Seattle to Portland 2008
My one-day bicycle ride from Seattle to Portland.
FeedbackBy Preston Hunt, 12 July 2008

I bicycled 207 miles from Seattle to Portland this past Saturday in one (very long) day!

Short version of trip report: I made it!

Long version of the day:

It all started last New Year's Eve when the subject of athletic goals for the summer came up. A bunch of us pledged to go for STP in a day. Eventually, all of that original group backed out, but I decided to go for it anyway. I found a group to train with and spent most of my weekends for the last three months training.

On Friday, I got on the Portland Wheelmen bus, which dropped us off at the starting line (University of Washington campus) at 1:30 p.m. From there, I rode the Burke Gillman trail, a very cool 25-mile bike path right through the U.W. campus, to my friend's house. We had a mellow afternoon, including carbo-loading with burritos for lunch and spaghetti for dinner, taking in a relaxing movie (Hellboy 2), and an early-ish 10:00 p.m. bed-time.

I got up 3:45 a.m. (yawn) Saturday morning and rode 2.5 miles along the bike path to the starting line. Hundreds of people were lined up and ready to go. We had to wait for some tardy team members and weren't "wheels rolling" until after 5 a.m.

The early ride through Seattle was great! Beautiful vistas of the water and Mt. Rainier, blue skies, and cool weather. Plus the very palpable energy that comes from riding as a huge pack of people through the city. I got separated from the rest of the team in the crowd and reunited with them after the first rest stop at mile 25. After that, we rode in huge pelotons of dozens of riders. At that point in the ride, all of the one- and two-day riders overlapped, so there were a lot of people going pretty fast. I tried to keep up for a while, but when my heart rate soared into my anaerobic zone, I knew I had to slow down a bit. At the 50-mile rest stop, I told the rest of the team to go on without me since they obviously wanted to ride much faster.

Riding alone completely changed my outlook. Rather than fighting to keep up with the fast pace or worrying about slowing down the group, I was free to spin at my own comfortable cadence, take in the flowers, talk to other people, etc. And with thousands of riders on the course, it was extremely easy to form ad-hoc pace line groups whenever I wanted. After spinning at 16-17 mph for 5-10 minutes, I would wait for a fast group to pass me and then just latch on to them, riding at their (much faster) speed until I felt tired (usually 5-10 minutes). I would then simply drop off the back and return to the slower speed for a recovery period.

This method worked really well and I was able to make it to the halfway point at Centralia by 12:30 p.m., half-an-hour earlier than I expected to make it. There I ate lunch and had a brief reunion with the rest of the team. At 100 miles in, my legs were started to feel pretty fatigued, but I didn't have any cramps or pains. Indeed, I wouldn't have any physical problems at all for the entire ride, which I attribute to taking in at least 200 calories per hour, drinking one liter of water per hour, replenishing my electrolytes with Hammer Nutrition Endurolyte supplements every hour, and taking a preventative ibuprofen every 2 hours to prevent inflammation and help with a minor bit of left knee pain.

Outside of Centralia, the heat started to get intense. And it was hilly. And a lot of the roads were chipseal, which, in addition to being uncomfortable to ride on, seemed to double the intensity of the sun. I continued to pound the water and to take my electrolyte capsules, but I started to really worry about heat stroke. A few weeks before, I had been out on a training ride on a very hot day, and I had experienced the devastating effects of even very minor heat stroke. I kept it easy on the hills to keep my body temperatures down and stopped at every rest stop so that I could drench my head and jersey in cold water. This was very effective in keeping my core body temperature low, but did have a deleterious effect on my time (probably added 2+ hours overall to my time). Many friendly people were sitting outside their houses offering to spray riders down with hoses, and that was a huge help as well!

I picked up Kurt at mile 145. He indicated that our team was starting to splinter and had dropped him as well. He wanted to ride in with me for the rest of the way. With 60 miles to go, I was feeling quite strong and I knew we were assured of making it. My only remaining concern was whether we would make it before 9 p.m. I learned later that the race organizers don't close the finish line until after midnight, but I had misunderstood the description in the ride guide and thought we might arrive at a closed finish line if we arrived after 9.

People had warned me that mental fatigue would set in at this point, but I didn't have any problems with staying motivated. Indeed, I think my strategy of going my own speed really paid off since I had plenty of energy and motivation all the way to the finish line. I did notice a distinct reduction in the amount of chit-chat between riders. Folks were focusing on knocking off the miles. There weren't many people darting forward or with energy to pass. A couple of times, I looked back and had a huge pace line drafting off of me, which is definitely not something that happens to me often!

The ride over the Lewis & Clark bridge in Longview was brutal. 100 degree temperatures, zero wind, and 150 miles of wear and tear on the body. It was inspirational to get over into Oregon, though, even with 50+ miles to go. I had never been out that far on Highway 30, and it was a little boring, but the traffic was low, the road quality high, and there was a huge shoulder. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally reached Sauvie Island, then passed the St. John bridge, and finally the turn-off for Montgomery Park, where I called Aimee to let her know that "we were close". We blitzed through Northwest and the Pearl District, over the Broadway Bridge, merged with some sort of bicycle night parade, and finally made to the cheering crowds at the finish line just as the very last bit of sun was setting!

Trip stats:

All in all, it was a great event! The down sides were our team disintegration, the terrible food at the rest stops, and the lack of any sort of suitable energy drink at the rest stops. Everything else about the day was awesome -- especially the volunteers that made it all happen, the awesome scenic and low-traffic route, friendly drivers, waving crowds in the towns we passed through, the many countless riders that let me draft off of them, and, of course, those families with the water hoses! I would definitely do the ride again, the substantial amount of training required for a one-day trip being the only concern to give me pause. I'm sure I'll be back again to try and beat my time!


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