Just what have I gotten myself into?
I had set a goal last year of riding in the RSVP. That was two days, 188 miles. I accomplished that goal, but friends it was not pretty. I trained from February on, riding 1,700 miles in preparation for that ride.
This year, some friends set a goal of doing the STP in one day. So I’m 50, a bit rotund, and I’ve been “serious” about cycling for one year. Sure! Sign me up!!
After a couple of different offers of riding companions, I was feeling that a lack of speed compatibility, along with a desire to run my own show, led me to the decision to ride the 200 miles solo. Some of you may be like me, in that I can successfully talk myself out of a 50 mile solo training run at mile 10 (hey, 20 is a nice, round number!). One thing I was certain of: there were going to be some interesting conversations between me, myself, and I during this trip.
I tried to not “stop” riding this winter, and usually got out once or twice a week. Training got more frequent and serious in March of this year, and I managed ride 2,300 before the big day July 15th. The difficulty in training was setting aside time for long mileage. I had committments to lead rides for the Cascade Bike Club, and to help train my wife for her RSVP attempt this year. Consequently my longest mileage prior to STP were rides of 75, 92, and 101 miles. I had no idea how that was going to set me up for success or failure on a 200 mile ride, but I started with the idea that if I got into trouble, I could always call for help and my wife Terri would swoop in to the rescue.
I had the forethought and good fortune to get the day off on Friday before the ride. Unlike my frantic night-before the RSVP last year, I had time to contemplate, pack, and most importantly nap during the day. I get wound-up before a big ride it seems, and I manage to get 4 or 5 hours sleep, max. By Friday night I was ready mentally and physically, and I could relax.
I woke at 2:45 AM. I didn’t plan to leave until 5 or so. I got up and ate a good breakfast, showered, dressed, filled bottles and camelbak, and pumped tires. The camelbak was water, bottles were reserved for “sports drink”. (“Sports drink” tastes pretty good at first, then starts to taste really bad about halfway through the ride. The last 30 miles, it tastes like heaven. Go figure.) OK, so now it’s 4:10, John. I re-entered the bedroom, laid down on my side (so as to minimize the crunching sound of the Clif Bar wrappers in my pockets) and power-napped for 30 minutes. Then it was up, kiss the wife, and out the door of my house at 4:45.
I live in Auburn, close to mile 27.5 on the STP route. I chose to avoid the start line frenzy of my 8,999 companions by leaving from home and doubling-back on the route to get the full mileage in. This was a good decision, and my planned northward detour worked out to get me the needed mileage.
The first 100
I had ridden this route as far as Yelm, so there weren’t really any surprises (with the exception of the staleness of the peanut butter sandwich in Spanaway). There were volunteers showing along the route in greater numbers as the day wore on, warning us of bad railroad tracks and even covering then with old rugs. I snagged a banana from a nice lady in McKenna at about 18 mph (thank you, ma’am!). I started to have some pain in my left wrist, which I think was due to me being too tense, or bending my wrist, or some vague bike fit issue that I’ll have diagnosed next week.
I made it to Centralia and the midpoint food stop before 11 AM. I ate a creamsicle, another stale peanut butter sandwich, and filled my bottles and camelbak. I had pre-measured 8 refills of sports drink into snack-sized ziplock bags. (This is a good idea if you like a particular sports drink!)
The second 100
After you leave the Centralia/Chehalis area, the scenery picks up and gets downright beautiful in places. The clouds of morning gave way to mostly clear skies, sunshine, and HEAT. I’m feeling pretty good at this point, thinking that I may just be able to do this thing and arrive before midnight! When we hit the town of Napavine, we are stopped by a policeman who informs us that because the annual parade is happening, we will have to walk our bicycles through town so we don’t run over their children. There’s only one through-road in this town, so we walk. After a few blocks we remount to ride down an alley, across a lawn, through a gravel buffer to a mini mart parking lot. This vigorous 100 yard jaunt is brought to an abrupt halt by yet another of Napavine’s finest, who has us dismount then wait for the train which also arrived in town (but didn’t have to walk). The cross-training portion of the ride ended after another couple of blocks of clomping cleats, and we were back in the saddle and doing the rollers south toward Winlock.
I didn’t stop in Winlock, and didn’t see the world’s largest egg. Shame on me. I did stop at a mini mart in Vader and buy ibuprofen for my wrist, which now was uncomfortable both pulling and pushing on the handlebars. You climb out of Vader with the sun square on your back at this time of day. I’m tired, and trying to spin my way to the top with limited success. I get a snippet of conversation from a pair of biker-boys passing me about having to pass “Steady Eddy” yet again. Sure, I’ll be “Steady Eddy”, and remember I’ll pass you exactly one time less than you will pass me today, guys.
The Advil helped the wrist, as did the ice pack and ham sandwich I obtained at the Longview stop (ice pack on wrist, ham sandwich in belly, not vice-versa). The Longview Bridge is an awful stretch of roadway-little shoulder, huge expansion joints, and steel plates across the path in places. The alternative is to swim with your bike, so buck up & just slow down on your descent.
The last 50 miles rolls and rolls and rolls. The pleasant scenery died about Longview. We were quite lucky to have a tailwind for much of this section, which was a huge help. I made almost every stop (on the advice of a friend who’s done this a dozen times), and got my hydration, nutrition, and rest. It was hot enough that I also availed myself of the opportunity to put my head under the faucet at these stops to keep cool. These stops helped break up the monotony (and the never ending conversations with myself).
At about 15 miles to go, folks would occasionally set themselves up along the route to cheer the riders on. This was an incredible lift, for which I am very grateful. I also got a private rooting section as I crossed the Broadway Bridge in Portland, as fellow cyclist, blogger, and bridge-tender Scout was working that bridge that day. We had a lovely 3 minute visit, when she shooed me off to the finish line festival. I hit the line at 7:45 PM, exactly 15 hours after leaving home. I had no idea that I would be announced as I entered the park to cross the finish line and pick up my “One Day Rider” patch. My wife was there waiting, and after dinner and a little wine to celebrate, my head hit the pillow and I headed off to the land of nod.
The ride was a great accomplishment for me. Huge mileage, double what I had done in a day, ever. Also huge because my training wasn’t probably what it should have been in terms of long mileage days. It’s hard to enjoy the day if you’re wondering whether you’ll make it for the first 3/4ths. Will I do it again? Uncertain. If you had asked me right afterward, I would have said “absolutely not”. Of course, that’s what I said after last year’s RSVP. But this really isn’t a pretty ride, it’s an event. A life-force thing more than a scenic tour. I’m glad that I did it. I’m proud that I did it in one day. I do love scenery and wildlife, however. Therefore, I’ll be back at it in a few weeks, RSVP’ing once again!