Passport to Pain puts cyclists to the test

A cyclist gets his
A cyclist gets his 'passport' stamped at one of the stops along last year's route.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

“Fantastic!” “Epic!” “Brutal!” “Intense!”

No, those aren’t audience reviews from “Total Recall” at the Vashon Theatre. They’re descriptions of last year’s inaugural Passport to Pain (P2P) bike ride around Vashon Island, offered up by riders on feedback forms after the race. The 78-mile course directs riders up and down 30 of the Island’s most punishing hills, resulting in 10,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain.

Last year’s debut event saw 53 cyclists from both on- and off-Island get their souvenir P2P passport stamped at 18 strategically located checkpoints along the ride. A surprising 39 riders completed the course, which also includes shorter, optional 30- and 50-mile routes.

This year’s second annual Passport to Pain will be Saturday, Sept. 15, with riders gathering at the Jensen Point boathouse at 8 a.m. Entry fees benefit the Vashon Island Rowing Club.

“For intensity, P2P takes the ribbon,” said David van Galen of Seattle’s Integrus Architecture, the architecture firm working on the Vashon High School construction project. “From Maury Island on was one long slog of self-doubt and pain. So yeah, I’ll be back again this year.”

The post-ride barbecue at Jensen Point came alive last year with stories of challenge and triumph.

“There are many contenders for ‘worst hill,’” said Bob Horsley of Vashon, “but Burma Road can get real ugly. It’s so steep that you can skid if you stand or pop a wheelie if you sit.”

“I hugged the last passport stamper tight after she told me it was all downhill from there,” said Pamela Forrester of Snoqualmie. “At that point, I wasn’t sure if ‘downhill’ was in the Vashon Island vocabulary.”

Promoted as a “fun” club ride, the event asks registrants to sign a release and pledge $100 to secure their passport; they then receive a $4 rebate for each stamp received. Including a fee for the barbecue, participants can reduce their entry pledge to as little as $28, although more than half of last year’s riders left their entire $100 pledge as a thank you to Vashon Island Rowing Club, which raised more than $5,000.

“It was definitely one of the most challenging rides I’ve ever done, but also absolutely one of the most enjoyable,” said Adam Gunn of Bainbridge Island. “Nearly every stop became at least a couple minute chat, and the homemade cookies and fresh blackberries were a definite favorite.”

There is a limit on riders for this year’s event, which may very well over-fill. To secure a passport, register at But organizers stress that this is a strenuous, unsupported ride for experienced cyclists only.

“Passport to Pain is not a race,” said lead event organizer Bruce Morser. “No times are taken or prizes awarded. It’s just our rowing club’s way of celebrating the hard work and crazy spirit of dedicated athletes.”

— Jeff Hoyt is a cyclist and a member of the Vashon Island Rowing Club.

Adventure cyclist Willie Weir will talk about his life as a cyclist at a talk at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14, the night before Passport to Pain. His talk will take place in Ober Park’s performance room. Weir, a nationally renowned speaker and regular contributor to KUOW, has cycled over 60,000 miles throughout the world, and will include the tale of riding his bike up what he calls “the steepest hill in the world.” Admission is free.


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