Saturday, November 14, 2009

Seattle to Portland 2009 Ride Report

When I signed up for this ride, I knew it was going to be a challenge. 204 miles of road between the two cities, and only my legs to get me there. I'd trained, but didn't go on enough long rides to truly be prepared for it. My main hope was that if I could keep from bonking, I could make my legs move enough to get there before the 9pm cutoff. Oh yeah, did I mention I was doing it in a day?!

At 3:45 the morning of, my friend Steve showed up, and my very kind wife and I loaded up the car with the bikes, two very sleepy children and clothes for a weekend in Portland, and we headed to the start line. We got there with 15 minutes to spare, and I stretched while Steve picked up his packet. It was kind of cool to be at the start with a couple thousand cyclists ready to take on this journey. Steve had a coworker that was going to join us so we met up with him and a friend of his, and caught the second wave out of the starting line at 5 am.

I didn't really have any expectations going into this event. It's not a race, and our goal was to finish around 7 pm (14 hours total time, 12-13 bike time). That meant keeping a 17.5 mph pace while on the bike, and keeping the stops to a minimum. All I knew was that I was going to hurt at the end.

The first 15 miles wind along Lake Washington and provided excellent views and a great sunrise. Little did I know I wouldn't be able to really enjoy the views as I had to worry about not crashing amidst hundreds of cyclists. I'd ridden a few group rides with 30 or so riders in preparation for this, but in reality there was not preparing for the magnitude of riders on the road. Picture riding in the middle of the 180 person peloton at the Tour de France, except that you are riding with a bunch of people facing their own mid-life crisis and are trying to make a nice ride into a race. Pretty scary. I managed to keep the group in sight as we moved along at a faster than needed clip trying to distance ourselves from a bulk of the pack and find quieter roads ahead. It was during this stretch that I lost the map, but I figured the turns would be well marked so I didn't bother to go back. The dropped item that did make me stop and go back was the Camelbak water bottle that bounce out of the cage at mile 15. Unfortunately, the hard plastic top hit the ground first. At least it didn't suffer.

I'd hoped at that point there was nothing else that would go wrong. Except that 20 miles into the ride the pace was still above 20 mph. I was beginning to think I should just back off, let Steve know I would meet him in Portland and ride my own pace, knowing that there was still a long ways to go. But, ego got the best of me, and I held on with the logic being that I was drafting for most of the time and that would conserve energy, right?

We stopped at the mile 57 food stop at 8:30 and hit the Honey Buckets and the food line. A cookie and banana eaten, and PopTarts in my back pocket I was ready to go. As we rolled out there was talk of easing the pace a bit, but that didn't last long as we found ourselves hovering at about 27mph on a sketchy bit of road not 3 miles from the food stop.

And then it happened.

We were passing a large group of people when one of them decided (without so much as a glance) that right in front of me was where he would like to be. Except that it wasn't right in front of me that he ended up. It was right on top of me. With a car on my left, all I could do was slow a bit and hope for the best. As I was being followed by another in our group (as happens when riding in a paceline) he didn't have enough time to react and his front wheel locked into my back wheel. He hit the ground but only bounced and wasn't hurt that bad. I stayed on my bike (likely because I was using his bike as a kickstand). We managed to get off the road and out of the way of other cyclists. After a quick check of the bikes (yes, I checked them first) there was no way we could continue. Neither bike was shifting, and his front wheel and my rear wheel were sufficiently bent to not be able to spin freely anymore. Mile 60, may the ride RIP.

Justin, the other cyclist had a brother that lived not too far from where we wrecked. We had thought we would be able to get a ride with ride support to the next food stop closer to his brothers house, but it never came. So his brother came to where we were. By this time, my wife had just pulled into my Aunt's driveway in Portland at the same time that I called saying I needed a ride. My aunt took the two girls and my wife, who had already driven 4 hours that morning, turned around and made the 2 hour drive to Justin's brother's house. We made it to his house about 15 minutes before my wife made it (traffic is slightly insane on back roads when there are 10,000 cyclists on the road) and she and I drove back to Portland to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I'd been training for months only to end up not finishing because of something that could have been prevented. That's hard to swallow. But overall, I was glad that I didn't get hurt.

[*I'm going to spend more time in a future post hashing out more of the details of the accident and what I could have done differently during the ride, and the merits (or problems) of having 10,000 cyclists on the road at once*]

[**This ride was back on July 11th. Yeah, I'm 4 months late.**]


  1. Interesting. I've done the STP twice now -- once in two days last year, and this year in one day. I never felt like I was particularly at risk of crashing, but then it sounds like you're riding a class above me -- ie, I'm not hitting 27mph on the flat. Maybe next year we can ride together, at least as long as I can keep up?

  2. Ryan:

    I think I was riding a class above myself at the time the crash happened. That might have had something to do with it. I haven't decided if I'm doing it again next year, but it'd be nice to do it with a more relaxed group.