Sunday, July 15, 2007

Seattle to Portland in One Day (Or Less)

Seattle, WA | Saturday, July 14
This would be my sixth Seattle to Portland bike ride. And my third that I would do in just one day. That's 204 miles in just over 12 hours. I was about to begin a very long day for my feet, legs, hands, and most of all--my bum.

The long day began when I awoke around 3:30 a.m. My gracious, loving, longsuffering, and patient wife agreed to drive me to the University of Washington's north parking lot for our dark 5:00 a.m. departure. When we neared the lot, I could see dozens of cars queued up waiting to turn right to enter the lot. We turned left, and parked at the QFC across the street along with about 20 or 30 other riders. I got dressed, checked my bike, and kissed my wife goodbye. I'd see her about seven hours later in Chehalis at mile 106.

At the parking lot, I met up with Gary R. and Jay B. We moved away from the masses lining up at the start line and Jay shared a brief devotional and then I prayed for our trip. Cary B. showed up as we moved up to the very front of the next wave and waited for the announcer to send us off. Interestingly, Jay was #9 (of about 9500 riders) since he has served as the STP startline announcer for the past half dozen or so years. Chuck Ayers, Director of Cascade Bicycle Club walked by, greeted Jay and commented on how this year's announcer wasn't as exciting as Jay. Jay smiled.

And then it was time to go. The sky was beginning to lighten as we wound our way through the streets surrounding UW and the Arboretum. As we dropped down to Lake Washington Blvd., the sun began to rise over Bellevue creating a postcard-view along our route. In these early miles, there's lots of chatter. Cyclists are talking about how excited they are, who's riding with them, what struggles they had that morning or that week to get ready, but overall, everyone is in good spirits and having fun.

At Seward Park, the ride offers its first challenge. A hard right turn that immediately goes uphill at a high grade where experienced riders call out "Gear down!" reminding newer riders to shift into a lower gear before they reach the climb.

Meet the Bandits

When we hit Renton, Gary, Jay and I pulled over at the McDonalds on Rainier to meet the rest of our group, the "bandits." The STP sold out very early this year and caught several of my friends off guard. They hadn't registered yet. And so, in cycling parlance, Kristin, Bryant, Warren, and Stoney were bandits this year: unregistered riders. Bryant's gracious, loving, longsuffering, and patient wife, Patty, had agreed to driver her minivan as their sag wagon--their support vehicle. Although, she much preferred my name for it: the Patty Wagon.

In downtown Renton, I spotted my first STP anomaly, a longboarder apparently riding his board from Seattle to Portland. We wouldn't see him again. Our ride through Kent was direct as we bypassed the first reststop at mile 24. "We're not going to the carnival today!", I shouted. The first stop at the REI headquarters is noted as a real party atmosphere that's packed with as much food on the tables as there is bikes in the parking lot. The lines for the portopotties is usually 80 or 90 people deep and its easy to burn a good 45 minutes there. If we were going to make it Portland before sundown, we needed to keep moving.

Hey Cyclist, Gotta Light?

The Puyallup hill was the second serious challenge thrown at us. It comes at mile 43 and is a mile-long climb up 72nd St. E. Bryant commented that he had just seen a rider with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. "He must be French.", I said. Bryant's reply, "I just don't want to get passed on this hill by a guy smoking a cigarette." For the next 10 or 15 miles, we shared several jokes about cycling and smoking and spoke in our "smoker's voice." We still had energy to laugh. That would definitely change before the end of the day.

At Spanaway High School, mile 53, we found Patty's minivan parked a block away. She had the back open and it looked like a rolling supermarket. For the first time in six years riding STP, I felt unfortunate being a registered rider. The others reminded me the food was for bandits only. I ate some anyway.

After a 20 minute stop, we rolled out promising to meet Patty in a couple of hours in Tenino at mile 86. The sun was out and was bright and warm. We headed south on SR-507 past Fort Lewis and through tiny towns like Roy, McKenna, Yelm, and Rainier. Our average speed surprised me. We were cruising! I had 17.3 at one point, but I also knew that the second hundred miles were coming and they offered something we hadn't seen too much of: hills. At Tenino, we not only found Patty, but also an empty park restroom with NO LINES! We learned from Patty that traffic around the course was so bad, her average speed was just a few miles per hour faster than us. We were almost outpacing her!

After Tenino, we passed through Bucoda and then arrived in Centralia, the official STP mid-point stop. But we didn't stop. We did thoroughly enjoy the most refreshing part of the ride thus far, a series of water misters positioned just over the left side of the road. Ahhhh! We rolled right through the party taking place at Centralia College where riders had abondoned their bikes for the day, set up tents and were replacing their spent calories. It was just a few minutes before Noon. We continued a few more miles to a public pool parking lot in Chehalis where we met Patty as well as my wife Susie. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch, visited with each other, made our plans for the next stop, and began riding about 40 minutes later.

Ain't No Flat Ride

As I mentioned, the second half of the ride is where the hills begin. The STP is often incorrectly described as a flat ride. Au contraire. My GPS tells me at the end of the ride, that the elevation gain is over 6000 ft. There are no big climbs, but there are many small ones. And those add up fast. After crossing I-5, we climbed up one of those hills into Napavine and then turned toward Winlock. Near Evaline, someone ahead of us saw a Dan Henry (the painted symbols on the roadway marking the direction of travel) pointing a right turn down Old Schoolhouse Road. After making the turn, I saw about a hundred riders ahead of me making a U-turn calling out "wrong turn! wrong turn!" Seems that Dan Henry wasn't an official STP symbol and merely one left over from some other ride. You have to be a discerning Dan Henry reader on this ride.

What's the Deal with My Feet?!

Just before Winlock, I was thinking to myself, "Man, my feet are so hot! They're burning up! What's the deal?" I looked down to discover I had never removed my toe warmers. Useful in cold weather. Completely unnecessary today. In Winlock, I told Bryant to pull over while I removed them. He called attention to my dopey move for onlookers to laugh and point. Hey, makes for better stories.

After Winlock, we cruised through Vader, hit that nice downhill, and then suffered through a few rollers and bigger hills on our way to Castle Rock, our next stop at mile 138. Both Susie and Patty were at Castle Rock High School parked and waiting for us. My speed was slowing and the day was beginning to win the fight. But more fuel, some water on my feet, and a chance to sit in a real chair prepped me for a second wind (or perhaps this was the fourth or fifth wind.) After Castle Rock, we passed the official Lexington reststop, and then biked for awhile out in rural Cowlitz County. We finally found city roads in Kelso and Longview and then turned west toward our last challenge within Washington, the Lewis & Clark Bridge. This towering bridge, overlooking the Longview lumber shipyards, crosses the Columbia River as well as the WA/OR state line.

We're in Oregon!

At mile 153 we entered Oregon at about 4:30 p.m. We had just 50 miles to go. The end was in sight, if not physically, then at least mentally. State Route 30 takes us all the way into the Portland outskirts. It's rough, mostly uphill, and boring. Fortunately, this year didn't feature the other notable attibute, a headwind. The winds were manageable this year, but soon I was eager for a change of scenery. Get me to St. Helen's so I can see something different! At mile 175, we reached St. Helen's High School for our final rendevous with the Patty Wagon. It was 6 p.m. when we left and we figured we'd reach Portland before 8.

The last 29 miles are not among the easiest. But, soon I was seeing signs reading "Portland.....10" and rejoicing. I couldn't believe I'd be finishing so early. Last year at this point, it was past 9 p.m. and getting very dark. This year, there was plenty of light left. I could see where I was riding! We hit the streets of downtown Portland just after 7 p.m. and wound our way through the city weaving toward Lloyd Center and Holladay Park. Soon, the end truly was in sight.

The finish line was just two blocks away. People lined both sides of the street, cheering and clapping as we entered the finish line chute. Cheering supporters lined shoulder to shoulder on the metal barricades creating a long finish line channel within Holladay Park. Adrenalin began to course as I realized I had made a personal record. I finished in just over 12 hours time. It was 7:45 p.m. I had just biked from Seattle to Portland, again, but had done it the fastest I had ever experienced. I averaged 17 miles per hour. But all of that didn't matter so much right now. What did was getting off my bike, buying a Frappuccino, and then taking the best shower ever. It had been a long day indeed.

Time: 12:10:31
Dist: 203.83
Avg: 17.0
Max: 35.9
Total Elev. Gain: 6728 ft.
Max. Elev: 473 ft.


Anonymous said...

Interesting read. I'm planning on doing my first STP in 2012, and this was a nice overview of what to expect. Thanks for posting it.

Michael said...

Thanks for the account of what looks like a great ride. I too am going to ride it for the first time in 2012, only this 60 year old recent retiree is going to take his time and enjoy the two days. I don't have to go to work the next day!