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RAMROD, Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day is an endurance cycling event starting and ending in Enumclaw, Washington.  In one day, 800 cyclist ride 156 miles, climbing 10,000 feet in elevation.  It is one of the most scenic rides in the United States and a test of strength, skill and endurance.

20015 was my third time riding RAMROD and the only time I attempted it solo.  The riders are selected by lottery and most of my regular cycling companions were not chosen.  I did have a couple of friends riding but they are stronger and faster riders who I could not have kept up with.  Instead, I figured I’ve done this twice before, I know what I’m in for and I should be fine.  I put in a solid amount of training and even had the opportunity to ride in the unseasonably hot 2015 Seattle summer. 

I set for Enumclaw at 5:30 am, thinking that was an early enough start at 6 am.  Unfortunately, I miscalculated the length of the drive to Enumclaw and started later than I had planned.  I also missed the memo that most riders were starting out between 4:30-5 am to avoid the predicted 95 degree afternoon sun. I received a lot of kudos and surprised looks from the volunteers at the start line for doing this ride alone.  I assured them I was comfortable, had done the ride before and would certainly catch up with some other cyclists.  I also never really liked starting in the dark on Hwy 410 and the back roads to Eatonville so I thought this was a safer choice as well. 

I recognized immediately that I was one of the last to start the ride.  That is unfortunate, as typically there are hundreds of cyclists starting together and you are in one giant pace line from Enumclaw to Eatonville where you can average 23 mph.  As a single rider I was plugging along at 15-18mph and immediately realized this was going to be a long day.  It was mentally challenging to be the only rider on long stretches of road.  There were a few pace lines that went by and I was able to hop on the back, but when the guys started climbing I couldn’t stay up with them and was back on my own.

At the first rest stop I enjoyed a blueberry scone some coffee and filled up my water bottles.  The sun was already getting hot and we made our way to Mt Rainier National Park.  The road from Eatonville to the park entrance is full of logging trucks and semi-trucks, also a bit intimidating when riding alone.  Admittedly, I wasn’t feeling very happy and already had to fight self-defeating talk in my head; Why did I start so late…I should have eaten a bigger breakfast….I should have done more hill repeats.   I had already witnessed one crash and six riders hitching a ride with the Sag vehicle before we even entered the park.

Once we arrived at the entrance, I started to feel my usual happy self on my bike.  This is my absolute favorite part of the ride.  The initial climb is cool and forested with a magical feel.  As we approached Inspiration point the beauty of Mt. Rainier sparkled on us. I admit it brought tears to my eyes to witness that incredible mountain up close again.  As we were climbing the sun was out and the heat started.  Again a number of men riders were bagging the ride saying it was just too hot and too much climbing.  I did encourage one rider from Oregon to hang in there for the downhills into Steven and Box Canyon, the spectacular reward for the climb we just endured.

I felt joyous flying down the mountain and remembered why I loved this ride so much.  I stopped and the Steven’s Canyon reststop and enjoyed red potatoes, chocolate scones and bottles of ice water.  I ran into a few friends that offered encouraging words of support.  The next climb was Backbone ridge and a rider from Eastern Washington shared the climb with me.  

As we exited the park, we all knew what was next, Cayuse Pass; a long steady, 11 mile climb that starts 100 miles into the ride.  This is where my late start really hurt me.  I had soaked my sun sleeves and filled my water bottle up with ice before the climb; 2 miles in my clothes were dry, ice had melted and I found myself drinking warm water.  The person who started with me had already given up and there were many cyclists stopped in the shade for a break along the way.  At about mile 3 (or 103!) I saw a mountain creek, got off my bike and soaked myself in the icy water.   That was probably the single thing that allowed me to finish the climb.  There was a water stop 2/3 to the top where I filled my water bottles with ice and dumped chunks of ice into my jersey and pockets.  Only 3 more miles to the top, then it was downhill to Crystal Mountain and our deli lunch stop. 

As I continued to climb Cayuse, rider after rider flagged down the Sag wagon asking for a ride home.  An ambulance flew by, lights flashing when I was cresting the summit.  Believe me, I thought the same thing multiple times throughout the day.  I kept thinking of all kinds of reasons to quit; its dumb to do this alone….if I don’t get in a pace line quick I’m going to quit….if I get a flat, I’m giving up….if that bee stings me, that’s it.  But something in me just kept me going.  I also thought, if I’m going to ride this slow in this blistering heat I am going to at least finish this ride!

I was never so happy to see a sigh that said “junction 410”.  I flew down the mountain anticipating my deli sandwich, bag of potato chips and can of coke.  As much as it felt good to take a break, I was already so far behind my desired time I ate quickly and was back on my bike.  I spoke to a young women who was in tears and tried to offer her a few encouraging words.  I could totally understand why she wanted to cry; knowing how tired she felt in the overwhelming heat with another 40 miles to go that assuredly consisted of the typical headwind from Crystal Mountain to Enumclaw.

Again I started out alone, hoping to find a pace line to fight through the headwind.  I passed a few individual riders who didn’t seem like likely candidates to finish the ride.  Before I knew it the women from the rest stop came up behind me and asked me if I would like to finish together.  She was a young, strong rider and I sensed her determination.  Before we knew it two men came up and joined us, each of us taking turns to “pull” and working together to conquer the headwind.  Next we came upon 4 more female riders and the 8 of us picked up the pace.  There were shouts of joy when we saw our turn off to Mud Mountain and we literally flew through the last 10 miles, crossing the finish line together.

This was the longest, toughest, hottest ride I have even attempted.  My time was terrible and I wanted to quit over and over again.  But in the end, I found my inner strength as well as a new group of friends with the tenacity and determination to finish together what we had started alone.