Tour de Whidbey fundraiser challenges cyclists

About a half-mile from the Greenbank Farm, Randy White’s bicycle chain wraps up in two loops and slips off the sprocket, after riding 60 miles. He pushes his bike to the finish. - Tim Adams/Whidbey News-Times
About a half-mile from the Greenbank Farm, Randy White’s bicycle chain wraps up in two loops and slips off the sprocket, after riding 60 miles. He pushes his bike to the finish.
— image credit: Tim Adams/Whidbey News-Times

Jeff Robinson sped down Resort Road at 46 miles per hour. His 100-mile bike ride began at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, and by the afternoon, he was closing in on the last 35 miles.

Holmes Harbor was to his west, and ahead of him was a terrain riddled with difficult hills. From Oak Harbor to Langley, the total 8,000 feet of vertical climb fatigued even the most seasoned riders.

Robinson slowed his speed to 15 miles per hour, preparing for a sharp, downhill turn, but the handlebars began to weave.

“I realized I’d overshot it,” Robinson said. “And that’s when I flipped.”

Head, shoulder, elbow and knee crashed into the pavement. His helmet cracked in half. As his body adjusted to the shock of severe road rash, Robinson said he laid there, sprawled out for a while.

Eventually, he pulled himself and the bike upright, and by 2:30 p.m. he finished the course.

Back at Greenbank Farm, he showed off his road wounds to other riders and said decidedly, “It was great. The hills and the views were amazing.”

Other die-hard cyclists shared Robinson’s sentiment at this year’s seventh annual Tour de Whidbey, a bike ride that helps raise money for the Whidbey General Hospital Foundation. Riders come for the endurance challenge, steep hills and winding descents.

Michael Schuler retired from professional bike racing in 2000 and traveled to Whidbey from Ketchikan, Alaska. His island home only has 25 miles of pavement, so he prepared by riding back and forth.

“This course is very hilly and it can be deceiving. You see the top of every hill and you just keep saying, ‘I can get to the next one, I can get to the next one,’” he said.

Experienced riders chose either the 100, 50 or 40 mile routes that began and ended at Greenbank Farm. The routes passed through all of the communities on the island from north to south.

“I’ve done other rides before, like the Seattle-to-Portland Bicycle Classic and I recently did the High Pass Challenge up Mount St. Helen’s, which is about 177 miles just straight up. The STP is about 200 miles but it’s pretty flat. On this course, there is just as much incline as going up St. Helen’s,” Robinson said.

For Ed and Linda Sproull, who came from Bellevue, overcoming physical limitations was just as important as battling the hills; Ed has a prosthetic leg.

“The first day we met, we were on bicycles,” Ed said, nodding to Linda. “And we kept going with it.”

While losing a combined total of 158 pounds as part of their fitness regimen, Ed has clocked 2,500 miles on his bike and Linda has 2,000 miles over the last 10 months. Saturday, they added 60 more.

This year, the course saw more families of cyclists with the addition of the gentle 10-mile ride. The virtually flat route took riders through scenic Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve prairie, farm and water vistas.

About 100 volunteers staffed the break stations that provided water, food and treats.

“The rest stops are a hoot. The food is great and they even clean your sunglasses,” Shuler said.

Tonya Messer and Jayne Brent, volunteers from Whidbey General Hospital, doled out bananas if the riders had cramps, and gave them plenty of carbs for energy fixes. They worked outside of Greenbank Farm — the “finish line” for cyclists.

“We cheer and yell ‘Good job!’ and ‘Congratulations!’ to each rider as they come in,” Messer said.

At the end of the day, cyclists strolled into the farm for a post-ride chili feed and wine tasting.

And Robinson, reeling with adrenaline but still weary, got some painkillers from the volunteers.

“The most difficult part was getting back up,” he said. “Now that I’ve finished, I’m going to go take it easy.”

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