Riding the Portland (Metric) Century

August 20, 2013
Portland Century Map

Portland Century Map

I almost didn’t do the ride. My night-before jitters were intensified when I studied the route that was posted online. It was as bad as a Google Maps bike route: two tenths of a mile this way, a few hundred yards that way, maybe half a mile on a road going straight.

To make sense of the route, I studied a cycling map of Washington County through which much of the ride would take us. Some of the twisting seemed reasonable, but the Century’s posted route appeared to be even more complicated. One thing was clear: the small bag on my classic Mercian bicycle didn’t have adequate display space for the map and route list I would need.

After deciding that I would take my new Davidson with the large bag, and my good (and heavy) lock in case I got lost and had to put in the miles on my own, I went to bed, hoping that I could sleep. Three or four times I woke up with anxiety dreams, and at 5:00 I got up in order to leave home at 6:00 to ride down to the start at Portland State University.

Start at PSUIn the late 1940s, I ran cross country on Lincoln High School’s team: up and down through the South Park Blocks that now are the heart of the PSU campus. Registration lines, bike parking facilities, and food tables (with Starbucks coffee) were all set up. Cyclists everywhere. Bright music in the air.

One of the staff assured me that the route was well marked with bright pink Ps and arrows pointing the direction we should go. The first eight miles were simple and familiar, since I’ve been traveling on them for most of my life.

As soon as I started, I began to relax. Being on the bike helped, but from the beginning the pink Ps pointed the way—Broadway to Terwilliger Boulevard, to Barbur past the Fred Meyer store, up the hill to the new Safeway, and then westward on Multnomah Boulevard.

Still Green OregonAt SW 71st Avenue, the twisting and turning started. We worked our way around the edges of Tigard and Beaverton, and through the middle of the retirement communities of Summerfield and King City. On SW Beef Bend Road, we slipped past the urban growth boundary into the luscious agricultural region of the Willamette Valley. A few fields were still green, but more had recently been combined to harvest this year’s wheat crop, and vineyards were all around. Along the way, farms offered peaches, blue berries, and other produce for sale.

I could always see riders up ahead. They and the pink Ps were such good guides that I didn’t need a map—not even once. The little bag on the Mercian bike would have been all that I needed!

At the first split, where the 50-milers headed back toward the city and the 70- and 100-milers kept going, I found myself surrounded by many more cyclists than had been the case earlier in the ride. Most of them were riding in clusters that were ready to push up the pace. Finding one group going a little faster than my comfort zone, I fell in behind.

The gal just ahead, who was riding in her husband’s slipstream, said it was OK to tag along. The next 20 miles rolled along on long stretches of well-traveled country roads, on the edge of Sherwood, through Scholls, and around Hillsboro.

After the 100-milers split away to wander around Forest Grove, the rest of us turned back toward the city on West Union Road. Crossing the urban growth boundary, we had to share the road with ever-denser traffic, except for jaunts through residential enclaves and bike trails. I finished my 68.5-mile metric century in five hours of elapsed time, with an on-the-bike average of 14.01 miles per hour.

The “gourmet dinner”—grilled chicken breast, sirloin steak, grilled asparagus, and cake—was a fine conclusion to the morning’s swift ride. The canopy of ancient trees in the Park Blocks provided shade from the bright summer’s sun and the temperature that had not yet broken out of the 70s.

The music accompanying my feast was just right, not so very loud but with a bounce, a fine sound for a tired octogenarian with tastes for the old-timey. If only I had done the ride on my Mercian!