The off-and-on heavy rains, the strong winds along the Puget Sound coastline, the bitter cold waiting for and riding on the ferry back to Seattle — it all made the annual ride a lot less fun. I know I’ve complained about the rain at this ride before. Two years ago, we got soaked as well.
But the winds and cold made this year’s ride — my fifth straight time doing this 33-mile loop around Bainbridge Island’s perimeter — feel worse. I guess that’s why they call it the Chilly Hilly. Can we move this ride to the summer?
I can’t tell you how many people did last Sunday’s ride, which is organized by the Cascade Bicycle Club. But the turnout seemed noticeably down, due to the weather. About 4,400 bicyclists participated in 2015; 2,900 in a rainy 2014 event; and 5,000 or so in each of the prior two years, according to my previous blog posts. I’d be surprised if the 2016 turnout eclipsed 2,000.
A fellow bicyclist I was hoping would join me for this ride bailed in advance because of the rain. So I rode with people I didn’t know among the group of riders taking the 9:40 a.m. ferry over to Bainbridge Island from downtown Seattle.
Ride went well, otherwise
Fortunately, the rain stopped for the moments when I was climbing up the half-dozen or so major hills scattered throughout the race. I rode my way up all but one of them, which was pretty decent for me, since I haven’t done much hill training since last summer.
Counting three breaks for food, etc., I finished the ride in 3:36 — better than or equal to my Chilly Hilly times of previous years. I timed myself in 3:34 in 2014, which is my best. This year’s time was decent, given that the strong winds along the stretches of the course made for slower riding.
I was pleased that I successfully rode up the Peterson Hill Road, the very first tough hill, for the first time that I can remember. Typically, this half-mile climb catches you off-guard, coming after 12.5 miles of relatively manageable rolling hills and flat stretches.
But just as I was pounding my chest over conquering it, the second tough hill, Arrow Point Drive, followed quickly. I’d forgotten about it coming so soon (13.5-mile mark), and wasn’t properly in low gear. So I had to walk my bike about 20 yards on a steep section near the top. This wasn’t the first time this hill took me by surprise.
After that, I handled the remaining big hills. One is Baker Hill Road, at the 20-mile mark. It does not catch you off-guard — you see the Baker Hill Road sign well before you turn right, look up, and see it run long and steep for more than a mile. I was glad to climb to the top again, as I’ve done for three of the five years of riding the Chilly Hilly. This year, I didn’t even stop at the top to take pictures; I just rode to the crest and beyond.
The only other tough hill I will note is Wyatt Street, which is near the finish line. It is more long than steep, but many riders have trouble with it because they are sick of climbing hills by this time and want to be done with the ride. I’ve never had to stop on it, and didn’t again this year.
I must add that I didn’t break any speed records going up any of these hills.
‘Take as many cookies as you can’
I must talk about the weather again. The worst moment of the ride was turning in to the big food stop at the 15.5-mile mark, near the halfway point. Just as I got off my bike and parked it, the sky opened up and the rain started pelting everyone. Riders ran for cover, mostly under tents and food stands.
After a short break, I grabbed a couple of cookies from a stand before heading back to my bike. A volunteer running the food stand urged me to take more. “Take as many cookies as you can,” she said. “We have so many and we don’t want them to go to waste. Take as many as you can.” I took two more, but honestly had limited pocket space.
I felt bad because the volunteers had indeed planned for a bigger turnout. As I looked at her stand, I noticed bags and bags of great-looking baked goods that I hope got eaten.
Back on my bike, the rain squall continued until several miles later, when I reached the south side of the island along Rich Passage. There, the winds picked up. By the time I hit the finish line, the winds had calmed. Great to be done. But then the wait for the ferry back to Seattle. It was long and cold.
Now, I’ll get rained on as a runner
Just as I finish up this post, I am getting ready to run the Hot Chocolate 5K in Seattle, early on Sunday, March 6. Rain again is likely. The good news is I won’t be out there for three hours (barring something unforeseen). I am eager to try this run, even though I have skipped it in the past two years that it was held here, due to an ungodly start time of 6:45 a.m.
As for bicycling, I am planning to ride the 7 Hills of Kirkland on Memorial Day, and the Century version at that. It is a very hilly and difficult course. I just hope it’s not a wet, windy day, but late May should be better.
Again, can’t we move the Chilly Hilly to the summer? Doesn’t the July Hilly have a ring to it?
Thanks for reading. Till next time.