Finally an official RAMROD (Ride Around Mt. Rainer in One Day) ride event! A 150 mile ride up and around Mt. Rainier, with just under 10,000 feet of elevation gain. After volunteering in 2019 to guarantee a spot for the ride in 2020, I put in a lot of hill work on the roadie bike and followed Ken B. for many hundreds of crazy hilly miles preparing for the event – for years. In 2020 the ride was cancelled due to the COVID pandemic. I was really disappointed in 2020, and Diane came to the rescue! She put together a DIY event for me, Ken B. and my bday twin Jenn Wickham so we could do the ride. It was complete with all the aid stations, lots of ice for cooling off, impressive food and we even got a medal. A first class event. In 2021, we thought we would get to do the official event, but it was cancelled due to road construction in Mt. Rainer. Cue another year of training!
The inaugural RAMROD event was organized by John Dixon back in 1984 and had 45 finishers that first year. With a lottery to get in every year and ~ 800 riders doing the event yearly, getting into and completing RAMROD has been a PNW bucket list for many riders.
2022 Longer Course
The RAMROD course has varied over the years due to road issues, but almost always has been 150 miles. In 2022, there were more road issues and they rerouted the ride so that the course did not actually go into the park, missing some of the most spectacular parts and views. We were going to miss Paradise, the most beautiful part of the ride. So glad we got to do it with our DIY version. The reroute also included an out and back up Crystal Mountain to make up the lost elevation from skipping Paradise, for a route that totaled 162 miles. No one was excited about the course change, but again it was the first official event since 2019 so there was that.
Ready or Not – Ankle Rehab
Having a PRP procedure and boot on my ankle after Oceanside 70.3, I was told I would not be able to do any more events in 2022. Specifically running, and any riding that involved hills due to the extra pressure on the ankle to power up hills. During my month long boot experience, I was told I could do easy trainer rides with my boot on. So I did. Swapped out a clipped in pedal for a MTB pedal and I worked my way up to hour rides in the boot. It was pretty miserable. My left hip started to get a little achy from the weight of the boot, I had to wrap my foot in a plastic bag inside the boot due to the sweating because I wanted to wear a dry boot after. I wasn’t able to run or swim and yoga was a challenge. So I did what I could.
When the boot came off in June a month later, I started PT at Issaquah Physical Therapy and Athlete Rehabilitation Center. Geoff and the the staff were great. We talked about RAMROD and that I had signed up for my last full Ironman in October. They did not tell me it was impossible. After a week I was run/walking 10 min at 10% of my body weight on their Alter-G treadmill. I started riding on the trainer without the boot and progressed from there. I felt like I had lost all of my fitness but I decided to keep trying. I ramped up slowly but then by end of June I was out riding with Jenn on some hills. I wasn’t where I should have been on the mileage but I felt like I had a chance. I also started running full body weight outside, slowly but surely. Ankle seemed healed. Onward with training! I was lucky enough to be able to do several rides with Jenn up to 100 miles with lots of hills and had no ankle issues – winning.
Just like a triathlon, we were up in the 3:00AM hour eating breakfast and getting ready to go. It’s an open start time, but we wanted to get going at 5:30 when it first began, it was going to be a long, hot day. Everything was ready to go the night before, bikes loaded, nutrition together, sunscreen, lights check. As usual and per all my long ride training, I planned for a bottle an hour of my custom Infinit drink, with a smidge of protein. I planned 9 bottles total, so my jersey pocket was stuffed with dry mix baggies. Also on tap were Honey Stinger Mango bloks, salt pills, and Quantum Bars. The RAMROD food coordinator had been reaching out with the gluten free options that would be at aid stations, but as with any type of race I do I have what I need then supplement what I can. Jenn came to our house to carpool, and with Ken B. we headed off in the dark for Enumclaw.
We met up with Diane, Ryan, Doug and Brent in the dark and got ourselves ready to roll with our RFID tested. It gave me some peace of mind that as we would absolutely lose cell service, the RFID tags would be tracked on the route. Dressed in our Team Zoot cycling kits, Jenn and I were quickly spotted by our PNW teammate Larry Chandler and we became not twins but triplets! The ride got started and within about 5 minutes, Diane and the boys and Ken B. were off and the 3 of us were making our way in the mid to back pack. So many riders! It felt unusual compared to our DIY version where there were just 3-4 of us at any time riding. It wasn’t too cold and we got a beautiful view of the sunrise.
Cruising, Aid Stations, Warming Up
Jenn, Larry and I chatted and rode along making our way to the first aid station. I was riding Snappy, my road bike, and felt like all was working well after the little collision Ken B. and I had at the end of a ride a weeks before. The derailleur hangar got broken and we found a replacement in Seattle, but it may or may not have been the exact right one. It wasn’t too long after that thought that we turned the corner and headed up a longer gradual climb. Either user error or derailleur hangar had me drop the chain and I got to mess with that while people were climbing up on a busy road. Jenn was in front of me but Larry was close by and really saved the day by waiting for me to sort that out and help me get a clear start mid-hill – I was so grateful! Just a little blood on the cut finger, RAMROD wounds ha ha.
The sun was out and it wasn’t hot – yet. Grabbed a band aid at the first aid station, some extra water and some fruit and we were off to my favorite aid station – Kathleen Colvard’s stop! I was so looking forward to seeing Kathleen and her smile I couldn’t wait. The ride continued to be pretty easy, cruising more flat than uphill, so those first 50ish miles flew by. And then we saw Kathleen! And another favorite, Frank Tomaszewski. Such a great stop, we took our time, refilled bottles and ate up. The gluten free food was great and the company was even better. Sadly at this aid station Jenn and I said good-bye to Larry, and Tori who had been cheering us on from the road since the early dark start. Larry hadn’t been training as much for this ride and wanted to slow down a bit so he told us to go ahead. Now the climbing was about to begin…
Heating Up, Going Up
The sun was definitely up and the heat was making it’s debut. It wasn’t unbearably hot right away, but I could tell I was drinking more and happy I had on sunscreen. The course had changed as I mentioned due to road construction, and unfortunately it was not for the better. We headed toward Packwood up Skate Creek and then back down on a fairly bumpy road with pot holes and dappled shade. I was laser focused on obstacles wanting to avoid any spills, run ins with other riders zooming down Skate Creek or flat tires. Luckily, no issues just a little white knuckle riding. Ankle was doing great so that was a big plus.
Once we hit Packwood it was obvious the heat was here to stay and I was really feeling it. I was so thankful to have Jenn riding with me, stopping at aid stations together, shoving ice in our bras, arm sleeves (also known as ice socks for your neck) and wherever else we could. I kept making new Infinit bottles and taking what I could at aid stations. The highway there was a bit rough with rumble strips and a lot of traffic, definitely a little nerve wracking. I missed the route we did for our DIY version, where we entered the national park and rode what felt like right beside the stunning Mt. Rainier. Those climbs were twisty, sustained and not easy but the views and being in the park made it worth it. This year, the views were few, but we were able to stop here and there and grab a peek view photo. I was starting to feel fatigued in the heat. I am not a heat girl, and I also hadn’t gotten past one 100 mile training ride preparing for this with my boot time for the month of May.
This one is the killer, every time you ride a RAMROD route. It is a 10 mile climb, in the heat of the day (and today was in the high 90’s) starting at mile 90 of the ride. There are rest stops at miles 4 and 8, to give you an idea and you wish there was one at mile 6. This is just a heads down, keep moving forward kind of climb. We stopped at both stops, did our sunscreen, ice sock, ice everywhere routine, refilled bottles, poured water on us and keep moving up, up, up. Even with ice in our bottles at aid stations, minutes later the bottles were warm to almost hot. It was really tough to drink warm to hot liquid, but I took it in knowing the alternative would be worse. Salt pills when I could, as well as Honey Stinger mango bloks. It was during this climb that I knew I was only doing the 150 mile route and skipping the extra 6 miles out and back up Crystal mountain that was added to this year’s route. As I made my way up Cayuse Pass, I kept reminding myself I was in a boot 2 months ago, I would be proud of accomplishing the 150 miles that I had bargained for when I decided to do this event. The longer I climbed the more I noticed a little sticking of the gears as I shifted, complete with clicking noises. Snappy was working but I felt like I was a step away from a potential issue.
Big Descent, Brakes
Making it to the top of Cayuse was a great feeling! Exhausted and hot it was a great stop at the top to regroup. There was water, and ice but what did I miss? When we did our DIY version, Diane had ice cold cokes for us at the top – that was what I needed! Oh well, time to descend to the “deli” stop at the base of Crystal. I was ready after all the climbing. As ready as I was after a couple hours of climbing, I was also a bit nervous because this was a big descent. In general, I am a little nervous about descents, and I was tired. Jenn and I headed down and I took deep breaths. So good to not be climbing, but even with feather braking I was going 38 mph at one point so I was nervous. And this is where I noticed that the brakes weren’t quite right. They weren’t catching for lack of a better word, so my heart rate shot right up. I could not wait for it to flatten out a bit and get to the bottom. It was only about 20 minutes to get down (yes, after 2 plus hours to get up there) but it felt like longer with the anxiety from the brake issue. Never was I so happy to see the Crystal deli stop road. Jenn came in right about the same time and oh what a relief it was to be there.
I never did see Ken B., but this is where we got to connect with Diane, Ryan, Doug and Brent. They had gotten there earlier and were all going up Crystal to add the extra elevation and miles for a 162 mile ride. It was so great to see them, sit and eat and just relax for a bit. Soon, they headed out to make it back to Enumclaw. I told Jenn if she wanted to go up Crystal I would wait for her but I was calling it. I checked with the bike mechanic at the stop and he could see my derailleur and brake issues but said he couldn’t really do much, I needed to have a thorough tune up. With that, I was very happy I hadn’t done the extra climb and descent up Crystal. I continued to hang out and wait for Jenn and even got to chat for a bit with John Colvard.
Long 40 miles
Once Jenn got back from the climb and refueled, we were off. We had said all day this would be the last time we did a RAMROD ride and we were ready to get it done. The sun had finally let up, but it was still warm. From Crystal, you ride on Hwy 410 – it was the worst. Although flat, the road was in process chip seal, with a lot of junk in the shoulder and several crazy drivers. We kept on, at least enjoying the flatter road. Saw several people with flats. I said a little prayer every time I saw a person with a flat to just let us make it to the finish flat free! Luckily, we did. When I saw the sign for Mud Mountain on 410 I couldn’t be happier. Having climbed up and down Mud Mountain during a lot of training rides and even a duathlon over the years, it felt safe and like home. It was quiet and we cruised down. Home stretch. From our DIY version we knew where to turn to get into the back of the school where the finish was – so we didn’t wander around this time!
We rolled in and Ken B. was right there to take our photo. Even though he had been in a bike accident just a few weeks before he finished hours ahead of us, strong as ever. After some photos, sorbet and ice cream we sat for a bit as the sun started to set. 10 hours of riding (rest stops not included) on a very hot and much longer day.
Super proud of myself to have finished this 150 miles! I do not regret skipping the extra Crystal climb one bit. My ankle was great and I was so happy. Like I said, that was my last RAMROD ride, but I am looking forward to riding in the park and around the park for training rides and fun in the future.
As we hopped in the car and turned the headlights on to get home, we debated stopping somewhere for food but the need to get out of the bike clothes and shower was greater! Jenn and I had some recovery to do, but not for long – time to keep on training for Ironman California, just 3 months away.
I am so grateful I was able to be a part of this official ride this year. Such a bucket list item, and to have been able to do it twice in my lifetime something I never would have thought possible in my younger years. Thanks to Ken B. for all the hilly rides getting ready for the DIY version and everything in between. I couldn’t have done it this year without my AMAZING birthday twin. I was the weakest link this ride, and having her out there with me every mile was exactly what I needed to get it done. And a big thank you to Alissa Anderson. Before I had my PRP procedure the year looked dim for races and events. She wrote me a plan for Ironman California with RAMROD in mind and when all went sideways she told me to just take it one day at a time, adjusted the plan more than once and I got there. 150 miles of riding with 8,000 ft of gain in one day – just 8 weeks after I got out of a boot. Grateful!