Cycle Oregon 2009 — The Best Got Better

I think we climbed up all that

The reward -- nearing the top of the BIG climb

Cycle Oregon is a 7-day organized and fully-supported cycling event that allows participants to explore the most beautiful parts of Oregon by bicycle. The organization markets the adventure as “The Best Bike Ride in America,” which would be a bit over the top were it not almost certainly true. The Cycle Oregon Website explains why: 

Cycle Oregon delivers the best combination of scenery, challenge, amenities, camaraderie and philanthropy of any ride out there. A fun-loving mix of back-road riding and two-wheeled tent revival, our event moves from town to town with 2,000 or more riders enjoying generous hospitality and providing direct financial benefits to our host towns as well as cycling-related causes throughout Oregon. And it’s a new route, and a new experience, every year!

Team Vibrant Table in the house

Team Vibrant Table in the house

From a rider’s standpoint, it is a simple event. Wake up, eat, break camp, ride, eat, ride, set up camp, shower, eat, sleep. For an extra $350 you can even have a tent set up and broken down for you, simplifying things even further. Those with extra time and energy can drink in the beer garden or dance to the bands that play in camp every night. While you do have to sleep in a tent, it is a bit of a stretch to call it camping. Frankly, the whole thing is pretty cushy (except for the riding part). Did I mention a team of massage therapists is available every night in camp? Oh how I miss thee, Tye, my sweet, sweet man-handler.

Cycle Oregon staff always there for the riders -- even if all they need is a little water and encouragement

Cycle Oregon staff always there for the riders -- even if all they need is a shot of whiskey from the magic canteen and some encouragement

Virtually every rider need on and off the road is anticipated and met by the Cycle Oregon staff and its army of volunteers. The whole event runs like a well-oiled machine. Considering the substantial logistics involved, that is nothing short of incredible. What’s more, it seems that the Cycle Oregon team is constantly looking for ways to make the experience better.

This year there were two particularly noteworthy changes. First, the recycling program was upgraded to include composting, which means that all food scraps, disposable tableware and other biodegradable waste is sent to a commercial composting facility. By now, it is all well on its way to being converted to rich, dark soil.

They also upped the ante in terms of food. This is huge. Until this year, the food was something many of us more discriminating eaters could barely choke down. This year, it surpassed adequate and could reasonably be classified as pretty darn good. When you spend as many hours each day in the saddle as I do (this year up to 8 or 9 hours), good chow is pretty important.

Gettin' loved up by the locals

Gettin' some lovin' at Heaven on Earth

One of the nicest parts about Cycle Oregon is the warm reception we receive in the communities we pass through as well as those that host us each evening. The number of volunteers that show up from each town to lend a hand — including many who need to be there long before dawn to help with breakfast — is always impressive.

More impressive is how great all the local kids turn out to be. Players from the local sports teams are always on hand to help schlep riders’ gear between the 18-wheelers and camp sites. If you think that kids today are ill-mannered, lack respect for their elders or whatever, perhaps it is time to get out of the city and check out rural Oregon. Norman Rockwell himself would be charmed.

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Look, it is an elite cyclist

I thought last year’s route around the Wallawa Mountains was going to be a tough act to follow (and it was). However, this year’s route planners rose to the challenge and succeeded admirably. Once again, the scenery was breathtaking. It is hard to capture its beauty with a camera and even tougher to do so with words, so I won’t even bother making the attempt. There is a good — and growing — collection of photos on flickr (all C.O. riders are encouraged to add their photos to the Cycle Oregon group pool).

Heaven on Earth is aptly named

Heaven on Earth is aptly named

The locals who earned the most notoriety on this particular trip were the owners and crew of Heaven on Earth restaurant and bakery in Azalea, Oregon (just off I-5). They hosted a rest stop for us that was unlike any other, treating riders to freshly baked cinnamon rolls, apple crisp, blueberry cobbler and coffee. It was awesome. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought so either. We stopped in on our way home to provision for the long drive. The owner said more than 700 other riders did the same thing.

I can't do that! Oh, wait, we just did.

No way I could do that ride! Oh, wait, I just did.

This year’s route was significantly harder than any other I’ve done (2004 and 2008). I recall standing in line behind a guy wearing a T-shirt that read “437 miles, 28,202 feet of elevation gain” and thinking what a bitch that ride must have been. It took me a minute to realize he was wearing a Cycle Oregon 2009 T-shirt.

I’m living proof of that – with proper training – people of all ages, shapes and sizes can complete the ride. However, it does appear that the rail-thin fitness freaks enjoyed themselves the most – particularly this year. Was I a little jealous? Of course, but when the great famine comes, we’ll see who gets the last laugh.

Some are happiest when the ride is over and it is time to relax

Some are happiest when the riding is over and it is time to relax

 More consecutive days in the saddle, more climbing and more miles took their toll and I’d be lying if I said I loved every minute of it. In fact, there were many hours where words like suffering and punishment seemed more fitting than anything else. But all that made the sense of accomplishment when crossing the finish line that much sweeter. Sweet enough that I already know I’ll be doing it again next year. In fact, I’ve already started training.

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