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Seattle to Portland 21 times

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Mercer Island resident Tom Jacobs has ridden his bike with thousands of others in the 200 mile Seattle to Portland (STP) bike race every year since 1986. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Mercer Island resident Tom Jacobs has ridden his bike with thousands of others in the 200 mile Seattle to Portland (STP) bike race every year since 1986.
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Long-time Mercer Island resident Tom Jacobs took part in his 21st Group Health Seattle to Portland (STP) Bicycle Classic July 14 and 15.

“My first day was excellent,” said Jacobs, who averaged 14.5 mph the first day and 13.2 during the second. “The second day I was a bit tired.”

Don’t try to tell Jacobs it’s a race, because despite his speed, he’ll be quick to correct that.

“It’s not a race, it’s a ride,” Jacobs said. “It’s a recreational ride with perseverance.”

The 28th annual STP, a Cascade Bicycle Club event, is the largest multi-day ride in the Northwest. The route is marked with directional arrows to lead riders through the scenic valleys, forests and farmlands of Western Washington and Oregon.

Up to 9,000 riders register to participate in the 200-mile trek where riders can choose, before the event, to ride in one or two days. At the end of the ride, both on the first and second day, there is a Finish Line Festival that features music, food and beverage service, exhibitor and sponsor booths, a massage tent, showers and first aid.

According to the Cascade Web site, in 2006, 21 percent of the participants were one-day riders and 79 percent were two-day riders. Riders came from 38 states — primarily Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho — and six foreign countries that included Canada, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Switzerland and Denmark. It was the first STP for 51 percent of the riders.

Jacobs, 54, rode in his first STP in 1987 when a co-worker asked him to try it with him.

In his first “serious bike ride,” Jacobs was so nervous that he wouldn’t ride in the pace line, the single-file line that riders use in races to minimize wind resistance.

“It was raining and there was a strong headwind, and I was just so afraid of crashing,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs eventually finished his ride in 16 hours in what he called his best and worst day of riding in the STP.

“The conditions were just so terrible that it made that day the worst,” he said. “But it was also the best because it was my first time riding, and I’ll never forget it.”

Jacobs recalled another memorable year. In 1992, he registered for the two-day STP ride. On the second day, something kicked in and he rode faster and stronger than he ever had before.

Just five hours and one minute after he passed Centralia, his ride was over.

“It was unbelievable,” Jacobs said. “I rode like the wind.”

A day after every STP in which he participates, Jacobs likes to go steelhead fishing before heading back to Seattle. He and his friends call the combination of riding in the STP and fishing afterward “Steeling and Wheeling.” On this particular day, however, Jacobs didn’t have to wait a day to go steeling, because he was wheeling so fast.

“I went fishing right after the ride was done,” he said. “It was unbelievable. “Some days you have rides that make it all worth it — that was one of those days.”

Jacobs likes to put in 1,200-1,500 miles of riding to train for the STP. If the ride is to be done in one day, however, a rider should put in at least 2,000 miles, he said.

Last year, Jacobs rode laps around the entire Mercer Island as training.

“I would get up at 5:30 in the morning and just go around and around,” he said. “I’d obviously take breaks when I needed to eat and such, but I ended up doing laps until 2:30 in the afternoon.”

This year, Jacobs trained on various trails in the Puget Sound area. He said the Interurban Trail is his favorite because it is less crowded, with few stops in between.

There are certain aspects of the STP for which one can’t necessarily train — like crossing railroad tracks and bridge crossings. But the STP is well-supported and organized, Jacobs said, and officials will help by putting carpets over railroad tracks where the riders cross and helping take people over bridges as a group. Jacobs has, however, come across some unexpected obstacles.

“There was one year when someone threw out tacks from their car onto the road, thinking it was funny,” he said. “I got a flat tire and I had to get an extra tube from one of the supporters on the route. I learned a pretty neat trick though: You put a dollar bill to fill in the slash in the tire and it’ll stop the tube from bulging out.”

Jacobs added, jokingly, “The rich and the famous will use $100 bills.”

Throughout his experience in previous STPs that included wacky weather, troublesome tacks and riding like the wind, Jacobs has learned that persistence pays off and that goal-setting is the first step to fulfillment.

“That’s the beauty of it [the STP],” he said. “It’s not a race. You can do it any way you want to. You don’t have to be fast, just persistent.

“I think bike riding, in general, is a good thing for you. If you set goals that are achievable, but require some work, and take the necessary steps to prepare, you can achieve those goals. It’s always a good feeling when I cross the finish line.”

Long term, Jacobs plans to continue to participate in future STPs.

“I’m going to keep doing it until I can’t do it anymore,” he said.

As for the Steelhead: “I did try and I caught some small trout but the big one eluded me.”

The big one will have to wait until ride number 22 in 2008.

For more information on the Cascade Bicycle Club and the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, e-mail events@cascadebicycleclub.org or call the office at 522-3222 or visit the Cascade Web site at www.cascade.org.

Yu Nakayama is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.

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