This weekend I went out for a ride with some folks who are planning to ride the Cascade Bicycling Club cyclist rite of passage known as STP or Seattle-to-Portland. None of the five people with me had ever done STP. I have done it four times, I think (yes, I agree that I should be able to remember), but I know that the first time was in either 1989 or 1990, that I did it for sure in 2004 and in 2007 or 2008, and I know that I did it one other time.
Here is my mini-recap of each time: First time - decent condition and good ride. Finished at the old Jantzen Beach area and got in the car almost immediately afterwards for a car ride back to Seattle. I got some cramps on the car, which didn't have seats that reclined.
Second time - No where near enough training so this was a very tough day. After being ditched by the person who convinced me to ride with him I rode along with his other friend who had arrived from Greece early in the morning of the ride. We limped in feeling abused.
Third time - I trained with four Spokanites and we used the STP suggested mileage charts, thinking this would make us "prepared", which it did. One dropped out with a medical issue, so four of us made it to the start. I waited for a west-side friend with the plan to draft behind two tandem bikes. They showed up WAY late and had mechanical issues that stopped them at the first rest stop about mile 24. At that point I went on a very inadvisable ITT (individual time trial) to catch up to my Spokane friends. I caught them at mile 100, as I was pulling into the rest stop they were ready to pull out. I was completely 100% toasted and it was obvious that it was really, really stupid to go all out for 75 miles to catch up. Thankfully legendary local attorney RS, Jr was willing to slow down for me to recover a bit. I then got a serious bonk about the 150+ mile mark, which was also around the time we hit 20-30 mph headwinds/gusts. I was in a group of about 5 and was thankful for the draft each one offered as I suffered my way into town. We finished in decent time overall, but I was left feeling as if I hadn't really done it right yet.
Fourth time - This one was damn near perfect. I trained and rode with a seriously smart and good rider (Rider One). We pulled up to the start line about 15-20 minutes after the official "start" for one-day riders. As a result, we spent the whole day thinking there was a fast group ahead and we should just jump up to the next group and then ride along with those folks. We had a fast day, but the rest stop about mile 175 had food that wasn't good, energy drink mixed wrong and nothing satisfying. We headed out and stopped at a mini-mart about 5 miles later, luxuriating in the air conditioning on a warm day and watching riders go by. With a "what the hell, let's get this over" we headed back out and finished 10 hours after we rolled out of the UW start. As we rode into the finish area, a woman handed me the finish patch and medal and said "23". I said, "what?" and she said "23!". After an "excuse me?" she explained that I was the 23rd finisher, with Rider One 22nd. We realized later that we had watched about a dozen people ride by while we sat in the mini-mart. We had no idea whatsoever that we were finishing so quickly and could have hit top 10-15 easily by just riding along. We did, however, feel like we had done it "right" and I can now rest on my laurels for the next 20 years or so.
I wish well all of the 10,000 people who will line up for STP this year and don't envy the 2,300-2,500 who will ride the whole 204 miles in one-day. Probably better to split it into two days and have a bottle of wine to celebrate each one. Maybe that's how I will do it next time.