Zipping sounds can be heard around camp well before sunrise, followed by the rustling of tent flaps. Early risers quietly emerge from their nylon cocoons to ready themselves for the day's trek. Lines of neon-colored, Lycra-clad individuals wait in the crisp darkness to wrap their hands around a cup of hot coffee or a bowl of warm oatmeal while others set about loading up overstuffed bags and breaking down the multitude of tents. The sky takes on a lighter hue as the riders fill their water vessels, eager to conquer the 60, 70, or 80 miles of hills and valleys that stand between them and the next campsite. Like a Roman legion on the march, the first wave dons its helmets and mounts up. And as the sun begins dancing off the dew, this army of two-wheeled warriors—2,000 strong—takes to the road for the weeklong odyssey known as Cycle Oregon.
While a pedal-pumping excursion along 400-plus miles of Oregon's back roads sounds like it was designed for a steroid-enhanced twentysomething, it might surprise you that the average age on this expedition—part bike ride, part camping trip—was 44. At 33, I was just a babe among Boomers.
Cycle Oregon's wheels began turning in 1987 when Jim Beaver, an Ashland innkeeper, proposed his idea of a coastal bike ride from Astoria to Ashland to Jonathan Nicholas, a columnist with The Oregonian. The result came in September of 1988—a 320-mile ride from Salem to Brookings made by 1,006 cyclists. Since then, the event has grown both in mileage and participants. It's also contributed $3.5 million to community and cultural projects in the state.
Changing routes every year helps showcase the state's varied topography. My ride began and finished in La Grande, home of Eastern Oregon University, and made a loop through the Wallowa Mountains. Ukiah was the first stop, followed by a 7,200-foot climb over Chicken Hill before the descent into Haines. Next, a visit to the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center en route to the tiny town of Halfway. An extra night here allowed me to experience the 90-degree heat of Hells Canyon, before heading to the burgeoning art community of Joseph, where I rode the tramway up 8,200-foot Mount Hamilton.
"Gotta admire you mountain bikers," one man said to me as I crept by him on a hill.
I'm still not sure if he was referring to my riding skills or to my choice of mount in an event designed for road bikes. Hundreds of racing bikes, recumbents, tandems, tandem recumbents, and mountain bikes shared the road in a manner that seems to have all but disappeared among motorists. People rode by the same faces each day, and exchanged a "Good morning" or "Enjoy your ride."
All riders had been given a license plate to hang under their seat with the name of their hometown. Long, slow climbs were a chance to check out those I passed or, more often, those who passed me. Most were from around the home state, as expected, but the rest were a mixed bag—Chicago, Seattle, Jacksonville, Denver.
The only thing more varied than the style of bikes was the shape and size of the dwellings in Tent City. Every afternoon, some field was transformed into a community of nylon condos where tired yet upbeat riders would spend the night. As with a first visit to any city, it took a while to get your bearings in Tent City. Signs directed new arrivals to the mess tent, mobile showers, portable toilets (affectionately known as the "Blue Room"), beer garden, and bike repair station.
The camp's daily newspaper, The Cycle Oregonian, proved to be essential breakfast reading, especially the classifieds—birthday greetings, marriage proposals, and a few open to interpretation. ("My Knight: This pony needs a Triple Crown. Saddle up soon!—Your filly.") After I read the paper and fueled up on oatmeal and fruit, my duffel bag and I wrestled over how much it could hold. The evening wound down in a more relaxed fashion. Dinner varied nightly—chicken, pasta, ribs—as did the entertainment.
One night it was country music, another night, swing, and jazz on a third. The last night in Joseph, funk diva Linda Hornbuckle and her band sent an energizing pulse through the crowd. As it spread, happy feet began kicking up clouds of dry earth. After the final encore, I shuffled back to my tent, dust-covered, and fell asleep to the same zipping sounds that had started it all.
Cycle Oregon 2000 travels 402 miles from Paisley north to Hood River, September 9–16, 2000. The cost is $629 per person. Phone (800) 292-5367 or check out the Web site at www.cycleoregon.com .
Fun Rides and Fundraisers
Oregon is far from the only state where cyclists gather en masse. If pedal power is your thing, check out these organized rides:
Cycle Utah From St. George, 150 riders will make a 266-mile loop through Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. (800) 755-2453; www.adv-cycling.org .
California AIDS Ride Meander from San Francisco with 2,500 riders through farmland and along part of the coast before reaching Los Angeles. www.aidslifecycle.org .
Bicycle Tour of Colorado Tackle 12,095-foot Independence Pass en route to Glenwood Springs on this 400-mile loop out of Woodland Park. (303) 985-1180; www.bicycletourcolo.com .
Paradise Ride Roll 380 miles through four Hawaiian Islands—Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island—on this AIDS ride. (888) 285-9866; www.paradiseridekauai.org .
Cycle Montana Join 375 riders on 314 miles of the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail from Missoula to Bozeman.
(800) 755-2453; www.adv-cycling.org .
Spuds Cross 438 miles over Idaho from Emmett to Island Park with 150 riders. (888) 733-9615.
RAW (Ride Around Washington) Travel 405 miles east from Ilwaco along the Columbia River to Walla Walla with 200 riders. (206) 522-3222; www.cascade.org/raw .
Alaska AIDS Vaccine Ride Pedal 510 miles through the Last Frontier from Fairbanks to Anchorage.
Oatbran (One Awesome Tour Bike Ride Across Nevada) Ride the Loneliest Road in America (a.k.a. Highway 50) 428 miles from Lake Tahoe to the Utah border. (800) 565-2704; www.bikethewest.com .
Great Arizona Bike Adventure From Tucson, this 509-mile loop touches the Mexican border in Nogales and visits Tombstone. (520) 690-7900; bikegaba.org .
Photos by Dennis Coello
This article was first published in May 2000. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.