The Needle Gate Project is a GO!


The only way to San Francisco from Seattle is down the 101 and the only way to get there is by bicycle.  The Needle Gate Project is a journey from the Space Needle to the Golden Gate Bridge.  It’s a pursuit of physical and mental limits.  It’s a platform for freedom both to the individuals riding and those whom are yet to be free.



Stefano Altamura Interview – Seattle to Napa



BR: OK, so let’s get this straight, you rode fixed with no brakes from Seattle to Napa Valley.  Is that correct?

SA: Yep.

BR: Wow, Who Are You?

SA: My name is Stefano Altamura (Alta-murra), I’m 25 years old, Originally from Napa Valley CA, moved to Woodinville at age 5 with mother.  Living in Seattle ever since so I consider myself a native.

BR: I like your name.  Where’s it from?

SA: My father is Italian and apparently I’m named after a cyclist that my dad was a fan of but that’s yet to be confirmed.

BR: So have you always been a cyclist or is this something relatively new?

SA:  Like any kid I’ve been riding bikes my whole life but it wasn’t until 2006 when I started a messenger job in the U-District that I entered into a whole new realm of cycling.  I started out on a hand-me-down 62 cm Schwinn Varsity which is too big for anyone much less myself but I didn’t know any different.  I slammed the seatpost and threw down just like the other guys.  A few years into my messenger gig my dad gifted me one of his classic Pinarellos.  I still have it today and it’s an all steel frame with super record.  When I picked that up people started talking about how nice it was and it got me more interested in the sport and the high end equipment out there.

BR: So are you still riding the Pinarello?

SA: I ride it on occassions when it’s actually running but about 95% of my cycling is on a fixed gear rig that I recently built up.  I went fixed in 2010 and haven’t turned back since.  I get a more intimate and personal connection with the bike unlike anything I’ve experienced on a geared bike.  You have to plan ahead, pay attention to your pedal strokes, constantly be aware of whats on all sides of you.  I get a hyper-active sense of riding that only comes when I ride fixed.

BR: So now that the Pinarello is on the shelf what are you riding?

SA: I picked up a Cinelli Bolt frame from Mash SF last year.  We’re coming up on our one year anniversary.  Haha.  I really like Cinelli’s styling and geometry.  I have long legs and a short torso so the Bolt frame fits me really well.  Not to mention it’s Italian and I’m proud of my heritage.

BR: So the Bolt is what you rode to Napa.  What gearing were you running?

SA: I ran a 48×19.  It was good and bad.  Good for climbing the relentless hills but not so hot for the decents.  I scared myself a few times towards the end of some of the long decents because I got really tired.  I’m in pretty good shape too.



BR: That’s insane.  So give me the skinny on the route and time of year.

SA: I left in mid-August which means it was about 95 degree in Washington.  I left from my apartment in Seattle and planned to land at my dads house in Napa 13 days later.  August is the best time to go down the coast because of tail winds and the lower chance of precipitation.  In June and July it’s still overcast and rainy but in August the weather is good.  It only rained on me once which just so happened to be my favorite day of the trip.  I stopped after the first day because my body was just flat wore out.  All my riding consisted of short spurts within the city constantly stopping and going so by the time I got across the ferry and onto Bremerton I was able to open it up and spin for hours.  The duration and the added 50 pounds of weight took its toll so I decided to take my first rest day 24 hours after I started.  The next morning though I felt like a champ and rode every day until I hit Napa.

BR:  You recover quick!  How’d you keep yourself motivated?

SA: For the most part it was all about thinking positively.  I’m not going to lie, there were times when I thought ‘what the heck am I doing out here?’ but in those moments I was able to trash those thoughts and replace them with something positive.   One thing that made a huge difference was when I made it to Brookings and did some laundry.  Up until that point I was wearing the same Bike Raising kit every day.  It was the little things along the way that kept me motivated like doing laundry, or a good conversation with someone during a break or some good music.

BR: So I’ve got to ask.  Why did you decide to do this?

SA:  Honestly, this will sound cliché, but I felt like I needed to find myself.  I was in a relationship that I was going through some rough waters, I was in art school which was going great but not filling me like it used to and I just wanted to get out and get recharged.  I believe that everyone needs to break away from their routine and challenge themselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  I wanted to break free and learn something about myself.  I wanted some uninterrupted alone time to think and process stuff and that’s just what I got – 12 hours a day doing something I love.

BR: So you were seeking solitude.

SA: Yes, I was a little uneasy at first especially camping but it started to get to the point where I enjoyed camping instead of sleeping in a hotel.  We stayed in a hotel a few nights and I slept like crap.  I had invited a few friends to come along, mostly to be polite, but honestly I wanted to make the run alone.  All that being said, there were times along the way that I wished I had someone with me to take in the experience.  There’d be a beautiful bend in the road or an amazing vista and I’d want to be like ‘did you see that!?’ but there’d be no one there.  Those times were lonely but they were few and far between.


BR: So can I ask what were some of the discoveries you made about yourself?

SA:  It made me consider the things that I love the most in this world and to always cherish those things and never to take them for granted.  I’d think about things like my genuine friends who show me true love and how I want to be that kind of friend to people or I’d think about my girl friend or I’d just be in the mindset of crushing the next hill I came across.  My thoughts were all over the place but at the end of the day I caught most of them in a journal I kept.  That book is gold to me now.  There was some emotional days along the way.  Malnurishment may have had something to do with it but there were days when I got to really analyze problems in this world and in my life and how I want to make a difference.  Different things sparked different ideas that made me consider how to change.

BR: So this experience sounds like it was life-altering.  Is that accurate?

SA: Most definately. Pushing my physical, emotional and mental limits changed how I see myself and where I can go.  This trip has opened my eyes to be more accepting and loving to others.  Being sponsored by Bike Raising was a cool experience for me because I felt like I was part of something.  Putting on the BIke Raising kit I felt like I was putting on a suit of armor every day.  I was challenged by Bike Raising’s mission to really work hard to make an impact on the world.

BR: Favorite Section of the Ride?

SA: The whole thing was amazing but there are sections that are different.  The best day of riding for me was from Astoria to Nahalum which was like a 45 mile hilly day but for some reason I felt amazing.  It may have been the breakfast that I ate before I started.  Some guy who’d been riding for two months made me an amazing breakfast.  I threw a good song on and played it on repeat for 45 miles.  It was Rain by Cascade.  It’s an electronic beat that kept me pumped.

BR: What was the most challenging aspect of the ride?

SA: The mental part of being inside your head for that long made me really emotional.  I was constantly challenged with the thought of turning around.  Something that really impacted me was a couple that I met at a rest stop that were living out of their van.  For some reason I felt compelled to sit and talk to them.  I needed human interaction and these people seemed interesting and open to talk.  They’d come from the mid-west and were super nice people and just needed money and food to survive.  I didn’t have any food to give them b/c it was all freeze dried and the only bill I had was a $20.  I’m not usually the one to give out money b/c I don’t exactly have a ton but I knew that I had friends and family back home that had my back if I needed something.  These people didn’t seem to have that and it made me realize how blessed I was.  I have love all around me so I wanted to share the little love that I had.  I got choked up and had to leave pretty quick but that little interaction really impacted me.  Physically the most challenging part of the ride would be the decents.  Riding a fixed downhill is tough with roughly 50 pounds of additional weight.


BR: Who were your companions you met along the way?

SA: When I got to Lincoln City I met up with two other cyclist from England.  Apparently there’d been people talking about me because when I showed up they asked if I was the fabled fixed-gear kid that’s been riding down the coast.  And it happened at every camp-site that I went to.  People thought I was nuts.  But the guys I met were so cool.  The next day they were headed to Brookings so they could use the laundromat and it was 80 miles further than I was planning to go but I wanted to stick with these guys so I went on.  That night in Brookings we celebrated the new friendship with a quality dinner.  We rode the next three days together down the coast of California and shared some hotel rooms which was nice after ten days of riding even though I slept on the floor and probably got the worst sleep of the trip.  I was excited to get back in the woods.  It was a good evolution of the sleeping situation.  I welcomed the solitude of camping alone in the woods and wasn’t thrilled about hotel sleeping.

BR: So What’s Next for you?

SA: I’m applying to art schools so hopefully I’ll be headed somewhere new this fall but if not I plan to make the trip again with two other friends.  When I got back and told my friends about the trip they were ready to join me on the next round.  This time we plan to make it all the way to San Francisco and possibly continueing onto Mexico.  We’ll see though it’ll be a game-time call.  I’m really stoked about this next trip because we’re going to do a fundraiser through Bike Raising.  More details to come later.

BR:  Sounds great.  Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.

SA:  You bet! Thanks for the support!