OK, I’ll admit it. I like to climb. I also like to play in the rain. I also like to ride my bike to Sunrise. I’ve done it every year for the last 4 years and have been a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to do it this year. Then Chris Heg said he really wanted to do RUSA’s Sunrise Climb 200K before it got too late because he’d done the ride with Redmond Cycling Club earlier in the year, but they weren’t able to ride above the White River Campground as the road was closed for construction. Then this week, Mark Thomas and his band of rowdies called in sick on Wednesday, the only day of the week that was probably well suited for this ride, and had a fabulous time.
So in reality, it is all Mark Thomas’ fault. Well, pretty much everything I do in randoneurring is his fault. At least, I find it in my heart to blame him for all of it. Every unnecessary hill I have to climb, every “extra” mile I have to ride. All his fault. After riding the South Hood Canal 200 with him a week and a half ago, I discovered that Mark is probably the only guy I know that loves coffee almost as much as me, in fact, he may even drink MORE of this lovely beverage than I do. The jury is still out on that one.
After reading the ride reports from Wednesday, I started to wish I’d been able to play hooky for the second week in a row and climb to Sunrise with (or far behind) them. But, alas, that was not to be, so I sent a note to Narayan and begged him to let me pull together a permanent on really short notice. His response was something like, “Hey, if you’re nuts enough to want to do it in that kind of weather, be my guest. Here’s your brevet card, and HELL NO I don’t want to go with you.” I think it was actually nicer than that, more like, “I’d love to ride with you, but I have to work.” Whatever!
Well, I did managed to sucker, I mean interest one victim, I mean partner for the ride. Ward Beebe and I met at a quarter to 6 this morning in front of the Black Diamond Bakery and as soon as we’d downed a little sugar laden carbohydrates and my second triple shot mocha for the morning, we were out of there at 7:15. The sky was partly cloudy, but seemed to be lightening up, and it looked like we might be in for a great day. As memory serves me, it was just about the same way a week or so ago when I repetitively told President Thomas sorta the same thing, “Hey! We’re riding right into it.” And we were.
Since we’d never really ridden together, a lot of our first few miles was spent getting to know each other, with conversation turning, of course to family and common interest in old-time music was discovered, with us knowing many of the same folks in yet anoter community. Not many randonneurs I know even know what “old-time fiddling” is, much less know any of the people who really play it. It was quite refreshing. After a quick stop to fill out some arcane question and answer quiz for the powers that be after a whopping 7 miles in Cumberland, we lit out for Enumclaw where we started the climbing.
The temperature had started out at 40 degrees, but now it was up to a balmy 43, but I knew the forecast was for 34 at Longmire (elevation approximately 2,800’) with a threat of snow. OK, we’re riding to Sunrise, elevation 6,400’ so I figured it might be a bit dicey and I’d packed my MSR Pocket Rocket camp stove
along with 2 of my porcelain demitasse cups and a silver spoon, coffee, sugar and a single “MOKA” espresso maker. I thought I might pick up a cup-o-noodles to cook at the top, but decided against it.
For wardrobe, I wore my Ibex knickers and knee socks, Patagonia medium weight base layer with one of my wool sweater-jerseys over it and a vest. In the bag I’d packed my Shower Pass rain jacket, leg warmers, an extra pair of gloves (they should have been the extra large over-gloves, but I erred in judgment there and of course, a pair of booties.
The profile for this ride is pretty simple. Climb for 65 miles, then descend for 61 miles. Very few turns, only 2 mid-ride controls and the roads are all in pretty good conditions, save for all the rumble strips they’ve installed along Hwy 410. These weren’t even too bad most of the time, with just a couple of sections that were problematic at all.
After climbing for about 37 miles, we turned off toward Sunrise and that was when I found out Ward had never climbed to Sunrise before. That was during a brief discussion as I was changing my one and only flat of the day. That was 10 minutes of down time and as we rode through the gate, I asked the ranger if there was any snow on the ground, he said that there wasn’t but it IS snowing at the top, so there might by the time we get there. Very comforting. He just looked at us like we were nuts and off we went into the wild gray yonder.
There is no food or water at this time of year at the Visitor’s Center, so we needed to make sure we were topped off. 3 bottles should be sufficient (2 for drinking, one for making coffee at the top). Then it was all about CLIMB, BABY, CLIMB. 6% and 7% grades met us most of the way from there to the top, and while the temperature had climbed to a very comfortable 46 degrees, it now started to drop, hitting 39 by the time we hit Frying Pan Creek. Then about 5 miles from the top, we got our first hint of snow and rain, as it had dropped to 37. By the time we got to the scenic overlook and were riding in the “fog” which is a polite word for frozen precipitation it was down to 34 degrees and as we rounded the corner, Ward wanted to know, “Is this it?” NOPE. Another mile to go – well, it’s actually almost 2.5, but what do I know? Finally, we hit the summit, grabbed a photo of Ward in front of the elevation sign and noted the information for the question and answer session to follow in our brevet cards.
Onward to the pit toilets (we used to call these outhouses) and there, Boothby set up for an espresso. I hadn’t carried a stove, a can of gas, 2 coffee cups, sugar, a pound of coffee (actually only 2.5 oz, but I like to exaggerate about this just like I do about nice weather) and a silver spoon all the way to the top of a mountain only to be screwed out of my hot beverage. At 34 degrees, we found the stove to have more than one use. I lit it first while I was preparing the espresso maker, and we spent a few minutes warming our hands over the burner. Ahhhhh. What a great feeling after such a long climb. Finally, the coffee was ready, we toasted our success, downed our java, packed up the goodies and set off down the mountain.
That was when the real fun began. Two different strategies, pretty much the same result. Ward decided to take it slow, I decided to get off the mountain as quickly as I could. By now, it was snowing harder and sticking on the side of the road, but not yet on the pavement. It stayed 34 degrees all the way to Frying Pan Creek, and the precipitation never let up, though the snow started to turn to rain from that point on. I would ride as fast as I could until my face and hands were totally numb, then slow down, “warm up” a bit, and then off I’d go again. Finally arriving at the ranger station after 15 miles, my teeth were chattering, I was shivering so hard my bike was shaking, and when I got off the bike, I spent a few minutes doing jumping jacks to warm up and a few minutes later, Ward showed up shivering and HIS bike shaking, too.
From there, it’s a nice pretty much constant downhill to Greenwater, where we stopped for a snack and hot coffee, and back on the bikes for the final 28 miles.
Now, something I’ve learned about SIR over the years is that their routes like to punish me early and often, and especially, they like to save a nice little hillclimb for the end of a ride. Today was no different. After leaving Enumclaw, we rode for about 4.5 miles, all the while wondering when’s the hill going to hit. Then we saw the downgrade sign and with a fast 4% descent for a mile, we crossed over the Green River Gorge and then we were treated to a nice little 7% for almost the last mile of the ride. With legs that felt like a two cement blocks, I struggled my way along, far behind Ward who seemed not to be phased by any of it, and then, with just one more little climb, there was the Cenex station, and the finish line. After a mere 10 hours and 28 minutes, we’d managed to climb to Sunrise, probably on the last available day of 2008 cycling season. Not bad work if you can get it.