Isaac Johnson had been itching to ride in the annual Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic since he first heard about it at age 13. This year, at 16, it became a reality.
Johnson, who lives in Maple Valley, set out on the 202 mile journey Saturday morning with his dad, Kenton Johnson, and his uncle.
“I always loved going places, and since I’m not that old, well right now I am, but I wasn’t old enough to drive and go places, so I chose bike riding,” Isaac said. “Basically, once I started bike riding to places – lakes, parks, and then to school – I just never wanted to quit, so I just kept going and then I learned about STP – Seattle to Portland — and I always loved both cities, Seattle and Portland.”
Isaac started riding his bike all over Maple Valley in 2011, easily racking up 20 miles a day, he said. This year he and his dad started increasing the miles, building up to between 70 and 80 miles at a time in preparation for the two long days to Portland.
It wasn’t hard for Isaac to convince his dad, and then his uncle, to go along for the ride.
“When I was his age I had my first road bike and I remember growing up riding on the Burke-Gilman Trail and I’m from this area originally, so I grew up in these parts,” Kenton said. “It kind of brought back memories of enjoying riding and I really hadn’t thought of getting a road bike and starting to ride was appealing.”
For Kenton, riding the STP was an iconic Pacific Northwest bucket list activity.
“I had a chance to climb Mount Rainier when I was about 21 or 22 and this was one of those bucket list things to do, so I said, ‘Ok, lets get ready and lets try it and lets do it,’” Kenton said.
As they prepared, both father and son agreed that the hours on the bike were just as important as the number of miles they went.
“You want to build up so you are riding eight to nine hours on the bike and it’s really about getting your posterior end conditioned for sitting on one of those little seats,” Kenton said. “You’re going to be on it all day.”
Isaac remembered their first long ride from Marymoor Park to Gasworks Park as being tough.
“It was kind of painful,” Isaac said. “And then a couple of months later my dad said there was a harder one.”
That ride, from their house in Maple Valley to Mud Mountain Dam, was an approximately 70 mile round trip journey and became one of the most memorable of their training rides.
“It’s up highway 410 going towards Crystal and it has about a 2.5 mile hill on the way up,” Kenton said. “The fun thing to see was the difference between that earlier ride Isaac described, which was a flat, probably 50-mile ride, to see him go another 20 with a lot more challenging, with a lot of road riding, little to no shoulder, and a nice big climb up 410. And right as we got almost to the top of the hill I was leading the whole way and I felt Isaac on my back tire, and I’m like, ‘Do you want to go ahead?’ and he blew by me and just left me in the dust. I’ve been training since February, I’ve put 1,700 miles on my bike and he still blew me away at the end of the hill.”
While Isaac wanted to try for the full 202 miles in one day, the threesome decided they would stop for the day at Napa Vine, about 115 miles in, and complete the ride on Sunday. They stayed at Napa Vine Elementary School for the night, one of the STP pit stops along the route.
Kenton said the organization of the race by the Cascade Bicycle Club made it easy to plan for everything from training to race day logistics.
“They had a whole training schedule available online that gave you each week and the mileage and even what days you ought to ride, whether you were a two day rider or a one day rider,” Kenton said.
He also said that there were plenty of resources available along the way, including meal stops, mechanics and medical help.
“We basically are prepared to repair a flat if we get one between 20 mile stops or between mechanics, but all along the way they will have mechanics available,” Kenton said. “They even have massage available. We’ll carry a multi tool and a tube to change a flat but otherwise there will be services available if we need them.”
On their way home on Tuesday, Isaac summed up the experience by saying, “It was great.”
“I thought the only difficult things were the two hills we did the first day,” he said. “That was a hot day, probably in like the 90s. The second day was pretty easy, it was mostly flat and basically the only problem is it started raining at the end. And also there was lightning.”
His favorite part of the experience was riding on the highway and how much speed he built at the end, heading into Portland.
“I had a good group to pace myself with,” Isaac explained.
And as for the true test of completing any event, Isaac definitively said he would ride the STP again.
“We don’t know if we’re going to do it next year, but I would do it next year if I could,” Isaac said.