Author: Mike Hassur
One quick note about RAMROD’s Stevens Canyon descent (and many of the others that we do), IT IS DANGEROUS. As most of you know, a man was killed there in this year’s RAMROD. All of us do descents like this so often that I think we tend to forget that the very things that make them stimulating (high speeds, a rough road surface, gratings in the road, a cliff at the side of the road with no railings, a dark tunnel in which it is difficult to see if there is a rock in your path, etc.) also increase our risk level. For me, nothing could diminish the joy and excitement that we share for cycling more profoundly than one of us being seriously injured in a crash during one of our rides together. I’m not saying that we won’t take some risks, I just want to make sure that we don’t take them lightly (i.e. have fun letting the testosterone flow, but don’t let it do your thinking for you).
Short version of the 2012 RAMROD narrative:
It went great. The weather was cooperative (and not overly hot), Mike and Les broke the 9 hour barrier for total riding time (including stops) for the first time, and Mark Delrosario completed his first RAMROD (way to go, Mark).
Long version of the 2012 RAMROD narrative:
Les and I had talked quite a bit about our strategy for trying to break nine hours (total time including stops) in this year’s RAMROD. What we finally decided was not to burn ourselves out riding with the >25 mph crowd in the first 30-40 miles and to spend minimal time at the rest stops (i.e. pee if you have to, quick refill of water bottles, and “adios” to the rest stop).
We met at the starting line at ~ 5:15 AM (it was easy to spot Les with his Cyclopath jersey on. Mark showed up shortly thereafter, and we were off by 5:25 AM. It wasn’t fully light when we left (rear lights flashing), and it wasn’t too cold (middle 50’s) so we didn’t need arm warmers, leg warmers, or an under-layer.
We were cruising along (~20 mph) just past Buckley when this woman passed us. She was going 23-24 mpg, so we hooked in behind her. She had no interest in sharing the work, so we just followed her. She took us through South Prairie, past Orting, and part way to Lake Kapowsin before we hooked up with a larger group. We made it to Lake Kapowsin at a brisk (but not killer) pace without using much energy at all. From Lake Kapowsin to Eatonville, we were a part of a larger group. Our pace was around 23 mph which was relatively easy in a group. As we approached Lake Ohop, the pace picked up, and it was during this stretch that we lost contact with Mark.
Les and I didn’t bother to stop at the food stop in Eatonville. Our plan was to make it to the food stop just after Ashford (at 60 miles) where we would make our first brief stop. Along the way, we met Chris Allen, who is a friend of Tom Peterson’s. Chris had spotted our Cyclopath jerseys and introduced himself. We rode with Chris for a while, but his pace was a little too brisk for us. We rolled into the food stop just behind Chris, lost track of him, and didn’t see him again until the finish.
After the food stop, it was on to the Nisqually Entrance of Mt Rainier National Park. Once again, we were fortunate to find ourselves in a group of guys that was going at a pace with which we were comfortable. We breezed through the park entrance and started the gradual climb toward Longmire (where the real climbing begins). Les and I lost most of our partners as soon as we started climbing, but there was one fellow (who had been with a group of fast guys) who was going about the same speed as us. I can’t remember his name; but he was 53 years old, and we ended up seeing him for a good portion of the remainder of the ride.
The steeper climb from Longmire to the Paradise cutoff (to Reflection Lake) was uneventful. It was interesting that Les was not feeling very strong as we began the climb; but the further we went, the stronger he seemed to get. By the top, he seemed to be the stronger of the two of us.
As we passed Reflection Lake, I remember thinking how much better I felt than the previous year when we had burned so much precious energy by riding too fast in the first 60 miles of the event. We zoomed down the Steven’s Canyon descent on the east side of the mountain: feeling great, speeding over the gratings in the road and through the tunnels, peering over the edge of the cliff at the side of the road at the beautiful valley below, and – in general – enjoying a fast descent to the food zone just before Box Canyon.
Les and I felt relatively good going up Cayuse. The tri-athlete dropped us almost immediately, and we dropped everyone else in our group. For most of the way up, it was just Les and me. We caught and passed a few riders on the climb, but there just didn’t seem to be that many people on Cayuse.
At the top of Cayuse, we refilled water bottles (important for me as I was beginning to cramp a bit) and headed down the other side. In order to save time, we did not stop at the “RAMROD Deli” at the Crystal Mountain turnoff. Instead, we zoomed by the “Deli” and immediately slowed down. There are almost always faster riders who have stopped at the “Deli” who are leaving about the time we pass. Our strategy was to slow down, not waste energy and link up with them as they caught up to us. There is almost always a headwind in this last 40 miles of RAMROD, and it is much more efficient (and fast) to be in a group. Sure enough, after a few miles two guys came cruising along at a nice pace. We hooked up with them, and everyone was happy (except that I was starting to have some really bad cramping in my legs). The cramping was bad enough that I was not sure if I could keep pedaling a couple of times. Fortunately, the cramps were only bad if I really had to apply power, and I was able to keep a pretty smooth pace most of the time without too much trouble.
Just outside of Greenwater, our group encountered a solitary rider heading the other direction. It was Leon! He had to work that day and could not do RAMROD. As soon as he finished work in Orting, he hopped on his bike and headed up to find us with the idea of helping us finish those last 25-30 miles. In the end, Leon was a “God send”. As we neared the Mud Mountain Dam turnoff, the other two guys from our group deserted us (one of them had to pee). Leon, who had already been working like a madman, took over and pulled us up to a group of riders near Mud Mountain Dam. We rode with them almost all the way to the finish line with Leon leading us out over the last few blocks to get us to the finish absolutely as quickly as possible.
In the end, Leon’s efforts (and ours) bore fruit. We managed to finish in less than nine hours (around 8:55.40) in total time (including stops) which was a first for both Les and myself. We were very pleased. Mark Delrosario followed us in completing his first RAMROD. Way to go, Mark. That was a real accomplishment!