Well I can just about say that I'm ready for anything that Ironman has to throw at me. Anything, that is, except for heat-induced hallucinations brought on by blistering heat. The reason for this, of course, is that heat has been pretty much non-existent on the west coast. About a week ago during the rainy spell in July (seven days), I managed a five hour ride with the first two getting dumped on and then the last three weighted down from every bit of fabric on me saturated. Then a couple days later I did a 2:15 run with much the same story played out - the first hour just torrential and then drying out but once you're soaked, you're soaked. I'm almost hoping that it's cold and wet on race because I'll kick some serious butt! Just like people who train for the heat in Hawaii, I trained in the rain, just in case. Even though today's five hour bike wasn't wet and got a little warmer as the day went on, it's nothing like the 30+ degrees that Penticton usually sees on race day. So I'm also ready if the temperature only tops out around twenty-five. Yeah, right.
I know I'm quite late with the story of RAMROD but I'm almost finished my last big week of Ironman training and have had literally no time to write anything. Trying to fit in everything else in life AND get some sleep has been a challenge to say the least.
So RAMROD is Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day. Note that is "Ride" and not "Race". I guess years ago it used to be a race but the park doesn't allow official times to be taken anymore as riders were being too careless on the roads and not thinking about the safety of themselves and others. That was fine with me as I planned to just ride this route at a steady pace, still feeling like I'd done some work. I didn't know how they would fire off 700 riders out onto those narrow mountain roads but the day before found out that the start went between 5am and 7am. You could just show up when you wanted, check in, and go.
After camping on the course route with the family and Carrie's parents for a couple days before the ride, Carrie and I "abandoned" the kids at the campground with the generous grandparents and went into Enumclaw to a motel so I wouldn't need to get up so early. Of course, 4:00 was early enough to have me ride to the start line in total darkness. I was seeing riders with reflective jackets, rain jackets, leg warmer, booties, headlights and tailights. I felt underprepared and underdressed seeing as it was 9 degrees out and I had only arm warmers to go with my jersey and shorts. I knew it would eventually get warm but those first few hours were chilly.
I went to the start line and with no fanfare took off. There was already a ton of riders out there as I had seen them riding while I was heading to the start.
As this was only a ride, I didn't start out too fast, knowing that 10000' of climbing awaited me. I steadily passed people and at the halfway point of the first major climb up to 6400' there was a drink station. A young lad of about twelve years informed me that I was in tenth place. Not really caring or being too concerned about placings, I thanked him and headed to the top where more food was waiting. The climb was actually nice as it stayed around 6% with the temperature slowly climbing as I got further up. The day was absolutely spectacular and the view of Mt. Rainier at the top was breathtaking.
I made my stop pretty quick as I didn't want to cool down too much with the big descent coming. At the top there were a few riders that were ahead of me just milling about. Like I said, I wasn't racing to get out of there, I just didn't feel the need to stand around while the legs started locking up. At the bottom I met up with a marshal who got me to stop and told me of the huge dump trucks heading up the road towards us and we needed to wait for them to go by. Ten minutes later, in they came, and then three others who were parked nearby got a police escort down the hill - slowly. I guess the truckers were none too happy about a bike ride going on while they were working, getting paid by the trip not the hour, and their attitudes weren't that friendly. By now there were about seven of us in a group and once we got past the trucks, I took the lead and opened it up. I knew I had to stop off at the campsite where the kids and Carrie's parents were to tell them where they could meet us later on so that's why I was going a bit faster.
The next climb was actually before the campsite so once again we started going up. I was on my own by this time and the climb was pretty reasonable. The leader went by me the other way when I was at the one mile (of five) marker so I figured I wouldn't see him again that day. At the top there was another spread of drinks, cookies, and fruit. As I arrived two fellows were heading down so now I was in fourth place (not that it was a race). I meant to do the grab and run but an older couple approached me and asked what I was doing. I told them about the race and because of their accent I asked where they were from. Turns out it was the land of the flat - Belgium. They were pretty impressed by the terrain at 4500'. They asked if I knew what was happening with the Tour de France and I replied all I knew was that they were all on drugs. At that point one of the volunteers started recalling the previous day's stage and who was out for doping. I subtly reached for my bike, quietly got on, and bid them a farewell, wishing I had more time to talk.
The decent was a bit hairy as there were construction trucks preparing the road to get paved so in between dodging them I was dodging potholes, a lot of them hidden in shadows. I then headed down the highway and turned into the campsite and saw everyone there. The kids were pretty surprised and thought the ride was over. I have to say it did feel strange stopping during an event like this. I've had nightmares of doing an Ironman and having to stop for some reason and there's always this nagging feeling of terror that you have to get moving. When everything was figured out for the end of the ride, I left again to take on the last hill. Going down the highway back to town and towards the last turnoff and hill, the headwinds were getting really strong. I passed the two guys who were leaving the last rest stop as one had a flat. When they replied they were okay to my offerance of help, I carried on. The turnoff for the last big climb was only know to me as Forest Service Road 70. There were no markings once we got to that corner and I wouldn't be surprised if people went right by it. This was a ten mile climb to the turnaround. A few miles in, the two guys came up to me again and introduced themselves as Steve and Jake. One from Seattle, one from Portland who met that very morning and decided to ride together. They asked if I wanted to join them for the ride back to make the headwinds more bearable. It sounded good to me but as we got to the climbing I sort of scooted, unintentionally, away from them. We hit a stretch where there was a 12% grade for a good 800m then it plateaued a bit. About a mile later there was a sign indicating a 12% descent coming up. My first thought was "Yahoo a downhill", but as the "yah" got out of my mouth, the "hoo" died as my brain finally acknowledged the fact that I'd be turning around in a few miles and coming back this way, now with a huge hill to climb. There was another good hill up to the rest stop and it was there that I waited for Steve and Jake. Also they had chocolate croissants at the food station and they were too good to rush through.
So now there were the three of us and upon reaching the bottom we turned towards town, 50km or so to do, and formed a pace line into the wind. It was good all the way back to the finish where there was ice cream and refreshments waiting.
All in all it was a great substitute for my yearly "Surrey to Mt.Baker and Back" ride that I do. It was good to get in something different for a change. I came in just under eight hours of riding, 10000' of climbing, and 235km. Normally the route goes around the mountain and is around 250km but there were roads washed out from last winter still and we couldn't access some of the passes. There may be a chance I'd come back another year to do the traditional route.