150 miles/10,000 of climbing......almost.
This was the only non racing event on my calendar this year. I find most citizen rides uninteresting and non challenging. This one is different. The beauty of Mt. Rainier National park and the challenge make this an epic ride. Having it on a Thursday is nice because it doesn't interfere with weekend races and the traffic is not bad.
I decided to head up Wednesday night with the RV so I didn't have to get up at '0' Dark-Thirty in the morning. There was quite a few people camping out in the lot from many different states. I managed to get a pretty good night sleep before the masses of people started showing up at 4:00am. I managed to hold of getting up until 4:30 and took my time getting ready. I was going to meet friends Jeff, Martin, Tony, Justin and John at the start. All of them are racers and super strong so I was looking forward to a good ride. We were going to try to get going around 6:15 or so. They opened the gates at 5:00 and many riders took off then. I was happy to wait until the sun came up.
Usually one of the big questions is what to wear at the start. The temperature can be in the low 40's in the morning before reaching above 80 in the afternoon. The less you have to carry the better. This year it wasn't an issue. It was well into the 50's when we started and I didn't even grab arm warmers. Just before we left we ran into Jeff, another friend and racer who was there to do the ride for the first time and was riding alone. I asked him to join us.We all hooked up and were getting ready to go when Martin spotted a group of 8 or 9 racers from Fischer Plumbing heading out. We decided to take of and ride with them. The first 40 or so miles of this ride are almost completely flat and it was nice to get in a pace line with guys/gals that know what they are doing. There are many riders out there that are Strong but never ride in fast pace lines or packs and it can be a bit sketchy before you get to the park entrance.
The Fischer crew did most of the work for the first few miles before we jumped in to help.. In past years I'd gone out and hammered the ride, missing food stops so I could keep my momentum up. This year I planned to stop at every single food stop. The first stop was in Eatonville is at the 33 mile make and we made it there in about 1hr. 30 min.. The sun was trying to poke through the fog that had settled in but just couldn't manage to do it. We took off from the stop and only Rick from Fischer decided to hang with us.
We had a good crew of six or seven guys rotating through with a few others that hopped on the back of the train for the free ride. Martin predicted that the sun would come out by the time we got to Alder Lake. He was right on the money. It felt great. We continued on and made it to the food stop just before the park entrance that was about 58 miles in. We made it there at about the 3 hour mark. We got back out on the road pretty quick and soon enough we reached the Nisqually park entrance . Riding under the arch gets you charged. It is the longest climb of the day and to me, the most beautiful part of the ride. It starts of as a gradual ascent through old growth forest before the 12 mile grind that starts at Longmire and ends near Paradise. When we reached Longmire I was feeling really good so I decided to push it. Tony and Jeff B. jumped on and the three of us were flying up the hill. After a while it was just me and Jeff. He asked me if I was going for the Strava KOM. I didn't even know what the fasted time was. I was doing a lot of the work and he told me that if we kept up this pace he would back off at the end. It turned out that we did grab the KOM segment from Longmire to Paradise. Thanks Jeff for letting me have it!!
We stopped for water and then planned on waiting for the group at the chocolate croissant stop before the climb up backbone ridge. The descent down through Stevens Canyon was fun but there were several gravel sections that you had to be aware of and therefore couldn't really let loose. We arrived at the Upper Box Canyon food stop. We waited for a while but decided we didn't want to let our legs rest for too long so we forged on.
The next descent was super fun. We were able to let go a bit more on this one and before we knew it we were at the start of the hardest climb on the course. It is the 9-mile climb up Cayuse pass. By now you are 100 miles into the ride and I think you want to be on this climb before sun is blasting on you. We managed to make it to the start of the climb around 11:00 am and we still had plenty of shade on our side of the road.
Jeff and I started up but pretty early on he told me to go solo. I told him I'd wait for him at the Crystal Mountain food stop. Once again I decided to blast up the climb. I was feeling really good and used riders in front of me as rabbits. It seemed like every rider I passed yelled encouragements to me and it helped me to even push harder. I rounded a bend and a volunteer on the side of the road yelled that I was one of the first go ride by him which I thought was odd since we didn't leave Enumclaw until after 6:00am. He told me I only had a mile to go until the top. That was actually information I didn't need. That was the longest mile ever. When I got to the top I took I was told that only a handful of riders had come by. I took on fluids and headed down towards Crystal.
This part of the descent isn't that steep and there was quite a few cars on the road. I actually pedaled it most of the way down. The last time it did this ride I bypassed this stop which was a mistake. The made to order sandwiches are awesome and riding the last 40 miles of this ride solo totally sucks. I got my mega sandwich and a coke and found some shade while I waited for Jeff to show up. There was only a handful of riders there and after a few minutes a guy I know (Matt) found me and asked if I wanted to ride out with him and a few guys he was riding with. Jeff had shown up and soon enough we were off riding in a super fast 15 or so man pace line. It was awesome. Everything was going fine until just before the mud mountain dam turn. I'm not sure if it was just the case of someone being tired but the guy that was currently in front of our pace line didn' t call out a huge metal object in our path. I was sitting second wheel and am not sure how I missed it. Someone behind me plowed into it and somehow managed to stay upright. I heard later that he completely destroyed his wheel and wasn't able to make it back. That sucks after riding that hard for so long.
We were probably down to nine or so guys when we made the turn onto Mud Mountain Rd. That turn also gives you a blast of new energy. You are off the busy highway and onto wide open country road. We kept trading pull until the fast little descent off the mountain. I was pushing it and ended up dropping everyone except for a really strong rider I'd met named Justin. We decided to keep pushing and traded pulls as we headed towards town. After making the left turn that takes us back to Enumclaw we came up to a 4-way stop and had to slow. This allowed two others to catch back on, which was nice. The four of us traded pulls and soon enough we were back to where we started.
Good friends and great weather made this the a great ride. Now it's time to get back to racing!