Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cycle Oregon

Here is our itinerary for the Africa trip.

Those of you who are friends or blog followers since our first trip to South Africa in 2012 know that I spend a lot of time on my bicycle and did the week long Cycle Oregon ride last September. You can read about that again here in the blog by using the links to the right. 

Shopping for souvenirs or forgotten items
Cycle Oregon is an absolutely amazing organization. They claim to offer the “Best Ride in America” and I cannot disagree after participating once and talking to others who have done other state rides including RAGBRAI in Iowa where this craze all started. Two things set Cycle Oregon apart.
You may not want to read all of what follows, but I think it is important to share the reasons I think that Cycle Oregon has earned the right to claim to be the “Best Ride in America.” I have divided it into two categories: Logistical Support and Community Relations. I have not ridden enough of these rides to be an expert, but in talking to riders who have done other similar rides, I heard of nothing that comes close to Cycle Oregon when we consider all that it does.  

Logistical Support

First is the logistical support. Some do little more than set up a route and provide a camping place and support vehicles including the carrying of your gear. While this is a lot, providing for your own meals can make it difficult to even find a seat in a local restaurant. One couple I met who had done the Colorado ride said their method was to stop and eat dinner before setting up camp. That way they avoided all the lines even though it meant an early dinner each day. Over 90% of the RAGBRAI riders aren’t even official riders. They just tag along with their own sag wagon and their own arrangements for hotels or camping spots. With thousands of extra riders, this requires extensive planning ahead. My friend Steve who has ridden RAGBRAI twice has a friend to reserves hotel rooms along every likely routes each to assure that his group has a place to stay. 
Tents and chairs all ready when we arrive - provided we pay extra
 Cycle Oregon, on the other hand, does everything. The logistics of doing this amounts to emulating the old circus trains that set up for the circus in a new town every day. With 2200 riders and over 100 support people, it is like setting up a small city. Setting up near Diamond last summer included drilling a new, larger well for a farmer who let us stay on his land. The area around Diamond is so far removed from any significant town that it is considered one of the best star-gazing sites in the country. However, the two nights we stayed there with guests from OMSI’s star-gazing club, we were unable to even see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon there was so much light from our camp. It was still a good evening of star-gazing, but not like it would be had we been alone. 
Music at the water break

A beautiful ending to a beautiful day

Cycle Oregon hires four or five different bands each day. One will play at the lunch stop and the others will begin performing about 4:00 in the afternoon so there is continuous music until lights out at 10:00. Occasionally even the rest stops have music. Widmer Beer and Eola Hills winery are open for libations and relaxation each afternoon and evening. Bike Gallery deserves thanks on an atmospheric level for the mechanical support they offer. Every rest stop (usually five each day) will have one or two of their mechanics available for needs during the ride. At camp, ten mechanics will tend to just about every need you might have asking only donations and money for any parts. They do all this at their own expense. With 2200 riders, many of whom are not as prepared as they should be, this means that they will be working until 10:00 pm or later each evening. 

One of the SAG wagons. Notice the sign warning drivers
Other support includes EMT services at most of the rest stops along the way. Cycle Oregon arranges with the Milwaukie, Oregon, police for two of their motorcycle police to accompany the riders along with two other motorcyclists who ride their own cycles. Sag wagons continually drive the route as well to pick up any riders unable to finish the ride for the day. Massage therapists and yoga leaders are popular with many of the riders to get rid of those sore muscles that come from many hours in the saddle. Showers are available in some amazing shower trucks – 16 showers in a semi-truck trailer using solar heated water and including washbasins outside for those morning things we do. 

Community Relations 

The second reason Cycle Oregon is set apart is what they do along with the rides. One of the major goals from the beginning has been to connect riders with all parts of the state. For Cycle Oregon, this is more than just setting up camps along the route. They make a concerted effort to involve the people of each community in the planning and activities at each location. Volunteers from each community work at the rest stops and the camps to facilitate every aspect of the ride. Cycle Oregon then donates to the helping groups. Riders then get the opportunity to meet people at each stop and talk about the things that are happening in that community. At one stop near Burns, I chatted with a member of the American Association of University Women who was excited that this would provide more funds to help pay for local girls attending college. 
These two girls made a lot of money selling lemonade
Each year Cycle Oregon provides about $130,000 to the communities that host the riders. Some of this is employment of local bands and other providers. Some of it is in the money that riders spend in the communities directly. In Burns last September, every bar and restaurant in town was packed the night we stayed there. When I returned for the bird festival in March, most of them were closed, some permanently. Some of it is the money that riders pay people to carry their bags to the camping sites. Since the bags weigh up to 70 pounds each and it can be a rather long walk, this is much appreciated. Often the football and wrestling teams will provide this service with the $1-$5 tips going to support those programs. Finally, Cycle Oregon places all their proceeds into a fund which provides grants to the local communities. Most of the grants are in the $5000-$10,000 range. As one example, the Crane High School used some the money they raised to purchase new wrestling mats and volleyball uniforms. 
One of a series of special welcome signs
Cycle Oregon also supports bicycling initiatives around the state. One of their current projects is the creation of a dedicated bicycle path between Portland and the Coast. Cycle Oregon gave $100,000 to help jump start this project. 

All of this effort means that the communities are excited to be on the Cycle Oregon route. When I was in Burns for that birding festival, the leader of the local Chamber of Commerce told me that she wants to have Cycle Oregon come through once every five years. I don’t know that she will get the ride that often, but it just shows how welcome Cycle Oregon is – something that is pretty amazing considering the disruption that 2200 bicycle riders can be in the towns and on the roads in communities that are often not even half that size.

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