Friday, July 24, 2020


From Here to Eternity

As the COVID-19 pandemic made its power clear, it was time to duck for cover.  In late spring the Cascade Bicycle Club cancelled all events remaining for the year.  It wasn’t long before the idea of riding it anyway came to me.  Partly, I imagined, this would be a return to the very early days of this legendary ride, when only a few hundred people participated.  I assumed there would be other people riding the course, on the dates originally scheduled.

Logistics seemed simple enough:
  • Make a reservation for a hotel in Castle Rock
  • Mail a package of necessary items to the hotel
  • Reserve a rental van in Portland

There was a Budget Car Rental right next to the finish line, so reserving there was preordained! 

Next I set out to find a partner in crime.  My friend Donna came to mind.  Earlier in the season I had signed her up to a very elite Trace Pacifique team.  Since that event’s cancelation (and, Canadian border closure, for good measure), Donna had been sitting home, by the phone, pining away while awaiting the call.  When it finally came, Donna rose to the occasion, agreeing to stoke the Lippy Ecstasy tandem.

To make the ride even more interesting, I solicited two friends to join in, enroute, each for a portion of the ride.

And that was that.  Others had expressed interest, but their salary demands would have put the team over the league’s salary cap.

A week or so before the ride I noticed on google maps that the Budget location near the finish was “Temporarily closed.”  I wonder when Budget was going to mention it.  I phoned them and they moved my reservation to one of their downtown locations.  They informed me a van was no longer available, all of them having been commandeered for Operation Legend.  Instead I would have an SUV.  I started worrying about getting the tandem in the vehicle.

As the originally scheduled weekend drew near, the forecast was for some heat.  It would not be record heat, but it would be high enough to take a toll on us.

The day before the start I nervously replaced the captain’s stem on the tandem.  The existing drop, from saddle height, was putting too much weight on my hands.  I think this change made the ride doable.

Stem seemed just too low.

We got rolling at 5:30 am.  It was already a gorgeous day.  The two of us only had several short tandem rides under our belt.  There are various things to learn. 

One challenge was navigation.  Donna had the Garmin, with the route downloaded to it, so she was the chief navigator.  After Renton we discovered that without 10,000 of our close friends, or hundreds of directional arrows painted on the pavement, navigating became tricky.  By the time we arrived at Spanaway, we had made three significant wrong turns.

There were still some tandem basics to iron out, as well.  We were going along, everything seeming fine, when suddenly the bike lurched out into the lane of traffic!  Fortunately there were no cars.  Donna seemed surprised that adjusting her underpants had caused this to happen.  I knew it was pointless, and also not the time, to mention that one generally does not wear underpants with cycling shorts.  Donna perhaps knew what I was thinking and preempted by saying that all of her friends had already told her not to wear underpants.  Whatever my overall reaction to the incident, I must have come across as being a bit testy – the stoker accused me of having my period.

Near Puyallup the first clearly STP 2020 participants passed us.  Our first food stop was at the Safeway in Spanaway.  There the ever eager and cheerful Peg joined us. 

She set a wicked pace on SR-507, where it parallels the perimeter of the Joint Base.  That was a good thing because it’s a tough stretch: lots of fast moving traffic, on a narrow lane, with a narrow shoulder (partly taken up for rumble strips) for cyclists.

It was on this stretch that we had our first near death experience.  There are two very bad railroad crossings, the tracks being at such an angle as to easily gobble up a bicycle wheel.  To improve the situation for cyclists, an extra lane has been added, for a very short distance before and after each of these crossings.  This allows the cyclist to cross the track safely, at 90 degrees, while being away from traffic.  The tracks went from left (close) to right (far), so to cross them you come at them from the outside (right).  As we were crossing the tracks, the driver of a fast moving pickup truck decided to use a fair amount of this safety lane.  He missed T-boning us by about two feet.

At Yelm we picked up the Chehalis-Western Trail.  It was a relief to get a break from motorized traffic.  We met John near Rainier.  It was great to see him.  He had come a long ways back from a very bad cycling accident last October.  Now he was riding his new Bachetta Carbon Trike.

That carbon fiber trike

John presented us with sour dough bread he had made.  Peg revealed she too had become, during Stay at Home, a sour dough bread baker.

Peg had to turn around, at this point, but John accompanied us to the end of the trail – Tenino.  We said our good byes and then it was back to the business at hand – getting to Centralia.

Centralia is the largest town on the route (18,000) on Day One, big enough to have a Dairy Queen.  By now it was hot, so some cold items, consumed outside in the shade, lifted our spirits and energy. 

When we got rolling again, we found the trail that runs between Centralia and Chehalis.  The route next passes through the historic part of Chehalis.

After Chehalis, one is on quiet roads, but they can be hilly.  The first town we came to was Napavine.  We stopped briefly, in the city park.  There I just happened to refer to the map.  It showed we were at the closest point possible to I-5, until Longview.  I checked the distance and it would also be slightly shorter to take the freeway.  We decided to go for it!

For an interstate, the route was quite hilly.  It was also undeniably fast.  Crossing the ramps is quite dangerous.  I could do well enough, on my own, with my mirror, for the off ramps, but I hastily trained Donna to make the call for on ramps.  We were in Kelso/Longview in no time!  We had ridden 142 miles.  

The machine

That night we dined at the El Compadre Restaurant.

Day Two promised to be hot again.  Our good intentions, for an early departure, turned out to be 7:00 am.  This was not the best way to avoid traffic on Highway 30. 

As we attempted to cross over I-5 and descend to the actual course, we were again overcome by the interstate highway’s attraction.  Several interchanges later we finally exited into Kelso and headed for the Longview Bridge.

At the bridge we discovered the narrow shoulder was covered in wood debris that comes off logging trucks. It was a bumpy ascent.  At mid-span we were delighted to find out that at least Oregon doesn’t wait until STP to clean THEIR half of the bridge.  For the descent, we mostly took the lane, although the harsh joints instill a rather low speed limit.

And then we were on Highway 30, an experience generally less than loved by STP riders.  To emphasize this point, shortly after leaving Rainier (the first town encountered in Oregon), a speeding car came two feet across the fog line!  It was a straight stretch of road, with a wide lane.  The act seemed intentional.

Dangerous drivers notwithstanding, traffic remained light for a while.  We came upon the site of the first of two mini stops (during the actual event) and pulled in (for sentimental, as well as, bush reasons).  A guy on a bent, heading the other direction, pulled in to talk.  He said he’d seen quite a few cyclists, so far that morning, heading in the direction of Portland.  Since not a single cyclist had yet passed us (this day), that was another indication we had gotten a late start.

When we reached Saint Helens, the location of the last major food stop during the actual ride, we stopped at a gas station for consumables.  Then, as we passed by the high school - the site of the final official full scale food stop - I thought of the Saint Helens High School Band.  They always run the food stop and take donations to support their activities.  

After St Helens it was time for another near death experience.  A big part of my job, on high speed descents, is playing Pac-Man.  I watch for debris, on the shoulder, and do my best to avoid it.  Near the end of just one such descent, I noticed a large patch of gravel.  There was no way to avoid it, and braking, when coming into a patch of gravel, is very dangerous.  I had just enough time to glance into my mirror.  All I wanted was the fog line, just 4 fricking inches!  Wouldn’t you know it – there was a car camped on my left heel.  There were plenty of wide lanes, but there he was.  So, I hit the gravel at high speed.  I try not to get overly confident in the stability of a tandem, but its long wheel base, and generally wider tires (than on a single bike), can do a lot for ones survival.  Damned if, nearly immediately after that patch of gravel, was yet another patch!  The bike again performed splendidly.  I had to scream a few choice words (actually, just ONE choice word, repeated several times) to the universe.  Then it was back to the business at hand.

As Day 2 dragged on, the long suffering stoker started calling stands.  They must have worked because I commented this was the first time I’d ever heard her moan with pleasure.  She retaliated, based on being the navigator (she had the Garmin, but it was monitoring my HR) that it was the first time she’d ever noted my cold heart could have a beat.

We passed the site of the final official mini rest stop (now just a large, empty, paved area).

We pushed on and came to the sign that welcomes one to Portland.  Just as I took the photo, below, my phone rang.  It did not recognize the number, from Portland.  Suspecting it was Boozhay, I answered.  It was damn hard to hear, what with the by now heavy traffic on Highway 30, but I was able to make out that it was the car rental location in downtown Portland.  The guy said they were going to close at 1:00 pm.  It was 12:50 pm.  He asked if I could get there in the next 10 minutes.  I explained to him that Cadel Evans, in his prime, with all green lights, could not be there by 1:00 pm.  The guy said Boozhay’s airport location would honor my contract.  Then he bid me good day.

A final underwear adjustment, before the triumphal march into the Rose City 
We checked google maps.  Boozhay PDX also closed at 1:00 pm!  Sigh.  Fortunately there was another location, just passed the airport, open until 6:00 p.m.

We set a course, with google maps.  There were two small bits of good news, amidst this bad news:
  • We'd get to cross the St. Johns Bridge
  • We'd get to take the trail on the south side of the Columbia River, out to the airport
  • (OK, so I can’t count) – There’d be one last Near Death Occasion.  Who could not appreciate that?

St. Johns Bridge was spectacular.  All of the volcanoes were out, including Mt. Adams, which one sees between the bridges towers.

After the bridge, google maps started us meandering north.  We eventually came to an intersection with a red light.  There were three lanes: left turn, through and right turn.  We got into the through lane and waited for the green light.  Then we started into the intersection and were nearly side swiped by a guy in a pickup, going through from the right turn lane!

I yelled out “Right turn lane!”  IMHO, that seemed innocuous enough.  He slammed on his brakes, popped open his door and jumped out.  I found myself hoping that Donna would protect me.  To my relief, he didn’t come back.  He yelled that he was right, I was wrong – I had failed to read the sign.  Huh!?  I had NOT failed to notice that large, white, right turn arrow, painted on his lane, nor that there was only ONE lane, on the far side of the intersection.  I’ve been around transportation engineering standards for quite a few decades.  Merges WITHIN an intersection are considered very dangerous; they are never allowed.

So I yelled back at him, again repeating that it was a right turn lane.  This time I referenced him, using several choice adjectives.  Then he got into his truck and drove away.

The rest of the ride was pleasant.  Portland has some very impressive bike lanes and paths.  Oh, there was one more incident, this one purely friendly: a car pulled up alongside of us.  I was initially nervous but the driver called out, in a friendly voice, that they too had a Lippy tandem!  He stopped and we chatted a bit.  He said he’d bought it about 25 years ago and in more recent years given it a sexy pearlescent paint job.  It was a nice interchange.

The bike paths took us nearly up to the door of Boozhay.  The total mileage was a lucky 213.
The friendly woman, after first informing me that because of some computer issue she could NOT honor my pre-paid contract, came up with a Full Size.  As I coordinated pickup, and bike, with Donna, she translated: Full Size means just a big normal car (not SUV or anything else).  I started worrying a bit.

I got the vehicle out of the secure parking area and drove around the corner to the empty lot of a business closed on Sundays (or perhaps closed EVERY day, during pandemics).  There we assessed matters.  First we happily discovered that it was possible to fold down the back seats.  Then I folded down the front passenger seat.  Then Donna suggested I not do this prematurely.  She was so right: I removed the front wheel and slid the whole enchilada into this Honda Accord Sport via the trunk!!!  That’s right: not need to remove the rear wheel, fenders, rack, saddles, bars or pedals.  Zip, zilch, nada!!!!  Oh life was good – this was one big happy moment.

Tandem fits in Honda Accord Sport

We booked up 205 and 5, stopping at Castle Rock to pick up the box, back to Seattle!!  This took less than five gallons of gas.

Less than five gallons ot gas to return to Seattle

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