Biking 202.5 miles takes a long time. This much I knew. What I didn’t know, was how much I would learn during those hours.
On Friday I rode the Bolt Bus up to Seattle. This nifty means of transportation is half the cost of Amtrak and you can take a bike for no extra fee. The catch? They have limited bike space, which they do not mention on their website. If you are bringing a bike, get there early. The ride north was uneventful other than some unexpected traffic. Unfortunately, this traffic resulted in a mad dash to REI to pick up my race packet before they closed at 7pm. “It’ just a nice little warm-up ride,” I repeated to myself as I pedaled madly up and down the prolific hills of Seattle.
With 7 minutes to spare I grabbed my packet and a few last minute necessities like water bottle cages and gloves to replace those I had left on the seat of my car in Portland. Goods in hand, I felt slightly more prepared for the coming ride. My nerves were further soothed by a tasty meal and a good night’s sleep.
The morning of the ride I woke up before my alarm clock. What can I say? I was excited! After a quick breakfast bike attire was dawned and the straps of my pack tightened. It was about a 2 mile ride from my friend’s house to the start line, where big rent-a-trucks were waiting to haul our camping gear to the half way point. We had decided on starting at the tail end of the crowds in order to procure maximal sleepage. As a result, my crew of 6 was among the last few riders to go under the start banner at about 7:20am. That moment was exhilirating. Finally the ride had begun, and although I had more questions than answers about the ride ahead, I felt ready. That is, until we came to the first stop sign.
About 100 feet out of the starting gate we came to our first stop. No problem. Except that I attempted to unclip with no success. I could feel myself slowly tipping over, all the while believing my foot would come out and I would be righted, until I hit the ground. I biffed it, right out of the gates. After a good laugh the police officer waved us through and we were off.
The first 10 miles were rough. My body was not warmed up and ached all over. After the first good hill I settled into a groove and before I knew it we were at the first food stop, about 25 miles into the ride. All along the route there are free food stops every 25 miles, with smaller support stations interspersed in between. These stations became our life line as they supplied us with food, water, free bike repairs, and a chance to re-Chamois butter our sore seats. Purchasing a tube of Chamois Butter was one of the best decisions I made. It’s a cream that you apply liberally to your skin and helps prevent chaffing during the hours spent on a bike seat. This stuff literally saved my arse!
Drafting and hand signaling also became vitally important as the ride progressed. Drafting means getting your front tire as close as humanly possible to the back tire of the bike in front of you. This cuts down wind resistance and means you are doing a fraction of the work. The key is finding a train of riders that is of a similar pace. Everyone takes turns leading, sharing the workload. In this situation signaling is key. Hand and verbal signals let the riders around you know what you are going to do and alerts them to any hazards on the road. Without these signals, you run the risk of causing a crash. This unfortunately happened to one of my team members when a woman moved to the outside without signaling. He only got a few cuts and bruises, but his back wheel was bent beyond repair. Luckily, one of the ride support vehicles stopped and bussed him and his bike to the next support stop with a bike mechanic.
We camped the first night in a cozy little town called Centralia. As soon as we arrived we began receiving free food: drinks, ice cream, chocolate milk, and Clif Bars. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven! Another amazing amenity offered was massage. For $18 I enjoyed 15 minutes of muscular ecstasy.
That night I made sure to eat a good dinner (which ended up being about 2 or 3 times larger than I would normally eat) and followed it up with some stretching. These things appeared to help, because come morning, much to my surprise, I was still able to walk! Once back on the bike there was a definite warm-up period where my body readjusted itself to life on two wheels.
The first 40 miles passed fairly quickly, but after lunch my energy waned. Every shaded spot on the side of the road looked like a nice place to curl up and never move again. The rest stops, although still much anticipated, became a double edged sword as I had to increasingly motivate myself to get back on the bike. At one of these stops I utilized the free bike mechanics as my front derailer had been rubbing. With swift, adept hands he made a quick adjustment and it was good as new. This is a pretty common problem with new bikes. As you ride them the last little bit of new-ness stretches out of the cables.
I felt like I could not peddle any more. The sun was hot, my quads were killing me, and my back was sore. That’s when the glorious St. John’s Bridge peaked its strong metal beams above the tree tops. A hop, skip, and jump later we were on the bridge. With only 9 more miles to go I felt a surge of energy that I had not anticipated. These miles flew by in a series of hoots and hollers. The streets and buildings of Portland were like familiar faces cheering us on. Of course, there were also actual friendly faces all along the route cheering us on too.
The finish line was at Holladay Park and looked more like a party than the end of a 200 mile bike ride. There was music blaring and people everywhere cheering. Soon after we dismounted patches declaring our accomplishment were draped around our necks like the finest of jewels. The feeling was surreal. I was done.
After finding a place to rest our bikes we headed straight for food. After 100 miles of Shotblocks, bananas, and PB&J’s we were ready for some real food. As a personal trainer I know the importance of nutrition after such taxing activity. I ate a healthy meal of veggies, fish, and grains. For the rest of the night I doused my insides with as much water as I could drink. It paid off, because the next morning, although sore, my muscles felt fairly good considering the ride I had just done.
As someone who is new to cycling I can officially say that I am hooked. The STP was an incredible experience full of great people, beautiful scenery, and personal triumphs. With that said, my custom fit bike made the difference between being totally miserable and a manageable level of pain. I owe a huge thank you to Dimitry, Dana, and Guy here at the Mountain Shop. Thank you for everything gentlemen! And for all you readers who might be on the fence about getting a bike fitting done, hop on down from the fence and come get fit! Your body will thank you!
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