Friday, July 18, 2014

2014 Seattle to Portland, One Day

211 miles, 5600 feet elevation, 18:15 hours (14:30 hours on the bicycle) 

It was finally time for the event that I focused my training on for the past few months. I last did the Seattle to Portland ride 3 years ago.  That time I rode with my (Seattle-based) friend Unmesh and we chose the two day option, spending the night in a hotel near the midpoint.  This year, our (Portland-based) friend Subhash is joining and we are doing it in one day.  The last time the three of us met was about a year ago, when we all came to Seattle for a triathlon.  Unmesh and Subhash did the Olympic distance version, while I bicycled the sprint distance as a team with Vaishali, who ran, and Prabha (Unmesh's wife), who swam.

Not having done a double century in 6 years, I needed to make sure I was prepared.  My usual training keeps me in shape for centuries, and I can do one of those without too much advanced preparation.  However, a double century is nothing to take lightly.  This route has less elevation than some of my 50 mile training rides, but spending so much time on a bicycle needs preparation.  I was not concerned about my conditioning, since I was pretty sure I would have plenty of strength and energy.  The part of my body that suffers the most on long rides is my neck (and to a lesser extent, my back), and I wanted to be sure that I got my body adjusted to the strains.

The ride requires significant logistical planning.  The ride is on Saturday, starting in Seattle and ending in Portland.  I would definitely need to take Friday off for travel, and I would need to arrive early enough in the day to prepare.  Because we know many people in Portland, we made this a full family trip, and considered making it an extended trip.  But since everyone is busy on the weekdays, we decided to limit it to the weekend.  We had the whole day free on Sunday, and decided to take an early flight on Monday, so that we could go directly to work (and day care and summer camp) upon returning.

Our flight arrived in Seattle on Friday afternoon, about the same time as Subhash arrived, who opted to take the one-way train transport organized by the event.  I assembled my bicycle and we went to pick up our ride packets.  We then had a large pizza dinner with Prabha's sister and her family.  We went to bed early.

4:00am, 0 miles, 0 feet elevation

We planned to leave the house a 4:00am, so I woke at 3:00am to prepare.  Vaishali snapped a quick picture of us before we left.  We rode the 4 miles to the official start in the dark.  We arrived at the start line and joined a mass of riders.  Even more joined in after us.  The official start is at 4:45, so we had to wait about 20 minutes before we could get under way.  They have the official start because they arrange to have policemen direct traffic through many of the signaled intersections in the city.  With thousands of cyclist flooding the road at the start, this is a necessity.

Unmesh, Subhash, Murali ready to start.

The temperature at the start was pleasant.  Last time it was chilly, but this year the forecast was for unseasonable heat (90's F), so the day was starting off at a comfortable mid-60's.  The first few miles consisted of riding with a huge pack of cyclists.  The thickness of the pack meant that most kept the same speed.  We found early on that two of us had unique auditory identifiers – Unmesh had a squeaky left pedal and Subhash had a rattling water bottle.  Prabhash's wife Aparna had asked him to use a steel water bottle instead of a standard plastic one.  So the metal bottle in the metal holder was a noisy combination.

6:15am, 30 miles, 300 feet elevation (Kent REI)

The first food stop was 25 miles into the route, but seemed to arrive quicker than expected.  We agreed to keep it brief and quickly had a snack, bathroom break, and bottle refill, before resuming.  The pack had started to thin out, but there were still many cyclists ahead of and behind us.  We did not need to do any navigation because we just took the same turns as everyone else.

Just like last year, we had a clear view of Mt. Ranier.  Seeing the majestic peaks along the route is one of the highlights for me.

8:30am, 59 miles, 1000 feet elevation (Spanway Jr. HS)

After this stop many people were putting on sunscreen in preparation for later in the day.  It was still pleasant at this time.  This part of the route contained a long stretch of bicycle trail.  This is a different experience than riding on the road.  Although there was bicycle and pedestrian traffic it, was sparse.  We kept a faster pace as there were fewer intersections and obstacles.

11:00am, 93 miles, 1500 feet elevation (Tenino)

Soon after this mini-stop, we re-experienced an event from the last ride – we were delayed at a train crossing.

11:50am, 106 miles, 2000 feet elevation (Centralia)

We reached the midpoint well before the time we made it last time.  Of course, previously it was the end of our day.  This time it was the halfway mark.  We decided we would make it an extended stop to rest and prepare for the second half.  I managed to get a peanut butter jelly sandwich at the lunch table, but when I went back for seconds, they had run out (only the meat sandwiches were left).  They did have fruit, which was a poor substitute (I needed something more calorie-dense). We found an open spot in the grass (it was not easy to do with riders resting everywhere) and lay down for a while, stretching our overall break to one hour.

There are three ways to navigate the route.  The authoritative way is to carry and ready the route map as you ride.  This is not practical because it is published as a small booklet and there is no good way to hold/read it while riding.  The second way is to follow the road markings.  Before and after every intersection, there is a painted arrow on the pavement indicating which way to go.  You check the direction before you go through, and double check the confirmation after you go through.  If you see both, then you are still on the route.  The final, easiest way is to follow other riders.  This is very reliable closer to the beginning of the course when all the riders are in one huge pack.

After leaving the mid-point, we lost the company of all the one day riders.  Also being later in the day, the remaining riders have further dispersed.  We found much fewer riders at this point, but we would still pass a few and be passed by a few.  At one point we had been chatting for a while when one of us noticed that we went through an intersection with no markings.  We were off course.  We immediately pulled over and pulled out our route map.  A friendly motorist let us know that the big group of riders were on a different road a block away.  Even though we went off course a mile back, we where headed parallel to the route and noticed before the roads diverged significantly.  As a result, we missed a mini-stop, but it was one that was not needed.

2:50pm, 132 miles, 2400 feet elevation (Vader)

At this mini-stop, the contrast to our last experience here was stark.  Then, it was the first stop of the second day, thus it was an early morning stop.  As such, it was pretty cold, and I remember my fingers being numb and painful.  This time, it was early afternoon and the unseasonable heat kicked in.  Our stop included getting sprayed with a garden hose to cool off.

I enjoyed seeing the next notable mountain on the route – Mount St. Helens.

3:50pm, 142 miles, 3200 feet elevation (Castle Rock)

This mini-stop would have been omitted, except we were on a quest for ice and a refill of water bottles. Like the previous stop, we took turns dousing ourselves with a garden hose.

4:35pm, 150 miles, 4100 feet elevation (Lexington park)

This was the lunch stop of day two last year, but just a somewhat extended break (half hour) this year.

6:20pm, 167 miles, 5000 feet elevation (Goble)

This mini-stop came at a good time for me.  Through the whole ride, I was not having any problems.  However, a few miles before this stop, I started feeling sleepy.  Not just tired, but I felt like I was about to fall asleep – while pedaling.  Although the idea of falling asleep while pedaling a bicycle sounds comical, I was very concerned for my safety.  I knew that, at the very least, my alertness level was compromised.

I have experienced this before, so I knew what was happening.  My blood sugar must have suddenly crashed.  Even though I had been regularly eating, my digestive system must have shut down.  After we pulled into this stop, I told Unmesh and Subhash that I needed to take a break.  I found a clear spot on the gravel parking lot, put my helmet under my head and closed my eyes.  I woke up feeling refreshed (when you're exhausted even a bed of gravel is comfortable).  I asked Unmesh how long I had been sleeping and he said 10 or 15 minutes.  That was enough time to rest my body enough to get my digestive system to process its fuel.  I would have no more problems after.

7:55pm, 180 miles, 5300 feet elevation (St. Helens)

We reached a point where all three of us were getting tired.  No one had any serious issues, but the effect of spending 16 hours (so far) pedaling was apparent.  We decided to stop at a convenience store for a quick snack.  We were having trouble estimating the distance to the next rest stop.  It turned out to be just a couple miles away.  But we did not want to take any feelings of hunger or tiredness lightly, so stopping probably was the right decision.

At this point we started hitting an issue that we did not really anticipate.  We were about to lose daylight.  One part of this was good, in that we were no longer subject to oppressive heat.  But on the other hand, we were riding by the side of a well trafficked road nearing dark, and we did not all have lights.  I had a rear taillight and a blinking headlight, but not a powerful enough headlight to illuminate the road.  The biggest danger was that if it got totally dark, we would not be able to see the road surface that we were riding on.

Keeping this in mind we rode purposefully.  We skipped the last mini-stop to save time (and we did not need a break or water refill).  We kept as strong a pace as we could so that we would cover as much distance as we could in the remaining light.  We did not have to (and could not really) get to the finish before night.  We only had to get close, because once we get near Portland proper, we would benefit from streetlights.  Until then, however, we were on an unlit stretch of state highway.  We tried to stay behind another group of riders who had lights.  We knew that by following them, we would be following a safe path.

10:15pm, 211miles, 5600 feet elevation

Once we got close to the city, as we expected, street lights helped illuminate our way.  But now we could no longer read road markings to find the route.  And we would not be able to read the route map as we rode in the darkness.  But the narrow city streets with signal lights bunched many riders together, so we simply followed the pack.  There was always someone who knew the route to the finish.

One minor disappointment is that in the darkness, there was no way to view Mt. Hood, which we did get to see last year.  However, I don't know if it would have been visible earlier in the day because there may have been cloud cover.

As we rolled to the finish, we were met by two of our three wives.  Vaishali could not come to the finish because she and the kids were with our friends Tony and Sheilagh.  It was well past the kids' bedtime so she needed to stay with them.  Aparna and Subhash headed back to their home.  Prabha and Moon dropped me off at Tony and Sheilagh's before heading right back to their home in Seattle.  We found out later that, as expected, Moon slept during the whole drive back.

The ride was a success.  No one had any significant issue.  Subhash demonstrated what a superior athlete he is.  He mentioned that all his training rides previous to the day did not add up to 200 miles, yet he had no problem keeping pace and finished without issue.

We spent another day in Portland and visited other friends and family.  We did manage to meet Aparna and Subhash again for lunch.  Subhash and I found that both of us had been insatiably thirsty and hungry the whole day.

It's a nice feeling to have STP both two-day and now one-day.  It would be nice to do it again.  It is always great to see the beautiful places and visit the wonderful friends.  Maybe we will keep doing this ride as a periodic tradition.