Last week, Cascade received multiple Thank You cards from two-time Seattle to Portland Classic finisher Leia Jung, thanking us for another safe, enjoyable and great STP. Our cards were a couple of many Thank You cards six-year-old Leia has sent out since completing the 2012 STP, all with a personalized hand-written note at the bottom. The bulk of the postcards were sent to a number of police departments which assisted with the STP traffic.
“Riding in the Cascade Bicycle Club’s Seattle to Portland Classic was an experience I will never forget. Thank you for all your help in ensuring that my ride was safe and enjoyable,” Leia penned.
Her father, Stuart Schechter, explains that Leia loves writing cards and Thank You notes and that she learned to appreciate the police officers during her first STP in 20111.
“She didn’t initially understand why the adults she was riding with were always yelling ”thank you” to all the police officers at the intersections along the way out of Seattle. She soon understood that the police officers were there to make our ride safer and more fun,” explained Schechter. “There’s a huge contrast between the quality of the ride out of Seattle, in which nearly every traffic light and stop sign is assisted by a police officer who gives priority to cyclists over drivers, and the constant stop-and-go of the entry into Portland.”
Leia started riding bikes to spend more quality time with her dad, who’s been an intermittent bike commuter for about eight years.
While training for his first STP in 2012, Schechter bought a trailer so that he could bring Leia, and later her little sister, along for the ride.
“But neither ever liked being a passenger that much,” said Schechter.
But Schechter enjoyed that STP so much, he signed up again. While training for the 2011 STP, he spotted a Weehoo recumbent trail-a-bike and envisioned riding the STP with Leia, who was five at the time. He picked one up from REI and with only three weeks to go before the 2011 STP, Leia started riding.
“Two weeks before the ride I was able to get Leia to do a half century by luring her to Snohomish with the promise of cinnamon buns at the Snohomish bakery,” said Schechter. “That ride really opened her eyes to the scenery and camaraderie of distance riding.”
But even with the half century under their belt, STP was a very ambitious goal.
“I’m not sure any of us expected Leia to do the whole ride, but we figured this way we’d find out what her limits were. She got pretty bored the second half of the first day but she muddled through to the end, declining offers for her mom to pick her up,” recalled Stuart.
Leia was determined.
“The second day she knew exactly how much of the day she’d need to ride to complete another century, and she was looking forward to her finisher patch and an ice cream at the finish line,” said Stuart. “She rode like a veteran rider, powering through the morning’s rolling hills and never complaining about the length of the ride. We were still exhausted at the finish, but knowing that we’d really pushed the edge of what we were capable of, only made the finish more satisfying.”
This year, Leia stepped up for the challenge again. Now big enough to fit into a size 1 shoe –the smallest size shoe to support clipless pedals –Leia was fitted for proper bike shoes and bike gear, and Schechter attached a sign to the back of her trailer bike that read, “Hi, My name is Leia. Say hi when passing.”
“The biggest highlight of riding STP is how people treat kids on the ride. Everyone is always so encouraging to kids who ride, and say wonderful things to parents, too,” said Schechter. “People always want to check out Leia’s bike and talk gear with her. Not only did Leia spend two days hearing wonderful words of encouragement, they were all from people who called her by name.
“I can’t think of any other activity in which a five-year-old can perform at an equal level as an adult and get the sense of being a peer among adults, let alone an activity that represents the level of challenge that STP represents to many adults. If you’re a kid, being treated as an equal (and winning the awe of those non-riding adults who can’t imagine riding 204 miles in a weekend) has got to be the biggest highlight.”
Next year Leia will be seven, and the father-daughter team will likely do STP again, as well as RSVP2.
Leia’s goal is to ride STP solo when she’s eight and let her sister ride the Weehoo behind her dad when she is five (the age that Leia first rode it).