It is said that over 10,000 folks started the event this year, where the 202 miles (plus or minus, due to some construction detours) is covered in either one or two days. Given that neither Melissa nor I had ever completed a full century prior to this event, we opted for the two day option.
We started from the beautiful University of Washington campus at about 5:45am. It was a little chilly for my Sacramento acclimated blood, but it was a great start. We queued up at a start line where small groups were periodically let through – met by accommodating Seattle PD folks that blocked intersections and directed traffic as packs of cyclists moved through the U district toward Lake Washington. It was great as we cruised down Rainier Ave into Renton as these were roads that I knew as a kid growing up in this area. In fact, I passed with an eighth of a mile of my uncle’s house, and within a half a mile of one of the houses I grew up in as a kid.
We moved through the valley towards our first official rest stop at the REI in Kent, WA. This is where I got my first introduction to the absolutely amazing amount of planning, logistical organization and support that Cascade Bicycle Club has managed for this event. It was also the first time in my life that I’ve seen that many cyclists congregated in one area at one time. It was an amazing sight to see – and given the staggered start of the event it was only a small fraction of all of the people actually taking part in the event.
From the Kent REI we continued along the valley through Algona-Pacific and skirting along Auburn, touching the back side of Sumner and onto Puyallup. Puyallup has the distinct honor of hosting the infamous “big hill” – by most accounts a climb of about 350 feet in just under a mile. By this point in the ride – about 45 miles in – there is still a large mass of folks. So, climbing cyclists occupied the full shoulder and right lane, with some spilling over into the left lane while passing slower climbers. This did seem to provoke visible (i.e. gunning engines and screeching tires) responses of aggravation by a few drivers – but overall those driving on the road either already knew about the event or were generally supportive nonetheless. While there were a few that had to push up the hill on foot, the vast majority made it to the top where an impromptu group of Boy Scouts, school cheerleaders and other random organizations had set up offering bottles of water, sports drinks and snacks after the effort.
This was another of the amazing parts of this event that I’d come to really appreciate as the ride progressed. While the offical STP ride has 4 scheduled food stops – two the first day and two the second day – there were countless roadside stands set up by various organizations offering their wares. Some were there for free, asking for only a small donation to some local club or another, and some sold goodies for very reasonably low prices. There were even groups set up in front yards and open spots along the route offering nothing but free cheers of encouragement to any that rode past. It was really a great feeling to see all the folks out supporting the event.
After completing The Big Hill it was a mostly flat ride through Fort Lewis and Spanaway on to Yelm. In Yelm we diverted off of the main road onto a beautiful 15 miles of paved trail. It made for a great break from the noise of automobiles that had occupied my left ear for so much of the ride. The trail was absolutely beautiful with wooden bridges over rivers and ravines – one of which passed very close to our friend Chad and Jamie’s house – which would be our resting place for the night. After the trail we were back onto Highway 507 onto the end of day one for us two day riders – Centralia, WA. It was rather amazing rolling into the Community College in Centralia – the official half way point – to again realize how many fellow cyclists were out for this event.
Chad picked us up in Centralia and drove us back to his place where we relaxed off the days 98 miles or so of riding with a fire, good food, a couple of beers and the opportunity to see friends that I grew up with but don’t see as often as I used to since moving to Sacramento. A huge HUGE thanks to Chad and Jamie for hot showers, lodging and company on that first night. It was a major mood booster for sure.
Thus wrapped up the first day. No flats, not mechanical issues, and everything went great! Now, on to day two.