BY MARIE KOLTCHAK
A few years ago a biking bud (who swims in Puget Sound for fun) invited me to participate in an organized bicycle ride on Vashon called The Passport to Pain, or P2P for short. The word “pain” in the title convinced me to decline.
Four years later, sitting in a parents’ meeting for Vashon Crew Juniors, head bobbing after an arduous commute, I perked up listening to a P2P organizer describe the ride, its fundraising genesis and three ride levels:
1) The 30-miler with 3,400-feet elevation gain called “The Weenie”
2) The 50-miler with 6,300-feet elevation gain circuit known as “The Weasel”
And lastly the lofty 80-miler, with 10,000-feet elevation gain (yeah, you read that right) officially named “The Idiot.”
Bruce Morser, one of the ride’s founders, explained the origins of P2P.
“The thought came to me: What if we strung all our hills together into one epic circuit of The Rock (Vashon),” Morser wrote. “We could develop a ride with 10,000 feet of vertical climbing over only half the distance of the Ramrod … It has ‘half the ram, but all the rod’.’
Why, did I perk up when confronted with words like Weenie, Weasel, Idiot and pain,? Why, indeed. I had ample time to ask myself that question panting up hills, thighs burning, burning, BURNING (did I mentioned burning)?
Grudgingly I admit, I made a tactical error. Given that I live and ride on Vashon, I’m not sure why I thought riding my recumbent trike was a good idea.
The P2P Web site reads: “ . . . 10,000ft. is the same as Alpe d’Hues, Col Du Aspin, & the Galibier combined! (Italics mine) There’ll also be 50 and 30 mile courses for the less crazy. Have a look at the COURSE MAP and weep. . . .”
Maybe I should have paid more attention to the language portion of the SATs: Weeping is to warnings as suffering is to _________.
“Whee!” I thought, “It’ll be fun.” And, yes, zooming downhill on what essentially amounts to a really nice lawn chair on wheels is fun. Going up hills? Not so much.
Trikes, for all their advantages, weigh a good deal more than two-wheelers, and are slower – much, much, slower. So you can really feel your thigh muscles (visualize glowing coals).
This frees a rider to meditate on pain, and how pain, when self-induced (and doctor-approved), will focus the mind. Meanwhile, thoughts about how so-and-so owes you an apology on bended knee and whether or not you have laundry detergent will fall away, one by one, like so much detritus, and leave you with Quiet Mind, one focused on simple things, like say, whether breathing and gasping differ.
My 13.5-year-old son agreed to do this and came in as the youngest of more than 250 riders. Under his guarded gaze, I tried to check my effusive mushiness, elated that he willingly hung out with me.
In four years the P2P has grown from a handful of diehards/founders (53 riders the first year), to over 250 starting the ride this year according to Morser. He attributes the growth to increased advertising and word of mouth.
“Riders seem to always be looking for the toughest challenge,” he said. “We might provide that in Puget Sound.”
At the start of the event, riders receive “passports” to get stamped at strategic checkpoints around the circuit. Volunteers compete for best-checkpoint status and cheerfully provide snacks and water. You can tell the Idiots – they look serious leaving the starting line. They will pedal the hard 80-mile circuit (with hills called “The Wall”).
After staggering, er, I mean arriving back at Jensen Point, wisps of sweet barbeque smoke envelope riders in what feels like a soothing embrace (or at least a kindly invitation to sit down without having to pedal). At the finish, everyone seemed, well, joyous. Riders and volunteers, an army of them, chatted under cool, clear skies reflected in the blue waters of Quartermaster Harbor.
What ride level did I choose? In keeping with our family crest (an image of lion taking a nap in the shade with one large golden paw draped over a generous slab of pie), we opted for, you guessed it, “The Weenie.”
My gravestone’s mighty epitaph will read, “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
As Self-Appointed Bike Ride Critic, I give this ride four out of five coveted Bicycle Pump symbols. I recommend this ride, for the challenge, health benefits, camaraderie, food and opportunity to see one of the region’s prettiest, bucolic islands, a stone’s throw from Seattle.
Oh, yeah, and for bragging rights and cake.
For more information about the P2P here.
Marie Koltchak grew up in New York and lives on Vashon Island. She works for The Seattle Times as a resale and permissions specialist. She loves riding her bike and eating chocolate, and plans to do the P2P next year on her two-wheeler.
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