What an awesome ride! I’m so happy and grateful it went as well as it did. While chilly in the morning (51 degrees and spitting rain in Puyallup, hello summer?) it turned out rather nice from about Castle Rock (2pm ish) on to Portland. Basically, I had a blast and loved every minute of it. No, there were about 5 minutes I didn’t love. But for the most part, golden. I went in with low expectations. It had been a bad week (see previous post) and I hadn’t slept very well, but ultimately I exceeded all my expectations.
Overcast still in Centralia
Numbers: On ride days, I’ve found that within the first 25 or 30 miles, I know if I’m ‘feeling it’ or not. On this day, I knew I was in a good groove early on, and quickly revised my goal to beat an 8:15pm finish, by staying as close as possible to a 17mph average. For the day, happily, I averaged 16.8 mph! Right up until Centralia it was exactly 17.0. Even crazier is with all the rollers between there and Portland I still managed to only lose a few tenths off that. Overall ride time was 12 hours and 20 minutes (per my cyclocomputer). Overall day, I left the finish line just ahead of the 5:15 massed start of the two-day riders (boy am I glad I didn’t wait for that, can’t imagine Lake Wash Blvd S-curves with hundreds of riders) and rolled into the finish line at Lloyd Center at 7:15, for a total of 14 hours.
The Plan: I did okay following my proscribed plan. I did blow off a couple of stops at Yelm and Lexington, partly by design and partly by accident (oh, was that the stop???). What happened was this: At the 50 mile stop I waited in line for over 10 minutes to take a leak. Not a good way to spend my time, I thought, even though I was stretching while inching forward. So for the rest of the day I avoided using the major stops for pee breaks in favor of the incidental Honey Buckets strewn along the course, even at one point availing myself of a large forested spot (read about my near bonk on the bike path past Yelm down below, mostly mental after shivering for awhile, so I pulled over to get my shit together with a Clif Bar and leak). Having at least the stated plan of stopping every 25 miles kept me on pace, so if I was feeling good and wanted to keep going and stretch out a segment, or conversely take an extra break, I could, because I was sort of keeping track. It kept me honest in a way, is what I’m saying, since I didn’t have a riding partner and was all alone in my head. My echoing, dark, lonely head.
The Route: As for the route, it was the same as last year, except a little change at the end in Portland itself. The first half of the day was cold and overcast, then it was overcast and warmer (you could sense the sun above the grayness), then the sun would almost burn through here and there, until about 2pm when bingo, suddenly there were no clouds at all and it started to warm up nicely. The only thing I’d like to add about the route is, yes it ‘feels’ like a lot of elevation gain with all the stresses (traffic, yahoo hammerheads, fatigue) – trying to crest the Longview bridge when a far piece into the day, I would gladly swear that no way is STP ‘flat’ – but really it sort of is mostly flat! Oh, and chipseal. Dear god the roads are bad in some places. The thrum and vibration of rough chipseal… when you suddenly come upon recently paved sections, it’s almost a joyful respite.
Just try to make me laugh, I dare ya.
Equipment and Health: Everything worked well. The only thing I regretted not bringing was the micro-weight windbreaker, as it was freaking 51 degrees most of the morning. At one point, as mentioned, on the bike path just past Yelm I had a serious bonk, partly because I didn’t stop at the station in Yelm but partly because I was shivering with cold so long I think it got to me. Everything else on the bike worked fabulously. The comfier gloves were splendid (Specialized) and my hands were hardly tingly/hurtie at all (in contrast to the 140-mile ride). My SIDI shoes, the left one, started getting a hotspot but only at the end in downtown Portland. The Salsa Bell Lap bars are awesome! Serious improvement over the Bontragers. I had some sore neck and shoulder issues, but again no worse than any other long ride, i.e. not 200 times the pain rather than 100 times the pain. At each stop I made a point to go through a fixed routine of arm, neck, shoulder, hamstring, knee and quad stretches. At about three stops I got on the grass and did some glute/piroformis stretches. Overall I felt great physically, only wished for some chocolate milk and/or real food at the finish line! I helped drive home in fact, and was jogging around today for fun. Oddly, I’ve had a heel pain ever since the Beat the Bridge run, it only gets acute when I in fact run or jog, and it seems to have cleared up after the 206 miles. Maybe those hundreds of thousands of pedal revolutions?
One last thought on fitness – I think gym miles this spring sort of helped make up for a lack of road miles on the bike. I felt surprisingly strong and comfortable throughout the whole ride. Oh, the other thing – I will bring two bottles next year, or purchase one on the go as I did yesterday; there were times I almost ran out and wasn’t sure when the next water stop would be. On a really hot day that would have been a problem.
Mental health – I thought a lot about my Mom. But I also just thought a lot about inane stuff. Got the ‘Wang Chung’ song stuck in my head (Everybody have Fun Tonight!) and every time it happened I forcibly thought of Sebadoh’s ‘Drama Mine’ from Bakesale. Other than that there was a lot of focus on just what was going on, what was flying by, the fields and farms and so on. It was really, really nice in this respect. I could easily get hooked on long rides!
Performance and Tactics: I say with some pride that I led a paceline (more of a group, as people really don’t paceline properly on STP) of say a dozen bikers out of the St Helens stop for about 8 miles at 20 mph! I really didn’t draft too much on the whole. I’d say about 15% true drafting, 40% marking, and solo the rest. Most of the time I just joined up with groups out of feeling lonely. I saw two scary bike-on-bike violence crashes in the morning, one with an older fellow on his back with blood all over his face, that early made me start to question drafting off some newbie yahoo. The truth, or the ‘inevitable’ part of the title of this blog, is that even for the one-dayers, with only around 2000 riders, there’s still a long ass stream of bikes, just not as dense or continuous as on the two-day option. For the first 25 miles things were very static with city traffic; it wasn’t until further that things stretched out a little more. When they did, it came in the form of really long mutually supporting lines, like a slinky coil queue, all sudden compression and expansion, and so it was inevitable to get caught up; rather than get passed by a thirty-long line of bikers over and over I preferred to stick with one of the lines, often joining in a gap (heh) and then happily drafting. It was odd because every single time there was some sucker out front getting mooched off by those of us in back, but there was no rotation. Partly due to narrow roads and the constant presence of slower bikers (What is up with that? Do they start really early, or start off 30 miles into the route or something?) – partly because people don’t know about rotating?
Around the middle of the day I found it increasingly hard to match up to a sympathetically speedy group and either discarded the ones too slow or let the ones too fast go by. Often to escape the wind I’d expend a lot of energy trying to bridge up to a solo rider in the distance, only to get there to discover they were only doing 17 mph and so I’d pass them in hunt for faster prey. It’s a funny habit that’s quickly formed where you’re constantly hunting for an advantage, a shelter from the wind or, as was principally my case, just someone to focus on and mark time with. Often I’d come up on a likely solo rider and just sit about 3 feet off their back as a way to keep things steady. The second part of the day things were much more sparse, and I found myself cruising alone most of the time, until toward the Portland city limits when I jumped on several good trains and bridged up and up to faster ones, just out of pure excitement! Sprinting along at 23mph 200 miles into the ride, wow never imagined that.
As for breaks, my strategy was to keep them to an absolute minimum, so that I could go slower while riding and things would even out. For each stop, then, I pulled in, went through my stretch routines (see above), had a ‘major’ snack in the form of a Clif Bar or similar, put on sunscreen (the last three stops or so of the day in this case) and then get going again. Always short of 10 minutes, in other words. As I mentioned before, I tried to use the restroom in ‘off’ locations or mini-stops as there weren’t as many lines. That in itself, I calculate, probably saved me 30 minutes on the entire day.
Deer Island, mini-mart stop away from the madding pee crowds
Another skip I recommend: the food line in Centralia. There was a super long line of one-day riders waiting to get their free food. Why? I rolled in, was handed some lactose-free choco milk (?) and stretched and took off. Then I stopped at Jack-in-the-Box in Chehalis (same place as last year’s ride) and got a small burger and used the restroom there. So, I spent $2 and saved a good 10 – 15 minutes. The burger was actually kind of gross but it was warm and much appreciated at that point! Plus it was fun to have people as me questions, I felt like a mini-celebrity.
Nutrition: I carried M&Ms, yogurt-covered pretzels and beef jerky in the gas tank bag, and made myself nibble every now and then. For the stops, I would then eat something more substantial. I only picked up food at the Castle Rock stop, a banana and Snickers bar; otherwise I stuck with what I brung. I had that lactose free choco milk (about half a bottle of it) in Centralia, and half a Vitamin Water at Deer Lake. Otherwise it was water and electrolyte pills. There was the small cheeseburger at Jack-in-the-Crack, other than that no real food. I suppose I did okay, never really bonked, and I found a nice mix of variety. Next year if it’s hot like it was in the late afternoon I might go for some ice cream.
- The guy in full-on race kit, standing in the middle of a yard sale on the other side of the street on the route section through Chehalis, shopping for what exactly?
- The guy on the unicycle with the 42″ knobby mountain bike tire.
- The guy who passed a knot of people at a stop light… on the right… and nearly eating it on the curb in doing so… to be passed by that same knot of people within 20 seconds… because he had already been passed…
- The number of racer types on Wiliers and Pinarellos and Times and Looks with their support vans full of spare wheels… what are you doing? Do you realize this isn’t a race? Did Mark Cavendish fly over for the day or something and we didn’t hear about it?
- The guy, in downtown Portland, who said to me, “You’re rocking some wide tires there.” Pause. “I’m surprised you’re able to keep up this kind of speed on those things.”
- The guy with the Boston-Montreal-Boston shirt who, when asked about it, sheepishly admitted it was his friend’s jersey, that he hadn’t done it himself.
- The fellow with an artificial leg made out of what looked like carbon, in a specialized rig.
- The guy on the skateboard… oy!
- Zero pukers (as opposed to last year).
- Two SPD pedal fall-overs.
- Two hundred SPD pedal keep-missing-the-clip-in wobbly weavy incidents at traffic stops; they’re a hazard man!
- The older guy at St Helens stop, on the grass, being taken care of by his wife (from their SUV support vehicle), as she talked about how their son had posted to Facebook already that he’d dropped out.
- The father and son team, father in amazing shape, cruising past me, the son keeping a careful eye on the father (must have been in his 60s).
- The big guy on the Long Haul Trucker in the CCCP commie jersey who was absolutely hammering past everybody.
- Flying up the Puyallup Hill just because I love hills and passing people on them! Kind of a waste of energy, but oh well.
- That eerie feeling of starting a long ride behind the main one-dayer pack, but just in front of the two-dayers, all alone in the quiet and dark Seattle morning, heading off on an adventure.
- The quiet, reflective part where there’s a gentleman’s agreement, even among the hammer heads, that once in downtown Portland proper, after the amped-up lead up of the last few miles, everyone gets into that Inevitable Procession and holds ‘place’ as we grind out those last few miles to the finish line.
Assessment: I loved it. I want to do it again. I might just do it every summer, as a marker of fitness and happiness. There’s an inexorable rush to go as fast as you can. The ‘cyc’-ology of a long line of fit bikers, as opposed to the two-day version, is much more palatable, fun even. I found myself shaking off a little weariness in the bones at the last few stops and just getting back up to a cruising speed of 19 or 20 mph simply because so many other fit folks were flying past me at high rates. Overall, I did way better than I’d hoped. I’d feared I wouldn’t make it by 8 or 9 pm, that SurlyLady would have to wait for me forever. I’m extremely pleased with my ride. I’m also pleased that I hardly feel sore today, and that I’ll ride to work in the morning…
What a ride!