Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day

Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day

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Activities Activities: Mountaineering


The key is being able to endure psychologically. When you're not riding well, you think, why suffer? Why push yourself for four or five hours? The mountains are the pinnacle of suffering.

— Greg LeMond

It was a sunny July day in Mount Rainier National Park. The hot summer sun beat down on my back. I was working hard climbing uphill in the afternoon heat. Rivulets of sweat ran down my face, dripping off my chin like I was a leaky faucet. I was tired. My day started long before sunrise. I had been moving nonstop since then, yet the hardest part of the climb was still ahead of me. I did not know if I had it in me to make it to the finish line. I promised myself I would take a break when I arrived at Cayuse Pass, I just need to keep going for now.

Cycling in Mount Rainier National Park

I was not in the kind of shape I wanted to be for this adventure. Like so often on climbing trips I had to dig deep to find the will to keep going. I have climbed Mount Rainer three times. Each time I felt like I could not make it—yet by putting one foot in front of the other I arrived at the mountain’s summit. Only this time I was seated on a bicycle riding around Mount Rainier instead of hiking up the mountain. I was a participant in the 2019 RAMROD (Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day) cycling rally.

It was close to noon when I crossed the ninety-mile mark at the Backbone Ridge checkpoint.  I had been in the saddle for six and a half hours and still had sixty long miles and the steepest climb of the day ahead of me. I needed to dig deep to find the reserves of energy necessary to keep clipped into the pedals and turning the crank arms of my bicycle without yielding to exhaustion and giving up.

The day started nine hours earlier when my alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 2:45 a.m. I stumbled out of bed and quickly threw on my spandex shorts and cycling jersey. Normally, when waking up at oh-dark-hundred in the summer I’m sleeping in a tent on the side of a mountain and making an alpine start for the summit. This time my adventure commenced from the comfort of my apartment in Seattle. Still groggy, I loaded the bicycle on my car’s bike rack and hit the road, sipping cold coffee from a can while driving to the starting line in Enumclaw. The whole drive down I wondered if this was a good idea.

I had already given up once. RAMROD has a reputation as a challenging course featuring ten thousand feet of elevation gain over a distance of one hundred fifty-two miles. A lot of people told me how hard the ride was and I questioned my priorities. I let it get to me and I psyched myself out. I did not think I had trained enough for it and decided to quit and not make the attempt. At the last minute I changed my mind and thought, “Fuck quitting, I’m doing this!” Ready or not, the day of RAMROD had arrived and I was going to find out if I had what it took to make it to the finish line.

Push the bike!

This is SummitPost, so it is reasonable to ask why I'm writing about road cycling. Well, part of the answer is that for over one year I took a break from climbing. My journey to RAMROD began a year earlier when I had to find an answer to the question: what do you do when you can't climb? The answer I came up with is to ride a bicycle (just don't tell Steve House).

I'm a very casual, recreational climber.  I like climbing, but it is not the center of my existence.  In theory, it's something I could give up.  That said, mountaineering has become a part of the fabric of my life.  Climbing has conditioned me to expect to do something epic every year. It doesn't feel like much of a summer if I don't bag at least a few peaks on my tick list. Without summits to tag in the summer of 2019 I had a mountain-sized hole in my life which I would attempt to fill with a road bike. So that I had worthy athletic goal to pursue of the magnitude of climbing mountains I signed up for both the Seattle-to-Portland one-day (200+ miles) and RAMROD (150+ miles around Mount Rainier) ultra-distance cycling rides.

Is there a place for cycling in mountaineering? Mountain biking falls under the rubric of “Mountain Sports” and there is usually a lot of crossover between climbers and mountain bikers. Also, a mountain bike can be useful for approaches to trailheads—on climbs where the road is gated or washed out and you can't drive. I mountain bike for fun and I've used mountain bikes for approach rides on Mount Constance, the Twin Sisters, and Boston Basin climbs. I've also used a mountain bike to return to the car from the top of the Goat Wall in Mazama.

My ideal for the perfect Memorial Day holiday is the mountain sports trifecta, where I would backcountry ski, climb, and mountain bike over the three-day weekend. Even more ambitiously, the brewery Everybody's Brewing in White Salmon on the Columbia River has a beer called Three Sport Day which depicts mountain biking and climbing on the can along with other adventure sports. However, nowhere on that artwork do you find a road bike. Does the Venn diagram of overlapping mountain sports include road cycling?

My decision to take a break from climbing was motivated by quitting my job, which I did at the end of July in 2018. I wanted to take some time off to work on a novel and level-up skills for my career as a software engineer by doing volunteer work as a web developer. I would end up being out of work for six months and when I returned to work I started by taking contract jobs. I would not return to full-time employment until November of 2019. I had medical insurance for the duration I was unemployed and working contract, but I didn’t have other types of insurance like income replacement in the case of an accident that prevented me from working. So, I felt very risk-averse until I returned to full-time employment and all the benefits that entails. All of this led me to decide that climbing was too high-risk an activity when I didn't have an adequate safety net. Obviously, I'll never make a good dirtbag, I'm far too bourgeois.

Training for the Uphill Athlete Push the Bike
Push the bike!

I also decided that mountain biking was too risky, so my mountain bike went into storage along with my climbing gear. Without climbing or mountain biking in my life I decided I would focus my sports energy on road cycling which I saw as a safer alternative. It is funny in hindsight because among professional road cyclists there is a saying that you are not a real cyclist until you break your collarbone, since it is such a common injury. During RAMROD I would witness a spectacular crash that sent a rider to the hospital. It easily could have been me.

By the spring of 2019 I was putting in long hours seated on the bike saddle training for STP and RAMROD, both of which are held in July. That May I saw Steve House and Scott Johnson speak at the Patagonia store in downtown Seattle. House is a professional climber and Johnson is former cross-country skiing World Cup coach; they collaborated to create training programs for Mountain sports athletes. At that time, they were on a book tour promoting their latest title, Training for the Uphill Athlete: A Manual for Mountain Runners and Ski Mountaineers.

I was looking forward to hearing them speak. I had seen them before in the same location in May of 2014 when they were promoting their first book, Training for the New Alpinism. That weighty tome taught me a lot about training properly for climbing (and improving my fitness in general). So, I was looking forward to the new book. However, in New Alpinism they poo-pooed cycling as training for mountain sports. Flipping through the new book I checked the index and there was nothing about cycling in there either.

After the talk when they were signing books I asked House about cycling and he said that a bicycle is just too efficient for alpinism training. Cycling requires too much time to get a workout equivalent to what you could get from other forms of training like running. Also, since the bicycle is supporting your body's weight you are not putting as much load on all of your muscles like if you are running. He also added that the best use of cycling for an uphill athlete is a recovery day workout. House is a smartass, so when he signed my book the wrote, "Push the bike!"

Light out for the Territory

But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before.

— The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Why bikes? Since I'm Generation X, I'll use TV to explain everything. I'm the same age as the kids in the show Stranger Things. That is, in the show, the first season is set in 1983 and the characters are all twelve. I was twelve in 1983 and a nerd who liked Dungeons & Dragons. Watching Stranger Things takes me back; it's like a shaped charge of nostalgia aimed directly at my forehead. Just like in the show, when I was a kid we did not have a lot of supervision and rode bicycles around all the time on our own. It was a form of freedom for restless tweens.

Huckleberry Finn Stamp
Mark Twain's Huck Finn

I had a free-range childhood, which was common at the time. We had limited supervision and a lot of independence. My BMX bicycle was an important part of that and thankfully it never led to a run-in with a Demogorgon. I know it is not like that anymore for kids. Children today are now closely monitored by “helicopter parents” who are always hovering nearby. I never thought of myself as having a rough-and-tumble childhood, but compared to how kids are raised today, I was Huckleberry Finn.

I wasn't an athlete growing up, or so I thought. That's because I wasn't into traditional sports like baseball, basketball, football, or soccer. None of the various versions of sportsball held any interest for me. In middle school and high school, I really liked hiking and mountain biking, but I didn't think of them as a sport at the time. In college, friends were surprised to learn I owned a car because I rode my bicycle so much. I wish I had learned sooner in my life that I liked being athletic; I would have embraced mountain sports at an earlier age. My enthusiasm for hiking eventually led me to climb mountains and my love of cycling led me to longer and longer rides until I was riding Centuries and Double Centuries.

The joy of riding a bicycle imprinted on me at an early age and never lost that youthful feeling of freedom and adventure. That childhood BMX bike grew up into the mountain and road bikes I ride as an adult. Just like escaping to the mountains for a weekend adventure, hopping on a bicycle it is also a respite from the deadlines-and-bills drudgery of daily life. A few hours in the saddle sheds stress and worry like the sweat pouring off my body. Taking a break from workaday worries I'll clip in to my bike's pedals and like Huck says at the end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, "...light out for the Territory…".


Ah how shameless—the way these mortals blame the gods.
From us alone, they say, come all their miseries, yes,
but they themselves, with their own reckless ways,
compound their pains beyond their proper share.

— Zeus in Homer's The Odyssey

I'm a fan of the Greek Myths. They are great stories and contain some valuable lessons. One of the things that always got the mythological heroes in trouble was hubris—overconfidence and arrogance. Whether it was Icarus flying too close to the sun or Odysseus taunting the Cyclops, pride was the source of their misfortune. In modern times, it's like when you think, “How hard could it be?” and then fall flat on your face.

My goal when training for STP and RAMROD in 2019 was to avoid a sufferfest. I was trying to prevent the kind of misery that triggers an existential crisis so severe it makes you question all of your life choices up to that point. I'm speaking from experience. As they say, good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment. Bad judgment was my 2002 STP one-day ride.

In the early Aughts I rode STP one-day for the first time. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Back then the Interwebs were not a tsunami of information like today and I hadn't done enough research to know exactly what I was up against. I didn't train properly for a Double Century, or really at all. At the time I was working in the Seattle suburb of Kent as an engineer for the aerospace company Boeing and commuting by bike from my apartment in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. That was twenty-two miles one-way, which is not bad as exercise, but as training for a Double Century it was nowhere near enough.

Also, in 2002, I was a student in the Boeing Alpine Society (BOEALPS) Basic Climbing Class. I spent that whole spring in the three-month class learning the fundamentals of mountaineering. That doesn't apply to cycling except the mental endurance I developed scaling mountains taught me no matter how tired I was I could keep going. There were many long weekends that spring during the post-summit hikes out that I was so tired I would start falling asleep while standing up. In spite of that zombie-like somnolence I always found the will power to make it back to the trailhead.

Between my cycling commute and mountaineering I thought I was in good enough shape. However, expectation and reality were about to collide on the road to Portland. STP starts early, we rolled out at 5 a.m. When I reached the half-way point in Chehalis it was the middle of the day and I was glad I hadn't opted for the two-day STP. I was still feeling good and confident that I would make it to Portland. One Century turned out not to be that tough. It wasn't until the second Century where that the sufferfest really kicked in.

Seattle to Portland one-day 2002 Bike Ride
STP one-day 2002

Earlier that year I bought a new bike specifically for STP, a blue LeMond Tourmalet road bike. I was very happy with it except for the seat. It had minimal padding and seemed rock hard. I discussed it with the sales guy and asked if there were other bike seats I could replace it with. The alternate saddle he suggested hardly seemed any better. He discouraged me from getting a seat with anymore padding and I reluctantly took his advice. I grimly recalled this conversation during the second Century. One of the worst parts about the ride to Portland was the fact that my butt hurt so much. Every time I stood up it was pure agony to sit down again—and I was wearing spandex shorts with a padded chamois. The first thing I did after riding STP was buy a new bike seat with gel padding. This is something everyone should consider investing in unless you have a cast-iron rear. You won't win points for style with a gel bike seat, but your backside with thank you.

The second Century is when I reached the limit of my training or rather, my lack of it. I was going slower and slower; way behind most of the other one-day riders. As the hours ticked by, it seemed like I wasn't getting any closer to Portland. I felt like Sisyphus on a bicycle. As I mentioned earlier the Greek Mythological heroes would face divine retribution for their overweening pride, the punishment often personified by the goddess Nemesis. Near the end, I was so far behind schedule that the remaining rest stops ahead of me had already closed so I had no chance to get anything else to eat. I was dangerously close to "bonking", a word I didn't even know at the time. I could just about hear the sound of Nemesis' wings flapping behind me. I desperately wanted to quit. I was totally miserable and the only thing that kept me going was the fear that I would miss the last bus back to Seattle at 9 p.m.

The light was fading when I rolled across the finish line in the City of Roses. I got there with only a half-hour to spare. The mental endurance I developed trudging up and down volcanoes in the Cascades gave me a reserve of will power that I drew on to arrive at the finish line. Just like on the mountain, where you keep putting one foot in front of the other, I knew that if I could just keep turning the pedals I would end up in Portland. After dropping my bike off at the bike corral for return transportation to Seattle I climbed into the STP chartered bus and slumped into a seat by the window. I did not have a change of clothes, so I was still wearing my cycling kit. I quickly nodded off and slept for the whole three-hour drive back to Seattle.

It was past midnight when I stumbled out of the bus back at the starting line at Huskey Stadium. I had not made any plans for how to get home from there. I had expected to ride home, but I found out to my surprise that the bikes would not be available for pickup until the next day. This was long before smartphones and Uber. I could have called a cab from a payphone, but I decided to walk home instead. I had recovered during the long snooze from Portland and it was a warm summer evening. So, I walked the three miles back to my apartment in Fremont still dressed in spandex and wearing my cycling shoes.

Clearly, there was a lot of room for improvement if I were to ever ride STP again. In 2002 my hubris provoked Nemesis' wrath and I was punished in the form of a sufferfest on the road to Portland. My goal in 2019 would be not just to finish STP and RAMROD, but to be able to enjoy both rides.

N + 1

Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.

— Taming the Bicycle, by Mark Twain

Before you can chase the horizon on two wheels you'll need a bike to do it. The good news is you don't need to spend a lot of money. A twenty-year-old bike that is well maintained is still a good bike. All the technical advances of recent years in cycling are incremental improvements and really only matter for racing. The bad news is that you'll never be satisfied with that old bike. The more you ride the more money you'll want to spend on bikes. Just like camping and climbing gear, bicycles and cycling gear are a whole other rabbit hole of equipment to obsess over. In 2018 I bought a new bicycle which started me on my journey to Portland and Rainier.

Bicycles have come a long way since Mark Twain's day. The ridiculous and dangerous Victorian-era penny-farthing bike (big front wheel/small rear wheel) he attempted learning to ride on was eventually replaced by the "safety bike"—the first designs that resemble bicycles as we know them today. We don't call them velocipedes anymore, but the one constant about bicycles since their invention in the Nineteenth Century is change—bike technology and frame designs keep evolving and improving. Today what this means is there is a type of bicycle for every situation, terrain, and style of riding. This makes it hard to resist the urge to keep buying bikes.

According to the cycling group Velominati, "...the correct number of bikes to own is n+1." This principal is part of their list of cycling rules. As articulated in their rule #12:

While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1, where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1, where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.

Every year I think I couldn't possibly spend any more money on outdoor sports equipment, but I'm flabbergasted when I annually blow my budget at my friendly neighborhood gear stores. In recent years I was dropping cash on cycling. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, and Franklin elbowed each other as they stampeded out of my wallet to pay for a new bicycle and cycling gear.

I did own the Velominati recommended minimum number of three bikes: a road bike, an old hard-tail mountain bike, and a modern full-suspension mountain bike. In 2018 I decided it was finally time to replace my road bike with a new bike. I live in an apartment, so I don't have room for more than three bikes.  To make room for a new one I had to get rid of my old road bike, which was agonizing.

When you own a great bicycle and get it dialed in, it stops being just being a machine and instead becomes a part of your body. As you log more and more miles in the saddle, your consciousness extends over the bicycle. The steel, aluminum, and rubber of the bicycle becomes a part of your body just like muscle, bone, and blood. You feel the wheels on the pavement like they are the bottom of your own feet. So, when you part with a favorite bike, it is like giving away a piece of yourself.

LeMond Tourmalet
LeMond Tourmalet

The bicycle in question was my old blue LeMond Tourmalet road bike. I owned my Tourmalet for sixteen years and rode thousands of miles on it, both to work and road rides all around Washington State. I originally bought the bike new for the STP one-day in 2002. It proved its worth after carrying me two-hundred miles from Seattle to Portland and was my daily driver for the next sixteen years. When I finally bid farewell to my LeMond, it was painful, like saying goodbye to an old friend.

The ride that replaced my Tourmalet is a black Ritchey Swiss Cross Disc cyclocross bike. If riding a Century or Double Century is on your tick list, you are going to have the most success on a bike that falls into the space of a road bike, but it does not need to be a new bike or even a road bike. For a quiver-of-one bike I recommend a cyclocross or gravel style bike. I've been riding the Swiss Cross for four years as of this writing and have suffered no buyer's remorse, so hopefully the Ritchey will last me for sixteen years too.

Bicycle designs lie on a continuum. On one end are pure road bikes—light and fast, but fragile. At the other end are full-suspension mountain bikes—they can soak up abuse, but are slow and heavy. Somewhere in-between are cyclocross and gravel bikes. The abbreviation for a cyclocross bike is CX (not to be confused with XC which is the abbreviation for cross-country style mountain bikes). A CX or gravel-style bike has been on my radar for a long time—I wanted a bike which would allow me to ride long distances on both paved roads and gravel trails.

At a very basic definition, cyclocross and gravel bikes look like road bikes because they use the curved drop-bar handle bars like a road bike and have no suspension. The difference is that their bottom brackets have a higher clearance for riding over obstacles, their forks and frames can accommodate wider tires, and they are built slightly beefier than a road bike. CX/gravel bikes can withstand more abuse than a road bike, but not as much as a mountain bike. You can ride cyclocross or gravel for commuting, long road rides, and in the dirt. A CX bike is designed for racing while a gravel bike is touring focused.

Cycling is another nerd sport like climbing. In climbing you can obsess endlessly over your gear. Likewise, in cycling there are so many options and ways that you can customize a bicycle that it is an infinite subject. I custom built the Swiss Cross, but still continued to customize it after I gained experience riding it. I replaced the handle bars, got wider tires, replaced the seat, added cross levers, installed a stem-integrated computer mount, and upgraded the disc brakes.

You can easily suffer from information overload when shopping for a bicycle. There are a bewildering amount of reviews and opinions out there so you'll likely experience analysis paralysis when shopping for a bicycle and bike components. There are as many opinions about what is the "right" bike to ride as there are people riding bikes. I can only tell you what worked for me. Your mileage may vary.

Everyone's body geometry (length of your arms & legs relative to your torso) is different, so just because a bike gets good reviews it might not be right for you. Also, getting the right fit on your bicycle is huge. Small changes in your bicycle's configuration can make a dramatic difference in your comfort. Like really small, in the range of ½ inch adjustments or a few degrees to seat and handle bar positions can make the difference between being miserable or comfortable on long rides. Your friendly neighborhood bicycle shop can help you with a bike fitting.

One of the choices you'll have to make when shopping for a bicycle is what material the frame is constructed of. The four types of frame material are: steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and titanium. Steel frames are heavier, but offer a smoother ride and springier feel than stiffer materials like aluminum or carbon fiber. "Steel is real" as the saying goes. Aluminum is lighter than steel and cheaper than carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is even lighter than aluminum and can be sculped into shapes not possible for metallic bike frames, but is costlier than aluminum. Titanium offer the benefits of both steel and aluminum bikes in terms of a comfortable ride and light weight, but commands a premium price.

My old LeMond Tourmalet and my new Ritchey Swiss Cross are both steel frames. There is a big difference between them though. The Swiss Cross is constructed of modern triple-butted steel tubing which makes it much lighter than a classic steel frame. Butting is a manufacturing technique for making steel tubes thinner, and thus lighter. I like steel for the ride feel, but these days you won't win any races on even the best steel frame. If you race, you need a carbon fiber frame, but for everyone else, don't think it is a requirement. The majority of people riding STP and RAMROD are doing so on mid-range aluminum road bikes. Mid-range being around the fifteen hundred dollar price range.

The next choice you'll have to make is how wide your tires are. As far as I'm concerned, 32mm is the sweet spot for mixed road and gravel riding. Traditionally, road bikes have used 23mm tires and most road racers used 21mm tires, though in recent years even the pros are starting to ride wider tires. The most common tire width in the Tour de France is now 25mm. Cyclocross riders tend to use tire widths between 28mm and 35mm, while gravel riders favor 40mm+ tires. Wider tires offer more comfort, but at the expense of increased rolling resistance and weight. I started off with 28mm wide tires, but over time I found that to be too narrow for mixed riding, which also includes urban riding. I jokingly refer to Seattle's worst streets as "pavé" after the infamous cobbled roads of the "Hell of the North" Paris-Roubaix cycling race where riders destroy their bikes and themselves racing over muddy cobbled roads. Between bad streets and mixed riding on pavement and gravel, I found that I needed wider tires for a more comfortable ride. I upgraded to the Continental Gatorskin 700 x 32. I have been riding on them for several years now with no complaint.

The next choice you need to make is what type of breaks to install. The choices are rim breaks or disc brakes. There has been a trend in recent years for all new bikes to use disc brakes, but if you are exclusively riding on the road, rim breaks are all you need. You only need the additional stopping power of disc brakes if you are riding in the mud on cyclocross or mountain bikes.  For Pete’s sake, when I was growing up all we had were cantilever rim breaks for our mountain bikes.  Also, if you are buying a new road bike you should consider the modern direct mount rim breaks. The dual-bolts of direct mount brakes have significantly improved stopping power over traditional single-bolt mounted rim breaks.

Ritchey Swiss Cross Disc CX
Ritchey Swiss Cross Disc CX

The Swiss Cross is a disc brake frame, but I went against modern trends and opted for mechanical as opposed to hydraulic disk brakes. Since I never planned to do any racing in the mud didn't think I needed hydraulic breaks. Mechanically actuated disc brakes are cheaper and easier to maintain. Also, using mechanical breaks meant I could install cross levers, also known as interrupter breaks. These are modern versions of what used to be called "suicide breaks" on ten-speed bikes, but the engineering has improved dramatically since those days. Cross levers give me a new position to sit in instead of riding with my hands on the hoods all the time. I can ride in an upright position holding the middle of the bars. It makes it easier to eat while riding because I can use one hand for food while still keeping the other hand on a break lever. I eventually upgraded my mechanical disc breaks to use Paul Components Klamper breaks (who I also got my cross levers from). The Klampers are expensive and a little heavy, but they work great and have almost as much stopping power as hydraulic breaks.

The only downside of installing cross levers is that they prevented me from attaching any other accessories (like a bike computer or light) on the handlebars. With the handlebars not usable for mounting bike components I had to get creative to add the accessories I needed in my bike's cockpit. The solution I discovered was to use the FormMount bicycle computer mount from F3 Cycling. FormMount is dual-sided, so it holds my bike computer on the top side while also supporting a GoPro-style attachment on the underside which I mount my headlight to. The initial installation was a bit fiddly, but I've been using for several years now and haven't had to adjust it since then.

The next area to consider on your bicycle is your pedals. This is a really important consideration because pedals are the point where you transfer power from your legs to your bicycle. If you are just starting out and are not riding a lot, the standard "flat" pedal that come stock with your bike are fine. However, once you start riding longer distances you'll really want to invest in "clipless" pedals and shoes because you lose a lot of power riding with flats only.

By the way, if you hear the term "clipless", it is an anachronism. Pedal "clips" were the old-fashioned wire cages and straps that were used to hold your foot in place on bicycle pedals. So, when modern clip-in pedals were first developed back in the 1980s they were called "clipless" to contrast them from existing clip-style pedals. As recently as 2002 my LeMond Tourmalet still came stock with clips on the pedals, but I immediately swapped them out for modern clip-in pedals.

There are a big variety of cycling pedals out there, but all clip-in pedals share the feature that they require special shoes with a cleat on the bottom that connects to the pedal. The two most popular types are the Shimano SPD and LOOK road pedals. On my new bike I started with the SPD pedals I switched over from my Tourmalet. The SPD pedals were originally developed for mountain biking. They are also good for commuting because you can use them with shoes that have recessed cleats that you can wear around the office. Since I was primarily training for long road rides I eventually switched to road specific pedals. Road pedals offer a larger contact area and road cycling shoes are stiffer; all of which translates to more efficient power transfer. The only drawback is they are trickier to clip into than SPD-style pedals and the cleat is not recessed, so they are awkward to walk around in.

I installed the LOOK Keo 2 Max road pedals; a style LOOK classifies as "Gran fondo" (Century+ recreational rides popular in Europe). You don't need road pedals to ride STP or RAMROD, but they help. You can agonize less about your pedal choice as they are not as permanent a component selection as, say, your bottom bracket. If you are comfortable with basic bike maintenance you can easily switch out your pedals. I still have my SPD pedals which I use for commuting and I'll even slap on flats for tooling around town in flip flops during the summer. Just don't forget to throw a little grease on the threads each time you swap out your pedals.

If you are going to ride paved bike trails like Seattle's Burke-Gilman trail a lot, it's worth considering adding a bell to your bike. In my experience shouting "On your left" when trying to pass someone blocking the trail doesn't always work, but the ring of a bell gets their attention every time. A simple bell and external striker style bicycle bell work best, like the one from Spurcycle. By that I mean a bell that makes a single loud "ding" rather than the "ring-ring" style. That said, use it sparingly; only when someone is blocking the trail and you can't get their attention. Don't be that person who rings their bell every single time they pass someone regardless of them blocking the trail or not—it's annoying.

The single cheapest accessories you can buy for your bike are also the items that will significantly improve to your safety—a set of lights. You'll want at least a red LED flasher for the back of your bike and if you don't have a headlight, get a white LED flasher for the front. There's no excuse for not getting LED lights. Basic ones only cost a few bucks and will dramatically increase your visibility to cars and thus could save your life.

A final upgrade I recommend considering is replacing your handle bars. There is as much variety in handle bars as any other component on your bike. After months of riding, I did not like the way my arms were positioned when riding hard uphill in the drops position (holding onto the curved bottom part of the drop bar handled bars). I wanted something more ergonomic, so I replaced them with the Cowchippers from Salsa Cycles. The 24-degree flare of the Cowchipper drops felt way more natural than regular drops with minimal flare.

A final piece of advice, don't rush out to add upgrades to your bike. Try riding the stock configuration of a new bike for a few months and figure out where your pain points are. If some feature is annoying you then that's a good sign that you could do better, but don't just start blowing money on components until there is a real problem you are trying to solve.

Pain Cave

It never gets easier, you just go faster.

— Greg LeMond

Seventeen years after my first Seattle to Portland in one day I was definitely older, but was I any wiser? Doubtful, but I would try to learn from my mistakes and train properly in 2019 for STP and RAMROD.

My experience in 2002 put me off Double Centuries for years, but in 2019 I was ready to give it a go again. I bought the Ritchey in 2018 and over the winter of 2018-2019 I discovered the YouTube channel Global Cycling Network (GCN for short). It's a British show devoted to road cycling. I watched a lot of GCN videos over the dark winter months. It got me stoked for the 2019 cycling season—inspiring me to sign up for both STP one-day and RAMROD.

If you want to ride ultra-distance cycling events like STP or a major hill climb like RAMROD, you are going to need to put time in the saddle to train for it. The good news is that the amount of training you need is manageable. If you start three months before the ride, that's long enough to log the miles needed to be ready for the big day. Even before starting training in earnest, you can begin your conditioning journey at the gym on stationary bikes or on a trainer at home during the winter and early spring. Then when the weather improves, you'll want to take it outside. There is no substitute for road miles. Besides, it's way more fun to ride in the sun.

STP and RAMROD are both in July, but STP is first. In 2019, STP was scheduled for Saturday, July 13th and RAMROD was held on Thursday, July 25th. So, most of my training in the spring and early summer was focused on preparing for STP. I'm not a bike racer so I did not need to crush STP one-day. I prefer the ethos of "party pace" riding popularized by the YouTube channel The Path Less Pedaled. It's riding at a relaxed pace (as opposed to an aggressive "race pace") for fun and scenery rather than endlessly obsessing about minimizing bike weight and maximizing watts. If I averaged 15 mph and kept my rest stop breaks to a minimum I would get to Portland in an acceptable amount of time. My goal was to finish and still be smiling at the end.

In the rest of this section I'll talk a lot about fancy equipment and electronic gizmos you can use for training, but really all you need is a bike and time in the saddle and nothing else to do all the training you need. The first STP was held in 1979, so people were riding STP one-day long before any of today's carbon fiber frames and hi-tech cycling gadgets existed. The Cascade Bicycle Club's website includes training plans for riding one- and two-day STP and they also offer a group ride series focused on training for STP. So, do not think a lack of cash to buy the latest and greatest toys is a barrier preventing you from riding Seattle to Portland. You don't need any of it. If you put in the training time, you can ride STP.

A "pain cave" is both a physical condition and a place. If you have ever climbed a mountain and were so exhausted you felt you could not go on, but still managed to push through it, you've visited the pain cave. In recent years the meaning has extended to where you train hard, usually a home gym. My journey to Portland began on a stationary bike at my neighborhood gym in the early spring when it was still cold and rainy out. If you are having a hard time getting started, it is always easier to stay motivated in a group, via classes at the gym or group rides outdoors. After the weather improved I started chasing miles on pavement, saving the trainer for rainy days.

Lake Washington Loop
Lake Washington Loop

I live in Seattle so a lot of my training rides were around Lake Washington. If you are not familiar with the geography of Seattle, the city is two peninsulas that run north-south and face each other across Lake Union with the saltwater Puget Sound to the west and the freshwater Lake Washington to the east. There are a lot of cycling routes around and across Lake Washington. If you start at Seattle's Gas Works Park, the shortest route is a twenty-five-mile loop across the two bridges that span Lake Washington. Riding completely around the lake is close to sixty miles, with lots of variations possible for in-between distances. When I reached the point in my training where I needed a longer ride than sixty miles I stepped up to a figure-eight ride around Lake Washington and nearby Lake Sammamish for eighty-eight miles.  See the links section below for a video I made about the Lake Washington Bridges Loop.

As mentioned earlier, in 2014 I first saw Steve House and Scott Johnson speak at the Patagonia store in downtown Seattle about their book Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete. I bought the book, which in turn inspired me to buy a GPS sports watch and a chest strap heartrate monitor. Both have really helped me improve my fitness. You can spend a lot of money on GPS enabled sports watches, cycling computers, and power meters (I know I have), but if you are on a budget the one item you should invest your money in is a good heart rate monitor chest strap.

If you are interested in heart rate zone training, you really need a heartrate chest strap. Wrist based heart rate measurement is just not accurate enough. Wrist-based heart rate measurement reads your pulse, but a chest strap measures your actual heart rate by reading the electrical signal emitted every time your heart beats, like the electrocardiograph machines at a hospital.

The higher your heart rate the less accurate wrist-based heart rate measurement is, but higher heart rates are exactly where heart rate zone training occurs. For example, I went on an alpine climbing trip with a friend who has the exact same Garmin Fenix 5 watch as me. I was wearing a heart rate chest strap and he was only relying on wrist-based pulse measurement. We were at comparable fitness levels, yet he was consistently reporting lower heart rate than me and at the end he recorded 25% less calories burned than I did, which I believe is due to the inaccuracy of the wrist-based measurement during high-intensity activities.

It is not just about logging miles on the bike, you'll also want to do some cross training. As I rode more I started neglecting weight training. Then my back started to hurt while riding. To fix that I went back to the gym and focused on back and core strengthening exercises. I also tried to budget time in my training schedule for running and hiking. There are many steep hiking trails near Seattle along the I-90 corridor like Mount Si, Mailbox Peak, McClellan Butte, and Granite Mountain which are perfect for heartrate zone training. Because the trails on those hikes are consistently steep, it's easy to vary your pace to keep your heartrate in your targeted zone.

Although the type of sport specific training you will pursue for cycling is different than climbing, they have the common factor that they are both endurance sports where your strength-to-weight ratio is way more important than strength in absolute terms. So, for example, what that means in the gym is that being able to do a lot of pull-ups is far more important than increasing your max bench press. Bulking up and putting on a lot of muscle mass is a disadvantage in endurance sports.

Another implication of focusing on strength-to-weight is that the easiest way to go uphill faster is to shed a few pounds. You can spend a small fortune trying to shave ounces on your climbing or bicycling equipment. Or if like me, you are carrying around a spare tire in your midsection you can focus on fat loss. Better for your health and a lot cheaper than a carbon fiber bike. You'll need to learn to love salads. I like a cheeseburger as much as the next guy, but I don't eat them anymore except for a rare treat as a late lunch on an intermittent fasting day.

One of the cycling skills you absolutely need to learn is how to ride in a paceline. This is a make-or-break skill for riding a Double Century. A paceline is a group of cyclists riding single file so that the riders behind the leader can save energy riding in the leader's wake. When you draft another rider, you save up to 30% of your energy. It's quite a feeling when you position yourself behind another cyclist and fall into their slipstream. You don't realize how hard you were working against air resistance until its gone. The change is sudden and dramatic; riding immediately gets easier. You often have to stop peddling or even feather your breaks to prevent colliding with the rider in front of you.

You need to stay close to the wheel in front of you, like less than two feet away, while also being conscious of the rider behind you. This requires using hand signals to communicate with the rider following you to let them know you are going to slow down or to alert them of dangers like pot holes in the road. It takes your full attention. Watching the Tour de France you inevitably see crashes in large peloton's where bikes go flying into the air and multiple riders are knocked down. It's usually because someone let their mind wander and touched wheels while drafting.

Seattle to Bellingham Bike Route
Seattle to Bellingham

In the summer of 2018 a couple friends and I rode up to Bellingham from Seattle in a day. The route we followed ended up totaling 113 miles. We took turns rotating through the positions in a pace line. The lead rider does the most work and the person in the back has it the easiest. By rotating regularly no one gets tired and as a group you collectively have a much easier ride. It does take practice, so you should plan on some group rides with the intention of pace line riding.

If you are serious about cycling at some point you are going to want to invest in a power meter for training. With a power meter, you can see in real time how many watts of power you are generating. It is the clearest and most unambiguous measures of your cycling fitness available. I bought a power meter to train with. It really helped. Training for STP I would push myself to keep my watts high, but during STP I tried to keep my watts low to conserve energy and maintain a sustainable pace for two hundred miles.

Power meters were once only the domain of professional cyclists and cost thousands of dollars. The price has come down dramatically in recent years, but they are still not cheap; you are looking at about $500 to $1000 for a good one. Power meters come in many forms that are installed on various parts of your bike like: crank based, crank arm, hub, and bottom bracket. By far the most popular form of power meter, and the kind I use, are pedal based power meters. They are the easiest to install and you can easily transfer them to another bike.

I trained with Garmin's Vector 3 pedals for STP one-day and RAMROD. I liked them, but I returned them. At the time I decided I wasn't so into riding that I wanted to drop a grand on power meters. Also, the Vectors ate batteries. I eventually realized I missed the power data and switched to the Assioma Power Meter pedals from Italian company Favero. The Favero pedals are significantly more affordable than the Vectors and received good reviews from the sports tech YouTube channels DC Rainmaker and GP Lama. I trust both of those guys because their reviews are not just subjective opinions—they back them up with a lot of data. They were not wrong, I've now got a couple years of experience with the Assioma pedals and have no complaints.

In the summer when the days are long I like to schedule my training activities for the afternoon. In June the sun doesn't set over Seattle until after 9 pm. On a weekend I'll be up early and spend my morning in a coffee shop writing, then after lunch I can go for a long ride around Lake Washington or a hike along I-90. It does mean you're working out during the hottest part of the day, but I find that I'm not very productive after a hard workout, so it's better that when I get home all I need to do is take a shower and eat dinner. There are other advantages too when going for a training hike, since the popular trailheads near Seattle get crowded and parking is hard to find if you are arriving in the morning. If you arrive around 2pm the good parking spots are opening up as hikers returning from the trail leave.

The time I was investing in training was steadily increasing which made me anxious about my priorities. I thought I should listen to podcasts while on my training rides to make better use of the time, but I found I never did. For one thing, it's not safe to block your hearing while riding on streets. Even on bike trails like the Burke-Gilman where it would be ok, I still found I didn't like it. For me, cycling and running are like meditation. I want to be present on the bike.  I often have my best thoughts while riding as I do with running. Listening to podcast chatter or music takes me out of the moment. We're all distracted enough in today's world. It's nice to carve out time in the day to unplug.

Secret Seattle Trails
Secret Seattle Trails

I could only ride around Lake Washington so many times. It's super convenient but I reached the point where I couldn't bear the thought of another loop around the lake. I had to find more rides. There are no shortages of trails around King County and Western Washington to explore. One of the new routes I explored I dubbed the "Secret Seattle ride"—a collection of the lesser-known bike trails in Seattle. The Secret Seattle ride is composed of all or sections of the following trails: Interurban, Green River, Duwamish, West Seattle Bridge, SODO, Mountains to Sound, Chief Sealth, Lake Washington Boulevard, Elliott Bay, Ship Canal, and the Burke-Gilman.

I've ridden all of these trails at one time or another before, but I have never stitched them all together into a single route. I knew about the Interurban and Green River trails because I used to work for Boeing in Kent. The Interurban trail passes right by the Kent plant and in summer I used to commute home via the Interurban and Green River trails. I knew the Interurban started far to the south of Kent and was always curious to ride it from the beginning.

To get to the start of the Secret Seattle ride I took Light Rail to the Sea-Tac airport and from there caught the 180 bus to its last stop in southeast Auburn. The Interurban starts in the town of Pacific close to Tacoma. The Interurban, Green River, and Duwamish trails can't compete with the Lake Washington Loop for scenery, but it was an interesting ride with a lot more variety of terrain and scenery. The Secret Seattle route winds through parts of the Seattle Metropolitan area that most people never see—the industrial and poor neighborhoods of South Seattle and the valley suburbs. By the time I reached the end of my ride at Gas Works Park I had ridden 65 miles—it was a good work out and I felt it the next day.

My last chance for a big ride was the Sunday before STP. I wanted to ride a Century (100 miles), so I decided to ride from Olympia to Seattle. It would involve some road riding, but there were a lot of trails starting in Olympia that would take me much of the way north. It did mean I would have to ride some sections of state highways and busy arterial roads before I could connect with the Interurban and Green River trails. The route would take me through some of the same sections of road and trail that are a part of the STP (although I was riding them south-to-north, while the STP travels north-to-south).

Seattle's King Street Train Station
Seattle's Train Station

I started my day at Seattle's King Street train station. I took the Amtrak Cascades train south to Olympia—you can take your bike with you as luggage for only a few bucks extra. Trains are my favorite way to travel, so combining a train journey with cycling is my idea of a great day. It felt very civilized; on the way to Olympia I read a paperback copy of Walter Mosley's novel Devil in a Blue Dress while sipping coffee from the dining car. Unfortunately, the train does not go all the way to Olympia, but instead dropped me off at the nearby town of Lacey. So, I had to take a Lyft to my planned start at the Washington State Capitol grounds in Olympia. BTW, if you have never been to Olympia the capitol is worth a visit. The domed Legislative building is impressive and reminiscent of the United States Capitol in the other Washington.

I was dressed in a fairly standard bicycling outfit: spandex shorts, a cycling jersey, and an ultralight windbreaker. The one unusual item of my clothing was something more commonly seen on surfers. Under my cycling jersey I was wearing a long sleeve O'Neill rash guard. It something I bought for a surfing trip to Nicaragua years ago. When packing for my ride from Olympia I needed a warmer layer because the forecast was not good. Searching through my sports clothing I wasn't finding anything that would work until I dug up the rash guard at the bottom of a gear bin. Turns out it is a great layer for cool weather cycling and I'll use it again.

Olympia to Seattle Bike Route
Olympia to Seattle Bike Route

I on the ride from Olympia I also tested out new bike bags. Through trial-and-error using different styles of bike packing backs I found the sweet spot was using Revelate Designs' Tangle half frame bag and in the cockpit their Mag-Tank top tube bag. I experimented with seat bags, but found the half frame bag to be the perfect bag for unsupported Century rides. I use the cockpit bag for my wallet, cellphone, keys, and to keep a few snacks in an easy-to-reach location. The cockpit bag is enough for long training rides. When I need a little more storage capacity, like for an unsupported Century, I use the half frame bag in addition to the cockpit bag. The half-frame back gives me room for extra food and layers and a first aid kit all without being an overly large bag.

It was a cool and cloudy summer day when I started my ride. I was apprehensive about the weather. The forecast was not great. A 30% chance of rain was predicted. It turned out to be accurate, I got rained on for about a third of my ride. The highlight of the ride was right at the beginning. I really enjoyed the Chehalis Western Trail, it takes you through some very picturesque forests and farmland. The route I took from Olympia shares some of the same trails I took on the Secret Seattle ride, namely the Interurban and Green River trails. By the time I returned to my car at King Street station I had ridden ninety-eight miles, two miles shy of a Century. I was tired, but I still felt like I had gas in my tank and could keep going. Would it be enough for STP? I would soon find out.

Are we there yet?

"Beep beep beep!" The electronic bleating of my alarm clock woke me from my slumber. Bleary-eyed I glanced at the time. The red LED display of my clock read 3:50 am. I groaned and crawled out of bed. It was July 13th, 2019, the Saturday morning of STP. I packed the night before, so all I had to do was get dressed and roll out the door. I still had a moment of panic, afraid that I had forgotten something vital. A quick double-check and I assured myself that I had everything I needed for two hundred miles in the saddle.

"Here goes nothing," I thought as I locked my apartment door and wheeled my bike out onto the street. I had picked up my event packet on Thursday at the Cascade Bicycle Club's offices in Sandpoint so my bike and helmet were already adorned with my rider number. I was dressed in spandex mountain biking shorts, a cycling jersey, the long-sleeved O'Neill rash guard, a cycling cap under my helmet, and an ultralight windbreaker to fend off the morning chill. I was wearing fingerless cycling gloves, which were not warm enough in the early hours of the morning—my hands numbed in the chill.

At that time, I was living in Seattle's Phinney Ridge neighborhood. The STP starting line is in a parking lot near the University of Washington's Huskey Stadium. From Phinney it's about five miles and downhill most of the way to the UW. It was an easy warm-up ride to the starting line. My headlight and taillight were on, illuminating the pre-dawn dark.

The ride started at 4:45 am in a UW parking lot north of the stadium. The STP starting line was a sea of thousands of cyclists and lines of cars dropping off riders. With such vast hordes of cyclists queued up, the race organizers don't let everyone start at once but instead, riders are dispatched in waves every ten minutes to prevent the roads being clogged with bicycles. Of the eight thousand riders, less than a quarter of that number will ride STP in one-day; the remainder riding it in two-days. Only one-day riders are allowed in the initial waves. I was there before the official start time, but was not in the first wave so I didn't start until 5am.

My deadline was 9pm in Portland. That's when they close up the finish line and the last bus departs back to Seattle. Of course, I wouldn't want to cut it that close, so the reality is that the latest I should arrive in Portland was 8:30 pm. Given that constraint, I was aiming for arriving at 7pm. That would give me a time buffer for any unplanned delays, like a flat tire. To arrive at 7 pm, I would need to average 15 mph to make it to Portland in 14 hours. That average speed has to factor in rest stops too, so in reality my average speed would need to be closer to 17 mph.

Seattle to Portland 2019
Seattle to Portland 2019

When the signal was given for my wave to depart I clicked my shoes in and pedaled out to Montlake Boulevard heading south in the early light of dawn. I've ridden Seattle to Portland in one-day before, so I knew what to expect, but I was still apprehensive. I wondered if my legs were going to last for two hundred miles. Had I trained enough? Would this go any better than last time? Would I end up racing to catch the last bus back to Seattle in the fading light of day? Would I again be in agony when I finally arrived in Portland? Time would tell.

So, I was underway, but how would I know which way to go? Of course, I could follow other riders, but that assumes they know where they are going. Also, if I wasn't riding in a group I would have to figure out the correct turns myself. Well, it wasn't a problem because the whole Washington portion of the route is marked with stenciled direction markers on the asphalt all the way to the Columbia River. It was really helpful when I was at an intersection and not sure which way to turn. They would also show up on a long stretch of road where I would start to second-guess if I had gone the right direction and then suddenly there would be a marker with an arrow pointing forward. In Oregon, however, they don't go for that sort of thing. On the Beaver State side of the Columbia the STP direction markers are safety orange flags attached to street signs and light poles.

In 2002 I also rode Seattle to Portland in one day. My motivation then was the same as now. I had bought a new bike and wanted to test it out. I tell ya, nothing validates a bike purchase like riding two hundred miles on it. If you still like your bicycle after a double Century, then you know you made a good choice. Then it was my blue LeMond Tourmalet road bike. This time it was the black Ritchey Swiss Cross Disc cyclocross bike.

You see all kinds of people and every manner of bike riding STP. Of course, there are super fit riders on carbon aero bikes, but they are the exception not the rule. Even on one-day STP a saw a lot of surprisingly stocky dudes and ladies participating. Most people are riding mid-range road bikes, but STP is a rolling menagerie of every type of bicycle imaginable: road, cyclocross, gravel, tandem, mountain, recumbent, hybrid, and even some sort of orange three-wheeled aerodynamic pod encasing a recumbent cyclist that whooshed past me superfast. I didn't see any, but apparently there are even people who ride STP on unicycles.

The thing you do not want to ride is a very racing focused bike. The aggressive geometry of a racing bike will get really uncomfortable to the point of being unbearable as the miles pile up. It is way better to pick a bike with a relaxed geometry. STP isn't a race; leave the triathlon bike at home and enjoy yourself.

Early in the ride there are still big pelotons of riders. As the miles pile on, the groups thin out. In the morning I was able to ride in pace lines most of the way to Chehalis (a little over one hundred miles) which helped me make good time. After Chehalis the riders really thinned out so I was only intermittently able to join pace lines. My favorite part of the day was riding the Yelm Tenino Trail in a good pace line; we were averaging 20 mph down a scenic forest trail for a fraction of the watts I would expend riding on my own.

Pace lines really are important. I love KIND bars, but I skipped the KIND sponsored mini-stop in Yelm because I was in a good pace line and didn't want to lose it. In a pace line I could average between 18 and 20 mph for the cost of only 100 to 150 watts. On my own I would be expending over 200 watts to average between 13 and 17 mph (depending on how much headwind I was riding against).

In Europe the closest analogues to a STP type of ride are called a cyclosportive or Gran Fondo, although STP is a purely recreational ride and lacks the competitive aspect of a sportive/Fondo. I had to keep reminding myself, "It's a ride, not a race" (as the STP pamphlet says) and focus on conserving my energy. Just like climbing a mountain, when you are cycling long distances you need to set a pace that you can maintain so that you don't burn yourself out by trying to go too fast. Power meter pedals made it much easier to pace myself because I could see in real time on my bike computer's screen how many watts I was expending as I rode.

The morning was cloudy and cool so I was wearing a hat under my helmet and my long-sleeve base-layer. The temperature was in the low sixties all morning and did not warm up into the seventies until after lunch—that was a good thing, if it has been warm and sunny all day it would have been a harder ride.

I was carrying too much gear. Most people kept their gear very minimal. It is just like when you are new to mountaineering, you pack too much gear, because you don't know what is essential and what you can live without. When cycling you want to carry as little as possible to keep your weight down; the less you and your gear weigh the less work it is to move that bike forward. I took more gear with me than I saw most other riders carrying. I was carrying the amount of gear that makes sense for an self-supported Century, but not for a supported ride (food/water stations) like STP. That said, I still ate almost all of the extra food I took with me. STP has many food stops, but when you are riding a couple hundred miles in one day you are burning thousands of calories—you just can't eat enough.

Just like I was taught in alpine climbing you "eat before you're hungry and drink before you're thirsty." The average adult burns between two thousand to twenty-five hundred calories a day. Riding STP one-day burns double or triple that number. To eat enough so I didn't bonk and to save time I often ate while riding. I had to be careful though, I didn't want to choke and I didn't want to be so distracted that I hit a pothole because my attention was focused on food. I only ate on the bike when I was riding solo; it's not safe to eat while riding in a pace line. If it is not something you are comfortable with don't do it, eating while you ride is not without risks.

"Bonking" or "hitting the wall" is a condition where you have exhausted all the sugars (glycogen) in your body. You suddenly get very weak and won't have the energy to continue. It's a dramatic and unpleasant feeling. It takes a long time to recover from, so you are effectively done for the day if it happens. The key is to not let your body get to that point by eating regularly. So, even if you plan on riding light with minimal gear you should still carry some energy gel packs so you can emergency refuel if you feel yourself flagging between the rest stops.

One of the things I liked about STP it is that it is a real community event. There were hundreds of volunteers along the route helping make the event a reality. Just as in 2002, in 2019 I was very impressed with the level of planning and organization from the Cascade Bicycle Club and partner groups in putting the ride together. As I mentioned before, the whole route is marked. Also, there are support riders on both bicycles and Goldwing Motor Cycles, and there are many rest stops for food and water. There were two types of rest stops: full rest stops where you could get a meal and mini-stops where you could get a snack and water.

Pickle Juice Shots and Vader Taters
Pickle Shots & Vader Taters

Odd foods can taste really good after a hundred miles plus. For example, the mini-stop in the town of Vader was run by ladies from the local Lion's Club. They were offering steamed slices of potatoes with seasoning salt (called "Vader Taters") and pickle juice shots including a pickle slice. Normally, neither of those offerings would be that appealing, but 130 miles into the ride both tasted amazing.  As the saying goes, hunger is the best sauce. During the ride ordinary foods like watermelon slices, orange wedges, and PBJ sandwiches tasted ten times better than normal.  This is an experience everyone will be familiar with from long days of hiking or climbing.

Unless you have a cast iron butt, expect your derriere to get sore. That said, there are things you can do to minimize the discomfort. The night before STP I packed carefully, laying out on the floor everything I needed to take with me. Just like for a climbing trip no matter how carefully I pack I'm always anxious that I forgot something important. When I was satisfied that I had everything I crawled into bed, but I was plagued by a nagging thought I had forgotten something. Just as I was nodding off I suddenly woke and sat bolt upright in bed with one thought in my head…the chammy cream! I almost forgot to pack chamois cream but luckily remembered it at the last minute.

The padding in bicycle shorts is called a chamois, that is where the name chamois cream comes from. Back in the day, bicycle shorts were wool and the padding was made of leather from a chamois goat (people were tougher back then). Riders used cream to soften the stiff leather. Modern bike shorts are made of spandex and closed cell foam padding. Chamois cream is something you slather on delicate regions of your body underneath your cycling shorts. You rub it on any part of your body that may chafe on a long ride.

Starting around the rest stop at Chehalis (mile 108) I started to see more and more empty Chamois Butt'r packs in the port-a-potties as riders were applying or re-applying the cream to protect their nether regions. Chafing on a double Century ride is no joke. If you don't protect yourself with chammy cream you are going to end up with some nasty saddle sores or even an abscess as a painful souvenir from your double Century. Some of the STP rest stops offered free packets of chammy cream, but I wouldn't count on it. Be sure to pack a few for yourself.

A final word of advice about how to stay comfortable down there. Something no one ever tells you is that when cycling you go commando under your padded bike shorts which are designed to wick away moisture and minimize chafing. It's not the sort of thing that comes up in polite conversation, but is really important for your backside. You don't wear underwear because it will get sweaty, bunch up, and rub.

When I reached the Lewis and Clark Bridge in Longview which spans the Columbia River I felt like I had hit a major milestone; I was sure I was close. In reality, from there it is still fifty miles to the finish line. Even when I hit the outskirts of Portland I thought I was done, but I still had to wend my way for long miles through Stumptown's streets before arriving at my final destination in the heart of the city. Just like a fidgety kid on a long road trip, I kept thinking, "Are we there yet?"

Right on schedule around 7pm I saw the finish line. What a relief! After fourteen hours, two hundred seven miles, and six thousand calories I was handed my one-day rider's patch medallion by a volunteer after crossing the finish line in Portland's Holladay park. I have hay fever allergies so by the end my eyes were totally bloodshot and my eyelashes were completely encrusted with dried eye-boogers. When reviewing the ride summary on my bike computer, the final number that surprised me was the five thousand feet of elevation gain. There are no big hills on the STP route, but there are a lot of small rolling hills. You rack up a surprising amount of elevation over the two hundred and seven miles to Portland.

I didn't train as much as I would have liked to for the ride, but I wasn't destroyed when I crossed the finish line either. I had achieved my goal to avoid a suffer-fest and be fit enough to enjoy the ride. This was not the best year in my life to be spending so much time on cycling training, but the threat of having to ride a double Century sure motivated me to get into shape. The ride also confirmed that I made the right choice when I decided to replace my LeMond Tourmalet with the Ritchey cyclocross bike. On the road to Portland it proved is worth—I have no buyer's remorse.

Seattle to Portland 2019 Route Map
STP 2019 Route

I was there early with some time to kill. I first dropped my bike off at the area for return transportation to Seattle. There was a semi-trailer that bikes were loaded into. Then there is a bag pickup area. I had a change of clothes for the return trip to Seattle. After I changed I suddenly realized I had forgotten something important. Almost forgot that I left my keys in the mag-tank. That would have sucked to get home and be locked out of my apartment. I had to go back to the truck and beg the guys there to let me find my bike and get my keys. It was a challenge because other bikes had already been stacked on top of it. Once I had my keys back I was able to get dinner from one of the food stalls that were part of the finish line festivities. Once I had some food I headed to the bus back to Seattle.

The bus back to Seattle was nearly full when I boarded. I took one of the available window seats near the back. Right before the bus left a pretty Canadian blonde sat down in the empty seat next to me. She was there with a gal pal who sat nearby in one of the other remaining empty seats. I was already having a good day, then it got better. We had a nice chat on the bus ride back to Seattle. They were parked at the UW. I tried to get a ride home from her, but her friend was giving me the stink-eye so no luck. Unlike seventeen years ago, this time I had a smart phone with me and was able to get ride home via Lyft. The next day I was able to pick up my bicycle at the UW parking lot.

So, I finished STP one-day and I wasn't destroyed, but I convinced myself I was not in RAMROD shape. Everyone was talking about how hard RAMROD was and I had not done any hill training. Outside of cycling I was spending the remainder of my free time studying and writing code, trying to level up my skills as a programmer and get ready for software engieering job interviews. My expectation when I signed up for RAMROD is that I would have a full-time employment by that time, but instead I was still working contract. In addition, riding RAMROD would be very expensive in terms of lost wages (when you are working contract you don't have any PTO days) since the ride was on a Thursday and I would need Friday as a recovery day too. Stressing out, I managed to talk myself into quitting RAMROD.

Paradise Lost

The mind is its own place and, in itself can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven.

— John Milton, Paradise Lost

I had given up on RAMROD. I didn't think I had ridden enough hills and didn't have enough time to train since RAMROD is only twelve days after STP. I decided I was done and took the power meter pedals off my bike's crank arms, replacing them with SPDs for commuting. I then returned the power meter pedals. I get discouraged often and too easily. Demoralized in the face of multiple challenges; I was ready to hang up my bike for the season.

RAMROD Ricksecker Point

Then that week following STP I was riding my bike home from work in downtown Seattle. I was riding up the steep section of Fremont Avenue and I saw that the cyclist in front of me had a small yellow reflector band attached across the seat stays above his rear wheel. In black letters it read RAMROD. I was struck by that and starred hard at it. Suddenly, I wanted one of those reflectors for myself more than anything else in the world. After being gripped by the burning desire for one of those RAMROD reflectors the next emotion to take hold of me was anger. Anger at myself. What the fuck was I thinking giving up on RAMROD without even trying?

So, that was it, I was going to ride RAMROD after all. Crap, I thought, if I am riding RAMROD I need to start road climbing training ASAP. Fortunately, I didn't have to go far—Seattle is a hilly city. Right out my front door there are no shortage of steep streets to peddle up. The hills in Seattle are not as extreme as San Francisco, but close. If you drive a manual transmission car like I do, you get good at e-break starts.  When stuck at a red light facing uphill in Seattle's downtown core you put the stick shift into first, rev up the engine while holding your parking break in the locked position, and then engage the clutch. Now, imagine doing the same on a bicycle.

Once I made the decision to switch back to training mode the first thing I needed to do was change my pedals. I wanted to wear my road shoes with their large external cleat instead of my commuting shoes with their small recessed SPD cleat. The stiff road shoe and large road cleat were necessary to maximize power transfer to the pedals for riding up steep hills. I didn't want to pay another grand for power meter pedals. So, I slapped my LOOK Keo 2 Max pedals back on. These were the road pedals I initially purchased before buying the power meter pedals (which are LOOK cleat compatible).

The steepness of hills is usually described in terms of percentage or grade. You've probably seen signs on the side of the road warning trucks about the grade of steep hills as a percentage. Same idea. In her book CLIMB! Conquer Hills, Get Lean, and Elevate Every Ride author Selene Yeager breaks down what grades mean for cyclists in practical terms starting from 0% which is dead flat road. Here's a sampling of gradients:

  • 3 to 4 percent: Slight climb. The effort is similar to riding into a headwind. Totally manageable, but grinding away up these grades can be fatiguing—and downright annoying—if they refuse to let up or even undulate a little.
  • 5 to 6 percent: There's no doubt that you're climbing, as your speed slows by about half. But it's manageable. Heck, even playful. These are the types of climbs you can "dance on the pedals" with, alternating between sitting and standing.
  • 7 to 8 percent: These are decidedly less playful. Here, you'll find yourself bowing over your bars as if in a spell of prayer to find a few fresh muscle fibers to make it to the top.
  • 9 to 10 percent: Yeah, you're not just bent over your bars, you're actually pulling out a few Hail Marys each time you round a bend convinced it's going to let up, but it doesn't.
  • Skipping ahead…
  • 18 percent and above: Any climb that kicks into this territory will definitely present some come-to-Jesus (or deity of choice) moments—and you'll feel like you've absolutely reached the pearly gates or Nirvana when it's over.

For my last few training rides before RAMROD I madly rode up every steep hill in Seattle (there are lots of them). The steepest of them all is north of downtown in the Queen Anne neighborhood. The classic postcard view of Seattle is of the Space Needle in the foreground with downtown and Mount Rainier in the background. That view is from Kerry Park on the south side of Queen Anne hill. Queen Anne Avenue runs north from downtown past Kerry Park to the top of Queen Anne; up to a 19% grade at its steepest (according to my Garmin Edge 530 bike computer). Nineteen percent…that's some real misery. When I got to the top it didn't seem like heaven—I felt like I wanted to throw up. When riding up Queen Anne Ave I kept thinking why couldn't the city have washed Queen Anne into the bay at the same time they leveled Denny Hill?

Denny Regrade
Denny Regrade

A little bit of Seattle history. Seattle is a hilly city, but not as hilly as it used to be. Around the turn of the Twentieth Century the good burghers of Seattle decided the city had too many darn hills. So, their solution was to use water cannons to wash some of the offending hills away into Elliott Bay. Whatever could not be washed away was dug out with steam shovels. The project was known as the Denny Regrade. The northern triangle of downtown Seattle and the current location of Amazon.com's headquarters is situated on the level ground that was once Denny Hill.

"Beep beep beep!" My blissful dreams about a Seattle as flat as Denver were rudely interrupted. It was my alarm going off way too early. This time it was set to 2:45 am—the wee hours of Thursday, July 25, 2019. It was the day of RAMROD and my birthday. Happy-fucking-birthday to me, I thought groggily as I rolled out of bed. With my bike loaded onto my car I headed south in the dark for the one-hour drive from Seattle to the RAMROD starting line in Enumclaw.

My goal was to participate in the Redmond Cycling Club's premier event of the year, Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day; better known by its acronym: RAMROD. It is a 150-mile circumnavigation of Mount Rainier National Park held every year on the last Thursday of July. RAMROD is the cycling equivalent of hiking the Wonderland Trail. With 10,000 feet of elevation gain it has a reputation as a hard ride. I like to follow the Tour de France. The mountain stages of Le Tour are notorious as the hardest sections of the multi-day race. On this day, I was going to get a taste of what a mountain stage is really like.

By chance, in 2019 RAMROD happened to fall on my birthday, so I figured riding it was meant to be. That didn't mean I was going to automatically allowed to join. The number of participants is capped at 800 riders. It is a very popular cycling event; far more people register for it every year than can participate, so there is a lottery to win a spot. I got lucky and was selected. It was an early birthday present.

RAMROD is a much smaller event than STP, literally by an order of magnitude. RAMROD is limited to 800 participants vs 8000 for STP. So, the starting line, while busy, was nothing like the hordes at the beginning of STP. The size of RAMROD and the fact that it is held on a weekday is due to restrictions place on the event by the National Parks Service. It makes sense. The park is one of the most visited in the country and summer is the most popular time of year at Mount Rainier so there are many people who want to use the park.

RAMROD starts and ends at Enumclaw's Thunder Mountain Middle School. Before the start of the ride a hot breakfast is offered in the school's cafeteria. Eating breakfast at 4:30 am I was counting calories. Not in the usual sense of trying to limit how much I was eating, but rather I was trying to shove as much breakfast in my pie hole as I could so I would have lots of fuel to burn for the long miles on the road ahead of me. I inhaled sausages, eggs, and hash browns—all washed down with strong black coffee. A racer would not eat a breakfast like that, but I was riding for fun, not a podium.

Gear for RAMROD

At the official start time of 5 a.m. I clipped into my bike peddles and headed out for Mount Rainier. Enumclaw is nestled in the foothills near Mount Rainier, so even though it was the middle of the summer it was cold in the morning. I was dressed in the same gear as I used for STP with the exception that I added base layer gloves under my fingerless bike gloves for the morning—which were needed. It was a brisk 49 degrees when I rolled out of Enumclaw in the dawn twilight.

It was a chilly, but beautiful morning. Fog nestled in the valley bottoms, not yet burnt off by the strong summer sun. On the way to the western entrance to the park we passed through the rolling hills and picturesque farmland around the towns of Eatonville and Elbe. I know this area well. In the spring and summer, I frequently travel to Mount Rainier for backcountry skiing, hiking, and climbing. In the winter I'm on the eastern side of the park to ski at Crystal Mountain resort. Even though I've driven the roads around Rainier countless times, seeing them from the vantage point of bicycle made it a new experience. I noticed a lot of details that escaped me in the past when whizzing by in a car. Slowing down to bicycle pace made something familiar feel new again.

Approaching the mountain community of Ashford on the road to the National Park I was following behind a large peloton of about thirty bikes. The appeal of riding in a peloton, is that if you are not in the front you are saving a lot of energy by being shielded from wind resistance. I was keeping my distance because I was more worried about the dangers than the benefits. When I picked up my ride packet on Thursday evening, a volunteer had warned me to avoid large pelotons. Even the pros crash in pelotons, so the danger is even greater with amateurs. If you follow the Tour de France you always see spectacular crashes in a peloton where bikes go flying and many riders get knocked down. It was no different during RAMROD.

All a sudden I saw bikes literally go flying into the air and a half-dozen riders knocked down. I don't know what happened, I assume someone's attention lapsed and they touched wheels. In the aftermath I saw one woman sitting on the side of the road being helped by her friends. She was in tears and looked to be in real pain. A few minutes later I heard the sound of an ambulance's siren. So much for my idea that cycling is a safer alternative to climbing.

It was not until the Ashford food stop, fifty-five miles into the ride, that it warmed up enough for me to shed all my extra layers. RAMROD is a supported ride, which means there are multiple food and water stops, but I still took extra food with me. I anticipated burning thousands of calories during the ride, so I would be hard-pressed to eat enough. I did not just eat at the rest stops, I ate while riding too, I was trying not to bonk from lack of food.

Sixty-two miles into the ride I reached the Nisqually entrance to Mount Rainier National Park. There was a RAMROD checkpoint; an arch you had to ride through so you could be scanned. The national park does not allow races so RAMROD is considered a rally. Participants are not officially timed even though we all had RFID stickers on our helmets and there are multiple checkpoints we are supposed to ride through.

The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky. It was warm but not too hot. The next day was ten degrees warmer, which would have made for a tougher ride so I lucked out with the temperature. In my opinion, a sunny day when temperatures are in the mid-seventies is the perfect cycling weather. Warm enough that you are comfortable in shorts and short-sleeves, but not so warm that the heat impacts your athletic performance. Once the temperature starts to get up to the mid-eighties, I really feel it draining the energy out of me.

Of course, it always could have rained which would have been miserable, but generally by late-July you can count on good weather. Although Seattle and Western Washington have a reputation for being rainy, we typically have very dry summers, dryer than Phoenix, Arizona if you can believe that. The traditional rule-of-thumb in the Puget Sound is that summer does not start until after the Fourth of July. Once the smoke from all the fireworks has cleared, the clouds usually do too.

According to Cliff Mass, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, July 29th is the driest day of the year in Seattle. It occurs during the middle of the driest week of the year. In a post on his popular weather blog he states that this conclusion is based on historical data going back to the 1940s. So, RAMROD falling on July 25th in 2019 meant the odds were good that the weather would be perfect, and it was.

Since Ashford, the elevation had been rising slowly. After entering the park at Nisqually, the road started gaining more elevation, but after passing the historic National Park Inn at Longmire the work really began. The road was still in the woods at this point. The views were not dramatic yet, the mountain was hidden from view by the thick forest canopy. Just as well, we were sharing the asphalt with cars, so you had to remain alert. Even without the views, it was very enjoyable riding along a winding road through the woods surrounded by tall trees and the sound of rushing water from the Nisqually river to my right.

RAMROD Bike Computer
Computer, Backbone Ridge

The grade of the road was steadily ticking up: 3%...4%...5%...6%...7%...8%. It would occasionally trip over into 9- or 10-percent. This is where I was going to find out if I was in mountain shape. As the trees began to thin out I found myself working harder and harder. The grade locked into a steady oscillation anywhere between 5- and 10-percent, but averaged around 6%. I downshifted my bikes gears and just kept turning the pedals. My goal now was the water stop at Inspiration Point.

The route we were taking up was the Paradise Road, but that was not our destination. Paradise, on Mount Rainier, is an area of high alpine meadows with stunning views of Rainier and the surrounding peaks. It has a large visitor center and is the most popular destination for visitors to the park. Until 2005, Paradise was a standard part of the RAMROD route, but since that time the rally has not been allowed back. Cast out of heaven, the RAMROD route turned off on to the Stevens Canyon Road just before arriving at Paradise.

I don't think John Milton was thinking about bicycles when he published Paradise Lost, since they would not be invented for a couple more Centuries, but the line "The mind is its own place and, in itself can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven." certainly can be applied to cycling. You can focus on how hard the ride is and make yourself miserable or you can choose to enjoy the ride and have a good time.

The road kept climbing towards the tree line. As the forest thinned out the mountain kept peeking out from behind stands of trees. The view got better and better the higher the road ascended. By the time I rolled into the water stop at Inspiration Point, Rainier was in plain view revealing all the glory of the glacier wrapped mountain. This was eighty miles into the ride and since Eatonville I had gained 4300 feet in elevation.

Rolling out of the Inspiration Point stop I was still smiling, but it was more of a grimace than a smile. After too long a break my muscles started cramping, they didn't want to work again and I had to force my legs to turn the pedals. The struggle did not last long because I was now in a long fast descent from Inspiration Point to the food stop at Box Canyon, an elevation drop of two thousand feet. During the ride down from Inspiration Point my head was in danger of exploding from the sensory overload of mountain beauty rushing past at thirty-five miles per hour. It was summer in the mountains and the alpine wildflowers were in full bloom. The hillsides were dappled with white, blue, yellow, and red blossoms. Whooshing past alpine lakes and waterfalls I occasionally glanced up at the summit of Rainier and dreamed about future plans. I've climbed Rainier three time, but my next goal on the mountain is to ski from the summit.

The price paid for the super fun fast descents from Inspiration Point and then Backbone Ridge was that I would have to earn all that elevation back on the ascent to Cayuse Pass. It was now one hundred miles into the ride. The full summer sun was shining down and there was no shade. It was hot, like ninety degrees. This was the last climb of the day and I was already fatigued. All there was to do was downshift into my granny gear and keep those cranks turning.

As the road's grade changed, I was constantly adjusting my gears to maintain a reasonable cadence—ideally you do not want your crank arms turning a less than 60 revolutions per minute (rpm). There are many types of gearing configurations, but on my bike I have two chainrings on the front and the rear cassette has eleven cogs. The larger chainring is harder and the smallest cog is hardest or "highest". In the highest gears each revolution of your pedals takes you farther, but is more work. Vice versa, the lowest gears propel you a shorter distance, but for less work.

As the road got steeper I down shifted to the small chainring and worked my way progressively through larger cogs until there was nowhere else to go and I was on the largest cog. This was as easy as I could make the grind up to Cayuse Pass, but it also meant I was going slow uphill. The combination of the smallest chainring and the largest cog is known colloquially as the "granny gear" because it is the easiest gearing (I'm sure there are grandmother cyclists who take exception to this term).

The climb was not as bad as I expected. There were two water stops on the way to Cayuse pass and the second one even had ice, so I was able to fill up my water bottles with ice water which helped prevent heatstroke under the strong summer sun. The ride up Cayuse Pass was a 6% grade most of the way and would only briefly bump up to 7%. I was elated when I finally arrived at the Pass, the hardest part of the day was over.

I've always wondered what it would be like to ride a mountain stage in the Tour de France and now I've gotten a sense of the difficulty. Of course, in Le Tour those guys are riding uphill at twice my pace or faster and then they have to get up the next day and do it all over again.

The longest stage in the 2022 Tour is approximately one hundred thirty-six miles and a typical mountain stage is around ninety miles. At over one hundred fifty miles, RAMROD is longer than any stage of Le Tour, but if we look at just the climbing section inside the National Park we can attempt to categorize it like a mountain stage.

RAMROD has two big climbs, Inspiration Point and Cayuse Pass. Between those climbs is one small climb up to Backbone Ridge. The TdF categorizes the climbs in a mountain stage on a scale from 4 to 1, with 4 being the easiest and 1 being the most difficult. They even have a "Hors Catégorie" (above category) for a climb more difficult than Cat 1.

RAMROD 2019 Route
RAMROD 2019 Route

The climb from Longmire to Inspiration Point would likely be Cat 2. Box Canyon to Backbone Ridge would be Cat 4. Grove of the Patriarchs to Cayuse Pass is Cat 1. By the numbers, Cayuse Pass should be Cat 2, but the TdF climb categories are a little subjective and they tend to bump up the difficulty rating for climbs that occur at the end of a stage.

In the 2022 edition of Le Tour, Stage 16, Carcassonne to Foix, is the closest analogy to RAMROD that I can find. It's one hundred twelve miles long and has two major climbs, Port de Lers and the Mur de Péguère, with a total elevation gain of around ten thousand feet. It is considered a hilly stage as opposed to a mountain stage.

If you look at the elevation profile for RAMROD, after Cayuse Pass it is basically downhill all the way. You think you're home free, but I had been warned that it would not be so easy. As I began the descent off the pass I rode right into a serious headwind. It was intense; even though I was riding downhill my mile-per-hour speed was only in the low teens. I quickly fell into a paceline to get some speed back and save energy. From Cayuse Pass it was still another forty-five miles back to the finish line.

Once we left the National Park the scenery became less interesting and it was just long road miles back to the finish line. Crossing the finish line back at Thunder Mountain Middle School in Enumclaw I snagged my RAMROD patch and felt real relief and a big sense of accomplishment. RAMROD was in the bag.

Memento Mori

The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.

— Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book 5.20

I was ready to give up on RAMROD without even trying. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know that it was well within my abilities. So, my takeaway is that you should always try; whatever challenge is intimidating you might not be as hard as you think it is going to be. Even if you don't succeed you'll gain valuable experience and be better prepared next time. I'm a little old to still be learning this sort of lesson, but better late than never.

Mountaineering taught me that no matter how tired I am, I can keep going. That same mental endurance translates from the trail to the road. If you have put in the time training and built up your aerobic base then the remaining challenge to get to the finish line is all in your head.

If you are going to ride STP one-day you should also signup to ride RAMROD. Riding a double Century sounds hard core, but it is really not that bad. If you follow the prescribed training regimen, after that it is just a mental thing. If you are in Double Century shape, you are in good enough shape to ride RAMROD too, so you may as well do both since they are less than two weeks apart.

When you summit a mountain, you don't conquer the mountain, you conquer yourself—your weaknesses and self-doubts. The same is true of ultra-distance cycling rides. STP and RAMROD are not races, so there is no podium and no awards. Really, all you need to do to "win" is to complete the ride. Just by crossing the finish line in Portland and Enumclaw you will have broken a psychological barrier that limited what you think you are capable of. That's the real win.

In climbing legend Ed Viesters' memoir No Shortcuts to the Top, he tells a story about racing bikes from Ashford to Paradise during his days as a RMI (Rainier Mountaineering, Inc.) guide. When I first read it years ago I thought it sounded insane. Post-RAMROD, my attitude has changed. I would not be anywhere near as fast as Viesters, but now it sounds doable.

Later on, I came up with an even more strenuous workout challenge, which I called the "bike and climb." A guide named Jimmy Hamilton and I would bike the eighteen miles from Ashford to Paradise. We'd time our arrival for late in the day, down a quick beer in the Glacier Lodge, then head up Rainier in the night—not with clients, just the two of us. Climbing conditions were actually best at night. With headlamps, we'd bomb to the summit, then get back to Paradise well before dawn. The last leg was the eighteen-mile ride down to the park entrance, going as fast as we could, drafting off each other like Tour de France competitors. We covered the round-trip—including 12,000 feet of altitude gained and lost—in eleven hours. To this day, nobody else has equaled our time.

The last two years of the pandemic have given us all a lot more time for self-reflection, whether we wanted it or not. During the lockdowns I discovered Stoic philosophy. Stoicism has seen a revival of interest in recent years. This was already underway before the events of 2020, but after the arrival of COVID it really found a new audience as the way forward in challenging times. Stoic philosophy provides practical mental tools for how to endure and overcome difficulties in your life. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is the book I should have read at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. If ever there is a philosophy that that speaks to our current moment, stoicism is it.

You often see skulls or other symbols of death in art inspired by stoic philosophy. These are called memento mori, a reminder of the impermanence of life. It seems morbid, but is actually intended as celebration of being alive. It's an important idea in stoic philosophy; life is short so don't waste your time on unimportant things preventing you from living to your fullest potential. So, for example, the next time you are wasting time scrolling through social media feeds, think about what Marcus Aurelius says in Book 10.29 of the Meditations, "Stop whatever you're doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won't be able to do this anymore?"

In 2020 and 2021 all cycling events were cancelled because of the pandemic. So, I'm really glad I rode STP and RAMROD in 2019. If something sounds like a challenge you want to take on then just do it. Don't think you'll do it next year because you never know what next year will be like. In Meditations Book 2.4 Marcus Aurelius wrote, "Remember how long you've been putting this off…there is a limit to the time assigned to you…if you don't use it…it will be gone and never return."

Finally, did I find an answer to the question, is there a place for road cycling in mountain sports? It's not a direct fit, but it can be incorporated into climbing. In the two Sufferfest films, climbers Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright climb California's 14ers & SW Desert Towers respectively, traveling between the routes by bicycle. In The Mountain Why film, professional skier Cody Townsend (of The Fifty Project fame) is joined by Michelle Parker for a one-thousand-mile ride to ski three west coast volcanoes. Then Honnold and Townsend team up in an episode of Fifty Project for a bicycle approach and climb/ski of California's Mount Whitney. So, there is not a direct connection, but road cycling and climbing can be complimentary.

What does the future hold for me combining climbing and cycling? For my next dream climbing trip, I want to return to the Alps and work cycling into it. This plan is the result of a lot of daydreaming during the last two years of pandemic lockdowns, so it is an impossibly-long-do-it-all-tick-list. I want to start with cycling in the Italian Alps and end with cycling in the French Alps and knock off a few climbs in-between. Basically, a sandwich of bicycle bread and climbing meat. I'd like to start in Corvara in the Dolomites to participate in a Gran Fondo, the Maratona dles Dolomites. While I'm in the Dolemites, I've always wanted to try some of the via ferrata routes there. Then I would head to Interlaken in Switzerland to climb the Jungfrau and hike the Hardergrat trail. After that, off to Chamonix to climb Mont Blanc and give paragliding a try. I'd wrap up the trip by riding a few of the most famous mountain stages of the Tour de France like the Alpe d'Huez and the Col du Galibier. Whenever I'm in a boring meeting at work and my eyes start to glaze over this is where my thoughts have wandered off to.


It's hard to say which ride was harder, because they are different types of rides, but if I picked one it would be STP one-day. I found myself having to draw deeper on my will power to keep going during STP than RAMROD. Here is the comparison by the numbers. All the data is from my Garmin Edge 530 Bike Computer.

  STP one-day RAMROD
Distance (miles) 207 153
Calories 6011 5134
Elevation Gain (feet) 5161 9259
Max Elevation (feet) 455 4802
Average Speed (mph) 15.8 14.5
Start time 4:54 a.m. 5:05 a.m.
End time 6:39 p.m. 4:21 p.m.
Moving Time (hours) 12:23 10:13
Elapsed Time* (hours) 13:45 11:15
Average Temperature (°F) 70 66
Lowest Temperature (°F) 59 45
Highest Temperature (°F) 82 91
* Elapsed time includes rest stops
STP and RAMROD Badges
STP and RAMROD Badges


Seattle's Lake Washington Bridges Loop and Mercer Island Cycling
This is a video I made about my favorite weeknight training ride. It's a loop across the bridges that span Lake Washington. It begins and ends at Seattle's Gas Works Park and crosses the I-90 bridge and the SR 520 bridge. The standard route is 25 miles, but if you add Mercer Island it is a 33-mile ride.

Cycling Seattle's Lake Washington Loop
A scenic 55-mile bicycle ride around Seattle's Lake Washington; via city streets, paved trails, and gravel. This video is a sequel to the video in the link above about riding across the two bridges that span Lake Washington only this time I take the viewer the whole way around the lake. Another good option if you are training for STP or RAMROD.

Cycling the Mt Baker Hill Climb
Another video I made about riding a bicycle; this time on the scenic Mount Baker Highway from the town of Glacier to Artist Point as a participant in the 2022 Mt. Baker Hill Climb. This annual ride is held the first Sunday after Labor Day weekend in September. If you have already ridden STP and/or RAMROD, the Mt. Baker Hill Climb is a nice way to conclude the summer cycling season.

Cascade Bicycle Club’s Seattle to Portland (STP) ride
The Cascade Bicycle Club is the organizer of the Seattle-to-Portland bicycle classic.

Seattle to Portland 2019 route:

Redmond Cycling Club’s Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day (RAMROD)

RAMROD 2019 Official Route Map

RAMROD 2019 Event Photo Set 1

RAMROD 2019 Event Photo Set 2

If RAMROD were a mountain stage of the Tour de France how would the climbs be categorized?

How to Train Using Heart Rate Zones

Chamois cream: How & why to use it

The Driest Day of the Year in Seattle, But What About Other Places?

Secret Revealed: The Northwest Has the Best Summer in the Nation. But Why?

The Most Perfect Weather Month in Western Washington History

Tour de France 2022 Route stage 16: Carcassonne - Foix

Sufferfest 1: All of California's 14,000 ft peaks on two wheels
Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright climb all of California’s 14k peaks and travel between the peaks by bicycle.

Sufferfest 2: 700 Miles of Pain and Glory
In the American desert Southwest, Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright summit 45 rock towers and bike in-between the climbs for a total of 700 miles.

The Fifty Project: The Mountain Why
As part of his Fifty Project, Cody Townsend is joined by Michelle Parker for a One-thousand-mile ride to ski three west coast volcanoes.

The Fifty Project: Mt Whitney
In an episode of the Fifty Project, Cody Townsend and Alex Honnold attempt to ride road bikes from Badwater Basin in Death Valley to Mount Whitney for a climb and ski via the Mountaineers Route.

Maratona dles Dolomites

Denny Regrade (Seattle history)

Everybody’s Brewing
The makers of Three Sport Day lifestyle pilsner are located in White Salmon, Washington. There’s a good view of Mount Hood from the deck of their brewpub. It’s a great place to wrap up a weekend after summiting Mount Adams.

The definition of sportsball from that indispensable resource for all slang words, the Urban Dictionary.

Global Cycling Network
British cycling-related YouTube channel.

The Path Less Pedaled
American cycling-related YouTube channel and champions of party pace riding.

DC Rainmaker (sports tech reviews)
One of the best sites for reviews of sports tech equipment. It’s not just his opinion either, Ray Maker backs up all his reviews with a lot of data. If you don’t have time to read his in-depth reviews he also has a YouTube channel.

GPLama (cycling sports tech reviews)
Another good resource for sports tech reviews with an emphasis on cycling tech. Like DC Rainmaker Shane Miller backs up his reviews with a lot of data and has a YouTube channel.

What I use
There is a vast array of cycling products to choose from. Listed below is what I use.  Consider this a starting point to get ideas for your own research.

Ritchey Bikes
I bought my Swiss Cross Disc frame from Ritchey and then custom built rest of the bike.

Continental Bike Tires

Paul Components Cross Levers

Paul Components Klamper Disc Breaks

F3 Cycling Form Mount
Bicycle stem-attached mount for bike computers, cameras and lights.


Spurcycle Bicycle Bells
Loud bicycle bells that are very effective at getting people's attention.

Salsa Bicycles Cowchipper Handlebars
I like the ergonomics of the flared Cowchipper handlebars

Favero Assioma Power Meter Cycling Pedals


Revelate Designs Tangle half frame bag

Revelate Designs Mag-Tank top tube cockpit bag

Polar H10 heart rate sensor
I highly recommend the Polar H10 over the Garmin heart rate monitor chest straps, based on personal experience. If you are going to do heart rate zone training, you really need a heart rate chest strap. Wrist based heart rate measurement is just not accurate enough.


House, Steve, and Scott Johnston. Training for the New Alpinism: A Manual for the Climber as Athlete. Ventura, CA, Patagonia Books, 2014.
The first version of their training book for Alpine athletes. I read this when it was first published and it helped me improve my fitness level for mountaineering. Reading this book inspired me to buy a GPS enabled sports watch and a heart rate monitor chest strap so I could do heart rate zone training. I used the guidelines in this book to train for my successful Matterhorn climb.

House, Steve, Scott Johnston, and Kilian Jornet. Training For The Uphill Athlete: A Manual For Mountain Runners And Ski Mountaineers. Ventura, CA: Patagonia Books, 2019.
A sequel of sorts to their Training for the New Alpinism. Improves on the original and adds new information about training for alpine endurance sports.

Twain, Mark (author), Hearn, Michael Patrick (editor). The Annotated Huckleberry Finn. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

Homer (author), Fagles, R. (translator) and Knox, B. (introduction). The Odyssey. New York: Viking, 1996.

Twain, Mark (author), and Louis J Budd (editor). Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852–1890. New York, Library of America, 1992.
The source of Mark Twain’s essay, Taming the Bicycle. You can also read it for free on the Library of America website:

Mass, Cliff. The Weather of the Pacific Northwest, 2nd Edition. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2021.
Mass is a professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. In addition to this book he maintains a weather blog (see links section above) and a weather podcast. His work is a good resource for understanding the weather in the Pacific Northwest in general and Western Washington State in particular.

Yeager, Selene & Bicycling Magazine. CLIMB! Conquer Hills, Get Lean, and Elevate Every Ride. Hearst Magazines, 2018.
If you are getting serious about cycling, this is a good overview of training and nutrition for cyclists. Under two hundred pages, it’s a quick read and a good crash course on cycling specific fitness topics.

Warren, Simon. 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs of the Tour de France: A Cyclist's Guide to Riding the Mountains of the Tour. London: Frances Lincoln Ltd., 2014.

Velominati (cycling group), LeMond, Greg (foreword). The Rules: The Way of the Cycling Disciple. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014, 1st American Edition.
They also have a web site: https://www.velominati.com

Abt, Samuel. LeMond: The incredible comeback of an American hero. New York: Random House, 1990.
The full quote is from Chapter 1, The Sun King Storms Paris: “The key is being able to endure psychologically,” LeMond explained. “When you’re not riding well, you think. Why suffer? Why push yourself for four or five hours? The mountains are the pinnacle of suffering. You don’t know when you’re going to explode, when you have to back off. You’re pushing yourself almost to your maximum; then you recuperate and do it again. You might do it ten or fifteen times in a race. When you don’t have the conditioning or if you’ve been away from it a long time, you forget how much cycling hurts. You really forget.”

Lemond, Greg, and Mark Hom. The Science of Fitness: Power, Performance, and Endurance. San Diego, Ca: Elsevier, 2015.
I’ve attempted to find the source of the famous Greg LeMond quote, “It never gets easier, you just go faster.” This is as close to the original source as I’ve been able to locate. On Page 122, the author discusses what LeMond meant when he said it. Unfortunately, Hom does not include a citation describing the original source of the quote (newspaper/magazine/TV interview?). Since the book is co-authored by LeMond it gives the quote credibility, but I would still like to find the original source. I have an open question on Stack Exchange on this subject:

Robertson, Donald J. How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 2019.
This was my introduction to Stoic philosophy and Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius and Hays, G. (translator). Meditations. New York: Modern Library, 2002.

Viesturs, Ed, and David Roberts. No Shortcuts to the Top: Climbing the World’s 14 Highest Peaks. New York, Broadway Books, 2006.
Page 68 Viesturs tells a story of his RMI guiding days on Mount Rainier when he and another guide on off days would race their bikes from RMI’s offices in Ashford to Paradise, climb Rainier, and then race back to Ashford.

McQuaide, Mike. 75 Classic Rides Washington: The Best Road Biking Routes. Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers Books, 2012.
I discovered this book after RAMROD. I wish I had known about it in the months leading up to STP and RAMROD, it would have added some welcome variety to my training rides.

Bicycle Build Notes

In 2018 I custom built my bicycle. For the bike nerds out there here are the details:

Ritchey Swiss Cross Disc (v1, 2018), 55cm
Ritchey Cross WCS Carbon
Ritchey WCS Drop In 1-1/8”
Rear Dérailleur
Shimano Ultra
Front Dérailleur
Shimano 105
Shimano 105 CS-5800 11-speed
Shimano Ultegra 11S 50-34MA
Bottom Bracket
Chris King BB Road
Shimano CN-HG601 11-speed
Salsa Cowchipper 42cm
Ritchey WCS C220 73D 80mm
F3 Cycling Form Mount (for computer & light) & Spurcycle Bell
Lizard Skins DSP 3.2mm - Camo Black
Paul Component Klamper post-mount short-pull
Paul Component Cross Lever 31.8mm Black
Shimano 105 5800 11-speed
Selle Italia Man Gel Flow
Ritchey WCS 1-Bolt
Continental Gatorskin 700x32
DT Swiss R 460
Hub Front
DT Swiss 350
Hub Rear
DT Swiss 350
LOOK Keo 2 Max & Shimano SPD Deore XT PD-M8000
Powermeter Pedals
Favero Assioma


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Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.