Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Chilly Hilly - The First Official Ride of the Year

I knew before I left home today's ride would be a wet one. Chilly Hilly, Cascade Bicycle Club's 33-mile jaunt around Bainbridge Island, is the official start of cycling season. It's also more likely than not, going to be wet as well as chilly and hilly. So, I prepared for the worst. I had with me the usual winter cycling gear: water-resistant shell (jacket), full cycling tights, full-fingered gloves, and skull cap under my helmet. But, I also wore rain paints, insulated shoe covers, and extra glove liners. I was ready for a downpour.

Leaving the house at 7 a.m. on this Sunday, the sky overhead actually had streaks of blue amidst the gray clouds. But as I drove south to downtown Seattle, not only did the blue diminish but so did the amount of space between rain drops. I met my cycling companions for the day, Jay and John, at the Chilly Hilly registration area. This was their first Chilly Hilly, my fourth. We shared our thoughts about today's outing, realizing the smart ones were probably still in bed. We took a group photo and then prayed together for our ride. Then pushed off to wait for the ferry to take us to Bainbridge Island.

The half-hour ferry was filled with cyclists dressed in shades of neon yellow, blue, and red. As we pulled into Winslow, standing on the deck of the ferry, I felt the bitter wind off the Puget Sound. I was glad I'd be generating plenty of body heat over the next three hours. There's nothing quite like the scene of a mass start at a cycling event. And the Chilly Hilly is no exception. More than a thousand cyclists poured from the mouth of the ferry like a colony of bats leaving the cave in search of an evening meal. Our meal was the 2700 ft. of climbing over the next 33 miles.

As I turned along Murden Cove less than five miles into the ride, I enjoyed the first sight of Seattle across the Sound and the gray, cold water lapping on shore. The hills came at us one after another as my chant of "On your left" rang out. Okay, actually, it was the other riders calling it out. I hung back, looking for my groove, and getting accustomed to the saddle after too many months out of it.

After climbing the hardest hill of the first half--Arrow Point Drive--we reached our rest stop and halfway point at Battle Point State Park. We cooled off, fueled up, and redressed for the second leg. Just as we left the park, we noticed the temp had dropped. Then the rain came... and kept coming. My first thought, "YES! This is what I came for!" I was dressed for rain as well as mentally prepared for rain. The coolness of the water was refreshing. Jay called out, "Hey, Bob! Pick up the pace!" I was off like a shot.

Soon, we were looking straight up Baker Hill, the longest climb of the ride and the highest point on Bainbridge Island. Mind you, compared to the climbs I do later in the season and had done last year, this was nothing... except, this was February. I have no pride, so I dropped into my triple, geared down to the granny, and sat back for the long pull uphill. I wasn't sure at first what the sound of rushing air behind me was from, but a quick glance backward revealed it to be John holding my wheel and using what was left of his right lung (having lost the left back at Arrow Point Drive.)

With about five miles left to the ride, I reached Rockaway Beach. On a clear day, this is one of the treasured--and seldom seen--views of Seattle. The winter mist cloaked the city in a shroud of gray. Behind me, one cyclist after another whooshed past me on a short downhill curve. The end was in sight and the horses could smell the barn, or the chili to be more precise.

The eagerly anticipated conclusion to the Chilly Hilly is a bowl of hot chili, cheddar cheese, crackers, and corn muffin. After a ride like this in weather like this, there's no better end-of-ride meal. Our final ride time was 2 hours 30 minutes. We celebrated the day's ride, replenished ourselves with chili meat and pinto beans, and then boarded the ferry back to Seattle. And thus, Seattle's cycling season has officially begun. Time to go wash off the bike to get ready for the next ride!

Distance: 33.72
Time: 2.36.11
Avg: 12.9
Max: 39.3
Temp: 41F