An admitted shoe geek waxes philosophical about running, triathlon, and life in general.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The last long ride.

There comes a point in every build-up, whether it's for a marathon run or ride, some long event for which the normal sanity-maitaining level of workouts is just inadequate, that you have to stop the progression and call it good enough. You've added up the miles as best you can, and anything further will only drain you for event day. The taper must begin. Or at the very least, no more long road time. The horses are in the barn, so to speak.

For me, in my build-up to RAMROD, that was this past Sunday.

I chose for this final long ride a solo trip from my house to the lodge at Crystal Mountain and back. Sixty-two miles one-way, mostly uphill, and then a return that would have a final (relatively) short climb right at the very end. For those of you who care to look, it's logged in the Routes section of Beginner Triathlete.

When I left, though, I had no idea how varied and epic the ride would be... I had revised my gearing on the bike, but was having issues with the shifting -- I'd basically run into the limits of my rear derailleur, not with the largest rear cog on the cassette, but with the overall capacity of 16T difference up front and another 17 in back. I procured a long-cage Shimano 105 rear derailleur on Saturday, and installed it before setting out on Sunday morning. No worries there.

The clouds were breaking up before I left, the sun showing through in bits and pieces, so I opted to not carry a vest, and swapped the orange lens in my Oakleys to the standard smoke lens. These two things would prove to be ill-advised... Stay tuned.

As I started out heading south along the trail, I was pushing into a headwind. Not to worry, as I knew once I rounded the bend out of Orting, the wind would turn to my back and push me into South Prairie. And in fact, this tailwind stayed with me all the way up Highway 410 to the base of the climb to Crystal Mountain.

The roads were getting progressively wetter as I went from Buckley to Enumclaw, and by the time I started up Mud Mountain Road, it was clear that a rain storm had passed through earlier. With luck, I'd stay behind it and the clouds would break up at my back.

Once I passed Greenwater, the roads were dry again, with only occasional misting from the clouds that were just overhead, all the way until I made the turn off the highway for the final ascent to Crystal Mountain. Six miles left, into the clouds I went.

This last 6 miles is also the Crystal Mountain Hillclimb TT course. I've ridden it many times, and several of those were USCF (now USAC) District Hillclimb TT Championships. I thought this would be the best preparation for dealing with Cayuse Pass during RAMROD, which is 8 miles of constant 8% grade, starting just before the 100 mile mark.

As I pedaled along, the clouds got progressively thicker. There was an eery silence -- no wind, no sounds of birds, even the few cars that passed me seemed to be muted, and disappeared into the silence very quickly. My bike was much quieter than normal as well. The pavement was in a worse state of repair than I remembered, but, to be fair, it's been a good 12 years since I've been up here...

 Finally, the road widened, and the centerline disappeared. I knew I was close. But because visibility was so bad, I had no idea HOW close I was. Suddenly there were cones in the road and a sign directing me to the right... I was there. A circle around the parking lot, and I stopped at the lodge.

Snack shed first! A Darigold Refuel for now and a Snickers bar for later, then into the pro shop -- could I find a vest there? I was ready to make the purchase. Yes, it was that kind of cold, too. But no dice. The only things there were expensive jackets that were overkill both in coverage and price. Hmmm... The lady who worked there asked if she could help me (I could see the thoughts in her head -- "How can I get this stinky guy in lycra out of here?"). I spied the trash can... "I think one of those plastic bags would work perfectly. Surprised, she dug out a fresh trash bag and handed it to me, asking if I wanted to use a pair of scissors. "Nope, this will work just fine as is."

You see, many years ago, on another ill-fated ride up this same road, a buddy and I had gotten utterly soaked in a rain squall just a couple miles from the summit. He had brought a vest, and again, I hadn't (some lessons just don't take, right?). We bought some socks in the pro shop to act as mittens, and I dug out a cardboard box from the garbage, tearing off a piece to put under my jersey (which I kept in there all the way back to Enumclaw).

I knew that what I really needed was just a layer to block the wind. I tore open the seam at the bottom of the bag, and stuffed it up under my jersey all the way to the neckline, tucking in the bottom. Good to go, I thought.

As I started out, the mist got heavy. And heavier. Within a half-mile, it was a steady rain. I could barely see where I was going due to the rain and the dark lens (that "other" ill-advised pre-ride adjustment) on a long descent on crappy pavement with my brakes only partially effective. Add to that an apparent front wheel shimmy (which was due to my shaking with cold, not anything to do with the bike), and it was an exercise in controlled terror for the six miles back to the highway.

 The rain abated just as I made the bottom, and I continued on as best I could, trying to relax my arms and shoulders from the cold and tense fear I'd just ridden through. It took a while...

I stopped at Greenwater, and ate the Snickers, amazingly cold and not at all melted, even being in my jersey pocket for 30 miles, finally getting the feeling back in my hands and feet. Tearing into that bar, I had trouble gripping the wrapper... I had noticed the screen on my Avocet 45tt computer getting dim, so I started my wrist stopwatch to capture my actual ride time.

Another stop in Enumclaw at the McDonalds for a cheeseburger and Coke... Finally able to get rid of the garbage bag under my jersey and take off my gloves and arm warmers. Balmy now at 64 degrees...

The last 22 miles went easily, and then the last, cruel and steep ascent home had me with only one gear to spare... But it was done. I'd made it with energy to spare.

Tired, 122 miles on the odometer (clocked the next day), but feeling pretty good (far better than at the end of the 88 miles I rode the week before), I knew the gear and clothing I'd be using for RAMROD. With just barely over 8 hours total time (7:11 on the bike time), and adding another 32 miles, I think I'm fairly safe for a 10 hour RAMROD, or there abouts.

The hard work is done, now it's just a matter of making sure I don't do any final damage before the event date, next Thursday.

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