Ride Around Mt. Rainier


I haven’t mentioned the weather

We were all really lucky. The majority of the morning was overcast with a little fog hanging in the valley when we started. Perfect riding temperature. The fog started to burn off by the time we got into Mt. Rainier National Park (high 70s?) but was not unbearable.

So I slowly made my way up towards Paradise. I pedaled easy so as to hold something back for the next climb (the much-feared ascent of Cayuse Pass) and was feeling pretty good.


One of the big motivating factors on this ride for me was knowing that a group of women I know were climbing Mt. Adams at the same time I was riding RAMROD. As I pedaled slowly up towards Paradise, the image of my friends making their way towards the summit of Mt. Adams spurred me on.

I passed a scenic lookout and a woman who was standing at the overlook shouts, “Good luck!” to some of us as we rode by…and not five seconds later I heard the unmistakable sound of air hissing out of a bicycle tire.

Blow Out!

A friend of mine blew out her back tire, and not just with a little puncture. It was a pretty good-sized hole. Fortunately for us we knew of a trick where you line the inside of the hole in your tire with a dollar bill to prevent further punctures to the tube. Neither of us had ever tried it but we didn’t have any other ideas, so we gave it a go. I am now a firm believer in the dollar bill trick, because it held for the rest of the ride. (And hopefully you have some one-dollar bills if you ever have to do it – I pity the person who has to use a twenty!) So this set me back a little bit in terms of time, but I still had plenty of time and wasn’t too concerned (yet).

I finish the climb and one of the RAMROD volunteers stationed at the top of Paradise checked my friends tire before the descent. ( A plug here for RAMROD volunteers – they are great!) We were both a little nervous about a long descent on a dicey tire. He pronounced it fit to ride on and we continued.

The Need for Speed

As much as my friend loves riding up hills I love riding down hills. The speed, your ability to read the road, finding a line down that is efficient and fast, I LOVE that stuff! And the descents on this ride are glorious – long, winding, and beautiful. It’s worth the heat and the work of laboriously ascending just to be able to ride down these roads.

Another short (short by RAMROD standards – three miles) ascent up to Backbone Ridge (elevation 3, 280 feet) followed the going up and coming down of Paradise. The Backbone Ridge descent is the best of the day. Long stretches of straight road followed by swooping corners that allowed me to go as fast as I pleased through canopies of huge trees (the area here is appropriately called the Grove of the Patriarchs.)

Grinding the Gears

And then the ascent of Cayuse Pass (elevation 4,694 feet)…..eight miles of exposed-to-the-elements climbing. By this time it was pretty hot (not sure, but I think low 90s?) and I was feeling a little tired. You get in the “zone” and grind away at the gears, hoping that you’ll eventually get to the top. About halfway up we encounter a construction site where they closed the road in either direction periodically for construction vehicles. We got stuck here and waited impatiently for the construction crew to let us pass, for maybe 15 – 20 minutes.

I felt like I was wilting just standing around out in the glaring sun and my momentum was going down the drain. After what felt like an eternity we got going again and all I could think about was taking a nap lying on my cushy couch. This image imprinted itself on my consciousness and it got me to the top of the pass.

I was elated when I got to the top of Cayuse but also started to panic a little – due to my friends mechanical problems and the stop for the construction, I now had to really make some time on the road to finish the ride in a timely fashion.

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The Gods of Bicycling

The last 30 miles of the ride are the most tedious. When you finish the fun descent of Cayuse, you’re going into a head wind over slightly rolling terrain pretty much to the end of the ride. I knew with as little as I had trained that the last 30 miles could be what kicks my butt, not the hills that came before it.

My plan was to ride as hard as I could for that last 30 miles but as tired as I was by the time I got to them I knew that “riding hard” at that point of the ride wouldn’t be that fast. Going slow over those 30 miles is like a death sentence – it already feels long, and going slow it feels like FOREVER.

The Gods of Bicycling must have been looking down on me, because I managed to pick up a few people here and started a pace line. Riding with a group of people in a line increases speed and saves energy. One woman led the line for quite awhile (this takes a lot of strength and energy) and was completely chipper while she rode in front. I was convinced that she should be riding in the Tour de France. Riding in this line saves the day for me because I managed to ride at speeds that I couldn’t have done alone.

The Finish Line

After we crossed the finish line my friend and I looked at each other in amazement. We finished the ride. Against anyone’s, mostly our, better judgment. For some reason family and friends had faith in us – before the ride I thought it was a misguided faith based on my unyielding desires to do this ride, but after, I realized that even though my training for the ride itself was lacking, my general fitness was pretty good. And just as important, my mental attitudes was good – I was going to do this ride, I done it before, I knew I could do it – and I did! Some of the most memorable moments of rides I have done with friends are of things that we laughed about.

So here’s to one of the most memorable rides of all – the lack of training, the beauty of the ride, and more laughing and goofy stories than you can imagine. Would I do it again? Probably not next year, but I wouldn’t rule it out in future years. And if it sounds like something you can never imagine yourself doing, don’t discard it as a possibility – as I learned on this ride, anything is possible!

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