I called it the Rainier Triple Crown, and finishing it proved more rewarding than I ever expected.
The idea started percolating, when I was kid staring at the mountain from home and dreaming of climbing it and then of hiking around it. My triple crown idea took shape as an adult when I fell in love with cycling and decided I wanted to bike the hilly roads around the peak.
It’s a totally contrived accomplishment, I know. But I’m one of those guys who need goals — contrived or otherwise — to stay motivated to exercise. And that’s all I wanted from my Rainier Triple Crown.
I got it, too. But that wasn’t the best part. Not even close.
Here’s how it would work. I’d climb the 14,411-foot mountain. Then I’d hike the 93-mile Wonderland trail. And I’d cap it off with the relentless cycling ultra-marathon called Ride Around Mountain Rainier in One Day, better known as RAMROD. The three trips were a grand total of 261 miles and more than 42,000 feet of climbing.
A better organized and fitter person, less prone to collapsing into a whimpering mass of cramping humanity, could probably knock this out inside a week. I hoped to do it in a year or two.
It took me three days shy of a decade.
Two buddies and I rolled across the RAMROD finish line Thursday evening in Enumclaw after 150 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing. We looked back at the mountain and toasted the occasion with ice cream sandwiches.
They were among the few I’d told of my little goal. Now that I was done, I knew I could count on them to be thoroughly unimpressed.
Rick Beitelspacher and Russ Meyers watched me cramp up in the 97 degree heat just 30 yards from the top of Cayuse Pass. Then again 1 1/2 miles from the finish. On one of those occasions they were kind enough to wait for the cramping to stop before making fun of me.
They didn’t have to say what I’m sure they were thinking: If that guy could do it, they definitely could. Heck, almost anybody could.
Absolutely. Although, I’d add, none of these adventures should be taken lightly. Each is challenging. And whether crevasses, rock fall or speeding downhill at 40 mph on tires the width of your thumb, each has inherit risk. People have died attempting each, the merciless upper slopes of Mount Rainier claiming the most, more than 100 souls.
But, yes, prepare well, train wisely (and probably hire a guide for the climb) and most people can do these things.
I was more than halfway finished with my goal before I mentioned it to anybody besides my closest friends. It was the summer of 2012, and I was on a weeklong trip on the Wonderland Trail. My hiking partners, Matt Misterek and Thad Richardson, were lounging next to Reflection Lake, and I struck up a conversation with an elderly man who’d just hiked down from Paradise.
He told me how he still wished to finish his “Rainier Double.” He’d climbed Rainier, but had yet to hike the Wonderland.
His questions were the same as everyone with whom I’ve since shared my goal.
Which one is hardest?
I said the Wonderland was tougher than climbing the mountain, but I quickly amended my answer. “It’s whichever one you did most recently,” I said.
If he asked me today, after biking through the uphill oven that is RAMROD, I’d have said the bike trip. The truth: The pain and suffering fade, the good memories don’t.
What was the best part?
Not what I expected. Not the fitness motivation. Not finishing. Not the gratification of checking it off the bucket list. Not the view from Columbia Crest, the pink sunset at Klapatche Park or the relief of reaching Cayuse Pass.
I pointed at my friend sleeping on the side of the lake. “The friends who go with you,” I said.
Super cheesy, I know. But true.
When I think of the summit, I think of my friend John Osmundson’s celebratory cartwheel. When I think of the Wonderland, I think of the seven days of swapped stories and inside jokes.
I’m sure my enduring memory of RAMROD will be slowly, painfully climbing through the heat for 11 miles up 4,675-foot Cayuse Pass with my friends and them needling me for cramping with the top in sight.
Suffering with friends forges relationships infinitely more meaningful than fulfilling contrived goals.
And friends provide more motivation too. When I told Misterek I was finally finishing the Rainier Triple Crown, he, too, was unimpressed.
“Shouldn’t there be a fourth thing,” he said. A Rainier Grand Slam?
“I guess,” I said, “like what?”
All of his suggestions were terrible. One involved riding a black bear through a mountain lake. But I guess that’s not really the point. There should always be a next adventure, one you can do with friends.
As for what, I guess we’ll discuss it further this summer while we’re hiking the Northern Loop Trail.