2002 Seattle To Portland Bicycle Ride



The "STP" is a highly organized bicycle ride that goes (obviously) from Seattle to Portland, covering 200 miles in the process.  This year, it was over the weekend of July 13 and 14.

This was my first time riding in the STP, and the longest I’ve ever ridden my bike over a weekend.  I managed to complete the ride in two days, going 112 miles the first day, and 91 the second.

The ride started out around 5:15am on Saturday at Husky Stadium, in North Seattle.  Kristen had volunteered to help out with registration, so that meant we were both there around 4am.  I hung out at the car, stretching and making sure everything on my bike was still the way it should be for a ride of this magnitude, then finally crossed the starting line around 5:30a, shortly after it started getting light.

In the first 3-5 miles of the trip, there were probably 7 accidents where people had either crashed into each other, fallen off of their bike, or run into the back of parked cars.  (Yes, "parked" cars — because they were riding with their heads down and failed to look up to see what else was in the shoulders of the road).  So from the start, I was thinking that if this was any indication of what was to follow, that the entire course would be littered with these wrecks within a matter of hours.  However, after leaving the University district, people spread out a bit more, and things got a little safer and less chaotic.

Looking around me, there were truly all assortment of riders.  Most were on bicycles, but there was one on a uni-cycle, another on roller-blades, a handful of tandem-bikes, one 3-person bike, and several people in tri-cycles that were pedaled by hand, ridden by those without the use of their legs.  Beyond that, there were many for whom the traditional cacophony of colors found on bike jerseys was simply not enough splash, who resorted to accoutrements from Viking horns to plastic pigs on their heads.  If nothing else, it made them easier to spot amongst the other 7,000 riders along the route.  There was even one rider who brought his small dog in a basket on the front of his bike.

There were also a large handful of people riding various forms of recumbent bikes.  Of those, many were further   streamlined with a wind-faring up front, and some form of spandex that went from the edges of the faring to the back of the bike and left only their heads sticking out of the top.  The point was for the faring and spandex to make a more aerodynamic shape as they headed down the road.

Further on that extreme, there was one rider with a custom recumbent bike that was inside of a fiber-glass shell.  It had a cock-pit that opened up to let him in and out like those on fighter jets.  The rider was a goof-ball who looked like Christopher Lloyd from "Back to the Future", and wore an odd set of custom glasses that let him see out the back of his craft through two square holes in the cockpit.  He was not much faster on the up-hill or level parts of the ride, but would easily go 45-50 mph on several down-hill sections where the rest of us were only doing 40.

Several people along the ride were also clearly riding in groups.  They rode with various matching jerseys and took turns in the lead by breaking the wind up front that others would follow by "drafting".  This simple exercise of riding in the wake of the rider in front can easily add 2-3 mph to your traveling speed for the same amount of work.  By and large, most people were drafting for large parts of the ride, and it did not matter who was in front, or if  you knew who they were.  In fact, during the first day of the ride, I didn’t actually get to see that much along the route because I was usually drafting within 6 inches of another stranger traveling around 22 mph.  I had to keep my hands on my brakes and my eyes on his tire to keep safe with so little space between us.

In one of the more interesting groups there was a cyclist who had a trailer attached to his bike, on which he carried a box with 4 speakers — one going in each direction.  As they traveled, they were blasting rock music that could be heard for 500 yards.  It didn’t matter what they were playing… just so long as it was loud, and had a clear, fast beat to it.  I rode with them for about 5 miles, and it definitely helped on the up-hill parts.  After that, I passed them and continued at my own pace.

Normally, my own pace is about 16mph — slower on hills, faster on level and downhill.  My best speed riding my bike in to work had me going 16.8 mph over the 16 mile ride.  But on the STP, with all the drafting my average speed over the first 112 miles was 18.3 mph.  That doesn’t count time spent in the rest-stops every 20 miles, nor the time spent dealing with mechanical failures.

I was fortunate enough not to have any flat tires, but at about mile 35, my back wheel went massively out of true.  I could feel a large wobble in the back, and my rim kept hitting my brakes, even with them wide open.  So I had to pull over, get out my spoke-wrench, and try to re-true the thing on the road.  That took about 15 minutes, and it was good enough to get me the next 20 miles to Spanaway, Washington, where there was a mechanic at the next rest area.  He took a look at the wheel and saw that it was pretty screwed up, but was able to get it good enough for me to subsequently finish the ride.

Early on in the ride, and for the few days prior to the STP, I was wondering whether or not I should actually try to complete the entire 200 miles in one day or two.  About 15% of the riders do it in one day, and I was riding at the one-day pace, but by the time I got to mile 85, it was clear to me that it was getting close to quitting time.  I typically start to have a little trouble in my knees after around 65 miles, and this ride was no different.  At some point, my body simply rises up and says "what are you trying to do to me?  Enough already!"   

So I continued on past the 100 mile mid-point in Centralia, knowing it was only another 10-12 miles until Chehalis, where cousins Duke and Mar’ia lived.  Their house was actually only a few blocks off of the main route.  Unfortunately, it was also on the top of a very steep up hill, with a long set of steps to the house that seemed to go on forever.

Upon arriving at their house, I sat with ice on my knees and drank copious quantities of water, despite what I thought was a reasonable job keeping hydrated along the ride.  Meanwhile, Mar’ia made a meal that would put Martha Stewart to shame, including stuffed peppers and a deluxe Mac and Cheese dish loaded with enough fat and carbo-hydrates to push me through at least 40 miles the next day.  By the time 9:00 PM rolled around, I was a near zombie, and headed for bed.

By morning, I was afraid that rigormortis would have set into my legs and that I’d have trouble walking, but I was actually OK.  My knees were still a little tender, but my muscles felt fine after a little stretching.  Motivation, on the other hand, was bigger problem.  Duke made pancakes, and I had some more of that Mac and Cheese to go with it, yet I kept finding one thing after another to "stall" before actually getting back onto my bike.

I was concerned that if my knees were still tender at the start, that I might not make it to the finish line.  However, Duke had a knee brace that he lent me which made a huge difference.  Once I finally got started, I could tell within the first 5 minutes that it was making a big difference in terms of support.  By the time I’d gone a few miles or so, I again met up with the main group of cyclists, and began thinking that the journey was not so unreasonable after all… only another 85 miles to go.

During the second day, the rest-areas were a little closer together, and I stopped at most of them for at least a little while before moving on.  Unfortunately for me, however, there were far fewer people traveling at my pace that I could draft behind.  Whereas on the first day I could easily pedal at my own pace, then push just a little harder when another group passed me, today I found myself passing others who then slipped into my wake and let me pull them instead.  Fortunately, drafting is something that helps the riders in the rear, but does not hamper the rider up front.

At one of the stops, there was a cyclist who pulled into the rest-area and started to carry his bike.  I though there was something wrong, but he said that he simply didn’t want his tires to spin slowly in the rest area and potentially lower his rolling average on his cyclometer.  That made sense, but I simply turned my bike computer off when I entered the rest areas for the same reason.

I also noticed that from one stop to the next, it seemed that there were more and more port-a-potty’s lined up.  As if it was not clear enough already what they were, there was a paper sign on of them that said "Restroom".  Somebody joked that last year, there was a problem with somebody mistaking them for a vending machine, so they put signs on them now.  You might wonder why I mention the facilities in this little story, but after 10+ bananas, 5+ plums, a sizeable amount of water-melon, 4 apples, 20+ cookies, about a pound of grapes, maybe a sandwich or two,  and a fair number boiled potatoes and power-bars, one starts to realize that these things become a VERY important part of the ride.  So much so, that if I do it again next year I’m bringing my own TP so I don’t have to use the sand-paper that they are stocked with.

One of the bigger highlights on the trip came around mile 150, when we crossed the Columbia river via the Longview bridge.  The police gathered cyclists up into a group until they had about 300 of them, then closed down one lane of the two-lane bridge and escorted the lot of us over the bridge as a group.  During that time, the group obviously spread out, but to have that many cyclists taking over an entire road way at once on a high span bridge was quite a site to behold.  Then, as we descended down the back side of the bridge and around a clover-leaf, we were into Oregon, and Portland was now close enough to feel.

The remaining 50 miles were mostly along the Columbia River Valley, and consisted of more rolling hills.  A byproduct of being the lead cyclist in my groups for more of the ride today meant that I got to see more of the scenery, which was quite picturesque.  I kept an eye on my odometer periodically, but the remaining miles seemed to just slip on by, and before I knew it, I was at one end of the St. John’s Bridge over the
Willamette River, less than a mile from the finish line.  There was one final hill-climb to get to the top of the bridge, but from that point onwards, it was all down-hill to the finish line.

I kept thinking "That’s it?  This is really the end?  But I’ve only been going for about 5 hours so far today."  As I completed my final stretch down the hill to the finish line, I was filled with a sense of amazement, pride, accomplishment, fatigue, surprise, relief, and even a little disappointment that it was now over.

I had been training for this ride for over 3 months, having put in over 1,200 miles of preparation through my rides to and from work, and around the Seattle area on weekends.  I’d seen my average speed climb from about 13 mph when I started training, to almost 17 mph towards the end, to over 18 mph during the first day’s journey.  I had spent nearly 11 hours riding my two-wheeled vehicle from North Seattle, all the way South to the city of Portland, and now it was over…  At least until next year.

  Sat Sun Total
Total Altitude Climbed (ft) 3,200 2,800 6,000
Time Cycling 5:44:35 5:04:46 10:49:21
Average Speed (mph) 18.3 17.7 17.99
Maximum Speed 36 40.2 40.2
Distance Traveled 112.2 91.2 203.4


See also: 1994 Bridge to Bridge Ride

Copyright (C), 2002, by Ashley Guberman


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