Crossing Bridges By Bike

Today I rode the Providence Bridge Pedal with my mom.

It was a last-minute decision. We only decided last night around 9pm.

Mom, Lynn, and me at the summit of the Fremont Bridge

She occasionally rides with her friend Lynn, who owns a tandem bike. He first invited her to ride with him about five years ago. At the time, he thought she was maybe 70. When she told him she was 85 years old, he was taken aback.

She was a late starter, having learned to ride a bike around 12, and she hadn’t ridden one in many, many decades.

They have enjoyed several tandem rides since that initial invitation. They had planned to ride in Corvallis today, but last night, Lynn realized the Bridge Pedal was today. He reached out to me and suggested we do it. If Mom was game — which I was certain she would be — I would enthusiastically join them. Mom was reached, and we quickly agreed to do it.

So there was a mad scramble as I had to register quickly online as well as get my bike and gear together and ready. I haven’t ridden my bike in years and recently moved, so it took some doing.

I woke early, gobbled a little breakfast, and headed out to the nearest MAX station to ride downtown to meet them.

That’s when I realized a grave error. I had pumped up my tires, checked my brakes, replaced the dead batteries in my warning lights, but hadn’t checked my gears. They weren’t working.

Apparently, my old Shimano Deore XTR Rapid Fire shifters (I’ve never liked grip shifters) were gummed up and need to be cleaned and lubricated. But there was no time. I faced the prospect of doing the entire ride in one gear.

Fine, I thought to myself. Fortunately, it was stuck in a decent gear: I could start, and the gear was high enough to allow me to cruise. I didn’t expect the pace to be too aggressive, so I let it go and started riding.

Bikes packing into the MAX light rail car

Even as early as I boarded the MAX and at a relatively distant station, there were already at least five cyclists on board. A family of five soon added to our numbers. It made me happy to see so many cyclists and of such varying ages.

Lining up for Will-Call Registration

I arrived early and picked up our registration cards. I noticed a TV film crew interviewing a family and some kids. I stepped up and informed the cameraman that my 90-year-old mom was arriving soon to ride. Once she showed up, they approached her and talked about 5 to 10 minutes (mom has never shied away from a microphone! I fully expect she’ll be featured on KGW’s news tonight).

Update: KGW featured mom in a story you can view and read here.

Mom interviewed by a KGW news crew before the start of the race

We chose the “Family Ride,” a 13-mile course that crossed six of Portland’s bridges. In order, they were: Morrison, Ross Island, Hawthorne, Marquam, Fremont, and Steel. Although I had a map, I opted to use a mnemonic device to remember the order: MR. Hawthorne Makes Free Steel. There were plenty of volunteers, police officers, and traffic cones set up to make the course easy to follow, but I always had a ready answer when asked, “What’s the next bridge?” and, “How many more do we have to go?”

Lynn and mom climbing the Marquam Bridge

I don’t know how many cyclists there were, but there had to be thousands. On the steep climbs (especially ascending the Fremont and Marquam bridges), many dismounted to walk their bikes. With so many cyclists, including many children and infrequent riders, some people were unfamiliar with riding etiquette. Massive, slow-moving crowds formed and prevented anyone from riding certain stretches.

Crowds amass atop the Marquam Bridge

But entertainment from the Boka Marimba ensemble and aid stations passing out drinks, bananas, and cookies encouraged us to stop, enjoy a snack, and take in views normally unseen when navigating the bridges at high speed in a car.

Boka Marimba entertains the passing cyclists

Bananas seemed like a good choice at first — until I saw dropped bananas and banana peels on the roadway. Fortunately, most people were walking their bikes around those areas, so I didn’t see any banana-related spills.

Climbing up the Fremont Bridge

Along the course, I waved and shouted out thanks to the volunteers and police officers. I couldn’t help but occasionally point at Mom and proudly shout out, “that’s my mom, and she’s 90 years old!” That always got a whoop of encouragement and amazement.

Mom still looks chipper and fresh as we climb the 5th of 6 bridges

I frequently checked in with mom to see if she was hot or cold, thirsty, or needed a break, but she was fine. The forced breaks during the bicycle traffic jams seemed to suffice.

She commented she always sees things she’s never seen before when out on a bike ride with Lynn. That’s true. It is lovely to be able to peer off the sides of the bridges and take in the beauty of the Willamette River and surrounding areas.

Being both out of shape and limited to a single gear I expected to struggle. But I managed to keep going, continuing to pedal past many as they walked their bikes up hills. I stopped mostly when I lost sight of Lynn and mom. I tried to stay close and in front of them to ensure they had a clear path.

Lynn and mom cross the finish line

We finished feeling elated and still energetic enough to bike a bit longer before packing it in. We rode 4-5 miles along the Eastbank Esplanade and near OMSI before finally heading back to Lynn’s parked van.

Mom and Lynn on completion of the ride

We found a Thai restaurant and devoured a big lunch before saying our farewells.

Thai food for the victorious athletes

I still had to get home to Aloha, but my body was pretty spent. My odometer read a mere 26 miles, but in the shape I was in, even small upward inclines were by now pretty taxing. So I caught a bus and the MAX light rail and was carried to within a mile of my home.

Now clean and downing water, I am enjoying the familiar ache of muscles long underused. As I feel my saddle sores and stiff neck, I recall and miss my Vision R40 recumbent bicycle that was so fun and comfortable to ride.

But the biggest feeling I have is one of pride in myself and for my 90-year-old mother and what we have experienced and accomplished today.

Be well, safe, and blessed with good health!

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