Chris Fontina, 16, and Malio Nelson, 15, represented Vashon Island in the Seattle to Portland bike ride Saturday, July 13 (Courtesy Photo).

Chris Fontina, 16, and Malio Nelson, 15, represented Vashon Island in the Seattle to Portland bike ride Saturday, July 13 (Courtesy Photo).

High school juniors complete bike race as one-day finishers

Pair took on a 206-mile course that draws around 8,000 riders each year.

  • Wednesday, July 31, 2019 9:32am
  • Sports

Known as one of the most iconic bike rides in the Pacific Northwest, the Kaiser Permanente Seattle to Portland race (STP) draws around 8,000 riders each year. Local and national bike enthusiasts alike take part in the 206-mile event, and many try to finish the race in one day. This year, two of the one-day riders were incoming Vashon High School juniors Chris Fontina and Malio Nelson.

“The finish line in Portland was incredibly rewarding,” Nelson said. “The beginning of the day was slightly hectic and then I began to settle into the pace of it and work hard. Once we were in Portland, I became filled [with] the sense of relief and accomplishment.”

Finishing in one day had been a goal for the duo from the outset.

“We really just wanted to get to the finish line before 9:00 p.m., which we did by just a few minutes,” Fontina said.

Fontina has been active in the biking community since the summer of his eighth-grade year when he began training for the Passport2Pain, an island bike race put on by the Vashon Island Rowing Club. The race has become notable in the Seattle area for its extreme elevation gains, with course options between 12 to 80 miles and 800 to 10,000 vertical feet.

Nelson, who has been seriously biking for close to a year, also participated in the Passport2Pain. This summer, the two of them decided to try a new type of biking event that still presented a level of difficulty.

“I have always loved a challenge, and … I really wanted to try something different,” Fontina said. “I heard about the Seattle To Portland from many adults that did it in the past, and they all gave me plenty of great pointers.”

To prepare for the race, Fontina and Nelson started training about two months prior. However, their experience preparing didn’t go as smoothly as the actual ride itself.

“We really messed up on training,” Fontina said. “We started maybe two months before but never did a training ride over 60 miles, which I think was much needed. In the future, I will do some longer training rides before the actual ride.”

The morning of the race also presented its own challenges for the pair.

“Malio and I camped out in the parking lot where the start line was to be the next morning … [but] we did not fall asleep until about midnight,” Fontina said. “Then around 1 a.m., once we finally fell asleep, out of nowhere a helicopter landed in the same parking lot we were camping in.”

Needing to pack up their bikes at 3:30 a.m., the duo set out with only a few hours of sleep. While not an ideal start, the race went well overall, providing the wanted challenge.

“The first 70 miles were pretty easy, and then it began to get difficult,” Nelson said. “The last 30 miles were pretty painful.”

Upon arriving in Portland, both received “1 Day Rider” patches before walking around the city. Reflecting back on the ride, Fontina contrasted it with the Passport2Pain.

“The STP was much different,” Fontina said. “The longer distance makes it a lot more difficult, at least in my opinion.”

Fontina also acknowledged the help he received from fellow bikers.

“The biking community is so amazing; everyone I have met thus far has been super nice and supportive,” Fontina said. “I would like to give a special thank you to Daniel Cemulini and Chris Austin for helping me get ready for this ride. They both supplied me with gear I didn’t have for the ride, and lots of knowledge.”

For Fontina and Nelson, biking goes beyond just participating in events. They’ve both come to enjoy other aspects of biking as well, such as the outdoors and even the peacefulness the sport brings.

“I find biking to be kind [of] like a meditation and also a fun sport to participate in,” Nelson said. “This duality is what I really enjoy.”

— Elizabeth Lande is on the staff of the VHS Riptide.

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