Seattle-to-Portland Bicycle Classic much better, safer thanks to JBLM reroute

Answers to important questions nobody has asked me yet:

Q: What’s the highlight of this weekend’s Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic?

A: For the 10,000 participants in this weekend’s 206-mile bike ride, the highlight will likely be rolling across the finish line in Portland. But for those who put a premium on not being terrified while riding a bike, the biggest highlight will come as the ride passes through Pierce County.

The Cascade Bicycle Club and Joint Base Lewis-McChord should be applauded for working together to create safer passage through the South Sound this year.

The STP turns 36 this weekend, and for most of that time the ride has traveled from the Roy Y to Roy along state Route 507.

I’ve finished five STPs during the past decade, and this stretch has been the lowlight of almost every ride. Volunteers had to place mats over the train tracks to make them less jarring to cross. Cars sometimes aggressively zip by, their drivers clearly annoyed by what seems to be an endless line of cyclist.

This 7.5-mile section of road simply isn’t a safe place for the STP. While plenty of experienced cyclists make this ride each summer, the STP is packed with inexperienced bucket-listers, people learning as they go.

This is one of the beauties of this ride. It can set inexperienced riders down a path toward becoming skilled, safe cyclists. But the Spanaway-McKenna Highway is a brutal proving ground.

When I rode the STP with my wife in 2013, we had to stop in Roy so she could settle her nerves. It was her first STP, and what she witnessed over the previous 30 minutes helped contribute to her also declaring it her last STP.

We saw bikes riding four and five abreast (the limit is two, but single-file is best) as if the road were closed. We saw people passing and stopping without offering warnings to those around them. We saw minor accidents, and luckily were gone before a bike-car collision near Roy.

“That Roy road was not fun. ... This road has freaked me out more than any of the others,” Kristen told me, the fear still evident in her eyes. “I’m looking forward to getting on the (Yelm-Tenino) trail.”

Well, as of this weekend, this nasty stretch of road is no longer part of the STP. And one of the nation’s most famous bike rides is better for it.

This year, cyclists are traveling between Spanaway and Roy via JBLM. The numbered bibs the cyclists must wear to get food at the rest stops also serve as their ticket to enter JBLM via Perimeter Road in Spanaway and exit on Warren Street in Roy.

On base, the Cascade Bicycle Club promised low-traffic roads while JBLM planned to display various military vehicles along the route.

I wrote this column before a friend and I pushed off at dawn Saturday morning for a planned one-day STP trip, so it’s too soon to say for sure that this new route was significantly safer.

But I can’t fathom how this much-needed route change could be anything other than an overwhelming success.

Q: Those guys who built the Swan Creek Mountain Bike Park, what else do they do?

A: The Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance is one of the Northwest’s most important players when it comes to building and maintaining mountain bike trails.

Its army of volunteers and experienced staff helped make Tacoma’s first mountain bike park a reality last year at Swan Creek Park.

While this is what the group is best known for, the group also offers programs to teach the sport to children. The organization was recently honored for its effort with a grant from The North Face.

North Face’s Explore Fund launched in 2010 has contributed $1 million to more than 300 organizations with the mission of helping youths discover outdoor activities.

Evergreen plans to use the grant money to expand its youth education program, which includes a new program that will provide mountain bike skills training for underprivileged youth around the Puget Sound area.

For information on Evergreen’s classes and programs, visit evergreenmtb.org.

Q: What’s the best way to go about racing a bison?

A: First off, bison can weigh 1½ tons and run 35 mph, so you have no chance. But if you at least want to run in the general vicinity of where the bison roam, early registration is underway for Northwest Trek’s annual Run Wild.

This year’s 5- and 8-kilometer races (and 5K walk) are scheduled for Sept. 19. The chip-time race is on trails at the wildlife refuge near Eatonville. Entry is $35 until Aug. 31 and includes a shirt and post-race access to the park, including a 50-minute tram tour. The race fee increases by $5 on Sept. 1 and climbs to $45 on race morning. Money raised by the race is used for Northwest Trek programs and conservation efforts.

For more information, visit nwtrek.org.