Monday, August 28, 2017

2017_08_28 The High Pass Challenge with Adam Abrams

Author:  Adam Abrams

2017 was my second year of cycling and I decided to fully devote my spring and summer to trying out new disciplines of cycling. With that in mind I signed up for High Pass Challenge as a way to experience a competitive Gran Fondo. High Pass Challenge features an out and back course that starts in Packwood then climbs over independence pass before turning at the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. In total the ride climbs 7400 feet in 102 miles. The event is also timed and riders are awarded Gold, Silver and Bronze medals based on their arrival time at the Windy Ridge Viewpoint. My goal for the ride was to race it and put in the best effort I could.

The day started early as I left my house at 4:15 AM in hopes of getting to Packwood by 6:15 AM. I wanted to give myself plenty of time to get ready for the 7:00 AM start. The drive went a little too quickly and I got there at 5:40. With extra time and nothing to do I decided to pull out my lawn chair and watch the riders coming in. I quickly realized that there were some very good riders at the event. The majority of the riders were sporting their race kits and the guy parked next to me was a retired pro rider. Needless to say I felt a little out of my depth but I decided to stick with my original goals.

The ride started fast and I mean FAST! We were flying down Hwy 12 at speeds between 25-28 MPH. Unfortunately, I lined up too far back at the start and had some work to do to get back near the front. Luckily there were several others that made similar mistakes and I was able to ride their wheels back to the front without wasting too much energy.  By the time we turned onto Forest Service Road 25 I was positioned in the front 30 riders.  Holding my position was difficult as other riders were constantly looking to move up. It had the feeling of a race near the front. 

The ride exploded on the first climb of the day. It’s a 1.2 mile climb that averages 6% but starts gradients above 10%. Most of the riders attacked this climb like it was the only climb of the day. Not wanting to get dropped, I burnt my first match of the day and put down a 300+ watt effort for a 6 minute climb. Unfortunately, this left me in no mans land as the leading group of riders was a good 20 seconds in front of me and everyone else was scattered. When we got back to a flat section I tried to bridge up to the leading group but quickly realized that it would take too much to reach them.  I decided to hold my position and hope a chase group would form. To my luck about 5 minutes later a group of 8 riders came by and and I jumped on. This group worked together and we were able to rejoin the leaders after a few miles.

The group stayed together until we passed the Iron Creek Campground and started the 13 mile, 2800 foot climb to the top of Independence Pass. The other riders were more conservative on this climb and the group slowly separated as the stronger riders pulled away while others fell back. I decided to ride my own pace and target 250 watts for the climb. This strategy worked well and I was able to pass several riders in the second half of the climb. By the time I reached the top of the climb I was in a small group of riders and placed somewhere in the top 20. But unfortunately I still had 10 miles of rolling road before reaching Windy Ridge.

This last section of the climb didn’t go as well for me. I was getting tired, the day was getting HOT and I was out of water.  The mental and physical impact of running out of water was surprising. I found myself limiting my efforts and counting down the miles. Unfortunately this meant I had to watch several riders pull away and I got passed by a couple more. But to be honest it didn’t bother me that much as I was more focused on getting to the Windy Ridge Food Stop and some much needed water. In hindsight I really wish I would have taken an extra bottle in my jersey pocket. When the aid station came into view, I was ecstatic and rushed to the line. After parking my bike I filled my water bottle drank the whole thing before filling it up again. Feeling better I decided to check out the food before making my way over to the time check to see how I finished. I finished with a gold medal time of 2:49, 22nd overall and 9 minutes behind the first finishers. 

The ride back to Packwood was pretty uneventful. I was one of the first riders to leave and rode the 51 miles back by myself. Despite the 90+ degree temperatures I did my best to enjoy the ride. I only stopped twice on the way back. The first time to refill the bottles and the second to fix my only flat tire of the year. By the time I got back to Packwood I was hot and exhausted but also pleased with my performance. 

I learned a lot from the ride. First I need to start near the front when I want to ride near the front. I wasted too much energy chasing the leaders in the first 15 miles. Second, I need to take more water than I think I’m going to need. For me that means one bottle for every hour of riding. Most importantly I learned that I really enjoy this style of riding/racing and I can’t wait for my next opportunity to ride an event like the High Pass Challenge.

Picture Post for Rainiering 2017 -- by Dwaine

Oh Chinook Pass, how I love thee! Rainiering 2017 started overcast and evolved into warm sunshine. But the sunshine worked its way through the clouds in fits and starts. As we started up Chinook, nearly devoid of cars due to a road closure, the warm rays of sun warmed our skin and souls.

Climbing over fourteen thousand feet in one day requires over ten hours in the saddle, strong legs, and great camaraderie. I'd like to send a big 'thank you' to Scott and Mike for the great conversation and leadership. This image shows them part way up Cayuse pass relatively early in the day. Their smiles and spirits remained broad and bright all day long.

As we neared the summit of Chinook the clouds rolled back in to create a dramatic lighting effect. In this image the group is pedaling from bright sun back into shade and mist.

Sunrise was the second climb to go into the bag and the author requested a group photo. Just like last year the shot included the mountain and sign. Unlike last year no mud was present. In addition, the photo shows that while waiting for the old guys to get some rest Adam busied himself with a few reps of his cycling centric upper body exercises.

Three tough dudes. The final major ascent was to the Paradise Visitor Center. We did not tarry taking only enough time to fill water bottles and snap this sober shot. (Author's note - The normal riders, including the author, were feeling a bit haggard when this image was captured. Only Adam is wearing a smile. His fitness and lack of fatigue are clearly not typical.)

p.s. It's tough limiting myself to just five images. At least one Rainiering image landed on my Instagram feed:

Monday, August 7, 2017

2017 RAMROD - Adam Abram's Experience

Author:  Adam Abrams

I was excited when Leon asked me to ride RAMROD with him. It's a ride that I've know about for several years; but it's reputation for a long, hot, windy riding had me a little nervous.  So I was grateful to have Leon's experience guiding me through the ride.  My goals for the ride was were to simply to enjoy the experience, learn, and stay with Leon.

Based on my experience I've divided RAMROD into three sections. The first section runs from Enumclaw to the park entrance. This 60 mile section is comprised of mostly flats with a little bit of climbing. Leon's advice was to conserve energy and to look for a faster group to ride with and that's exactly what we did. Leon and I moved from group to group both of us testing our limits as faster groups came by. We used the faster groups to pick up some time and then pop off the back when the pace became too much. This approach worked great and left me feeling strong heading into the park.

The second section runs from the park entrance all the way to the top of Cayuse pass. I've nicknamed the section the "Cyclopath's Playground". This was my favorite part of the ride and where I felt the most at home. Leon's advice worked perfectly once again as we found a comfortable pace and slowly picked people off. There weren’t a lot of riders on the road, but we passed a few along the way and only got passed by three while on the climbs. The biggest surprise of the section was how well we climbed Cayuse pass. I've been told by many people how difficult the climb is during RAMROD, and I'd prepared myself for an hour of pain. To my surprise the climb went great. I don't know if it was the cooler weather or the pacing strategy, but I felt good all the way up.

The final section of the ride I decided to call "The long road to Enumclaw". It's funny how 110 mile and 9000’ of climbing can change your perspective on a ride. Going into the RAMROD I thought that 40+ miles of rolling downhill sounded like a fun way to end the ride. My opinion quickly changed after we hit our the first big gust of headwind. I soon found myself glued to my Garmin and wishing the miles would go by faster. This section was a lot harder than I expected. Despite the headwind, Leon and I worked together well; and about half way down, I saw a bike off in the distance. The hope that we might catch that rider was the motivation I needed to finish strong.  It took a while but we finally caught that rider as we turned onto Mud Mountain Road.  It was also on Mud Mountain Road that we saw the only other riders in this section. It was a group of four that went flying by. I put in one effort to try to catch them but quickly realized they were going faster than I wanted to and I happily let them go. After nine hours Leon and I ended the ride together feeling great about what we had just accomplished.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Official RAMROD 2017

Author - Les Becker

Scott Wagar and I made it into RAMROD off the wait list and were eager to ride this together. We did not intend to make this a hard driving personal best (or did I miss that in discussion?) But he likes to start early so we were at the start line in dawn light at 5:00 am. As we left Thunder Mountain Middle School, we were careful not to miss the first turn 1 block from the start as we did last year. It was 62 deg and felt cool in the overcast and sometimes misty air, almost wet. The pacelines as usual were large but seemed to be constantly splitting and joining into new groups. So when a gap appears few riders in front, we have 2 choices. Stay content in our group which will inevitably enlarge with added riders. Alternatively, you can jump out "burn some matches" and bridge the gap, which sometimes has gotten quite large before realizing what is happening. Scott consistently chose the latter. And I tried to help. This plus skipping the Eatonville rest stop put us at the photographer just out of Eatonville in #5 position. We didn't get much help to the Wildwood rest stop although Scott continued to ride strong and I had to drop back just before Ashford when a group joined us but going too fast for me. There were a total of 3 bikes hanging on the bike racks when we arrived and a few other riders walking their bikes around. Unfortunately my rear shifting was not working well so had to spend some time with the mechanic there. He made it work better and was adequate for the rest of the ride.

We saw Conor Collins at the Kautz Creek rest stop waiting for Leon and Adam. Just to shout greetings back & forth as we rode by was encouraging. But not enough to keep me in Scott's company as he rode very strong up above Longmire. Although I couldn't see him when I reached the high point at Inspiration Point, the photo sequence showed that I was the next rider after Scott. Looked like we were #'s 14 and 16 at that point. I sat up and ate some food anticipating help from behind for the long descent down Stevens Canyon, but it didn't come so I pedaled most of the way down. Turns out Scott descended alone also. He was at the Box Canyon rest stop when I arrived but was ready to leave. As I gathered some food, shed some clothes due to rising temperatures, and used the facilities, I assumed I wouldn't see Scott again. Backbone ridge required work but is not really a pass so I tried not to think about my tired legs.

Finally got to base of Cayuse with couple other nice riders. Cayuse never disappoints. Temp rose nearly to 80, sun beating down, legs begging me to stop and even cramping near the top. I did join Scott just before the top so we crested the pass together. Leon and Adam had passed me when I was at the Box Canyon rest stop but they stopped at the White River turnoff to refuel from Conor's car once more so Scott and I approached them from behind as we reached the RAMROD cafe cutoff and waved and shouted encouragement as they continued on. We stopped, Scott mainly for the sandwich and me mainly for cold Coke.

The expected headwind heading back on hiway 410 was as strong as I ever remembered. Was starting to bend the trees. We rode comfortably, waiting for the inevitable help from behind. Sure enough, two good riders came from behind and rode strong at a pace comfortable for Scott and I. A fifth also joined us. He was a friendly fellow we had met 2 and a half weeks previous at Chinook pass when our Cyclopath group met and chatted with his group from Seattle. So we were an efficient, well matched group; just what I want for the long ride back to Enumclaw. Then few miles out of Greenwater, drat!, flat tire. It's impressive when standing still, how fast a coordinated paceline rapidly disappears up the road. But as motion stopped, and quiet solitude enveloped me I felt good about the ride and what I had been a part of. Then quickly fixed the flat, headed out alone and soon there appeared a paceline of about six. As he rode by, the lead rider said "hook on if you like", and I'm thinking I certainly will!  This also was a wonderful group to ride with and we crossed the finish line together. I was pleased with my total ride time of 9 hr 42 minutes. Scott had finished about 13 minutes before, having won the mass sprint in his group that had enlarged to about 15 riders. Way to go Scott! According to the photos, looks like he finished #22 and me #39 (800 total riders). What a terrific feeling having finished another successful RAMROD. Ready to go again next year!

Scott on right and me on the left.