Riding the STP

The S T P

Back in June, I heard one of my friends talking about doing the STP with a friend. “Oh, can I join?” I asked. “Yeah, of course, man!” came the reply and in a second I had signed myself up for a 200+ mile bike ride with little idea of how hard 200+ miles would be. As I read up on the internet, I grew more and more terrified, sure none of this would go well for me. Online anonymous commenters were very pessimistic and asked me to be cautious. After a 40-mile ride, I thought they were pretty much right.

I had bonked. I didn’t know that was the term, but mentally I was worn out. I couldn’t really do 40 miles comfortably, and my mechanical steed (a Giant Escape 2 disc) was not anywhere near the road bikes my friends (or most riders on the STP) had. However, my friend was filled only with encouragement and confusion. He had not done long rides either, but unlike me, he hadn’t bothered to read what “the internet” had to say.

Things took a further positive turn when I met a cyclist on a trail ride who assured me the STP was basically a bike party with stops every 15 miles and that I had nothing to worry. At this point, I had signed up, so there wasn’t much I could do anyway (backing out was not an option).

The 200+ mile ride began at 6 AM, and with my two friends we left as part of the fifth wave of 2-day riders. The initial 50 miles were a breeze. This is what I was worried about? I knew the remaining 50 would be worse but, oh boy, little did I know how much worse it would get. Right after the second, and last full stop of the day, the route took us on a road with a narrow shoulder, as wide cars zoomed past at speeds they could take down other cars, never mind a few cyclists. Around mile 60, the next challenge began. As we neared the Yelm-Tenino trail, the heat started to pick up. I saw a few riders resting in the shade, and - while hot - wondered if my genetics would confer an advantage in this horrid climate. Five miles later, I got my answer - no. Our trio was reduced to two when one friend had to speed up as his knee would cry in pain if he stopped and started again. The mileage was supposed to be the final boss, but the heat elevated it to its final form. Stop, hydrate, electrolytes. Every 5 miles, we were rinsed (by the heat) and we repeated.

Around mile 80 I was met with another obstacle - quite literally. I was drafting my friend, who pointed out something on the road. I looked, saw nothing, and kept drafting. A couple of seconds later, my bike was flung into the air, did a 180, and I fell off it backwards, unable to really do much to change the outcome. As I slowly (to me anyway) soared through the air, I let out a yell, which alerted my friend. He turned back to see me fall, back first on to the grass. A few bikers stopped by - the community really is one of the best parts of STP - and checked on me. “How are your joints?” one asked. “The bike’s okay!” another proclaimed. Luckily for me, everything seemed to be alright. Except for a few cuts, I seemed to be okay. I had dodged a big metaphorical bullet. “I’m okay, on to Centralia!” I was glad for the camaraderie around us.

With around ten miles to go, I took off, reaching Centralia at 4:40, 30 minutes after one friend, and 20 before the other. One of us had knee issues, one had bonked (mentally) and I felt cautiously optimistic that we had all completed our first century! Wouldn’t be long before we completed our second.

The next obstacle arose when we realized our hotel was in Rochester, and Centralia wasn’t a city that had buses, or Ubers, or Lyfts. After an hour or so of mild panic, a friend found a taxi company online and we made it, finally able to relax for the night.

Me, after STP

Day 2

Day 2 began with one of the group dropping out, due to knee issues. After the ass-kicking Day 1 handed, we were better prepared for Day 2. We started at 6:20, but leveraged the cool climate to cover as many miles as we could. I noticed my “heavy” (28 lbs) bike was much faster than the road bikes on the downhills, though incredibly slow on the uphill. The rolling hills were exhilirating as a result, as the downhill speeds could carry me up 80% of the way up the next hill, and before I knew it I was speeding downhill again! I was lucky to find a brother-sister pairing sporting Allegro cycling jerseys, who were fast enough that I had to push, and also kind enough that I drafted behind them all the way to Vader, saving tonnes of energy. By 09:55 I’d made it to the first food stop, almost at the midpoint. After a luxurious hour-long break, I joined my friend to go up the Lewis and Clark bridge. The bike being poor on uphills meant I saw the entire “peloton” pass me by and the heat began to pick up once again. The next 40 miles cycling on the side of the highways as the heat rose to levels similar to the previous day should have been the hardest miles of the ride, but the fact that Portland was nearing made it much easier. Other than the heat, the rest of the ride passed without note (but with a lot of breaks). The two of us reached the finish line a little before 6 PM.

Notes for future riders

  • Get a road bike if possible. The ride is still doable without one.
  • Bike shorts are a must. I’d get bike gloves too (for if you crash). Jerseys? Football jerseys work just as well.
  • Learn how to cross train tracks (lucky I didn’t have to learn this on the ride)
  • Draft! And learn how to draft safely.
  • Go with friends
  • Get electrolytes! A must if it is hot.
  • Eat as much as you can.
  • Go slowly up the hill.
  • Keep pedalling if you can. If your legs need a rest, leverage the downhills :)
  • It’s a mental challenge more than a physical one.
  • Cyclists palsy is a thing :(
  • Ride safe
  • Motivate others around you!

Special shoutout to my wife for her encouragement, support and cake purchases making this easier physically and mentally!