Thursday, July 18, 2013


Jeff the Rando joined me in riding this year's STP as a loaded tour. His wife drove us up and dropped us off Friday evening to camp on the rather wet, freshly irrigated soccer field.  I remember when there were only a dozen tents set up on that large field, before they installed the sprinkler stystem.  Not only is the crowd of campers larger, the field is smaller, with the addition of a nice new running track at the University of Washington. 

We planned to leave at 7am but rolled over the empty and closed start line at 8am after a relaxed breakfast at Starbux.  It felt a little like that Steven King book where those airplane passengers land in a time after the present but before the future has gobbled up everything.  We eventually caught up to a few straggling riders, many suffering from the phenomena known as first mile flats.  We paced for several miles with a couple on mountain bikes, who we'd see again and again over the next two days.  This couple had a hand signal (touch helmet) for a silent "car back" warning.

Silence is nice, and pretty rare on this 10,000 person event.  Instead of looking at it as a bike ride, I view it as all of humanity coming out to spend a couple days riding bikes.  As always with a huge tidal wave of people, there are the scuffles and irritations that can happen in crowds.

"ON YOUR LEFT!" shouts are my personal pet peeve.  Somehow some of these folks seem to think that this warning, at high decibels, is not just necessary, but absolutely mandatory.  I expect people to pass on the left.  A few ladies even yelled at me for not yelling a passing warning to them, which is pretty surprising considering their sub-10mph pace.  Warning gently "left side" only seems appropriate if a rider appears to be swerving or weaving or as if they might dart in front of me.

But, I'm not here to complain.  On the contrary, it was a very enjoyable weekend on the bike.  Having Jeff around was a lot of fun.  Seeing the costumes and the funky bikes is always interesting.  My favorite weird bike was ridden by a guy with very muscular legs.  As I came up behind him, I thought to myself, geez this guy rides bow-legged.  What a bad bike fit!  But as I got closer, I observed that what we had here was a genuine badass.  This gentleman was riding a Schwinn Stringray with 16" wheels and a banana seat. 

There were at least three turtle teams to be found.  The first was just a couple in matching jerseys with a giant turtle emblazoned on the back.  They seemed to enjoy my accusation that they were the fastest turtles I'd ever seen.  The man called me Scorpian bootie as he egged me on to let him draft.  I didn't know why til later when I remembered the Castelli logo on my shorts.

Just like on the Tour de France, one could find chalk markings on the road encouraging riders.  There were also rhyming signs along many parts of the route.  My favorite sign read: "Attention STP riders!  Mike Peterson is fast.  DRAFT him!".

I abstained from using the organized rest stops and instead went rando-style, meaning I bought all of my food at gas stations, which suits me great because they always stock my favorite combinations of chips & soda, necco wafers & strawberry milk.

Arriving in Centralia at the beer tent, there was more evidence at how this ride has grown.  What used to be a modest beer garden has erupted into a huge series of tents and tables chock full of riders enjoying their hops and a replay of the Tour on TV. 

After dinner, with a stomach full of spaghetti, I plunged into the pool and swam across to appease the strict lifeguard's demand that any slide user pass a swim test.  Then, on to the slide.  A huge yellow tunnel that twists and turns and dumps you in.  Kicking out lactic acid while swimming is a great recovery device.

Sunday started with a walk to the drive-thru coffee stand for an Americano, while a parade of cyclists rode by, already on their way to Portland.  The first twenty five miles are the prettiest.  Rolling hills through countryside, cool temperatures and the promise of spending all day in the saddle feels sweet.

Stopping for banana bread is a tradition.  So is Gene not recalling my name.  He and his wife Susan have been serving free banana bread to STP riders for ten years now.  There are so many exchanges and conversations and observations, it's hard to keep track.  Like the bicycle built for four with dad on the front, mom on the back and two boys in the middle.  Or the couple of gals at the convenience store riding their first STP and having knee pain.  They asked how many I'd done and I counted.  9.  How is that even possible?  Suddenly they were asking advice.  I told them to take ibuprofin and buy a foam roller.

Stayed with Jeff pretty steadily through to the Longview Bridge, which was extra congested because of a three car accident.  When the group of cyclists were released, we actually caught up to the line of cars ahead of us and passed them.  Then, down the huge bridge descent, into Oregon and onto Route 30, which would be our home for the next 45 miles.

Burgerville in St. Helens was a madhouse.  I've stopped here every year and remember feeling grateful I was the only cyclist who knew about it.  Not anymore.  This and so many other things have changed over the years.  I recall riding with Ryan and Sarah the first year.  We created a system of check nicknames, which we still use today (see comment on blog entry Pedalpalooza B).  And I recall riding with Ryan the second year.  We called ourselves hot soup & crackers, inspired by my Campbell's Soup jersey.  The cute little lunch diner we found is now a mini mall.

And that about says it all.  Every cute little lunch diner you ever find will one day become a mini mall.  Does that mean you stop going and find another cute little lunch diner?  Maybe.  But keep in mind, whatever diner you find will eventually become a mini mall.  Whatever small group ride you attend, may eventually become a huge event ride.  Whatever first time things you start doing, may eventually become a decade long, or more, endeavor.

1 comment:

  1. Great write up, and I agree, the miles on Sunday a.m. after Chehalis are the best on the ride!

    And, the secret quiets (Burgerville) become the overcrowded stops. Still, I keep coming back.