Opinion

Boost economy, make Whidbey level

Editor’s column

Whidbey Island is getting too uphill to attract a lot of people with money.

There were more bicyclists 20 years ago, at least in my estimation. They were in larger groups, on more roads, and generally more annoying for island drivers in a hurry to get nowhere. Bicyclists get no respect, being more like a Mild Bunch than the Wild Bunch, but they carry money in their thin wallets. Lunch for a pack of them puts a lot of money in local coffers, as does the need to keep them properly moisturized and nutrition bar-ized.

The trouble is the majority of the bicyclists, being Baby Boomers, are getting too old to tackle Whidbey Island roads. They’re being replaced only in part by Generation Whatevers, who aren’t nearly as numerous and are just as likely to be text messaging their bosses as riding a bike. What we have to do is adapt the bicycling experience to the older crowd.

I speak of this with personal knowledge because through the years, I’ve cut my bicycling in half. The uphill half. I still enjoying bicycling downhill, which I do with wild abandon on my way to the beach to take a dip in Puget Sound, which most people shun due to the myth that the water is so cold it will instantly freeze you like a helmeted creamsicle. The truth is that global warming has made Puget Sound waters warm enough to poach a herring in. Once word gets out, they’ll be filiming Bay Watch II in Windjammer Park.

It’s the return trip from the beach that kills me. I once looked at the formidable hill as a challenge. I’d climb relentlessly and feel a sense of jubilation as I crested the hill. That sense of jubilation is only a fading memory. Ten years ago I started pumping just halfway up the hill, and now I hang my head in embarrassment and start pushing at the very bottom. I couldn’t ride up that hill if a pack of wild coyotes was behind me.

Most Baby Boomers are too proud to be seen pushing a bicycle up a hill, so they restrict their exercise to flatter areas, many moving to Las Vegas to make sure they never see another hill.

All we need to reverse this trend is the proven technology of the rope tow. Skiers have for generations been the most sensible people alive. They instinctually know that it’s fun to go downhill, but painful to go uphill. So the majority of them never bothered to get in good enough shape to go uphill, they simply use the rope tow. You grab hold at the bottom of the hill and it painlessly carries you to the top.

A good job for the Island County Economic Development Council would be to get into the bicycle rope tow funding business, hitting up local businesses for contributions and tapping into governent transportation and enviornmental grants. The carbon savings from towing 10,000 bicyclists up a hill compared to motoring up must be astonishing. Start with the big hill to the Clinton ferry dock and add from there. Monkey Hill will eventually be a downhill bicylist’s paradise.

Baby boomer bicyclists would throng to the island if they knew there was no uphill any more. “Whidbey Island, All Down Hill,” as a slogan, sure beats, “Do Nothing Here.” And the sweetest thing is, their arm muscles will be so fresh that they will have no trouble reaching for their wallets.

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