For some, Seattle to Portland bike ride is a chance to honor loved ones

Gordon Gill will set out for Portland this morning riding his uncle's well-used red bicycle. Beneath the saddle will be a small pouch. Inside — some of his uncle's ashes.

He'll wear Badge 75, for his uncle's age. And he'll have with him a portion of a towel that nestled his uncle's head during some of his last moments.

This is his way of giving his uncle, Robert Gill, a final ride on the Group Health Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, an event he looked forward to each summer. Robert, a bicycle enthusiast who lived in Edmonds, died in December after he was struck by a tour bus while bicycling in New Zealand.

"It gives me a chance to remember my uncle a little bit," said 42-year-old Gordon Gill, who will be joining about 9,000 other cyclists on the 204-mile ride.

The Cascade Bicycle Club, which produces the event — now in its 27th year — is an annual fundraiser, and the Northwest's largest multiday bicycle event. Some riders will make it to downtown Portland tonight; most will get there Sunday.

For some, the ride is motivated by a sheer love of cycling and a desire to keep fit.

Jerry Baker, 64, has done it every year since 1979, with the exception of 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted.

After the hours of smelling fresh-cut lawns and car exhaust, he said he'll have one question when he finishes his ride: "Where's dinner?"

Others want to raise money for charity. About 5 percent of riders raise money for various charities, said Carry Porter, Cascade Bicycle Club's spokeswoman.

James Peters, 38, plans the unusual — to ride on a 38-inch-long skateboard. It's a test run for next year, when he hopes to raise money for a nonprofit that provides services for autistic children and their families. His 9-year-old daughter, Sophie, is autistic.

For the Gill family, Gordon's ride is a tribute to its world-traveling, bicycle-loving uncle.

"It's one of the things he loved to do best of all," said his son John Gill, 42.

Robert Gill, a retired electrical engineer who worked at the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory, traveled to countries including Ireland, China and Slovakia with tour groups.

"He could say he was going to bicycle around the Arctic Circle or something and it wouldn't surprise us," said 76-year-old George Walsh, a longtime friend.

Robert Gill was on a day ride on the South Island of New Zealand when the accident occurred, his son said. A tour bus was attempting to pass when its side mirror hit Robert. He died from head trauma, John Gill said, and the bus driver was charged with aggravated careless driving causing death, John Gill said.

Gordon Gill said it was his uncle who inspired him to ride in the STP about eight years ago: "He would want to be on the bike ride."

Anne Kim: 206-464-2591 or