A few days ago, my friend Parvin Singh (at right in this photo) and I crossed the finish line at the end of Cascade Bicycle Club’s famous Seattle-to-Portland Ride (otherwise known as the “STP Ride”) — a 206-mile, two-day ride traversing the two cities. The moment captured in this photo was six years in the making.
I met Parvin in 2013, when I had just started cycling. He was participating in the Sikh Century ride that year, a 100-mile ride in California from Stockton to Yuba City to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the oldest Sikh congregation in the US in Stockton. Parvin was already an experienced cyclist and triathlete at that point. And, me? I had just gotten my first road bike and showed up in running shoes and old-school toe clips (for almost the first time). At this point, just riding 20 miles was a stretch for me, and this was going to be my first foray into organized cycling. I opted to do a conservative 15 miles with the group as they passed through Sacramento (though, I would end up doing 20 with them).
When I completed my segment with the ride, I was inspired to ride the entire Sikh Century in the following year. But, as luck would have it, the Sikh Century Ride never took place after 2013. The lead organizer (Jaskaran Singh) and Parvin both ended up moving to the Seattle area, and I later moved to Los Angeles. While we kept in touch over the years, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness took up our time and we didn’t have the opportunity to ride together again. I kept riding, throwing myself passionately into the sport, and always wanted to do another ride with a group of Sikh cyclists but the opportunity never seemed to present itself — until this year.
It was this year that I decided to stretch myself and to the Seattle-to-Portland Ride, which would be the longest ride I ever attempted. While I’ve done several 100-mile rides, a 200-mile ride seemed especially daunting. But, I felt motivated and ready for this challenge. And, with Jaskaran and Parvin both in Seattle, I thought this might be a good opportunity to ride with them again. So, back in April, I sent them an e-mail.
Amazingly, both guys responded and while Jaskaran unfortunately couldn’t swing it, Parvin responded rather enthusiastically. And so, STP, riding with Parvin, and riding as a Sikh contingent was a go!
Fast forward to July 12th: I flew up to Seattle the day before the ride and stayed with Parvin and his family. His wife Jaspreet carbo-loaded us with homemade pizza and when Jaskaran swung by, we got to talking about future rides and projects (more on this later). And, by 5:30 AM the next day, Parvin and I were at the STP start line along with 8,000 some-odd participants at the University of Washington in Seattle to start the longest ride either of us had ever attempted.
Day 1 of the ride took us south from the UW campus along Lake Washington to Puyallup, WA. Things were going well — it was a cool, overcast day and we seemed to have a lot of energy as we paced quickly to our planned half-way point in Centralia, WA.
Things may have been going too well. At about mile 65 near Hillhurst, WA, we rode over a major bump in the road that caused one of Parvin’s spokes on his rear wheel to snap, rendering his bike unrideable. We were stuck on the side of the road, but not for too long before an STP support motorcycle saw us and called for a support truck. The volunteers quickly loaded Parvin’s bike into the bed, and him comfortably into the air-conditioned cab, and off they went to the next rest stop for repairs in McKenna, WA. Since it was only five miles away, I opted to pedal my way there on my bike. I met Parvin at the rest stop where volunteers from Trek Bicycles were fitting him with a new wheel. I took this opportunity to fit myself with a new can of Coke, and in no time at all, we were back on the road.
Fatigue started to set in at around mile 85, and it was a bit of a grind to get through the rollers ahead of Centralia. But, the closer we got, the more our emotions kicked in and we pushed ourselves into Centralia College — 106 miles from our start — where orange creamcicles, omelettes and snacks welcomed us with open arms. We partook (in some cases, several times) of these treats and after some stretching and lying in the fetal position on the college lawn, we got back on our bikes for a six-mile ride to our hotel, the Great Wolf Lodge water park resort in Grand Mound, WA.
Jaspreet and their daughter met us at the hotel, and Parvin spent the evening with them at the hotel’s water park (something had to make this trip worthwhile for Junior). I cleaned myself up in my room and destroyed the buffet’s profit margins on my meal by inhaling pasta, pizza, salad, more pizza, more pasta and ice cream. We met that evening to coordinate our departure the next morning, and by 6 AM the next day, we were back on our bikes, our rears still hung over from yesterday’s century, heading to Centralia College to continue the route.
From Centralia College, we had about 105 miles ahead of us to Portland. My body hadn’t fully recovered from Day 1’s journey. At the start of this second day, I was already feeling like I had ridden 50 miles. This was going to get ugly pretty quickly.
We caught up to Ugly about 20 miles into Day 2. Parvin had a slight headache and was starting to feel the effects of — what would turn out to be — a cold/flu. By the time we got to the Day 2 lunch stop around mile 50 of Day 2, the ride had beaten a lot out of us. We took an extended rest after lunch, enjoying the full sensation of the warm lawn on our entire backside, and then it was back on the road.
Quickly crossing over the Lewis & Clark Bridge into Oregon state, we mushed on from rest stop to rest stop. Heat joined Ugly on our ride, and we made our way to the St. Helen’s rest stop at mile 81 where we enjoyed some cold beverages, fruit, and hating on ourselves about this whole escapade. Parvin was gallantly fighting through his cold but his energy levels were drained substantially. And, we were too far gone not to finish now. I was determined to drag his body over the finish line if I had to.
It was a drag for sure as Parvin’s cold was really starting to wear him down. Mile 93 would be our last rest stop, and we took some extra time to let Parvin recover before the final push. With about 15 miles left, we just had a little more to go but by that time, 15 miles felt like 50.
Things picked up for us as we entered greater Portland. Crossing over St. John’s Bridge gave us a big emotional boost and all of a sudden, we were able to kick up our pace. Even Parvin seemed like a new man and even though he was cursing himself for responding to my email so many months ago, we were flying through Portland with eagerness. These last eight to 10 miles seemed to take the longest as we navigated through city streets and traffic to get to the finish, and when we did, it was a relief and a feeling of accomplishment that we just did something we never had done before: finishing two centuries in a row, traveling 222 miles over two days.
Jaspreet and Jr. met us at the finish line, and after some food and a shower (STP provided a mobile shower facility and I never had a more satisfying one), we made the drive back to Seattle. And, of course, on the way home, we talked about perhaps doing this ride again next year.
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