by Claire Petersky
- Left Seattle July 9 6:20 AM, Arrived Chehalis 6:20 PM
- Distance Saturday – 107 miles
- Weather Saturday: partly cloudy in the morning, afternoon sun; temps
from mid 60s to mid 70s.
- Left Chehalis July 10 6:40 AM , Arrived Portland, OR 6:45 PM
- Distance Sunday – 97 miles
- Weather Sunday: rain with occasional showers in the morning, brief
periods of rain in the afternoon; temps in the mid 60s to lower 70s.
- Stops: Seward Park (Seattle), Kent, Puyallup, Spanaway, McKenna,
Rainier (WA), Tenino, Centralia, Winlock, Vader, Castle Rock, Lexington,
Rainier (OR), Goble, St. Helens, Scappouse.
- Detailed Route Map
- Participants: Claire age 43; Rose aged 12. Pick-up and drop-off
support by David (husband and Dad).
- The bike: 21 speed Davidson Century tandem, about 25 years
old, nicknamed "the School Bus". It’s yellow and black, about
as long and maneuverable as a
school bus, and weighs about the
- Capsule version of trip report: Claire and Rose manage
to bicycle 204 miles
over two days without killing themselves, each other, or anyone else.
Obstacles were poor sleep, occasional rain and headwinds, and hills.
Facilitators were frequent breaks, singing, and teamwork.
All day Friday before the ride it rained, and rained hard and continuously.
I’m sure we weren’t the only ones nervously consulting the weather report
throughout the day, hoping for a clearing in the forecast.
Saturday morning I woke up at 4:00, and then lay in bed until 4:40, and then
finally got up. I got dressed and ejected Rose out of bed at 5:00. The
street was dry, and the rising sun showed that we might be in for a nice
day. We backed out of the driveway at 5:37 AM. The more direct 520 bridge
was closed for routine maintenance, and it took us a little more time to get
to the U-District where the ride begins.
It was a madhouse as we got closer to the start line, so I had David (who
heroically got up at 5:00 to eat breakfast with us and take us to the start)
drop us off at the top of the hill at the Burke Museum. He then had to slog
through the traffic while we zipped down the sidewalk with the other bikes
to the start. There was no wait at the start line, the mob had just been
released, and we took off at about 6:20.
Rose decided she’d like to use the last flush toilet for 75 miles, at Seward
Park (mile 10). When I got out of the bathrooms, I tried to find her. Great,
less than an hour into the ride, and I can’t find her. Millions of bikes,
people – where is she? Turns out she was on the swings at the playground.
We got back on the bike and took off. We have done the whole section along
the lake now several times in our training rides, and it wasn’t until we
were south of Renton that we started on new ground for the two of us. We
pulled into the Kent food stop (mile 24) at 8:30, about as early as I could
have hoped. I saw Dan Carey there, a co-worker, on his first STP. I also saw
a note on the message board from the dad of my younger daughter’s friend,
cheering us on, which made me feel great.
Back on the bikes, nice flat countryside, and soon we were in Sumner. The
road there had been completely taken out, and it was basically a pot-holed
mudbath. We could have made it through there on our thick tires, but not
with everyone else dismounted, so we gingerly walked our bikes through the
mud. I was surprised to clip right in – other cyclists were spraying their
shoes with their water bottles, trying to clean up before getting back in.
We took another break at the Puyallup mini-stop, shed some clothes, and then
faced (ominous music inserted here): The Hill. It’s only a 5% grade for a
mile, but it’s the steepest and longest hill of the ride. We pulled out
twice on the way up to catch our breath, but otherwise had no difficulty
overcoming this formidable obstacle. That conquered, we had some rollers on
the South Tacoma plateau, which always take longer than I think they should,
and we finally got in to lunch at the Spanaway food stop at mile 54 at about
11:45. We hit the place while the lunch rush was still on, and it took
awhile to get through the enormous food and potty lines to manage in-flow
Traffic was pretty gnarly in the exurban sprawl in and around this area, and
it was a relief to get off it and on to Highway 507. This long, forested
section runs behind Fort Lewis. There wasn’t much out there other than a
headwind. We took a break at the McKenna mini stop (mile 69), and I could
tell Rose was flagging. We took another break at an unofficial stop at
Rainier (mile 77), and Rose was getting even more tired and discouraged. We
talked about stopping there and having Dad just pick us up, and about just
making it to the Tenino mini-stop at mile 87. Rose decided she could make it
to Tenino. Tenino is my favorite mini-stop – nestled in a city park of
enormous conifers, it’s shady when it’s hot, sheltered when the weather is
bad, and it has a flush toilet as well as porta-potties.
We did make it into Tenino, and we rested in the shade of the big firs. I
saw my parents’ friend Sidney Abrams there. He is in his late 70s, and still
doing STP year after year. We also ran into one of Rose’s teachers from her
middle school, who was most enthusiastic to see us. I bought us orange
creamsicles from a kid selling them out of an ice chest. Man those were
good! We refilled our water jugs, and were ready at that point to push on to
The worst of the day for Rose was over. I think that she could feel like
Chehalis was within reach now, and was able to get on the bike again with
good cheer. And quite honestly, we made it to Centralia (mile 100) by 5:45
in what felt like the fastest time of the ride that day.
We took another brief break, mostly to eat more creamsicles (they’re free
for riders in Centralia). We got back on the bikes, and I felt inspired to
sing. I started with "Onward Christian Soldiers", but Rose objected to the
military nature of this hymn. We did a round of Rabbi Zeller’s "I am Alive"
instead, and then Rose asked, "what was that song we sang at the Martin
Luther King march?" She tried a few bars of it, and I realized it was "I’m
On My Way". (
You can hear a snippet),
traditional lyrics here
http://www.songsforteaching.co m/billharley/imonmyway.htm) We sang it as:
I’m on my way (echoed: I’m on my way)
To Che-ha-lis (To Chehalis)
I’m on my way (I’m on my way)
To Che-ha-lis (To Chehalis)
I’m on my way
I’m on my way, oh yes!
I’m on my way.
We dug in especially on the "Oh Yes!" of this song.
We did more songs, all the way to Chehalis (mile 107), and Rose was into her
second wind, and very much into the singing. We arrived then in Chehalis
pretty happy at 6:25. Even if Rose was doing an adult-sized ride, you can
tell she’s still a bit of a little kid, because while I was calling our host
in Chehalis for pick-up, she was on the cool play equipment in the city
Two other sets of STP riders were staying with our host, and they got dibs
on the better beds, so Rose and I had the pull-out bed in the living room.
We had showers, an adequate dinner, and turned in about 9:00.
It was a pretty miserable night’s sleep. The neighbors across the way had a
couple dozen vehicles parked on their spread, and they were throwing a
party. There was drinking, hooting and hollering all night long, with
country music being played full-blast and a fireworks display was shot off
at 10:30. I’m used to sharing a bed with my husband, but not with Rose. It
was a thin, hide-a-bed mattress. They had three clocks that loudly ticked
and one that chimed, giving me a little alarm wake-up call on the hour. At
2:00 AM I wandered about the house, pulling every ticking clock off the wall
and put them all in the bathroom and shut the door on them. (I never did
find the chiming clock, though, until morning.) I took a little throw
blanket off a chair and slept on another sofa they had, and finally got two
hours of continuous sleep until 5:00, when our hosts started in on breakfast
Rose was also a bit of a zomboid, and crankily wondering how the heck she
was going to ride nearly a hundred miles that day. Privately, I was worried
too. We did a training ride in the early spring with her not having had
enough sleep, and it was basically me towing a hundred-pound weight while
she moaned about feeling like crap.
Further, it had apparently started raining in the middle of the night, and
it was continuing to rain, and it didn’t look much like it was letting up
Finally, our hosts fed us oatmeal, normally a fine breakfast, but not a fine
breakfast to ride a century on in my books.
Nonetheless, we started off from the park in Chehalis in the rain, because,
what else are you going to do? As we started out of the city proper, Rose
started singing again, "I’m on my way.to Portland" which was an instant mood
brightener for both of us. We sang together for a few more miles, until the
Napavine hill took our breath away, the second worst hill of the STP. This
one is just as steep as the Puyallup one, except it’s a bit shorter.
Then it was a series of rollers, with an emphasis on downhill, and we pulled
into Winlock (mile 120) at about 7:45. I suggested that we have a second
breakfast, and we ambled into the Legion Hall for pancakes and eggs. After
that, there were more rollers, and although we did our best to use tandem
teamwork and momentum to swing ourselves back up after coming down, we still
had to put it into a lower gear and huff and puff to complete each one. It
continued to alternate between rain, sprinkles, mist and showers.
At Vader, Rose noted that the main drag is "D Street", and jokingly
speculated that it stood for "Darth". I thought that was pretty funny.
When we got to Castle Rock (mile 140), we were pretty tired of rollers, let
me tell you. We hung out for a bit in the school gym, where it was warm and
dry. Then we pushed on to the Lexington food stop (mile 147) at 11:30 for
lunch. I thought the barbecued chicken wraps were pretty good, but Rose, a
vegetarian, did not want necrotic avian tissues, and opted for a pb&j. At
this rest stop we ran into some folks who participated in the early spring
"Pre-teen/teen tandem team" training rides I led – they all seemed to be
doing just great.
After lunch, the rain had pretty much stopped. Rose heard me talking to
other folks at lunch regarding the
and she was viewing this upcoming portion of the ride with trepidation. We’d
pass by a few bridges in Longview, and each time she would ask, "is that the
Longview bridge?" "is that the Longview bridge?" and I told her that that
bridge was a panty-waist nothing bridge over the Cowlitz River, and she’d
know the mighty Longview bridge over the Columbia when we came to it.
The bridge came into view. "Whoa. Whoa", said Rose, when she finally spotted
it. Since the bridge is heavily trafficked and has these funky expander
joints, they close traffic periodically and then escort us 2-day STPers up
and over the bridge. We were among the slow-pokes up and over the bridge,
but we made it, no problem. When we went over a big metal plate on the way
down I saw about two dozen water bottles by the side of the road that had
fallen off of bikes who hit the plate a little too hard – a pretty funny
Right after the bridge is the town of Rainier, Oregon (mile 154). Rose
managed to parlay our stop there into a more extensive break – we got
pretzels at the convenience store and she had a goo. We went a little
further down the road, and then had another relatively long break at the
Goble mini-stop (mile 162). The wrench there wasn’t busy, so I had him look
at the tandem’s fore-crank (creaked under stress), and we completely
demolished the bag of pretzels purchased in Rainier.
I was apprehensive about riding through Deer Island because there was an
alternative music concert going on there, and I was worried about traffic
and parked cars. This part of the ride actually turned out to be much easier
than I had previously remembered. Maybe it was better because it was still
overcast – I’m usually going through this treeless stretch during the heat
of the day, and it was quite bareable without the sun baking on your head.
We finally got into the St. Helens Food Stop (mile 175) at 3:45. We had
popcorn, some really tasty watermelon, and then wandered over to the
adjacent McDonalds for milk shakes.
It is basically downhill from St. Helens to Scappouse, but it still requires
turning pedals.We had had a headwind through the Columbia gorge all
afternoon, and the continual roar of traffic on US 30 was getting
increasingly tedious. By the time we hit the Scappouse mini-stop (mile 185),
we were both pretty beat. I lay down on the concrete at the mini-stop, and
it felt like a feather mattress. I did not want to get up. But, we both
sucked down goos, I had a couple of ibuprophen, and away we went.
Rose was really counting the miles at this point. I remembered that there
was an uptick after Scappouse, but it was really more like a set of three
rollers, and Rose got mad at me for advertising it as just one. We had
a…captain/stoker disagreement, shall we say, at the top of one of these
rollers, and we popped off the synch chain. This is actually pretty hard to
do, because it is fixed (no derailleur), and I guess shows the level of
emotion involved. I ended up having to invert the tandem to get the synch
chain back on.
As we got closer to the Portland city limits, I managed to pick up a little
paceline. We had been riding alone (very occasionally pulling a line, but
who really wants to draft a tandem at >12 mph?) pretty much for the entire
ride. Considering the headwinds, even at our slow pace, having some folks in
front made a bit of a difference. We started singing, "I’m on my way (I’m on
my way)/To the Finish Line (to the Finish Line)", which again raised our
spirits. We finally got off of Highway 30 with our new-found friends, and it
began to feel like maybe we could get to that finish line, and maybe even
over it before it officially closed at 7:00 PM.
There’s a steep short street after you enter Portland. Just before we got
there, Rose growled at me, "You’d better work with me as a team – I’m not
pulling you up that hill like last time." I’m not sure exactly what she was
referring to, but I put the metal to the pedal and we bounced up those few
blocks in short order. The rest of the way in was on a new route, much
improved from the previous years’.
Finally, I could point out the buildings that were surrounding the park, and
the orange cones directing bikes into the finish line. We spotted Emma and
Dad running along the street, yelling to us. We saw the FINISH LINE banner,
and rode right in to meet them.
I nearly burst into tears when we crossed over. We made it, and with plenty
of time to spare before the official closure at 7:00 PM.
The rest of the story? We were too late for the shower trucks, and it took
us a while to clean up, find dinner, and drive home. We got back to the
house at nearly midnight. I went straight from the car into my nightie and
went to bed.
Doing this ride this year with Rose was as tough for me as doing it as a
one-day, double-century three years ago. Part of it is simply the weight of
the tandem, and having to steer and maneuver such a large and unwieldy bike.
It takes much more upper body strength than just riding a single, and my
shoulders are still sore – much sorer than my legs or my butt. It’s also so
much more tiring just to be on the road for so many more hours of the day.
If I look at last year’s trip report, I was on the road for about 8 hours
each day; this year I was on the road for more than 12 hours each day. Yes,
I had more breaks along the way, and longer ones, but it isn’t like being
able to take a shower, sit under a tree, and read a book after your day is
Another factor was the leadership role I was in as captain of our team. I
was playing the role of both drill sergeant and cheerleader. There was
little room for me to complain, or even be tired. I felt the responsibility
to exemplify a positive, "can-do" attitude for the ride.
I was very, very proud of Rose for her efforts. If this was a tough for me,
it must have been a doubly tough for her. She had many more uncertainties –
about the route, and about her own abilities to make it. How many 12 year
olds (much less, adults) are willing to make the commitment to train for,
and then complete, such a tremendous ride? Her natural tendency, too, is to
be doom-and-gloom about nearly everything, but I could see her striving to
be positive, to talk positive to herself and to me, and to keep her – and
my – spirits up for the ride. Her strength, and her fortitude, are downright
amazing. Rose, you are something else!