Monday, July 14, 2014

Seattle to Portland - part 1

Back in February I decided to sign up for the Group Health Seattle to Portland ride this year.  It was ambitious to say the least.  I had never completed a century ride (100 miles) before, let alone back-to-back centuries.  And that's what this ride is, although some hard-core riders attempt the 204 mile ride in one day, most folks go half the distance, spend the night and then ride the second half on day 2.

People told me that the challenge of this ride was "mostly mental" but I don't think that's quite accurate.*  I think the three biggest factors that go into successfully completing StP are:

  1. The right gear.
  2. Preparation.
  3. A supportive team.

I think if you have at least 2 out of 3 of those things, you'll have a good ride and finish strong.  All three and you'll have a blast - it really is a beautiful ride and could be great fun.  If you only have one of those things - you'll probably finish, but it'll be tough and not much fun.

As for me:

1. I had an okay bike.  Snowflake (my Specialized Vita) is a workhorse, I take her all over the place - from my daily commute to fun rides around town.  Aside from an occasional flat - she's never let me down, rain or shine, uphill or down.  But she's not a road bike, she's a hybrid, with a big solid frame, fenders, a rack and thick sturdy tires.  She's not exactly designed for long distance rides.  I don't use clipless pedals or toe cages, and am not used to wearing padded bike pants.  My only concession to bike-gear was a jersey with pockets in the back so I didn't have to carry a back-pack.  My gear was not exactly high-tech or event-specific.

2.  I was not as prepared as I should have been.  I'd done a few 50 mile rides and one or two hill rides, which was nice... but again, not nearly enough for back-to-back centuries.  I'd scanned the route online to get a feel for the ride... but hadn't actually gotten out on the route to try any of it out.  My logistical planning consisted of signing up for the bus & lodging.   I knew nothing about the towns I'd ride through.

3.  My ride buddy unfortunately had to cancel but sent encouraging text messages from the road.  I was pretty much on my own.  There were lots of people riding together as teams, and there were lots of support vehicles leap-frogging from rest stop to rest stop and stopping along the way waving signs and ringing cow-bells.  I think riding with a team makes a difference.

So you can probably guess how my ride ended up - but I'm going to give you the mile-by-mile breakdown anyway.


I took the bus from Portland to Seattle.  This was incredibly convenient and well organized.  I put my bike on the moving van, and then hopped on the bus.  I chatted with a man who'd done the ride several times but hadn't done it in 20 years.  He gave me some pointers and encouragement, and was just fun to chat with.

We arrived in Seattle and I checked into a dorm-room at the University of Washington.  The vans with our bikes showed up a bit later.  I watched the volunteers unloading the bikes, sometimes just lifting them with one hand and passing them overhead to the owner of the bike.  My first ominous warning came when the volunteer reached for my bike, and remarked as he picked it up "Oh - this is a heavy one."  Hmmm.  I took my bike and headed up to my room to set out my clothes for the next day.

Cozy dorm

There was still plenty of time to explore the U District and I even got to have dinner with a friend before heading to bed early.

Saturday morning:

At about 3:30am I woke up to the sound of some big crash or bang... no idea what it was but since I didn't want to be awake for at least another hour, I tried to get back to sleep.

Next thing I know I'm trying to get ready, but I can't find any of my stuff.  I go ask someone where my things are - but he doesn't know.  I can't find the starting line, I don't know what's happened to my bike and I just keep getting sent in different directions.  I'm freaking out!!!

And then my alarm goes off, and I wake up.  GAH!  I spent the last good hour I had to sleep on an anxiety dream.  I mean, thankfully my bike, clothes and bag were all still in my room where I'd left them... but seriously - after all that dream-stress I still wasn't ready!  Fortunately getting ready in real life was easy and uneventful.  I followed the throngs of riders out to the parking lot, loaded my backpack & sleeping bag onto the moving van and by 5:30am I was rolling across the start line with thousands of other riders.

Not too sure about this whole 5:30am thing.

StP Day 1

Mile 0** - It is way too early to be riding.  What was I thinking?  I'm tiiiiired.  I wanna go back to bed.

Mile 3 - First slight uphill -  I'm passed by a guy on a hand-pedaled bike.  Suck it up Rebel, you're fine.

Mile 4 - Downhill - wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!  The road curves around and the trees clear to show the sun rising over Lake Washington with a gorgeous view of Mt. Rainier in the distance.  Why would anyone stay in bed and miss a sight like this???

Mile 5 - I'm barely half an hour into this ride and I've already seen at least a dozen riders on the side of the road sorting out some issue with their bikes.  Schadenfreude brings confidence! Snowflake may not be much, but she can go 5 miles without dropping her chain!

Mile 10 - People are out on their lawns ringing cow-bells.  This makes me feel indescribably happy.

Mile 15 - There's a raccoon in the street in danger of being run over - she's chattering wildly.  I look up and see there are two baby raccoons on a branch hanging over the street.  Oh no!  She's going to have to wait quite a while to get across the street and up the tree again.

Mile 19 - Hundreds if not thousands of riders have already passed me calling "on your left" as they rolled on by.

Mile 22 - I'm hungry and wish I'd had more than just a handful of trail mix and an apple for breakfast.

Mile 24 - First official stop at REI!  Peanut butter tortilla wraps and an oompah band.  Yay, this is fun!  The porta-potties are tricky though, I'm terrified that everything in the pockets of my jersey is going to fall off into the bucket.  Luckily this doesn't happen, but I am exceedingly cautious each time.

There may have been chicken-dancing.

Mile 30 - More folks along the route ringing cowbells and cheering us on.  I don't know why, but it really helps.

Mile 33 - A guy rides by and comments on the fact that I'm riding a "mountain bike" - "It's a hybrid." I counter.  He tells me he rode his first StP on a heavy bike and traded it in for a road bike the next day.  "She's fine, she gets the job done!"   "You know those fenders add weight - you don't need them today"  Dude... fuck off already!

Mile 35 - A woman calls out "Hey - my Vita twin!" from her identical bike.  We chat about our twin bikes for a minute and she tells me it'll be fine - "She has great gears for the hill!"  yeah she does.

Mile 37 - It's getting warm out - someone's lawn sprinkler is spraying out in the road, I swerve close to ride through it - dang that feels nice!

Mile 40 - Members of Team Joy ride by - in honor of a friend who died of ovarian cancer. Joy's face smiles on the back of their jerseys.  I think this Joy lady must have been pretty awesome.

Mile 43 - THE HILL

Mile 44 - Head down, granny gear, just keep pedaling.   I may not be fast but I pass everyone who had to walk.

Mile 45 - A bit of a breather and then another climb.  Granny gear for the win!  I cried knowing I made it up Hell Hill without stopping.  The rest of the ride is downhill right?

Mile 47 - "on your left"  "on your left"  "on your left" hundreds more riders have passed me

Mile 48 - I pass another house with its sprinklers on and try to get close enough to get a splash.  I love the heat, I do, but it does take a lot out of you when you're riding in it for several hours.

Mile 51 - roadkill: chocolate cliff bar

Mile 53 - Another much earned rest stop, I grab some lunch and a corner of shade to rest a bit.  I swing by the first aid tent to reapply sunscreen.  Instead of just a bottle of sunscreen on the table, the volunteers are squirting sunscreen into our hands - I get my face and neck and start on my arms - the old guy in front of me starts rubbing the suncreen into my arms.  It's kind of creepy - but it also feels pretty good.  Did not realize my arm muscles were quite that sore.  I call it a free massage and get back on the road.

Mile 59 - More cowbell!

Mile 63 - It's hot, I'm tired, I'm fantasizing about swimming pools.  Out of nowhere a wild Starbucks appears!  One venti iced tea later and I'm feeling fantastic.
Never underestimate the power of caffeine. 

Mile 65 - There's a girl sitting at a bus stop near a red-light.  She asks us why we would want to be out on a bike ride in this heat.  One of the other riders tells her "It builds character."  Builds character indeed.

Mile 68 - I see a house ahead where someone has placed an old-school sprinkler right on the side of the road spraying into the street.  For the first time it dawns on me - they put these out for us!   I ride through and feel overwhelming gratitude for all the people supporting us on this ride.

Mile 71 - We leave the main road and head onto a bike-trail for the first time.  It's nice to be away from cars and surrounded by trees - the alternating patches of shade bring momentary relief from the heat.

Mile 77 - My gloves are starting to melt into my handlebars.

Mile 86 - Mini rest stop - the local basketball team has set up sprinklers and is handing out popsicles for donations.  I drench myself, grab a popsicle and chill in the shade for a bit.

Mile 86.1 - I leave the shelter of the shade and get back on the road.  Somehow it is now 4 million degrees outside.

Mile 90 - This is far longer than I've ever ridden before... my butt hurts, I'm hotter than hell, sunscreeny sweat keeps dripping into my eyes but I'm still rolling.

Mile 91 - Just keep pedaling.

Mile 92 - Just keep pedaling.

Mile 93 - "on your left" "on your left"

Mile 94 - JUST

Mile 95 - KEEP 

Mile 96 - PEDALING

Mile 97 - "on your left"  "on your left"

Mile 98 - Just keep pedaling.

Mile 99 - Centralia!!!

OMG  - I'm overwhelmed with relief.  I can't believe I did my first century! ***   There's a party atmosphere on the lawns, but I can barely absorb it.  I'm just done.  Despite drinking lots of water and gatorade, despite the generous applications of sunscreen - I feel cooked.  My skin is tight and my eyes feel tired, I know my internal temperature is up and my brain is fuzzy.  I think I'm about as close to heat stroke as I've ever been.

I walk my bike to the bike corral, pick up my luggage from the vans, and then check in at the Centralia College gym.  The gym is dark and looks earily like a grave yard.  Rows of chairs are lined up like headstones with sleeping bags and comatose riders stretched out in front of about half of them.  I find an empty chair and set my stuff down.  It's the first time I've sat down in miles... but I know that I need to shower and get some food & water in me before I pass out.

After a shower I feel slightly more human, and I venture out on the campus.  I swing by a first aid tent for more water and some ibuprofen.  There's a sports massage tent that looks too tempting to resist.  I sign up for 45 minutes.  I'm nearly asleep as soon as I lay down on the table.  But for some reason the massage therapist seems starved for conversation... "How was your ride?"  "Did you ride with friends?"  "Do you have kids?"  Umm... can you just shut up and make my muscles stop hurting?  But she was saving the best for last - I tell her I'm just tired and she tells me I'll do fine tomorrow "God will take care of you."  I murmur something non-committal.  "You believe right?"  OMFG!!!  Shut up lady - this is neither the time nor the place for a discussion of theology.  I'm tired and my muscles are sore and I would like to not be one giant knot in the morning.  Just do your job.  I don't say anything else - but she goes on about how this is her Sabbath and how god will take care of me etc.   I was too tired to make a big stink - but I did not tip her.  I paid for a massage, not religious guidance.

Weirdly inappropriate massage over, I got a quick dinner at a local restaurant and then crashed out in the gym/cemetery and slept like the dead.

Beautiful downtown Centralia.  

Seattle to Portland - Day 1 over.

*People also say that the ride is "mostly flat" but the 4,000+ feet of elevation changes proves that's not quite an accurate statement either!

** Mile marks are not accurate.  But then, if you're using this blog as a mile-guide you're in worse shape than I was!

*** Yes I know a Century is 100 miles, but I just dare you to call me on it!


florapie said...

Go Rebel! Was it this past crazy-hot weekend? You are a trooper!

Rebel said...

Yeah - it was pretty darn hot on Saturday! I like the heat, but dang it does wear you out after a while.