Monday, July 16, 2007

STP 2007

I woke up at 4:10 on Saturday morning to ride an indeterminate distance between Seattle and Portland. The tentative plan was to have Wendy meet me at the halfway point, appropriately called Centralia, and then she'd pick me up and we'd go visit Stan and Grey, who have kitty cats and chickens that the boys keep going on about. I staggered to the car, ate my breakfast while driving to the Adobe parking lot, and rode my bike a couple miles to the UW stadium. I started the ride about 5:00 a.m. Here's what I had with me:

  • An extra bike tube

  • Money and a credit card

  • Energy bars and some Clif Shot Bloks (the "Clif" folks are poor spelers)

  • A handkerchief for wiping off sweat

  • Two water bottles

That's it, and it was way more than I needed. There were four big food stations where we could load up on bananas and bagels and PBJs and all that, there were a bunch of mini-stops in between with water, and people stood all along the way selling lemonade and cookies. Each food stop had a first-aid station and a mechanics stand. In short, it was a well-organized event with lots of friendly sponsors and volunteers. It was such a cool event that I regretted having to abandon the ride right in the middle. And I got to thinking . . .

About 9,000 cyclists left between 5:00 and 7:30, so it wasn't difficult to settle in behind experienced cyclists who knew what they were doing. During the first hour, I saw one guy riding a unicycle and another guy riding a long skateboard. By the time the sun rose over the southern part of Lake Washington, the really fast cyclists had gone ahead and the casual cyclists were behind me, so I settled into a nice rhythm with riders of my general ilk. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that I wanted to do the whole ride, so I went a little faster than I should have been going. A little more than 5 hours later, when I got to Centralia, I called Wendy and told her I was halfway there.

She had just barely left, which meant my half-baked plan was working. It doesn't make sense for me to sit around and wait while I'm feeling fine, so why not keep going? We agreed that I would keep riding until the next big food stop at mile 145. I was excited about that plan until mile 110.

I bonked.

It seems like such a simple thing to say, so common, but the anguish that accompanies a bonk is really something else. When you bonk hard, you have an irrational feeling that you'll never recover, and that it's not only the end of the ride, but probably the end of your cycling career. Because you just can't do it any more. You're broken. Cyclists that I'd just recently passed in a pre-bonk state zipped around me as if I were riding a Huffy on training wheels. I tried to call Wendy on the cell phone to tell her I couldn't make it to mile 145, but we had connection problems, one of those "I can't hear you anymore so I'm hanging up" conversations.

By the time I finally got in touch with Wendy, I had worked through my bonk enough to feel good about riding the rest of the way to the food stop. It helped that the section was by far the most beautiful stretch of scenery during the whole ride -- rolling hills, quaint towns, red barns -- so it was easy to forget about cramps and nausea and slowness. Oh, and the temperatures were in the mid 90s.

I didn't want to give up. After all, people were cheering us all along the way. When people are clapping for anonymous riders, they aren't saying, "Good luck -- I hope you make it to mile 145!" No, they're urging us to Portland. So here's the conversation I had with Wendy at the park where Luke and Max were playing with sweat-drenched hair:

"Sweatheart, I'm feeling pretty good, and unless you have a serious problem with it, I'd like to keep going."

"No, that's fine, but are you sure you can make it?"

"Pretty sure. I'm eating and drinking well, and it's only 60 more miles."

"You know it's our anniversary today, and you haven't even mentioned it."

[Brief pause] "Happy anniversary! Just so you know, I am hereby dedicating this ride to you."

So I filled up my water bottles, grabbed some food, and headed out feeling both guilty and giddy.

I had recovered from my bonk, so I was able to draft behind a group of riders who were going about 22 mph. We crossed the Columbia River and headed along Highway 30 towards Portland. One of the odd things about that stretch of road was seeing all the other cyclists who were going to finish around the same time. Most of the people were guys who looked roughly like me, but then there were the others. There was an older guy riding really slow on a heavy beach cruiser bike. Did he leave on Thursday? There was an older woman who looked like she just milked her cows that morning, hopped on her mountain bike, and rode to Portland in her sun dress. The tan, flabby skin on her arms sagged around her bulging triceps. There were a couple of guys on recumbent bikes. And my absolute favorite was a group of three serious cyclists in brown jerseys who flashed by me a few times going about 28 mph, and then I'd see them pulled over by the side of the road with one of their bikes up-side down. Then they'd zoom by me again, and then I'd see them on the side of the road fixing a flat. I'll bet we passed each other six times.

I saw one of the riders in the group in front of me pump his fist as he rounded a bend. A few seconds later, I saw the same sign he did: "Portland 13." Towards the end of every long ride, I always compare the miles I have left with one of my rides. At 60 miles, it's like riding around Lake Washington. At 22 miles, it's the Bloomington-Nashville ride. At 13 miles, well, that's like riding home from work, only without the hills.

A short time later, around 6:30 p.m., I rode through across a bridge and wound my way through downtown Portland. Just as I was thinking I wouldn't want to ride any further, a park opened up, and hundreds of people cheered as complete strangers rode across the finish line. The park was full of loud music, kiosks, water fountains to cool off kids, and a cordoned off beer garden where tired cyclists could knock back a few.

Great event, cool ride, good times. Now, if I can just find an anniversary gift, all will be right with the world.