A Bike Event Pivoted to Stay Safe — and Then Smoke Rolled In

The annual fundraiser was adjusted because of the pandemic. Then it became dangerous to be outdoors.

By Colby Atwood

For The Beachcomber

Necessity is the mother of invention. And re-invention. And adjustment.

Inviting more than 300 cyclists to follow each other around Vashon and Maury Islands on Sept. 12 while climbing 10,000 vertical feet over 80 miles and then gathering them for a giant barbecue at Jensen Point afterward was obviously COVID-incorrect. But canceling the tenth edition of the Vashon Island Rowing Club’s well-known annual fundraiser, Passport2Pain (P2P) would further strain the team’s budget and leave the event’s enthusiasts with nothing to test their summer’s training.

“P2P is famous for its zany party vibe, but at its heart, it is a very challenging bike ride,” said P2P co-producer Zabette Macomber. “We decided to see if we could at least preserve that part of it in a virtual version of the event. And because of the widespread need for support in the community, we also decided to give half of the Virtual P2P proceeds to the Vashon Food Bank and the DOVE Project.”

For a reduced registration fee, riders would receive a P2P passport with one stamp for every 500 feet they climbed on hills near their home on the second Saturday in September and be entered into drawings for P2P merchandise and donated prizes.

Since the VIRC Junior Team would not be stamping riders’ passports at checkpoints along the course that day, their coach, Ben Steele, made the virtual P2P part of their training. Inspired by the current fad among pro cyclists to climb 29,035 feet in one day — the height of Mt. Everest — their goal was to “Triple Everest” as a team. More than 30 supporters pledged varying amounts for every 1,000 feet the team made toward their “summit.”

And with no official P2P ride on Vashon this year, P2P’s iconic mascot, the Burma Road Devil, would not be prodding riders up the Island’s steepest hill. To fill that gap, the Devil’s alter-ego and Tour de France fan Jim Marsh suggested capturing some of the P2P zaniness by covering the event live on Voice of Vashon. He and VoV personality (and long time VIRC rower) Jeff Hoyt developed plans for a four-hour broadcast on the day of everyone’s virtual ride, with updates on the Junior team’s progress and phoned-in reports from various participants to describe their rides, interspersed with “get me up the hill” songs that riders had submitted when they registered.

And then the wildfire smoke rolled in.

For most of the week before the ride date, it was dangerous for anyone in the Northwest to exert themselves outdoors. When the forecast for Sept. 12 showed no improvement, the idea of everyone “sharing their pain” on the same day, wherever they were, had to be shelved.

P2P organizers gave riders until dusk on Sept. 20 to pick a day for their “maximum vertical” ride. The big VoV show was scaled back to two hours and morphed from live coverage into more of a P2P promotion. A recording of the show was made available on VoV and the P2P website.

And then the rain came. Good for the smoke, but bad for the roads. P2P riders in Colorado, California, and North Carolina began submitting their rides, but conditions were too treacherous in the Northwest. In a final bow to the forces of nature, the ride organizers extended the deadline for submitting a ride for a passport to the end of September.

One early “Weenie” was Craig Sleight of Prineville, Oregon. (P2P awards Weenie status to any rider who achieves 3,500 feet of vertical.) Sleight somehow managed to meet his goal despite riding in the high desert near Bend. “With the east wind I was in the clear on the day I decided to ride the Virtual P2P,” said Sleight, “but right afterward, the wind shifted and the air became un-rideable down here.”

Islander Rick Wallace tried to go Full “Idiot” (10,000 feet of vertical) with his fifth full walking tour of the island’s P2P route but was turned back by smoke a little short of his goal.

“Of course, I cheat,” said Wallace. “I do it over four days because I’m not enough of an idiot to pretend that I can cover eighty miles in one day. But it’s a tremendous adventure to drop down into all of these beautiful neighborhoods around the island.”

Finally, a break for local riders: the last Sunday of the month was dry and clear, and self-reported vertical achievements began to come in.

Pledge payments for the Junior Team’s Triple Everest effort – 18 rowers accumulated more than 105,000 vertical feet in a day – are still trickling in and will total more than $4,000.

The first-ever Virtual P2P netted almost $7,000. Including earmarked donations to the benefitting non-profits, VIRC will gratefully receive about $7,000 from the event, much of which will help fund scholarships for the Junior rowing program. The Food Bank and DOVE Project each received an additional $3,000. Plans are underway for next year’s actual tenth P2P, dubbed “The Decade of Pain,” and riders are already signing up.

Colby Atwood is a past president of Vashon Island Rowing Club and co-producer of Passport2Pain.

Junior rower Gus Holmes masked up for this year’s Passport2Pain biking event (Courtesy Photo).

Junior rower Gus Holmes masked up for this year’s Passport2Pain biking event (Courtesy Photo).