Thursday, September 20, 2018

Try Cycle Oregon for week of challenging, scenic road biking with friends

Happy rider grinding up the hill on Day 1 to Halfway, OR
Photo by Dean Rodgers, courtesy of Cycle Oregon 
Wendy found an unexpected friend in the Blue Mountains 
Leaving Wallowa Lake and heading for Elgin on Day 3 ... cool, beautiful morning. 
Hi all,

I'm happy to say that Wendy and I survived Cycle Oregon last week, a big event with 2,000 fellow road bikers who rode 383 miles and climbed 23,612 vertical feet over six days of riding. Whew!

Passing through a rainbow of balloons at the finish line in Baker, Oregon, last Saturday afternoon, after riding 60 miles from La Grande to Baker on scenic back roads, I felt a major rush of happiness overtake my body, a feeling of accomplishment, and a feeling of freedom -- getting my life back after being engulfed in a pretty intense drill of road-biking boot camp for 7 days in a row. 

The route Cycle Oregon selected this year was absolutely beautiful in NE Oregon. That was a big draw for me since I lived in La Grande as a cub reporter for the Observer in the early '80s, and I used to ride my road bike everywhere in the Grande Ronde Valley in my free time. I even did some long-distance rides from La Grande to Wallowa Lake, one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Main Stage in La Grande ... Karaoke night. Kind of a stich! 
We also were motivated to participate in Cycle Oregon because some friends of ours from Portland were signed up, and I thought it would be a cool thing to do in my 60th year. Road biking really helps me burn calories and improve fitness in a way that's superior to mountain biking. And I thought the challenge of doing Cycle Oregon might be appealing to Wendy after her Mom died in late May. It would give her a fitness goal and something positive to do while working through the grieving process. She had 3 months to train! Wendy liked the idea, she took ownership of it, and did fantastic.

Wendy had never ridden 80 miles in a day in her life, until she did Cycle Oregon. She wondered out loud, in a joking way, why she had waited until she was 61 to tackle a big week of road riding! Oh well! 

On Day 2 of Cycle Oregon, we camped at Wallowa Lake State Park, with the Eagle Cap Wilderness towering above us, at the end of a grueling ride, the most challenging day of the whole journey. The Day 2 itinerary motivated us to do big training rides, because we had to ride 78 miles over three mountain passes from Halfway to Wallowa Lake, climbing 6,682 feet along the way. Like we used to say in Minnesota ... OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOFFFFTA. That's a big day!

Morning sunlight greets us on the ominous Day 2
Photo by Dean Rodgers, courtesy of Cycle Oregon 
Weeks before we did Cycle Oregon, I'd wake up with a knot in my gut, thinking about whether I was ready for Day 2. And that would motivate me to go do a training ride, perhaps ride Bogus, or do some other bigger ride with at least 4,000 feet of climbing and 60+ miles.

And you know what? Weeks of training paid off. I focused on pacing myself on Day 2; I would enjoy the scenery no matter what. After I crossed the first summit and descended to the Imnaha River for lunch, I felt that I had done a good job conserving energy for the next two summits. But ... an annoying little twinge surfaced in the back of my right leg as I started to climb that afternoon. That was weird. I stopped to stretch that out, and tried to spin easier gears on the climbs so I didn't cramp up or aggravate that weird twinge. That strategy worked.

At the final summit, we had great views of the Wallowas and Hells Canyon, and Cycle Oregon dished up the best snack stop we'd seen yet. They had Gatorade on ice, Diet Coke, Snickers bars, apples,  grapes, peanut butter treats, Goo, and more, and I gobbled all of that down while sitting on a spare lawn chair. I'd already burned over 6,000 calories on the climbs, and I still had 20 miles to go!

Those treats got me to Wallowa Lake State Park. I arrived at 4 p.m., set up camp, and watched for Wendy. She rolled in at 5:30 p.m. She had done it. I was so proud of her! 

Heading to lunch stop in North Powder, with the Elkhorns in the background. Can you see the fresh cheapseal? Boo!
Photo by Dean Rodgers, courtesy of Cycle Oregon
People who are thinking about getting into road biking or trying something like Ride Idaho or Cycle Oregon should be inspired by Wendy's story. If she can do it, anyone can who puts their mind to it. It helps to do long-distance rides with big groups. Your fellow riders motivate you. You might meet a friend along the way. Or someone might pull up behind you and draft; and then lead later on. It's fun to ride in a draft line with people riding at the same relative speed; it's a great way to preserve energy.

Friend Sue Hartford, a Boise nurse, has ridden Cycle Oregon several times. These were her thoughts about the ride this year. "Cycle Oregon was a challenging week of riding with always-fun "after-spots," she says. "Beautiful scenery ending in a cute welcoming town or beautiful park! They set up an amazing city in itself. It was a time to also get reaquainted with old friends and make new ones. Thank you Cycle Oregon once again!" 

Cycle Oregon makes things fun by carrying all of your gear, providing excellent hearty hot meals at breakfast and dinner, and they have a main stage that travels to base camp each day. Live music cranks up at 3:30 p.m., and the beer taps are flowing and the wine bar is open. Some groups bring RVs and extra supplies so they have their own food and party materials to supplement what's provided by Cycle Oregon.

At the finish line in Baker ... happy to be done! 
Cycle Oregon also gives back to the local communities. They have announcements on the main stage each evening at 7:30 p.m., and give the riders a chance to be welcomed by local people and hear about their communities. We even heard from a Nez Perce tribal elder at Wallowa Lake.

After 4 days of riding, we earned a rest day in Pendleton, site of the famous Pendleton Round Up, which was in full swing. We bought tickets to see the rodeo events that day, and had the privilege of watching Native Americans compete in a bareback relay race. That was the most exciting thing we saw all day!

Mostly, however, we enjoyed resting our legs for 24 hours. The annoying little twinge went away in my right leg from the rest. Wendy and I took naps. And in the late afternoon, we had more time to enjoy the beer garden, and had wine with dinner with friends. We had a substantial climb to La Grande the next day, but only 55 miles. We were on the downward side of the hump.

I highly recommend Cycle Oregon, and I also thoroughly enjoyed Ride Idaho, too. Get some friends together and make it a goal! Think of it as a present to you!
- SS
She did it! Yay Wendy Wilson! 

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