Rider spotlight: 87-year-old to ride his seventh and last STP

Seattleite Walter Barke fears that this year’s 200-mile Group Health Seattle to Portland Classic may be his last.

“I'm 87 now, and it just takes too much effort at my age to train for back-to-back centuries,” he stated.

Walter has done six previous STP events, completing his first event in 1994 as a challenge.

“In early 1994, I was on an Egyptian tour where I befriended a young dentist. In the course of our conversations we discovered that we both liked to ride bikes –although neither of us was any sort of an endurance rider. I challenged him as sort of as a joke to ride the STP,” recalled Walter. “He took me up on it and we rode STP that very year!”

Walter, the dentist and a group of friends had such a great time riding STP, they decided to do it again the following year.

Keeping up with this annual tradition, Walter registered for the 1996 STP as well but an injury sidelined him.

“I was hit by a car while visiting Phoenix and my left knee was crushed. I sold my ride ticket and the group rode without me,” said Walter.

In 1997, Walter was fired up to ride again although most of the group had disbanded.

"This was the disastrous year that convinced the club to move the ride to July," recalled Walter. "We left Centralia on Sunday morning in a driving rain with a strong wind in our faces. The dentist, who had developed into a stronger rider than I was, took off and I never saw him again.

“There I was riding all alone. Sometimes I didn't see anyone riding in front of me or behind me for miles. I was miserable. I thought, 'why am I doing this?' So I quit.”

Walter didn’t return to STP for over a decade. But in 2007 that familiar urge resurfaced.

“My wife and I and some neighbors were having a garage sale. My neighbor was there selling bicycles. My grandson, Brook Swanson, had come over from Spokane and was visiting. We stood there looking at [my neighbor's] bikes and talking about riding when someone said, ‘lets ride the STP!’,” said Walter, admitting it was probably him who put the idea forward.

So the following year, in 2008, Walter rode his fourth STP. He was 82 at the time.

That winter Walter came down with pneumonia and was unable to recover his full strength in time for the 2009 STP but in 2010, Walter was healthy and raring to go.

Walter was joined by his neighbors, his grandson and son-in-law, and had a great time.

“This is a social ride; the friendly people you have in your riding group are what make it fun and worthwhile,” Walter said.

The same group rode again in 2011 and will ride once again this year. They missed last year’s event as Walter was getting his second shoulder replacement.

“This year I'm healthy again, and although I had a bad case of bronchitis all winter, I've been training hard for the last six weeks, and, hopefully, I'll be able to do the ride,” he said.

To extend the STP fun, Walter has created another STP tradition over the years, which includes some clever planning.

The week before STP, Walter drives a vehicle --big enough for five people and their bikes -- up to Portland. He leaves the vehicle at his sister-in-law's house and returns to Seattle via train. After finishing STP, the group visits his sister-in-law's house where hot showers, snacks, a cold beer and the return vehicle await them. After they've refreshed, they head home but not without stopping in Centralia for a hamburger first.

It beats taking the bus back, Walter explained.

While this might be Walter’s last 200-mile ride, something tells us that we’ll continue seeing him at other riding events…

Walter will be riding with bib number 503, be sure to cheer him on when you see him!

Who else is riding? Find more rider spotlights, here.