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Chilly Hilly: as an observer

March 2nd, 2004 · 2 Comments

Sunday was the day of the year that Bainbridge Island becomes Bicycle Island. It’s the day of the Chilly Hilly, a 32- year-old 33 mile ride around the island, climbing 2700 feet in elevation. I liked this hill profile.

In previous years, I’ve stayed off the road on Chilly Hilly Sunday. I’ve tried to stay at home. I don’t drive a car or ride a bike that day if I can help it.

I like bikes. But I’m not a cyclist. I used to bike to work but that was years ago, and only a two mile commute. Since I’ve had kids, my bike has gotten neglected, languishing in our garage with flat tires. I feel guilty looking at it slumped against the wall. Lisa Williams , I just learned, has a lovely harem of bicycles , (including a tandem and a baby hauler – wow!) and I have one lonely one, wondering what happened to our relationship. I wish I could bike to places rather than drive, but with three wee ones, that’s a bit tricky. The girls are learning to bike and sooner than I know we’ll be able to cycle together as a family.

I’m happy to share the road with bicycles. But on Bainbridge there isn’t much road to share. The shoulders are narrow. Excellent driver that I am, I feel nervous trying to pass a bicycle, when cars are coming in the opposite lane, and when the cyclist is riding on the line, or weaving back and forth, coming into my lane.

On Chilly Hilly Day, so far as I could tell, most of the roads are not closed. Cars and bicycles go together. Even hundreds of bicycles. It’s a bit give and take. One four-way-stop-sign intersection was a mess.

It doesn’t leave much room for the riders. And I’m happy to let them have the roads for one day. It looks like a fun ride and maybe someday we could get in shape and try it as a family. I’ve heard that islanders have a great time riding around, stopping for pancakes at friends’ homes, chili at the playground, enjoying the view and getting to know neighbors.

On Sunday though I had to take someone to the ferry at 9 am. So while the girls and I were out and about, I figured we’d do some errands. And, I thought, why not try to see some of the cycling action?

From the ferry dock, we headed up Ferncliff. I thought I’d turn off Wing Point Way and park. Little did I know that was also the Chilly Hilly route.


We parked and watched for a while then headed across the street


to peek at the llama farm


Then back to the course to watch and cheer: were these cyclists obeying the speed limit?!

It was quiet. Not a lot of cyclists. Not a lot of crowd either. Perhaps we came too late. I had fun saying “good morning” to those speeding past us. Chatting a bit with a few who stopped. We waved.
If anyone saw a mom and three little girls walking around and waving on Wing Point and Winslow, that was me.


I saw many families. Couples on tandems. A father and his son on separate bikes. Sometimes I’d see mom or dad with a lowered tandem for a child. Or a kid towed in the back like this picture. It seemed like a neat idea to do it together. If we ever did it, I’d want to do it as a family.

Later we went shopping downtown. It was fun to hear the sound of cycling shoes on the grocery store floor. And to see all the colors. The T Mobile pink and black. Blue with red and yellow flames – from Oregon? Lots of limeade-colored, bright flourescent coats. The girls got a good look at cycling fashions – everything from the tight black suits to baggy shorts. Michaela wore shorts over footless tights yesterday and said “Now I look like one of the bicyclers!”


This was the view from the park downtown where we could see the finish. I liked how the madrone trees formed a triangle, framing the cyclists and the Sound (Eagle Harbor).

Monday’s Seattle Times had great photos .

Paul was there. Fran was there too. She also posted some great pictures. And her description of the island and the day:

Bainbridge Island is green and peaceful and the day was sunny. The wet road reflected the sky in a sheen of blue under the dark fir trees. Ferny, wooded ravines crossed under the road, a ribbon of creek shimmering at the bottom of each one. Though I’ve ridden my bike around the island two or three times before, I’m not familiar with its geography. Every time the road passed a stretch of beach, or a narrow saltwater inlet with a stream running out through the forest, it was a breathtaking surprise. There are one or two good-sized marinas, and every hidden cove has a few boats anchored in its shelter. The water in the inlets is like a mirror, often with a rock sticking out and a single cormorant sitting on it. Fir trees tower all around. Then the road turns away from the water and you pass old fields and farmhouses, always with the forest as a backdrop. The houses that reveal the island’s wealth and luxury are carefully placed far from the roads so most of the island still looks rural and traditional.


Biking to a ferry, taking a ride across the Sound, seeing the island, ferrying back and biking home—I enjoyed it so much that I wish everyone could experience it. I know there are a lot of special experiences in life, and this may not have been a peak experience, but it felt like an improved version of the ordinary and I love that it is available to us so close to home.

Tags: island

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 eric // Mar 2, 2004 at 8:01 pm

    I did chilly hilly last year on the tandem, and I don’t think I’m going to do it again. It’s a nice ride, but there are just far too many cyclists for the width of the roads, and a lot of them just can’t ride safely.

  • 2 paul // Mar 2, 2004 at 8:34 pm

    Fran saw more than I did (I was just trying to finish . . . ) but on the strength of the experience (both the superb organization and the wonderful welcome by the Bainbridge Islanders), I joined the Cascade Bicycling Club today.

    I think the case could be made that it is pretty crowded (3500 people is a lot), but what to do? Cap attendance? Spread the start times? Who wants to mess with a good thing, especially a fundraiser?

    Thanks again, you nice Islanders . . .