Final thoughts on an unprecedented Cycle Oregon

Final thoughts on an unprecedented Cycle Oregon

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Another Cycle Oregon rides off into the sunset.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Cycle Oregon wrapped up its 28th edition in Baker City on Saturday. 2,200 riders and hundreds of volunteers and staff have packed up their tents, taken down road signs, and returned their support RVs and “sag wagons.”

It was a wild and unprecedented ride. Never before has Cycle Oregon turned back and failed to arrive at a planned overnight destination; but when a fire broke out near Halfway last weekend, organizers had no choice other than abort the mission.

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Cycle Oregon Ride Director Steve Schulz.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Amazingly — yet not unsurprisingly if you know anything about the top-notch Cycle Oregon crew — Plan B came together without a hitch. We retraced our pedal strokes from Cambridge (Idaho) to Baker City, then on to La Grande via the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway. Our penultimate route, which organizers scrambled to put together on short notice due to the fire, ended up being many people’s favorite ride of the week.

The big change in plans produced winners and losers. The towns of Halfway, Joseph, Enterprise, and many others along the original route were undoubtedly disappointed that we never arrived. But places like Cambridge (where we stayed two nights instead of one), Cove, (tiny) Pondosa, and Baker City surely embraced the added business.

For Cycle Oregon itself, 2015 will probably be remembered as the year the ride became much more than just a ride. Yes, they’ve known all along that the ride was just a tool to empower their mission of boosting the economic health of rural Oregon, but what 2015 proved to them was that Cycle Oregon really is a community. Ride Director Steve Schulz and Executive Director Alison Graves regularly refer to the rolling city of 2,500 as “family” and that idea has likely never felt stronger than it does now.

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While many were disappointed to not see the marquee attractions of this year’s ride — Hells Canyon and Wallowa Lake — 99% of riders rolled with the changes. When the news was announced in camp on the night of Monday the 14th, it was followed almost immediately by shouts of support.

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The fire as seen from Halfway. Photo taken by Ride Director Steve Schulz during a visit to assess the situation.

And Cycle Oregon needed all the support they could get. In an interview that night, Schulz told me that in order to get the event turned around they, “crammed eight months into work into three hours.” How did they pull off such a feat of planning? “Everybody jumped in,” Schulz explained. “It was amazing. Everyone — staff, volunteers, community partners – everyone stepped up and asked, ‘What do we need to do?’… I’m just emotional about everyone’s support.”

Cycle Oregon is all about helping other people. It’s about giving grants so a small town’s football field can get new lights and it’s about creating more tourist dollars to sustain towns whose economies teeter on the brink. But this year it was Cycle Oregon that needed help.

In the end, Schulz said, Cycle Oregon is stronger for this experience. “People say it’s the best bike ride in America? Whatever… It’s not really about the bike ride anymore. It’s about that Cycle Oregon experience.”

And it’s a great time for the organization to get stronger because Cycle Oregon faces a lot of challenges as they near their third decade. In addition to figuring out how to make an even greater impact on rural economies, they must do something to bring in younger riders (the high average age was a topic on everyone’s lips this year), and they must find a way to keep the riding experience fresh and interesting (offering routes on unpaved roads is one idea).

When Ashland innkeeper Jim Beaver and The Oregonian columnist Jonathan Nicholas did the first Cycle Oregon in 1987, they had no idea it would survive this long. The same spirit and enthusiasm that has sustained the ride is as strong as ever, so I’m confident that its future is too.

— Hope you’ve enjoyed my coverage from the road. Read all of it here.


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