2010 Seattle to Portland Bike Ride

After almost ten years of living and biking in Seattle, I finally did the Seattle to Portland ride this past Saturday. I was pretty stoked and proud to survive the ride and finished a lot stronger than I thought was possible.

The ride itself? Long, hard, and fortunately, mostly uneventful. I read this blog post the night before the ride, and I think it sums up the ride fairly well:

“For the most part everyone is unfamiliar with group riding and incapable of holding a line or passing safely. The route is never far from a freeway, strip mall, gun show, airport or industrial park. And it’s sometimes near all five simultaneously. This event is clearly not done for the atmosphere or unadulterated joy of it all. … In fact why does anyone do it?”

Perhaps a little harsh, but a good question.

Preparations for the adventure started a few months ago, with lots of organized and informal weekend rides, including the Chilly Hilly, Bremerton Red Cross Lifecycle, Flying Wheels, Livestrong Century, and last weekend’s epic training ride. The past week’s dinners included lots of carbs – an awesome dinner at Tavolata on Thursday with my visiting parents, brother, aunt, and uncle was certainly a highlight – and culminated with a big bowl of spaghetti the night before the ride.

After dinner, I finished the pre-ride packing – I wanted to make sure everything was laid out and ready to go for an efficient departure after the oh-so-early 3:30 am wake up call. Water bottles, energy bars, energy gel, shorts, jersey, socks, shoes, chamois cream, pump, tubes, CO2 cartridges, sunglasses, sunscreen, bike GPS, helmet, gloves, registration, jacket, breakfast…check.

Preparations complete, I tucked into bed around 9:30 – way earlier than normal. I am not sure when I finally nodded off, but it was a pretty restless sleep. I was excited for the day ahead and worried I was going to sleep through my wake up alarm.

Around 3:10am, I woke up, and knowing I wouldn’t really fall back asleep, I decided to roll out of bed and get ready to ride. I made some coffee, forced down some bananas and a croissant, said bye to Meagan and the dog, and was on the bike around 4am.

STP Starting Line

Our designated meetup was at the Leschi Starbucks at 5am so as to avoid the mayhem at the starting line. But as this was my first STP ride, I wanted to check out the mayhem, so I met up with Robert on the Burke-Gilman in Wallingford, and pedaled over towards the E-1 lot at UW to gaze upon the scene. There were indeed a lot of riders piling up at the start line, so after a few minutes we turned around and headed down the Burke-Gilman and towards Leschi.

Robert

Joe

We met the crew at Starbucks. Everyone except Pete, of course, gradually rolled in around 5 am. Dana gave us some homemade rice, egg, and bacon energy bars, which were a tasty alternative to the usual Clif bars. We waited a bit for Pete, but ultimately decided that he could easily catch up with us. A few miles into the ride, our thinking was confirmed when Pete cruised along side of us. No latte this time. I decided to ditch the Tyvek jacket at the Starbucks since I was feeling warm enough in the short sleeves and figured it would only get warmer. That turned out to be a bit short-sighted.

Crew at Leschi

The plan for the first part of the ride was to only make two stops, at 50 and 100 miles in. Early on, we kept close to plan, forming and joining a few nice, fast pacelines. It’s amazing how fast you can go when you have a whole lot of people doing the pulling! Somewhere south of Renton, though, my front wheel took a bit too much pothole abuse and I got a flat.

Repair was relatively quick, but after pausing for a minute to make an extra adjustment to the wheel, I fell behind the pack. I struggled for about twelve miles to catch up, when I quickly learned the value of riding in a train. I finally caught up at the 50 mile rest stop in Spanaway, but I was feeling a little worn and worried that I might have gone out a little too hard too early.

The bananas, oranges, and other snacks refueled me a bit, and after filling up the bottles, we hit the road and continued the journey south. Next stop: Centralia College. I think this was one of the nicer parts of the ride, with a long stretch along a dedicated bike path.

As we rolled into Centralia, some kids were handing out creamsicles as we rode by. I grabbed one, although I nearly knocked one of the kids over. After we slowed to a stop, I thought better of eating the creamsicle, thinking that a lump of ice cream in my stomach combined with the still chilly air wouldn’t be a great combination. Why did I chuck my jacket back in Leschi?!

We took a relatively long breather, munched on some more sandwiches and fruit, and after refilling the bottles again, continued on.

I was feeling pretty strong for the second half of the ride. Around mile 143, we passed by an unofficial rest stop at Castle Rock High School but decided to hold off for the free one ten miles ahead. A few hundred feet after we passed the school though, I could hear my front brake starting to rub against the tire. Just as I was slowing down to check out the noise – pop! A loud noise emanated from the front tire. Clearly a flat, and upon further inspection, the rubbing + explosion caused a moderate tear in the tire. When I rolled the wheel, it was way out of true. I was worried this could be a big problem.

I started walking back to the rest stop, which fortunately was only a seven minute walk or so at this point. Ming rode ahead to check out whether there was a repair stand. As I was walking back, I saw a Pedros repair van drive by. I tried to flag him down, but to no avail. It turns out he was heading to the high school to set up a mobile repair shop. Sweet!

I was totally lucky. They were still setting up their tent and repair stands when I made it there, but the techs were super friendly and helpful. I only had to pay their cost for the new tire – labor was covered by Cascade. So for $25, I got my wheel trued, tube and tire replaced, and a spare tube to boot. We grabbed some more snacks and water while they did the repairs, but in less than twenty minutes, we were back on the road. We made another pit stop at the official stop at Riverside County Park a few miles up the road before continuing on our way.

We did see this sweeeeet recumbent though. This one’s for you Dan.

Recumbent

Around mile 150, we crossed the Lewis and Clark bridge, a large iron bridge. This was probably the scariest part of the ride. The ascent was really slow due to the steep hill and few opportunities for passing with the relatively heavy traffic. The descent was the treacherous part – a very fast decline with lots of expansion joints. I was hoping that my recently repaired wheel would stand up and fortunately it did.

I was quite surprised to see the “Welcome to Oregon” sign as we made it to the top of the bridge. I didn’t really check the route out beforehand and assumed that we wouldn’t change states until right before Portland (e.g. on I-5). But the last 50 miles roughly parallels the Columbia River on the Oregon side. Go figure.

I kept expecting to hit the wall at some point but some of our strongest splits, averaging over 20 mph, were in the last fifty miles. We were able to tag along to a few well-paced trains, which eased the pedaling a bit and provided some good motivation. Riding along Route 30 was less than scenic, but at this point, the main focus was getting to Portland.

We stopped one last time at St. Helens for one last break before the final push. I was still feeling good, but my feet were starting to burn and it was getting a lot warmer out. No jacket needed now! When I saw the large bowl of watermelon, I immediately grabbed a slice, kicked off the shoes, and flopped in the grass. It was nice rest. We grabbed some more food, filled the bottles again, and pedaled off. Twenty-five miles to go!

When we passed the “Entering Portland” sign, I knew that we were just on the outskirts of the city, but it was still a very welcome milestone. We were almost there. We pedaled up and around a few hills and across the city. As we rolled into the Northwest part of downtown, we started hitting stoplights every block and my impatient desire to finish was getting hard to reign in.

We had a brief moment of comedy as we were delayed by a sailboat opening the North Steel drawbridge across the Willamette. Once the bridge reopened, we continued to the east side of town, up and around another hill and onto the last stretch before the finish line. When I saw the “Finish” sign, I was stoked.

Drawbridge Delay

We had to wait at one final stop light before crossing into Holliday Park. But the light turned green, and we pedaled the last few hundred feet through a nice cheering section and crossed the finish sometime around 6:45 pm, 204 miles from Seattle to Portland complete. I spotted Meagan on the left, which made me happy. We coasted to a stop, picked up our “one day rider” patches, and for the first time in about fourteen hours, I was done pedaling for the day. Woohoo!

Joe at Finish

After meeting up with the wives and girlfriends, we set the bikes down and made a b-line towards the food stands for the first of many feedings. I opted for a Gyro and then we made our way to the beer garden, where we met up with Pete, Matt, and Dana, who finished a little before us. Meagan only ate a little bit of her noodle dish, so I more than happily helped her finish it.

Joe and Ming at Finish

McGarty rolled in a little while later, so we were just waiting for Robert at this point, who apparently was felled by the same busted tire/wheel problem that I had had, but he had the misfortune of not being near a rest stop. Unfortunately, Cascade’s mobile services, which were fairly prevalent on the early parts of the ride, were in scarcer supply towards the end, as Robert had to wait three hours on the side of the road before being shuttled to the finish line. It certainly made me appreciate my quick repair all the more.

Reunited at the finish line, we hung out for a bit at the beer garden before parting for the day. Meagan and I met up with my west-coast expat cousin Becky, her husband Jay, and their adorable toddlers Abby and June, who were quite eager to see their favorite canine, who was still hanging back at the hotel. So Meagan and I hopped on the MET with the bike back to the Hotel Monaco, where I explained to a few incredulous riders that I did indeed just bike from Seattle.

The rest of the weekend was basically eating, sleeping, and hanging out with the family. Saturday night feeding: Rock Bottom Brewery. Sunday pre-breakfast: a chocolate croissant, berry danish, and a mocha at Pearl Bakery. Breakfast: Baked eggs at Broder. Sunday afternoon, we hung out at a park with Lulu and the cousins before saying goodbye and having one more re-fueling: Canolli and iced mocha at Palio. Portland has some great food places, and I was definitely in a mood to enjoy it.

The drive home was slow going but we managed. We stopped in Olympia for, obviously, more food – decent Thai takeout – before rolling into Seattle around 10pm. I was pretty wiped and ready for bed.

So, why ride 204 miles? I think the previous blogger captured it pretty accurately:

“Inspiration and humility. And entertainment, cycling pride (the loosest possible and most all encompassing idea of it) and for the humanity of it. And maybe because it’s hard and demanding and epic, and because it delivers all the glory through suffering you can take in a paceline led by a dude on a Bike Friday. Ok, and maybe because when else do you get to eat four pancakes, seven Little Debbie’s, a chunk of salmon jerky bought from an American Native in the front seat of a pick-up truck parked on the side of a road, four cokes, a tin of Pringles, three burritos, a plate of lasagna, two whoppers, a cheeseburger, three beers, five power bars, four gallons of water, seventeen electrolyte replacement drinks and a chocolate milkshake, in one day, without peeing or gaining weight.”

Or, as I put it to Meagan as we were walking to the beer garden after the ride, to be able to say: I just fucking biked to Portland!

Thanks to the crew for a fun ride, to Meagan for driving the support vehicle and providing a welcoming face at the finish, and to all the volunteers and onlookers cheering away!

Till next year? We’ll see.

Ride Data from my Garmin

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