Passport to Pain

September 28, 2012

I'm not a big organized bike ride guy. Most of my riding has been solo or very small group travel (like two people). But when I heard the concept behind "The Passport to Pain," I couldn't resist signing up.

The ride had at least three things going for it. It was close (Vashon Island is a ferry ride away from my home in Seattle). It was one day (pain is best in limited doses). And it was creative (the concept is brilliant).

Riding 78 miles in a day is not particularly painful ... unless those miles include just about every hill on a very hilly island. Someone (Bruce Morser) figured out if you strung all of these hills together into a route, you'd climb 10,000 vertical feet. Now who doesn't want to do that?

The ride (this was its second year) benefits the Vashon Island Rowing Club, which is ironic, since rowing never involves hills. There are three options (78 miles, 50, and 30ish). The long full-meal-deal ride is called "The Idiot".

I noticed at the starting line that I was surrounded by people with bikes that weighed less than my front handlebar bag.

Each rider was issued a passport. Inside were 18 boxes to be stamped at eighteen check points along the course. The checkpoints were monitored by smiling locals and adorable kids. The hills were less adorable. A few top out at a 23 percent grade! But the views take your mind of the pain, well, most of it.

The ride is not officially timed, which makes it less a race, and more of a community of shared misery.

As far as unofficial rankings, I was the last to finish the long ride. Which makes me the last idiot, I suppose. I was accompanied by Tim, a bike advocate on Vashon, who was also riding a mountain/touring bike. The barbecue was officially over, but they had saved us some food and welcomed us with cheers.

So I got to see more of Vashon Island in one day than many locals see in a lifetime, while getting some much needed climbing miles in preparation for an upcoming bike journey.

Pain has never been so much fun.

Photo by David Weller


SIGHTS AND SOUNDS is posted every other Friday. Willie Weir is a columnist for Adventure Cyclist magazine. His latest book Travels with Willie: Adventure Cyclist will inspire you to hit the road and just might change the way you approach bicycle travel. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kat. You can read about their adventures at


BigFaddy November 2, 2012, 9:32 PM

I pedaled backwards, and still you beat me as last in! At least there was no real pain, with the speed we were going... -Tim

Anonymous October 7, 2012, 7:21 PM

Wife and I enjoyed your talk the night before this ride. We live at the bottom of the next to last hill on this journey. Which is one reason we don't ride as much as we'd like!

Look forward to seeing you next year.


Thomas September 29, 2012, 1:03 AM

Great story, Willie--hills are not about speed but tenacity and grit and you've got both!

Thomas September 29, 2012, 1:02 AM

This comment has been removed by the author.

chcPACT September 28, 2012, 3:18 PM

This is great! Reminded me of this past weekend where I decided to take on my first century. I, too, used my touring bike and came in last. However, there was no one there in the end to cheer me on and I ran out of time (by an hour). I finished 90 miles that day (in just over 6 hours) - some how I missed a turn and cut out 10 miles early on. But, what a day and what a ride! Really, can't wait to do it again but next time I think I'll use my road bike.

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