Another year, another challenging Memorial Day ride. I joined about 950 other riders in the 7 Hills of Kirkland bicycle ride last Monday (May 28), an event sponsored by EvergreenHealth to raise money to fight homelessness. I’ve done this ultra-hilly ride six times now and it doesn’t seem to get any easier.
Having done it six times — the traditional 40-mile route four times, including the past two years, and the Metric Century (60 miles) twice — I feel uniquely qualified to rank the hills. Keep reading for that.
But first, the good news about the ride is that I conquered all of the hills again and that I finished in the four-hour time frame that I normally finish in (maybe a little better). And no ankle problems. The bad news is that I was a tired wreck afterwards.
A shout-out is in order to all of the Century (100 miles) and Metric Century riders that passed me on the final hill or on the home stretch into downtown Kirkland. I was very impressed with the fitness level of those 100-mile riders I saw on Monday.
With all the tough hills involved in the traditional route, I cannot imagine doing this Century. I’ve wanted to, but really need to be in better biking shape. Century riders must tackle 12 hills in all, as they venture into Snohomish County and back. They start two or three hours earlier than the traditional route riders, and to see them storm past me at 25 mph in the final mile to the finish line was incredible.
Four challenging hills, three not so difficult (but keep them in!)
Now my rankings:
1. Seminary Hill (455 feet elevation), located between Kirkland and Kenmore: This lakeside hill through a forested area twists and turns, but I consider it the toughest because it requires about two miles of straight climbing. There really aren’t places to stop and catch your breath unless you want to risk getting hit by a car or blocking the path of other bicyclists. A photographer is stationed along the road, so smile. It’s your third hill, but your first real challenge.
2. Winery Hill (390 feet), located in Woodinville: Shift down for hill No. 6 because it is the ride’s steepest. Located right off Woodinville-Redmond Road, it’s also the one that makes me the most nervous. I’ve always been able to climb it, but I must weave back and forth on the road to do it — I can’t just take it straight on. So I worry about cars coming down the hill, located in a view-property subdivision. Fortunately, traffic is limited. Also, once you conquer the 0.3-mile steepest portion, the hill becomes doable. Still, getting to the top is a relief.
3. Rose Hill (525 feet), located in Redmond and Kirkland: Finally, you reach hill No. 7, which has the most elevation of all and goes on for more than three miles. Normally, I don’t have a ton of trouble with this hill because it is steepest at the start but then levels off with flat spots and smaller hills. But this year, my energy was sapped by the time I started climbing Willows Road, and then got passed by every rider in sight (including century riders) going up Old Redmond Road. When I finally hit the crest on N.E. 60th Street in Kirkland, the long downhill stretch that follows into Bellevue was life-saving.
4. Norway Hill (475 feet), located in Bothell: This is hill No. 4 on the course, and close behind Rose in level of agony. It goes up hard, then levels off, then starts up again, then levels off, then has another bump. Just when you think you’ve reached the top, there is more. As much as you get tired of the sow grind to the top, the easier stretches make it bearable.
5. Kingsgate Hill (412 feet), located in Kirkland. I honestly don’t know where this hill (No. 5 on the course) starts and ends. You have a food stop at EvergreenHealth Hospital after crossing under I-405, and then proceed to a steep hill that lasts about a block. Yeah, it’s shift-down time, but it ends quickly. There is more to climb after that but not much.
Getting to the top of Kingsgate Hill seems like no big deal, but … that’s OK.
6. Juanita Hill (285 feet), locaated in Kirkland: Hill No. 2 on the course is harder than Hill No. 1, but not by much. During this mile-plus but tame climb up Juanita Drive, you’re only thinking about Seminary Hill to come soon.
7. Market Hill (210 feet of elevation), located in Kirkland: Market Street going north is the first hill after leaving the start at the downtown Marina Park, and it isn’t a huge challenge. But it wakes you up and gets you warmed up.
1. Novelty Hill (470 feet), located in Redmond: Trust me, this is a killer hill. It’s steep, it goes on for about three miles, and you are riding next to cars blasting past you at 70 or more mph on Novelty Hill Road heading east. I really didn’t feel safe going up this hill, but you also get to go back down it (wheee!), so there’s that. 2. Seminary Hill. 3. Winery Hill. 4. Rose Hill. 5. Norway Hill. 6. Education Hill (390 feet), located in Redmond: You’re tired, and still have Rose to do after this hill, but it is manageable and not particularly long or steep. 7. Kingsgate Hill. 8. Juanita Hill. 9. Market Hill.
Since I haven’t ridden the 7 Hills Century, I cannot speak to two of the additional hills, Maltby (471 feet) in Maltby and High Bridge (291 feet) in unincorporated Snohomish County. But I have ridden up the other Century hill in different rides, Stillwater (320 feet), between Carnation and Duvall. I would rank it just behind Norway Hill — it starts off extremely steep, then levels a bit and becomes an easier climb.
Passing on Flying Wheels for a 5K run
What’s next? Well, what isn’t next is the 2018 Flying Wheels Summer Century on Saturday (June 2). I’ve done the 100-mile route of this great Cascade Bicycle Club event the past four years, but with my ankle-surgery layoff I am not in shape yet for a ride of this length. I was planning to do the 47- or 67-mile routes this year, but then decided to avoid a second long bike ride for the week.
Instead, I am running the BBY (Big Backyard) 5K race at Marymoor Park on Sunday (June 3). I certainly need to work on my 5K time, and this will allow me to catch up on some other stuff this weekend.
Thanks for reading!