Another STP has come and gone. And, man, what a trip!

Ready...Set...Go!This was my second time riding the Seattle to Portland, so I assumed it would go more smoothly than last year. This time I knew what to expect (see my previous blog, 6 Must-Do’s for the STP), and, in a lot of respects, I was right. The tips and tricks I picked up last year paid off in a very tangible way. However, I was also wrong. To keep things interesting this year’s STP had some curve balls.

We started Day 1 at 7:20am from the University of Washington campus. The first handful of miles wound us through the beautiful streets of Seattle. These miles felt good and passed quickly as our muscles warmed up and we settled into a rhythm. Before I knew it we were at the first major stop, 24 miles into the ride, and I felt surprisingly good.

From there it was another 25 miles, and one daunting hill, to the lunch stop in Spanaway, WA. We were thankful for this stop because by that time the temperature had started to climb. We found a shady spot, popped off our cycling shoes, and loaded up on food. The stop offered free PB&J’s, bananas, cookies, chips, pretzels, orange slices, and a variety of granola bars. Feeling rejuvenated and full we did some stretching before hopping back on our bikes.

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The temperature continued to rise, and as it did we began to see more and more cyclists sitting on the side of the road in what ever patch of shade they could find. When it’s that hot and you are exercising, staying hydrated is a constant struggle. It felt like for every liter of fluid I consumed, I sweat out two!

In those kinds of conditions electrolytes become crucial. Whereas I would normally have one bottle of electrolyte mix and one of regular water, on that afternoon I was rocking electrolyte mix in both bottles. I was also forcing myself to snack throughout the ride. Often times in the heat, appetites are lost. But when you’re exercising it’s important to give your body the nutrients it needs to perform. While many people were experiencing severe cramps, I managed to keep riding. I certainly do not attribute this to me being a better cyclist, but instead to my diet during the ride.

By the time we rode into Centralia, the mid way point of the ride and where we would be spending the night, the thermometer read a whopping 100 degrees!

The first thing I did upon arriving at camp was peel off my sweaty spandex and take one of the most amazing cold showers of my life. I could immediately feel my core temperature returning to a normal level. Next on my agenda for the night was fuel. Despite my virtually non-stop eating throughout the day I could already feel my tummy rumbling. The group had been craving burgers since noon, so we ended up at a cool burger joint on Centralia’s main strip. There we DEVOURED our food.

20140712_095234My 5am alarm came much too quickly in the morning, but we were determined to get an early start and beat the heat we believed was headed our way. By 6am we were on the road.

Again the first 25 miles flew by, inspite of the soreness that I could feel radiating in my quads. The second day of the STP riders are faced with more elevation change, as the road took us through rolling hills. To combat this and get through the miles as efficiently as possible we formed a pace line. For those readers unfamiliar with this term, a pace line is when riders form a single file line that leaves little space in between each rider. This creates a wind break, allowing those behind the leader to “rest”. When the leader gets tired they go to the side and hop on the back of the train. The next person in the line then gets to take a turn pulling.

In our pace line we flew. We flew by people who were riding in groups, but not in a pace line. We flew down hills. We flew up hills. We flew! Our average speed was about 22 miles per hour when we were in a pace line, versus 16-18 mph when we weren’t

Before I knew it we were pulling into the lunch stop in Lexington. Again we devoured massive quantities of food, followed by stretching and very liberal Chamois butt’r application.

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After last year, I knew that the post lunch period on Day 2 was one of the toughest stretches of the ride, both mentally and physically. With 150 miles on your legs and a belly full of food, the long straight strips of road can seem monotonous and draining. I prepared by reminding myself that I still had 50 miles to go and that 50 miles was, in fact, a long way. Although that stretch still felt tough, it was better than last year. Of course, it was right around this time that the weather took a turn for the worse and lighting began to fill the sky.

There’s nothing quite like feeling the electric pulse of a lightning bolt pulse through the air as you sit atop a giant hunk of metal. Luckily the lightning stayed far enough away that we felt safe continuing on. The rain, however, did not stay far away and, in fact, got us quite wet. This would have been alright (luckily it was a fairly warm rain) if the rain had not made the roads so slick and muddy. By the time we rolled into Portland I was covered in road dirt, grime, and who knows what else.

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That moment when you’re riding the STP and see the blue-green tips of the St. John’s Bridge peak above the green tree line is glorious. There’s no other way to describe it. In that moment the finish line becomes tangible. You start to recognize landmarks and street names as you cruise into Portland. Crowds of people appear on the sidewalks cheering you on to the finish. And then, there it is! A big red banner reading FINISH. The announcer’s voice booms over the crackly speakers, “And here comes the Clif Bar team rolling into the finish line. Congrats on completing the 2014 STP!”

You’re off your bike, walking through a tunnel of hands begging for high fives. A smiling volunteer greets you at the end of the tunnel, placing a badge of completion and honor around your neck, a patch reading “STP Finisher”.

20140713_154005And then it’s over. The realization that you’ve ridden 200 miles in just 2 days sinks in, followed shortly thereafter by a deep feeling of hunger and exhaustion.

The STP is many things. A great time. A fundraiser for charity. An adventure. A great place to make new friends. But above all, the STP is a challenge. Over 200 miles of riding you are bound to face unpredictable obstacles. The challenge lies in how you overcome them. It is easy to get fixated on the finish line, and to thus see each of these obstacles as a nuisance. But if you ride for the journey and not the destination, then the peaks and valleys become the variety that add meaning to your life. I know this sounds deep for a bike ride, but 200 miles is a lot of time to think….

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