“Historically, I’ve hated hills. But what are you going to do? Ride around every single hill?”
— Maria Schur
When it comes to bicycling, Portlander Maria Schur has morphed from hill hater to hill lover. And now, her personal journey has led her to spread that love to others.
Maria is Portland’s hill-climbing ambassador. A sloped street sommelier whose infectious love of riding bikes and building community has found a home in her latest creation: the hill killerz (name is not capitalized, because “little hills = little letters,” Maria says).
A former leader of the Vancouver Bicycle Club, Maria (whose nom de velo is “Bicycle Kitty“) has always had a flair for finding creative ways to ride together. When we first met her in 2012 she had rallied a group of friends to join her on an early morning bike commute through Forest Park. She’s been a leader and organizer of the Tweed Ride, Cranksgiving, Caddyshack, and many other fun rides and events.
But hill killerz is different. Here’s how it works:
- People sign up by emailing Maria via the group’s Instagram or Facebook page.
- Participants share the cross-streets of where they live.
- Maria finds a nearby hill and assigns it to them via a GPS or Google Maps link.
- Once the person has their hill, they are charged with riding it five times in a row, once a week for five weeks.
- Each Hill Killerz Challenge lasts for eight weeks (Maria gave folks three weeks to “slack off”).
- Folks are encouraged to share their kills on social media with #hillkillerz.
There are only three rules: “No complaining. Do whatever you want. Don’t sue me.”
Since this is about having fun, there’s no need to report back on your progress and there are no Strava recordings required. And these are not macho hills. They are chosen so people can have fun, challenge themselves, and get a bit stronger. And unlike big climbs that require riding out of your neighborhood, Maria prides herself on finding urban rises you have never considered doing repeats of.
I talked to Maria yesterday and asked how this all came about.
“Historically, I have hated hills,” she said. “But what are you going to do? Ride around every single hill? So I worked on changing my inner monologue from ‘I hate hills’ to ‘OK, this is a hill, just experience it, embrace it until I get to the top and then it will be over.
A couple years ago Maria started doing repeats of the hill she lives on (SE 52nd between Harney and Flavel). And she stuck with it and found she actually liked it. Being a self-described, “social butterfly,” Maria wanted to get other people involved. She did a hill kill-themed Pedalpalooza ride last summer and dreamed up the Hill Killerz Challenge as a way to keep it going during the pandemic.
She’s shocked and giddy that 55 people signed up for the first round (and 20 people are on a waiting list). “My heart is on fire with this, there are 55 people all over the Portland metro area doing hill repeats because I told them to! And I’m 55 this year. What a great number huh?!”
Participants live as far afield as Vancouver, Canby, Beaverton and Forest Grove. That means Maria had to get on her bike and hunt for hills in those areas. And she loves that part of it. “It turns out hill-hunting is this whole other kind of bike riding I didn’t know about before.”
Keep in mind she doesn’t just see a hill and assign it willy-nilly. She’s a climbing connoisseur who keeps myriad factors in mind: The pavement needs to be smooth, there can’t be a lot of stop signs, a safe turnaround spot is essential, and then there’s the personal touch. “If someone is just starting out or maybe has a hurt knee, I’ll find them a chill hill,” she shared.
Challenge participants are a wide spectrum, from super fit people training for an “Everesting” attempt to less experienced riders. There’s even a three-year-old.
“The three-year-old lives in the Foster-Powell area which is so flat,” Maria said, “I couldn’t find a hill in their neighborhood and was about to give up when I looked at the map on my phone one last time and found a church parking lot with a ramp to a back door.”
If Maria can find a fun hill for a three-year-old and an Everester, she can find one for you.
Hills not your vibe? There’s another fun challenge you might like. Portland-based Society of Three Speeds is hosting Three Speed April and there’s still time to register. You can win neat stickers and patches by artist and SOTS founder Shawn Granton for completing various ride challenges.
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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