If you grew up in the Pacific Northwest, chances are good you’ve heard of the Seattle to Portland bike ride, or STP. Every year, 10,000 people hop on their bikes and ride the 200+ miles to Portland, Oregon over one or two days. If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever consider doing this, I would have laughed at you and exclaimed “Not on your life!” And yet, here we are.
A couple weeks ago, my friend Maggie flew out from Boston, bike and all, to join me for Seattle to Portland 2017. I’m not entirely sure why I suddenly decided to do this, especially considering I had shoulder surgery in January and didn’t even get on a bike until April. In fact, the last time I’ve even been on a (non-stationary) bike was in 2012 when I rode 17 Mile Drive from Monterey to Pebble Beach. So why on earth am I doing this? Well, as one of my softball teammates put it, “To live life.”
Before the ride begins, we need to make sure our bikes are in good shape – seats adjusted to the right height, tires properly inflated, etc. It looks like we know what we’re doing, with our tools and parts. We have no clue. But somehow, we manage.
Sneak dog attack! The dogs insist on helping, too. Sophie (yellow) and Beau (black) are not fans of being left out of anything. Ever. Seriously don’t even try, they will Homeward Bound a way.
Please oh please let everything go well.
The day before the race, we stop by REI to pick up our ride packets and buy the last few things we need – spare tubes, patch kits, water bottles, tire levers and a few more snacks, just in case. Then we stop at Lunchbox Laboratory for a carb-filled lunch. Maggie orders the Psychedelectable burger with grilled onions and mushrooms and I order the Totchos. It’s ridiculously good.
We’re up at 4am on Saturday, loading up our gear and eating as much as we can manage at this early hour. We need all the energy we can get. The ride starts at 5am at the University of Washington, but you can show up earlier to drop your bags. The 1-day riders (yes, some crazy people do all 203 miles in one day!) leave first, but we want to make sure we are ready to go as early as possible. I’m estimating it will take us 10 hours to get to Centralia, but I want to give us as much time as I can.
I have to say I’m surprised by just how few people are at the starting line. I know several waves have left already, but with 10,000 people participating, I expected this place to be a zoo. Instead, it’s all very well organized and the atmosphere is quite subdued. Since it’s 5am, I’m more than okay with this.
Do we look awake and ready? We don’t feel awake and ready. But there’s no time like the present to get a move on. We join the next wave about to start and suddenly we’re off!
The route leads us through the Arboretum to the shores of Lake Washington. It’s incredibly beautiful as the sun rises and I have to stop to
rest take pictures.
One of the nice things about the STP not being a race is that you can pull over at any point that it’s safe to do so and rest/take pictures/chat/etc. I try to remind myself of this, but part of me is super competitive and I hate when people pass me. The other part of me is worried about getting a campsite in Centralia tonight. With 10,000 people making their way south, it’s very likely things could get filled up. And since I’ve never done this before, I have no idea what to expect. This keeps me pushing forward and I don’t stop as often as I would like for photos.
At the 24.3 mile mark, we come to our first official rest stop at REI Headquarters. I’m so happy to see it. It’s my goal to take it one stop at a time, to not think past the next food break and concentrate on the 25 or so miles ahead of me. Though even that seems a bit daunting.
Maggie rounds the corner looking like a legit cyclist.
We’re still smiling! At least on the outside.
The options at the supported stops are varied and plentiful. Everything is meant to provide riders with as much energy as possible. Fruit, tortilla’s with peanut butter, Clif Bars and SHOT bloks are plentiful, as is the Nuun and water. We take a well earned rest, stock up on snacks and get our bikes checked out by the mechanics, just to make sure everything working correctly. My tires are definitely low on air.
Back on the road we’re treated to more incredible views of Mt Rainier. Just one year ago, I was attempting to climb to the top.
Looking through the photos of myself, I have the same expression on my face – “Why the hell am I doing this?!”
One of my fears before the race is getting lost. I’m not as fast as many of the other bikers and often get behind the pack. They hand out maps, but it’s not always easy to pull out while you’re on the road to see where you might be. Much to my relief, the route is spray painted on the street at ever intersection and throughout the course, marking which way to turn, or to continue straight, as the one below indicates.
Check out my super sexy cycling outfit. Padded shorts are a god-send on long rides, and my brightly colored socks get more compliments than any outfit I’ve ever worn. Go figure, eh? I’m also wearing bike cleats, shoes that attach to the pedals allowing you to have greater control over your bike and use more and different muscles than you would otherwise. This allows a more even distribution of the workload on your legs. But cute, they are not. They also make falling a much scarier prospect.
Speaking of falls, I have a big one. Shortly after a mini-stop at mile 68, my rear derailleur (I seriously had never heard of this before today, because I’m a top notch cyclist, clearly), the part that attaches the chain to your back wheel, sheers off, catching in the spokes of my back tire. Fortunately I land mostly on grass that’s lining the street and only come away with minor scratches (and major bruises, but those don’t appear just yet). Also fortunately, I’m less than a quarter mile past that mini-stop, and they happen to have a mechanic. Unfortunately, I’ll probably have to carry my bike all that way, and I’m not even sure they’ll have the parts needed for this repair. It’s kind of a big one.
As Maggie and I are walking back, a guy with a flatbed truck pulls over and offers to drive me back to the stop. My arms are saved! Normally I wouldn’t get in a car with a stranger (mom), but I’m rather desperate. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers.
I fight back tears the entire time, hoping my ride isn’t over. I’ve been anticipating this ride for awhile now and for it to end this way would be heartbreaking. I’m also not sure I really want to do this again, so if I could just complete it now, that would be great. Luckily, they are able to repair my bike! I am so relieved.
See? Minor. Though they were bleeding a bit more before I took this photo. Cleaned myself up for the camera, of course. I’ll spare you the photos of my bruises.
It takes me a bit over 11 hours, but I finally make it to Centralia College – 98.2 miles from the UW. I am sunburned, bruised, exhausted, dehydrated and I hurt in so many places. I can’t wait to get off my bike and I frankly don’t care if I never see it again.
Maggie is somewhere behind me, and I figure she’s going to be even more tired than me so I grab our bags from the truck drop off and set up the tent on one of the last few spots on the lawn. Thank goodness I didn’t arrive much later.
I strip off my sweaty cycling kit, put on some comfy clothes and lie outside to wait for Maggie. Check out that tan line.
She arrives roughly 50 minutes after me and collapses into the tent. After a good rest and a fistful of Aleve, we’re ready to explore the grounds. They have quite the set up here.
The beer garden looks like a popular choice, but I can’t imagine drinking alcohol right now. I’ve just barely managed to stay hydrated all day, the last thing I want to do is undo all that work.
There are massages on offer and they look absolutely divine. My neck is really sore from the angle I held it while on my bike and I wouldn’t mind getting some of the tension released. Sadly by the time we arrive, they are booked up and we’re out of luck. Maggie and I agree to give each other massages later, but end up passing out instead.
The food options are plentiful, including an unlimited spaghetti feed. But we decide to go with Mexican, and Maggie gets chocolate covered strawberries and bananas for desert. I think she likes them?
It’s been one of the longest days of my life so far and I get to do it all over again tomorrow. We make our way back to the tent, pop a few more Aleve and pass out around 830pm. There’s another early morning ahead of us and we need all the rest we can get.