Ride: StP3

Third time out for Cascade’s Seattle to Portland ride – the one day version (stopping halfway and making it a two day ride always seemed more hassle than just riding through. This might say something about me – but then, check the title of this blog …)

The approach to StP this year was tinged with a bit of nerves, as I hadn’t ridden more than 85 miles in one go since September 2017. Good intentions never quite translated – I signed up to the London Ditchling Devil, then had to DNS due to photography clashes. I re-planned to DIY the route, and got started late so … decided not to ride back from Brighton but to go on to Eastbourne instead. Still not 100 miles. So, nerves.

The nerves were quietened a little by some digging about in Strava stats: I’ve previously ridden StP in 2013 and 2015. No point in looking at the 2013 stats, as I rode it less than a month after doing the Ride Across Britain and the training kick from that was in full effect (plus I had actually trained for RAB). Looking at 2015, however, was interesting: I had done a number of 100 mile rides before StP that year but not much else. My mileage pre-StP this year was actually higher than my mileage pre-StP in 2015 – lots more 60-80 mile rides, in place of a few century rides. I’ve been a lot more consistent with getting out and riding this year. I’ve also been getting to the gym twice a week for a couple of months now, which did not happen in 2015 (or, frankly, ever. The Fitbod app I mentioned earlier is still working for me – I even managed three visits to the gym whilst staying in Seattle for StP). Some double-checking of other stats also showed I’m about 5kg lighter than in 2015 – not a particularly large difference in percentage terms, but lower is still lower.

So the nerves were quietened down a little. Bike all packed up, and I headed west (to which, yes, still Virgin Atlantic – even if they have now stopped allowing bikes to fly completely free. The bike bag counts as one item of checked luggage. I decided not to try to cram everything into a carry on bag, so paid for a second bag – flying economy on airmiles, so I only had one free luggage item). I flew Thursday, rode StP on Saturday – this worked better than I had expected. In part, it’s because it’s easier to get up at 3am to shower, drink coffee & eat, dress etc to head out at 4am when your body clock is still eight hours ahead. I got enough sleep overall, so … 4am roll-out it was.

The bike was the Condor, as ever. On the bike went the Apidura saddle pack with “stuff” – spare tubes, CO2, pump. first aid kit, hydration sachets and rain jacket. I wasn’t expecting to need it, with the temperature forecast heading for 32C and sunshine. I planned to use the sunscreen that was also in there!

I wish Apidura would do a smaller (5 litre?) saddle pack – I have the 9 litre, and it works fine, but it was distinctly scrunched down to get it closed and not swinging from the saddle. It really needs more kit in it, and I had no need for more kit. My overnight kit was on a truck to Portland, to be retrieved at the end.

Also on the bike was the Apidura stem cell, tucked into the angle between the stem and handlebars – with hydration sachets, a small battery pack and a USB cable to recharge the Wahoo Bolt. I was expecting to test the limits of the Wahoo battery; it’s a solid 12 hours but I was expecting this ride to take about 15 hours with stops.

Wallet & phone were in a dry bag in my pocket, and out I rolled.

Down 25th towards the University; a small number of cars roll past, all of them carrying bikes with StP numbers on. At a red light, one driver laughs and asks whether I’m trying to get in bonus miles by riding down to the start; I grin and nod. Pretty much. Well, that and I see no reason to pay for parking when I’m staying barely a mile from the start!

Past the start – I’m not inclined to do the official start line thing (lots of people don’t. It’s not a timed event, there’s no timing mat to roll over). I have a 9pm hard cut off to reach Portland, as my bike has to be on the return truck by 9pm. It’s the first time I’ve had this time limit, as previous trips included a support crew heading to Portland to meet me and return me and my bike to Seattle. This time, it’s just me (there are roadworks on I-5 that would make it nightmare to drive, and a dog with needs to be met). The finish line theoretically closes at 9pm, although it seems to stay open later in practice – but I didn’t want to risk missing the truck and so wanted to give myself the extra 45 minutes by heading on through and not pulling into the parking lot for the official start at 4:45am.

There are others all rolling through already, even as I pass the start area; onward, across the University Bridge and then up into the lakeside suburbs. It’s dark, just the occasional light. By the time I get to the lake (Lake Washington), dawn light is creeping over the mountains. It’s been a clear night, and the stars are fading into the black sky as the pink/red tinge outlines the Cascades and more. The lake reflects the dawn, and I stop to take a photograph.

The first 20 miles fly past, as it’s all pretty flat. Into the first pit stop, as breakfast was a bit sketchy. A Clif Bar and a cold brew – I had filled one bidon with cold brew before I left, and went for a refill now as Fonté were there and sponsoring the ride. Sunscreen was also being handed out by Kaiser Permanente, so I tucked a small bottle into a pocket – easier than digging my bottle out of the saddle pack.

Heading out of the pitstop I picked up a ride train, clipping along comfortably at about 22 mph and slid along for the next 20 miles in that slipstream (took a turn at the front when I could). Mt Rainier came into view; a view that wouldn’t disappear for another 40-50 miles.

The train took a break at Puyallup; I carried on and up, leaving them behind – The Hill is here. Well, a substitute Hill this time. StP is pretty flat (1200m over 333km), but this hill is an unpleasant 6% climb for a mile; the route diverted from the usual hill because of roadworks, but the substitute wasn’t anything different. Certainly not easier …

Having left my train behind, the rest of the ride was solo – by 50 miles, I had pretty much passed anyone slower than me that started before me, and had left behind at feed stops those who were going my speed. It’s pretty much the story of every ride I do. I don’t stop for long, and I tend not to stop more than once every 30-40 miles – StP has stops every 10-20 miles, so I skip a lot of them.

From the Hill onwards, it was a steady day. Highlights: a peach at Yelm, tasting a lot better than anything else could have; watermelon anywhere I could get it (St Helens, in particular). Getting hosed down at Goble, cooling off in the breeze for the next few miles. Coca Cola at Goble – ice cold, and a change/addition to the Skratch Labs orange that I’d been drinking.

I wasn’t wildly enchanted by a puncture 25 miles north of Portland: not sure what caused it, although there was some trash on the road. I couldn’t feel anything in the tyre and swapped out the tube, hopefully that the new one wouldn’t suddenly deflate. It didn’t, although a mile later I stopped because there was an odd feeling from the tyre. It turned out not to have seated properly so that wasted a bit more time as I deflated the tyre, reseated it, and re-inflated. CO2 is lovely, although I was hoping not to have any more trouble as I had used both available cylinders.

However, no more problems and I rolled into Portland at 19:20 (and, thankfully, without an aching thigh this time – in contrast to 2015). Plenty of time to rack the bike on transport, collect my bag, buy a 1-day rider t-shirt, shower, lose my sunglasses and still have time to spare before the 9pm cut-off. I have no idea where my sunglasses ended up, which is annoying – replacements have been acquired.

I had my usual problem with eating, in that I don’t want to after a long ride. A bit of internal bargaining saw me force my way through some fish and salad, then a cab for the half mile to the hotel and sleep.

Sunday morning: legs were surprisingly functional, so I walked to the station and headed back to Seattle. Three and a half hours by train for the route that took me twelve and half (riding time) yesterday (and yes, it passes the route for a while in south Washington state – the two day riders were heading south as I was heading back north).

Kit check: Rapha Brevet shorts, Rapha London superlightweight jersey, Craft cool base layer. All worked fine. Rapha pro team mitts – also generally ok; my palms were uncomfortable after about 150 miles but I’m inclined to put that down to needing to do more core work (so that I don’t lean on my hands so much) rather than the gloves. My hands were fine an hour or so after the ride, which reinforces the “lack of core” theory. Usual fizik shoes (Rapha London socks) – my feet got a bit hot and uncomfortable but that has a lot to do with 32C+ temperatures; they got better when I started to spray water onto my socked feet at stops, as that cooled my feet down for a few miles.

Hydration: Skratch Labs orange and Torq pink grapefruit, over-diluted (sachets for 500ml in a 600ml bottle – sachets are easier to deal with than decanted powder on this type of long ride). The small amount of carbs works well to keep me ticking over, now that I’m generally eating lower carb. I made sure to drink ⅕ to ¼ of a bottle every 5km, given the temperatures. The hydration on the ride was Nuun, which is fine if you like it. I don’t dislike it, but I prefer the two I took (obviously!)

Food: mostly mini-Clif bars (chocolate and blueberry flavour) from the feed stops. I tried the new “fruit filled smoothie” variety and found them even drier than the regular versions (not a good thing). Also sandwiches, fruit and crisps from feed stops.

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