22 September 2015

I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain - Cycle Oregon 2015

Day 6 between Cove and La Grande
Day 4 between Weiser, Idaho and Farewell Bend State Park, Oregon
On Saturday I finished riding Cycle Oregon 2015, a week-long ride that attracts 2200 riders (and sells out almost immediately when applications open in early February).  The ride visits small towns and rotates annually among different parts of the state.  This was originally planned to give the largely Portland-based group of riders a chance to see areas of Oregon they might not otherwise get to, and to raise money for charities to meet local needs. (The ride, in its 28th year, now attracts riders from all over the U.S. and, this year, 8 foreign countries, so is much less focused on Portland-based riders, though they still form a large core).
Day 4 Again
Dawn at camp, Day 6
This year's ride was planned to feature the Hell's Canyon area along the Oregon/Idaho border, including an overlook way down into the deep canyon -- which is deeper than the Grand Canyon.  My first memory of Hell's Canyon is from watching on TV Evel Knievel's attempted rocket-powered motorcycle jump in ... 1973, just a few years after Apollo 11 landed on the moon.  Now it seems like before I was born, and a kind of more innocent era of daredevil stunt. This year's Cycle Oregon was named, appropriately, "Hell on Wheels".  Previous rides have been named "The Magnificent 7" (for 7 tall mountains on the route), "Going Coastal" (for a ride in the Oregon coast area), and similar themes.
Day 6 high point -- 1273 meters elevation.  Matched/exceeded only on Day 4.
Ride Director Steve Schulz joins "Karaoke from Hell" night with his rendition
of Garth Brooks' Classic "I've Got Friends in Low Places"
Ian Madin, Chief Scientist of the Oregon Department of Geology, offers evening lectures.
Want to know about Columbia River basalt?  Great floods of the past (no, not Noah's flood, the Missoula floods)?
Worried about the Cascade Subduction Zone potential for an M9.0 Quake?  Ask Ian! 
Cycle Oregon's Priority Activities
Cycle Oregon actually made NEWS in the region this year when an 18,000 acre wildfire flared up just outside of Halfway, Oregon, the planned overnight stop at the end of Day 3, forced a complete re-routing of days 3 to 6.  (Actually, the fire was man-made, so "flared up" is a bit too passive a term.)  This route change involved a herculean organizational effort, and came off pretty much without a hitch.  Imagine the logistics involved in moving, feeding, showering, and disposing of waste from, an army.  That is Cycle Oregon -- an amazing logistical feat.
Day 3 "option" ride out of Cambridge and to the southern (dammed) part of Hell's Canyon
We start the longest climb of the trip.
Day 4 -- Oldtime Fiddlers Entertain at a Rest Stop
Weiser Idaho is home to the National Oldtime Fiddlers' contest 
Jeffrey's Community Hall and Shamrock Club, Day 4
The Snake River between Farewell Bend and Weiser, Day 4
Dammed area of the Snake River above Brownlee Dam, Day 3
These dams lack any passage for migrating salmon ... so there are none this far inland.
The reservoirs look dead in comparison to a flowing river ...
At the evening ride announcements in Cambridge, Idaho, we were told that we could not go to Halfway, nor to the following stop at Joseph near Lake Wallowa, since the fire had caused repeated highway closures and evacuation of homes.  We would miss the Hell's Canyon overlook.

As we all stood in an open field, in darkness, hearing this news, rain started to pour down from the heavens.  It rained pretty much all night, testing the seam sealing on my 35-year old tent's rain fly.  I managed to make it through the night warm, with only minor dampness that a towel soaked up before it could get to my (even older) sleeping bag.  It rained again the following night, but we had dry weather on the road.  Only on Day 5 did we get a few minutes' of rain showers while actually riding, though later or slower riders got more rain.  Despite riding on dry roads, the rain that first night in Cambridge apparently set a record for precipitation on a Cycle Oregon event. Unfortunately, the rain would not be in time nor in the right place to extinguish the fire and save our route through Halfway.

The Cycle Oregon website unofficially changed the name of the ride from "Hell on Wheels" to "Hell or High Water".  Given the lack of flooding (i.e. "high water"), I think James Taylor's "I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain" might be more appropriate.
Dinner tent in Baker City, Day 0.  A massive feeding operation comes off without a hitch.
"Option" section near Baker City, morning of Day 1
I enjoyed meeting lots of friendly people on this event -- people from all over the U.S. and some from abroad.  People of all ages and professions.  And I was glad to meet up for several dinners with Roy T. and "the gang", the nucleus of which is from the Portland Saturday morning ride that I joined back in February 2012.
Dinner at the Grand Geiser Hotel, Day 5 
Grand Geiser Cafe and Hotel's Skylight
Large volumes of beer were consumed.
Widmer Brothers ran out of IPA at one point, forcing participants to settle for amber ale, wheat beer
and a few other options, or move on to numerous wines.
You can find the GPS maps of the original planned routes here.

With the two hardest days cancelled and rerouted, I found the cycling was a nice "warm down" after PBP.  Not too challenging, plenty of leisurely riders and a few fast folks.  The randonneur bike proved very comfortable, and very fast.  I was passing large numbers of riders not only on the flats and descents, but even on the climbs!  And I appreciated different hand, foot and saddle positions vis-vis the bike I used at PBP. Other than swapping out the rear non puncture-resistant Grand Bois tire after some flats on Day 3, the bike worked like a charm.

The camping -- just setting up and sleeping/living in a tent for a week -- was more of a challenge, but still enjoyable.  The food -- was always plentiful, too plentiful, and quality was as good as could possibly be expected for this kind of mass event.  The daily entertainment and the "beer tent", pizza and Nossa Familia coffee were all very good.  This would be a great event to do with a partner or as a reunion for a group of friends.  It also would be a great event to keep doing into my 60s and 70s.  This year's oldest participant was 81.  Far less likely to collapse and die of heart failure here than at PBP!
"tent and porter" service including camp chairs ... for an extra fee
useful if you do not want to bring or pitch your own tent
...but no choice of location and packed in a bit like sardines
Lots of couples do this annually.  Lots of tandems.

On the outward leg of Day 3, climbing

PDX culture = bicycles and tattoos,  so why not a cycling tattoo?
This one looked quite nice -- much better than the Pantani or 力 tattoos
I saw in the Dolomites earlier this summer
Camp with view of the Snake River at Farewell Bend
Many riders swam in the river on warm Day 2.  Not on cold Day 4.
At one stop I counted 7 of these 2-part mobile shower units.
Hot showers.  And hot water for shaving etc. in the sinks out front.

Strawberries at a rest stop.
Lunch stop Day 2

Folk singer Kelly, at lunch stop Day 2. She was very popular with the gang.

Random horse later on Day 2
Unlike cows or sheep, horses tend to react ... move quickly and approach ... when you stop for a photo
View from my tent, end of Day 1 Farewell Bend.
View from camp at Farewell Bend
Jonathan Maus' Bike Portland blog has nice entries on the event, links to which can be found below at the bottom of this post.  You can find photos of my randonneur bike on Day One and Day Four, though I was hoping he might give a bit more of a "plug" to the builder, Bob K. of Bantam Bicycles. And the Cycle Oregon Facebook page (link below) has plenty of photos of happy riders.
Happy Rider with Randonneur Bike near end of Day 6 ride
Claiming a space to camp on Day 5 while I pick up my luggage

At the lunch stop on Day 6, at beautiful Catherine Creek State Park, my bike was approached by a Cycle Oregon official photographer, who said they were taking photos of riders holding up their bikes, for future promotional use.  He said that since my randonneur bike was the "most beautiful bike" at the event this year, they wanted to get a photo of me holding the bike. ...  I will let you know if I find it posted somewhere.

Day 6 was definitely the highlight, as our route followed an Oregon "Scenic Bikeway".  These routes are the best that the state has to offer for road cyclists.  There are 15 so far ... and I want to go back and ride them all, maybe some as part of a future Cycle Oregon, and some with just a small group of friends.

Cycle Oregon Facebook Page is here.

Cycle Oregon photo pool flickr is here.
And links to lots of other spectacular photos by the Cycle Oregon photographers are here.

Bike Portland blog reports and photos:

Getting Things Started
Day One
Day Two
Fire Forces Re-route
Day Three
Day Four
Day Five
Day Six
(No Day Seven entry as of this point, but see: Exploring Baker City and Environs

Final PDX Note:  Just-released figures show that 7.2% of commuting trips in Portland in 2014 were made by bicycle, a record number for the city and WAY better than the U.S.-based competition.  Seattle, Minneapolis, Washington, DC and San Francisco are all in the 3-5% range.  New York, despite the Bloomberg years, is still at 1.1%.

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