Saturday, July 12, 2014

STP, the song is over.

This was my tenth consecutive STP (Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic).  I've done the first 9 as 204 mile one day rides. I wanted to do something special to commemorate the anniversary, and decided that doing it on a fixed gear bike would be a good challenge. In addition to the challenges of riding a fixie, I was also taking on the additional duties of being a ride referee. A ride ref is an ambassador of Cascade Bicycle Club who helps with mechanical issues, medical issues, and rider safety issues.

STP has changed a bit over the 10 years I've participated, that was no more evident than this year. Most noticable as I picked up my registration was the lack of a souvenir tyvek jacket. Normally as the thousands of riders start out in the morning there is a sea of colorful light weight jackets.  That wouldn't be happening this year.  Cascade Bicycle Club would save $12 per rider, (while raising the registration fee) and lose an almost unbelievable amount of good will and advertising.

I can usually point to Cascade Bicycle Club and STP as an example of how a well organized event ride operates. This year there was a changing of the guard in leadership, and the event suffered as a result.

I've taken the Portland Wheelmen's chartered buses up to Seattle in past years and have found the process smooth and convenient.  This year not so much.

Dave and I arrived at the loading location just after 7 AM, in anticipation of an 8 AM roll out.  Normally we arrive to find buses lined up with storage doors open, and Penske trucks with loading ramps down and ID numbers attached.  This year we arrived to find a line of people.  After years of doing this, at least some of those people were friends!

Robin is a ray of sunshine! (or maybe Robin is IN a ray of sunshine)

One Penske truck pulled up, Dave and I loaded our bikes. There were a few comments on my fixed gear bike choice. We looked for the ID number, but couldn't find one. We asked the driver, he pointed to the license plate.  Well, I guess that works.

 With bikes loaded, and a bus waiting, we boarded the bus and began the adventure.

The bus driver did not have good directions to our destination, but luckily the bus was full of experienced STPers.  We knew the way!

We arrived at UofW, but our bikes were not there yet.  In fact, at was 1.25 hours before the first bike truck arrived, and it was not the first one that left Portland.  I seems that in addition to a lack of ID numbers, the trucks also had a lack of fuel. One would think that before starting a 175 mile trip that they would have had fuel tanks topped off, but evidently someone didn't get the memo.  So we waited, and lunch serving hours in the dorms closed before most got their bikes. At least the weather was nice.

Dave and I spent the afternoon walking along the shore of Lake Washington.

STP day started early.  I wanted to get down the twisty descent to the lake shore without having a hoard of other riders of varying skills around me. I would have to be going slowly because I was riding a fixed gear bike.  Dave was joining some friends who wanted to get an early start, not because they were riding fixies, but that they too wanted to avoid the madness of the starting waves.

I got down to the lake before the mass of riders caught me.  I paused for a photo of dawn over the lake.

The light was dim, and I was using a tree to stabilize the camera.  I had my bike leaning against the tree that was across the road, and in a grass strip between the lake and road.  While I had seen single riders and small groups of 2 or 3 riders since I started, I now had my first large group. A line of 25-30 riders approached as I was taking this photo.

Cascade groups are notorious for calling out "potential issues".....ALL potential issues.   With the little plastic ribbons flying from helmets and the cacophony of "hole", "branch", "water bottle", "slowing", "seam", and "bike up", I picked this group out as a group of Cascade riders. "bike up"????  Really?  I was 5 feet off the road in the opposing lanes, leaned against a tree!

Oh well.  I rolled my eyes, chuckled, and hopped back on the bike.  What I presumed to be the first wave of official STP riders caught me just before I reached the REI stop at mile 23.

The stop was well populated, but not nearly as much so as it would be in another 30 minutes.
 Some of the riders were thrilled to have simply started the ride, and to have made it 23 miles.

I've been here before, I was aware of the task ahead. I used a blue room, filled my water bottle, grabbed some snacks, and continued on my way.

My plan to today was to keep moving.  My speed was limited by my fixed gear.  The bike is very heavy, and with only one water bottle and an expected high in high 90's I knew I was going to have to be working on keeping hydrated.  I was planning on stopping very briefly at every opportunity to fill a bottle.  I had some electrolyte tablets along and was going to be using those as the temperature rose also.  I wouldn't be taking many photos today, as I just didn't think I had the time to spare to stop for photos, and I'm not comfortable taking photos on the roll while on the fixie.

The biggest issue I saw all day was the absolute ignoring of stop signs by the majority of participants. It was almost difficult to determine whether it was more dangerous to stop or just run the signs with the crowd.  On West Valley Road I came to a stop sign.  I stopped my fixed gear bike (more difficult than stopping a geared bike) and continued on.  A group approached from behind and I heard the sound of bikes crashing.  I turned around and rode back.  A rider had stopped at the stop sign. (good for him) but the crowd coming from behind did not.  Like dominoes, a series of riders went down. One was bloodied significantly.  His bike was banged up.  I called the day of ride emergency number, a number set up to organize SAG rides for riders unable to proceed, but not needing an emergency ambulance response.  The clueless young woman answering the phone was not only clueless, but worthless. After 5 minutes of trying to convince her that I was supposed to call her and she was supposed to coordinate a response, I thanked her for her "help", then called the only person on staff that I still know after the recent purge.  She called the ride director and it got straightened out, but not before a small group of us escorted the banged up rider forward about 10 miles to the next support stop. While I was standing there trying to deal with the injured rider, literally hundreds of riders came by me and ran the stop sign at full speed.  With the slightly downslope approach bikes were traveling in the mid 20's.  I stood with my arms outstretched yelling at folks to STOP at the stop sign.  One rider, barely breaking cadence, said he couldn't because he was being timed.  I will be lobbying hard that Cascade stop making timing chips available.  STP started out as a race many years ago and soon was changed to a "bicycle classic" to short circuit the issues involved with racing on open roads with a large group and uncontrolled intersections.  It seems that the new Cascade leadership didn't remember the lesson.

I was beginning to get frustrated with the general ridership's complete disregard for stop signs.  At mile 42 the STP route is on W. Pioneer Avenue and Fruitland Rd comes in from the left. We had two lanes going our direction, and the intersection is signalized.

I was riding to the right side pretty much at the speed of the other bikes.  The light turned yellow ahead of me. I began slowing. The other bikes didn't.  The light turned red.  I stopped but the others didn't, taking both lanes going our direction.  It was beyond belief to be standing there at a red light and just have a stream of bikes going through the light, not even slowing.   A big black 4x4 diesel pickkup was waiting on Fruitland Rd.  He had the green light, but the bikes just kept flowing by. After probably 30 seconds the pickup finally romped on the throttle and came into the center turn lane and then moved on over into the left lane as he proceeded the same direction we were going.  I will say that he signaled, and moved over carefully. The bike riders let out a stream of unkind words, and a few displayed a single finger salute.  I'll be on the side of the pickup driver on this one.  The bikes were in violation!

Just past mile 43 is one of the bigger hills on this notoriously flat route.  We ride up a 1 mile+ long 7-9% grade.  I was happy to be able to pedal the hill without stopping, and be able to pass many geared bikes besides. Of course, with one gear I had to keep the pedals spinning or I'd stall out.  I didn't have the option to just shift down and make it easier.

By the time I got to the Spanaway rest stop the crowd was surely upon me.

As I was pedaling through the JBLM military installation I came along another medical issue.  This stretch of road is straight as an arrow, with rumble strips separating a narrow shoulder from one busy lane each direction.  Bikes only have room for single file, with great difficulty passing due to the rumble strips and the busy traffic.  Someone had slowed, others following closely crashed into him.  About a half dozen riders were involved. One of those involved was a bike mechanic by trade, another was a nurse.  That fortuitous stroke of luck helped put 4 of them back on the road.  Two were left needing SAG.   One with a bent wheel, broken derailleur, and bent handlebar. The other was more serious, with likely concussion.  He didn't know the answers to basic questions and was very confused.  I did not have reliable Verizon service, but one of those involved had good AT&T service.  I used her phone to make the call.  For the first time in two years of being a ride ref, the call was answered and proper response given.  A SAG car showed up in about 15 minutes and loaded the two riders and bikes up.  I put my pack back together and continued on.

When I got near Yelm I took the bike path (the official route).  In past years most often I've pedaled the parallel road.  I feel it's safer than the crowded path with blind driveway crossings and bollard/bollard holes. Today with the fixed gear bike I wasn't looking forward to the gentle climbs and descents of the road, and instead chose the flat travel of the rails to trails path.

I arrived at the rest stop along the path, and made a quick stop to refill my bottle.

Even though it was hot, in the low 90's I felt I was staying well hydrated.  I was staying on my plan of about  20-25 ounces of water per hour. It was challenging given that I only had one bottle on the bike.  I was adding a NUUN tablet every other bottle, and took some Hammer Endurolytes and SportsLegs for additional electorlytes from time to time. I stopped once for a chocolate milk at a convenience store. I thought the high potassium content along with the infusion of calories would be worth the couple of minutes it took to get them.

I reached Centralia at noon.  With the two long medical stops and changing two flats for folks to this point, I was reasonably happy. I spent longer than I'd hoped here.  I had two ice cream bars, two chocolate milks, and futzed with a Garmin change.  It was 12:45 before I was back on the road.

In the next 50 miles there were more hills, but we were beginning to pick up a tailwind. I was riding pretty much as expected. I was surprised that I passed most on the climbs,  but not that EVERYBODY passed me on the descents.  I posted a high speed today of 23 mph, and that is spinning well above 130 cadence. I'd be working hard holding back pressure on the pedals at 13 mph as out of shape folks on flat barred bikes would coast by at 30.  With the more rolling country this was happening with frequency.

I helped out on two more flats.  Unlike earlier when it was a matter of lack of experience, now I was finding people who had used up both their CO2 cartridges and weren't carrying a pump. I was beginning to be concerned about finish time.  The finishline officially closes at 9 PM,

When I got to Castle Rock a quick mental math equation told me I'd have to ride a clock time 15 mph average to get to the finishline by 9 PM.  Normally that is not a problem at all.  On the fixed gear bike it would be a bit more challenge.  I had not kept a 15 mph clock time average to that point.

A short while after leaving Castle Rock I was coming down a mild descent about 20 mph spinning the pedals madly. In an instant, the chain bounced off the front sprocket and the slack was taken up by the rear fixed gear. It wrapped on itself and fell between the gear and the spokes.  It sheared a spoke, badly damaged another two, and stopped the rotation of the rear wheel.  All this happened in less than one revolution of a 700c wheel at 20 mph.  What this meant for me was that I was now on a bike that was skidding the rear wheel and wagging back and forth as I fought to keep the bike upright.  It finally came to a stop, me still upright.  The red tire that had less than 50 miles on it prior to STP now had a flat spot on it that went as deep as the cords.  There was a 25+ foot long red skid mark on the pavement. I was glad that I had a tire liner, it  saved my tube. I removed the broken spoke and checked wheel true.  It was wobbly, but cleared the brakes.  I carry a spare tire and a thin wrench for removing the nuts that hold the wheel in place.  The nuts were so tight that my thin wrench would not budge them.  I surveyed the situation and figured my only hope was to make it to the next support stop that had mechanical help. I pedaled carefully, and slowly, just in case the tire flatted.  The only thing protecting the tube was the tire liner.  With each revolution I could feel the "thump" of the flat spot contacting the road. Finally I breathed a sigh of relief as the support stop came in view. The River City mechanic allowed me to use his wrench to remove the wheel.  I changed the damaged tire for my new Gatorskin, re-inflated, used the mechanic's wrench to tighten the nuts back up, and put my supplies back in my pack. The mechanic advised that I get wider shouldered nuts less prone to sliding.  I now had a black tire on the yellow rear wheel. After many, many riders commenting on my sharp looking bike, it only took a couple of miles for the first rider to come by and comment, "nice bike, but you really should have a red tire on back".  ;-)  I continued carefully, not wanting to put too much side stress on the wobbly wheel for fear of folding it over.

I got to Longview.  There is a big S loop as riders make the way through Longview. It is mentally tough to know that for awhile you are riding away from Portland, and today that section was also back into the wind. Soon enough I was climbing over the Longview Bridge. 

 One day riders ride unescorted.  There is a wide enough shoulder for our numbers. On day two, larger numbers of bicyclists require an escort to go across the bridge in the lane.  I wasn't too worried with the climb, I was a bit more concerned with my necessarily slower descent, and the rough expansion joints.

As I crossed the bridge and got on the shoulder of Hwy 30 I did another mental calculation. I couldn't change my speed, so could only change the time.  A 15 mph clock time average was now going to get me to Portland around 9:30 PM.  The volunteers would probably still be there handing out one day rider swag, but in my book that's not a one day STP.  One day ride from Seattle to Portland, yes. A one day STP, nope. Of course, my background is ultra distance racing, where riders have been denied an official finish for missing the cut-off by a few minutes.

I was pedaling hard but feeling fine. I got to St Helens and filled a water bottle. There was a scattering of folks laying around the grassy hillside.  All of them looked pretty bad.  I was wearing a striped ride ref jersey, pretty identifiable.  There were a lot of questions about how long they'd be able to get a one day rider jersey/medallion.  I gave them my version.  The finish line officially closed at 9, they might be able to score swag for another half hour, maybe one hour, but they had to get off that grass and finish in one day.  One guy looked incredulous. He thought that after riding 175 miles that he should be able to come in tomorrow sometime and get credit for a 204 mile one day ride. "I'm close enough" he said.  Horseshoes and hand grenades I'm thinking.

I wasn't expecting an official finish anymore, but I was sure hoping to get to Portland. A complicating factor was that in the interest of space and weight consideration I did not carry a spare headlight.  My LED headlight had malfunctioned in the morning and I now did not have a headlight.  I had two tail lights, as per my normal operating procedure.  As the sun went down I brought one of my tail lights around to the front and attached it to my pack's straps.  While not legal, a blinking red light forward would keep me safer than no light at all.  I was concerned about hitting any debris on the shoulder.  Hwy 30 is a busy road, then crossing the St Johns Bridge onto city streets, the course was not safe to ride without lights, and certainly not legal.  After weighing options (a follow car to supply light, have someone run a headlight out to me, a ride on public transportation) I made the tough decision to toss in the towel rather than ride illegally. My sister and Dave came out, picked my bike and I up, and brought us in.

There were hundreds of bikes along Hwy 30, the vast majority did not have lights, lights at all. I'm glad I wasn't one of them. Would they get hit? Probably not.  Was it stupid to do so?  Absolutely.

The next morning I was back at the finishline early.  Normally I ride 100 miles on day two.  Today I was going to be satisfied to ride the fixed gear back out to where I had pulled the plug last night, and ride those last 14 miles back in to the finish line.  A weak rear wheel was still a concern, but I started on the fixie and was sure going to finish it on the fixie. A finisher's medallion would have to be good enough this year. 

Breaking the string of consecutive one day STPs at 9

After finally crossing the finish line at 8:30 AM on day 2, I hopped in my pickup and drove back along the course with my floor pump and spare tubes.  It was raining lightly in Portland due to a passing thunderstorm.  It rained on and off back to near Goble when I came across my friend Julie pedaling toward Portland. I knew that with about 65 miles under her belt today and the prospect of wet roads ahead, that she'd be ready to stop.  Despite offers from me to leap frog her back in, she opted to load up.  We stopped to help with 5 flats as we made our way back to Portland.

We spent the rest of the day at the finish line festival. Always a fun way to cap off an STP weekend.
This one just didn't have the joy of past STPs, but at this point there isn't much to do about it.

STP.........232...............0..............0...............0...........232 Jan............710................0..............0...............0...........710
Feb........... 578...............0..............0...............0............578
March ...........701.............0..............0...............0............701
July...............439...............0..............0...............0............439  Total..........4007...............0..............0...............0..........4007

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