I don’t know how to start this one. All I know is that I want to write down everything about this weekend (and this season) because I’m in the post-event funk and don’t want to forget anything. And it’s faster for me to type than to handwrite in a journal.

And, should I do this again in the future, remember what to do and what not to do.

Training (i.e. How To Get Your Friends To Train With You):

For the time I had, I think I did the best I could. Beth brought up the idea in January, and I signed up in March. Between supporting a conference, making two trips to the East Coast, making two quilts, helping manage a film project, ending a relationship and completing some major work projects, then pumping out at least one or two short rides a week (sorta) and one long ride a weekend, (with some spin classes thrown in for good measure, so I thought) every little bit helped.

Doing a variety of rides on the Olympic Peninsula, in Kitsap, and in Seattle, and having a variety of training partners (even if I did have to bribe most of them with beer and food) kept rides interesting.

But by end of April, I was already burned out on training, especially the weekday rides. They just weren’t fun. I was by myself, exhausted after a day of work and stressed about getting in miles/time on the seat. Plus I was doing spin classes, again just to get more time on the seat. I lost a ton of weight quickly and was eating all the time, which was great, but I also was dealing with sore hips and knees, which wasn’t great. I dialed it all back a bit, dropped the spin classes and focused on developing fun long rides for folks to join and things got a little easier. Plus, with all of Kitsap’s hills, I learned the correct direction to ride the county, so I wasn’t climbing ALL the time.

Training took me to different parts of Washington I’d never normally get out and explore, such as the countryside north of Seattle, the Key Peninsula and the Olympic Discovery Trail between Sequim and Port Angeles. Some of these included the occasional fun supported rides where, frankly, you ride for the free food, with the benefits of beautiful views.

I learned how shop rides can be full of jerks, how riding with your friends is way more fun, how it is possible to find fun riders who aren’t jerks and who become your friends, and how friends you hang out with already can become bike partners.

Also, fun names for every training ride is required: Crazy Train; Flying Guinea Pigs; Four Dudes and A Lady; Suck It Up Buttercup and Ride; Taco Pizza Cat, Animal and Hot Pants; Sea2Issy; Sea2Issy: The Ladies Ride; The Bakery Tour of Kitsap (Bikes, Beers and Baked Goods)… I know I’m missing a few.

Sometimes, a solo ride WAS cathartic, such as on an early beautiful weekend morning, before traffic gets crazy in Silverdale and you’re done with 20 miles by 9:30 a.m., and the whole day is still ahead of you.

I learned how to retape my bars, adjust my brakes, ride without a seat bag and with only minimal gear, how my front derailleur works and how much mine sucks, and that I really need to build a bike stand in my garage so I can do maintenance.

I definitely felt myself get stronger (most the time). Hills get me excited (mostly) but so do long fast flats. Riding in the most powerful gear on my granny ring got easier and easier over the season. When my big chain ring worked, that was even more fun.

Don, who has been teaching me to ride road and mountain bikes on and off again for 13 years now, was most appreciated. I kept his advice in my head throughout the training season.

Food:

Kind bars. Gels. Cliff Shots. Vitalyte is the only electrolyte drink I should stick with. Everything else is horrible. Why and how Nuun works, I have no idea. It reminds me of diet soda, which is terrible in the first place. And Gatorade. Only in a pinch. That stuff is disgusting unless your body is shutting down and literally needs liquid sugar. Stepfanie’s Calorie Bomb cookies were dense but great on the road.

Beer mid-ride is fun. Homemade cookies 10 miles down the road after said beer is more fun. Beer and burger post-ride is the best.

STP WEEKEND:

SO, the weekend comes. July 16-17. Our original team, Beth, Joe, Matthew, Margo and myself, changed bodies a few times. Matthew and Margo weren’t able to ride, so we found Chris and Kristen. At the last second, Chris and Kristen aren’t able to ride, so it was down to the original three. However, at lunch on Day 1, we pick up Greg, so a nice little team of 4.

Logistics for the day before the ride and getting to the start line took on a life of their own for months before finally being narrowed down. I wound up going into Seattle Friday night at 7:45 p.m., being picked up by Beth at the ferry, going to UW to drop off our overnight bags, picking up pasta and salads from Olympic Pizza III, making a breakfast quiche for the next morning while Beth picked up Joe from the airport, then me going down the block to Reba’s to spend the night at 11 p.m.

Up at 5:15 a.m., at Beth’s by 5:35 a.m., inhaled aforementioned quiche, biked from Capitol Hill to the start line at the E-1 parking lot at University of Washington and dashing from the start line at 7 a.m.

The idea of 100 miles in a day was still a bit daunting, so I broke it down mentally by segments of 25 miles. That’s do-able. 25 miles is a piece of cake.

The route took us along Lake Washington for several miles, which was lovely. Then it dumped us into the industrial complexes for the next 20 miles south of Seattle, before our first major rest stop, sponsored by REI. We’d heard the REI stop was legendary, so we were excited to check it out.

Nope. Sorely disappointed. Not sure what I was expecting (Maybe something along the lines of what Flying Wheels event did for food, which was every possible type of carb in the form of sandwiches, bars, muffins, cookies and candy) but it was only bananas, oranges and tortillas. Granted, it WAS the first stop of the day after only 25 miles. Oh and Clif Bars was handing out pouches of basically liquified oatmeal. I do not know anyone who actually enjoyed them. I refuse to eat liquified oatmeal. I have a hard time with the concept of oatmeal in general.

But we kept our spirits and hopes high for the next stop.

We rode for another 25 miles, which included the infamous Puyallup Hill (the first of two major hills on the entire ride), which wasn’t necessarily steep, just long. I thought it was fun. Otherwise, the ride was pretty mild and flat on Day 1.

Our next stop was in Spanaway for lunch (50 miles-ish). I figured after we got out of the industrial area, the route would be prettier, and it was. The group of bikes didn’t thin out as much as I thought it would though.

Spanaway/Lunch was in a high school football field. Turkey sandwiches, hummus, pretzels, cookies, bars, fruit and resting. Not a bad combo. Picked up Greg here.

The section after Spanaway was the best part of the ride. We got to bike on a closed road through the military base (Joint Base Lewis-McCord) for a good bit, a few more streets, then the route took us for 14 miles on the Tenino-Yelm bike trail. This was such a nice reprieve from street riding with cars and stoplights.

By the time of the Clif Bar Mini Stop, at 88 miles, it was greatly welcomed, but not for the Clif Bar freebies (wretched liquified oatmeal). No, the Tenino High School Basketball Team was madly handing out popsicles, watermelon and other fruit, while keeping the water jugs filled and a soundsystem pumping music. It was hard to leave, but only 20 miles to go for the rest of the day sounded pretty sweet.

Bums were starting to get sore during these last couple miles, and we were stoked to cross the city limits into Centralia, the event’s official Half Way Point, where camping, food trucks, live music and a beer garden awaited riders. Located on the Centralia College campus, tents were lined up back-to-back on every possible patch of grass available. Kristen drove from Port Orchard to join us and give us any support we needed. We met up in the beer garden for some congratulatory beverages for an hour or so before riding our final six miles of the day to Chehalis/Recreation Park. This is where we met our hosts, The Pattens.

Biking through Chehalis around 8 p.m. was interesting… a quiet little town, completely shut down, even though 10,000 riders were invading the region. It reminded me a lot of Athens, Ohio, where Beth and I went to college.

Instead of camping, and since every hotel in the region was sold out before March, we took our chances and paid the local chamber of commerce to find us a place to sleep. The organization has a program where local families open their houses to riders to crash for the night. Our hosts, Matt and Paige Patten, were known for hosting about 15-18 people each year and was rumored to be one of the best private hosts in town. We quickly found out why – huge house with room to spread out our stuff, a real shower, meet other riders over dinner, comfy couches to crash on, and a large spread of food, including homemade spaghetti sauce and pie and ice cream and then pancakes and eggs and sausage for breakfast… we could not thank them enough. They even hauled our overnight bags to and from the park for us.

Refreshed and full, we left Sunday morning, bombed down the hill from their house and got back on route.

Now, at this point, getting back on the bike is supposed to be the hardest part of the entire trip. I was told multiple times that training for STP isn’t so much putting miles on the legs as it is putting miles on the seat, to train the butt for the time on the saddle.

I have say, I was pleasantly surprised how much it didn’t hurt, but I can’t say that there wasn’t some noticeable soreness. I was surprised a little bit around mile 120 when my quads started to make noise. Nope, 80 miles to go, you can’t quit on me now.

The next 50 miles or so were some of the prettiest of the entire ride. We started around 8 a.m. under overcast skies, but the clouds soon burned off and we were cruising on roads that meandered around farms and old houses, with some rolling hills thrown in for good measure. Then we got to the hill that was the “other” rumored hill on the ride, but I didn’t realize it until we were at the top and large yellow signs told us that Free Banana Bread was ahead! We were told about this stop by the Pattens, where a family greeted everyone with free banana bread at the top of the big hill, of which we heartily engaged. I THINK this was Napavine.

The Winlock stop was interesting, as you had the scent of fried onions in the air at 10 a.m. from a burger stand. We did not stop to engage in the fried onions.

The ride between there and Lexington, our lunch stop, wasn’t much to remember, other than lots of rolling hills. The training in Kitsap finally paid off.

We spent an hour in Lexington, with similar food from the day before, and we all actually sprawled on the ground to take a quick nap, as it was common to see bodies spread out all over the place doing the same. It was another tip I’d heard about – definitely rest at the stops, don’t just eat and go.

This was around noon, at which I turned on my music on my phone, bluetoothed it to a little portable speaker I borrowed from a co-worker, turned it up and stuck it in my jersey pocket so everyone could hear it. I did this the day before as well and it played a big part in getting to the end of the day when everything is stiff and sore but the only thing to do is pedal. So I sang and danced on my bike.

Bikes started crowding up again as we got closer to the Lewis and Clark Bridge, which meant crossing the border from Washington to Oregon! I queued with my team while we waited for volunteers to stop the southbound traffic so Goldwing riders could escort us onto the bridge. As we started climbing (it wasn’t just a flat bridge across, it was a definite very tall up-and-over bridge with a fantastic view of the Columbia River), Beth just took off like a bat out of hell, so I chased her to keep up.

And that girl passed EVERYONE on that damn bridge. I was so impressed – this city slicker girlfriend of mine who I’ve known for almost 20 years and has embraced the mountains and biking just in the past few years totally kicked it up a notch and continually impressed me with her outdoor badassery. Later, she said, “I just wanted to get off that bridge! I did NOT like riding on it!”

After we got into Oregon, roads started to get a little dicey, as shoulders were non-existent in some places, and bikes were lined up front to back, with cars screaming by. The route eventually put us on Highway 30, which was a four-lane highway with fantastically wide shoulders but went on for MILES – for 41.2 miles to be exact.

At one point when I really was in a groove with a flat section, I shifted to my front big ring and within two seconds, the damn chain fell off. The guy behind told me my chain fell off while I’m muttering expletives and yelling back at him, yeah, I know. So I just yelled out I was slowing, so people would slow down and not crash into me.

I eventually came to a stop, tossed the bike and myself over the guardrail and started to put the chain back on. Joe and Beth stopped to help, which was great when we got it back on, so there were two extra pairs of hands to hold the bike and shift gears while I ran the pedals so we could make sure the chain shifted properly. So, once again, no Front Chain Ring for me. (I may have shifted it into too hard a gear. Still a newbie at this).

So, back on the road, along the highway, stopped at a few more stops to rest our bums (St. Helens for a good long stop until 3ish, I think, and then Scappoose by 5 p.m., where we were told we only had 16 miles to go, but the finish line closed at 7 p.m.!) and eat some food and coach each other through the next few sections. The last hour or so of the ride I was starting to get nauseous but I think it was from the pain from the saddle sores because I was definitely well hydrated and fed but not TOO much. So I thought anyway. I stayed away from the terrible electrolytes and stuck with water, spacing out the Vitalyte I did have with me.

Then suddenly I heard whoops and hollers … we’d just crossed the city limits into Portland – 13 miles to go! At that point, I passed a dad and his kid who was probably 9 years old. I’d been watching him and two other kids around his age pump out the miles the past two days like it was their job. It was the coolest thing to watch. I got the sense that the parents were confident their kid could do it but still pretty cautious, and giving lots of words of encouragement. As I passed the dad and his son, I told them both, “Your son is amazing. I am super impressed!”

So, Portland! Cardboard signs were posted along the side of the road, telling us how many more miles to go, starting with 10 miles. We crossed another up-and-over bridge that gave us a sprawling view of the city to the west and I was thinking, “Oh man, we’re almost DONE. We’re almost THERE.” And I was kind of sad. All the fun was almost over.

After the bridge, the route took us through very urban Northwesty-type neighborhoods, filled with older Craftsman-style homes lush with gardens, past University of Portland, along Willamette Blvd. and eventually into downtown Portland. Because Portland doesn’t provide police support, we had to stop at every. single. stoplight. on the way to the finish line, so there was a massive group of bikes at each stop.

Then all of a sudden, we’re in downtown, the cowbells get louder, the crowds get bigger, we turn the corner and there’s the big green inflatable Finish Line arch! We zoom through it and into the chute, where we’re handed our STP Finishers patch. When I biked past Greg’s cheering family, my eyes got a little misty because it hit me that it was all finally over. But I didn’t have time to cry because otherwise I would have crashed into the bikes in front of me. Heads up, Royal.

I regrouped with my team and we high-fived and took pictures. We indulged in our free Meal Of Choice (a very loaded burrito from a food truck), a beer and then talked the massage people into a quick 15 minute massage since they were closing soon. Grabbed our souvenirs (a choice of hat, shirt or a water bottle), our overnight bags that were shuttled from Chehalis to PDX for us, and then gingerly biked another mile to our AirBnB for the night, where we promptly showered and then did not move the rest of the night.

Afterthoughts:

Frankly, I’d do it again. I wouldn’t say it was easy but it wasn’t the hardest thing either.

Key things to remember for next time:

Chamois butter – It’s supposed to prevent chafing but I swear it also helped stave off the saddle sores.

The right electrolytes – riding with a bloated stomach and belching all the way to Portland is not fun (even as much as I like to burp).

Music via loud speaker – definitely helped get through the drag of the second half of the day.

Have a team – I could not imagine doing this alone.

Even if you’re spending the night past the beer garden, stop for a beer or two and a piece of pizza.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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