By Jun Tay, John Nguyen, Kelly White and Mitch Ishihara
The SIR 2019 Tune-up 300 starts this Saturday, July 27 at 6 AM. Please note check in opens at 5:30 and closes at 6:30 AM.
Anciens recommend a PBP Tune-Up ride practicing efficient controls with a goal of finishing in under 15 hours. So, test out those legs and practice keeping control stops brief, even while many mountain views lure you off the saddle for selfies and scenic background photos. In addition to the tune-up for your fitness and shake-down for your bike, it would be hard to find a more beautiful ride.
The route begins and ends in the parking lot between Shari’s Cafe and Pies and the Quality Inn in Renton to dovetail with the Tune-Up 200 (on Sunday, July 28). It follows mostly familiar routes around Mt. Rainier through south King, Pierce and Lewis counties, with a few surprises thrown in for good measure. We ride through the renowned Western Washington locations of Renton, Cedar River Trail, Maple Valley, Black Diamond, Enumclaw, Greenwater, Gilford Pinchot National Forest, Cayuse Pass, Packwood, Ashford, Elbe, Eatonville, Kapowsin, Orting, Sumner, Pacific, Algona, Interurban Trail, Auburn, Kent, and Tukwila. The ride is self-supported, but there are plenty of services available along the way with a little bit planning ahead of time—see the volunteers’ pre-ride experience below.
We rode the pre-ride on Sunday July 21 and parked at the Renton Community Center which is across from (and a little bit south of) Shari’s. However, signage indicates that there is a six-hour time limit and the Renton Community Center is open to reserved events on Saturdays according to the website. Online reviews suggest the parking lot can get packed. We recommend not parking here.
Update: We recommend you do not park at the Cedar River trail head.
The City of Renton Cedar River Trail website notes the following parking locations:
Cedar River Trail Park, Renton Memorial Stadium, Renton Senior Activity Center, Liberty Park, Cedar River Park, Riverview Park, Maplewood Roadside Park, Ron Regis Park and at Landsburg.
Some additional suggestions for parking can be found here: https://www.rentonriverdays.org/directions-parking/
Renton is also a relatively short ride from Seattle, Bellevue, Sammamish or Issaquah, so local riders may enjoy extending their day with “transport stages” rather than deal with parking.
Out-of-towners staying at the Quality Inn in Renton might ask the hotel about parking during their stay.
Renton to Cedar River Trail to Maple Valley
Just after sunrise, four volunteers enthusiastically gathered at the start as shown in the photo below. For the pre-ride, the weather forecast promised sunny and warm weather, 84°F (28.8°C) in Seattle, in contrast to the cooler and rainy weather in early July. However, if we look a bit rigid and uptight in the photo, maybe that’s because we were awakened by 44°F (6.66°C) summer morning air. The Cedar River Valley is one of those places where the cool air seems to sink in and hang about. One of the volunteers wished he’d brought his base layer and arm warmers. [Ed’s note: No prize for guessing.]
After navigating under and around gates through Cedar River Park, and a few minutes of searching around for the Cedar River Trail, we headed toward Maple Valley. A light morning dew greeted us before any mountain views.
The nice and pleasant, cool summer morning air warmed up a few degrees before we turned right, uphill, and the paved trail gave way to 3.3 miles of compact dirt and gravel along Lake Wilderness. At the end of the gravel trail, and after a couple turns, we traveled another small stretch of loose gravel prior to a right turn onto WA-169 S/Maple Valley Black Diamond Rd SE (at mile point 15.2). That about concludes the gravel for this brevet!
Maple Valley to Black Diamond to Enumclaw
Proceeding to Enumclaw, elevation gain trends up imperceptibly with one dip and subsequent climb crossing over the Green River Gorge. We noted several SIR-grade food services found along the stretch of WA-169 for those in need—like Jun and Kelly, who made a quick bathroom/food stop at McDonald’s where they were surprised by the nicest bathroom they have seen on any brevet—otherwise we kept moving.
That is, until we spotted this almost perfectly lined up view of Mt. Rainier:
Followed by this…
Enumclaw to Greenwater
After turning left onto Griffin Avenue in Enumclaw (at mile point 26.2), we noted a few food services were open near the intersection of Griffin Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue (WA-410) such as 76 station, Safeway and McDonald’s.
After turning left on WA-410, not a cloud in sight could be seen, as shown in the background of the photo below. We didn’t stop to check out Enumclaw Ski & Mountain Sports (bicycle gear?) in the foreground since it was not open yet.
As you leave Enumclaw, a highway sign shows 40 miles to Cayuse pass, the first of two big hills of the day. Over the next 18 miles, we climbed from an elevation of 760 feet to 1,700 feet (+1,360 feet / -420 feet), working our way up to Cayuse Pass. We all regrouped at the Greenwater Control where we practiced PBP control skills: A brief stop to get the brevet cards signed, then refuel, bathroom break, back on the road.
A few hundred yards ahead of the general store is Greenwater Outfitters Café and Snowboard Shop, a tempting control option for those who love coffee and prefer warm food to refrigerated sandwiches. We didn’t stop to check the place out—we were practicing quick controls—though looking at their menu now (https://www.greenwateroutfitters.net/deli), maybe we should have.
Leaving Greenwater, we looked forward to getting to the summit of Cayuse pass before the heat of the day really kicked in. Depending on the temperature forecast for the brevet, consider bringing along a 3rd water bottle, as the next full services won’t be until Packwood, 46 miles and quite some climbing away.
For those keeping your total elevation for the day, the gain thus far is probably 2,700 feet.
Greenwater to Gilford Pinchot National Forest/Cayuse Pass to Packwood
It is 46.5 miles between Greenwater and Packwood. This includes a 23 mile climb up to Cayuse Pass (+3,150 feet / -150 feet), including a 17 mile stretch of 1.4% average grade up to about the entrance of Mt. Rainier National Park at mile 59.5. For the next 10 miles be prepared for real climbing a 5.4% average grade and sections up to 7%. Traffic was unpleasantly heavy; fortunately, speeds are low and drivers mostly polite. On the right there will be a couple of breathtaking views of Mt. Rainier, stop to take some pictures, catch your breath and hydrate.
With the heat of the day kicking in—it would eventually rise to at least 98.6°F (37°C)—Kelly finished his water at the summit of Cayuse Pass. Jun Tay will staff a secret control here, and water and sodas will be provided to keep you well-hydrated. Leaving the summit with water bottles refilled, you’ll be pleased to note that the majority of the traffic continues on Highway 410 to Yakima while you will continue to the right on 123.
You now have a 22-mile descent (mostly descending) to Packwood to enjoy. The first 10 miles is your big reward for the climb: a screaming descent where the main exercise will be for your forearm muscles from feathering your brakes. [Ed’s note: If you’re braking too much, try sitting up to catch more wind; it’ll slow you down some and help to spare your rims or rotors.] Enjoy it, but do remain attentive and cautious as cars will be moving quickly and there can be strong crosswinds.
Highway 123 joins highway 12 at mile 84. With 7 sunny miles to go to Packwood and services, Kelly suddenly noticed that his throat was dry and he was very thirsty. The heat of the day was really kicking in and while still descending, the 7 miles took some effort. What a relief to arrive at the Packwood Tatoosh Food Mart, air conditioning and ice cream bars! The temperature turned out to be 94°F (34°C)—and likely hotter on the pavement. Anyway, please top up your water bottles and get ready to work those ice cream calories off.
Packwood to Ashford to Elbe to Pack Forest
Cooled off, refueled and rehydrated, with sun sleeves and hats soaked with cold water, we set off on the 2nd big hill and last major challenge of the day: Skate Creek Road. This is the same route that was part of the Tahuya Hills 600k in June, but in the opposite direction. Thinking of that ride, we fondly recall descending Skate Creek road with its twists and turns. Ascending it, however, presented a different pleasure: climbing Skate Creek Road is among the prettiest rides we have enjoyed. A beautiful boulder strewn creek and shade, lots of shade. Given the heat of the day, that in and of itself made the climb.
From the top of Skate Creek, we made our way to Ashford, home to Mt Rainier climbing expeditions, where we settled in for a civilized meal of pizza, and for Kelly, a chicken sandwich with bacon and Swiss cheese on a gluten free bun (unheard of on a Rando ride!), all at the Base Camp Grill. From there it was mostly paceline work with John and Mitch doing the lion’s share of the effort. We made good time in spite of some significant headwinds.
As you arrive in Elbe, be extra careful getting thru a couple of bad railroad tracks depending when you get there. There was still plenty of daylight for us to watch out for those bad spots.
Orting to Renton
At this point, the pre-ride felt fairly uneventful with mostly small rollers as the climbing is pretty much done after about mile 150 (240km). The remainder of the ride included a surprising amount of bike trail, the highlight of which was the newer Foothills Trail connecting Orting to Puyllup. From Puyllup to Sumner, you’ll ride the Sumner Link Trail (plus a few roads).
And from Sumner to Tukwila, you can sit back and enjoy your ride to (very nearly) the finish via the famous Interurban trail. [Ed’s note: There’s an annoying detour in Kent as a section of the Interurban is closed until some time in 2020. But follow your cue sheet (or GPS) and you’ll be back on the quiet trail in no time.]
From Tukwila back to Renton is just a few miles, including a return to Cedar River Park and those gates from the start. We rolled into Shari’s happy but beat from the heat. Tired but exhilarated. We’d say that is a perfect way to end a long day on the bike.
We will see you at the start this Saturday and wish you the best of luck and a safe ride!
Preregistration and route details on the SIR website: https://www.seattlerando.org/