A group of riders struggles up a hill during Saturday’s Passport to Pain bike ride. A total of 351 bikers took to the island’s most punishing hills to raise money for the Vashon Island Rowing Club. (David Weller Photo)

‘We’re not in Kansas anymore’: 351 cyclists, one walker take on annual Passport to Pain

Continuing the summer fundraising tradition, just over 350 cyclists converged on Vashon Island last Saturday for the sixth annual Passport to Pain bike ride.

The ride is a fundraiser for the Vashon Island Rowing Club and has become a mecca for cyclists wishing to test their mettle on the island’s steep, hilly terrain. This year, the ride was themed for the first time, with each of the 18 checkpoints sporting “Wizard of Oz” motifs. Organizer Colby Atwood said the ride raised more than $20,000 and, despite the Ferries’ two-boat schedule, smoky haze and forecast of rain leading up to the ride, the 351 participants exceeded last year’s attendance.

“We pulled people from Oregon, a couple from North Carolina, and the one guy from San Diego was the first to register, he registered back in January,” Atwood said. “Word is getting out. It’s a bucket-list ride for a lot in the cycling community.”

He said 60 percent of the riders this year were riding Passport to Pain for the first time and many had never been to Vashon before. And while the event’s 80-mile ride that gains 10,000 feet of elevation, dubbed the “Idiot,” is P2P’s main attraction, participation in the event’s two shorter races — the 30-mile Weenie and 50-mile Weasel — was also higher this year.

“We want to promote the shorter courses,” Atwood said “There’s a lot of fun to be had. You don’t have to kill yourself on the course.”

But among those who did choose the killer course were some of the youngest in the ride’s history — 14-year-old islander Chris Fontina and 15-year-old Bassam Almustafa, a Syrian refugee who recently moved to Vashon with his family.

And in a first for the course, islander Rick Wallace walked the entire 80-mile “Idiot” over the course of four days.