What and when?

10th Annual Willy Nilly: February 25, 2018

Same day, different island: If you like the idea of dragging your winter insulation-padded arse out for a ritualistic early-season bike ride, but prefer to dodge herds, registration, fees, and rules, then...

You're welcome to join in on a happily unorganized season-opening spin on Vashon Island, WA

Willy Nilly Ride

> Registration/fees: None
> "Ride your ride": Start time is just a guide, select your route/distance, your pace, your style...road cyclists, gravellistas, mountain bikers (there are trails on Vashon)...
> Bring your own group or join one...
> Start: Outside (south side) of Beveridge Place Pub in West Seattle
> Finish: Inside of Beveridge Place Pub (we recommend post-ride hydration)
> Popular ride departure: 9:00 am from Beveridge to catch 9:30 am ferry
> Fauntleroy/Vashon ferry departure time options: 7:50 am, 8:25 am, 9:30 am, 10:20 am...
> Beveridge to Fauntleroy dock: map
> One of many Vashon routes (a "standard"): map
> Food & hot/cold beverages: Provisions can be found during the ride on Vashon at any of our favorite stops along the "standard" loop route: Burton Coffee Stand, Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe, Cafe Luna, The Hardware Store, or the Red Bicycle
> On-island bike repairs: Vashon Bikes right on the main loop route in Burton, and Spider Ski & Sports in downtown Vashon

Scroll down to view hastily scribed blurb-posts about previous Willy Nilly rides...

Willy Nilly Gear

100% of sales "profit" goes to supporting children's cancer research via the Children's Cancer Research Fund

> Willy Nilly t-shirts (M/W): view/purchase
> Willy Nilly hoodies (unisex): view/purchase
> Team Catch The Spider t-shirts (M/W): view/purchase (TCTS is a Willy Nilly fundraising team supporting Obliteride/Fred Hutch, see details)

Willy Nilly History

In January 2009 a handful of cycling friends (or drinking colleaguess, depending on your perspective) were discussing options for a wintery group road bike ride to kick off a new season. None of us were game for the iconic Chilly Hilly on Bainbridge Island. While the Chilly Hilly does an amazing job of inspiring thousands of riders to register and ride the beautiful designated route, this kind of ride just wasn't our cup of tea. To each their own, right? We decided to ride a more personalized and free-form ride on the same day as the Chilly Hilly, in solidarity with the herd to the north of us, and thus the present-day Willy Nilly was born.

The name "Willy Nilly" was originally a nickname for a one-time ride that happened on Vashon Island in February, 1993 following the first inauguration of President William "Willy" Clinton. During the 2009 discussion referenced above, someone (let's call him "Brad") related the story of participating in the 1993 ride. We loved the name. We loved riding on Vashon. Willy Nilly rhyming with Chilly Hilly seemed an obvious sign of encouragement. Shazam.

Click here to sign up for reminders about upcoming Willy Nilly rides

v9: 2017: DRIEST, POPULAREST and most RECORD-BREAKING season-opening ride EVER! #MaybeFakeNews #MakeVashonWeirdAgain

Winter Willy Nilly
February 26, 2017

Well as I predicted many times - so many, many times...too many times to count - before this year's Willy Nilly ride, the weather this year was going to be great. Amazingly great. And guess what? It was so great. And because of my uniquely great talent for negotiating the future with nature, I was the only one smart enough to wear sunscreen. And what does that tell you? I wore sunscreen, becase it was very sunny, alright? And because I'm very very smart. So it was sunny. And warm. And dry. I can't tell you how great the dryness was that I alone negotiated!! "You're welcome" is all I gotta say.

I alone negotiated with nature for bathing suit weather during Willy Nilly 2017 (#MaybeFakeNews)

Now, you may have heard some #FakeNews...let me repeat that: #Fake-News...that some disloyal cowards leaked (and trust me, they will pay for their leakage), but no, there was no drizzling rain or bone-deep chilliness...and no, there was no actual concern about possible hypno-thermia issues when one rider made an extended forced-stop to deal with a mechanical problem with his crangkarm. What's that? Oh, crank arm. Whatever that is. Doesn't matter. I'm not some lowly mechanic. Grease under my fingernails? Fuhgedaboudit! I mean, I could be the best mechanic in the universe if I wanted to...#NotFair to doubt my potential just because I don't know what a crangkarn is.

#FakeNews! (credit Ken P)
Did you also hear the word on the street about all of those Willy Nilly riders, jostling with their pointy little bicyclist elbows to get closest to the propane heater, while enjoying delish coffee, served with a winning smile (a special one just for me, I'm used to it), at the Burton Coffee Stand? So #TotallyFakeNews.

Just like the #FaaakeNeeews that riders took turns eagerly warming their lycra tushes...around a toasty fireplace...while having darn tasty beer from Georgetown Brewing and delish brunchy-snacks at the Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe. The food and hot/cold beverages there are just so super-great when I'm there, and only when I'm there, see, because the people...the people who work there and the people who go there - everyone - all the people love me so much that the food ordered by me or anyone with me is always just the bomb - always!

The Willy Nilly crowds this year were just so huge - and I mean freaking huuuge - that we broke records. SO MANY RECORDS! That's right, no bigger crowd of riders has ever-before come together like this, never in the history of season-opening bicycle rides anytime, anywhere, in the entire...history...of-the WORLD. History of the universe, actually, to be perfectly honest.

A few of the record-breaking number of riders that attended (#MaybeFakeNews)

v8: 2016: Hail? Yes!

Winter Willy Nilly
February 28, 2016

A quintessential chilly and drizzly Willy Nilly...our pedal-splashing around an absurdly gorgeous and hilly island was punctuated by multiple luxuriously comforting hot beverage stops at the Burton Coffee Stand (exquisite almond cake and macaroons) and the Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe (confession: addicted to the pairing of Lucille IPA with a plump & fruity Snapdragon danish).



v7: 2015: Zip-a-deedoo-dah, zip-a-dee-a...

Winter Willy Nilly
February 22, 2015

...my oh my what a bluebird on my shoulder kind of day - for a hardly chilly but indisputably hilly ride on Vashon Island.

While anyone is free to "ride their ride", Willy Nilly cyclists of varied fitness levels mostly hung together this year

This year the turnout of riders - representing a wide range of fitness levels - all opted to ride the same route ("Beveridge Place to Fauntleroy Dock" plus "Vashon Standard Loop"), in one group.  Two riders opted to start/finish their Willy Nilly from northeast Seattle. The weather was conducive to lots of stopping to smell the flowers (figuratively and literally...cherry and dogwood blossoms were exploding in some areas...in Feb??).

Out on the roads of Vashon we crossed paths with several other groups of cyclists who had a similar idea of getting out on the "same day, different island" for a peaceful and soul-nourishing spin. One of them was pedaling a recumbent. I ardently wished that person - who was clearly riding his ride - was part of our Willy Nilly crew. A perfect candidate for the open position of Willy Nilly mascot.

Per usual we paused at the Burton Coffee Stand for a quick jolt of delish coffee...the pause turned into an ad-hoc lounge session in the patio area, where we were greeted by some feisty tulips getting an early start in the surrounding flower beds.

Burton Coffee Stand

From Burton we rode north on Vashon Highway, then swung east onto SW Quartermaster Dr. and worked our way over to one last notable climb up SW 204th St and Ridge Rd SW before our next stop at the Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe.

The always-friendly locals running the Snapdragon offered us an array of exquisite baked goods, which stunned some of us into indecision. Eventually we all partook in the incomparable mid-ride pairing of a Snapdragon baked treat with a pint of Lucille IPA. More lounging ensured before our last short sugar/beer-fueled burst of energy carried us to the Vashon ferry dock.

Snapdragon Bakery & Cafe

Last stop, per usual: West Seattle's Beveridge Place Pub, where our final stage of rehydration was accomplished...each of us found and quaffed a particular malty beverage that suited our individual needs. "Ride your ride" can evidently be applied to any aspect of this day.

v6: 2014: Ah, back to chilly no-frilly late winter conditions...

Winter Willy Nilly
February 23, 2014

This year the Willy Nilly returned to it's original format. That is to say, on the same date as that of a well-established season-opening herd of cyclists on a different island near Seattle. 

In the spirit of Willy Nilly there were two waves of riders on their own schedules, doing their own route, each riding their ride on a day of perfectly reasonable weather (there's no such thing as an ugly day on Vashon). 

"And the ferry ramp Strava king of the mountain is..."
The first wave, which I'll refer to as the Strava-tistas (see one blogger's commentary), took an earlier ferry and surely established all kinds of performance records that no one had heretofore been macho enough to attempt. Remnants of this wave stuck around the Beveridge Place long enough post-ride to welcome the second wave and share some malty/hoppy deliciousness and Willy Nilly camaraderie...

Wave two riders, more inspired to "stroll" than "perform", nevertheless accomplished an artistically-oriented achievement for posterity by collaborating with the bartender of The Hardware Store to identify and test the perfect final component of a beverage masterpiece that had been in development for more than five years: The Admiral (a Bloody Caesar made with gin versus vodka). A feat of genius by the bartender was was performed by adding rolled anchovies to the already heavily-laden garnish stick.

So yeah, we had a lovely ride with comfortably crisp weather that was mostly dry....that is, until we departed The Hardware Store for a dash to the ferry dock, at which time we were blessed with just enough rain that we were able to feel as if we were intrepid Belgian Spring Classics riders deserving of many finish line beers.

v5: 2013: "Nice" and balmy Willy Nilly

Summer Willy Nilly
August 24, 2013

Q: "How was the blind date you met last night?" A: "Nice".

In my experience today's generally understood meaning of this answer is either "meh", or perhaps even "something less than great, but don't ask me to provide details".

This year's Willy Nilly was better than "nice". It was a bike ride on Vashon Island in the summertime, and by any measure a stunningly lovely ride. It just lacked...meteorological character.

This year it was suggested that we roll with the Willy Nilly not only on a different island than the Chilly Hilly is held, but also on a summer day that is six months opposite of the iconic season opening ride. And that's what we did, with the following results:

  • Somewhat surprisingly, a smaller crew showed this year for a mild-weathered late-summer ride versus the number that have turned up at previous bone-chilling Willy Nilly rides
  • Camaraderie was not quite as hearty as when we share weather-induced pain and suffering
  • The Bloody Marys, Caesars (Marys made w/Clamato), and Admirals (Caesars made w/gin) at the Hardware Store were as delicious as ever 
  • The image shown here of participants taking a mid-ride spin on exercise contraptions might have been easier on the eyes had the riders been covering their lycra with the layers of chilly-weather covering that is typically required during a February Willy Nilly...just sayin'.
  • v4: 2012: Just like the USPS...no, the real one without lycra shorts or blood doping...

    Winter Willy Nilly
    February 26, 2012

    Neither snow nor rain nor...ferry schedule mix-ups...

    A dry, balmy day without unexpected glitches would not be a Willy Nilly day.

    We rode our ride. Experienced new versions of chaos. With a mix of sun, rain, sleet and snow we tasted just the right amount of weather-induced suffering to feel intrepid. Some of us suffered from deciding to try to hang on to the wheels of a couple of our favorite brewers. And we enjoyed the relative peace and quiet of Vashon (though we could hear a rumbling sound coming from an island just a few miles north...perhaps a moo or two). 

    One of us is exceedingly grateful that one of said brewers (hint: his name is not Lucille) pulled the entire way in a mini pace line to make the ferry...from The Hardware Store Restaurant (and bar) feed zone (bloody Mary's, bacon, potatoes) to the ferry that carried us back to West Seattle, where we finished up yet again at the Beveridge Place Pub. The barley wine festival was in full swing...

    As with previous years we had two rider groups due to two different ferry departures, not by design. Oops. Willy Nilly.

    Okay, so we chickened out on widely promoting this beyond immediate friends. Again. I mean, what if the herd shifts south and replaces our peaceful chaos with mayhem??

    v3: 2011: Tooth-chattering grins

    Winter Willy Nilly
    February 27, 2011

    Hardware Store refueling break
    Here we are, almost a year later. Why the post delay? Was it that traumatic? Um, no. Was it that unmemorable? Certainly not. It's simply that it has taken this long to thaw my extremities enough that I may sit down and type.

    How to convey the experience nearly a year down the road? I asked some participants to provide a quick quote that captures their take:

    RM: "The only thing better than the opening climb from the ferry, was the concluding climb into a Bloody Mary."
    GH: "Through cold wind and slush I survived without a wreck, thanks to the beers and my 20-year old Trek."
    BC: "My ass was wet but my wit was dry."
    SS: "I've obtained a longer crank, and I intend to use it. "
    JB: "Am I the only one manly enough to venture out?" (evidently not)
    JD: "The slushy ice was more enjoyable once it was in a glass, with celery salt on the rim."



    v2: 2010: "Start time" is just a guide...

    Winter Willy Nilly
    February 26, 2010

    In the true spirit of Willy Nilly (not to be confused with the Pell-Mell, the
    Chilly Willy, or the dreaded Wet Willy) it turned out that two parallel rides
    occurred this year:

    Ferry wave 1: One minor hitch at the start...one of us (ahem), with the previous night's source of debauchery still coursing through his veins, had to sprint home for forgotten bike shoes and thus barely made the ferry by driving aboard. A group of 7 riders (Brad C, Manny C, Rob M, Greg H, Phil W, Erik G and John D) navigated the classic Vashon loop, including some cross-training at the outdoor exercise bike installation (above). During the return stretch we decided to stop for some bloody Marys/Caesars, bacon (for those of the group who are carnivores) and red potatoes at The Hardware Store in the village of Vashon. From there some decided to high-tail it to the dock (some of us chose not to notice), and a technically complexified flat repair caused three of the riders to miss the targeted departing ferry. Nevertheless, everyone arrived at the Beveridge for beer, barleywine, and Zeeks pizza in time to catch an epic US/Canada Olympic hockey game...at least one Canuck will never have to buy his own drinks, eh?

    Ferry wave 2: A sweeper team of 3 riders (Dave C, David E and Mark W) stormed the Vashon ferry beachhead and surely wreaked their own brand of havoc upon the sleepy, weird island enclave.

    Next year: It's time we diversify!

    Honorable mentions: John J couldn't make the ride, but drove across town to show team support at game time. Scott S induced his understanding wife and infant daughter to make a similar trek and appearance at the Beveridge. And Kris S, well, we simply honor Kris because we know that he is with us in spirit ("sipping coffee" in Amsterdam), a phantom sag-wagon far off the back of the last Willy Nilly rider, making us feel at once superior and guilty. We love you, Iceboy.

    v1: 2009: Risk = reward

    Winter Willy Nilly
    February 22, 2009

    A common northwest outdoor activity maxim: "If you don't go, you won't know!"

    A handful of moderately inspired Willy Nilly riders decided to heed this maxim for 2009 and it paid off with ideal February riding conditions. The slightly damp Vashon scenery was mostly green from what I can remember, the hills were aplenty (particularly in relation to most of our fitness levels this time of year), and some decided to extend the ride into some funky side-routes. Add to this an easy ferry experience, no registration fees, no "herds" of riders to contend with, and a quick duck into the aptly chosen Red Bicycle in the village for some malty liquid carbs and french fries to fortify us before the final leg...already Jonesing for next year...

    A special thanks to Manny who, while unable to ride due to a residual headcold, was awaiting us at our finish line (Beverage Place Pub) with a pitcher of his namesake brew.

    Also, honorable mention is due PW, who showed up at the Beverage on time but fell victim to chaotic communications.

    True to the spirit of Willy Nilly, we benefited from the few surprises that spiced up our day.