Notes from the STPTS (Seattle-Portland-Seattle Bike Ride)


STP Road Marker

STP Road Marker

My son and I biked the “STP” Seattle-to-Portland ride last weekend and then returned home via the same route. A few minor notes and observations from the five day, 415 mile ride:

  1. ‘Somebody Might Have Mentioned That’ Dept. It turns out ten thousand rider Seattle-to-Portland bicycle “event” isn’t actually a race. You aren’t competing. There’s no prize for getting there first. You don’t get a time at the end. The brochure makes it very clear the point is to enjoy “the scenic valleys, forests and corporate bicycle jerseys of Western Washington.” Oh, and Highway 30 in Oregon, too.
  2. Salmon Ride. We live south of the starting line in Seattle and my son and I had a long conversation about whether we’d just join the ride in progress right by our house or bike up to the official start line 6 miles north at the University of Washington. Eventually I gave in to the idea of ‘doing it right’ and agreed to bike up there against the flow of bike traffic coming our way on Saturday morning. Waving my arms and frantically yelling out “wrong way! wrong way” as we biked upstream against an enormous flow of riders was a funnier idea in my head than it turned out to be in practice. I verified this several times with different audiences of approaching cyclists. Curiously, when people yelled the same thing at us from the opposite direction, it got tons of laughs.
  3. The Price Waterhouse Cooper Bicycle Team. I think I speak for all ten thousand riders when I say that the members of the PWC Tour de France bicycle team were everybody’s least favorite participants. They made irritating, Mr. Bean, fussy bicyclist hand gestures, each one more complex and arcane than the last. They threw their empty water bottles into the air behind them.
    Mr. Bean bicycle signs

    PWC team member signals an approaching pothole

    They slapped away cellphones and yelled at the children selling lemonade to stay out of the road. At least one member of the team had irritating striped grey calf-high socks. (You know who you are.) Lastly, they yelled out “stopping” and “going” for no clear reason at four way stop-sign intersections. You’d think they were carrying the Oscar results.

  4. I Post Therefore I Am. I now know that Strava running on an iPhone 5s will get you about 110 miles before it burns the battery down from the wear and tear of the GPS. In the cafeteria in Centralia there are some outlets by the television in the back, but if you don’t get there before the phone is dead and save the ride, then all that pedaling will have been for nothing, naught, zip. What can’t be shared on Facebook, didn’t actually happen #likehello. Pedal harder before you lose your historical record and official Strava miles. I came 3% away from not arriving at my virtual destination.
  5. Valleys, Forests and Farmlands. One skateboarder with a gigantic right calf and a girl with supernatural legs did the whole thing on rollerblades. Her legs were made from some kind of perfectly creased and rounded Barbie Plastic and a magnetic carbon fiber alloy that locked in the eyeballs. Swish-swish she went, hands clasped casually behind her bottom. 203 miles to go… 202 miles to go… Both Saturday and Sunday morning I had the good fortune of very slowly passing her and the small peloton of men who followed behind pretending to pause for water. At the speed she was going I think she probably came in dead last, but in the STP spirit of ‘enjoying the finest Washington scenery’ she really won just by showing up.
  6. Is It Local? At the end of the STP leg we had dinner in a Portland neighborhood at a place called Bamboo Sushi and there were, I dunno, five menu pages about sustainable fishing practices, the treatment of the fish, the mild salinity of the seabeds that create stress free seaweed (“it’s just kinder.”) The server and the host were painstakingly
    One of five pages of menu information on sustainable sushi.

    One of five pages of menu information on sustainable sushi.

    thoughtful and wholesome and pretty and Portlandia to a fault. I could barely hear the specials or what had been 86’d because of the internal joke pressure of wanting to blurt out, “Is it local?” Having said that, Bamboo Sushi also turned out to be the best sushi I’ve ever had. They have two locations in Portland. Find one of them and enjoy, but watch this first.

  7. To-Go Bags. Sometimes when you think you’re hungry, you’re really just very, very thirsty. I did not know this. My son and I purchased about $325 of Red Lobster deep battered food near our hotel in Kelso. The food sat in front of us untouched as we ordered refill after refill of soda. To save face we asked for all the food to go and then, when we were out of eyesight, stuffed it into a trash can. Calorie for calorie that meal at Red Lobster may have been the most expensive meal I’ve ever ordered. God Bless America and the very large people who were polishing these plates off with lumbering steadiness and glazed eyes of professionals in a hot dog eating contest.

    Fine dining in Kelso, WA.

    Fine dining in Kelso, WA.

  8. Got a Case of Dynamite. For almost a month before the ride I’d had a two-song medley of Steely Dan’s “The Caves of Altamira” and “Don’t Take Me Alive” stuck in my head. Every time I went for a training ride, I had these two songs alternating in my head and would sing them out loud when I got really cooking. Then it got so that pedaling anywhere was like starting up Royal Scam on an old turntable. I’d gotten to the point that I worried it was becoming a real problem beyond just “a song stuck in my head.” I considered what it might be like to have a song about a holed up murderer with a case of dynamite stuck in my head for a decade. And it’s not like it’s never happened. For whatever reason, Paul Simon’s “Some Folks Lives” has made it about 18 years now and when I tell the kids I need to sing “IT” they know exactly what song I’m talking about and groan. Anyway, sometime after the terror of crossing the Lewis & Clark Bridge with timber trucks nearly blowing us into the Columbia River and bark debris, glass, and nails jutting through planks of plywood in the two feet of space we had to ride in, I realized I was free of it. Both songs were gone. Steely Dan had moved on. No earworm! No static at all! No more “I crossed my old man back in Oregon”  and no more “I recall/when I was small.” Play these songs while training for anything at your own peril. You may need to cross the Lewis & Clark bridge northbound just to “get clean.”
  9. MacGyver. If you’re planning on biking back from Portland on the unofficial PTS Portland-to-Seattle, consider bringing your own mechanic. I’d just finished up shooting an iPhone video trying to capture the “feel” of the ride, when my pedal snapped off my bike. Just like that it clattered onto the road with a small metal washer-like thing tinkling next to it. A moment ago I had a pedal. Now I don’t have a pedal. There’s still a terrible headwind. We’re still in the middle of nowhere. It’s still 98 degrees. I still have 30 pounds of crap in saddle bags that block the wind like catamaran sails, but now I’m not going anywhere anytime soon, possibly ever again. We’d already fixed two flats and, in our defense, we had the bike tools we should had with us.
    My son repairs a broken crank with two allen keys fixed together.

    My son repairs a broken crank with two allen keys fixed together.

    But we didn’t have a 10mm allen key or a twelve pound torque wrench for what turns out to be the largest bolt on a road bike. I banged on a farmhouse door that had more fluorescent “No Trespassing” signs than a True Value hardware store, but the nice man at the screen door didn’t seem to have the tools I needed. “We don’t stock metric, Obama,” he said. Luckily my mechanical son fashioned a larger allen key from two smaller allen keys by melting them together in the midday heat. The makeshift tool tightened the bolt just enough to get us to town where we found a mechanic to torque the thing down to 25 lbs per square foot. (The mechanic said that was too much, but MacGyver said, “No, it’s right. I checked it online.” The mechanic did what he was told, and MacGyver got me home with a pedal intact.)

  10. Actually The Point Is to Pass People. On Day 2 coming out of Chehalis, Daniel and I joined a pace line that was moving 22-23 mph. We rode with that group for over an hour, knifing through the traffic like a sleek tropical fish, taking turns “pulling,” ripping by riders puffing away on the ascents. But no matter how fast we went and no matter how many riders and groups we passed, more riders appeared on the horizon. It was like a marvelous video game, dropping riders like digital race cars, sweeping by, up and over, inventing hand signs behind the back and over the helmet, yelling “clear” and “on your left” at every panting newcomer. There’s no way to not be competitive about it: it was pure exhilaration. And to be honest, I felt for a few hours there like I was carrying the Oscar results.  #stp2015 #dropPWC