If you’re a hardcore biker, or maybe a duck, this year’s Chilly Hilly – held Sunday Feb. 27 – was definitely for you. The 33-mile annual trek around our beautiful island was suited more for the bold and the brave than perhaps the faint of heart or the weak of will. It was a bit of a tester for sure, with some sun, blue skies and wind early on followed by overcast conditions, and eventually rain later on.
This was a serious pedal for those who like the wind in their face, the cold in their shoes, and the rain on their backs.
I met up with a gaggle of my Geezer of Fury riding buddies at our usual spot on the south end of the island. Between us, we’ve probably rode the Chilly Hilly more than 50 times. So, with the weather conditions looking not so favorably our way, we decided to try and sneak in a 20 mile or so ride before the clouds began bursting. As we gathered and began shooting the breeze about the nature of the world – which isn’t so great nowadays thanks to Mr. Putin – a thin pace-line of Chilly Hilly participants came riding past us.
These were serious dudes (and they were mostly men), cranking away on expensive bikes, wearing lots of lycra clothing, waterproof jackets and crash-proof helmets. Well, as many of us know first hand, no amount of polystyrene foam or polycarbonate – the materials from which most helmets are made from – is going to protect your head in the event of a crash. But, hey, let’s not go there.
We rode for a while and met up with a small group of riders from Tacoma. Someone took their picture with the Seattle skyline in the background. Beautiful overlook! Then one of their group jokingly cracked that they were from “Tacompton,” a take off on a not so great section of Los Angeles. Most of us had never heard that one before, and it brought to mind the notion that most people who live in a place long enough eventually hear about, or perhaps invent, a sarcastic nickname for their hometown. Ever hear of “Braindead Island”. A send up, I believe, on the idea that there are a lot of smart people living on Brainbridge. Ah yeah, there are a few lawyers, writers, doctors, inventors, and PhDs lurking in our woods!
We climbed back on our bikes – some electric, some peddle pushers – and headed down the road, as more and more serious riders with numbers on their backs passed us by. In previous years, when we were younger, we took pride in not letting these outliers from Seattle, the Eastside and elsewhere in the Puget Sound, pass us by on what we used to claim as our hills. But those days – at least for this year anyway – are behind us. We were content not to try and tackle the hills on Rolling Bay, Sunrise Drive, Petersen Hill, Arrow Point Drive and the infamous Baker Hill. Instead, we did our “normal” ride that led us to the intersection of South Beach Drive and Toe Jam Hill, where we saw what appeared to be a Trident submarine anchored just off the southeast corner of the island, with an eagle perched on a nearby dock. We all agreed that that particular view conjured up about as iconic a Pacific Northwest scene as you could imagine.
The Chilly Hilly started 50 years ago and is essentially a fund-raiser for Seattle’s Cascade Bicycle Club. Organizations such as the Bainbridge Island Rotary Club help stage the event. This year some 30 Rotarians served as volunteer traffic monitors, directing the estimated 1,600 riders who pre-registered for the ride. In addition, a whole host of non-profits and local restaurants and businesses benefit from event, some with booths at Battle Point and others scattered around the island. This year, the Bainbridge Island Community Senior Center hosted a chili feed during the event.
Let’s face it, the Chilly Hilly means different things to different people, but for us locals it’s a chance to share our roads and hospitality with our neighbors from across the water and from across the bridge. The good news for us is that we can ride this scenic course anytime and any day we want. It doesn’t get much better than that!
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