really like, and only a few steep climbs.

On the first steep climb I pass a guy riding a nice bike with a really low cadence – say 50 RPM or so. If you’re doing that on this climb, I think you’re the guy who brought a pillow to a knife fight (or, to be more cycling-specific, the guy who brought a 42 tooth chainring and 11-21 cassette for an minimum development of 52.6 gear inches to a hilly century).

We head around Mercer Island, and head south to the next stop at Newcastle beach park. I make a pit stop, remix more accelerade, and look over the food. Grapes, oranges, powerbars, cheesy (or perhaps “cheesish” is a better description) crackers, and peanut butter/jelly sandwiches.

I’m not really feeling very good at this point. I’ve had a low-grade headache the whole morning, and my legs hurt. I’m going to ride to the next stop, see how I feel, and then see if I need to revise my route choices.

Nothing notable happens on the trip over to tiger mountain. I pass a few people, get passed by a few more people. We have some nice gravel to ride through at some construction, and I think it’s bumpy enough that the camera switches off. I leave it off at the stop. The stop features (wait for it) the same food as the last one. I’d really like some variety on the food and particularly would like something salty rather than sweet, though I have been talking my salt tablets and my frequent trips to the porta-potties indicates that my sodium levels are fine. Forgive the details, but as a salty-sweater, it’s important to me.

I decide to climb tiger mountain, and see how I feel.

And surprisingly, I get on the climb, and I feel a little better. Not good, but better. I settle into the climb. The pavement is wet on the way up, and on the way down, there are EMTs helping out a rider who fell in one of the corners. The rider appears to be sitting up, which is generally a good sign. It’s downhill almost all the way to the next rest stop, which features the usual food. I’m having a hard time staying warm, and I’m debating whether to put my vest back on when it starts to drizzle and settles the question for everybody.

We head out through Issaquah to the second climb, Highlands drive. There’s a bike path off to the side of this road that I expected to use, but instead we have a lane to ourselves as we climb up. On the way up, I converse with a course marshal, and we try to decide who is more foolish – me for having paid to do this, or him for having volunteered. The question is unresolved when I ride off ahead. This climb is a step up from Tiger in steepness, but not as long.

Once again, I feel a little better on the climb than the flat. We descend back to East Lake Sammamish and head north on the drying road. I do a small amount of gentle pacelining here with another rider (thanks Sean (or Shawn (or Shaun))), and we end up collecting about 10 people. Just north of Inglewood we get passed by two triathletes (aero bars and seat bottle holders), who move in front and then ride 2MPH slower than we were leading the paceline. Side by side. If I felt better, I might attempt a bit of paceline education, but I just hang back.

5 minutes later, we’re at the next stop (which I should have been calling “Power-stops”, since they’re sponsored by power-bar. I understand that they sponsor the ride and Armstrong, but the classic powerbar is so 1983, and I don’t know many people who consider them edible, much less desirable), you have the choice of the usual. I eat a package of cheeseriffic crackers, refill my bottles, switch batteries on the camera, and catch these two fellows taking a break:

The next section is West Lake Sammamish. It’s the easiest way to get to the south end of the lake, but once you get into Bellevue, the pavement really, really sucks. So bad that I want to apologize to all the riders that go by. There are better ways with a bit more climbing, but this is the one we’re on, so I just let it suck.

With how I feel it’s really, really tempting to turn to the west and ride the 1/2 mile to my house, but the whole point of doing this is for the challenge, so I hang in there.

Eventually, we get to the base of the climb. Note the little arrow on the sign, which simply points up, ’cause that’s where you’re going. This first part is perhaps 10%, but then it flattens out a bit. Then…

you turn the corner and are greeted with this. That run-up section is around 8%, and the section where it kicks up is quite a bit more. Feels like 13-14% to me. I’m doing okay – my heart rate is in the low 140s, just above my lactic threshold, but I feel hungry.

That is bad. Exercise suppresses hunger, and my experience is that if I’m hungry on the bike I’m pretty close to bonking. But nothing to do but keep climbing, and note that my legs really, really hurt.

After the next corner I pass a guy – which takes forever when you’re only riding at 5MPH, and then come on this:

The front rider is a kid (10 years old, I’ll find out later) riding with his dad. His dad gives him a push now and then, but they make it to the top without stopping. That’s some serious chops for that age, and they’re doing the 70 mile ride.

Finally, the road turns to the right, and you hit the steepest section. If you are climbing at the limit, your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen, and you might see the purple tunnel that Elden has told me about. Or, you might see this:

I thought I heard something about “25 meters to the top”, but I think it was probably a hallucination. Not only is there another pitch left, but seriously, who in the US would say “meters“?

I briefly drop below 4MPH at this spot.

We top out the climb, descend 100′, and then have to earn it back again up Lakemont. I’m barely holding on, but I ride down the south descent (with a surprising “control speed” sign, not really an issue on this route), do the short climb, and then thankfully see this:

All the stops have had tons of volunteers, and here they clearly don’t have enough to do, since the 4 in the foreground are holding up bikes for riders who are taking a break. I politely decline, since I really need to sit down and I don’t want to leave somebody standing for 20 minutes while I rest.

I’m having food fatigue from the accelerade, so I get some trail mix, another packet of orange-filled crackers, and sit in the sun, stretch, and talk with other riders.

After a while, I feel much better. I turn the camera off because there’s really nothing to see on this section, and because there are reports of thunder.

We head off on the second half of my favorite climb, which takes us all the way to the north side of Kennydale hill. We cross 405, and it starts to drizzle, and the hills to the southwest look really hazy, so I put my vest back on, and put a bag over the camera.

And then it pours. My race blades keep the rain off my butt, but nothing is going to keep my feet dry, and I work my way south, accompanied by a rider wearing a jersey and shorts, a dripping wet jersey and shorts by this time. There’s a nice way to get around the Renton airport that has very little traffic and good pavement, but the course takes airport way, so named because most of the drivers attempt to achieve flight by driving really fast. I’d expected that they’d do something to help control traffic, but no, we have to ride the wet road with traffic whizzing by, and then do the same thing when we turn right on Rainier. So far, I’ve liked their routing, but this was a bad choice. Somewhere in this section there’s another stop (mostly for the 45-mile riders), but stopping in the rain isn’t my idea of fun.

We work our way northward, on wet roads but no more rain, and work our way up the Seward park climb, a really annoying one because you can’t get any useful velocity on the descent, and out onto the closed to traffic Lake Wa Blvd, which is something the city does now and then in the summer. We share the road with pretty much all levels of cyclists, from race teams to 3-year olds on trikes. I feel a little bit better on this section, as there’s not much of the ride left. I turn the camera back on.

A chance self-portait from the last PowerStop ™, where I dump the rest of my accelerade and refill that bottle with Endurox for after. I’ve learned that many rides don’t think to provide water at the end, so I’m planning ahead. Plus, I can’t stomach the stuff any more, but I do eat another packet of radioactive orange pseudo-cheese crackers.

And it’s on the road again…

At this point, the ride needs to route us up and over the hill to get back into downtown. The Cascade spawning cycle has a nice one that hooks around the northern part of the hill, and there are a few other ways to go. We head south, and here’s what we see:

That’s not one of the nice ways up, and the two riders in front of me have some coarse words for the organizers. We climb up that one, climb up another pitch, top out, and see this:

This little bit of Yesler is not on Seattle’s list of top 20 steepest streets, but one of the nearby ones is 19%, and I’d bet that this half-block is in that range. I’m standing in my low-low gear, and I barely make it up.

I don’t understand the point in this. Sure, it’s short enough that you can walk it if you need to, but I don’t see why you’d want to set people up for failure so close to the end of the ride.

We head west on Yesler, do some swoops and stop at a bunch of lights, and end up on a really steep descent south of the courthouse (another surprise), and then it’s riding to the south on 3rd avenue through Sunday traffic. There’s another turn in here that I miss along with 3 other riders (surprised that there are no volunteers in sight, since there have been so many at the easy turns), but we get back on track, and finally we’re done:

I drop my bike at the bike check, and head inside to get some food. They have pizza, burgers, salad, drinks and ice cream, all free for the riders. I sit with a few other Fatties and talk for a while.


  • 102 miles
  • 6:55:17 (pretty slow, but given my sickness and the difficulty of the ride, it’s okay)
  • 14.8 MPH
  • 4905 feet of climbing, according to my Polar (bigger than the 3900′ advertised, but I think it’s pretty accurate, and I’m sticking to that measure because it makes me feel better.
  • 4606 calories burned (probably only 4000, as my polar is a bit optimistic).
  • 52321 Heartbeats

Considering being sick and not eating enough, I think I did okay. The organization was pretty good overall, and I loved the closed streets and after-rider food (delta the coffee-flavored ice cream).


  • Better variety in food at the stops.
  • Bike racks at the stops. They had barricades rather than racks, which just don’t hold enough bikes to be useful. Call up cascade and see if you can borrow the ones they use.
  • Re-route the last 5 miles. Seriously. Neither the climb up Yesler or the descent down are good choices. If you don’t like the north route, you can easily come back through the I-90 bike tunnel.

There are a few more pictures that didn’t make it to the write-up here.

7 Hills 2008

The 7 Hills of Kirkland marks the unofficial real start of the riding season for me. It takes me over hills that are close to my house that I’ve ridden a lot, and has a decent potential for pain. Last year I did the Metric Century (58 miles (yes, I know…)) and felt pretty strong, and that was the plan this year.

Until I cracked my rib.

I went out last Thursday and did some steep hills, and the pain was bearable but I was only at about 70% on breathing before it hurt. I decided to do the 7 Hills variant (well, actually, I decided to do the first few hills, knowing that it was easy to head back if I didn’t feel up to it). Usually, I start with a group of friends and ride with them on the first few hills (or, more rarely, for the whole ride), mostly because they carry a lot more mileage than I do, but this year I decided to get dropped at the starting line and rode by myself, leaving at around 7:20.

I chanced riding in a jersey, shorts, arm & leg warmers despite the temp in the low 50s, because of the amount of climbing. I climbed fairly slowly up Market, and up Juanita, flew down Holmes Pt Drive, and came to the first real hill, Seminary (#3). Seminary has a steep section at the beginning, and then it levels off and people speed up, generally too fast. I rode to keep my heartrate down below my lactate threshold for most of the hill, only speeding up for the last part of the ride. I passed a bunch of people who hit it too hard at the bottom.

A screaming descent down Juanita drive to the North took me onto the trail, and to the base of Norway (one of the 3 hardest hills). I rode the first half conservatively, and then the second half a bit harder, talking with a rider who was doing the century. We crested, descended, and then traversed across to the first food stop. That involves hill #4, which I guess technically is a hill but seems pretty minor compared to all the others. A quick stop for a bagel, a nature break, and a salt pill, and I was on my way.

We work our way over to the top of Brickyard, and then descended down. I was able to hold a full aero position (something I couldn’t do on Thursday), and was going fast enough to not worry about cars needing to pass me. We worked our way around, and got to Winery.

Winery is reckoned by many to be the hardest hill. I think Seminary is harder because it doesn’t let you rest much, while winery is more rolling. I took the first pitch conservatively, and then took the second pitch harder as there were some people catching me. I recovered on the last pitch, listening to the strains of the 7 hills bagpiper as I reached the top of the hill (the bagpiper is a guy who donates his time (7 hills is a fundraising ride) every year, and if you’re riding the short course, you know that that worst is over.

I skipped the food stop, avoided some people turning left (please don’t ride through turns with two tandems side by side, it tends to make it hard for other riders), and then dropped down the hill onto Willows road. This is one of the “ride fast home” sections that my evening group often takes, and it’s good for a paceline. To triathletes took off faster than I wanted to go, so I just rode a comfortable pace (probably 20ish – I deliberately had my computer on altitude so I wouldn’t ride too fast). After 5 minutes or so, another rider eased by and he pulled the rest of the way, and we rode to the base of Old Redmond road for the last time. He took off (better legs than me), and I rode the steep pitch at a moderate pace, and then rode all out to the top. That put me on the descent on 116th (another one of my favorites)(where I passed the guy I worked with on Willows), the descent on Northup, and then the pull back to Kirkland.

I decided to air things out back to Kirkland, and was at a steady (and painful) 22-23 on the flats. About half a mile from the finish, I slowed down, and the faster guy passed me (he had chased and caught up), and we rode to the finish.

Which was pretty much deserted – probably 20 riders total. Most of the stronger riders were on the metric or the century, so I drank my Endurox, had some strawberry shortcake, and bought a $5 T-shirt before riding home.

Total time was 2:28, with an average speed of 15.4MPH. Not bad for me and my current training state.

And I finished feeling good, so it was a nice enjoyable ride.


The good part of goal events is that they give you something to focus on during your training.

The bad part of goal events is that they arrive. It was time to do RAMROD.

As usual, I slept poorly the day before the event, so instead of sleeping in until 3:30AM, I got up at 3:10AM. After a quick Clif bar for breakfast (breakfast?), I put in my contacts, pulled on an underarmour shirt (yellow), a jersey (cannondale robot), and my favorite pair of cannondale shorts (the ones with their kickin’ new flexible chamois (amazingly less chafing)), covered, of course, with a liberal application of Chamois Butt’r

By 4AM, I was sitting in the kitchen putting sunscreen on in the dark, thinking about what was to come. 144 miles, with an elevation gain of 11,000′, it was not going to be easy. And, I was worried that my preparation was something Fatty would have done…

In the interest of proper forshadowing, my preparation was:

  • Not riding more than 60 miles at a stretch this year until 3 weeks before the event
  • Trying to show off by flying up hills on our group ride 10 days before the event
  • Catching a cold from my daughter the weekend before
  • Getting a colonoscopy 3 days before the event, resulting in a full digestive reboot

A bit unorthodox, I will admit…

I got my bag of cycle stuff and took it out to the car. Then I got my food bag and bottles out of the fridge (*both* in the fridge because I forgot my bottles last year at STP). One of the bottles had a two-hour mix of Perpetuem, another had water. In the bag was:

  • A ziploc of another two hour mix of perpetuem
  • Four ziplocs of Accelerade mix (blue raspberry)
  • One bagel
  • One package of clif bloks (cran-whatever)
  • One package of beef jerky
  • A ziploc with about 30 Succeed! S!Caps

4:30AM, I’m out in front. The truck is loaded, my bike is on the rack. The stars are out. And Franklin is late. Well, he’s not technically late, as it’s only 4:30, but – okay, now it’s 4:40, and he’s officially late. He pulls up a few minutes later, we get his bike on the rack, and we head out to Enumclaw, a small farming town at the base of Mt. Rainier.

The time is a little critical, as we have tentative plans to meet a few friends to ride with them. Joe (our resident climber and holder of the “most insane cyclist” award in our little group) will be there, Per and Shanna (two of our ride leaders) are going to be there, and Reena (a friend of Franklin’s who rode on the training ride I did a few weeks ago) has also said she’ll be there.

In our favor is the fact that at 5AM, the Seattle-area rush hour is tolerable. I drive through Renton, and then out through a series of ex-small towns that are now specializing in ugly housing developments – Maple Valley, Black Diamond, and then on to Enumclaw high school.

We park three blocks from the school, and get our gear together. I pull on my arm warmers, and Franklin complains about the cold. He calls Reena, who is parked 3 cars behind us. We stuff our pockets and ride to the start line. It’s already 6AM, and I expect that everybody else will have departed.

After a quick nature break, we get on our bikes. Franklin complains about the cold again – and it is a bit chilly – but a) I don’t want to wait any more and b) I know that we’ll be doing a lot of climbing. At this point, one of the course officials approachs Franklin and asks him how old he is. Which requires a bit of explanation (not about Franklin’s age, which is a poorly-kept secret, but about why the official cares)..

RAMROD, you see, has a problem. Because it takes place in Mount Rainier National Park, they need to have a permit from the National Park Service, and that permit limits them to 900 riders. Early in the season – when the pain of the summer is only an abstraction – there are far more people who want to ride sign up. So, when you sign up for RAMROD, you go into a lottery drawing, and if you don’t, you go on a waiting list. When riders start to regain their sanity, they cancel their registrations, and they get transferred to somebody on the waiting list. This is a *huge* pain in the ass for Redmond Cycling Club, but they do it anyway.

Franklin had gone around this, and bought a registration directly from somebody. Somebody who was much older. And RAMROD assigns numbers not on the basis of registration order but on the basis of age, with the oldest riders getting the lowest numbers. My number was in the 500s. Franklin had 75, which rightfully belonged to somebody at least a decade older than he is. Or at least, how old he *claims* to be – he’s fairly reticent about revealing his age, and for all I know he is just a nicely-preserved 62 years old.

So, there was a bit of a discussion, but we ended up rolling through the start line, where they ripped off our “on the course” tags (for tracking purposes). And we we’re off.

And my stomach starts cramping. I’m not sure of the cause – it could be the pasta I had the night before, it could be the Clif bloks I ate right before starting, it could be that I’m still stick, but whatever the cause, I’m uncomfortable.

And Franklin is still complaining in a manner which I will describe later as “like a schoolgirl”.

The description of RAMROD for this year – on a different course because of the road damage of last winter makes it impossible to ride around the mountain right now – says that there are three climbs, but that’s over-simplifying things. Yes, there *are* three climbs, but to get to the base of the first climb, you have 3000-some feet of climbing to do over the first 40 miles. After a bump at the begining of about 600′, it’s a pretty steady climb for the next 30 miles. I publicly state that I’m going to be taking on the role of Iban Mayo for the ride, wheelsucking mercilessly and then fading when things get hard. I start this by sticking behind Franklin and Reena, who take easy pulls as we ride at reasonable speeds (say 18 or so) towards Greenwater, ending up with perhaps 15 riders behind us. My stomach is getting a little better, but I can’t say that the Perpetuem is going down very well (and frankly, even in the best of times, it tastes like orange-flavored slightly rancid pancake batter, which only supports my contention that cyclists love to suffer).

We stop at Greenwater (18.1 miles) for a “nature break”, and then head back out. I take a (slow – but do I really need to mention that?) pull at the front, and we keep rolling to the next rest stop (24 miles). At that point, I down the remaining few ounces of perpetuem, which makes me feel really sick for a few minutes, and mix two bottles of accelerade. We get on our bikes, start to ride out, and get stuck behind two guys who think that it’s a good idea to weave through a tight spot at 4mph and then stop in front of the porta-potties, blocking the exit. I barely clip out in time to avoid falling over in the parking lot. They are oblivious.

And then things start getting better. The accelerade is much better on my stomach, in combination with part of my bagel and one of the salt capsules. And the cramping seems to have gone away. We ride on to the entrance of the park (37 miles), at which point we’ve averaged 15.5 MPH.

Right after you enter the park, there is a nasty 700′ climb 2.5 miles long. I hang with Franklin and Reena for the first mile, and then realize that my legs are hurting, look down, and see that I’m riding above my lactic threshold (around 145 BPM for me), which is pretty much the definition of a bad idea on a ride like this. I back off to around 140, and settle into the climb. Near the top, I pass Per and Shanna on their *tandem*. They lead the RAMROD training series, so it’s not like they don’t have the conditioning for a ride like this, but on a tandem? Shanna says something, I recognize them, drop back, and ride with them chatting for a minute or so. I then ride off, and reach the entrance white river campground turnoff, which leads to the Sunrise climb. There’s a short little 200′ hill that leads down to the ticket booth, but it’s pretty steep and I stretch out my legs a bit and wick it up to around 30MPH.

And then *WHAM* – I hit the mother of all potholes with my back wheel. And the bike keeps rolling along, without any issues. I’m amazed that the rear wheel didn’t pinch flat (nor is there any wheel damage that I could find, surprising with a low-spoke-count wheel). I ride through the entrance and stop to fill up on water (water which Joe claims is the best water in the world). As I get off the bike, I see that the bump has unlatched my topeak seat wedge. I move to reattach my seat pack, and realize that the bump has totally fractured the plastic on the quick mount for the seat pack, so I stuff the pump in my jersey pocket, flip the pack over, and hang it off the split in my seat via the pump retention elastic.

And I head off to start Sunrise (13 miles, 2956′). Franklin and Reena aren’t quite ready, but I know that they’ll climb faster than me.

Sunrise is one of my favorite places to visit. Most tourists go to Paradise, which is on the south side of the mountain, but Sunrise feels much more wild, and has some nice hikes. And you can sometimes watch climbers on the snow fields if you remember your binoculars. I do feel obligated at this point to mention that the best close vista of Rainier is from the summit of Crystal Mountain, just one valley away from the mountain.

Given the length of the climb, my goal is to try to keep my cadence around 90, and my heart rate in the 130s.

About three miles up the mountain, I come to a mechanic stop. I pull over, wait a couple minutes, and then obtain a zip-tie to hook the pack back to me seat securely. Franklin and Reena pass me while I’m there.

And the climb continues. It’s about this time that my knee starts to hurt, on the back of my right knee. I’d had a twinge there after my hard (and stupid) workout on the hills, and now it appears that I’ve got an overuse injury. And it’s a particularly annoying one at this point. I worked hard to improve my leg strength this year so that I could use strength rather than my cardio (you generally have a choice to ride at a higher cadence and use less leg strength or a lower candence and more leg strength. The fastest way is to balance the two out for whatever length of ride you’re doing). But I can’t push hard with my right leg, so I’m stuck climbing a) slower than I had hoped and b) with a higher heart rate than I wanted. Generally, I’d just ride a little slower, but I’m already in my lowest gear and my cadence is down around 75, and going more slowly makes the knee hurt more, so I try to suck it up.

About halfway up, I catch up with Per and Shanna, who had skipped the stop after the park entrance. I’m riding at around 7MPH, and they’re going at around 5MPH. I talk for a bit, and then head off up the road. And I pass the course photographer, who took a picture I might actually pay for.

Though I am hurting, I’m passing more people than are passing me. There’s a quick water stop about 2/3rds of the way up, and I get back on the bike quickly and keep heading up. I finally reach Sunrise point (6100′ elevation), and pull into the parking lot. I pull out my jerky, eat a bit (umm, salty), take another salt pill, and chat a bit with one of the amateur radio volunteers (ramrod uses HAM radio for support because there is limited cell coverage), and head out.

And wonderfully, just at that point, the slope eases out to a couple percent, and I spin up to the summit. It has taken me 1:35 to complete the climb, averaging 8.3 MPH.

And I don’t feel bad. I eat a couple of small potatoes (with lots of salt), refill my water bottles, and talk with Franklin, Reena, and Dan (who is volunteering so he gets an automatic entry next year).

Front Row, right to left: Dan, Franklin, Eric, Reena
Back Row: Mount Rainier

The descent at 25MPH average takes 32 minutes. I experiment with an aero tuck to get extra speed, but it tires my back out. The descent is technical – there are a lot of tight turns and a fair amount of crappy pavement – so I take it easy. I regroup with Franklin and Reena at the entrance, and we head up the short climb to the highway. After a quick climb, we head back down the hill that I complained about earlier, back to the park entrance, and then right onto Crystal Mountain Boulevard (6 miles, 1700′). I feel okay strength-wise (at 78 miles), but my knee is hurting a lot.

Having skied at Crystal a bunch, I know the road fairly well, but there are things you don’t notice when you drive. For example, you don’t notice how crappy the road surface is. You don’t notice the headwind on the lower parts. You don’t notice how you’re always in the sun. etc.

I settle in for the climb, but this one is definitely no fun. It’s pretty comparable in steepness to Sunrise, but I’m stuck in a very narrow cadence band (75-80 RPM), and standing no longer makes it hurt less. I take one short break on the way up, then ride on into the parking lot, for a climb time of 52 minutes. Franklin walks over as I pull up and get off my bike, and his first words are “you don’t look too good…”.

He’s a keen observer. Not only do I not look that good, I don’t feel that good – I feel very overheated from the climb and a little dehydrated, but when I get off the bike, I start to feel much better. But the only thing that sustained me on the climb up was my full, certain confidence that I was done climbing for the day. I was happy that my knee was hurting, because it gave me a great reason to avoid the last climb – not that big overall, but with a 12% section both ways. I sent Franklin and Reena ahead, and told them that I would meet at the deli stop. I sat around in the shade for about 25 minutes, read the brochures for Crystal’s fabulous lodgings, and then decided to head out.

The descent, in a word, sucked. The road that was ugly to ride up wasn’t any better at 25MPH. I spent a lot of time weaving around to try to find the better pavement (there was no good pavement), and a lot of time standing so that the bike could move around more nicely. 15 minutes later I came to the stop sign, and turned right back onto highway 410, 88 miles into the ride, and 15 miles away from the “deli” stop. I shifted down a few gears, tried to establish a rhythm, and found that my knee had stiffened up after the rest and descent- I couldn’t spin any faster than 60RPM. It took me at least 15 minutes to get it warmed up enough to be able to spin at 90RPM. Luckily, in that section you lose another 900 feet and the notorious headwind wasn’t that bad. 42 minutes later – after a fair bit of water on the way down – I rode past the volunteers who were trying to get me to turn up the last climb, and turned into the deli stop.

The deli stop is pretty neat. They have a long table, and you start at the bread guy, move to the spread guy, the meat guy, the tomato guy, and then finally, the lettuce guy. At the end you have your sandwich, and then you grab something to drink, and go sit down in the grass (well, weeds, mostly) next to the fire station helipad (Greenwater is the closest aid station to Crystal, and they sometimes need to evac people out from there).

The sandwich was good, and helped settle my stomach down a bit. My drink of choice was a Kirkland Grape soda, and the fructose did an immediate number on my stomach (I can’t deal with a lot of fructose normally). I poured it out and went back and got a diet coke. And then, I sat around, stretched, and generally just waited for Franklin and Reena to show up. It wasn’t too hot if you were sitting up due to the wind, but whenever I went to lie down, I ended up getting too hot. And without any shade to be found, I just sat around, had a cookie, a couple of more salt pills, and waited.

Approximately 12 days later, Franklin and Reena rolled into the stop and picked up their sandwiches. I sat with them for 5 minutes, and then decided to depart to get a head start back. But I wasn’t getting excited about riding by myself for the last 20 miles, and I didn’t think I was up to hanging in a paceline.

And then something weird happened. I got out on the bike, and while my knee hurt, it hurt considerably less. I could ride at 95-100 RPM, and it felt okay. And I could run my heartrate up to 135, and *that* felt okay. I enjoyed that for perhaps 7 miles, and then a beautiful thing happened…

A paceline passed me running 3MPH faster than I was riding.

I’d been passed by 4 or 5 pacelines running 7MPH faster than I was riding, but that was faster than I was capable of riding. I could probably hang o the back of one, but wouldn’t be able to pull at the front.

I grabbed the wheel of the last rider in the group, and found that I could easily hang on. The downside was that the riders were tired and several of them didn’t have much experience in pacelines, so the line wasn’t very smooth. The upside was that I was out of the wind and feeling quite good by now. I had moved forward to third wheel (following two inexperienced riders) when we turned off the highway onto Mud Mountain Road. Whenever you make a turn like that in a paceline, if you want to keep it together you need to slow down to let the riders in the back close up the gaps, but the two in front took off. I could have taken off and caught up with them, but decided that staying in the current line was a better idea, so I waited for them to regroup behind me, and then pulled for a couple of miles until we got to the final descent back into Enumclaw. I took it easy on that, and then rolled in through the finish line, where they ripped off my “back in” tag and directed me to the ice cream van parked nearby. Joe played valet and took my bike off to the side and I got a creamsicle. And another Diet Coke. And a few handfuls of pretzels. And I felt pretty good – the salt tabs definitely made a considerable difference.

And so, that was it – 124 miles, 8200′ feel of elevation gain. Not what I had hoped to do, but given the issues I had (including my lack of long rides), pretty good.

At the finish, I ran into Per and Shana, who had finished Sunrise but had come to their senses and only sampled the other two climbs before coming back.

I hanged around for a while longer, and Franklin and Reena (who had hung out at the deli stop for a long time) rolled in, and then fairly soon after that, rider #1 finished. I hope I can ride like that when I’m 70 years old…

In this picture you can see why I’m genetically disadvantaged compared to Joe when climbing…

Finally, a big thanks to the RAMROD folks, who really know how to put on a good ride. Fresh water done with food-grade equipment (no “rubber hose taste”), the great deli stop, and the food at the finish (why don’t more rides do that? That’s the time you want to eat most).

Next year? Well, it’s only three days later, and I think the answer is yes. The classic route is supposed to be a little easier than this year’s.

Ride Time: 8:21
Distance: 124 miles
Average Speed: 14.8 MPH
Calories: 5600 (though I think the polar drastically underestimates climbing calories – more on that in a later post).

I thought you might be interested in the profile for the ride. Most of it is directly from my heart rate monitor, but I had to fill in the climb I didn’t do based on what Franklin and Reena told me about it at the finish.


A miserable but learning experience…

Yesterday I headed out with a few friends on a 120 mile 8000 ft “training ride”. The plan was to start in Enumclaw, ride up to the top of Chinook pass, descend and ride up to the top of Sunrise, eat lunch, and then return back to Enumclaw.

I was a bit worried because I was riding with my friend Joe, who not only puts in at least twice as much mileage as I do but is also perhaps 30 pounds lighter than me. Luckily, Joe doesn’t mind riding slower so that others can keep up.

My nutrition plan was to use the Perpetuem, to hopefully avoid the issues I’ve had with Accelerade in the past on long rides. I also brought a bunch of Endurolyte capsules to give me a little extra electrolyte, and some Newtons to chew on. I made up two “two hour” bottles – with enough perpetuem for two hours in each – and carried a camelback for the extra water. I usually don’t like to do that, but we were limited with water sources and it was hot hot.

Joe had written up the ride as “16-18MPH on the flat”, which is what some of our other group rides. We tended towards the upper number (well, actually, above the upper number) for the first hour, which would have been very pleasant if not for the fact that we climbed around 1000 feet during that time. But, though my HR was a bit higher than I had planned (in the mid 140s rather than the 130s), that’s still right around my lactate threshold and I felt good and spent time talking with Greg as we rolled towards our first stop at Greenwater.

The next 17 miles we picked up another 1200 feet of altitude, as we journeyed towards the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. By that point, I was starting to feel a little out of sorts – I didn’t have the same sort of snap, but I knew that I wasn’t dehydrated nor was I down on sugar. I took a few more endurolytes. Then the fun began, as we climbed up Chinook pass (9 miles, 2400 feet)

I did okay on the first part. I gapped off the back of the group – not a surprise – and just tried to ride my own pace, and finished the whole section in about 75 minutes. Not horrible, but not a lot of fun.

A quick descent back down to the white river campground, $5 to enter, and it was time to work on the Sunrise climb. By this point, I was seriously down on both oomph and motivation, and the other riders just rode away from me (partly because I forgot one of my gloves at the water fountain, but mostly because I was so down on energy). I did okay on the first 5 miles – which aren’t very steep – but then the road kicked up and it was all I could do to ride on my smallest gear (a 30/27) at perhaps 80 RPM. I rode a mile or so, and stopped to take a quick break and stretch. After another 15 minutes, it was clear to me that I wasn’t going to finish the climb, and I stopped, sat for a while, phoned Joe and my wife to tell them what was up (interestingly, there was great cell coverage there. My guess is that we were using the towers at the summit of Crystal Mountain Ski area, which is just across the valley from sunrise (and sports the best view of Mt. Rainier around)). And then I descended back down, and started suffering…

It was 26 miles from where I turned around back to Greenwater, which was the first place where I could get some real food. Suffice it to say that it wasn’t fun – I stopped a couple of times to rest, but it really didn’t help much. Eventually, I made it to Greenwater and stopped by the Naches tavern for some food.

The chicken strips and fries did wonders for me, and I ate them with considerable amounts of salt. I tried a Coke but the fructose did not sit well on my stomach, so I only drank about a third of it. After about 30 minutes, I got on the bike and rode the remaining 18 miles back to Enumclaw. I got a little bit of snap back in my legs and started to feel better.

The exact distance isn’t clear – because of me not remembering to start my new HRM – but it’s pretty close to 100 miles, with about 6500 feet of climbing.

The whole experience is eerily reminiscent of my experience on STP last year. I felt good at the beginning, then after 3 or 4 hours started to really lose power. Both days were hot, and both days I sweated a lot.

On the other hand, I did another hard climbing ride earlier this year (59 miles with 4K elevation) where I felt strong, but it was cool and overcast that day.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking, that perhaps I was down on sodium?

But that shouldn’t happen, should it? The perpetuem has electrolytes in it, and I was supplementing with Endurolytes. *But*, if you look at the labels, you find that Perpetuem only has 231mg in two scoops (a one-hour dose), and the Endurolytes only have 40m each. So, that puts me at about 350mg per hour of sodium. As a comparison, the Accelerade I use has 380mg in my hourly dose.

Is that enough? I did a little research…

While there are guidelines around how much sodium is necessary to help water absorption, there are differing opinions on amounts above that. In Serious Cycling, Burke reports a recommendation of 400mg to 1000mg per liter and ACSM recommends 500 to 700mg per liter.

The amount you need depends on how acclimatized you are to the heat – more highly trained atheletes sweat more water and less salt. And it depends on your personal physiology.

The anecdotal stuff I’ve read from the ultra groups (running, cycling, triathlons) says that at least for some people, salt supplementation is pretty important.

During those long hours on the bike, I was seriously considering skipping RAMROD, but I’ve now decided I’m going to do it. But, I’m going to use a better salt supplement.

A few pages I found useful:






50 nice miles, 30 bad ones…

On Saturday I went out to get some quality miles in preparation for Ramrod. Because I rode with my wife and daughter on the flying wheels 25 mile route, I didn’t get my usual century in, which means that the longest ride I’ve done this year is the 60 (ish) miles on the 7 hills 11 hills metric (ish). I felt great on that ride, but that’s far short of the 145 miles that I’ll be doing on Ramrod, and I really wanted some serious time to work on my pace and fuel strategy.

I elected to start with the FW 50 miler and add on from there. The first couple of hours was pretty nice – my strategy is to work to keep my HR below 130 BPM (higher is okay on big hills) and my cadence above 90 RPM. So, I slogged up Inglewood, flew up Ames lake, took a quick nature break in Carnation, and then rode to fall city and up fall city-issaquah.

At that point I felt pretty well, and descending back into Issaquah at 45MPH always makes me smile. But then it started to unravel.

First of all, my stomach (fueled on accelerade and a bagel) was a bit unsettled, and I seemed to be a bit dehydrated and down on salt. I had a bit of jerky which tasted great (and helped), but I’m reluctant to depend on my desire for salt because I’m a sodium-based snacker. Going through Issaquah, I went to sprint at a stoplight and manage to tweak my IT band on my right leg (I’ve been doing some PRK stretches, and I think that was contributory). Which was bad – it was twinging fairly significantly.

I had originally thought that I might climb the zoo, but decided instead to get over the hill on 164th, the easiest route. I rode very easy on my smallest gear (something like a 37/27), made it to the top, and stopped at Lewis Creek park for water and to stretch.

Which helped immensely. I descended the back side of the hill to coal creek, crossed, and then descended down and over 405. That series is probably my favorite one around – you lose 800′ on the trip from the top of Lakemont all the way down to the water, and there are few places where you need to brake.

I got on the trail, rode to Kirkland, and felt a little better up Market and up through Juanita, and then took the trail back home. But a few problems persisted:

1) My energy was really, really weird. I felt okay on the trail but had trouble keeping my speed down.

2) When I went to climb home (up 171st from W. Lake Sam), I was really out of oomph. I was clearly eating enough and had okay hydration, and my speed wasn’t that high, so I’m not sure what it was.

Anyway, checking the download on my polar, it was 80 in 5:10, which put me at about 15.5, pretty good considering how easy I rode the first 50. And I ended up with 3500 feet of vertical, more than I expected (164th added a bunch).

My analysis is that 1) The accelerade isn’t working on the longer distances and 2) I need more electrolytes. I bought some Perpetuem at Gregg’s (who inexplicably only had the unflavored), and some endurolytes, and the perpetuem worked well on my Tuesday night ride, though I had to cut it with half a scoop of accelerade to cover the weird flavor.