AS I write this, it is the night before 10,000 of my best friends (cyclists all) converge on a parking lot near Husky Stadium (University of Washington) in the wee-hours of the morning. Yep it is the night before the biggest cycling event of the year for Western Washington, Cascade Bicycle Club’s Seattle to Portland!
Yep 206 miles of rolling hills, small towns, back roads, official food stops and kid’s bake sales.
People ride this ride on every type of bike you can think of. Tandems, recombinants, single speed, racing, touring, mountain, unicycles and there is even one guy who longboards it.
There are many people who think of this ride as much too big, or crowded, or overrated. For me, it is still my favorite organized ride. I grew up hearing about this ride,this is the 35th running of it. It was interrupted in 1980 due to a little thing call the Mt St Helens eruption, but otherwise it has run every year.
I look back fondly on this ride. It was my first goal as a new (ok renewed cyclist). I had had years of disappointments trying to climb Mt Rainier, and I was starting to doubt myself. Maybe adventure wasn’t my thing. It might be time to retire and become a coach potato. But in 2008 I decided to try one more thing.
I decided to do it in 2 days, which the vast majority of the 10000 riders do. I planned to camp 10 miles past the halfway mark in Chehalis, WA (I figured 110 miles day one meant 90ish day 2!) I threw my Northface duffel with clothes and a tent on the transport truck and off I went. The ride went off without a hitch the first day. I had trained well, conquered the one “big” hill (really it aint much) and pulled into the camp a little after 2. I got there just in time foe a quick shower at the pool before it closed.
After setting up the tent, I decided paying for a meal at Denny’s sounded better than waiting in the long line for the free spaghetti feed. As I walked there, I saw what had to be a mirage. Yes a hotel with a vacancy sign! On the STP route the few hotels are booked MONTHS if not a year in advance. I walked in, and sure enough, they had a last-minute cancellation. It was only one room, and it was $175. After a 10 second ponder, I slapped down the VISA!
I walked back, tore down the tent, and went to my room. Not only was it a room but it had a huge soaking tub! Oh hell yeah!
I still hadn’t eaten, so it was off to Denny’s for a Moons Over My Hammy, and piece of carrot cake for dessert. I sat at the counter, and the server chatted with me the whole time, and told me she grabbed the biggest piece of cake they had. The bill was just over $10 and she got a $10 tip! She earned it.
I soaked in that tub for an hour!
I remember bits and parts of the next day. Mostly I remember the legs being worn out from the day before, and struggling to get into a rhythm. However, with that many riders, you get energy from each other. Soon I was cruising along, leap frogging with people, and chatting with everyone. Soon I was crossing one of the bridges in downtown Portland!
I was going to reach my goal! And yep, 15 minutes and one last long hill later, I crossed the finish line to get my finisher patch!
I look back and think that it was even more of a feat since I hadn’t started using clipless pedals yet. Yep, rode it in jogging shoes.
Last year I rode it again, this time in one day (16 hours and 13 minutes to be precise!) That stands as my longest single day ride, and one of my proudest cycling accomplishments (It took a hotdog and a brownie to get me through the last 30 miles!) The best part was having my gorgeous wife waiting for me in Portland. I took a shower, she ordered me a beer from room service, I drank it and fell asleep 5 minutes later! But she was there to give me the congrats hug and kiss after the ride!
Since the fist year I rode it, each year it comes up, including today, I get this pang in my legs, an urge to saddle up and ride it again. It’s the atmosphere, the people, the course, and just the excitement. No other ride, even those put on by Cascade, comes close to it. I am sure I will ride it again. I am not sure whether it will be in a 1 or 2 days, but I’ve enjoyed both trips and think I deserve a 3rd!
Tomorrow, my two friends Auburn Liz an Mighty Manda take off on their first STP! Ride it like you stole it ladies! Point your noses south and keep pedaling! And if you end up in Chehalis, have a piece of carrot cake for me!