Sunday, February 28, 2010

Not So Chilly, But Still Quite Hilly

As soon as I arrived at the Coleman Dock Ferry Terminal in downtown Seattle, I knew I should have been there earlier. The weather was forecast to be a perfect day for cycling—especially for a late February in Seattle—and that meant that this year's Chilly Hilly was very well attended. The registration table was crowded and a line emanated from the table for nearly fifty yards. I could see I would be in that line for a little while. I was given some peace by the announcer telling everyone over the P.A. that there was plenty of room on the 8:45 a.m. ferry. I would learn later that he was either lying or terribly misinformed.

Jim and David, two of the other riders I had planned to meet, had already crossed the street and were waiting in the queue area for the 8:45 a.m. ferry. I found Tenille who was still near the registration area. We crossed Alaskan Way and found the back of the crowd. The queue area was full and the ferry personnel were holding the remaining cyclists back. We weren't getting on the 8:45 ferry. We better get comfortable in this parking lot. We're gonna be here until 9:35. We waved goodbye to Jim and David as their ferry pulled out of the dock and began sailing to Bainbridge Island.

Eventually, we were able to board the ferry and begin our journey across Elliott Bay. The sky was slightly overcast, but the air was dry and only mildly cool. When we pulled into Bainbridge Island, the ferry was buzzing with energy. These cyclists were ready to ride! This was Tenille's first organized ride and she was no exception. I could tell she was getting excited.

The first 15 miles of Chilly Hilly give you some nice warm-up hills, but nothing too strenuous. Those hills are saved for the second half. I enjoyed the pace as we rode and chatted and enjoyed the views—both of the scenery around us and the crazy cyclists riding with us. A group of at least 25 riders were passing us with bright red plastic flags pinned to their clothing with a white skull and cross bones stenciled onto each flag. I surmised these were "cycling event bandits"—riders who did not pay the registration fee, but are riding the event anyway. At least they weren't hiding the fact. The pirate flags made that fairly obvious.

At the halfway stop, we pulled into the large park that was packed to the gills with cyclists of all kinds, booths with an assortment of food, and a few too little portable toilets. I made a beeline to the shortest line I could find and waited... As I wandered back through the crowd and the food vendors, I was puzzled once again—as I am every year—watching these cyclists buying footlong hot dogs loaded with chili. A meal suitable for the end of the ride, but something I would never eat mid-ride. I could only hope they would make it to the finish without cramping up and dying on the next hill.

And the next hill was soon to appear. As we turned the corner to Baker Hill Road, I glanced at Tenille to see the look of shock coming across her face. It's a long, slow climb, but one that can be knocked out if you've been cycling all winter like we had both been doing. It's such a pleasure to pass other riders on the hills. I made no attempt to hide my glee.

The remaining miles took us along the southern end of the island. We rode along the waterfront, enjoyed a few more good hills, passed two unicyclists, and stopped for photos with the city of Seattle in the background. The weather was warming up and the sky was becoming blue and sunny. I was thoroughly glad I had made the decision to ride today and missing the early ferry was no longer a big deal at all.

At the finish line, we could smell the hot bowls of chili waiting for us. We parked the bikes, headed indoors, and grabbed our steaming bowl, piece of cornbread, and beverage, and toasted to a great ride behind us and a full calendar of cycling ahead of us.

More photos here.

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