My sixth Chilly Hilly ride last Sunday (Feb. 26) was probably my wettest one yet. I continued to hope (pray) into the late stages of the 33-mile ride around Bainbridge Island that it would … Just. Stop. Raining. It didn’t — until after I crossed the finish line.
So I was a rain-soaked, cold, dirty mess as I waited with hundreds of other bicyclists for the ferry to take us back to Seattle. Tired and sore too. Maybe 2,000 bicyclists turned out last Sunday, a typical smaller turnout for a rainy Chilly Hilly (dry event days bring out as many as 6,000 riders). Yes, it was an exhilarating ride on a challenging course, but it was a pain in the ass to get through. Icy cold. Layers of wet clothing. Miserable. Fun.
I said this after last year’s event: This would be a great ride to do in July. But that isn’t going to happen. The Chilly Hilly will probably always be in February. The Cascade Bicycle Club, which organizes the annual event, knows there are enough hardcore bicyclists like me who are eager and excited to launch their biking season each year with this ride, rain or shine. Or, should I say, rain or snow.
We train, we ride, we shiver, and then many of us catch colds. Fortunately, I narrowly avoided one this year.
My recap of the good, bad and ugly
Here is why Sunday’s ride was equal parts great fun and sheer misery. I’ll start with great fun:
- The course: With a total elevation of 2,191 feet, the Chilly Hilly route lines the perimeter of Bainbridge Island, a rustic, woodsy, smartly developed land mass in the Puget Sound west of Seattle. You get scenic views of the Seattle skyline. You also ride by lots of single-family homes, small commercial areas and small wineries. What I like about this course is that the first 10 miles are relatively flat and get you warmed up for the major hills that follow.
- The hills: Among the half a dozen challenging hills, some are deceptively steep and others come quickly so you can’t shift down fast enough. Every year, there’s at least one hill where I have to stop at mid-point and walk my bike to the crest. This year, there were three — although I successfully climbed N.E. Baker Hill Road, the steepest and highest on the course (300 feet in less than a mile). It felt great riding to the top.
- The volunteers and support: I continue to be amazed at how well-staffed this event is. Course marshals were spread throughout the route, warning riders of sharp turns and congested intersections. Radio support vehicles could be seen every two miles or so. If I had gotten a flat (which I didn’t), I’d have felt safe that help to change my tire was not far away. On top of that, there was more food than riders at the rest stop near the halfway point. Kudos to the event organizers.
- The ferry ride over: Riders are eager to get started, and the 30-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge is always full of energy. Actually, there are four different ferries carrying bicyclists to the starting line, but the 9:40 a.m. boat I took generally has the most participants. You get a sense of who and how many people you’re riding with.
Now then, here is the sheer misery part:
- The constant rain: It rained before the ride and during the ride, then subsided after the ride as I waited with other bicyclists for the ferry back to Seattle. It was a steady downpour, not hard or stormy like last year’s ride, but I had raindrops on my glasses through most of the ride. I seriously need windshield wipers for my glasses when I do this ride.
- The cold: Yes, they call it the Chilly Hilly. But you’d think it would warm up in the late morning or afternoon. It did not. Temperatures remained in the 30s, and it felt like it was just getting colder and colder as I kept getting wetter and wetter.
- The issues with my bike: The inside frame for my bike chain is a bit worn down, making shifting down a bit problematic. This is aggravated by wet weather. So, at least three times when I geared down to take on a big hill, my chain got stuck and I had to stop and get it working again. I’m getting this fixed at Gregg’s Cycle, as I write this.
- The ferry ride back: There’s no way a ferry ride across the Puget Sound in wet clothes is going to be any fun. My effort to stay warm by wearing more layers seem to backfire. They all got wet. I was happy to finally get to my car in downtown Seattle and drive home.
OK, enough ranting. My riding time was about 3:30, but counting breaks, stopping for pictures and time at the rest stop, it was almost four hours total time. A bit slower because of the elements. It was my 27th organized ride since I started doing them in 2011, and fortunately, most have been in dry weather.
And guess what — I will very likely do this ride again next year.
Congrats to journalism and Microsoft friend Anthony Bolante for his ride, which he posted about on Facebook. Sorry I didn’t see you there, Anthony. Maybe next year.
What’s next: Hot Chocolate 15K
There’s more ugly weather this weekend, and I am running the Hot Chocolate 15K (9.3 miles) on Sunday. I’d rather run in the rain than bike in it. But I’d still prefer to run 9.3 miles in dry weather, if possible. Looking forward to having some Allytics teammates run this with me.
After that, I am taking a vacation in mid-March (sunshine! baseball!). So I have decided to skip the Mercer Island Half-Marathon in 2017, after running this race for 13 of the last 14 years. But I’ve already signed up for the Seahawks 12K Run in April, so that is looming.
My next bicycle ride will probably be the 7 Hills of Kirkland on Memorial Day. I’m hoping to be able to do the full 100-mile route, my seventh century, this year. Counting on dry weather too.
Thanks for reading! Till next time.