It is 8:30 am, I have been up for about three hours. I dropped off my son two hours ago and he should now be about two hours into the first leg of a 205 mile bike ride. Today is the annual STP (Seattle to Portland) bike ride. 10,000 riders from all around the world, show up each year to take part in this event. Most riders will make the ride in two days but there are those few who will do the ride in one day.
Two years ago I also made the drive to the starting line but then it was my son and I heading out. This was not an event that I would have undertaken on my own without encouragement. The motivating factor came on Father’s Day when my son presented me with a ticket to make this ride with him.
Yikes! Fear? Yes! Excitement? Yes!
I quickly started counting on my fingers. Six, four, seven, three, two, five…’Swear words!!!!’ I only had 27 days before the event. My mind told me in a minute there was no way. My heart said, ‘You have to.’ My son informed me, that even though traditional wisdom recommended a seven month preparation period for this ride, he was confident 27 days would be sufficient for me. Now that is serious manipulation.
I had not been on my bike in almost a year and besides I didn’t even have a road bike. My bike was a commuter bike with wide friction laden tires and a heavy metal frame. Even though it was comfortable to ride it was not suited to take a 55 year old, out of shape, 30-40 pound overweight guy 200 miles.
That afternoon, my old commuter bike and I went for a 10 mile ride. My legs felt like rubber by the time I finished. The next day I rode to work, 11 miles each way. I skipped the next day. By the next Saturday I had four rides behind me, all about 10 miles in length. I had decided my next ride would be a minimum of 25 miles. My chosen route was all very flat, an exceptional easy ride. Getting a 25 mile ride the first week of training was an important psychological hurdle. That day I made it 30 miles and I felt exhausted and dizzy when I finished.
By day 25 I had found a used road bike. It was an older bike, from the late eighties or early nineties. The aluminum frame was sturdy and even though the bike was under geared, with only 12 speeds, it was a huge improvement over my commuter bike. I had taken it on one 50 plus mile ride which at the end I felt surprisingly confident with the knowledge I could have gone further.
The last two days before the event I did not touch the bike except to lube it. On day 28 I finished the 200 mile trek, 10 hours the first day and 12 hours the second day. The only hard part was the last 20 miles the first day and the last 50 miles the second day. My son a fully trained fireman stayed right with me the last day allowing me many rests during the 95 degree afternoon heat. We crossed the finish line fifteen minutes after the deadline. But, by the insistence from my wife, a kind official gave me and my son our completion packets. My son was proud of me but I was just glad to be finished.
As I sit here writing this I have a few slight feelings of sadness. I wish I was once again, headed down the road with that cool morning breeze hitting my face along with hundreds of other riders all headed toward a common goal. But, the memory I am missing most is riding side by side next to my son heading south and not feeling almost old.