I did it! I successfully finished this year’s annual 10,000-rider Seattle to Portland bike ride! And I have no idea how to sum up the two days of 206 miles.
First of all, most of the steps in this pre-ride blog post did happen. I never really threw a hissy fit, though. The closest I came was when I desperately needed Advil for my neck around mile 60 on the second day, and Michaela stopped when she would have preferred to keep rolling (me too, though, because we were in a great pace line).
Second, riding with Michaela was an absolute blast. She got hangry (hungry + angry) at one point and was apparently considering killing and eating me, but she refrained. She did then eat the innards of three turkey sandwiches at the lunch stop, so she clearly wanted meat…
Third, I don’t know how to write about the ride. Unlike a running race report, I am not about to bore all of us with how long it took to ride each of the 206 miles. However, both days’ rides were faster than my first century ride in May — even though the first day was almost 102 miles and the second day was 104 miles.
Training: Well, considering that my first-ever century ride was two months before STP (as this ride is known), I guess my mileage increased? Honestly, though, I was VERY undertrained compared to what most people may think. It’s hard for me to ride on week days, and I haven’t gone to gym spin classes since, um, February? Three weeks before STP, I rode 63 miles (of hills) on Saturday and 50 miles (plus a flat tire) on Sunday. The next weekend I had company who didn’t bring his bike, so I kept Saturday to 28 miles — and then Sunday was a failure of only 10 miles because it was incredibly windy and I just couldn’t mentally deal with it after nearly being blown over by a big rig. The Friday before STP was a work holiday for Independence Day, Michaela came to town, and we had a group ride of 60 miles. And that was it for my training. I guess you could say I am a consistent but determined under-trainer.
Pre-ride: I drove 11 hours to Portland on Thursday, then drove three hours to Seattle on Friday. I highly recommend audio books for road trips. Friday night, we went out to dinner with a few of Michaela’s friends, and then she packed.
Saturday morning: We woke up around 4:30 a.m. with Michaela saying, “Why is everybody meowing?!” This is what happens when one owns three cats… We drove three miles to the start (because it would be all uphill with backpacks on our way home, and we weren’t having any of that). Well, that was a mess and took about an hour to get in to the parking lot. First lesson learned for next time! Comedic moment #1: A guy’s bike apparently came off the rack on his car at a stoplight. How that happened was beyond us, and then Michaela realized the guy was wearing his bicycle helmet while trying to fix it. Safety first?!
We got started around 6 a.m., after happening to meet up with Karin and Greg, which is kind of impressive in a sea of thousands of riders, most wearing spandex and bike helmets. The riders start in waves to prevent total chaos, and we got started without incident. I later talked to a guy who started within a few minutes of us, and he saw a bunch of people falling over; I missed all of that.
We went up a few hills that really seemed like nothing to this “I live on hilly routes and have no choice” rider. We wound through some nondescript parts of Seattle while my nerves and excitement calmed down. I have no idea what we saw, actually.
Somewhere after mile 50, we wound up on well-traveled roads with a lot of cars. The shoulder got narrower and the big trucks seemed to get bigger. And then we reached Joint Base Lewis McChord, a massive military base that has six — yes, six — exits along Interstate 5. (Those of us who know about Fort Lewis and are confused: it’s the same place.) It was the first year riders could enter the base, and it was the most welcome relief EVER from that vehicle traffic. The roads were smooth and wide, the traffic was non-existent, and soldiers were standing at intervals, welcoming us and making sure we didn’t go into the areas that had signs warning about live ammo.
The lunch stop was inside the base, in a big area surrounded by vintage airplanes and signs reading “Do not lean bikes against planes!”
Michaela ate her several sandwich innards (no gluten-free substitutes at this ride, unfortunately), and all was well.
We rolled into the town of Centralia, Washington 101-plus miles later. Ride time was 6:50, for a pace of 14.8 miles per hour. I was pleasantly surprised, and I also really liked the creamsicles they were handing us.
We got the bags we had left in a truck in Seattle, and then hauled ourselves back onto our bicycles to ride 1.4 miles to a motel. A lot of people camp, but both of us wanted real beds and showers that were not in a truck. On our ride to the motel, we came across a giant pencil. This was actually one of four roadside attractions I had printed out and hoped to see on my road trip, and I may have gotten deliriously excited about it…
Dinner was at Denny’s, because it was the only thing in walking distance that seemed safe. (Definition of walking distance in this case: Travel 0.5 miles on foot but find short-cuts through parking lots. Avoid making eye contact with the yelling meth head.) Let me tell you, salad and a cheeseburger and hash browns from Denny’s were AMAZING. Michaela was able to get breakfast to go, because our room had a refrigerator and microwave. That worked well, and I now highly recommend Denny’s for cyclists.
Sunday: Time to do the “ride 100-plus miles” thing all over again. We got back on our bikes with some moaning, rode 1.4 miles to the start, and felt a bit better once we got ridof our backpacks. My knee and neck were hurting, and two spots had chafed the previous day despite my best attempts (those shorts are not going to be used again for rides longer than 40ish miles). But at some point, Michaela took this series of photos (I’m cut off in the thumbnail previews; apologies for making you click on the full pictures). I have no idea what was going on. Maybe I was channelling my inner t-rex?
The scenery was gorgeous. I don’t take photos while riding, since my phone is in a ziplock bag and I would probably drop the phone, fall over, and have blurry photos for my troubles. But just imagine quiet country farms, lots of greenery, and rolling roads with little to no vehicle traffic on an early Sunday morning.
About 30 miles into the ride, my knee stopped hurting for good. My chafing had calmed (better shorts this day), so my neck was the only cranky part remaining. The cyclists were more scattered today, since there were various Saturday night stopping points ranging from miles 102 to 140. We began latching onto pace lines and watched the speed pick up. Michaela had more food this day, so she didn’t have any canibalistic thoughts.
Then we reached the Lewis & Clark bridge, where we had to wait for a motorcycle escort (Michaela had been quite excited about the “escort”). The bridge design has supports that are big bumps for bicycles, and a volunteer had instructions: “Secure your water bottles and personal belongings. Watch for the bottles that have already been dropped along the way.” Ummm, wasn’t it a bit late to secure my bottles? How was I going to do that? Eat them?! Up the bridge we went, where one woman was apparently afraid of heights and began hyperventilating and making very, uh, awkward gasping sounds. I, meanwhile, was THAT rider who was passing people uphill and saying, “I love this!” The bridge goes over a big river with massive stacks of logs along the banks, and Michaela and I both said at the same time, “Look at all the lumber!” Then we started laughing, because clearly we’d been in close proximity for quite a while. We reached the top of the bridge and began flying down the other side. The side had big metal plates that were clearly the cause of bottle/item loss, and I saw a lot of travel-sized sunscreen bottles. Personally, I had an absolute blast on that bridge.
We got in more pace lines, at one point behind two guys from a Georgia team, with peaches on the tops of their helmets. One woman was singing “Zip a dee doo dah!” on her steel bike, and we’d pass her uphill but she’d annihilate us downhill.
We reached Portland, where we had both heard that the ride seems to take forever. It also suddenly got warm, with a hot breeze. We went up the St. John’s Bridge, which we had both started to fear because it comes around mile 190 and I had heard that people are walking their bikes up it because they’re so tired. Well, we had no problems (but did see a few people walking), and that’s when we knew we were going to make it. However, now we feared that we’d make it all this way, only to do something like crash at a stoplight at mile 199. That didn’t happen, but we did hit Every Single Red Light. It was so incredibly frustrating, especially watching our average speed drop when we both just wanted to give it everything we had left.
The last two blocks were lined with cheering, screaming spectators. It was like a marathon finish line, only I noticed it a bit more this time because I wasn’t as delirious. We passed under a big “Finish” arch and came to a sudden stop because everyone ahead of us was stopping. So, now I have official finisher photos with my foot on the ground… Ride time was 104ish miles in 6:44, for an average pace of 15.7 miles per hour. For perspective about that last aggravating part, it took us 20 minutes to ride the last four miles.
Then we went to collect our bags, which was a SEA. The bags were in lines based on bib number, but my small-ish rust-colored backpack wasn’t immediately obvious in the 8,000-bib-number range. I started to get annoyed, but then I had a realization: We had ridden fast enough that all of these bags hadn’t yet been claimed by riders! There are no chip timers or official finishing times, but that baggage room told me that thousands of people hadn’t been there yet. Yes, thousands.
We dropped our bikes off at a truck that would take them back to Seattle, collected our free cups, and went to wolf down free burritos and Nuun.
Then we went to our Kimpton hotel, where Michaela has listed my title as Commander. Because she is Michaela, they had a bottle of chilled champagne and a congratulatory note in our room. And because we are very normal human beings, we had to wear the hotel room robes.
And then we walked over to Clyde Common, where we ate fancy cashews and olives and popcorn and salad and scallops and drinks. Because what else do you do after riding 206 miles? Well, aside from talking about how “next time we should try to do it in one day”…