There we were, a bunch of adrenalin-filled bicyclists from the Seattle area, zipping through a crowded pedestrian promenade along English Bay and False Creek in downtown Vancouver, B.C.
And we weren’t sure we were even going the right way. Ah, but we could smell the finish line. After about 18 hours of riding over two days, through farm land, small communities, hills, trails and scenic roads along Puget Sound, we were eager to get off our bikes to rest our sore butts. So what if we were off-course? We’d find the finish line anyway, and we did! Finally. Party time in Vancouver!
Ah well, the much-hyped party was somewhat of a letdown. More on that later.
But it was exhilarating just to get there, despite getting lost and me then suffering a flat in Skagit Valley, and falling well behind my riding partner. And losing my water bottle in Lynden. The last 15 miles cycling through Burnaby and Vancouver were wild, adventurous, chaotic and fun, and, really, so was the whole ride.
RSVP, at 190 miles (105 on Friday, Aug. 15, and the remainder the following day), is the longest ride I’ve done in four years of doing organized rides. (I’ve done 16 such rides now, including four centuries.) It’s also probably the most fun I’ve had on a bike — although it was challenging just to get on it for an 85-mile second day after riding about 10 hours and 105 miles the first day. I needed all of that carbo-loading I did on Friday night in a Seahawks-crazed Bellingham sports bar.
Fewer riders, but shorter lines, than STP
About 1,200 people did RSVP1 on Friday and Saturday; another 1,200 did RSVP2 on Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 16-17). The ridership both days is capped at this number, perhaps because of the need to keep things manageable at the U.S.-Canada border crossing. For the annual Seattle-to-Portland ride (STP), where there is no international border crossing, up to 10,000 riders are allowed.
Recapping the RSVP course — and all of the interesting roads, scenery and people on this route of trails, back roads and city streets from Seattle to Vancouver — is challenging itself. Let me attempt to do it this way, with bullets:
Start at the University of Washington: Riders parked their cars and lined up in the huge parking lot north of Hec Edmundson Pavilion on the UW campus; the place I usually park for Duck-Husky basketball games. I met my riding partner, Edifecs friend Paras Bedmutha, there. We posed for pictures by this wife, put our overnight bags on a truck, and got started riding at 6:18 a.m. as “Brown-Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison echoed through loudspeakers at the starting line.
- Through King County: Within in a mile or so, we were on the Burke-Gilman Trail, riding through north Seattle, Lake Forest Park, Kenmore and Bothell, where we veered off the trail and into Woodinville. From there we headed north into Snohomish County. My only real incident in the ride happened early on. The trail was crowded with a large pack of riders, and they suddenly stopped on me. I reacted a bit slowly, almost crashing into Paras from the back, but sliding to the side as I was losing control of my bike. I happened to break my fall on grass, and avoid any damage to me or my bike. Paras, however, likely wondered what kind of novice he was riding with.
- Through Snohomish County: We rode back roads through Maltby and Clearview and then into Snohomish. The route took us through downtown Snohomish, where most everyone stopped for food and/or pit stops. Incredible to see so many cyclists taking over this historic downtown. Soon after, we got on the Snohomish Centennial Trail — a very nice, safe trail! It took us 30-some pleasant miles, all the way past Lake Stevens and Arlington. Paras and I rode together and had time to chat. But a dozen of us stayed on this flat trail a bit too long. We missed a (not-well-marked) course turnoff just south of the Skagit County line.
- Through Skagit County: Well, we were supposed to get off the trail and go around Lake McMurray on the right side. But, after attempting to backtrack about three miles and get back on course, our group decided to keep going around Lake McMurray on the left side. I was feeling nervous about the decision, because suddenly, we were all on our own. But we reconnected to the course and the other riders north of the lake, and I was greatly relieved. From there we traversed Mount Vernon, Burlington and then Bow, where I got my flat tire. To be precise, it was just past Bow Cemetery Road. Paras, who had all the changing tools, was way ahead of me now. I was just lucky that Rob from Snohomish happened to ride by and ask me why I was walking my bike. An experienced rider, he changed my tire using my spare, and did it with a smile. A big shout out to Rob from Snohomish — thank you! Yes, I did thank him profusely.
- Through Whatcom County: Two words: Chuckanut Drive. This 21-mile scenic roadway that lines the north Puget Sound actually starts in north Skagit County. Its
moderate elevation and rolling hills offer incredible views of the sound, Samish Bay and Bellingham Bay and, in the distance, the San Juan Islands. But it also was the most challenging part of RSVP. You faced a climb, a short downhill, then another climb. Over and over. I did stop with others to take pictures at a Samish Bay viewpoint. But I was happy to see the “Chuckanut Crest” and then the “entering Bellingham” signs. The first-day finish line was at the Days Inn hotel, which I got to just after 5 p.m. Friday (about 10 hours of riding time). Paras was getting a massage when I got there. Thanks to him and his wife, my bike and I got a ride to our first-night hotel, the EconoLodge. I was hungry and pooped.
- Second day, to Lynden and the border: Man, it was hard getting back on my bike again. Paras and I left from my hotel around 7:10 a.m. and headed on a back road to Lynden. In those first 20 miles, I had no power in my legs. But it was flat to Lynden, where we had a food stop (I had coffee), and where I set out my water bottle to go fill it and then forgot about it. It was a quick three miles to the border crossing at Sumas, where Paras waited for me — for about a half-hour. Getting across was much easier than we expected, since we remembered our passports. Riders queued up, customs agents matched our passports and numbers with the info they had from the Cascade Bicycle Club, and sent us across. We were off again.
- Through British Columbia: It was 60 miles to the finish line. I had my second wind and started to roll. We rode through more farmland, small communities with quaint downtowns, plus country clubs and parks. The communities included Aldergrove, Langley, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody and Burnaby. Riders stopped at tea shops and bookstores. The route also included the very cool Golden Ears Bridge, a 1.2-mile span over the Fraser River — a circular ramp made it easy for bicyclists to climb up to it. Just outside of Burnaby, we were treated to the Barnet Highway, a long, boring 10-mile stretch that took us into Vancouver, just as many of us started to wilt in the 26-plus Celsius temperatures. To Vancouver!
- Through Vancouver to the finish line: It got fun again. We were close. And Vancouver is a beautiful, livable, cosmopolitan, bicycle-friendly city. I had no idea where we were in Vancouver, and where we were headed. Some of the downtown was familiar, since I ran the Vancouver Marathon in 2006, but we came at it from a different direction. We went through a narrow
trail in a small park, through residential areas, to a water stop and food stop that were about a mile apart, and over several bicycle-only roadways. A pack of about 10-12 riders had formed, and we pretty well stayed together. Finally, we hit the promenade along English Bay. It was an ecstatic, scenic finish through an urban area that let us know that we were, indeed, near our destination. However, many riders thought we were lost again. Our course map offered little clarity. I ended up following a few riders who seemed to know what they were doing. We finally exited the promenade, climbed Cardero Street, turned onto Comox and saw the big green “FINISH” sign in front of the Coast Plaza Hotel. Time: 3:44 p.m. After 18 hours of total riding time, RSVP was done.
Yes, I will do this one again
It was a great feeling to be finished, especially for my rear end. The much-ballyhooed party was already under way. Paras said he finished at 3 p.m. I was expecting much more energy and rowdiness at the party, but it was pretty sedate. And the food offerings were modest: hamburgers, chips and beer. And they weren’t free. Ah, well.
I got a chance to talk to several riders who called RSVP more challenging than STP, and also a more enjoyable ride. I’ve never done STP, so I listened with interest. I also saw Rob from Snohomish, and got another chance to thank him for fixing my flat tire. Bicyclists are a congenial bunch — all shapes and sizes, not too full of themselves, and very down to earth. This is a cool community to be a part of.
Later, I had a pleasant evening walking alone through downtown Vancouver and along the promenade where we rode. About four buses took several hundred bicyclists back to the UW starting line on Sunday. The bus ride was long, hot and very forgettable. Still, I want to do this ride again.
Thanks for reading all this! Doing the Harvest Century ride in Portland next. Till next time.