I’ve been a member of the Cascade Cycling Club for many years now, but I don’t really take much advantage of their rides. I really enjoy cycling by myself, able to go as fast (or more often) as slow as I want, stop when and for how long as I please and take the route as I find it. I’m a member of the club as I support their advocacy and educational work and I feel that is well worth my membership costs. But every year I do their first ride of the “season”, Chilly Hilly. This ride takes place in February and goes around Bainbridge Island, a winding hilly route mostly on the islands perimeter. I do this ride for several reasons, partly because it has the least amount of people, partially because I find the winter ride element interesting, but mainly to remind myself why I don’t really care for group rides. Don’t get me wrong I enjoy it immensely every year as it’s so different from my normal rides and it is wonderfully well run but in the same way that being out in crowds wears me down I’m always glad to ride home alone at the end.
The first time I rode Chilly Hilly I drove into downtown Seattle with my Bicycle on the back of my car. The next year I had embraced the “ride to the ride” concept and rode into the city from my home in Woodinville. This was a very easy familiar route along rail trails for the bulk of it. This year I had moved and that route was not the most direct by any means. The route I needed to take instead used part of the Lake Washington Loop, the I-90 trail and then a meander through the ID to the waterfront. Apart from the last bit this was a route I had done before but I didn’t have much of an idea on how long it would take. Part of my strategy is that I take the last ferry over, mainly because I’m not a morning person and could use the extra time, but also as it seems to have the least amount of people. Cyclists in general seem to be morning people, another way I really differ from them. So I got up early enough to get ready, make coffee and still have about a two hour window to get to the ferry. The day dawned overcast and a bit blustery and I layered myself appropriately. I was dressed in high Rivendell fashion with a wool undershirt, Musa Seersucker long sleeved shirt and a wool cardigan on top and wool tights under Musa long pants below. This turned out to be pretty much ideal for the day which was drizzly most of the day, but with some good showers and then cooler and windy at the end. Heading out from my house involves a climb, so I was hitting those hills right off. I cut across Kirkland pretty much parallel to the I-405 until I intersected with Northup which I rode on until 116th. I took this road, which skirts the bad Bellevue parts of the Lake WA loop route, to Main street from which I got onto the Lake WA loop. There had been a few drops of rain here and there and a bit of wind but so far not bad. Arriving at the I-90 trail was 7 miles from my home and I had made decent time. I don’t cross the I-90 bridge very often so it’s always kind of fun. Except for the Mercer Island section, which is kind of a pain. New this time for me was continuing on the trail to its end. I have always in the past jump onto Lake WA blvd after doing the trail. Through the tunnel the trail wind around through parks and splits at one point. I had gotten the best route from some kindly posters on the Cascade Forums but I ended up taking the wrong split. Well it got me to the same place in the end, just with a bit more climbing. From the end I crossed a bridge and heading roughly North and I stuck with that till I intersected S Jackson Street which I rode through the ID and Pioneer Square to the Waterfront. Then it was a short jaunt up Alaskan Way till I hit the ferry dock.
I had made pretty good time, but the ferry started loading pretty much as I arrived and I was among the few later comers well in the rear. We got on board and after the traditional shedding of gear I headed up to get more coffee. I never get enough coffee in these early morning jaunts even though I had brought a large mug that I stashed in my handle bar bag as I rode. As I approached the ferry coffee machine with my tumbler in hand it turned out they had just ran out of coffee. Several other caffeine hounds and myself waited eagerly for the machines to refill, impatiently hitting them up about a third full. Another one of my quirks is that I really hate wearing my number (I’m not a number, I am a free man!) any longer then I have to so I always put it on (and take it off) during the ferry rides. Well carrying all my crap upstairs to get my coffee and do just that I dropped my Chilly Hilly packet. I realized this as I went to sit down and searching proved fruitless. Oh well, I guess I’d be among the other “pirates” on this ride something I wouldn’t feel too bad about as I had paid up. Shortly after this I saw a ferry worker with a packet in hand and I asked her if it was number 132 which it turned out it was. Thus ended my short career as a ride pirate. I returned to my bicycle and attached the front number to my handlebar bag and put the sticker on my helmet. As always I received no clothespins to put on the chest number so I just stuck it in a pocket in case I was hassled (which of course I wasn’t). Now we were approaching the island and the throng of riders packed in a bit in anticipation of exiting. We landed and all the cars disembarked. At last we were free to mount up and start the ride.
There is a pretty good scrum as we disembark, everyone riding slowly up the hill from the terminal, some jumping out into the opposing lane to get on with it, but most just keeping pace. The peleton thins some as we ride through town around a bend then down a nice grade that launches one over the first hill with little effort. Things head downwards for a while with the occasional easy bump upwards. The bicycle traffic stays pretty thick with this easy riding but as we hit sea level and pass a nice little beach there is a right angle turn and the first real hill. This hill things things out quite a bit and gets ones legs in order. Its not a soul destroying hill by any means, but after sitting on the ferry for nearly an hour and then some easy downhill riding you definitely feel it. At the top on wag breathlessly inquires if that was it for the hills, to which his companion sarcastically affirms that its all downhill from here. Around this time I am passed by some of the “pirates” from the .83 cycling club. They choose to do a ride around Bainbridge Island every year at the same time as Chilly Hilly. Its a free road and as they don’t use the Cascade services I see no problem with it. Many of them are riding single speed or fixed gear bicycles which is an impressive feat on such a hilly ride. Not far after I was passed there were two other pirates on the side of the road and those ahead of me pulled over to see what was up. “I desperately need a beer” was the answer as one of them dug around in his backpack. My kind of guys 🙂 These pirates also seem to have fenders and mudf laps on their bicycles in a much larger percentage then the average “racer wannabe” I so often see. A lot more pleasant to ride behind on a day like today.
There had been drops of rain on and off up to this point but now it begins to rain more in earnest. Pictures become hard to take as raindrops keep getting on my lens and nothing I’m wearing is dry enough to wipe it off. We plug on in the usaal fashion on these rides, you seem to pass and get passed by the same people over and over again with the occasional rider blowing by never to be seen again. Some of the larger hills appear about 1/3 of the way into the course including the one I think is the most difficult which is the end of NE Battle Pt Drive (if I’m reading the map correctly). This time as I drop into the third ring my chain drops off. Damn. I pull over and put it back on and then its back to the ascent. This is one that leaves you gasping at the top, which then is a right angle turn and a gentle continuing uphill. Not too far from here I see some of the unicycles that I’ve seen every year and always impresses the hell out of me. Its hard enough on a multi-geared bicycle much less a single speed unicycle. My hats off to that crowd. One of the pirates that I kept passing and being passed by had his kid with him on a tandem and not too far from the cider stop I talked to him a bit. Nice guy, just saying hi, but they kept on going as we hit the turnoff for the cider stop. The cider stop is a place to get hot cider, free calories, bike repair if needed and to use the facilities. I try to spend a decent amount of time there as its the only break I take. I drink plenty of hot cider, and eat nuts, rice krispie treats and peanut butter cookies. The goodies are made by the Girl Scouts and I always leave them a nice tip. I’m glad its the girl scouts as they are a laudable organization unlike their discriminatory male counterparts. The Rivendell always seems to draw some interest from some and at the cider stop a couple of guys as me questions about it. Earlier in the ride I had talked briefly with a fellow riding a Redwood (first of those I’d seen) who also had a Schmidt Hub on his front wheel. He was a local so just doing his every day ride for him. I don’t think I saw anymore Riv’s on the ride, but I did see one on the ride home.
This cafe is about three quarters of the way around. The route from he climbs for a while over these very rough roads. Every year I wonder if they’ll repave this section and so far they have not. This part is a bit tough in that there are a lot more people walking their bicycles, a bit more traffic and of course one is a bit played out by this point. If any other Chilly Hilliers are reading this, I’d just like to ask, nay beg, that when walking up hills please, please do it single file. Those of us who choose to ride have to make it around you, often into opposing traffic, uphill (a hill let me remind you that you feel the need to walk up). So make it a bit easier on us all. Thanks. Anyway things are winding down now, there is a small groups of us here, some passing on the downhills and being caught on the uphills. Or vice versa. The terrain is rolling hills, gentle curves along the edge of the island. You can see the ferry terminal every so often and not too much later the signs posted by Cascade encouraging you to the finish line appear. We join a much more major road and traffic picks up. I keep passing these two guys wearing shorts and t-shirts, that are totally soaked and seem to be on their second time around the island. The very last hill of the ride, up into town, is the worst one in my opinion. No where near as steep as the other major contenders, nor as long, but it has several features that put it squarely at the top of the unpleasant list. First of all its the end of a lot of hills so one is as burned out as one is going to be. Secondly it seems to be a major road in so there is a constant stream of traffic. Finally the bicycle lane is constrained on one side so even one person pushing their bicycle (and there are many) means its out into that traffic to pass. This is another hill that I just put it into the grainy gear and spin, spin, spin as its better to pass as few as possible and it helps ones weary legs. Cresting this though its a bit of ride through town, a bit of downhill and the finish line.
At the end of the ride is a Cascade booth where you can buy commemorative shirts and the like and of course the ubiquitous chili feed. As always I order a shirt as they always run out and as always I stick my head inside look at the chili feed and pass. I’ve got more riding to do and chili just never seems like the thing I need. A beer on the ferry and some calories in an easy to digest form is more in order. So I don’t linger much longer and head to the ferry which has a massive crowd of cyclists loading on. I ride on with the rest and lay my cycle down with the massive amount of other bicycles. I get my beer, a hot pretzal and a cookie and enjoy the ride across. As we dock at Seattle it is obvious that the weather is clearing up and it will be a nice partially sunny afternoon. Figures. I’m pretty beat as I reverse my ride in and it is getting colder. I’m a bit slower getting home, hindered by strong headwind on the I-90 trail and general exhaustion. I pull into my place around 4:30 in the afternoon having put more then 66 miles on the bicycle and a solid days ride. Some pizza and beer surely help ease the pain.
All of these thumbnails can be enlarged and are from my gallery of Chilly Hilly pictures.