After our first season on our used tandem we knew we loved the sport and would like to set the goal of riding the STP (Seattle to Portland) this year. The 200-mile, two-day ride requires a good bit of training, so we decided to trade in our used tandem for a new one built-to-fit. In January we purchased a beautiful chameleon-colored Rodriguez Toucan later dubbed “SweatHard” (shown to the left at the STP finishline).
Given the weather in the northwest we knew we needed a serious plan to get out and train adequately. We attended the Cascade Bicycle Club’s Bike Expo in mid-February and picked up brochures for all the organized rides. The next weekend we took out our calendars, the brochures and our bike books as well as the club’s suggested training schedule. We proceeded to map out every weekend from March through the event July 8-9. We signed up for every organized ride we could, figuring that having paid for the ride would get us out no matter the weather and that the variety of terrains would keep it interesting. And we were right.
We took SweatHard out for a few short rides on the Burke Gilman (BG) Trail to make sure everything fit properly. The first organized ride of the season was the McClinchy Mile on St. Patrick’s Day week-end. Outfitted in all new rain gear, including booties, this was the first time Sheila intentionally chose to ride in bad weather. We both found the 25 mile ride challenging, especially riding into the hard rain and wind the last few miles.
The next day we did a self-directed 35 mile ride on the BG Trail which is flat. The training season continued like that with rides every Saturday and Sunday, progressively adding more miles most weekends. It was really fun to travel around for the rides. Our plan took us to Eastern Washington a couple of times, down to Vancouver, Washington, over to the Kitsap Peninsula more than once and around several islands. One of the most notable rides was the Camano Climb, in early May, a 50 mile island perimeter ride with a 4500’ elevation gain. Needless to say, it was extremely hilly. One hill was so steep (dry road, and straight with no cross traffic) that we actually hit a maximum speed of 52.7 mph! It was scary but fun. Another particularly notable ride was the Tour De Blast, a 64 mile ride UP Mt. Saint Helens. It was a rainy day and toward the end it started snowing because we’d climbed so high. They actually turned us around before we got to the top!
We used heart-rate monitors to track how we were doing. We found that Spencer, as Captain in the front, tended to always work too hard and therefore Sheila couldn’t work hard enough to get into her heart-rate training zone, falling into Spencer’s shadow. So the challenge was for Spencer to let up and Sheila to build strength, making us a stronger team.
We love riding the tandem. It’s a great feeling to do something so physical together. Sheila’s role as Stoker included making sure we ate and drank frequently enough and that we always did some yoga stretches when we stopped for toilet breaks (which was often).
We rode our first century (100 mile ride) at the end of June, choosing a flat route and a sunny day. It took us nearly 7 hours, averaging 15 mph. We felt ready for our big ride. But first there was the NW Tandem Rally over the Fourth of July weekend on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s very cool to ride with hundreds of other tandems. According to our training plan we took it light that weekend, skipping the ride up to Hurricane Ridge.
July 8th…the big weekend arrived. We got up at 4:30 and headed out our door at 5 a.m. We arranged logistics so we didn’t have to go to the crowded UW starting point. We joined the ride in- progress at the 1.5 mile mark. It was exhilarating to be riding with so many others (7,000 riders all together). Getting an early start meant no lines at the rest areas. Based on advice from veterans, we’d decided to make our first day the longer one. Most two-day riders stop at 100 miles, and yes, some do ride it in one day. We rode on to our overnight destination of St. Mary’s Conference Center in Toledo at 123 miles (our longest single ride). Except for intense headwinds for a couple of hours in the middle of the day, it was good biking weather, dry and cool. The next day, after a big pancake breakfast, we headed out by 8 a.m. with our friends Rick & Carol (who’d unfortunately suffered a flat in the gym overnight).
The thing about riding a tandem in an event like this is that all the “half-bikes” like to draft on us. That’s OK, except they rarely take a turn relieving us in the front. Toward the last half of the second day (after the Longview Bridge) we had a tandem come up on us who asked if we’d like relief leading the pack that was drafting on us. We were, of course, delighted.
We ended up riding with Pat & Mike the rest of the way in, taking turns leading. It was great fun. We lost the drafters because we were pushing each other faster then they could keep up, hitting 20-23 mph, which we couldn’t do alone. Our average speed over the two-day ride was 16.2 mph for 203 miles. Our actually riding time was 12:33. It was a sunny day and we really felt like we’d accomplished something when we crossed under a finish line banner and were handed finisher patches. We didn’t hang out much for the festival at the park. We were eager to find our car (driven down to Portland by our friend Earle) and head over to Spencer’s sister Emily’s house for a hot shower, change of clothes and a hot meal.
Summer being what it was with a meditation retreat and Camp UKANDU, etc, we didn’t get out much after the STP. But we knew we wanted to break 2000 miles for the year 2000 and we were close. So we planned a mini- vacation and took SweatHard up on the Victoria Clipper to Canada for a few days. It was gorgeous weather. We rode from downtown Victoria out to Butchart Gardens and to our B& B. The next day we took the Galloping Goose Trail out to Sooke Harbor. This trail is part of the Trans Canada Trail and is built on abandoned rail beds and trestles. Not all of it is paved but we were able to ride the tight-packed gravel most places. We hit our 2000 mile mark for the year 2000 while on this scenic trail.
We had so much fun that we immediately started talking about what we might do next season. We planned to train for the STP again. Only in 2001 we wanted to continue riding and do both RSVP and RAW in preparation for a weeklong trip touring the fall colors in New England.