Sunday, 20 August
Formula for a really hard day on the bike(s):
1. Gear Push time trial, single bike, 10 miles
2. Gear Push time trial, tandem, 10 miles
3. Tandem ride in Mt. Rainier National Park, 75 miles
The Gear Push time trial is on that sweet, flat, winding course from Flaming Geyser State Park. There was no wind this morning, just sunshine and hot air balloons. I pushed a monster gear on the way out (55x12 much of the time) and a little easier on the way back. I thought I bogged down a little on the return but was able to go pretty hard from 1K out. I still haven't looked up my previous times on this course, but today's was good enough for fastest women's time for this race.
30 minutes after I finished, Jamie and I set out to ride it again on the tandem (thanks, Leslie!). The last time we rode together was for this race in 2005, and I still remember how he ripped off the start line and I thought I was going to have to beg for mercy before we got 100 meters out. This year was a smoother start and we settled into a good rhythm. He chose an easier gear than I would have, but it sure kept us moving right along. We had the fastest time of the day--until Matt rolled in 15 seconds faster than us. Still, second-fastest time made us pretty happy.
Then we packed everything up in the car and drove to the White River entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park (bottom of the Sunrise climb) to meet up with a bunch of his teammates out for a nice ride in the mountains. Just climbing Sunrise would've been "unambitious," so we headed the other direction: up Cayuse, down Cayuse, up to Backbone Ridge, down to Box Canyon, and then up Stevens Canyon to Reflection Lakes. We had originally planned to go all the way to Paradise, but a variety of factors induced us to turn around sooner. Good thing.
The best part about this ride on a tandem is the descents, and because of Sunday afternoon traffic, they were a mixed lot. We got about 2/3 of the way down Cayuse Pass before we caught a car and then had to sit behind it and smell its hot brakes. Going down to Box Canyon was great fun because there were no cars and the bike just floated around the easy bends. Once we turned around at Reflection Lakes, we were STUCK behind cars going WAY less than the posted 35 mph speed limit for the entire descent down Stevens Canyon. We (well, Jamie) had to ride the brakes all the way down. It was just not very much fun. The descent from Backbone Ridge to the park entrance at Grove of the Patriarchs has a lot of rough pavement and some tight hairpins; I remembered it being the most challenging descent in RAMROD on my single bike. Somehow, though, you miss (almost) all those little bumps on a tandem, and that descent was a ton of fun. We caught an RV toward the bottom; as Jamie pointed out, the good thing about that was that we found out where the bumps in the road were by how hard it bounced. And the last descent, from the top of Cayuse Pass down to the White River entrance, was spectacular. Two patient drivers stayed behind us and gave us lots of room; we were quite definitely exceeding the speed limit there. As we turned off, one of the drivers behind honked his horn and gave us a thumbs-up gesture and a wave as he went by--maybe flying down the hill on a bike looked like more fun to him than driving his minivan with a tent trailer in tow?!
But of course you pay the price of admission to get to do all those ripping descents: you have to climb. Nobody else in our group had done two time trials before setting out on this trip, so we were disadvantaged from the get-go. Add to that the fact that this tandem weighs more than our two single bikes combined. And then figure that we did at least 35 miles of climbing on a day when it was 86 degrees in Seattle. It was just plain HARD. I think it was one of the 5 hardest days I've ever had on a bike (not counting epic weather conditions). Definitely not the hardest, but right up there. And we weren't even racing. Jamie was losing lots more salt than he could replace, and finally about a kilometer from the top of Cayuse Pass, he had to get off the bike and work out a bad cramp in one leg. We knew the top was just around the corner, and when he got back on, he thought he could make it that far. But no. Maybe 250 meters from the top, we stopped again. Finally he was able to walk, and I pushed the bike, and then all was peachy for the descent.
Some interesting things learned for me. I'm glad I don't lose much salt when I sweat. People descend through turns very differently. People make very different gear selections (Jamie's TT gear was easier than I would have chosen, but the gear on the climbs was harder than I knew I could climb and not blow up my knees). And riding a tandem with your eyes closed is pretty cool. People on this ride were asking if that's what I do on the descents; no, but in the last 3 miles of the Cayuse climb I could focus on just pedaling if I kept my eyes closed. I had to open them when Jamie wanted to stand, but that was about it. The bike was so smooth [late correction: the bike handling was so smooth] that balance was not an issue.
It was a fun day. Jamie couldn't remember the fun parts when he was withdrawing into his private place as agony seized his muscles, and I'm guessing he wouldn't jump on a tandem for a ride today. But for me it was a great way to end a weekend of tandem fun--and I'd go again in a heartbeat.
Race results are here.