I woke up early on Sunday, around 4:30, whiney and cranky from lack of rest. I grabbed my bagel, banana and a carton on chilled vanilla soy milk from the fridge, and crawled back into bed to quietly eat while Lar slept. I'd forgotten to bring a tea bag, so I didn't get my morning cup of tea, which bummed me out. From my oh, so vast, experience of two STP rides, getting up Sunday is a hugely emotional experience for me, involving a lot of near-tears and vows to never do this again. Still, I ate, I dressed, and I shrugged away discovering that the sign with my bike number had ripped away on the trip from Centralia, plus I was missing one of the safety pins for the registration number on my jersey. So I'd flap in the wind a little. There were worse things that could have happened, and my tiredness made me very zen, even when I wanted to just go back to bed.
We got going about a half hour late, joining the route right next to our motel. I was really missing my tea, and had a bit of a time getting going; Sandy and B dropped me early, and I saw little of them for most of the day. Occasionally, I'd catch up when they stopped for a rest, but on the whole, I was conversation-free for most of the ride.
Which was fine, as owing to the lack of tea and the low energy levels, I don't think I would have been much of a conversationalist anyway. I think by this time I was pretty much reduced to grunts.
Outside Chehalis, the route weaves around through pretty farm land as it approaches the Napavine hill. With the sun coming up, and the cool morning air, it's quiet, still and lovely, with only the huge stream of cyclists disturbing the landscape. People post signs on this stretch, congratulating friends and riders making the trek; Every single one of those signs made me smile, and within a half-hour, I was awake enough that my grumpiness had faded somewhat, and I felt like I might survive.
The sun was already high enough that the windbreaker came off right after I caught up to Sandy and B again. I had one of the shot bloks with caffeine, along with a fig newton, and then it was hill climbing time. The Napavine hill isn't as long as "The Hill" in Puyallup, but it's long enough to be its own lesser hell. At the top, though, is the banana bread lady, and while I didn't pick any up in my desire to hit the portapotties a mile down the road from her, it's still great to see her and her family out, handing out their fresh baked bread slices to riders that stop by.
I love the Napavine portapotties. There's no big rest stop there, hence no huge line, and I could just huge them for that. If they weren't, you know, blue, plastic, hot and stinky portapotties.
Coming out of Napavine is a real nice set of rollers, hills that are just the right spacing and grade that you can get up most of the next one from the down hill energy of the first. We flew through the next ten miles, and I remember thinking that this was what it must be like for people that actually cycle fast. The Winlock rest stop was right there well before I expected it.
In my mental plan, I had hoped not to have to stop at Winlock, but such was not the case; much more time got eaten away in the potty line, though we did have some nice conversation with the guy next to us. We also looked around at all the various forms of sunburn showing on the other riders.
Note to other women cyclists: No matter how hot it is, it's really not worth it to cycle just in your spots bra unless you have access to McKay's patented SPF100 sunscreen, and a way to slather it on even when your on the bike.
When I got my chance in the biffy, a train went by, and the flashing light/dark/light/dark along with the shaking ground made me a little seasick, plus it was already getting warm. Not enough to stop me from downing some more food from my snack bag before hitting the road again, and heading on to Vader.
I remember the road out of Winlock being a lot harder last year; this year, the section went by quickly as well. More rollers, and some worse than rollers, where there's no energy from a prior hill to help you up the next, but all in all, it wasn't bad. I met up with Sandy at the rest stop where we waited for B, who had had a problem with her cycling computer fritzing out. Another line, another refill of the water bottle.
(note: the vader people had water in containers, not in a water truck. Apparently, the one I got water from had once had coffee in it, so when I took a sip a ways down the road, I got the coffee flavor mixed with left over electrolyte drink. Mmmmm. NOT. I didn't drink a lot of this section, I tell you. I probably should have swapped to my other bottle the moment I realized that was what was going on, but by this time, the brain cells were already a little fried.)
There's another steep hill to get out of Vader, and I was following behind Sandy when this other rider went down in front of her; I saw the woman fall sideways into a mailbox, and thought she might have struck her head. Sandy pulled over at the driveway after the mailbox, to check how the woman, and I pulled over as well, just in case. The woman was shook up but okay, and her bike was in working order, so she waved our help away, insisting she just hit her knee and her wrist, but hadn't hit her head. (Personally, I was thankful she had a helmet.) So we all walked our bikes up the hill to the 'flat' section, and took off after that; when I next passed the woman outside of castle rock, the chain had come off her bike during the climb and someone else was helping her put it back on. I think the derailer might have gotten bent in that fall, but I don't know for sure. I did see her one last time, placing a call to someone at the Castle Rock rest stop, so maybe the bike had been hurt worse than we thought.
The hills into Castle Rock aren't nearly as fun as true rollers, but it is a lovely ride. The sun was climbing and it was getting pretty warm, and it was just around ten by the time I met up with Sandy and B again in the shade in front of the high school. We were able to keep the stop short though, and got back on the road to Lexington, which is where we had our big lunch stop.
The volunteers were very apologetic. They had run out of a lot of things, and were down to somewhat dry peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wheat bread, plain bagels with nothing to put on them, a few pretzels, grapes and plumb. Since last year all I got was PB&J on squirelly bread, this was nearly a feast! I took some of everything--I got two of the sandwiches, and gave one to Sandy, so she wouldn't have to move from where she was sprawled out under a tree--and B grabbed the same, so we were able to picnic under the shade, until we were finally ready to move. The grapes weren't particularly sweet, but they were cold, which made them oh, so good.
I had remembered the ride to the bridge as being rather flat, but wow, was I wrong. Lots of hills, though none terribly steep, but it did seem like we were either going up or going down (a theme for the rest of the route.) It was hot, too, as we were past 11:00 am, and could tell that it was creeping into the 80s. So we sweated, and stopped, and climbed, and coasted, finally routing into Longview proper, and crossing the city to get to the bridge.
At one point, Sandy got so far ahead that she pulled into a shady spot under a bridge. When B and I caught up with her, she had a puppy cradled in her arms and was talking to the woman who owned it, who was holding a second one. Seriously, how many people get to have a puppy break on a long ride?
Standing around and waiting for our turn over the bridge was tough. We just missed the group ahead of us and got to watch them stream over the bridge while we waited at the stop light to get to our place in the line. So we ended up standing around for 15-20 minutes in the sun, getting hotter and hotter right around noon time, waiting for our chance to go; it really gave me way too much time to get anxious about the whole thing.
Fortunately, there were lots of other people to talk to. The two guys on cyclo-cross bikes who cross-dressed in the 1960s house dresses. The guy from Team Parkinson's who had been reminding me to drink electrolyte stuff whenever I ran into him at a rest stop or a stop light. The guy who was hand-cycling the distance, because he had no legs. (Really, he was the kind of guy that they make movies about. He was doing the STP as training from a trans-america tour. Seriously inspirationational.)
We got the signal to start moving, and despite our plan to go at the end, since, you know, bridges freak me out, I couldn't hang back and let myself get sweapt up in the crowd. B was great, and paced by me the whole distance across, so I didn't have to see the water, and I was able to focus on the butts ahead of me and just ground my way across. I'd forgotten how steep the bridge is, and it is a bit of a pull to get up and over; also, we couldn't speed down the way we did last year, since we were still with the crowd.
We pulled over at the little store after the bridge, after we were kicked off the gas station lot, where there was a tiny bit of shade; I called Lar from there, telling him that I had made it. A few people went in and bought ice cream, and man, did that sound good, but it was not to be. Instead, we headed back to highway 30, and the ten miles to Goble (which I perversely call Gobble, like a turkey.)
I must have used up my energy waiting in the sun or something, because, man, I could not get going, and my skin--which I had been applying sunscreen to at nearly every stop--just radiated heat. The road was slow going, and I was hot, and every hill we did just made me hotter. I felt like I was just crawling along, and it was tough to keep the pedals moving. There's a pretty good climb right before you hit Goble, and that was the point that I felt like I just could not cool down.
I stood in the shade, drinking ice water, and contemplated getting squirted with water, but every time I stepped out in the sun, it made me want to cry, it was just so hot. I guess it was 90 by then--the high got up to about 95 that day--and the road absorbs heat, radiating it back at the rider, so it might have been 100 in the sun out on the blacktop. I don't know.
Sandy and B were getting their stuff together to get back on the road, when I realized: I didn't have to do this. I had already done the STP last year, and if I gave up on the bragging rights and the finisher's badge, I could just quit. Call Lar, have him come get me, and just be done with the heat.
And I just decided that I really needed to do that. My legs felt good, my body was fine, but I had lost the mental component, the need to get it done. Getting out of the heat became my main goal, and I didn't want to end up with heat exhaustion, which I think I had at the Tour De Cure this year, or even something worse. I talked to Sandy and B, and they said 'hey, whatever, you decide, everyone does their own ride' and I decided that yeah, I could not deal with the heat. It's always been the bain of my existence, I was just done.
So I called Lar, and they went on; I got to hang out on the porch of the rest stop sitting in a chair 'till he arrived. Lots of people came through, some I worried about, but most seemed fine, if tired, and low energy. There was still 40 miles to go after the rest stop, but most riders were focused and 'I just want this done.' Lots of planning about dinner, lots of grumbling about 'who got me into this'--lots of hot dogs consumed. By the time I thought 'Doh! I could get a hot dog too,' the dogs were gone, so I had a snack out of my bag and waited.
After Lar picked me up in the lovely, air-conditioned truck, we headed back through St Helens and needed to stop for gas. I headed to the burgerville next door, meeting another group of riders who were just heading out. 'Can't go wrong in there,' one of them said, hitching a thumb at the door. 'it's all great.'
So I got a chunky monkey smoothie (banana, ice cream, chocolate, and a juice blend) and a hamburger, and the combo was simply amazing. (Not to mention the clean restroom that I didn't have to stand in line for. that was amazing too.) I looked for Sandy and B as we passed riders on the way back, but I didn't see them; I guess they hit the offical rest stop around that time for their break.
By the time I got to the hotel, I had cooled off. My legs cramped up a little in the car, but rubbed it out; after I showered, I rubbed my legs down with 'magic oil', and that was the last cramp I had for the night, which was fantastic, given that my track record for cramps while cycling in the heat is pretty high.
B called us about an hour out for the finish line, so we were able to wave and clap for them as she and Sandy crossed into Holiday Park in Portland at about 6:49. We got their stuff and ferried them to their hotel, then Lar and I got dinner and crashed for the night.
It really was a great experience.