STP 2006: Walking through Napavine

~205 miles, about 13 1/2 hours total time. Left Seattle at about five, rolled over the finish line at about six thirty. Average total speed, including stops, of just over 15 miles an hour. It was overcast and cool for about the first half, with almost no wind at all, and then the second half it was sunny and 70-80f with a lovely tailwind of helpfulness.

In Napavine, we ran into the Napavine Fun Times Festival. The road through town was closed, and a cop told us we had to walk through town.

We all got off our bikes, and since we’re almost all in clipless pedals and shoes, we have to do that awkward biker click-click walk for half a mile, which is uncomfortable. The Napavine Fun Times festival consisted of people driving things – old cars, logging trucks, giant pickups, and so on – down the main drag of town, and throwing candy out to kids and horribly obese mothers alike (“Throw me some candy!”). And even though the candy was wrapped, if it touched the ground no one touched it, so as we walked through town in a giant string, we had to try not to step on melting mini-Hershey’s chocolate bars, mints, Tootsie Rolls.

As we walked down the main drag, we were like a continuous line of annoyed but silent ants next to the giant trucks and pickups, and the residents of Napavine made little jokes, delivered with a kind of flat or derisive tone, which I’ll present here as generalized questions along with the answers I bit back.
Q: “Must be nice to get off those bikes for a minute, huh?”
A: No. It’s hard to walk around in these shoes, for one, but it’s also hard to get back on them after a half-mile of walking.

The announcer for the parade, as a flatbed hauled a race car of some kind around:
Q: “And here’s (whoever) and his number one car, (whoever)’s been racing since… he could walk, I guess, and he’s doing really well at it. There are some other folks in our parade today. They’re probably grateful for the chance to slow down for a minute.”
A: No. If you’re trying to do Seattle-to-Portland in a day, you’re on a pretty brutal schedule. I’ve done it a couple times and this is the first time I’ve finished with the sun shining on me. An average total speed, including stops, of 14 miles an hour gets you to Portland at about eight. Stopping, especially non-productive stopping at food stops, is a debt you’re going to have to pay on the road.

Q: “Aren’t you supposed to ride those things?”
A: Aren’t you supposed to have more teeth?

Being forced to walk through town was annoying, but if Napavine wanted to hold their celebration that day, that’s fine, and I mean that in total sincerity: I grew up alongside Renton’s River Days and Kent’s Cornucopia Days. Knock yourself out.

It would have just been annoying. It was the people being dicks about it, like it was funny the bikers were forced to walk alongside logging trucks and the guy on the horse who wanted people to vote for him for some position. They’re under no obligation to be civil, really, though STP riders drop an immense amount of money in each town they ride through (at the cost of traffic disruptions and a certain amount of dickishness from a sliver of the rider pool). It was the eat-shit grins and our inability to do much but smile and nod or risk further delays and hassles (and I’m sure that occured to them).

What else? My training regimen was both a wild success and a potential horrible failure, which scares me. As a result of all my hill training, I tore up the hills: I often got frustrated with everyone grinding them out and would pull out and race by everyone else. It was strange, I felt like I really didn’t understand why they were all going so slow.

Here’s how crazy it was: I didn’t notice any significant climbs beyond the legendary Hill in Puyallup, and the bridge over the Columbia was impressive but not tough. I know STP’s regarded as pretty flat, but all of the hills that had ever caused me trouble were hardly notable.

The bad part was that the lack of time on the bike started to really hurt late in the ride, not so much in the legs but all the peripherals (if you know what I mean) and particularly my back and shoulders. It was a little miserable. If I hadn’t been so fast and there had been another couple of hours ahead of me, well, I’d have taken more time at the rest stops available in the last 50 miles, and that in turn would have really pushed the time back.

First 100 miles: piece of cake (no, really, it was)
Next 50 miles: somewhat tougher piece of cake
Last 50 miles: oooooooooooh man

The other thing that goes on, and I haven’t really figured out a way to solve this short of forming my own group, is there are a couple reasons the last 50 sucks:
– much of it is long, unshaded, and boring
– very long uphill stretches that are particularly draining on the rider who has already done 150+ miles
– and a more complicated one

If you’re biking, you can save 25% of your energy or more by getting behind someone (ignore wind for a second). So if I can go 18 miles an hour on my own at a normal effort, I could go much faster if someone’s in front of me doing 21, say.

If you have a partner or a group of people, you can take turns working hard at the front and then dropping back to save energy, and together your average pace can be a lot higher than what you could do individually.

Early in the ride, it’s fairly easy to find those groups to glom onto (and, if you’re a courteous rider, take your turn at the front). As the ride goes on, they get harder and harder to find, because as the race goes on, they’re ahead of you.

I got to the midway point at Centralia fast, for instance, having been a part of a couple of those groups, and my chance after that were still slim. And very late, when you’re dying for someone to draft, almost everyone on the road with you is in the exact same condition, so you’re drafting someone at 17 and resting a little but dragging your time down.

I need a posse, clearly. I’m thinking about hiring a team of domestiques. My friend Joel had this idea a couple of years ago, and every year in those last few hours I start to think about what a great thing it would be to be dragged into Portland.

4 thoughts on “STP 2006: Walking through Napavine

  1. Anonymous

    Derek, when I move back to the NW in a year or so, we’ll have to work on getting a team together if you don’t already have a posse.

    The STP is one of my favorite rides and I’m sure we could easily break 12 hours.

    I’ll look you up when I get home -giuseppe from USSM

  2. Anonymous

    Wow! I found you long winded complaint about Napavine to be quite arrogant and stereotypical. Did you notice the nice people in town as well. I actually live on the main drag of town and I ride bikes as well – and I thought the cops were being dicks as well. However, there is usually a reason why things like this happen. Someone (a dick on a bike) rides over a small child, or expects people to move out of their way. Not everyone in Napvine is toothless and ignorant. I happen to have a college degree, a career, and all my teeth. Many people choose to raise their families in small towns because it is safer – everyone know each other. This can be a good thing and a bad thing – but where else can you be assured that your children are being watched by everyone else? The whole “it takes a village” analogy here. I have hosted STP participants in my home. I support the run – but I must tell you – if I made generalizations about the bikers it could sound like this – they are a bunch of arrogant city people who think they own the road, they won’t move over, they make people wait, they have caused accidents – because they think that everyone owes them a little something for riding their bikes so far. I gotta tell ya, there are some country boys down here who could probably jump on a bike for the first time in their life and make first place. I won’t stereotype all the participants because I have hosted some very nice people. However, some of the people on bikes are real jerks. I found your comments offensive. Every small town has a little celebration and they are probably a bit silly at times. But that does NOT mean that everyone in town is toothless, uneducated. and rude. They are family oriented, kind, helpful – there are professionals, highly educated, people who enjoy visiting the city and experiencing culture – bikers, hikers, and world travelers. Sorry you were inconvenienced – but please don’t make assumptions. Thanks for listening, and good luck in the next ride. I may join you!

  3. DMZ Post author

    Did I notice the nice people?

    I did not. You will note from my account, they were pretty much all jerks to us.

    I’m not making fun of small towns – I lived in one for years and found it quite to my liking – or the people in them.

    And I’m not arguing that all bikers are great people, or that they’re comparatively great.

    I’m just describing a really shitty experience I had going through during STP.

    I don’t see how this is “arrogant” or “stereotypical”. If you live there, I’m sure you have a much wider and better perspective than I do.

    But it remains: when I came through Napavine that day, it was a really crappy time, and as sensitive as you might be about small town stereotypes, I hope you realize that there’s a whole different dynamic at work being stopped, forced to get off your bike, and then walk through town being mocked and pointed at.

  4. joel

    “Someone (a dick on a bike) rides over a small child, or expects people to move out of their way. ”

    Oh nos, think of teh children!

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