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Passing Pain

Island Life

One might ask, given all the entertainment and recreational activities open to one on Vashon on any particular weekend, why anyone would actively strive to join in on an event that touts a passage to pain as its main drawing card, instead of perhaps strolling through local gardens or watching four-legged, furry, obsessive compulsive canines chase packs of wool on the hoof over verdant hill and dale. Beyond active or passive spectating, there is an option open to straddle a saddle, wrap your fingers around your handlebars and cycle 30, 52 or 80 miles all on Vashon and Maury Islands for the benefit of the Vashon Island Rowing Club on the Passport to Pain (P2P) ride.

    To the sane amongst us, the immediate two questions that might come to mind regarding this ride are why anyone would seek passage to an uncertain unpleasantness and, of course, who might think that offering this choice to just anyone is a wise, wonderful or even good idea. To a gardener, the contemplation of a painful garden experience is generally anathema to the ideal horticultural perambulation, and is about as likely to creep into thoughts regarding floral displays on a garden tour as would a meditation on running naked and on fire through sticker bushes. And I would be willing to bet that the very last thing on the mind of any sheep dog trial attendee would be strapping slabs of raw sirloin to one’s arms and thighs prior to doing a walkabout amongst a pack of feral and starving pit bulls.

To be truthful, while I have heard the crashing of a bike described a number of times by commentators at the Tour de France as being not unlike jumping out of a car at 40 miles per hour in one’s underwear (although I don’t know what level of personal experience they were using here as comparison), it should be emphatically stated that this is NOT the type of pain we are seeking here. What a cyclist sees on the course map for P2P is the potential for pain at almost every twist and turn on the route, but at the same time has the possibility to transcend it. What we are talking about here of course is good pain- burning thighs and rasping lungs and the satisfaction of knowing that you have gotten through it all.

On the 2013 P2P map there are two significant numbers in red near the top of the page, and they are: 80 miles- 10,000 feet of elevation gain. On an Island that is barely 13 miles long and rises to a whopping 400 plus feet above its shoreline, this is a fairly remarkable cumulative total challenge. In looking closer, one sees a dotted line snaking over the length and breadth of the Island, and is defined in the key as “typical Vashon”. These route dashes are interrupted at least twenty five times by solid orange arrows that are keyed out as “significant hills”. This is where most of the elevation gain can be found, and is also where most of the potential pain resides, mostly because of the necessity for overcoming that gravity thing. One is tempted to enjoy the glide down the sides of the Island, but it is also important to remember that these are mostly all dead ends with passport stamping stations and snack and water offerings while one is temporarily stopped. But unlike balloon rides, it is important to also realize as one dashes to road ends and water views that what goes down, must also go back up, so the fuel and water stops should not be ignored. Another thing to recall and repeat as one begins each ascent is the three word mantra made famous by pro cyclist Jens Voigt: “Shut Up Legs!”

What this is all about is not really the pain, but rather just surviving the challenge. For those who watched all or most of the recent Tour de France, the extremes of pain and the travails of surviving it can best be exemplified by riders Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, who both suffered bone fractures in separate crashes, but continued to ride on until the pain became unbearable. This is not the level of fanaticism expected of P2P riders- as the map repeatedly reminds one, the ride is not a race. That being said, the P2P safety suggestion to not ride as a peloton (large group of racing riders) should be rather an obvious thing to avoid. While conversational pairings and small, single file pace lines can help make the ride go faster, one should always be mindful that most Island roads are narrow, with bike-able shoulders mostly found only on the main highway and on the road to Dockton. Share the road signs can be seen throughout the Island, and cyclists should be reminded that this sharing needs to work both ways.

I rode the entire 80 miles of P2P last year, and have signed up again for this year’s ride as well. At the moment, though, I am looking out the window at Kansas City passing by, with more family stuff waiting ahead for me in New Hampshire. I have my bike shoes and pedals, helmet, gloves and glasses all packed, but I’m not sure if there will be a bike there to ride, or if there will be the time to ride it. As before, I will be getting in some time at the local college pool to break up the days, and the cross training effect has proven surprising and beneficial in the past. The pain of those 80 miles on Vashon is a given. The question I will have to answer the morning of Saturday, September 13th is not “Are You Crazy?”, but rather how much pain my level of fitness will allow me to endure. Shut Up, Legs.

For info and sign up, go to: