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Taking on BI: Chilly Hilly brings in thousands of cyclists

IslandWood staffers Chris Sand, Clancy Wolf, Bri Georgi, Troy Kelley, Jeff Desorby and Selena Humphries pose with treefrog, Waq Waq.  - Photo courtesy of IslandWood
IslandWood staffers Chris Sand, Clancy Wolf, Bri Georgi, Troy Kelley, Jeff Desorby and Selena Humphries pose with treefrog, Waq Waq.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of IslandWood

In 2010, the Chilly Hilly cycling event had a record breaking 6,029 participants show up at the starting line. Last year, about 950 participants flooded the first of four ferries from Seattle.

This year on Sunday, Feb. 24, in its 41st consecutive year on Bainbridge Island, it is expected to be just the same. It’s one of the few days a year that ferry riders don’t take their car and cyclists of all types come together for one hilly ride.

“Here the heroes are not the fastest or those with the best bikes but rather those bikes that are less than cool and whose bodies are less than fit that gamely give their all up the hills,” said John Kydd a Chilly Hilly participant. “I feel awed by the under 10 riders and the over 70 riders.”

Groups like the one IslandWood forms every year show up in matching colors.

Ray Cramer, a senior faculty member, says they have been getting a group of grad students and staff together since he started at the school eight and a half years ago. This year one of the staff members made everyone green helmet covers that look like frogs to represent IslandWood’s unofficial treefrog mascot, Waq Waq. They’ll also be pulling a larger version of Waq Waq—the size of a small child—on a trailer bike.

“It gives you a chance to talk to people you otherwise wouldn’t,” explained Cramer of the bike group. “And of course it promotes getting outside and promotes sustainability.”

Chilly Hilly also brings out Bainbridge Island hospitality. Kids, moms and dads host roadside stands and cheer people on throughout the entire race.

But despite its attraction to all levels and types of cyclists, the 33-mile course is no easy feat. Alongside winter’s wet weather, the event confronts participants with 2,675 feet of overall climbing. It is, as its name suggests, hill after Bainbridge Island hill.

In the first few miles the energy is high with the enthusiasm of being part of such a large event. Towards the end, cyclists are starting to count down the miles to the finish.

“I felt like a gutted deer when I did it,” said, local carpenter, Mike Brundige of his first Chilly Hilly four years ago. Brundige shifted into cycling as a way to maintain his fitness when he realized his body couldn’t do higher impact sports like soccer anymore. And he realized he loved it.

“I started to enjoy not hurting more than playing,” explained Brundige. “I got back into it four years ago, but I wish I had done it sooner.”

Proceeds from the event support 10 local Bainbridge charities. The Finish Line Festival will also host a chili feed to fundraise for Squeaky Wheels Bicycling Club.

The event is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Sunday. In Seattle, day-of-ride packet pickup and registration is on Alaskan Way opposite the Coleman Ferry Terminal and is open from 7 to 10:30 a.m. On Bainbridge, day-of-ride packet pickup and registration is at the B.I. Cycle Shop and is open from

7:30 to 10:30 a.m. If you are coming off the Seattle ferry, the course starts as soon as you come off the boat. If you’re on Bainbridge, it starts on the corner of Winslow and Highway 305.

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