- Category: Events
- Written by James Peters
204-miles in 2-days, on a longboard. Even I wasn’t sure of my chances of making it. I’d been thinking about this Seattle to Portland trek for a couple years, and contacted the Group Health / Cascade Bicycle group (cascade.org) just to be sure that longboarding it would be cool. It was accepted, and am I ever grateful, because this was the most epic, physical challenge I’ve taken on my entire life! This was the 27th year the STP was held, and its increasing popularity drew cyclists from all around the globe.
My plan for the ride was done in broad brushstrokes: get most of the mileage done the first day by going to Castle Rock, using all the daylight possible, then just see if the body moves on Sunday morning for another day of riding. Given the 100+ miles I commute each week, a.k.a., my “training regimen”, I was fairly confident in my own physical ability, but how I’d be able to repeat the performance, 2 days in a row, was a huge unknown.
The thing that concerned me most was whether a longboarder would co-exist smoothly alongside 8,999 cyclists. After all, they typically ride in fast-drafting pacelines and I had concerns they would worry too much about my side-to-side pumps and boogying down, even though I don’t tend to get too wild (until Michael Jackson pops up on the mp3…). Well, I was astounded and thankful to all the cyclists for their camaraderie and steady stream of encouraging words on the ride, which honestly helped keep my mind and body moving forward. Many of the passing comments would make the average guy blush! All I could manage in response between breaths was a nod or a 'thanks.’
The Ride Data:
Seattle Husky Stadium Start line 4:30 a.m., arrived Saturday in Castle Rock 8:45 p.m. (16+ hours, 137 miles)
Sunday started 6:15 a.m., Finish line in Portland at 2:30 p.m. (8+ hours, 67 miles)
The adventure started at 3:45 a.m. when my buddy Shu picked me up in north Seattle. We put my bag on the Castle Rock truck, providing a major incentive to push myself to reach the oasis of my sleeping bag and pillow by end of day. Shu gave me a “gambatte” for good luck and headed off. I was groggily chewing on a sandwich at the start line, chatting with a seasoned STP cyclist, when the line just started moving! I think we launched a little earlier than I expected, about 4:30. Quickly, I turned on my GPS device, which finally synched-up around the University Bridge/Red Robin area. So, I rode the first mile or so with a sandwich in hand and drink in the other-- a great way to start any race!
I wore two "man purses". One contained a skate wrench, extra bearings, bushings, kingpin, and a spare truck hangar. The other hip pouch held food packets, maps, first aid and other survival stuff. I clipped a red blinker on my helmet for dawn and dusk. The STP jacket was all I really had for warmth and, fortunately for this excellent trip, it was only needed in the mornings.
On the Road
The first stop, after two hours, was in Kent I think (I ended up never consulting the map at all, once the ride started). There, a couple mentioned they’d heard me on the KOMO radio spot Friday, and also met one of my riding buddy friends, who offered a cell number in case of any mishaps. I stayed fueled the whole time on bananas, oranges, bread, Odwallas, & Clif-everything. I kept my breaks to around 10-20 minutes total, even though Centralia looked like a great party and I wanted to hang out! The Cascade organizers did the most amazing job in supporting all the mini-stops with plentiful snacks and/or coordinating with enough volunteers who also provided food at a reasonable $1-$2. Considering all the police at intersections, all the trail markings, evening accommodations and these numerous pit stops, the amount of professional coordination is simply mind boggling.
I brought the mp3 player, and never even used it. This ride was more cooperative and social than any of my training sessions – awareness of other riders at all times, and keying on road hazards and using common sense were crucial, given the road shoulders we were riding most of the time. I just tuned into my inner bongos and kept a good cadence when the crowds decreased and the terrain opened up. Internal rhythm was key to pressing on.
As for ride technique, I was able to pump the deck about 70% and push with the legs 30% of the time. Pumping was, by far, the most energy-efficient way to propel forward. I had no idea how much pebbly asphalt or pea-gravel road surface there would be, but that's where I had to get my mental game on and push right through the tough stuff. Even with the large, soft-urethane, Avila wheels, momentum was hard to maintain on the rough surfaces and small road imperfections were channeling through the board to my feet. I always remembered to thank the Asphalt Gods whenever fresh blacktop returned! I would seriously take a butter-smooth, steep uphill over those moon-cratered flat or even slightly downhill surfaces! There were a few steep inclines or extremely rough spots where hiking simply made the most sense: Puyallup, Napavine, and going up the Longview bridge.
The smoothest, longest non-stop pump rides were most of the 507 highway, the 13-mile Tenino trail detour, and the rolling hills through Napavine, which offered the additional euphoria of traveling through scenic farmland on perfect, FAST asphalt descents while the sun was setting Saturday evening. The cows, sheep, and horses were duly impressed with my downhill carving techniques, as evidenced by their long, lingering stares. My deck was set up more for moderate speed pumping with soft front bushings, but I was still able to hit 30-35mph comfortably without speed wobs. I didn't anticipate so many smooth downhill runs, and there are places I'm tempted to go back to, just to bomb again!
The Longview bridge was, hands-down, the most technical challenge of the entire ride. I soon realized it was going to require a hike up. There were 4-inch gaps between the bridge sections that would simply swallow my wheels, and large chunks of logging debris that fall off the trucks every day. Bicycle wheels might roll over some of these, but, to a skateboard wheel, they're like a doorstop. Once I crested the bridge, these same obstacles took on new meaning. The down-pitch of the bridge was steep enough to pick up speed, fast. I'd ride a section of bridge, compress the board just before a gap, then bounce over it, immediately foot-braking to decrease speed, and sometimes make a short, fast slalom-like turn around a chunk of wood. I repeated this about ten times while the bikes were screaming by on the left, probably hitting 40-50mph! One woman later mentioned she saw some smoke coming off my right shoe! After getting through the sectioned portion of the bridge, there was a welcoming, fresh asphalt, steep that would please any hardcore downhiller. It was followed by a huge right-turning bowl / onramp that transitioned into Highway 30 on the way to Portland.
Body as Machine
Even from the start line, I had doubts how my body would hold out, given that I have right heel spur from an injury last summer. It often flares up when I push past training distances of 60 miles. I was using orthotics, which I'd just purchased and broken in earlier that week, to make sure there was ample sole to burn for all the foot-braking ahead. The 65-mile mark was my previous physical milestone – past 90 miles, I felt less discomfort in the feet, as all the gyration and pumping through Highway 507 and Tenino felt like doing endless crunches and sit-ups. Out there on the road I discovered midsection muscles I previously didn't know existed! But, while I was feeling new levels of exhaustion, the riders continued to flow by, cracking me up at times with their comments and keeping me focused on the finish. And many friendly offers were made for a push or tow! I politely declined, in principle to stay self-powered for the duration. That was not always easy, especially at the end of day on both days, where the surfaces were rough and I felt a newly-heightened awareness of exactly how my pinky toes fit into the corners of my shoes. But, thankfully, I didn't go through any muscle cramping, staying hydrated and fueled by potassium. The credo was “drink before thirst, eat before hunger” and it really paid off.
Rolling into Castle Rock at twilight was exactly the welcome I needed – it was quiet, peaceful, as tents were pitched across the school grounds and I could already hear a few snores and sleepy mumbling emanating from them. A small welcoming committee took me in and I had the extreme luck that a carbo-load spaghetti dinner for the late-comers was still available. My accommodations were “indoor camping” in the High School gym where just under a hundred of us slept on padded mats on the basketball court. After fueling up, taking one of the best showers of my life, and spreading out on the gym floor in the dark around 10:30 p.m., I drifted off to an orchestra of snores played in several octaves.
Test number one was awakening and standing up, to see if the limbs still worked. Test two was walking a few steps. Both passed, and within 30 minutes of my eyes opening I was back on board, knowing physical movement was more important at this point than contemplation. The early bird bikers starting flowing by again, and these are just a few of the things I heard over the 2 days, many which seem so far over the top, but believe me: these boosts were much needed on that hot, grueling second day making it over Highway 30! I’m eternally grateful for the encouragement:
"Are you for real? Are you serious?"
"I'll buy you a beer at the finish line!"
"Okay...that explains your calves"
"You've got guts"
"You've got balls of steel"
“You Da Man!”
"You're an animal"
"You're my hero!"
"You're my idol!"
"You're a stud!"
"Bet you've got moves on the dance floor"
"Mind if we draft you?"
"Where's your hula hoop?"
"You're sick! And I mean that in a good way!"
In the last 50 miles, ibuprofen played its part. My foot woes were now matched by upper legs and torso soreness, so at least the aches were reaching an equilibrium throughout the body. With the sun toasting us as noon approached, I was becoming increasingly reminded of the relative amounts of effort the bicyclists expended on their geared machines, versus the simple mechanics of my longboard. I shifted and varied stance a lot more now, standing in the flexy area of the board and milking the maximum momentum from each pump or push, before exerting another ounce of energy. The rough, chipseal surface was heckling me, and I just had to dig in and keep laughing back.
One thing I did not have to contend with was any form of equipment failure or even maintenance. Still, I carried enough spare parts for the worst of events, knowing that all my comrades’ and support vehicles’ survival tool kits on the trail looked nothing like mine. I rode a 38” RoeRacing LDP, with front and back 107mm SplitFire trucks, white Khiro barrel bushings in the front, and green Stims in the rear. The front ball pivot height was set perfectly, because the front bushings looked almost the same at the end of the adventure as when I started. The performance trucks came in very handy on a particular 30mph+ hill in Napavine, when right in the middle of a smooth asphalt shoulder, there were a few wheel-eating divots created by some caterpillar tractor, that required fast, snappy turns (along with the sounds of sucking wind.) I mounted the softest Avila wheels all around (72a) to tackle the gnarly surfaces. The wide platform of the deck was perfect for powering pumps, for standing solid and low on the fast downhills, and just for peace of mind that there was always a little extra deck under the feet when my mental acuity might have slipped into the “zone” on those long, hot straightaways.
The sight of the Finish Line was almost overwhelming. After crossing Portland’s downtown railroad tracks twice, then climbing over the bridge, and up, up, up more hills in the heat, people were lining the street cheering us on. I got many post-finish line beer offers, but after crossing the finish and getting through the crowd, I was literally hanging onto consciousness and a beer would have put me out. My brother and niece bought me a hearty, meaty, lunch. After all those Clif bars, Clif shots, and electrolyte drinks, I was ready for something of true substance! I ate everything in sight, kept my legs moving to avoid cramps, took a 'mobile' shower, and eventually conked-out on the bus ride north.
This was one of the biggest things I've accomplished in my life so far, a plan sketched roughly enough that I wasn't exactly confident of its outcome, but felt increasingly strong and hopeful as every mile clocked by. I did almost no hype of the plan ahead of time, and have received many noogies from my Portland and Seattle riding bros for that. Even with just a brief radio spot the day before and a little newspaper coverage, it was even more than I anticipated in terms of "recognition."
Growing the Sport
What I really wanted this year was to raise awareness of this long-distance longboarding niche, and to get ready for next year's event -- to longboard STP #2 for two of my most personal charitable causes, autism treatment and awareness, and cancer research.
Since that’s a full year away, there will be other chances this year and the next, to longboard marathons, centuries, and possibly some velodrome track events for other causes, demonstrations, and just for fun. The “Pavedwave” longboarding crew on the web is always exploring new long distance event ideas and our hope is to see similar events continue to grow around the globe.
Of all the support I received on this adventure, I must thank, most of all, my family. They chewed through more than a few fingernails and gave me the biggest hugs of my life at the end.