Bike event rides into 25th year
Seattle Times staff reporter
Tomorrow, Baker and the Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic will celebrate 25 years together. Baker is one of only two people to have ridden the STP every year. The other is Paul Wantzelius of Seattle.
In its first year, 1979, the STP was an actual race. Baker was a competitive racer, having started riding in 1965 to shed a few pounds. Despite wind, rain and companions with hypothermia, 37-year-old Baker crossed the finish line first and became the only person to ever win the STP.
Since then he has started the ride all 25 times and made it to the finish line 24 times. (Once he got "rained in" at his parents' house in Puyallup: "Puyallup, Portland, what's the difference?" he said).
The ride organizers have been thanking Baker for his participation since year seven by giving him that year's anniversary number.
After the ride was canceled in 1980 because of the Mount St. Helens eruption, the organizers, Cascade Bicycle Club, rechristened the race a "recreational ride." Thousands of bikers from all over the country make the trip each July.
A road-biking boom in the mid-'90s brought participation up to 10,000, but then the STP saw a decline as bikers headed for the mountains.
Now, with road biking's popularity back on the rise, Cascade decided to cap the number of participants at 8,000. This year, which is sold out, has the highest participation since 1996, a fitting way to celebrate a quarter of a century of pedaling enthusiasm, said Cascade Marketing Director Scott Marlow.
"... If you live in the Northwest, you probably want to do the thing," Marlow said. "It's right up there with Mount Rainer."
Every year, about half of the bikers are new to the STP. Some of the newbies are novice riders, and Baker makes sure to welcome them with tips and trade secrets.
"I end up giving advice to a lot of people in a lot of areas," Baker said.
Wednesday morning at a packet pick-up for riders at REI, Baker and his 16-year-old daughter Julia were doing just that.
Brent Reed, a computer network manager, is planning to not only tackle his first-ever organized ride, but to do it in one day. Twenty-two of Baker's STP rides have been done in single 15-hour days, but most riders make it a two-day trip.
Reed said he's been taking training rides with Cascade and clocked 125 miles last weekend.
"I was hurting," he said. "How will I pony up 100 more?"
Baker told Reed to start slow and increase speed by 1 mph every 50 miles. Julia piped up with the real secret: Coke and Hostess cupcakes at Scappoose, Ore., for the final push, 16 miles before the finish line.
"You get a sugar rush," she said.
Julia rode the STP in two days with her dad four years ago. This year she's back to do it in one day. She said if she makes it, Baker will buy her a new bike.
She's not worried about keeping up.
"I'm hoping he's not going to slow me down," she said, laughing. "Just kidding, just kidding."
Not much seems to slow Jerry Baker down. Trim and muscular, with a wild mop of gray hair, the biker talks fast, rides fast and laughs a lot. He said biking keeps him healthy and fit, something he's taught both his children, who have been biking since they first could walk.
Jerry's son, Andy, will join Julia and his dad tomorrow on a two-seater with his girlfriend. They'll also ride with a couple of neighbors and friends.
For many, the STP is a chance to catch up with friends and family. Fred Bourque, a 69-year-old retired schoolteacher from Lacey, Thurston County, will be making his 19th trip. He bikes every year with the same four guys. This year his son Tom, 42, and his grandson Collin, 15, will join the pack. He said there's a lot of camaraderie throughout the trip.
"As people go by, they say hello and you say hello to them," Bourque said. "You're all struggling together."
The struggle happens on just about every kind of wheels imaginable: mountain, road and racing bikes, tandems (two-seaters), triples (three-seaters), tow behinds, recliners, homemade bikes, even the occasional Rollerblade, Marlow said.
But all riders share a common goal: reaching the finish line.
For Baker, this year's finish line represents a lot of years of pedaling — with no end in sight.
"It makes you think, 'Gosh, how many years are you going to do it?' " he said. But he said he'll probably keep going well into old age. "I don't know, maybe I'll ride a trike."
Joanna Horowitz: 206-464-3312 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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