By Gail Wood
For the fifth straight year, Brent Warner, Sean Sexton and Darrell Roberts will ride together in the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (STP), doing all 202 miles in about 14 hours on July 13.
Nearly every weekend beginning in April, the three amigos go on a long training ride, peddling between 30 and 50 miles.
Sexton, with 15 STPs behind him, is the veteran rider of the crew. He’s become a committed cyclists, a contrast to what he was when he did his first STP at age 33.
“I wouldn’t say I was a couch potato,” Sexton said. “But my fitness wasn’t where it is now. I just started doing the STP to see if I could do it.”
He didn’t plan on doing his first one in a day. Not anymore. Sexton and his buddies will be at the starting line by Husky Stadium at 4:30 a.m. and will finish “6:30ish” that evening.
“It’s a great feeling of accomplishment when you get to the end of it,” Sexton said. “I just started doing it to see if I could do it. I’m still having a good time. It’s neat that it’s the same group of us doing it together.”
In addition to his long weekend rides, Sexton peddles 14 miles to work for 28 miles round trip three times a week.
Last fall, Warner squeezed in an impressive “training” ride when he rode 1,800 miles in 22 days, going from Ely, Minnesota, to Olympia. He rode 65 to 110 miles a day.
“It was a great experience,” said Warner, who is a painting contractor and the head track coach North Thurston High School, his alma mater. “Actually, it’s something I’d like to do again. It’s a great way to see the country.”
About 2,500 of the 10,000 riders entered in the STP will do the ride in one day. The other 7,500 riders stop overnight, usually in Centralia.
All of the riders pass through the South Sound along state Route 507 from Roy to Chehalis, stopping in Yelm and Tenino for snacks and drinks. By the time the STP, which is sponsored by Group Health, is finished, 26,000 sandwiches, 35,000 cookies and 11,000 fig bars will have been served.
Roberts and Warner are life-long friends. Both graduated from North Thurston High School in 1978, and played football and ran track. Roberts did his first long bike ride when friends from his church rode 300 miles on Hwy 101 around the Olympics when he was still in high school.
“I didn’t even have a 10-speed,” Roberts said about his pre-ride training. “I had a Stingray. So, I borrowed a bike. Most of the people quit after the first day.”
But Roberts finished. Four years ago, just before he turned 50, he accepted Warner’s invitation to ride the STP.
“It was on my bucket list. And I’ve done it every year since,” Roberts said. “My first STP, I was overwhelmed to say the least.”
He got an emotional lift near the finish.
“For two, three blocks at the end, there are people lined up along the road, cheering and clapping,” Roberts said. “I was so overwhelmed I just started crying. It’s a big accomplishment if you’ve never done it before.”
Last year, the STP included riders from 40 states and three other countries – Canada, Japan and Malaysia. There were 7,740 Washington riders, 2,049 from Seattle. From Oregon, there were 1,195 riders, 558 from Portland. The oldest rider entered last year was 85.
There were plenty of repeat riders. Fifty-three riders registered had done the STP 20 times and 230 riders had done it 10 or more times.
Jerry Baker, 71 and from Seattle, has ridden in all 33 previous STPs. Baker won the inaugural 1979 event, when it was a time trial between Seattle and Portland City Halls.
Roberts, who turns 54 in August, keeps doing the STP for two main reasons.
“It keeps me in shape. Plus there’s the camaraderie,” Roberts said. “The three of us are pretty close. They’re friends not just on the bike. They’ll do just about anything for you. There’s a strong bond between the three of us.”
Roberts said this isn’t going to be his last STP.
“A year or two ago at the finish line, we met this guy who was 75 and he was still doing it in one day,” Roberts said. “That’s inspiring. I hope I’m able to still do that at age 75.”