Touring Seattle to Portland (the STP), Washington and Oregon
July 2006 (2 days, 200 miles)

This event is my idea of something of a debutante party for my new Bianchi. Yep, a Bianchi Veloce is the latest (and rather prolonged) acquisition to my biking stable. It joins my Kona Muni-Mula MTB (already sporting several years of age) and my venerable Cannondale (which is now put out to commuter pasture, both post its initial, improbably pre-shock MTB career and its "Canadale" two months of slogging out a tour in Eastern Canada). I've actually spent some real money on this new bike, something I'm admittedly rather loathe to do on much of anything. But I plunk the dough down readily when I think I'm going to get what I'm paying for.

In a word, the main feature of the Bianchi is its "Campy" (Campaniolo) gearing system. I'd test-ridden a number of impressive used road bikes, but I never quite found the right fit - even if the prices were stellar for what I'd get. Thus I next went the new-bikes-in-stores route, which entailed switching to a you-get-what-you-pay-for strategy. The Shimano (Ultegra) gearing found on just about every bike in my range had an overloaded brake-gear setup on the handlebars, I thought, so when I finally stumbled on the Bianchi - which still had the two functions separated out - I was sold shortly after the test ride.

Now here along comes the STP. This is the most famous cycle event of the Pacific NW by far, attracting something on the order of 10,000 riders each year. It's 200 miles of roads from Seattle to Portland, just about on the nose as only the most anal of road cyclists - and that's most of them - can ensure. As for the RIDERS, they run the GAMUT - old, young, fat, skinny, buff, flabby, lycra, cotton. Beyond them I'll also see a flotilla of vehicles, too: a unicycle, some pull-behind trailers, recumbents, 3-wheelers, and more. The vast majority of the masses, however, are on standard road bikes just like mine.

A festival atmosphere pervades with such a large number of participants as this event has. There's no surprise there. To start with, there's the large starting gate. There there are the thousands of cars plus the more thousands of people milling around the main UW Stadium parking lot. A band plays tunes, or a DJ does - I don't remember later, exactly, but it's LOUD. The booths with freebies such as power bars are numerous, too, plus there are mechanics' stands as well. Anyway, after I pull into the parking lot - you pay for 1 or 2- nights parking - I quickly put my gear together before surveying the stands. Is there any swag I might find of use? Nah - or not much outside of the odd power bar.

Then I'm off. The "starting-minute" crowd's already gone, naturally, so I'm with the staggered and staggeringly-large late hordes. It's not that we're all that late in the day at all, but who's into getting up at the crack of (before) dawn? Not ME. A small number of that dawn's-crack group is actually probably competing in some sense, plus there is a larger number than those who are planning to do it in a day (perhaps up to 25% of the total I guess). But most are like me, doing it over two days with a break near the halfway point. Our contingent doesn't need to hurry out the gate; Any time reasonable in the morning would be fine.

I leave around 9 a.m. or so. Quickly I'm among those who zig and zag our way along the lakefront (Washington) to get to South Seattle. In doing so we go from wealthy suburbia to a light industrial area. Traffic accordingly picks up, too, as off we're flying under mild skies - whoopie!

Then... POW! Only ten or so miles only into the event, my chain snaps! WTF? On my new bike? Sigh - I flag down the next wave of cyclists behind me still approaching from the north, finally managing to hail one with a chain tool. Now... lessee. Well, this isn't exactly a repair I've previously ever done. Hmmm. Long story short, it takes me a good 20 minutes to get my head out of my butt to git 'er done. But necessity, mothers, invention - yeah, it's all that stuff. Regardless, I realize that I need a chain tool - and soon.

Fortunately I'm soon near the first scheduled stop, so I limp the very short distance over to a mechanic who quickly takes a look. Yup, it's snapped, he concurs. (Not really much question there, buddy!) He efficiently next mucks around with the chain, lubing it while looking for any kinks. He notes to me in doing so that once a chain goes, it's usually a steady descent into chain hell that is only resolved ultimately with a new chain. Great. Unfortunately, he doesn't have one on hand for my type of gearing. Good luck!, he intones. Still, his help is an opportune acquaintance: he offers to sell me his personal chain tool on the cheap, a possible hedge against the future. I agree - and this is a good thing.

Still... crap!, I think. This thing's just begun, and now I'm probably already foiled! In fact, I right away find myself pedaling differently. I'm not wanting to strain the drivetrain of my bike any more than necessary. Meanwhile I've also found out where the mechanic stops are located ahead to get me to the night stop. Maybe I'll luck into buying a new chain...? I learn that there'll be two more stands before the one at my chosen night stop (near Castle Rock at mile 130 or so). I cross my fingers, toes, legs, and arms.

Sure enough, my chain gives me more problems. Another 10-20 miles go before it's FWING!-ed again. This time I'm on a much busier road, just after a food stop. Sigh. My hands are soon covered with grease as now the sun's in on the action, too. The busy road is NO comfort with its heavy and fast traffic, either. I get offers for help, but unless someone has a new 10speed chain (or a cool beer) they won't be much. They don't, they aren't.

This next repair sticks for a good while longer, anyway, as we slowly exit the busy roads south of Seattle for a long stretch of protected bike trail. This is all fine and good, but sometime after Olympia I get rather tired of the straightaway monotony that is the scenery of this leg. Besides, my ass is really starting to hurt after such an unvaried stretch.

I can't completely complain, however, since I do pass Tacoma and then Olympia by successfully. I have another chain "incident", yes, but that's weathered reasonably well. So I get to the event's 100-mile halfway mark in Chehalis in relatively good form. A party atmosphere pervades again at this stop, too, where most of the riders are calling it a night. But in my second mechanic stop I'm again foiled in finding a replacement chain. This one's even run by the local bike store! WTF?

On I go. In general I prefer to do the toughest part first in almost all physical adventures; This will be no different. Besides, my ass is still relatively in one piece and the scenery has nicely improved. We're now on lonely country roads, plus the sun is slowly descending to provide good temperatures. Only 30 more miles to camp!

I almost make it, too. But somewhere past Vader, with only a few miles to go, the chain makes its final snap. I just can't get the thing working properly again. A nearby house's inhabitants came out to commiserate, offering me drinks (of any sort, but I stay non-alcoholic for the moment) and some cookies. THAT's a consolation. Eventually, however, I have to call it a day. The sun's getting quite low, so I'm quite ready when a support vehicle passes by and asks "Need help?"

Yep. Defeated for the time being, I'm slung into the plush interior as my bike finds its new home for a few miles on top of the roof. Another consolation is soon evident, anyway: cushioned seats! Still...

In Castle Rock I get left off at the high school. There a camping site has been established on the athletic field. I first take my bike over to the mechanic, however. Wouldn't you know it, this time I'm in luck! He not only has the chain but a very beefy model of it as well! Its color is gold, but it's worth its weight in the real stuff as far as I'm concerned. SOLD! I jump for joy, now knowing that I'll be able to complete the ride come the following morning.

Setting up my tent next is a snap. That's especially true since my camping goods have been ferried here - the OTHER part of the reason why I've been so determined to make it to Castle Rock. Things are looking up as I next meet up with a couple of acquaintances. We agree to set out together early in the morning.

This we sort of do... until I decide on a slower start to get some yoga stretches in first. The others aren't terribly keen to wait for me, I can tell, so I urge them on without me. We'll probably meet up further ahead, I insist - sure! Actually we do - but that's mainly on account of some heroic efforts by myself and a group I quickly fall in with.

Yes, a pelaton can be a nice thing, indeed. One guy starts pedaling like a madman and the others file in line tightly behind. If done correctly, everybody but the guy up front gets a nice airstream train within which to ride and everyone gets a faster time. In the group I shortly join, we have about eight guys - give or take a couple that join or peel off at times. I, however, hang on for a good thirty miles of SPEEDY peloton action. We pass everything in sight. I don't notice it, but I'm pretty sure we dust a Ferrari out there somewhars.

Oddly, it's one elderly guy who is probably the chief puller on and off for possibly 20 of those miles. He's a grizzled gray wolf who probably swims a couple of miles every morning or some such. All I know is that he hauls ass. With him perhaps as my most obvious example, I take one turn myself up front for several miles as well - until I'm about spent. Holy crap are we going fast! At the end of that pull I take my cue to peel off soon, doing just that when we come up to another rest stop. It's a good thing I don't retch: we've flown such that my muscles are quivering a little jellylike in their repose. Whew!

Inspired again after some 30 minutes of rest under my belt, I set off again alone like the entire previous day. Generally I stay that way for the next 30 or so miles, keeping a good pace sans the peloton if only perhaps in spite of them. At one point I even catch up to my former peloton (which must've rested - a shock!), briefly rejoining them until I give up on that thought as they again begin to achieve liftoff. No thanks.

I'm making great time regardless. Moreover, the roads are better than the previous day. Yes, it's mostly flat stuff on moderately busy roads. The only hills of the event are apparently only where my bike crapped out the previous day (which was actually probably the cause, since I was stomping the pedals on a steep uphill).

From here on out, only one incident is of note for the rest of this day. I have an issue with a ferkin' coyote. YES, a COYOTE. It comes barreling out of some lonely woods from the nowhere that is St. Helens, almost catching me in full flight. I swerve like a maniac, kicking it up a good notch to escape. I barely do so. What the HELL was that?!?

Honestly, I think it's merely a rabid dog. But it sure DOES look like a coyote, too, I think. In a short period of time I let up as the riders behind me catch up. To a man they swear it's a coyote. Huh! Well, I'll be a coyote's uncle! Thus it is so that another piece of fauna in the puzzle that is comprised of chapters that are the battles with the critters of the planet. But on I'll go.

The final stretch to Portland, after crossing the bridge from Washington to Oregon, passes like a stormy breeze. With only 10 miles or so left in the ride, I again join peloton after peloton. Quite a few of us now have the bit in our teeth - it's not a problem finding someone or two with whom I can fly a hitch of a mile or so at a time. We hug a major road into town, then quickly plow through an industrial area to reach downtown.

Soon enough, and some train track crossings later, there we are. An announcer reads off our names as we zip through the finish line at a park as I'm happy to relinquish my bike and grab a shower. A similar scene to the one at the starting gate exists here, too, but I don't stick around too long. I shortly look for a bus to take me and my now-tested bike back to Seattle. The Veloce has been broken in - yep, right around the time it's broken me in in the process.

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