Thursday, August 2, 2012


I've said it before, I'll say it again-- I often think about something I want to write about here, but I decide I'd rather do something than write about something I've already done.  I've made a few things (new decorative pillowcase, a makeup brush holder which I just realized I haven't even used yet, some decorative jars, etc)...but mostly we've been busy.  Which is good!

I've also been biking!  Somehow, it seems if I spend all my free time biking, I don't have much time to really do anything else.  Does that even make sense?

In any case, I want to write about biking.  Specifically, STP.  Over the years, I very rarely "journal" or really write anything about my life.  But every time I find some small piece of writing, I love reading back and re-living whatever it was that i wrote about.  STP was just over 2 weeks ago and the memories are already fading, so I need to write this now-- so that I can read back later and remember every amazing moment.

NOTE:  This entry has taken a good three days to write.  It is incredibly long.  As stated, it's meant more for my own memory, and I will be in no way offended if you become terribly bored by it. :)

The Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (STP), organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club, is a 200+ mile ride that stretches--you guessed it--from Seattle, WA to Portland, OR.  It can be done in either one or two days, with the Centralia half-way point open for camping, etc.

When I started biking last year, especially when I got my road bike:

Cannondale 2011 Synapse Alloy 7
 Somehow, the seemingly crazy idea popped into my head in August or September of 2011:  "I want to do STP next year!"  Not only that, but "why would I want to get on my bike two days in a row to ride 100 miles.  If I start, I'm going to finish in one day."

So February of 2012, I found myself registering for the ride.  Along with my dad and husband, I might add.  NOTE:  The plan was for us to do it all together, but as it turns out, my dad hurt his knee about a week after registering, and had knee surgery shortly thereafter.  Needless to say, he wasn't able to train much (much less walk) and ended up doing about 1/4 of the ride (knowing he would just be able to start, and go as far as his knee would take him).  The husband also had a previous injury that prevented him from training and riding in the race, but he was the best support driver ever!

Anyway, a month passed.  Then another.  Then another few.  Soon it was June and with STP on July 14, I knew I had to get into gear (ha ha, get it?).  The weather had been less-than-cooperative, and I was lazy.  Plus, I was focusing on weightlifting over the winter, so I didn't have much time.  I finally realized that I really hated weights, was seeing very meager "results" and it was keeping me from doing what I wanted to do, which was biking.  So, I stopped that silliness and hopped back on the bike!

So starting in June, I was on the bike 4 days a week, usually about 20 miles each time.  A few weeks later, I went for a "long" ride of 50 miles.  This was the day that I learned that I can't go all-out at the same intensity for 50 miles as I would for 20 miles.  I was pooped!  My shoulders and neck were sore from not being used to it, and I was fading fast at the end.  In fact, those last 2 miles were arguably the most painful miles I've ever experienced on a bike.

Nevertheless, I loved it.  Biking is something I enjoy, despite the occasional pain.  So the next weekend, I went on a ride with a co-worker (who I ended up riding with on STP), and we did 100 miles.  This time was much better-- she paced me at the beginning and forced me to keep my speed down.  The for 20 miles were easy, and I couldn't help but feel like we were going super slow.  The next 80 miles were great.  The sun started to peek out, so we shed off our outer layers and opted to do the last leg of the ride in just our shorts and thin long-sleeves.  We also conveniently left behind our shoe covers.  As luck would have it, as soon as we were at the furthest point from our cars and we turned around for the last 20 miles, the rain started coming down.  And this was no ordinary rain-- no, this was a torrential downpour, complete with hail and thunder and gusty wind.

I have never been so cold or so wet in my life.  (When I got off my bike, I literally couldn't take off my helmet, because my fingers were so cold and wet that I couldn't undo the buckle.  After a 40 minute car ride home, with my heat on full blast at 80 degrees, I got out of the car and immediately started shivering so hard my teeth were chattering and I could barely get my bike and gear back up to my apartment.  Like I said-- cold.)

(On the plus side, I wasn't really any more tired after the 100 miles than I had been after 50.  As it turns out, pacing yourself and not burning out at the beginning really does help!  Who'd have thought.)

I continued with three 20-mile rides during the workweek and a "long" ride on Saturday, although the rest were in the 50-60 mile range.  After all, STP was only 3 or 4 weeks away at that point.  Unfortunately, my knee started acting up, which had me worried about the 200 miles.  Usually not hurting until about 40 miles in, it wasn't a lot of pain (more of an annoyance) but it would hurt more and linger a few days after completing the ride.  I had a bike fitting on the Monday before STP (STP was on Saturday) and decided to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

After loading up gels, protein bars, spare tubes and more clothes than I would possibly need, I was ready to go.

FYI, 3:30am is very early time to get up and get in the mindset to ride your bike.  But, there I was.  I met my group at 4:30am, and off we went!

Our group: a co-worker and one of her friends
We didn't start at the official Start line.  Didn't want to deal with all the crowds and traffic.  Instead, we met a few blocks away from the course about 3 miles in, and met up with it.  Windy downhill Seattle roads at 4:30am?  No biggie!  Made quick stop at Seward Park (just a few miles in) to take off our jackets-- absolutely NO ventilation in those things, and it was just too hot with them!  By the time we got back on the road, the first wave of riders raced past (the official "opening" of the start line was 4:45am).

We wound through Seattle streets, making our way south, oftentimes with gorgeous views of the water.  Lots of bumpy train tracks.  I don't remember too much about this part-- mostly getting used to riding on the road, and riding with so many other riders (neither of which I had done before).  We caught up with a group averaging around 18-19mph, and attached ourselves.  Drafting helps so much!

About 25 miles in, after rolling through an intersection, I noticed a slight hissing noise.  I had my jacket tied around my bike frame, and assumed it had come loose and was hitting my tire.  Looking down and checking on it, however, that was not the case.  Oh no-- flat tire?!  A few seconds later, it was clear: I definitely had a flat tire.  We pulled off the side of the road, and one of the riders in my group quickly fixed it up for me (I've never had to do it myself, and he was definitely the fastest at changing tires, so we let him do it!)  Rattled, but glad it was fixed, I hopped back on my bike and continued on.  Of course, this meant that every little rock and glass shard and bump that I saw made me extremely paranoid, from them on.  I did NOT want another flat!  (Upon inspection, there were two tiny little slivers of glass that had lodged themselves in my tire.  Must have been that intersection.)

I also started noticing people on the side of the road, watching.  People in camp chairs, cuddled up with blankets and coffee, cheering us on.  I lost all perception of time (starting so early kind of confused my brain), but it was probably 6 or 7am when they started popping up.  On street corners, in parking lots, in their front yards-- these people didn't know us (well, they may have known 1 of the 10,000 riders), but they were spending the early morning hours camped out and cheering as hundreds of riders passed.  Clapping, shouting encouragement, holding was amazing.  It was in these moments that I truly started to comprehend the magnitude of what I was doing.  It wasn't just something that I had personally decided to do because I thought it was cool-- no, here were complete strangers who were taking time out of their day (early time, in some cases) and clearly indicating that they thought it was pretty cool, too.  What an amazing feeling!

Anyway, the miles went on.  I knew the infamous "Big Hill" was coming up and as soon as it started, I knew it!  Riding on the trail is pretty flat, basically no altitude change at all.  So, I was unsure of how I would do on this Big Hill that people kept talking about.  Turns out, it wasn't a big deal!  Sure, it was long (like, 2 miles long or something?) but it wasn't that sleep.  And I certainly didn't charge up the hill (definitely got passed a lot), but I didn't feel like I was going to die and was able to just pedal through it.  Hooray!

Finally made it to the first major rest stop, where we took our first real break (roughly 50 miles).  So much free food!  I was blown away.  Lots of it was junky (cookies?  bleh) but I grabbed a nutrigrain bar and a clif shot gel.  Also chomped down another of my protein bars.  Refilled our waterbottles, went to the bathroom.  I clearly got in the wrong line for the porta-potty, because IT TOOK FOREVER!  All the other lines were moving, but ours was stopped for nearly 10 minutes.....  Finally got to go get a little jamba juice, and we were off!

Shortly after, it started getting misty.  Not quite rain, but enough that I kept having to wipe off my glasses and I couldn't see very well.  But, not enough to make the road slippery.  Plus, it was kind of nice to have a cool mist; it definitely help keep us cool.  I should mention that we had hoped to average around 16mph... Well, we were easily in the 18-20mph zone the whole time!  Like I said-- Drafting helps!

Soon, the route took us onto a nice trail!  It was so nice to get off the street, and be on a nice trail.  Even though the road was parallel to us, there were tress on both sides, and it was really pretty.  Riding on that trails with so many other riders was another amazing experience.  When on the street, we were always single file, so it was hard to grasp the sheer volume of riders.  On the trail, we spread out and rode a staggered 2 or 3 across.  You could see ahead (and behind, when checking before passing) and see nothing but helmets.  Everyone was chugging along at a pretty high rate-- although we did pass a few people (and get passed by a few), basically everyone was going around 19mph.  What an incredible feeling!  That was another point when I really felt like just one part of one fluid group.  Everyone knew that everyone else knew what they were doing, and everyone was there for the same reason.

Partway through the trail, there was another mini rest stop.  We were only about 15 miles from the half-way point, but we took a quick break, anyway.  Allen was going to meet me with the car (and my bag of clothes, if I wanted to change, as well as a new supply of food) a couple miles after Centralia (which was the official half-way stop), so I updated him on our status.  Clipping away a few mph higher than our projected target, we were making awesome time!

The next few miles were pretty uneventful.  Somewhere (I think on our way into Centralia?) we were passing through a neighborhood.  As this massive line of bicycles rode past, a little kid ran out of his house and into the front yard, waving and pointing at us.  "Look, another bike!!!!" he yelled back through the front door.  Everyone got a good laugh out of that, as he was so incredibly excited to see "one more" bike, when in fact there were many, many that were passing (and would continue to pass by, for hours).  That was another moment when I felt pretty awesome-- this little kid was so excited to see us!

Half-way point in Centralia.  Free creamsicles!  Probably the most delicious ice cream bar I've ever had in my life.  Luckily, the weather was still cool but clear, so I wasn't too hot, but it was still amazing.  Got some chocolate milk, refilled water bottles, stopped by the bathroom.  There was a mechanic station, and I debated if I should purchase another tube.  After all, I had already used my one spare, and I was still super paranoid about getting another flat.  But, my group convinced me I'd be fine.  "You won't get another flat, don't worry" were the exact words, I think.

Rode a couple miles down, and met with our support cars!  It was great to see Allen.  He even brought me an extra peanut butter sandwich. Going into it, I knew I'd need to eat a lot, but it didn't really hit me until about halway through-- i had already burned over 3000 calories, so even though I felt liek I was constantly stuffing granola bars and gels down my throat, I knew I had to keep it up.  I didn't feel fatigued at all, but I didn't want to start feeling that way.  So, another protein bar, sandwich, banana, and energy shot later, we were off!

Mile 102!  Halfway there, and going strong.
Off we went, and less than two miles later-- I got another flat!  Once again, I noticed that faint hissing sound right after going through an intersection.  This time, a very small and very sharp rock was the culprit.  Rather than being forced to patch up my tube, one of my ride group had a tube that fit my tire, so I used his.

Honestly, the next few miles started blending together.  The sun started peeking out more and more, until it honestly started getting pretty warm.  Rolling hills began, and we started hitting some pretty impressive (to me, at least!) speeds on the ways down... 30+ mph!  My max speed was 37mph, but I'm not sure which hill that was on--probably later.  We took a quick stop where I took off my undershirt, and lathered on some sunblock.  More energy shot gummies.

After that, the real hills started.  One after another, we were climbing up hills and speeding down.  Whoever told me there was "only one big hill" on STP was sorely mistaken!  True, the climb near Tacoma was much longer, but honestly, these hills were nothing to scoff at--especially when they never seemed to end!  Keep in mind I never, ever have to go up hills on the trail.  Some of the hills were very pretty, more out in the open and surrounded by grasses, and they really made me think of the Palouse.  As we progressed, they became more woody, and it felt like going through the mountains on a windy road (although it was, after all, just a hill in the forest).  Somewhere near the beginning, I tried downshifting on too steep of a climb and my derailer skipped off.  For the rest of the ride, it wouldn't shift properly, and I was virtually stuck in two or three gears.  Thankfully it was basically the middle gears, so I was able to manage alright.

Of course, the steepest hill (for that section) came at the very end-- definitely steeper than any other hill on the ride, and by then I was sick and tired of hills, and we were almost to our next major break so I was tired in general!  That moment was probably my worst, when I felt the most worn out and out of breath.  On the plus side, there was a group at the top cheering us all on, and even handing out licorice as we rounded the corner!  Best licorice in my life (although I almost choked on it, because the downhill afterward was just as steep, and I wasn't expecting it).

The 150-ish mile stop was somewhere that I can't remember.  But, it was a nice huge park and had tons of food available.  Had another protein bar, another PB&J, and more water.  We took a pretty substantial break and actually sat and stretched out on the grass.  At this point, we had ridden further than the Tour de France riders had ridden that day!  (they only did something like 130 miles)  That was kind of neat!

Got back on our bikes, and continued out.  We were soon cycling through Kelso, and crossed the bridge into Oregon.  I've been on that bridge many, many times growing up-- when my family went to Cannon beach, we always took that bridge.  Of course, I never realized just how steep and long that bridge is!  The shoulder was very narrow, and we were forced to be single file.  Since it was so steep, everyone had to go to same pace, which was pretty slow, and navigate the debris (and occasional stopped rider, which made things extra tight).  That climb seemed to take forever, with the cars whizzing by, and our pedals mechanically pedaling to the same, slow beat, in one solid line of bicycles.  Once we made it to the top and actually crossed the Columbia river, it was almost worse.  They were doing some sort of work on the bridge, and there were tarps up-- which was good in some ways, because it blocked the gusty wind, but also trapped in all the fumes of the cars as well as fumes of the paint/whatever was being done on the bridge.  That was really hard to breathe!  On the descend down, though, was probably the worst few moments of the entire 200+ ride.  As steep as it was going up, it was steep going down.  The cars sped up raced past us, while the line of cyclers ahead dictated the speed (couldn't really slow down, or else the people behind would crash!).  There were metal plates with huge nuts and bolts on the path, which was not much fun to hit while speeding downhill.  On top of all that, the wind was STRONG!  Funneling along the path of the river, the wind was pushing us into the cars, while the cars themselves would generate gusts of wind pushing us outward.  Overall, NOT FUN!

We turned and actually rode on the shoulder of a freeway for a short while, which was totally crazy!  At least there was a fairly large shoulder, which was comfortable, but I was still amazed that some people passed each other during this stretch.  There were all sorts of huge trucks zooming past us!  Oh well.  Another couple large, long hills, and it was getting HOT by then!  Luckily, since we were finally actually getting close, there was a special feeling of excitement and urgency in the air.

Going up one hill, I took a gulp from my waterbottle.  I'm terrible at drinking water while working out, so I tried to drink some as often as I thought of it.  I reached down to put the bottle back in it's holder, while still looking ahead (as we were going uphill).  Somehow, the bottle slipped out of my hand, went under my back tire and disappeared!  Huge startle-- I ran over it and somehow didn't fall (my tire is skinny, and those water bottles are BIG!) and it also managed to miss hitting anyone else (that i know of).  Sadly, it was my newest waterbottle and already one of my favorites!  One of those awesome insulated ones.  Oh well, it is now in a ditch on teh side of the road in Oregon (sorry, Oregon!)...There was no way I was stopping on that hill to get it back (it was narrow, and there was a huge line of bikes behind me, it would have been super dangerous to stop).

With that sad event, we kept on pushing forward.  Made it to the final rest stop!  About 23 miles left to the finish line.  This stop even had a little misting station!  I actually didn't like it too much, actually.  The cold mist was too much, and it felt weird getting all wet wearing all my biking gear, especially in the hot sun.  We ate more snacks (so much junk food, so I just had a couple granola bars, and LOTS of fruit-- they even had near-frozen grapes, which I ate about three big bowls full!).  It took some effort to convince ourselves it was time to keep going.

Again, by this time, the miles blended together and I only remember snapshots of a couple places-- an intersection with a funny turn bay, the horizon, and the heat!  Luckily, the sunblock I put on was super good, and I actually (surprisingly) didn't get burnt at all.  We passed by a sign that said it was 85 degrees at one point, and I think it only got hotter.

At last, we were nearing Portland!  There were a few more (larger) hills, and I pulled ahead.  By that point, I had been up and down enough hills to know that I preferred to actually get in a larger gear and power up the hill (I later learned this probably greatly contributed to my hurt knee, but we'll ignore that for now).  It was much nicer to have solid leg strokes and make fast progress, rather than the long, seemingly-fruitless constantly quick pedaling of a lower gear.  I pulled ahead of my group, and had to later hang back and wait up a bit--oops.  On the final approach into the city, there was a series of larger hills, with narrow roads that were surprisingly busy with traffic.  One of the riders in our group favored the slowly-go-up-hills-in-a-low-gear method, so she told me and the other rider to go our own pace, and she'd catch up after the hills.  So, after the hill (and another huge bridge to enter the city), we pulled off the side of the road to wait for her.

And wait, and wait.  Finally, we started getting worried-- it had been a good 10 minutes, what had happened?  We asked some of the riders passing us if anyone had gotten hurt or anything, and no one noticed anything, excpet that they saw one person changing a flat tire.  The other rider decided to loop back and check, while I stayed and watched every rider who passed.  Another 10 minutes later, he was back (after going back over the bridge, down the big hill, then back up the hill and back over the bridge) with no sign of her. At that point, we were really confused.  Had she passed us, somehow?  I finally called her, and managed to get ahold of her.  "Where are you?!" I asked.  "At the intersection of so-and-so streets," she replied.  "where are you!?"

Turns out, at one point, I did think I had seen her passing us, so I waved.  The lady stared blankly back at me, and I realized it wasn't her.  As luck would have it, she actually WAS in that group of riders, and had seen me wave!  So, she thought we had seen her, and thought we were continuing with her.  OOPS!  In the end, we got to the finish line a good 20-30 minutes AFTER she made it.  Go figure!  But, at least nothing was wrong!

So, the one other rider and I raced along the streets of Portland, along with a group of other bikers.  We clipped at a fairly fast pace, usually 20+mph.  As we got closer and closer, we started hitting a stop light every block.  And, of course, it would turn red every single time.  So it took an incredibly long time to go the two or three miles we had to go to make it to the finish line!  So frustrating.  My knee had started to hurt some time earlier, but it was at this point that it really became noticeable-- the constant starting and stopping really aggravated it (as opposed to the constant pedaling with constant pressure).

At long last, we got through the last major intersection, ducked under an underpass, dodged a bus in a wonky bus lane, and saw the crowds ahead!  A huge banner overhead with "FINISH" was visible, and volunteers stood a few feet away, waving people to slow down!  And just like that-- we finished!!!  It all happened so fast, I barely knew what was happening, and could hardly comprehend the fact that there were crowds of people cheering and clapping and taking photos and generally acting like we were the most amazing people ever.

Quick, downshift and slow down!

"What, I'm at the end already!?"


Still speeding by-- oops

 I got my 1-day Finisher patch, too!  I'm pretty proud of it.  At first, I didn't think much of it, but as I was getting my patch, some lady was saying congratulations to everyone-- and when she saw me, she added "oh, another woman!  Good, we need more lady cyclists!  Way to go!!"  I said thanks, and forgot about it until later.  But, it's true!  The vast majority of cyclists that I saw (doing the 1 day ride, at least) were men. 

1 Day Rider!!
Tangent:  Maybe it's because I'm used to constantly being surrounded by guys, I didn't really notice it.  After all, being a physics major meant I was often the only girl in any given class, so all my school friends were guys, and at work, I'm surrounded by male engineers.  In any case, that got me thinking-- why so few female cyclists?!  When it comes to athletics, cycling should be one thing that being male shouldn't give you THAT much of an advantage.  Sure, there is muscle involved, so naturally guys can have stronger legs.  But the biggest aspect is cardiovascular.  If your lungs can keep up and work that hard for that long, you can do it!  Women should be jumping at the opportunity!  Ugh.  Anyway, I was amazed to notice that after the ride.  So ladies-- get out there and ride!!

Anyway, Allen quickly ran up to me as I wandered out aimlessly, and wrapped me in a giant hug.  What a sweetie!  His mom and sister were also there and as much as tried to tell them I was too sweaty, they happily gave me hugs too, and everyone told me how proud they were.  Either they just really wanted to inflate my ego, or maybe what I did was kinda cool!  :)

Group photo at the Finish line!
Overall, what an awesome experience.  My group was great, and I am so thankful they let me ride with them!  I didn't help much leading the group (the few times I took the lead to give them a rest, we always managed to come up to a rest stop within a mile or two so I wasn't a huge help), but at least I don't think I held them up too much (except for the flats).  So much fun.

(I'm sure I'm forgetting many details of this ride that I'll remember later and wish I included.  oh well...)

Back at home, I dropped my bike off at the REI bike shop the next day for a full tuneup.  (The bike show at "our" REI is superb!  We even have a favorite bike mechanic.  He is always incredibly informative, and will even bring you back into the shop and show you what he does and how and why.  I definitely trust him with my bike!  Turns out, he's a former racer)  My knee hurt, so it was fine that I had to wait a week and a half.  Now, almost 3 weeks later, I can still feel it in my knee, but it's mostly when I cross my legs and put too much pressure on the wrong spot in my knee-- and even then, it isn't enough that I stop what I'm doing.  Partly, I talked to the Bike Shop Guy and he said a higher cadence is actually softer on your joints. So combined with the full-circle pedaling (focusing on pulling UP), it hasn't really bothered me toooo much riding anymore.

Will I do STP again?  Most definitely.  I want to do it with my parents (who both now want to do the full ride!), and also with Allen.  I also now need to think about RAMROD!  (Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day)  It's a 150-mile ride, but has a few serious Mountain climbs.  I feel like when "real" cyclists talk, STP is considered a standard, but you're really legit when you do RAMROD.  I've also got my eye on one of the Seattle-to-Spokane rides.  There are few different ones put on my different cycling clubs, so in a few years that'll probably be my goal.  If I can do 200 miles in one day, what's another 100?

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