Odette and I rode the STP on the tandem on July 15 & 16, 2006. As we neared the finish line Odette told me that it was the most fun she had ever had in her life and that she wanted to do it again next year.
I signed us up online in early February. I was going to go to the bike expo to avoid the processing fee but the admission to the expo cost more. (I really object to Active.com charging for an automated process and exposing me to a bunch of objectionable ads – and to their spam afterwards. Note to CBC – this kind of functionality isn’t rocket science and you’d make a lot more money if you didn’t have to pay Active.)
Odette arranged lodging. She tried the Inn at Centralia where Will and I stayed in 2002 but they were full by Februrary 19. (They are also now an Economy Inn.) She tried the Holiday Inn express near the same freeway exit but they had a two-night minimum that weekend. She ended up sending in a form for private lodging through Centralia Community college.
Odette really got into training for this. She got a heart rate monitor and followed the manufacturers’ training advice, blended with the training schedule posted on the STP website. She didn’t wear her monitor on the ride itself and that was probably for the best. (After we put a new monitor / cyclometer on her single, I replaced the old Astrale on the front of the tandem with her newer Astrale and thus got cadence for the first time ever. Starting with a century through Darrington I converted totally from watching speed to watching RPMs on the tandem – and we definitely ride better because of it.) Here is a list of her training rides – you can see mine in my bike log.
When we originally got the tandem it had Continential 700 x 28 tires on it. Later that first season I traded them for Avocet 700 x 32 tires off my touring bike (with maybe 3,000 miles on them) figuring that I would buy new tires the next season. Before the STP I bought a pair of Vittoria Randonneur 700 x 38 tires and put them on. (I intended to go with the same size as the Avocets but I fumbled the 32 and the original 28 and didn’t realize until I got home how much bigger they were.) The wider tires weren’t any more difficult to get on and off the bike than the 32s and they looked fine in proportion to the size of the bike frame so I decided to go with them. The new tires were labeled “inflate to 70 psi” and the tube in the first one exploded when I put it on – at a pressure not much above 70. (I think it was a pinch although it took out a little square chunk of a new tube instead of the usual snakebite.) I ran them at 70 for the first ride we did on them and then pumped them up to 90 the day before the STP. (I also fiddled with the tension on the rear deraileur cable again but still didn’t get it quite right and for the whole ride I had to shift past and back to get into the gear I wanted to be in.)
As a belated Christmas present to me, Odette arranged to have the carpets on the floor downstairs taken out and the wood underneath refinished. Naturally that meant getting the walls painted first so that the floors wouldn’t get splattered – and the woodwork had to be stripped and stained before you could paint the walls. The project didn’t get started until June and had to be finished before we could have guests stay with us the weekend after the STP.
That meant that the day before the STP we were staying in a room at the Bellevue Club while the fumes from the floor work disipated. (At home, all of our funiture was piled in half of the living room.) We had our bike stuff with us and stopped by the house the night before to put the tandem on top of the car. We got up at about 5:00 on Saturday morning, filled the water bottles and headed for the UW where the ride started. Starbucks, which opens at 5:30 on week-day monings, opens at 6:00 on Saturday – so we skipped coffee.
We followed the instructions in the packet and took the 45th street exit and headed down the ramp to University Village until we found ourselves caught in traffic gridlock. We pulled out of the line and into the Safeway parking lot where we put the front wheel on the bike and got ourselves ready to ride. The car ahead of us in line followed our lead. Will walked our bag over to the baggage truck and Odette and I rode around cars and cops and headed for the start line. We got there just as a group left, so we were in the start of the next pulse. We left the start line at 6:30. Over the Roosevelt Bridge, down the hill below the Bush School, out to Seward Park – it went very fast. We paused at the Seward Park ministop but chose not to wait in the restroom lines. The hill after Seward Park was easy and we went up it fast. We waited for the light at Rainier and were surprised when the route turned onto Oaksdale instead of continuing over to the West Valley Highway like it did in 2002. I delayed shifting down as we started to climb the overpass on 196th and then realizing how steep the ramp was I went for the lower chainring and threw the chain off. I coasted to a stop in the left lane while the pack went by us on the right. I asked Odette to get off and fix the chain while I held the bike. She put the chain below the smallest cog and couldn’t figure it out. I got off and fixed the chan and then mounted up again, worried about restarting on a steep grade. Meanwhile, a car pulled up behind us. Odette started running in and out of the line of bikes and I barked at her to get on the bike. I repeated it a couple of times. She finally got on, we took off and the ride resumed. As we turned onto 68th she was fuming that she knew I’d be like this, that I would want to pass everybody and not ride in the right lane. I told her that she should feel protected and that it really wasn’t a good idea to play in traffic. She quieted down and we arrived at the REI food stop at about 8:00 and had bananas and “sportsdrink” and used the portapotties.
The ride through Auburn and Sumner was quick and we picked up a low-numbered guy on a tandem who liked our pace. He had a pre-teen girl for a stoker. We skipped the ministop in Puyallup and climbed “The Hill” with no trouble, albeit in the lowest chainring. We stopped at the Spannaway stop for fruit and vitamin water and took pictures of the lines for the portapotties.
Our next stop, after the stretch through Ft. Lewis, was the Mckenna ministop where we used the indoor toilets. We skipped the Yelm ministop and missed the left turn onto SR-507 when the cop directing traffic waved us straight ahead. We figured it out when the pack ahead of us suddenly did a U-turn. We rode on the highway until the police forced us off onto the trail where we dodged other bikes and tried to avoid the brackets. The ministop at Tenino was dusty and congested and getting off the bike Odette kicked our taillight and broke it off, but we sat on the grass and bought some overpriced lemonade from a little boy. We arrived at Centralia College at 3:00 after a long pleasant ride through city streets (unlike the route in 2002.) We found the bike corrall and paid them $5.00 to look after the tandem. (I carried the long cable and disc lock in my handlebar bag the first day and, having figured out that we didn’t need it, put it in the duffel for the trip on to Portland.)
We found our bag in the private housing bay but left it there because we weren’t sure who was checking bib numbers or how the shuttle worked. I bought a smoothie (and incurred the worst ice cream headache I’ve ever had) while Odette waited for the portapotty. We rested in the shade for a while and then wandered the festival looking for the information booth. We ate popsicles because we were too late for creamsicles. We found the booth and checked in. I went and claimed our bag and then we waited half-an-hour for the shuttle. We (and the driver) were glad we’d checked the tandem and we were really happy when she decided to drop us off first before driving to Napavine. As we drove up the hill to our lodging we were glad we weren’t on a bike.
We met our host and showered and then hung out. We learned that she intended to feed us dinner which we knew wasn’t part of the package but there wasn’t a polite way to turn it down and we weren’t sure how we’d get into town and back if we insisted on eating somewhere else. We showered and Odette helped in the kitched while I sat on the bed with an obese cat reading and re-reading the next day’s route description. A couple of engineers from Boise showed up later – they’d waited over an our for the shuttle and told us that it had gotten rear ended by a lowrider pickup. We had an excellent dinner and then went to bed.
We woke up at 5:00 to the sound of train whistles and our host took us and the engineer’s bags down to the festival grounds at about 5:30. We loaded the gear on a truck and reclaimed the tandem and headed for the pancake breakfast at the church. It was a far cry from what I remembered of 2002 – almost no one eating, no coffee, and generally a sense that they were located too far from the center of activity. We ate and at 6:30 were heading out toward the airport for a wonderful sunny morning ride with a bunch of other bikes. We stopped at the Chehalis ministop to put on sunscreen but skipped the portapotties because of the lines.
The rollers were fun and we paused by the world’s largest egg in Winlock but chose to skip the portapotty lines again. We played tag with a couple of guys on singles on the hills around Vader. We stopped at an unoffical spot across the street from a bar because the line to the portapotties there was short. We rode a few blocks up the street to the official stop and got a little fruit and topped off our water bottles. We enjoyed the downhill stretches on the way to Lexington where we took a long stop and ate a bunch of fruit. We called Will and told him that we would be there by 3:00. We didn’t enjoy all of the stoplights in Kelso and we seemed to have to wait under the hot sun for each one of them to change. We hit the bridge just after the pack was cut off and got a long wait at the front of the line. We didn’t have any trouble maintaining the pace on the climb up the bridge and we flew down. We didn’t stop again until Goble and there it was just a rest, no food or toilets.
Highway thirty doesn’t have a lot to recommend it – other than water views and trees and rollers. It was hot and there was a lot of traffic. Mostly the traffic seemed to be sitting still, though, as there was some kind of event at Deer Island which had cars backed up for miles each way. We took a long break at St. Helens for fruit and portapoties and “sportdrink.” We talked to Will who was on the road already – he informed us that he’d forgotten his camera and wouldn’t be able to take finish line shots. We put the bike down in the grass at Scapoose and rested but didn’t buy anything. We did apply sunscreen at both of these stops as it was broiling. We pulled a woman on a single most of the way from St. Helens to Scapoose. Unlike me, she felt a need to warn people “on yer left” and it took me a long time to figure out that it wasn’t Odette’s voice.
After Scapoose Odette began counting down the miles – but she overlooked the last two miles because they were on another page. The entry to Portand (and the location of the finish line festival) was different than in 2002 and I thought we were closer than we were, too. The hill before the final bridge was unwelcome but really not that hard. At the top of it we crossed the freeway on ramp looking for Thurman Street and Odette was convinced that we were going to end up on 405. Odette didn’t like the Broadway Bridge, either, but I could see Lloyd Center and knew we were pretty much there. The stoplights and turns right before the end of the course were a letdown – we waited for pedestrians just a few feet from the finish. Will came out and grabbed my camera as we were waiting. We finally arrived at the finish line at 3:00.
Will drove us home after I put the bar on the car and mounted the bike. We stopped in Centralia and ate at the Little Red Barn. I wouldn’t go back there.
Overall I was really happy with the way the ride went. 1,700 training miles weren’t too many but we probably could have done more than 450 on the tandem (Will and I only did 1,500 before the STP in 2002.) I’m glad we did it on the tandem – I feel like we were talking to each other for the whole ride. We rode strong but not super fast (averaged 15.7 mph while on the bike) and were tired but not hurting at the end. I’m glad we had new tires and the wider softer ones made the ride a little better without much impact on the handling. We were nervous about relying on the CBC bag delivery system, but it worked perfectly. By choosing the private lodging we got a shuttle ride to the host’s place, a great dinner, a comfortable bed and a ride into town the next day. We also met a really interesting lady and a couple of engineers from Boise.
I’d do it again.
Here’s the post-ride email from Cascade Bike Club with statistics, etc.
Here’s a gallery of photos.