Seattle to Portland (STP) – Part II

(Continued from Part 1, (Map, annotated altitude Profile, Preride Guide)

Twelve Monkeys beware!

The early morning ride through the university district wasn’t as harrowing as I’ve come to expect. It would have been shorter, too, except when I crossed the Eastgate bridge, my mirror fell off. The distraction was enough that I missed a left turn towards Lake Washington Blvd. I didn’t go too far before clueing in, though.

The road leading to Lake Washington Blvd was very dark and sinewy. It was a relief to break out into the open area where the pre-dawn light reflected off the lake. If I looked left, I saw a scene from a post card. If I looked straight ahead, I saw a huge queue of trucks hauling boats, with everyone vying for their little patch on the lake. Further south, the lake was dotted with at least 100 vessels of different sizes that had already been through the boat launch. People were patient and chatting in the streets.

Juneau Street is very steep, but short climb away from Seward Park. At the top of the hill was a family sitting in lawn chairs, clapping for and cheering at those who made it up. (At 5 am!) During the ride, I’d see quite a few people cheering on riders.

Once I hit Renton, there was enough light and enough cycling mass that I was moving pretty quickly. Renton and Kent each had police officers directing traffic so the throngs of cyclists could zip through. Some of the officers even clapped and cheered us on.

The first major stop was at REI‘s Intergalactic Headquarters in Kent, WA. I made a very quick pass through the food and then a beeline towards the porta-potties. If the ride was crowded, I’d have a chance to eat while queued up. There wasn’t any line since many of the riders hadn’t even started the event.

The next 20 or so miles went quickly. One portion of the route had “Road Closed” signs. Indeed, the road crew painting lines looked a bit puzzled. I don’t think any of the cyclists noticed until they came upon the three huge ruts across the road. At least one rider bent his bike trying to bunny hop over one. I was very glad I had the wider tires. Past this was “The Hill”, “of which many stories are told around a campfire.” From the verbage,
I could kind of tell that the myth was greater than the reality, and indeed it was. It was certainly the longest climb relative to anything else on the ride, but it’s less than 300′ total ascent. The markings in the street provided some comedy relief.

Object in mirror slower
than it appears.

The Spanaway food stop was hosted by another favorite company, Whole Foods Market. They had a great spread of watermelon, fig newtons, and these vegetable curry wraps. I spent about ten minutes here eating, topping off my water bottle, and chatting with another Air Friday owner who was giving me trash talk about my bouncing.

The 20 mile haul along SR 507 was dotted with some really nasty railroad crossings. Volunteers had laid cones and sprayed the pink warnings to guide cyclists to a perpendicular trek across the track. Some had also laid standard office rugs to cushion the blow.

Mile 72.5 was Yelm’s ministop. My left knee and arm were getting a bit stiff, so I bummed some ibuprofin off the first aid kiosk. I also reapplied sunscreen. Note for next time: Bullfrog sunscreen acts like a magnet for those little gnats. My legs looked very … contagious. Although I wanted a respite, the stop was in direct sunlight, so I continued onto Tenino, at mile 86. This stop was a lot nicer because it was in a shaded grove. Volunteers went around with trays of sugary things. Following them was another volunteer asking for donations. I thought it was a great strategy. The Rice Krispie bar was especially effective on me. Juiced up, I continued past Centralia (107) and Chehalis (mile 108), both which were extremely crowded by people stopping for the day. By now, it was very warm (mid-80s) and muggy. It started to rain for a few minutes, and rather uncharacteristically, cyclists were rejoicing. The “rain” lasted five minutes, enough to make muggier.

After Chehalis, was Attack of the Tacks. When I start my U-Pick Blackberry Farm, I’ll need Thorn Test Dummies. The people who tossed the tacks on the side of the road are my first candidates. I saw at least a dozen flats along the way, and am very thankful that a rider warned me as I was about to hit a whole pile of them. It was providence I didn’t flat.

I want my $2
— paperboy
Better Off Dead

Napavine (mile 114) greeted me with a long climb in 92°F weather. I thought this was more challenging than “The Hill,” even though it’s clearly not as much of a climb. I stopped at the park bench at the top of the hill for a breather. I was feeling pretty tired and realized I didn’t have a very good chance of making it to Portland before dark. I cancelled my reservation at the Doubletree then called my spouse to check in. This was my longest stop of the day at 20 minutes.

Winlock and Vader were both too hot. I pulled into Vader just to dump bottles of water on my head and rest my legs for the last 10 miles to Castle Rock.

Castle Rock – Mile 139.7! I stowed my bike in the cafeteria, found my bag in the gymnasium, and took a shower. I put my name on the massage list, then went to the $7.00 pasta feed. Normally I avoid these like the plague because the pasta is made by volunteers who overcook the pasta into a squishy, starchy mess. However, I didn’t feel like walking into wherever town was to find something better. (Johnnie’s Bar was a recommendation.) The pasta wasn’t that bad – or I was too tired to care – and the massage helped take out some kinks in my left leg. Encouraged, I staked out a spot on the floor in the gymnasium. I didn’t pack a sleeping bag, but did have an old pillow.

I slept about an hour until the couple next to me started filling their air mattress with an electric pump. I must have looked homicidal, because she profusely apologized and shut it off.

The rig… yeah, it
does look a bit silly
from the side.

I don’t remember anything afterwards except waking up at 4:00 a.m. hearing water and thinking I was going to have 70 miles in a deluge. Thankfully, it was just the showers in the adjacent locker room. One of the local organizations was making pancakes for breakfast. Again, same food snobbery with pancakes. I’m sure these were Bisquick, or something equally repulsive, but I was hungry. Mm…. starch good. I was on the bike at 5:05 a.m.

I felt like I had ridden 139.8 miles the day before, which is to say, very sore and lacking power. By the time I reached Kelso, mile 150, my legs were dotted with little gnats sticking to my sunscreen. Three other riders passed me, each looking wearier than me.

I started perking up near Longview. Working its way through downtown was a school bus on a jacked-up 4×4 chassis. Take a photo from a monster truck rally and substitute a school bus. It was pretty funny, and a great morale boost for some reason.

Almost there – I’m finally
starting to smile!

Next came the Lewis & Clarke bridge. For the two-day riders, there were escorts by the Gold Wing Touring Association. At 6:00, there wasn’t much traffic, so I just went up on my own. The shoulder was narrow, and the 4% grade and 220′ ascent was easily managable. When I came down, though, I took the entire lane since I was hitting low 40s.

The next 40 miles follow U.S. 30 as it snakes southward. None of the stops were open yet, which wasn’t really a problem since I had my treasure trove of quarter Clif bars. The St. Helens stop at mile 177 was open and had the usual spread. I topped off my water bottles again and at some Fig Newtons. As Tim had commented, after you’ve done rides like this, you sorta want variety. I had no interest in more watermelon or Clif Bars. Pizza, yes, but it wasn’t available.

Rolling across the finish line

I arrived in Portland at 10:47 a.m. I ditched my bike, found my second bag (delivered the day before), rented a towel, and showered. When I came out, feeling human, I was listening to some band doing bluegrass versions of classic rock songs — sorta like Hayseed Dixie, but without as the hillbilly subversion. I called my friend Kristin so we could hook up for sushi. My keys were still on my bike. This wasn’t a huge problem, provided my bike got back before I did, but it was something I didn’t want to worry about.

I caught the 5:30 pm bus. Traffic out of Portland, and most of the way north, was pretty horrid, stopping what seemed to be every other mile. Half the riders were sleeping, the rest were exchanging war stories. It was fun listening to some of the claims people made. I was just happy I had no flats or crashes.

The bus rolled into UW around 9pm and my bike was sitting right there. It did take me a while to find my car, however. Small, white Subarus blend in too easily around here.

Final thoughts:

  • This was my first STP, and day 1 was the most mileage I’ve ever covered on a bicycle in one day. My knee was uncharacteristically sore, though ibuprofin and rest seem to have made that go away. The arm band works okay for the tennis elbow, and occasionally I’d rest my arm on my leg to keep the flex going.
  • I’m a slow rider and this is a lot of mileage to cover alone. I hope to build up some speed for next time because it’d be nice to ride with someone for cameraderie.
  • As Tim commented, I would have gladly paid for Ice Water on those hot stretches, especially in Vader and Napavine.
  • The early morning departures were great. I avoided some of the nastier headwinds, and made quite a bit of progress before it heated up Saturday. Best of all, I didn’t get stuck in crowds of chaotic cyclists — this was my most serious concern about doing STP.
  • Traffic lightened up a lot after Centralia. Even though I was very tired, pushing forward to Castle Rock worked out because it made for a shorter trip on Sunday.
  • It was a bit mind-blowing seeing how much support this ride has relative to the others, especially stops every 10-15 miles.
  • Rate this event!

    4 thoughts on “Seattle to Portland (STP) – Part II”

    1. Glad you made it Jim 🙂

      I guess if I’d known it was your first STP, I’d have offered more advice.

      Yes, Tenino and Vader are preferable mini-stops to Yelm and Winlock (respectively) because they have SHADE.

      Centralia always looks crowded from the entry, but it’s not that bad once you get inside. Plus they have free ICE CREAM. I was given some bum advice in 2001 and missed it. Never again!! I had TWO again this year. BTW, if I do a 1-day ride again, I’ll spend the $5 for the fundraiser pasta as well as the free stuff. Starch, good.

      Yes, there always seems to be at least one episode of tacks somewhere between Yelm and Napavine. It’s not like the route is secret or something. Kid pranks probably, but a pain-in-the-ass anyway. Always watch for a big group of stopped cyclists fixing tires. That’s a telltale sign.

      I told the lady-in-charge of the Vader mini-stop about selling ice water. You can buy it at Costco/WalMart/Fred Meyer for $0.15 a bottle, and they were using ice for free from the Elem school cafeteria. Charge $1-2 bucks and make a nice profit. We’ll see if it does any good. FWIW, I always like to stop at several of these SW Washington mini-stops, as they are significant fundraisers for these small town groups, as is hosting 2-day riders.

      Personnally, I think Castle Rock may be a stop too far for a 2-day ride, but YMMV. I think the main part of Castle Rock is across the Cowlitz, so it’s probably good you didn’t walk.

      If you would have gotten to the Lewis and Clark bridge after 7am, they would have forced you to wait while they collected a group of 200-300 riders, then shut the SB lane and escorted you across. This can be good (if you’re in the front several rows), or really bad (if you’re in the back) as the slowest climbers control the pace and there’s always plenty of riders who don’t know how to ride in big groups. I know, I’ve been in both positions. 1-day riders are always on their own.

    2. Pretty tacky about the flat tires. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

      Some motorcyclists (motorbikers to our friends up north) call ibuprofin “touring candy”. You can guess why.

      Congrats on the ride. Running the STP is quite an accomplishment.

    3. Congrats!

      So what time did you leave Saturday morning? Sounds like it was very early, but I don’t recall seeing a time in your writeup.

    4. Well, like all riders, we had our share of mishaps. My landlord dislocated his shoulder. I, with 17 miles to go, got a flat! My boyfriend had gone up way ahead of me, so I was thinking, damnit, I want to finish! Fortunately, someone helped me, and then we hauled ass to the finish line. We barely caught the last bus back to Seattle.

      And for some reason, my boyfriend wants to ride to Vancouver. My sore butt and I are doing well. 🙂

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