Finishing the STP 2003


Cascade Bicycle Club: Group Health Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. This was my first ever bicycling event (heck, I think I calculated, it is the second organized event I've ever attended...yes, I'm a nerd). In any case, 200 miles or so of riding. It was great to meet the physical challenge.
There were over 7,000 riders on the event. I had never been at such a big bicycle party. I took off with some great people and learned to like them even more during the event. In the first hundred miles, we averaged over 17 mph. (Slow if you are Lance Armstrong, incredible if you are Rich Tong). Got a chance to ride with including Dave Malcolm, Deb Armstrong and Dave Bentley.
All are incredible people and great team mates. I had not realized how much riding is a team sport and how after 8 hours on the road, you can actually tell within 1 mph how well someone is doing. It almost feels like you are connected together. We also met two of Deb's friends, Roger and Jerry, retired ski instructors with 16 STPs under their belt and 1 trip across America.
In any case, it was a beautiful Friday. The kids and Connie took off for Portland and we had a terrific "bring your own pasta" dinner. Lots of discussion of the miracles of Lance Armstrong, the merits of "GU2O": (orange tastes terrible, lemon-lime like water with a lemon) and most important, would it take one day or two. We were finally in bed at 10PM and up at 4AM, out the door at 4:41AM with an incredible view of Mt. Rainier and then the sound of a thousand bicycles rushing towards us. The first 25 miles were scary as Steve Hooper pointed out to me. I learned so much about proper bicycle signaling and pacelining while avoiding one near accident from a mixed pace line when someone stopped very short.
We started out strong in the first 100 miles, but eventually the incredible wind meant that Deb, Bentley, Jerry and Roger went on, but Dave and I stayed in Kelso at the wonderful "Motel 6": where Wanda did a great job taking care of us and the wonderful "Hilander Bowl & Restaurant": who fed us Pot Roast and Teriyaki Chicken. Not to mention the excellent pizza "second" dinner from "Vernie's Pizza":
On Day 2, we were up bright and early and out the door at 5:40 AM this time. Got into Portland at 9:37 AM. Pretty sure we were the first two riders there out of Kelso (mile 149) where we stayed. It was fun to be there. Total time on the bike was almost exactly 12 hours, mileage was 200 miles or so and average speed was 16.4 mph. First 100 hours was 17+!
Here are the things I learned (for next year and others):
h4. Training
The training schedule they have for one day riders is right, but it really isn't that difficult if you can just find the 8 hours to do it. Key for us was getting out at 4-5 AM on Saturdays. Meant we still had most of the day with the family. Also, taking a Friday or two off for the 10-12 hour epics mattered. BTW, I found that after 2-3 hours on the bike, it really didn't matter if you do 5, 7 or 12 hours. Main issue was we never got our 140 mile ride in because of mechanical problems.
h4. Etiquette
There really should be a short course on etiquette of what signals and sounds to make on a long ride like this. After 12 hours of "on the job" training, we did get good at it. The things to remember were to signal and yell vigorously in order of importance are to:
# Say and gesture at least twice and ideally three times
# STOP and left hand straight out and sort of downwards
# SLOW and left hand out if you are slowing down, always assume someone is 6 inches behind you, bikes are quiet and the wind is loud
# if you hear someone yell something, repeat it and the gesture so everyone knows
# LEFT and point with the LEFT hand
# RIGHT and point with the RIGHT hand
# BUMP, GRATE and HOLE and point towards those obstacles
# TRACKS and signals with a left-right motion behind you when you see railroad tracks. Don't accelerate into tracks, coast and take them perpendicularly
# Point at loose gravel and rotate your hand a around
# CAR BACK, means a car behind
# CAR FRONT means a car ahead
# CLEAR if you can see there is nothing behind you and the leader of your paceline is looking back and getting ready to pass
h4. Pacelines
Here are some things I learned about them during this ride in order of importance that you don't normally find in standard advice:
# Stay far apart (like a couple of feet) until you get to know the people you are riding with. Don't assume the person ahead of you won't just jam on the brakes randomly or they know what a paceline is. Get closer as you get more comfortable. The pro's at 30 mph are far apart with good reason.
# don't get fixate on the front wheel, but listen to the pedalling ahead, when he stops, you should stop. Most people stop pedaling before they brake. That's an important clue. You should always know the terrain, as in rising, falling or flat
# when you are zooming downhill, slowing, stopping or getting to tracks or other obstacles, break the paceline and spread out so you can stop as needed
# if you are taking over on the front, DON'T accelerate, let the lead rider fall back. That's what your speedometer is for. When the adrenaline is rushing, it is hard to remember this. Otherwise, you'll lose the rest of the pace line.
# Stay below your lacate threshold (165 bpm in my case) unless you want to just die in hour 8 at the front. Odds are the folks behind you are dying too. This isn't the Olympics.
# If you are at or close to your threshold, slow down, it is better to go slower than blow. Besides, 90% of the time, you'll find that you'll end up ahead of the "faster" guys since they'll have to take a break at every rest stop while you motor on.
# if you want to talk to the person behind you, look at your downtube and speak normally. It is amazingly like a megaphone, you can talk in a normal voice
# watch your speed exactly and ideally your cadence, towards the end, I could tell Malc, I'm going to do 39x15 at 92 rpm and know this meant 17.5 mph on the flats
# to look ahead, rise up and look over the front person's shoulders, f) when you fall back, just pedal slowly and make sure you know where the back of the line is since in these races, there are always stragglers who are looking for a free ride in back
# limit your pulls to 30 seconds or 10 hard kicks of the pedal if you are really driving, but again, don't go over your threshold