Seattle to Portland 2014

Posted on Jul 16, 2014 | 0 comments

A few months back, a high school friend/tuba buddy contacted me on Facebook. She has been living just outside of Seattle for a few years, but is going to have to leave the area shortly to finish up/continue her nursing “stuff.” On her bucket list was a ride I didn’t know about, the Cascade Bicycle Club Group Health Seattle to Portland. 203 miles over two days. I had ridden a century before and it wasn’t the most enjoyable thing ever. Doing it two days straight? Ugh, but I obliged her. If anything, it’d force me to do some proper training, and Lord knows I may never get another chance to do this with someone again (I’d not do it solo) so I might as well get it out of the way.

About ten days before the event, out of the blue, my friend asked me if I’d like to do it in one day. Without hesitation, I replied “YES!” I’m not sure why I didn’t hesitate, but I suppose the thought of a single ridiculous effort interested me more than two slightly less ridiculous efforts. An added bonus is that it greatly simplified the logistics of camping in a field for a night. Given the life events that occurred a few weeks prior, I needed simplification, especially since I wasn’t even in town and would only be back for a couple of days beforehand.

Also given those life events, my training was a bit stunted and I didn’t manage get any long rides in all season (I typically do hard efforts for 20-30 miles, which prepares you very little for riding all day), but I was feeling pretty good about my general fitness so I knew I could get through it. At a certain point it becomes mental more than physical anyway.

Friday night, I pick Heather up straight from work and we head up to my friend’s house. A bit of traffic getting out of town, but then it is smooth sailing with a quick stop for some burgers and gas. A few miles later and we arrive. Said friend lives in a house with an absolutely stunning view of Puget Sound. We unload the car, setup an air mattress, and grab some sleep for the short night (arrived at 9PM and need to be riding by 5AM – she lives 30 minutes from the start too).

Wake up, grab some coffee and bagels, pack up the car, short drive up to U of W, get stuck in traffic trying to get to the appropriate parking lot, decide to park it at the local QFC (like many others), and go from there. After a quick half mile cruise to the start, we’re off. 203 miles to go.

We stopped every 25 miles or so, but sometimes when things were rough we’d only make it ten (that happened once, after lunch). I’m not going to provide details on the stops and in-between, but suffice to say this was a really well put together event. If you needed a break, there was one at most 5-10 miles away. The volunteers were amazing, plentiful, the food options were above satisfactory (I did start to get bored with the same options over and over again), and I really can’t praise the ride organizers any more. They managed to safely get 10,000 cyclists (25% do it in one day) the length of an entire state. No small feat at all.

So how did it go for us? We didn’t know what to expect. 14 miles per hour? 20? Would we find a nice paceline and cruise along only doing work every few minutes? Would we even be able to do this? It turned out that we were two of the stronger riders out there save for the paceline that started right from the gun and supposedly rolled through the first 100 miles in four hours (“gun” was 4:45AM – we didn’t get there until 5:15 or so due to the unforeseen traffic so we missed out on riding with the more serious folks). One or the other of us ended up pulling pretty much the entire day. I think I can count on my hands how many minutes of rest we both got. We’d take a few turns in the wind and then look behind at the folks eating our drafts, but nobody would ever come to the front. That turned out to make it a hard day, but it was also eye-popping; when moving we averaged about 19mph (GPS shows 18, but that counts walking through rest stops for minutes at a time). My friend turned out to be more up for the ride as she was smiling the whole damned way and towards the end was pedaling away from me.

My body more or less ran out of “go” at mile 90. The hardest part of that was realizing we weren’t even halfway. Five hours on the bike and not halfway home. Ugh.That first 100 was likely harder than the second because there’s no good way to tell yourself that you’re getting there; you always have 100+  miles to go, which in itself is a tough ride. When you’re already beat, it hurts to think about. Following 100, you can at least count down. Interestingly, from 90 until about 130 miles, I had nothing in the tank. From 130 to 180, I found a second wind, but lost it as we approached Portland. Tough day. It certainly didn’t help that temperatures were above 90. It was literally not possible to get enough fluids into one’s body; I’d fill myself completely at stops and during segments, but bathroom breaks told me I wasn’t fully hydrated. Did I mention that it was a tough day?

All in all, I’m glad we did it. No small feat and one that I’ll always cherish – especially that finish. I’d go so far as to say this was mentally tougher than a marathon. Physically? I was able to walk without looking odd the next day so I’d have to think it was easier on my body. Then again, I do still have some numbness in a couple of fingers and a toe. 😛

Will I do it again? Maybe. I’d need the right group, and I’d probably not do it next year; the suffering will be too fresh in my mind. If someone does convince me, I’ll be doing the two-day at a leisurely pace or the one-day with a really solid group that can help do the work and aim for less than 10 hours (20mph).

We finished in just over 11 hours for a GPS-claimed average of 18mph (as mentioned earlier, this includes walking around rest breaks so I’m certain our average was more like 19). 203 miles. 7000+ calories.

A special thanks goes out to Heather and my friend’s husband. They both had to do the round-trip with us by car and were both there for hugs at the finish (I didn’t hug him, but would have if he offered). Thanks, guys!

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