Yes! 170 miles, over 9000 feet of elevation gain! Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Port Orchard, Allyn, Shelton, Olympia, Yelm, Lakewood, and then back to Tacoma.
Compared to STP
No comparison, or at least the comparative comparison is favorable in favor of RAPSody, not that there’s a contest, nobody actually says they love the oldest son first, although I happen to know I’m the most loved of my siblings, hey, lots of responsibility on these older-kid shoulders. Where was I.
If you haven’t done STP and are wondering, yes there’s a pageantry to STP… crossing the finish line in downtown Portland, running through the gauntlet of cheering people, is very cool, and reminds me pleasantly of my modeling/dancing days (I needed the money). STP is also about humanity – just read my previous posts. The math is formidable, 10,000 maniacs, around 20% of which are one-day maniacs. Whereas, RAPSody had a little over 400 riders sign up this year, and about 40 or so as the one-day option. 98% of the day I was purely alone, couldn’t see anyone behind or in front. Blissfully lonely. Yet about every 30 miles or so there was fan-solutely-tastic food at the rest stops with smiling volunteers. Lovely back roads. A country circuit circumnavigating as many waterways as possible. I had no idea, for instance, there were so many lakes in Mason County, and of course the Hood Canal can’t be beat. Again, if you haven’t done STP I recommend doing it at least once… then if you want to take it to the next level, or at least avoid the crowds, I strongly suggest RAPSody.
The Route and The Day
Before the ride I had spreadsheeted sections of the route and done a relative assessment of the average mph I’d need for each leg; heavily assuming my legs would be aching by the end of the day (9600 feet kept echoing in my head) I built in a ton of contingency, thanks to the project manager in me. It turns out I wasn’t too far off. It didn’t help that I got started about 40 minutes later than I’d planned. The fact that I was still able to get back to Tacoma Community College 10 minutes earlier than my worst-case-scenario plan means I shaved 45 minutes off that scenario, but still means I wasn’t burning the barn at all.
When we pulled into Fife (SurlyLady very graciously drove me there, and then came back to pick me up! Bless her!) it was sprinkling and 49 degrees. Yikes. This time however I was prepped, wearing leg warmers and a light rain shell. So, bike out of the car, front wheel back in, bib number diaper pinned on, shake the knocking knees and off I went after kissing the ‘Lady g’bye. It was dark and cold out. Here’s a pic of my freezing fingers:
Within a very short space I was on the Tacoma Bridge, awed by the view:
There were scattered groups of two-day riders. I passed most of them by the end of the bridge and then I hardly saw anyone for a long time. Ran into a few in Gig Harbor (which was super quaint, but my pictures didn’t come out as it was still too dark). I was in a sweat to make the Manchester rest stop by 8:00 as my Mom was going to meet me. Since I was 40 minutes late I had some time to make up. What I didn’t realize was (oh yeah) there’s a lot of elevation on this route, and I wasn’t able to fly like I’m used to. I was able to shave off about 10 minutes, getting to Manchester at 8:30, but my Mom called about that time to say she’d overslept! As for the Manchester stop, I saw the most people there, of the whole day. The food was fabulous: yogurt, homemade chocolate thumbprint gluten-free cookies (are you kidding!), lots of fresh-cut fruit; I had the cantaloupe, banana pieces… just so happy and lovely. And everyone so friendly. Those of you used to Cascade Bike Club rides where there’s a one banana to 100 rider ratio… RAPSody is sooo much better in the food department!
At Manchester I took off the leg warmers, but kept the jacket on as it was still chilly. Up and around some lovely backroads to Port Orchard (riding right along the water!) where it started to get sunny:
Yay, sun! Then through Port Orchard’s charming downtown… was tempted to stop at the Morningside Bakery which is really good… but I was following a gent on a Litespeed and decided to keep up. Then a curious road branching off from downtown P’orchard, just past the city hall spot, curious in that it was a three lane thing just surrounded by trees and hardly any turnoffs… like one of those planned truck routes that never got around to being an official truck route. Plus, it was mostly uphill. Ah, the uphill had begun. Well, my name is SurlyLad Montoya. You hills murdered my past self. Prepare to die.
Leaving the Port Orchard area the route started m’andering along backroads in a rough line to Allyn town, first reaching the tippy top of the Hood Canal and then skirting along the water. The Allyn rest stop didn’t come any time too soon. I was starting to seriously drag… there was a lot of altitude gaining! Again, the food at Allyn was amazing, calzones, fresh fruit in abundance, cookies, just the best, with smiling friendly volunteers. I was starting to see this was a theme. Also I was starting to see that you absolutely do not need to carry food with you on this ride, other than maybe a pack of M&Ms for bonk protection. Lovely Allyn:
I did some stretches, took a pee, put on some sunscreen (after taking off the jacket). Okay. Deep breath. I checked my phone and lo, I was leaving Allyn exactly per my timetable – that meant I had made up a lot of time! That put me in a better mood. Soon I caught up to the one of the few one-dayers I’d see all day, a nice woman cruising along on an orange Felt. I stuck with her for awhile and then took off. It was to become a recurring scene for the day.
Oh Lordy. The stretch from Allyn to Shelton has some serious ass hill climbing. With 9000 or so feet of elevation, and without any geographical points explicitly with the words ‘Mount so-and-so’ I figured that meant RAPSody equated to lots of rollers and, while technically true, I think the section between Allyn and Shelton had the most uphill of the day. Or at least maybe that’s what my legs were telling me. I started off that leg very strongly, averaging 18 mph, but by the end I had slowed to 11 mph, just as I limped into the Shelton rest stop. This wasn’t looking good. I was feeling kind of weird. On top of waking feeling like I’d maybe caught SurlyLady’s cold, all the incredible food and 79 degree temps were starting to roil around. In spite of that, when the fellow at Shelton walked up with a freshly made berry smoothie I could have hugged him – it was the best thing ever. Imagine, an organized ride with real berry smoothies, with a mixer machine and everything. I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. Dang that smoothie was good. So, back to the routine, stretches, sunscreen, pottie break, and back off I went. This time I was behind the lady on the orange Felt and we trooped along through Shelton and then hit a monster hill leading out of town. This was the only time of the day when I really was near someone else at all. Then a section along a really crummy road (mismatched concrete blocks) and eventually were got onto Highway 101. Yes, a highway.
As before, I started off a little slow from Shelton and then started feeling saucy so after talking with the lady for awhile (she was wearing a past RAPSody shirt so I was asking about how much more hill climbs there were) I took off. The route followed Highway 101 for awhile, and then branched off on interesting little detours (Hurley Waldrip Road anyone?), but every time winding back up on 101; this continued on for four cycles or so. The speedracer in me actually preferred Hwy 101 as it was relatively flat and bump free, but while the backroads had some height and a lot of crummy chip seal to them, the randonneur in me felt their views were incomparable, tidy little pastoral pastures etc. Except for when I rode past the Little Creek Casino and saw the hundreds (thousands?) of cars parked there, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I had to shake my head. It just made me feel sad, and well, to be selfish, happy for me because I feel like I’ve won the lottery with this biking thing. It just fills me up with so much joy, the adventure and the grind and the challenge and the sweat and the sun and fresh air… I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything. Okay, maybe a Ferrari TDF Berlinetta in baby blue.
One quick callout: finally leaving 101 behind, you proceed over an overpass and then through a charming little squirrel hole of a one-lane road down to the water for some nice views, parallel to 101, coming up five miles or so later on the Blue Heron Bakery, and then up a sobbing, heartbreaking hill next to the bakery… ugh. Not too far past this was the McLane Trail, which is a very fun, curvy and swoopy paved trail, almost like single-tracking through the forest on a road bike. At this time of the day, feeling more and more weary, a stretch of trail through a shady forest was perfectly placed. As before, I was starting to seriously drag by the time I got to the Yauger Way rest stop. Again the volunteers were friendly, but a little restless: I was #22 for the day, and they were wondering where everybody was. From what I saw at Shelton, aside from the lady on the orange Felt there were maybe half a dozen behind me. Speaking of the orange Felt lady, darned if she didn’t pull in behind me and leave while I ran off to the men’s room – total tortoise and hare action! I soon caught up to her again and we chatted for a while. She then led me through downtown Olympia, where we were both almost plowed into by a right-turning SUV (geez what a moron that driver was), then on the outskirts of Oly (Boston Harbor Rd) I bid her adieu (this time for final it seemed) and took off, feeling saucy again. And then about half an hour later, per usual, not so saucy.
Here’s the part of the day when, I won’t lie, I started to seriously doubt myself. Physically I was taxed, but more than that mentally I was starting to lose it. Unlike on STP when you can’t help drafting, even if you don’t want to, due to the sheer number of people, where there’s always a bunny rabbit beckoning in the distance to chase after or a wolf in the back to run from, on RAPSody you’re all by yerself. It’s a mental trip. At one point I got so desperate I started casting around for anything to draft. Ah! There’s a couple of kids, one on a mountain bike and one on a BMX-er, I’ll draft them. They weren’t fast but I stuck with it, giggling to myself. This worried them, I could tell, and they started slowing down. I cursed them, and in a gravelly voice started chanting things like “I’ve got the grime and crud from three different counties crusted on my legs! I’ve got the bugs of three different counties in my beard! I’ve got pictures of Marilyn Monroe in my wallet, shaped like my ass!”
Understandably, they peeled off. I don’t even have a beard.
Soon I was in the Fort Lewis area and hit a demoralizing hill just before I-5. I made it up that hill. I had to lose a part of my soul to do it, however. At this time of the day I was hitting the granny gear pretty much at even the sight of a ten-foot long hill. One of the best parts of the day was getting onto I-5, what a crazy trip that was! It was only for a mile or so. If you happened to be traveling northbound on I-5 near Fort Lewis and saw a bicyclist in a blue shirt on a red bike who was alternately falling asleep and sobbing openly, that was me! Seriously though, that right there made the trip worth it in my book: in one moment you’re rolling along a gorgeous valley, watching fly fisherman lined up in a sunset-framed river, the next you’re on I-freaking-5.
Another hallmark of RAPSody is the use of all the paved trails down in that area. All you STPers know about the trail you get on soon after Yelm; well, let me tell you there’s a veritable network of such trails down there. It was a shady, surreal experience, having been alone for most of the day and then finding myself among recreational riders and dog walkers etc. Soon I made the Yelm food stop, where they had awesome turkey wrap sandwiches! Oh the food on this ride, I felt like I was actually going to gain weight on the day. At this final rest stop of the day, while doing stretches in the grass, I watched some of the other one-dayers leave me behind. I called the SurlyLady to tell her I wasn’t going to do any better than I’d planned, and that it looked like I’d hit Tacoma Community College at 8:00. I was bone tired. And about *this* close to asking her to come get me. But there’s a stubborn streak in me that hates even the thought of DNF. So I thanked the two volunteers and threw a leg over the saddle. They were taking the measure of me and wondering if I was going to make it, maybe because I got off to a wobbly start, missed the pedals the first 10 times I tried before finally I started turning over the crank. In the motion of the bike you will find salvation… that’s my mantra.
I managed even to get her up to around 17 and 18 mph for some stretches, feeling anxious about my timetable, but then I realized those were the last of my matches. I didn’t even have a scrap of newspaper to burn. From here on out it was going to be all fumes and fury. And so I wrestled mentally with the old noggin and physically with the leaden legs. Before I knew it I was in Lakewood and crossing a pretty little bridge, and had to stop for a snap:
Holy crap, it was starting to get dark! Back off I went, with a lot more urgency. I didn’t want to get caught out without a light, and besides I told the ‘Lady I’d be there at 8:00. There was a killer series of hills leading up through the end near TCC, with lots of cross-grained redlights no less, but before I knew it there was the campus! Yay. I rode up and saw the ‘Lady in the big parking lot, and then the lone sweet volunteer, sitting there in the near dark, starting ringing her cowbell and suddenly I just started grinning, I did it! I was so happy, and relieved.
I went to collect my ice cream (darn it I’d been picturing that for the last several hours) and SurlyLady said it was 8:00 exactly. Nice. Change of clothes, quick stop at Taco Time (blech!) and then she courteously entertained my raging demands for a chocolate milkshake before we made it home.
Today I’m a little sore but I actually feel pretty good. Rather than a recovery ride today, like real riders, I instead went to the Goat Factory up north for some volunteer work, shoveling the poop out of the goat pens for a couple of hours…
In summary, RAPSody is well worth it. I loved the variety of scenery, the volunteers and the food. Even the Dan Henry’s were judiciously spaced – I never once had to look at a map! Everything about the ride was top notch, and I think this is going to be my annual marker of fitness, rather than STP. It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done on a bike; it taxed me to about 100 and one percent. Next year I hope to bring the SurlyLady back with me and make a tradition of it.