While I’ve talked a lot about the Seattle to Portland (STP) ride in the past, I unfortunately wasn’t able to make it this year. Luckily David Bussey did – and completed it in one day. David is a long time friend of JustAnotherCyclist.com, and was also one of the core members of the VeloReviews online cycling community. I’m excited that David agreed to share his experiences from the 2016 STP.
STP where virtual meets reality
By David Bussey
I ride with a group of guys with an interactive online cycling “game” called Zwift, where you ride your bike in the game, and as you pedal faster thru ant+ speed or power meter and cadence your in game rider rides faster. This game launched beta in late 2014, I got an invite approval in April 2015, still early in the process. This group of riders races together, does 62 mile weekly endurance rides, and we use an audio app that lets us in essence have “race radio”. We have gotten to know each other but not IRL (in real life). Well, late in 2015 we began talking about getting this group to meet up for a ride, maybe STP [Seattle to Portland]. Some had done it in prior years some (myself) had not. We decided to give it a go, and to do the 205 mile ride in one day. What?
Some goals were thrown around in addition to the one day finish, including a 10 hour finish. To me that’s ride time, to others that’s total time. Ok really! A couple of us in the group were somewhat worried as we know that if you go out too fast, bad things can happen.
So we had roughly 10-15 committed riders, and we signed up. We had 2 sag vehicles lined up, a place to stay etc. Just needed training. Averaging roughly 120 miles per week through winter, much of the work was being done. Thru July I had logged 3500 miles, 80% of which was on the trainer. What about hills? What about long miles? The weekly 60 mile rides is endurance paced, and hills are done virtually in the game. I rode Ronde Portland in April, with one of the online new friends, was very sick a week prior so the 7000+ feet of climbing wasn’t pretty but it was accomplished. Did a CXMTB race in May, and added some 30 mile out door rides (after 25 mile indoor races) thru June, and short track racing weekly.
Decided to do a solo century 12 days before STP to get an idea of fitness, endurance and speed. Chose a local century course with about the same elevation as STP in 105 miles, overall it was a great ride, more stops then I wanted due to course marking issues, ended at 126.5 miles, 5459 ft in 7:33:50, I did the first 100 under 6 hours moving (goal I set) and somehow set 2 PRs in the last 28 miles, but at 16.7 mph even solo, it’s not near 20 mph, but I knew I could go long. No real taper the week of STP same 100 mile week as usual.
Plans go awry/bus to Seattle
Initially we were going to catch a ride to Seattle with a guy from the online group coming in from Boise, but due to a death in his family he was unable to drive, causing a last minute look at options to get to Seattle. We ended up on the Portland Wheelmen, a local cycling group, charter bus for $65 and they truck your bike. Rode up with the guy I rode Ronde Portland with. The bus dropped us off at Univ. of Washington about a mile from our hotel. We checked in and went out for lunch and then waited for the rest of the group, coming from Boise and Spokane.
Meeting the group
We came back to the hotel and most of the group had arrived. Again these are people we have never met but as we talk and ride together 3 or more times a week, we know these people very well, so it was more like a reunion than a first meeting. A really nice way to start the weekend. After everyone checked in to the hotel we all went to Performance Bike for odds and ends, ride food, socks etc. Went to Trader Joes for breakfast, bananas etc, oh and we learned about wine in a beer can at Trader Joe’s.
What no sleep (2 am mystery)
Back to the hotel it was time for final packing of saddle bags, jersey pockets, etc, even some good natured pranks were perpetrated. Then it got real, how do 3 adult dudes divide up 2 queen beds. Turns out the old guy gets the solo bed, sweet! Well with 3:15 wake up call, is 11:30 too late for bed? Didn’t sleep till just after midnight. I never sleep well before a big event, even at home, and this would be no exception. It didn’t help that at exactly 2:00 AM we got a loud knock on the door. Another prank? No one took responsibility, but that didn’t help the sleep and 3:15 came with maybe 2 and a half hours total sleep.
3:15 time to get moving
A quick shower, final pack of bags, bagels with peanut butter and honey, and out in time to load an extra bag into the sag trailer. The group is all assembled downstairs, including about 20 in all. 16 guys, 3 girls, a newer rider whose longest ride ever was 50 miles, and the sag driver. We have a quick ride up a small hill then a fast dark descent to the University of Washington parking lot start area. We got there on time, but found ourselves further back in the sea of flashing red lights than we had hoped. A few thousand one day riders.
4:45 race start, almost
There are so many riders for STP that they stagger the start in waves so as to not have a traffic jam causing a walking start to the ride. The announcer, a young lady all hyped up beyond normal coffee, was “entertaining” the crowd like a DJ at a concert. “Just bring out the band” we think, while waiting for the official release of wave one. The start countdown is finished and the slow roll towards the start begins, looks like we made the first wave, but she calls a stop and a rope is brought up to stop the group, with us now on the start rope first row for wave two. 10 minutes to wait which it turns out was a blessing as we would have virtually free roads until we caught those in wave one. More DJ style banter untill they again start the countdown for wave 2. Finally we start with our large group, including a couple ringers (can you have ringers in a charity ride?) that our fastest rider pulled together for his 10 hour goal.
Police escort dark descent
It’s 5am, cloudy and very dark as we descend the twisty roads from the University down to the road that goes around Lake Washington. It’s fast. It’s dark. There are many intersections and within a mile or so we are already passing the rear of the first wave. Thankfully the Seattle police have basically shut down every intersection of this descent, allowing cyclist to quickly traverse what otherwise would be a bit of a hairy situation if we had traffic to worry about on these unfamiliar dark roads. The first rest stop comes quickly at 19.3 mph. We make a quick stop for bananas and water. At this point we have lost one in the group, and one with the goals is already off the front. The next 20 miles will take us to the first climb of the day.
Group stays together mostly (one speed 23mph)
The strongest rider in the group that’s still together makes the statement “I will suck anyone’s wheel, any time any place”. Well this comes in handy in the next 20 miles as we find a recumbent rider who only has one speed: 23 miles per hour. He is always in front and never wanted help. He makes the perfect wheel for our group to suck. Even with our large group 23 is a fast pace, still tolerable, but at stop lights and in the back of the group, we begin to ask how long we can keep this pace and still finish reasonably strong. With the climb looming the topic is at the forefront.
Discussion of a split protected rider
We average 21 mph from the rest stop to the climb, between our group and the recumbent things are moving right along, but there is still talk of a split, as even drafting this is a fast pace and any gap requires work to close. The protected rider and I decide to let the group go. The deal is the protected rider was not wearing yellow, but she was 5 and a half months pregnant. That’s right. 50 miles into a 205 mile double century and we are riding with a woman with child. She is a strong rider to start, and has been riding weekly centuries for the last few months. She just wants to keep her heart rate in a lower range than the fast pace we have been moving, and I personally just don’t want to blow up and just finish. She is an amazing rider with the skills and intuition of a racer, although she has never raced except in the game. So her friend and the 2 of us let the rest of our group go as we start the climb. At this point we think we may reconnect with the rider that dropped in the first hour of the ride.
Even without our group we find some real strong riders along the way to help pull. One guy in particular was maybe 65 and as strong as a horse. We were happy to meet up with him. The little motivations that keep things moving. There were some nice long off the road sections, one on a long reclaimed railroad trail, and one through a section of the Lewis-McChord military base. Nice to not have to worry about cars traffic etc. even for 20-30 miles. We also met back up with the other girl from our group, she had sealer leaking from her tubeless tires and we caught her at a rest stop mechanics tent.
The halfway point is Centralia Washington, 102 miles in. We arrive around 11:30 AM. Our average speed for the first half is 19 mph, 5 hours 21 min ride time, good for any century not to mention the first half of a double. As we are eating a bit of lunch the protected rider looks at her bike and says, I think my seat is loose. She touches it and it falls off straight to the ground. We all start laughing at how her husband installed her saddle. We check our phone app, find my friends to see where our dropped rider was, and somehow he is ahead of us, back with the main group. Come to find out later he skipped a couple of rest stops to catch back with the main group. A couple of restroom breaks, more chamois cream, and we are off for the second 100 miles.
Lots of stops
The next 50 miles takes us to Longview, many punchy hills of various lengths, none a big deal individually, but one after another they burn a few matches. This section of the ride we spend a lot of time pulling groups of riders, riders who don’t want to or can’t work, but as we have the protected rider with us we stop for every rest stop on the course. I was fine with this, as I wanted to reapply as much chamois cream as possible. Before we know it we are in Longview, heading across the big bridge climb over the Columbia River to Rainier, Oregon. We find it Interesting that in Washington the ride directions are painted on the roads. For some reason Oregon will not allow such markings, as such turns are marked on placards hung on posts, etc. This may be a county rule as other rides I’ve done in Oregon have painted markings on the road.
State line it’s gonna happen
At this point in Rainer it’s starting to feel like this is going to happen. It seems so close with 50 miles yet to go. Still stopping at rest stops every 15 miles or so, again I blame the protected rider. After every stop it’s the same thing: pull onto the road, pass riders and each latches onto our train. I’m sure they were less than excited each time we pull off at the next stop. At this point roughly 30 miles to go, I’m really starting to feel the fatigue, the many matches, and these girls are so strong, taking 5-10 minute pulls, yet they don’t seem to be cracking one bit. I keep going to save face if nothing else.
St. Helens 30 miles is it over coke adds life
The rest stop at St. Helens Oregon High School was the last big rest stop. 30 miles from the finish, lots of food, nice grassy hill to relax, eat and talk about our progress this far, knowing that our group is about 10 miles up the road. More pep talking, and some Coca Cola just like the Pro Riders drink. Truth be told if I had been solo, I may have been close to an Uber finish, but can’t do that, so close. And the saying on my coke can was “all I do is win”.
Last hill to St Johns
We leave St. Helens with 20 miles to the last real hill on the ride, the run up to the St Johns Bridge. Our pace continues at the same level, till the bridge brings things to a very slow climb, all matches are gone. Just working with determination only, and not being willing to quit, even the protected rider is doing this, I must keep it going.
No escorts stop lights galore
Once into St Johns, it’s a mostly flat ride in to the finish. Unlike the police presence in Washington as we left Seattle, Portland seems like they don’t care much that this ride comes through the city, except for the party at the finish at Holiday Park in the Lloyd Center district. It seems as we head into the finish we hit every single red light. More annoying than anything, as at mile 190 plus you are ready to be finished. The last 5 miles we average 14.5 mph with all the stops.
The end of the ride comes with a final stop, across the street from the finish, we see no reason for it, we were stopped manually buy a guy holding a stop sign like a road work flagger might have. Might have been for the photographers to be ready, we were baffled. On the go we ride into the finish chute, we can hear our group yelling from behind the barriers as we come in, I make sure to sprint so the photo is awesome, and I don’t want to be “chicked” by the protected rider and her friends.
The fastest in our online group was in the fastest 4 of the ride, he finished the 204 miles in 10 hours 5 minutes total time, ride time of 9 hours 31 minutes, with 2 flats fixed during his stop time. His average speed was 21.5 mph. Our main group averaged 20 mph ride time, and the protected rider group final ride time was 11 hours 5 minutes, average of 18.7 mph. Pace dropped slightly the second half, but overall a great ride with some great friends, real or virtual.
Post event Sunday breakfast (glad I’m not riding today)
Sunday morning we all got together for a post ride breakfast. There were 20+ and we had a great time, remembering the ride the day before, all glad to not be riding this day. Making plans for next year, for other meet ups of the virtual group even our next online ride in two days time. The rider off the front has had many 150 mile races this summer most faster than the STP pace he set. The protected rider went on in August to “Ride Idaho” a 400+ mile multi-day ride at 6.5 months pregnant, in fact she is still riding with our online Zwift group, likely till the last day we are all guessing. Our online group still rides together 50-100 miles a week, racing and chatting as we put in our training miles for our next real life adventure.