On Vashon this weekend nearly 200 bicyclists will take part in what some cyclists say is the toughest ride in Puget Sound.
The Passport to Pain, or P2P, covers 78 miles of the island and takes in many of its hills, topping out at 10,000 feet of elevation gain, according to Bruce Morser, the ride’s mastermind and one of its primary organizers.
Known as an extremely fit cyclist, Morser made clear just how difficult the race is.
“This shreds me,” he said.
Last year on the ride, first his quadriceps locked up then his hamstrings. “I rode the last hill by a shuffling motion. Everything else was cramped,” he said.
The ride, now in its third year, continues to grow, and Morser expects to draw 180 men and women this weekend. In addition to the nearly 80-mile ride — christened “The Idiot,” — there are shorter rides offered as well. The Weasel climbs 6,300 vertical feet over 50 miles, and even The Weenie is not for the faint of heart with 3,400 feet of elevation gain over 30 miles.
Morser created the ride as a fundraiser for the Vashon Island Rowing Club (VIRC), of which he is a member, and the result is a ride — not a race — marketed with attitude and a lot of humor. It is also a ride that Morser and others say they hope will come to rank among the top rides in the region, including the Chilly Hilly and the Ride Around Mount Rainier (RAMROD).
At the beginning of P2P, each rider is given a passport, which is then stamped at 18 checkpoints along the route. The checkpoints, staffed mostly by members of the rowing club, will all have themes this year, Morser said, including Hawaii, Mexico and the South Pole.
Riders on the P2P secure their passport with a pledge of $100 but are given a $4 rebate for each stamp. If they collect all 18 checkpoint stamps, they will donate a minimum of $20 plus $8 for the barbecue at the end of the ride. If they get only two stamps, they will donate $92.
“The further you go, the tougher you are, the less you pay,” Morser said.
The ride is not all about toughness, Morser was quick to point out, but about togetherness as well. With the stops at checkpoints and crossing paths with cyclists going up and down the hills, Morser said it is the most social ride he has ever been on.
“Nobody comes to the ride and does not go home with a bunch of new friends,” he said.
And nearly everyone donates something extra to the club, he noted.
Islander Steve Abel, an avid cyclist who participated in the first two P2Ps and is recently home from cycling in the French Alps, has a few words of advice for those who are considering the ride. “Train, train, train,” he said. “Ride nothing but hills.”
The number and steepness of the hills makes the elevation gain more
difficult than sustained long climbs, he said, and riders have to change in and out of climbing mode both physically and mentally.
“Vashon is a fabulous place to train,” he said, “but a tough place to ride.”
New this year is a team element, in which a group of people can share riding the hills of the island. Nine women — representing a shell of eight rowers plus a coxswain — are participating as a team this year, and all are members VIRC. This will allow them to ride two hills each, support the club financially and volunteer at checkpoints, but just two of Vashon’s hills can prove challenging for even the fittest rowers.
Kim Goforth rode her designated route yesterday.
“My two hills are killing me,” Goforth said. “There are hills between the hills.”
In fact, she said, a fellow rower told her that he counted the hills and there are 34 of them, more than as portrayed on the map.
Rowing club coach Richard Parr is also planning on participating, though, he hastened to say, “at a very leisurely pace.”
“I’m frightened,” he joked.
More seriously, he said that he appreciates the fundraiser because it is not simply people asking others for money, but provides something for everyone.
For the club, he said, the funds raised will help purchase a new rowing shell, possibly a quad, which cost about $23,000 new.
“The masters and juniors all train very hard, and we should get them the best equipment. The P2P goes a long way toward making that possible,” he said.
Morser noted that he appreciates what rowing offers teen rowers in particular in terms of esteem and camaraderie and that a whole range of students can participate, including those not drawn to ball sports.
“I love what rowing does for kids,” he said. “It just rises kids up.”
As for a financial goal for this year’s ride, he said last year they brought in $10,000 for the club, and they hope to meet or exceed that. Meanwhile, he said he is pleased word about P2P is traveling. Riders this year are coming from as far away as Texas, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The hills of Vashon await them. The first one done with the ride, Morser said, is not given a trophy, but — in the true spirit of the ride — is handed the spatula to take the first shift of flipping burgers at the post-race barbecue.
The Passport to Pain is set for this Saturday.
Riders will leave Jensen Point in small groups between 8 and 9 a.m. The barbecue will begin at the boat house at 2 p.m. For more information, see passport2pain.org.