Weather forecast looked good for the weekend a few days before the Epic STP Ride. Sun all the way, according to Mark Madryga and Global TV. Being a weatherman must be the only job in the world that you can get it totally wrong and not get fired!
Our ‘team’ set off for Seattle on Friday, 13th and after a long wait at the border, and negotiating traffic around Seattle, we made it to REI in time for the STP package pick. So far so good! We overnighted in Seattle, and got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday to have breakfast. We left later than expected as one of our team had to apply three layers of suntan lotion (before looking out of the window and realizing there was no sun) and we also had to wrestle three bikes onto the bike rack.
Our hard-core buddies were probably halfway to Centralia by this point, having started shortly after 4am with the rest of the batch of brave (or crazy) ‘one day’ riders.
The start line was anti-climatic. No line-ups, we rolled over the start line just after 7am, with only a handful of bikes in sight. We didn’t grasp the real size of the event, until we got into the ride and caught up with the main bulk of cyclists.
The STP is the largest multi-day bike event in the North West, and cuts off at 10,000 riders each year. The ride started off as a time trial from Seattle to Portland thirty-three years ago, and the original winner, Jerry Baker, now 71, has ridden every year since then. The ride has almost a cult following, and many riders sign up year after year and treat it as a sort of pilgrimage. I met a friend of mine, Carmen, who rides it with her parents every year, and on the way we passed couples, brothers, moms and daughters on tandems, dads and sons and one four-seater bike carrying the whole family – mom, dad and two kids. We even saw a guy with a trailer, pulling his dog along! Only 18% of the riders are first-timers, which is amazing. For most people, it’s not a one-off – people come back for more!
Jostling for position with thousands of other cyclists is a lot of fun and generally people are good natured and friendly; however, some tips for the newbies, be careful who you draft, keep your fingers on the brakes, shout ‘stopping’ when you are stopping, and try to avoid the many collisions.
After a full day in the saddle, we were happy to reach Centralia, our mid-way point. I was craving ice cream at this point, and they handed us a popsicle as we came in – perfect! Beer has never tasted so good! We stayed over in a church hall, and by the time we were ready to hit the sack, our one-day friends were just squeaking in under the 9pm cut-off in Portland, after some serious technical issues and a new wheel. 320 km (202 miles) in one day! Amazing!!
Sunday was pretty as we traversed through Western Washington and Oregon; scenic valleys, forests and farmlands helped to distract us from the pain of sitting in the saddle for so long. The route has a few rolling hills – nothing to worry about if you train on the North Shore – but we did have a headwind for most of the way. Tip for the newbie; find a nice, wide butt to draft behind!
We arrived in Portland mid-afternoon, and headed straight for the beer garden. Beer has never tasted so good!
Next year? Perhaps the one-day ride. Who wants to join me?