Monday, August 4, 2014

2014_07_31 Leon & Mike: Our Alternative To RAMROD

Author:  Mike Hassur

Leon didn’t get into RAMROD.  I did, but a non-traditional course, miles of new chip seal surface, and a route that was 170 miles long rather than the normal 150 convinced me to pass on this year’s event.  Instead we opted for a route concocted by Leon.  Our route started at Longmire, headed up toward Paradise, over to Reflection Lakes, down Steven’s Canyon to Box Canyon, up the Backbone Ridge Climb, down the east side of Backbone Ridge to the east Ranger Station for Mt Rainier, up Cayuse Pass, and then back (retracing our route back to Longmire). 

Our goal was to start from Longmire at 6:00 AM.  We were on the road heading up toward Paradise at around 6:10 AM.  Leon had said that he wanted to set a brisk pace for the first half of our ride (to the top of Cayuse), so that he could see how we compared with last year’s RAMROD in the same section.  As a result, you won’t see many photos for the first half of the ride. 

Photo taken on the climb just above the Nisqually Bridge...
Our ascent from Longmire to Reflection Lakes was pretty uneventful.  The weather was cool which was ideal for climbing.  Leon was pretty focused on setting a brisk pace, so I just tried to get into a rhythm and keep pace.  Before we knew it, we were passing Reflection Lakes and heading down the Steven’s Canyon
descent.  At the upper hairpin turn (just above Steven’s Canyon), we came upon two cars parked in the middle of the uphill lane.  The occupants had noticed a good photo op and had just stopped in the middle of the road, gotten out, and were busy taking a group photo.  Normally, this would not be a big deal; but they were blocking the road on the uphill side of a blind, hairpin turn.  Hope their photos turned out good.  After that, it was the long, fast descent of Steven’s Canyon. 
Mt Rainier and beginning of Steven's Canyon descent...
It is so much fun and so beautiful, that I have to constantly remind myself to be careful (there is a cliff and no guard rail – keep your eyes on the road, Mike, and don’t get too close to the edge)!!  Awesome…

We flew by Box Canyon and were soon climbing the west side of Backbone Ridge.  Three miles of a modest grade meant plenty of time to visit with Leon and enjoy the trip to the top.  The view from Backbone Ridge is spectacular, and today was no exception.  We were in a hurry though, so we didn’t stop at the top.  We just took off down the east side. 

We stopped at the rest area near the ranger station at the east park entrance (bathroom break).  After that, it was the Cayuse Pass climb.  Again, we maintained a brisk pace up toward the pass.  The RAMROD support crews were already out setting up check points and water station. on the climb up Cayuse. 
RAMROD check point near top of Cayuse Pass...
It was impressive and reminded us what a fine job they do of organizing that ride.   When we reached the top of Cayuse, we talked to one of the RAMROD support people who was stationed there.  We told him to watch for a “slender kid who would likely be leading RAMROD at that point”.  We asked him to let “the kid” know that we said “go Conor”.  He said that he would, but we figured that he probably would be too busy to remember (Conor later reported that he did indeed get the message while passing the check point at the top of Cayuse).

As we descended, we did some rough calculations and figured that we would probably be turning off of the RAMROD route (and heading back up Backbone Ridge) about 30-45 minutes before Conor would get to the same spot while doing RAMROD.  Our calculations were fairly accurate based on later conversations with Conor.

The Park Ranger at the east entrance waved us through without making show our Park Passes… nice guy.  After that, it was a quick bathroom break, shedding some clothing, and heading back up Backbone Ridge.  The road has been resurfaced so the climb was smooth and pretty effortless.  The views were great at the top of Backbone, but I had to settle for a couple of photos while on the move – we weren’t stopping. 
Backbone Ridge...

Once we passed Box Canyon, we started climbing the lower section of Steven’s Canyon.  It was starting to warm up, and we were hoping to make it up through the canyon to Reflection Lakes before it really got hot.  We figured that we had about 2,000 feet to climb in roughly 10 miles – about the equivalent of going up The Climb twice.  “No big deal” we told ourselves – and it really wasn’t bad.  We got into a nice rhythm and maintained a good pace to the top.  We felt tired (but not wasted) when we arrived at Reflection Lakes.
Obligatory photo at Reflection Lakes...
After that, it was downhill pretty much all the way back to Longmire and our car.  Leon did a marvelous job of mapping out this ride.  There was no new chip seal; and, by starting at Longmire, we missed all of the road construction that was going on between the Nisqually Entrance and Longmire.  We ended up with a ride that had lots of climbing (five passes with about 9000’ of elevation gain) and that was a nice length (80 miles).  Nice job, Leon!!

Can’t wait until our next ride:  Quadruple By-Pass.

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