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.

Time

Distance

Speed

Elevation

Calories

1:48:15

31.5 miles

17.5 mph

590′

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.

Time

Distance

Speed

Elevation

Calories

2:41:15

46.1 miles

17.1 mph

2345′

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.

Time

Distance

Speed

Elevation

Calories

0:27

7.1 miles

15.6 mph

500′

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.

Time

Distance

Speed

Elevation

Calories

2:24

25.7 miles

10.7 mph

3085′

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).

Time

Distance

Speed

Elevation

Calories

1:53

36.3 miles

19.1 MPH

205′

1139 cal

Summary:

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.

Time

Distance

Speed

Elevation

Calories

Elapsed Time

9:18

147 miles

15.8 mph

6362′

6157 kcal

12:00


So, what do you think ?