Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Best Bike Ride Ever? (South)
I've been riding a lot for a long time. I am, like many of you, extremely lucky to be able to ride my bike every day and then some. From my daily commute for the last 9 years to the races and weekend rides, I've had some excellent times on my bike. But of all those times, nothing really compares to the ride I shared a couple weeks ago with my 2 boys (Sean and Kealan), Chad Richmond and his son Jaden on STP.
Heh, yeah, STP. I can't believe it myself. There really couldn't be a less likely opportunity for a good experience than the big cattle drive to Portland. But like an old friend used to tell me, sometimes good things sneek up and kick you in the knees...
Sean, Kealan and I had been looking forward to STP all year. Last year, Sean and I rode our new Cannondale MT 1000 tandem to Portland with Rod Megraw. Thanks to Rod's fending off the folks who thought they could gain something by drafting a "big rig" with a 8hp Suzuki stoker, we finished Sean's first big ride safely when he was just 9.
Meanwhile, Kealan, then just 7, demanded that he was simply not going to watch from the car next year. No, he was going to be the stoker, and Sean was simply going to have to figure out how to get to Portland on his own.
We started our serious training a couple weeks before Chilly Hilly where Sean barely survived, and Kealan enjoyed taunting other riders, especially his big brother. My goal in the training was to gradually increase time in the saddle and avoid any bottom pain during the big ride. Aerobic conditioning was not really something I was too concerned about since we could always just rest. But bottom pain would have been a show stopper as any of you parents can understand.
During one of our favorite moring rides Chad mentioned that he was bringing Jaden, his 13 yr old son on STP. Having a Surburban with a brand spanking new engine (another long story), I offered to give them a ride home from Portland.
OK, so the team was set. All we needed to do now was find some tires for Sean's Redline and Jaden's Novara. As it turned out, this was not as simple as it would seem. This was when I learned that 24" tires are not all 24". Sean's bike needed 24 x 1 &3/8 x 520 and Jaden needed 24x1&3/8 x 507. Thank goodness for Free Range and Harvys.
Thursday night, we were set. Kids - check. Bikes - check. Camping gear, food, tubes - check, check, check. Suburban... uh oh. I took the beast into the shop for an oil change after breaking in the new engine and the new oil pan failed when they tightened the drain plug and it needed to be replaced. And my mechanic's lift was broken. At 3:00 on Friday, I no longer had the room for my family and Chad's.
Chad and I spent a couple hours researching transportation options returning from Portland. The train was sold out, the buses were full, and rental vans were all rented. I jumped on my bike and raced to my mechanic's garage to suggest that I had tools and could replace the oil pan. My mechanic laughed heavily at me in my "hot orange" cycling gear and the thought of this spandex wearing geek in a greasy pit changing an oil pan. When he finally recovered from his hysterics, he considered it completely and then told me that I was going to need to unbolt the engine, transmission, exhaust, and lift the engine to make room to remove the oil pan. -So much for that idea.
Just about then I got a text message from Chad. Awesome I thought, Chad found a solution. I read the message from Chad: 'Would it be completely insane to ride your tandem back on Monday? I cannot stop laughing thinking about it'.
OK, now either Chad was just messing with me, or he'd been out drowning his sorrows. I called him and he was actually kind of giggling. So was the crowd at whatever pub he seemed to be at. As it turned out, he was serious. OK, I thought, I've got another seat and seat post for the tandem. I've got a set of mountain bars to replace the kid bars, and we could put Chad's pedals on. Gear wasn't an issue. So I double dared him. OK, bud, you wanna do this, let's do it!
We left Ballard at 6:30. The kids were lethargic. We rolled over to the U Bridge and met the herd. I was frightened. We were actually riding with a group of what I estimated to be 300 riders. At that moment, I convinced myself that there was no way I could protect Sean from the crowd and figured we'd never make it as far as Seward Park before something really bad happened.
Somehow, Sean and Jaden perfected riding in close quarters in about 3 minutes. Just say "on your left" in the voice of a preteen and everyone sits up straight and fears the moment that a kid passes them. They rode in a virtual bubble until the packs thinned out after Kent.
In Auburn, along the street of stank (otherwise known as the West Valley Highway), Sean dismounted by raming his front wheel into our tandem's cogset. He flew over the bars and landed on my rear wheel, then the pavement. Us adults would have been carted off to Harborview with broken ribs and clavicle. Sean stood up, drug his bike out of the way and suffered. Moments later, a medic rolled in and checked him out and gave him a thumbs up to carry on. Oh for rubber bones...
We flew on into my least favorite part of STP - Spanaway and Ft Lewis. (I'm going to use this route next year.) Up to this point, our speed was surprising. We were averaging 17+mph on any extended stretch. The kids were amped! As we rolled down highway 507 through Fort Lewis, Chad and Kealan and I were talking for a while when we realized that we had been dropped by Sean and Jaden. Jaden was pulling at a speed of 24mph, and they now had a gap of like 30 seconds.
After 5 minutes of work, we finally caught the boys and Chad and I were humbled. Yeah, Chad's riding a fixie and I've got a mountain tandem, surely, we'd be killing with our "real" bikes? We'll keep living this fantasy.
At the Tenino rest stop, I was reminded of my time in Ireland. A friend and I went to Dublin in 1993 for a weekend which happened to be Easter weekend. On every corner was some dude screaming at the top of his raspy lungs: "Eggs here! Git ur Aster eggs here!" . In Tenino, it was "We've got Blue Gator Aide! BLUE!!!". He was screaming so loudly that most ladies and children were apprehensive to approach and fill their bottles.
We rolled easily into Chehalis after 115 miles on the road. We were met by my wife Isabel and my mother June. They'd already set our tents up and delivered some choice popsicles in celebration of Jaden's birthday. Kealan who had been an upbeat stoker all day announced that it was time for swimming. He donned his trunks, passed the swim test and spent the next hour in the pool. The older boys were somewhat more reserved. They rested, ate, then spent the next 4 hours playing football. The bodies of the other riders scattered all over the field made for great obstacles.
We woke in the morning at what we thought was an early 6:00. Already the masses of cyclists were on their way out. We roused the kids - some less than thrilled about our schedule. We managed to get our camping gear packed, eat breakfast and get to our bikes in an hour. When we went to the cycling security corral, we were humored to find only our 4 bikes left from the hundreds there the night before. The bikes were surrounded by a group of confused corral deputies who seemed to be wondering where to look for the bodies of the owners. They were thankful when we showed up and explained that they really were not prepared to deal with "loafers".
We spent most of the next 3 hours chasing Sean up and down the rollers from Chehalis to Castle Rock. We'd come close to catching him on the downhills and flats, then we'd hit a climb and he and Chad'd be off again. Somewhere along this stretch we got a flat. We sent Jaden ahead to catch up with Sean and Chad and told him that we'd catch up.
I pulled the front wheel off. While Kealan held the tandem up, I replaced the tube, pumped 150 pumps into the tire and reinstalled the wheel. Now I told Kealan that it was time to really show the other guys what it was like to have an 8hp Suzuki on the back. Man, we flew! We cruised at about 28 for about 10 minutes until we caught the others. Trust me, tandems are cool!
When we made it to the Longview bridge over the Columbia river I was relieved that there was a nice 10mph wind from the west meaning that we'd have a tailwind all the way down the "Highway of truth" or Oregon St. Highway 30. The final 40 miles to Portland should be a cinch!
We climbed the big ramp up to the bridge deck and Chad and Jaden dropped us. Sean was bringing up the rear. I was worried that he'd bonked. As we rolled along in the silence of the warm tailwind, we continued to loose Sean. I pulled up along Sean and asked him how it was going. He confessed that he couldn't make the climb from Longview to Portland in this headwind. He wasn't sure he could believe me when I told him that it was basically flat all the way to Portland and we had a tailwind. I had to prove it to him by making him observe the grass leaning to the east.
Sean recovered. He and Jaden took turns pulling at the front all the way to Portland. At some intersection just past the steel bridge, Sean bolted through a green light that quickly changed and left us behind. Just imagine my horror as my 10yr old disappeared into this strange city! Worse, imagine Isabel's (Sean's Mom) thoughts as her kid rolled in 5 minutes ahead of the rest of us!
We made it! Somehow, we'd 'guided' this gang 200 miles from Seattle to Portland with only some minor scrapes, greasy calves and some scared egos to show for it.
Now we just need to get home...