Monday, December 10, 2007

And in the beginning..............

Hey, seems that everyone thinks about goals, makes resolutions, or otherwise evaluates their lives as a new year begins. This blog is my way of sharing my resolution/goal. I began this bicycle odyssey almost 3 years ago on my 50th birthday. I had ridden my old Schwinn single speed/coaster brake bike a bit in my early teens. I rode it to the beach a few times, a 100 mile round trip, and home from college with a basket full of books, a 65 mile ride. Since that time however my biking was relegated to around the campground with kids. For my 50th birthday I was looking for something to challenge myself. If the black cloaked guy with the scythe was coming after me, I wanted to make him work for it! I decided I should air up the tires on the bike and ride 50 miles for the 50 years. Many of my former college cohorts were riding competitively or semi competitively so I knew they'd jump at the chance to ride my sorry butt into the asphalt.

And so it was that 4 of us found ourselves near the Portland airport in early February `05 mounting our bikes with plans to ride to Multnomah Falls and back via the Historic Columbia River Highway. The ride went remarkably well considering I had not been on a bike at all in over 7 months, and not ridden over 5 miles in one setting for over 30 years. We had a bit of light rain but all in all the weather was better than should be expected in the Gorge in February!

As we approached the 45 mile mark I was tired but noted that the asphalt was still going by faster than if I were walking so I just kept pedalling. When we'd approach a hill the other guys would race up it, I was just happy to be able to make it up the hill without walking the bike! At our post ride burger and beer we talked over the day's events. With me being the oldest, they all decided that they wanted to do a bike ride for their 50th birthdays as well.

Come April we found ourselves celebrating the next birthday by riding from Hood River up the valley and over to Dufer, down to The Dalles, and back to Hood River. It was a 108 mile ride, but I was told that "a century is a worthwhile goal". Again, towards the end I was beat, but made it. Two rides of any account in thirty years and it was a 50 miler followed by 108! Crazy, but the craziness was just beginning.

In June buddy number 3 decides that for his 50th we will ride STP, the 204 mile Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic in mid July. I'm thinking this is a bad sequence of events, 50, then 100, now 200? I'm hoping I run out of friends because each friend doubles the distance. Pride being what it is, I didn't dare back out. I noted on the web that STP is a two day event. I hadn't heard much from my buddies about details so I finally emailed the group and said that I probably couldn't get the two days free, but would be happy to join them on a one day STP. I offered that it didn't make much sense to drive all the way to Seattle then ride bike half way back to Portland, and suggested that we ride from Chehalis (the half way point) back to Portland. It didn't take long for them to set me straight, a one day STP is not doing half the STP, it's riding the whole 204 miles in ONE DAY!

The next three weeks where a whirlwind. I tried riding as much as I could, but at the same time knowing that it was really too late to develop any semblance of conditioning. My buddy John has a tandem and wanted to take that so I agreed to join the team as stoker. As friends heard of our plan the two common questions were, "What makes you think this will be fun?" to which I'd answer, "It's not going to be fun, it will be an adventure". The other was, "Why are you going to do this?" and I'd reply "To further define the line between those of us who can and those of YOU who can't!" ;-)

In mid July we were in the predawn darkness of the STP start line. Having had to work the day before, I found myself there already awake for 23 hours with a 204 mile bike ride ahead of me. As we rolled under the start banner I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

The first miles of STP were magical. There were 8000 registered riders....... a virtual sea of bikes, blinkies, and cyclists. In the first few miles the field was in the process of sorting out the faster from the slower, the serious from the more whimsical..... all while riding 15-20mph elbow to elbow and wheel to wheel. It required full attention. There always seems to be a few crashes along this stretch and I didn't want a moment of inattention to end my day.

The ride along Lake Washington was beautiful during the pre sunrise. What had started as a mass of riders had morphed into a long double string of cyclists, slower to the right, those on a mission on the left. The first rest stop was 25 miles in, at REI. A mass of riders were queuing up for blue rooms and grabbing a power snack and/or piece of fruit. A real party atmosphere but the enemy for a one day STP rider is time, and time was ticking so it was back on the bike.

About 40 miles in, just past Puyallup, we approached "the hill". It's about a mile long and about 6 or 7% grade. The STP is a remarkably flat route (by Western standards) with just under 2000 ft of total elevation gain along the entire 204 mile route but a good percentage of that gain comes right here! You've just got to shift into a low gear and suck it up. Having conquered "the hill" it was back to the primary task, riding to Portland!

The ride to the midpoint at Centralia went pretty much as expected. A lot of bikes, a party atmosphere, and it just flew by. Hey, "it's only a hundred miles" and I had done that before. My mental games included figuring what percentage of the ride I had accomplished. Never thinking 180 miles to go, but rather 10% finished! At the Centralia rest stop it was "it's closer to ride to the finish than it is to turn around and ride back to the start". As we pulled out of Centralia it was a bit tough, there was a lot of activity going on there, music, food, camaraderie, even masseuses! But alas, we had ~100 miles to go before dark yet so we clipped in and shoved off.

The route after Centralia cleared out to some extent. There still were plenty of bikes on the road, but the constant stream of bikes passing and being passed had been left behind. Pre STP I had predicted that the first 100 miles would go quickly, adrenaline, excitement, etc. It did. The next 50 I predicted would be more business like, just get on the bike and ride 50 miles, and the last 50 would be where I finally would be forced to earn it. The roughly 50 miles stretch from Centralia to Longview went easier than expected. It was less business and more fun that I had predicted. There was still a lot of laughing and joking with other riders as we'd pass or at the rest stops. Before long it seemed we were along the Columbia river. The Trojan Nuclear Plant's cooling tower loomed across the river reminding me that my home state of Oregon was close.

After looping around the outskirts of Longview via some industrial area streets we finally turned towards the imposing silver metal structure that seemingly rises to touch the sky.

With 50 miles to go (75% finished!) we must climb up over the Longview Bridge. It is a testament to the flat nature of this 200 mile route that the second climb of note is the climb up and over this bridge built to allow passage of ocean going ships beneath it. Adding to the effect of this grade on tired legs are the very rough expansion joints and bark debris. It seems that every one of the many log trucks leaves a contribution as it rumbles over the expansion joints. More than a few bikes contributed also, having had water bottles bounce out of cages from the constant rattling.

As we rolled down the back side of the bridge at a brisk pace, circled around and under via the exit ramps, merged on to Hwy 30 it dawned on me......... we were back in Oregon, and we ONLY HAD 50 MILES TO GO! 50 miles? A piece of cake! Oh, except for that small detail of already having ridden 150 miles. ;-) Hwy 30 is a busy 2 lanes each way ribbon of asphalt. There are decent wide paved shoulders and it is relatively flat. But with the effort already expended, the little hills were noticeable. What I would normally drop a gear or two and just ride over required a bit more effort! But Portland was drawing us in and I didn't doubt any longer that I would make it.
Before long I could see the graceful arches of the St John's Bridge. The St. John's Bridge is a beautiful suspension bridge over the Willamette River in North Portland. We continued riding along near the banks of the Willamette past the industrial buildings of the waterfront.

There was one more hill to battle, a short steep little ditty, not more than a couple of city blocks long, but steep! From the top of that hill it was over to and across the Broadway Bridge. There were a few stop signs and traffic signals, forcing us to STOP, when all we really wanted to do was to keep riding and FINISH THIS RIDE! Before long after a series of turns the final slightly uphill stretch away from the river brought the finish line banner into view. we gave the pedals one last effort and rolled across the line as our names were being called out over the PA system, then braked to a stop. I had joined the ranks of the "One Day Rider".

Riding the tandem 204 miles was a blast, but I was always having to explain to non STP riding friends that I really did have to pedal and that I didn't just have my butt hauled to Portland. The next year I set out to remedy that. I rode solo on my Marin and finished the 204 miles in one day with just under an 18mph average.

I had so much fun that this last summer I rode it again in 90+degree heat and held just over an 18 mph pace. I also rode 13 other organized rides including several centuries in addition to nearly countless private rides. I love being in good enough shape to enjoy the sound of spokes whirring through the air as I ride along on a sunny afternoon at 18-20+ mph.

For the last year or so I've been fascinated with the Furnace Creek 508. ( It's a 508 mile ride from Santa Clarita, California through Death Valley and on to 29 Palms, California. It is billed as "the toughest 48 hours in sport". I'm just fascinated with the entire mechanics of it. Over 35,000 ft of long desert climbs, 5000 vertical foot 50+ mph descents in darkness. Twice the distance of STP, but almost immeasurably more difficult. Yet, like a moth to flame, I am inextricably drawn to it. One can't just sign up and ride it. One must demonstrate a certain verifiable fitness level and experience. Even with this selection process, 50% of the riders don't finish.

So this year my resolution is to take my biking fitness up a few notches. I'm going to try to get this getting older every year body to answer the call when the mind wants to ride up that hill. I'm hoping to ride more miles, more hills, and this year instead of the one day STP being my goal, it will just be another ride in my training for something bigger. I am hoping to ride the Death Valley Fall Double century. This ride would test me like none other I've ridden, and give me a chance to see first hand the route conditions on the central portion of the Furnace Creek 508. I also hope to be a support crew member for a Furnace Creek 508 rider. It would give me a chance to see the mechanics of what it takes to do this ride. I've also been looking a bit at the 535 mile "Race Across Oregon".

I've always compared myself to a coyote, neither the fastest nor the strongest, but relentless. Both the Furnace Creek 508 and The Race Across Oregon are set up as races but my goal wouldn't be to be the first across the line, my goal would be to finish. The Race Across Oregon looks like a killer, 40,000 feet of climbing, 535 miles, 48 hour cutoff. 5,000 ft more climbing and 27 miles longer than Furnace Creek, but the roads are much smoother. The Race Across Oregon takes place the weekend after STP. That would make for an interesting 7 day period! We'll see what the summer brings!

And so this blog will chronicle my steps along this journey. You are welcome to read along and share my dreams and disappointments along the way.

Since this is part of my new year's resolution check back here beginning January 1st to see what develops.

If you want to join me on my annual birthday ride just drop me an email.(this year a few of us will be riding 53 miles on either February 2nd or 3rd depending on weather)

Happy Holidays all!


Feel free to offer support or suggestions.

But remember, you won't be the first to call me crazy! ;-)

A Few STP Pictures


  1. Loved your STP account. If you want to do crazy endurance stuff to get ready for FC, try randonneuring. OR Randonneurs understands people like you :-)

  2. I should have figured that Lynne would beat me to the punch with the Rando pitch . . . .

    Feel free to join me for MY 50th birthday ride, when I take on the Paris-Brest-Paris brevet . . . Okay, so that won't be until 2011, and it will actually take place about 2.5 months after my 50th birthday, but those are minor details . . . )


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