3:15 in the morning is still dark. It’s before the alarm, and I’ve only had about 3.5 hours of real sleep, interrupted once by people outside on the street.
Getting dressed, including the ritual of the “butt wax” (chamois butter), migrating laundry, eating, emptying the dishwasher, loading the dishwasher, feeding the cats, letting the cat out, trying to get the cat back in, packing the last minute things into my bag and doing the last minute check of the bike… somehow it all gets done by 4:20 and we’re in the garage putting gear on our bikes. Rob cycles up to my house, having stayed at friend’s house just a few blocks away. We leave our bags in the garage for Sharlyn to pick up (Thanks Sharlyn!), I run into the house for that inevitable “one last thing I forgot”, I lock the garage and we’re on our way.
The birds are chirping. The sky is lightening. Still the streets are dark and quiet.
We meet up with Bill at 25th and the Burke Gillman, he had gotten there just seconds before. We ride to the start – Stephen’s new front and rear lights fall off as we go over some bumps as we enter Montlake and a car runs over his tail light.
We connected up with Anthony and Steve G “where the espresso stand used to be” – as Rob goes off to drop his bag on the truck. Anthony and his crew are in front of us, we figure out how to connect.
“Are you excited” says the guy over the loudspeaker? Yes, really, but mostly kind of chilly and nervous about my recently sprained ankle and just wanting to go. At least this is better than 2 years ago, I’m better trained and not riding on a bruise the size of a cell phone.
The start is slow, as usual. Someone bumps into the curb as we leave the Montlake parking lot. First bike down… not an auspicious start to the ride.
I get a phone call, there was an issue with some of the Portland crew Anthony knows, and they are behind us. We figure they’re faster than us and will catch up at REI. I can’t find Mitchel or Brad – I figure they’re going to start later and will just zoom passed at some point (it turns out they were in front of us and we had NO chance of ever seeing them. Brad finished in just over 12 hours. Mitchel had a great ride speed wise, but also was a ride ref and had to stay with the 8 accidents he saw. He finished at around 6:45pm).
But even as we climb the tiny little hill on Brooklyn from Pacific to Campus Parkway, I’m noticing something. The hill doesn’t bug me, I’m not winded and I don’t have to downshift.
It gets bright over the Cascades as we are making our way along Lake Washington Blvd, but we don’t see the full sunrise this time until we hit Rainier Blvd. Michael in his flannel shirt, cotton socks and gardening gloves catches up briefly to us as we are climbing up from Lake WA to Rainier, he hangs with Stephen and then we never see him again. Apparently he finished his first STP, in one day, in about 12 hours. Amazing.
I know we’re about 1/2 way to REI… I eat half a bag of sharkies and hand the other half to Stephen.
In the Kent Valley we see two things: the skateboarders who started at 3:30 am and another accident – an unhappy guy who obviously had a broken shoulder/collar bone/something being tended to by medics.
One day riding is great for a few reasons but one of them is getting to the REI food stop early and getting your pick of the Odwalla and the semi fresh sanicans. Can’t emphasize the importance of the latter. I eat a 1/2 banana, a whole odwalla chocolate protein, grab a bagel and throw it into my bento box. We hooked back up with Anthony (who had shed his coat and was now flying the PPTM jersey), Steve G & the Portland crew. Average speed to REI was 16.6mph, and we were at the rest stop about 10 minutes total.
We had a really nice pace/paceline going through the valley, through Puyallup. Steve’s rear water bottle carrier shattered in front of me after hitting a bump and he lost a water bottle and half of the carrier, but no one got hit by the debris. We didn’t go back for the bottle either. It was one of many things we saw on the road – bike lights, bottles, sunglasses… you could collect a bounty if you took the time.
I ate half a NuGo bar as we turn into Puyallup, and the other half as we pass the mini stop. I knew the hill was coming and I wanted to have something in the tank for that, plus we were about 1/2 the way from Kent to Spanaway. I feel like I did reasonably well on The Hill because I didn’t make everyone wait as long as I thought they’d have to! It only took me a song and a half on my speakers to get up it… Not many people passed me either. So I was pretty happy about that. I ate the mini bagel at the top. (Average speed to Spanaway was 16.8mph).
At Spanaway we stacked our bikes against the fence with Stephen’s remark “bike stacking is the corollary to bin packing.” I grabbed some cookies and rice crispy treat packets and stuffed them into my jersey, ate an oreo, a few oranges, pretzels, and a yummy Jamba juice. The bathroom line was long but the sanicans – really, for sanicans I can’t complain (and I hate sanicans). Unfortunately the lines were longer and we were here about 20 minutes though. I still think the better thing to do is to skip Spanaway and go 2 blocks to the Safeway around the corner to the bathrooms but I’ve never done it. Then again, had I done that I’d miss the Jamba juice…
The next section is back behind Ft Lewis and we didn’t really have much trouble with it – just fast and flat, taking turns pulling. Anthony, Steve and crew pulled ahead, but we figured we’d catch up eventually. Average speed to McKenna was 18.1mph, where we stopped for just a few minutes to pick up some Vitamin I and hit the bathrooms (no lines!). We hooked back up with “Legs” Lamarca and crew again. I ate something here, one of the rice crispy treats I think, I’m not sure. I also remembered to start putting sunscreen on my lips…
The next section of the ride is that Yelm Tenino trail – people have really mixed feelings on this. On one hand, it’s SO much nicer than years ago having to ride on the road next to it and dealing with the cars. On the other hand – 10,000 people on bikes going between 15-25mph on a skinny trail with “posts” in the middle (the posts were removed and this year they at least had some yellow cardboard or something covering the post holes – in past years it was either the post or the holes)…. it’s kind of crazy. In past years I’ve seen at least one or two accidents along this spot. This year we saw a bad one – a guy lying perpendicular to the trail with a group of people around him. We had to really slow down and put our feet down to get by. I heard someone asking “do you know where you are” and someone else calling 911, so I felt like it was ok to keep going. Still it gets you shaken a little bit.
Average speed for the 17 miles from McKenna to Tenino (including the trail): 18.1mph.
At Tenino I pulled into our “usual” spot under the trees and yup, there was Anthony again. I love that we’re creatures of habit. At least this time he wasn’t asleep like a few years ago. I got three cookies from the bake sale folks (the cookies there are GREAT), I ate one, gave one away, and saved one for later. We filled up water bottles. Some used the rest rooms but the lines were long so I wanted to wait until Centralia. We stayed about 15 minutes. Longer than I wanted, but we were still making good time.
The next section was 13 miles, mostly down hill to Centralia and we averaged 17.5 mph – although our speed before hitting the stop lights in Centralia was 18.5. The photographers were in a slightly different place this year – not taking photos with the red barn behind us – I’m wondering what they’ll turn out like. But we were in a nice paceline as they were firing away. I bet they got some good shots.
We arrived at the college around 11:30 with about 5:45 ride time under our belts. We at our creamsicles (YUM!), drank our chocolate milk, got our free one day food, got in the line for the one day sani-cans. In line for the bathrooms, someone says to Stephen “That’s the nerdiest jersey I’ve ever seen!” I talked with Linda at this point who told me she had just supported Mitchel who had just left Centralia about 10 minutes ago, was in Chahalis, and she was still over by the highway. I told her we probably didn’t need support until Oregon, but we would check in between now and then. Anthony, Steve G, Boyd and the Portland crew left and we said we’d catch up with them at least by St Helens. Rob left to use the bathrooms at the shorter lines in Chehalis and we’d catch up. We only stayed in Centralia 25 minutes total – down from the almost hour I stayed last time. If you’re really trying to save time you don’t get your support here – you grab the creamsicles and go find support other places. It just takes too long.
The tenor of the ride changes once you’re passed Centralia or Chahalis on the one day ride. First off it’s a LOT less crowded. Also it’s getting hot. The winds get “squirrelly” even if you had a tail wind for most of the ride to this point because your cutting back and forth across the valley. Also on a two day ride it’s about the social aspect, like the riders of the fat tire bikes we saw early on, stopping for longer at each stop, chatting more on the pacelines. If you’re on a one day ride it’s about making sure you’re gear is good, eating at the right times, spinning your legs, metering your heart rate or watts, watching the pedals in front of you and keeping the sticky side down.
We caught up with Rob somewhere in the valley but before the Napavine hill. Actually of all the hills on STP, Napavine is my least favorite, particularly on one day. It’s hot. It’s exposed. It’s just a long drag. One two days there’s fresh baked bread for sale at the top. One day I guess there is but I missed it. We stopped so Stephen and Bill could get more water. I overheard some other guys talking about gu packets, and thought about eating something but I didn’t because I was full from lunch and that was my mistake. Instead I drank some accelerade and stretched my leg to try to relieve the pinch point/numbness in my left ring toe which was already starting. Our average speed from Centralia to Napavine was 15.6mph and we were literally only there for 5 minutes.
Napavine to Winlock was pretty easy and I insisted that we needed a picture of Bill with the Egg (no STP is complete without your picture with the Egg!). It turns out a) we just missed the Winlock Egg Days and b) speedy Brad has gone through there countless times and had no clue there was a giant egg there. We stopped for coffee at the espresso stand. I was hungry (I needed the protein in the iced soy latte) and more than that I needed a caffeine boost. I was so desperate I even got a double. The extra ice went into my accelerade bottle – the heat from the road was starting to make that taste nasty. I also ate my other Tenino cookie. Bill didn’t partake of the coffee but was apparently tempted by the smells of the BBQ. Average speed to Winlock was 18.2mph and we were there about 10 minutes, with the coffee stop. I also checked in with Linda at some point in here – she told me when she was going to be in Vader, I told her I’d look for her but not to wait if she didn’t see us.
Winlock to Vader was surprisingly quick (it is only about 7 miles and it took us only 23 minutes (18.4mph average). I wanted to stop to stretch my foot out again, someone needed the bathroom, we put on sunscreen. We were here 10 minutes but it seemed much longer. Particularly when you immediately have to start up the “hill that no one tells you about” right away.
Up and over. Then up and over more rollers. Then into Castle Rock another 10 miles away. I did a quick scan to see if I saw Anthony & crew, or even Linda, or Joan and Paul (who were driving my van down and had texted they were just passing the Vader stop a bit before this). It took us 36 minutes to get there, averaging 16.6 miles an hour on the rollers and hills. We stayed at least 15 minutes here – eating (as an after thought I ate the rice crispy treat), refilling water bottles, using the REAL bathrooms, I reapplied chamois butter, stretching out to un-numb my toes, and then wet my buff down and put it back under my helmet. I checked in with Linda, who just decided she’d meet us at Goble – I was thankful for that.
St. Helens to Lexington was another 1/2 hour at an average of 16.2mph (I blame the rollers and the heat). Just before the turn into Lexington we were stopped by an ambulance pulling away and a bicycle on the side of the road. Only later did we find out that someone had a heart attack and they were taking him, eventually, to Harborview. Sad and scary to see a fellow cyclist taken off like that. It just gives me pause and I hope he is ok.
We turned into the park and there we see Sharlyn and Helen! Helen was even brave enough to hug her sweaty dad. Usually there’s pretty good food at Lexington – it was a little light this time and there were no turkey wraps by the time we got there. I was bummed and had a PB&J but they still had roast beef. The trick, I told Stephen, is to take off your helmet and use it to carry all the food. He had a serious case of hat head under there… We stayed 20 minutes to eat (sandwich, fruit, and I saved the pretzels), relax, stretched the toes again (which were numb again), recharge my garmin… I kept dropping things on the ground at this point. I get so clutzy when I’m tired. I called and left a message for Anthony – just to let him know where we were. I figured we wouldn’t see him again at this point. I called to let Linda know we were leaving Lexington.
I knew that last time I got into Oregon at 4:45 pm. I was on track to do better this time, but I had hoped to do even better than we were. Particularly with the tail wind I thought we could get across by 4pm. We hit a huge headwind going towards the bridge – which is a good sign, meaning we’d have a great tail wind once we got across into Oregon. But still Bill and Stephen were tired, and I had aerobars and they did not. I jumped out ahead before I knew it and waited for them at the light before the approach. The bridge was just a slow slog up and over because your single file (as opposed to two day riders who go up in waves). You’re as fast as the person in front of you, for better or for worse. Spin and just get there. Our average speed from Lexington into Oregon was 14.3, to Goble was 15.9 mph. The 17 miles took us just over an hour… and somewhere in here we lost Rob…
Linda, true to her word, met us in Goble with oreos, potato chips and thankfully coke. Now I don’t drink coke but I was totally craving it the last time I rode and it was no where to be found passed the gas station as you get off the bridge. But here I was, drinking, no chugging, this cold, black, sweet, salty liquid and loving it. We did stay here about 20 minutes, I used the bathroom (with no line!), stretched to reset the toes again, I ate 2 oreos and some chips. We refilled our water bottles. I charged my garmin again (every little bit helped). Even Stephen had a coke, and he doesn’t drink coke. We thanked Linda and were back on our way.
Route 30 in Oregon is usually pretty nasty. Late in the day there is a lot of traffic, but at least it’s cooler because the sun is behind most of the hills and trees. It makes it almost bearable – particularly when you’re going down into some of the valleys near some water. It’s cool, the air feels crisp, particularly on your skin that’s been baking in the sun all day. I was fired up on caffeine and sugar. It took us 45 minutes to do the next 13 miles at 18.1 mph. We stopped at St. Helens, just briefly (10 minutes), I ate my pretzels (from Lexington), and someone used the bathroom. Bill went under the sprinklers and said it felt really nice. We couldn’t figure out where Rob was. (Rob withdrew at St. Helens with stomach issues. He’s fine; we saw him Sunday morning at breakfast and gave him a ride back to Seattle.)
We saw Mt. St. Helens, Mt Adams, Mt Hood, all covered in snow and looking gorgeous. Not a cloud in the sky. We did see many of the same riders over and over – for instance we kept leapfrogging a tandem team (and their support vehicle) with “Jolly Roger” pirate jerseys on them. Their support team kept passing us by and shaking their cowbells. Kind of the equivalent of your support team riding by and screaming “Nice butt” on Ragnar, it did feel good.
Shuffling off (13 miles) to Scapoose took us another 40 minutes at 18.7 mph. I was a little sad to think I wasn’t going to be meeting up with Erik, Joanna, Rich and my usual PPTM gang to ride into Portland together. I was surprised to see there was a bit of support there – but very few people. Linda pulled in to a driveway a few blocks down and we got more support (a little more food and more water). We only stayed about 10 minutes and a few of those were just helping poor Pucker (Linda and Mitchel’s dog) back in the truck after getting to stretch his legs. At this point we just wanted to be done. It was 18 more miles according to the cue book, including a new route over the St. Johns bridge. The end was in sight, so to speak.
This was the only time getting back on the bike and spinning took a little more effort. Once on and going, I was fine… not sore (except for the stupid numb toes), but the legs were just a little…reluctant. I was a little worried about the climb onto the St. John’s bridge and how it would compare to what I affectionately call the F.U. Hill (by Montgomery park on the old route), particularly after *seeing* it as we approached. The climb was slow, but steady and not too steep, but really my legs were pretty tapped out.
The route on the other side of the river in NW Portland is MUCH nicer – the view is pretty, it’s shaded.
There’s a stretch with a 15mph sign that I got to blink at me for doing 18 (I found it in me to sprint, but couldn’t catch the picture in time… next time I will). Then we hit all the untimed stop lights. That was annoying. I think the route may be 2 miles longer than last year too. But the finish is mostly downhill, which is nice. We averaged 15.1mph but the last 18 miles took us almost an 1:15. We arrived at the finish line to get our 1 day tags just before 8:20 to see Paul, Joan, Steve G, Helen and Sharlyn on the right side of the finish shoot.
After getting our bags from Sharlyn and checking in and that WONDERFUL shower, we had a great meal (and I had 2 drinks!) at Andina. MMMM. Thanks to Brad, who had been in since 4pm, for organizing that. Breakfast was at the J&M Cafe the next morning.
Many many thanks to Paul and Joan for driving my van down and being my Oreo Fairies, Sharlyn and Helen for bag transport (and smiling faces in Lexington), and Linda for the support in Oregon. Big thanks to Silvia, Mitchel, Anthony, Steve, Stephen, Bill, Rob (and the Portland Crew) for their many hours of ride support (aka, allowing me to suck their wheels). Thanks to Elias and Matthew for putting up with my crazy training schedule. Big thanks to Stacia for her fantastic coaching and Neal Goldberg (Footworks PT) for putting my sprained ankle back together enough so I could do this.
And thank you to everyone for all your words of encouragement and support. Riding STP in one day is not a solo experience by any stretch of the imagination… I could not have done this (yes that’s the data) without you all. All the pictures are in my gallery.