Friday, August 5, 2016

How to finish Ramrod in the top ten percent -- by Dwaine

(or first in the 'fenderbike' class)

When Les, Scott, and I started the 2016 Ramrod we were not planning for record setting times. We wanted to ride together but had few other details planned for the ride. By the end of the day we had all finished in respectable time. Those finish times made me start to wonder what we did better or faster than the other 700 riders. Those ideas and observations make up the theme of this blog post.

It goes without saying that rider fitness needs to be at Cyclopath level. Neither Conner climbing prowess nor Rob locomotive power are required. But a decent base level of fitness common in the Cyclopath group is obviously a requirement for a ride of this length and intensity. All riders in the Scott-Les-Dwaine trio met this requirement.

The 'Trio' ride past the first food stop and right on out of Eatonville. We didn't see many groups for a while after this point and wisely rode at a moderate pace. This was the chattiest part of the ride.

The first third of the ride, from Enumclaw to Ashford, needs to be about moderation. We found pacelines as often as reasonable to moderate our energy usage. We ignored the fastest groups to save energy. And when no strangers were present to put their noses into the wind we simply slowed a bit to save energy.

A lot of time can be saved in the food and water stops. Even more time can be saved by not stopping. As a group we rode right on past the Eatonville stop and set our sights on the Ashford stop at about 60 miles. Before we arrived I warned the other Cyclopaths that I would be making my stops quite short. I like to fill my pockets with food and then eat while I soft pedal up the road. I probably spent just three minutes off the bike at the Ashford stop and spent considerably less at each of my remaining stops.

The moderate pace for the first sixty miles is to save energy. And that energy is properly used over the next 50 miles. A decent climbing effort is necessary to separate the finishers from the top ten percent finishers. This year the first major climb inside the park was taken at a steady and respectable pace. Respectable enough that all three Cyclopaths were questioning if this pace might be just a little too hot. Respectable enough that the pleasant chit-chat that took place over the first 60 miles all but evaporated.

Les was riding Dwaine's wheel at this part of the ride. Yet he still found out how to position Dwaine out of the photo. The silent assassin works in mysterious ways.

The Box Canyon food stop is pivotal for a top ten percent finish. Adequate calories needs to be in the rider's pockets when departing from Box Canyon to get all the way back to the start/finish line in Enumclaw. This caloric preparation will pay dividends in a paragraph or two.

Is Scott smiling? Doesn't he know climbing is supposed to be hard?

The climb up Cayuse often defines a rider's experience of Ramrod. There is no easy route. This is the part of the ride where Cyclopath level fitness is required. A ride into the top ten percent requires another decent effort against this pitch at a point when the rider is about 100 miles into his day. I wish I could tell you that I felt all kittens and sweet cream for this year's Cayuse climb. But it wasn't so. I pushed at a tough pace that I knew I could sustain for an hour. My stomach was churning. One quad wanted to cramp a mile from the top. Cuss words snuck out of my mouth. And I just kept the pedals turning.

The single biggest time savings might happen at the 'Deli Stop'. There are three scenarios.

1. Stop for food and drink - This is the slowest option and a rider hoping for a top finish probably won't consider it.
2. Don't stop for food or drink - This obviously saves a fair amount of time. But guess what? This is the part of the course where the headwind kicks up. If a rider has a bunch of friends who don't stop this plan is golden. If a rider is solo he should prepare for the headwind hurt hammer.
3. Play the group - If the rider has food from Box Canyon and water bottles full from the top of Cayuse he can play the game. Already in a group that won't stop? Great! Ride on by the Deli Stop. Otherwise, make the turn into the food stop ready to abort on the spot.

This year I 'played the group'. I had enough food. I had enough water. And there were no wheels to follow so I turned into the Deli Stop. I was prepared to abort the stop and follow any riders I saw exitting the stop. I parked my bike and saw no groups departing so I used the Sanican as quick as possible. Once back outside I saw no riders departing so I grabbed a Coke. Another rider departure check and then another food item. It didn't take long to see a group of three mounting up and I hustled over to my bike and started pedalling.

It was going to be beautiful. I had a mouthful of chips, an extra slice of bread in one pocket, and a cold Coke in another. And I was just 150 yards behind a group of riders as we re-entered Highway 410. I was proud of my mental acuity in putting this little plan into action. I got out of the saddle to close the gap and 'Bang!' The crank wouldn't turn.  WTF?  An arm warmer had fallen out of my pocket and into my cogset locking my chain in the process. I was still coasting at over 20 mph. But I couldn't pedal. The group of three was starting to shrink on the horizon. I wish I could tell you that I was a strong enough rider to stop to remove the arm warmer and then close the gap. I knew better than to even try.

I didn't know it yet but the Karma gods would soon even out this episode of bad luck.

While I waited I had no choice but fight the hammer. My neck and shoulder, already sore, started going into spasm as I tried to stay low. The headwinds were warm. By the time I drank my cold Coke it was tepid. My legs were turning the pedals but my road speed wasn't very impressive. I was crumbling.

After about ten miles a gift fell from heaven. I was caught by a man and woman who were going at what turned out to be the perfect pace. For the first five miles all I could do was hang on. But riding protected allowed me to recover a bit. These two riders rode like two synchronized swimmers. Their speeds were steady. They communicated beautifully. Rider lead changes were performed with precision. They let me ride in their shadow and also kept an eye on me. Eventually I felt recovered enough to request permission to take a pull. They agreed. I doubt my skill matched theirs but I did my best to execute a smooth and powerful pull with the emphasis on smooth.

At the finish I was finally able to chat with Dotsie and Scott. It turns out they ride Ramrod together every year, take group riding safety seriously, and don't often let strangers in. But in my case they were either impressed by the jersey, dazzled by the fenders, or just needed a break. And they approved of my group riding skills. Their praise felt good.

Author at the finish.  'Fenderbike' virtual trophy secured. (My shoulder hurt so bad I couldn't raise my arms any higher)

Being welcomed at the finish by Mark was also a treat. I heard the cowbell and was then surprised to see who was ringing it. After a short wait it was nice to welcome my fellow Cyclopaths to the finish. I was so proud of the group I treated them to ice cream.

At the end of the day I was a bit surprised at how quickly I finished. My elapsed time was about nine hours and fifteen minutes. This is my best time and I didn't feel like I was riding at ten tenths the entire day. In retrospect I may have ridden in a way that leveraged my strengths (climbing and eating while pedaling) and hid my weakness (speed on the flats). Either way the ride has made me rethink what it takes to get around the mountain.

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