Portland to Oakridge
Cycle Oregon organized their Classic ride this year through the Central Oregon Cascades and Crater Lake. This operation is so amazing. They manage to transport and service a city of riders (1504 this year) from town to town for a week, including; food (3 hot meals with multiple snack stops daily), 1200 porta potties, baggage, hot showers on trucks, a massage team, an optional tent and porter service, an acupuncturist, SAG vehicles, mechanics, ambulance and police support and an army of volunteers. There are over 650 tents in the “Tent City” nightly and live music at many rest stops and on the stage every evening.
Riders arrived from 42 states and 7 countries this year, and buses transported cyclists from Portland to Oakridge for the beginning of the ride. I was lucky to sit next to an interesting professor from a local college. My seat buddy lives in Portland and doesn’t own a car. Since it was raining for the 2 1/2 hour drive, he educated me on the finer points of inclement weather bike attire. He also swims in open water all year round without a wetsuit and told me about the virtues of mild hypothermia. I politely nodded my head and listened while thinking “what a quirky little liberal arts professor. Why would someone ride a road bike in the rain? And who wants to be cold anyway?” I let him know that wool riding gear sounded interesting, but I preferred to ride when it was 60 and above with clear skies. And I don’t like being cold in the water.
I said goodbye and good luck to the professor, and then registered and found my friend Laura. After scheduling a few massages for the upcoming week, we organized ourselves, danced with some awesome people and planned for our first ride.
Day 1 Cycle “Optimistic & Naive” Oregon
Today’s Route: Oakridge to Rainbow 65.8 miles 3300′ Elevation Gain
Note the raincoats. Despite the rain we managed to enjoy the sites today. We peddled out of Oakridge to the Aufderheide Scenic Byway. Such incredible scenery along the Middle Fork of the Willamette River. After summiting Box Canyon we rode along the McKenzie River and the Cougar Reservoir. We continued to climb for about another 4 miles when lunch and musicians magically appeared in the woods. We were soaking wet and sat on broken down cardboard boxes to eat while the temperature dropped down to 45 degrees. Just in time for our 26 mile descent. Nevertheless, people seemed to be in good spirits and there was a comradery growing.
The rain stopped briefly as we pulled in to Rainbow for the evening. We opted for the tent and porter service, so our bags were sitting outside of our set up tent. Ah, luxury. Hot showers and curried chicken awaited us. Lots of good food since riders would be burning 23,290-31,186 calories over the course of the week!
Our bliss was short-lived. While we waited in the dinner line, the rain became more serious. Puddles were forming all over the ground and we decided to hunker down for the night in our tent. Unsurprisingly, our tent and all of the belongings were damp and cold. The rain pelted monsoon-style all night.
- Make hotel reservations.
- Bribe a family member or friend to provide support.
- Invest in good cycling rain gear (where was that brilliant professor?).
Day 2 Cycle “Let’s Climb a Bit” Oregon
Today’s Route: Rainbow to Tumalo 65.6 Miles 4786′ Elevation Gain
We started our soggy day today with a nice 8 mile ride along highway 126 before turning off onto the Old McKenzie Highway. Time to climb up to the summit of the Cascades until we reached the Dee Wright Observatory. The black lava rocks looked like a moonscape. In fact, NASA conducted drills in 1964 with astronauts in this very place as they prepared to travel to the moon. Unfortunately, the clouds hid the spectacular view of the Three Sisters mountain range.
The drop down into Sisters was truly a drop with 15 miles of steep descent, dodging potholes and crazy dudes screaming “on your left” at breakneck speeds. Laura and I got separated on the climbing portion of this trek. She had been plotting for an escape route in Tumalo that night. Her friend, Kate, agreed to pick us up after her shift and take us back to Bend for laundry, hot showers, and tea. Considering the fact that everything in our bags was wet from the night before, this seemed like an excellent plan. We met back at camp, ate dinner, and spent the night in Bend regrouping.
- It is a good idea to have friends in dry places.
Day 3 Cycle “I’m Over This” Oregon
Today’s Route Tumalo to La Pine 56.2 Miles 3357′ Elevation Gain
Today was an optimistic day. We had clean, dry clothes, the weather forecast indicated that temperatures would rise into the 60’s, and no rain was predicted until 2 pm. Plenty of time to get to La Pine on this shorter mileage day and pull ourselves together before the next sprinkle.
From Tumalo we rode through Bend, feeling sorry for the morning commuters as they got stuck in a sea of cyclists on their way to work. The climb up Century Drive was part of the familiar Deschutes Dash route on the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway toward Mt. Bachelor. This 5%-ish 10 mile climb warmed me up quickly, so I let go of my fleece pants and jacket at the first gear drop.
At the summit, we stopped for lunch. The temperature dropped significantly and I changed my mind about my gear. Unfortunately, the truck went back to camp and I was in a predicament-no pants or warm top for the descent and the temperature was chilly. Oh well. No rain at least.
I pulled out of the lunch stop and started the drop back to Sunriver, about 15 miles of downhill. Within minutes I started shaking from the inside out. I saw a SAG (aka support and gear) wagon parked in a pull out about a mile into the downhill and pulled off. The driver put me in the van, gave me his coat, some licorice and 2 fleece blankets.
The sugar and warmth brought life back into me. I thanked the driver and hopped back on my bike. As I whizzed down the hill, the shaking came back. My handle bars were swaying back and forth with my tremors. And here we go. Just as I thought that it couldn’t get worse, the rain started. I had a notion that I might be in trouble. The thoughts were gone just as quickly as they came because the reality was that I needed to stay on the road and avoid the onslaught of “on your left” 50 mph dudes racing past me in the rain.
This was obviously not a great situation, but there was nowhere to go but down. Suddenly I heard pounding on my helmet and felt little rocks hitting my face. Are you f#%k?!g kidding me? Was it hailing?! I no longer trusted my own judgment and dismissed the experience as a paranoid delusion (later to find out, yes it was hailing).
About 15 miles later there was a rest stop. The rain had stopped and the temperature felt like it was rising. Laura was chatting amicably and waiting for me to finish the day. Within minutes of stopping the sky opened up again. I apologized to Laura and let her know that I was over it and needed to get back to camp. I jumped into a paceline of dudes. Not my usual way of riding. I found myself in a group of 8 with a 3 inch distance between our front and back tires at a 20 mph pace in the rain. Whatever.
Our campsite was set up when we returned. This was an interesting site. We were apparently in a cow pasture. Unbeknownst to me, the ground is incredibly uneven in a cow pasture.
I had the foresight to book a massage that evening. I was hoping that the massage tent would be heated because even after a hot shower and 4 coats, I couldn’t warm up. The massage therapist put me on her heated table and covered me with several blankets, but couldn’t remove the covers without sending me back into shivers. She politely suggested that I hit up the medical tent to rule out hypothermia and gave me a package of hand warmers before sending me out into the rainy night.
Maybe tomorrow would be a better day.
- Destination weather forecasts don’t include mountain summits.
- Don’t give up your gear.
- I used to be a fair weather rider. Until today.
Day 4 Cycle “Psycho” Oregon
Today’s Route La Pine to Diamond Lake 95.4 Miles 3698′ Elevation Gain
This was a problematic day beginning to end. I woke up at 2 a.m. with a terrible headache and nausea. I had also developed some sort of dumping syndrome in the last 24 hours. My poor tentmate woke up crying. Our tent was frozen (apparently the temperature dropped into the 20’s overnight) and she had slept in 2 pairs of wet socks. Nothing either of us owned was dry. While Laura took off for the medical tent to check the circulation in her feet, I tried to come up with a plan. I’m not sure that I was thinking very clearly and when Laura came back I told her that if I could eat I could ride. We decided to go for it.
After breakfast we headed back across the frozen cow pasture to pack. On the way to the tent, I picked up the towel that I had draped on the outside seat. Uh-oh. The towel was frozen into the form of the chair. I had to crunch it down to pack it.
Wet socks. Wet shoes. Wet gloves. Wet clothes. Frozen brakes. It was 34 degrees out. My shoes barely fit on my icy feet and I made a mental note to get more comfortable shoes when I got home, thinking maybe I had outgrown them.
Laura and I peddled for about 2 miles and I gave in. My feet and hands were in so much pain that I could barely stand the pressure of peddling or braking. I had ice on my shoes and gloves and frost on my tights from the knees down. We stopped on the side of the road and waited to flag a SAG vehicle.
I don’t know how long it took for SAG to arrive. Eventually the van came cruising up the street with its chipper music. The driver hoisted our bikes to the roof and shuffled us through the doors. Ouch. I mean, there was some major pain in my hands and feet as they rewarmed. Laura, who is a nurse, told me that the pain was good because it meant that my nerves were still alive. I decided that I needed the temperature to be above 40 before I would ride again.
I’m not sure who actually reads my blog, but just in case Bob the volunteer SAG driver ever sees this I want to publicly apologize. While my extremities were thawing, Bob cheerfully told us that “the weather is supposed to warm up this afternoon.” I glared and told him in my saltiest tone “I don’t believe you.” I realized that I had the same relationship with Bob as my gynecologist on the second day of labor with my son. Super grateful for the assistance, but not in a socially graceful frame of mind.
The SAG van took us to the mile 24 rest area. Laura decided to get out and ride. My nausea was not abating and the temperature was still in the 30’s. I decided to wait until the next stop. At mile 38 the van stopped for lunch. Even though I couldn’t get much in, I decided to try the ride. The weather was warming and I wore all of my layers.
We moved on to the Cascade Lakes Highway and then the Willamette Highway for about 30 miles. Most of the roads on Cycle Oregon thus far had been forestry roads or less traveled areas. However, these were real highways complete with semis and motorhomes. I decided to call it a day around mile 65. The dumping syndrome and nausea persisted, I was still freezing, and my nerves couldn’t take another retired California RV driver flying past me across the rumble strip.
I waited for a van at the snack stop. Eventually a kind SAG driver came along and told me that he had a list of riders waiting for him about 20 miles back. Did I mind riding along before returning to camp? Little did he know that I probably would have gotten into any car and gone anywhere. I can’t really tell you what happened next because I fell asleep as soon as the van started rolling and didn’t wake up again until we got to Diamond Lake.
At least it wasn’t raining.
- Get away from RV’s, especially ones that say “Cruise America” (rented).
- Don’t ride in wet gear with freezing temperatures.
- Don’t trust the judgment of a hypothermic brain.
Day 5 Cycle “Who Cares About Crater Lake” Oregon
Today’s Route Optional Crater Lake Loop 58.4 Miles 6470′ Elevation Gain
Today’s route was optional. Granted, the crown jewel ride of this event, but optional. Laura and I both opted out. The sky was finally blue, the sun was shining, and the temperature was in the 70’s. I needed to do some serious laundry, get my brakes checked by a mechanic, and get into a better headspace.
We took a shuttle to the Diamond Lake Lodge and lunched at their restaurant. Afterwards we hung out, watched the ducks, and then cruised back for long showers and the wine tent. Entertainment and good cheer is not hard to come by with this crowd. In addition to a whiskey wagon and free flowing wine, 8 to 20 kegs of beer are consumed daily during Cycle Oregon.
In the afternoon, I walked my bike over to one of the mechanics. I told the mechanic that I was worried about my brakes because they didn’t seem to be working very well. He reassured me that my pads were fine and an appropriate distance from the rims. In a kind and grandfatherly way, he patted me on the back and said “nobody’s brakes work very well when they are wet or frozen.” Wise words.
I scheduled a massage that evening with a very cool therapist whose studio is connected to a bike shop in Portland. Apparently, people can get a massage while their bikes are being worked on. Aric the massage therapist is also an avid cyclist and he gave me some tips for riding. I told him that my main concern prior to this ride was my knee problems. He suggested that I ride with my heels down and stop putting so much pressure on my quads. He also referred me to one of their cycling classes and the owner of the shop, who is an Ironman triathlete and coach. Score.
The tent city was starting to come alive. Prior to this day we all politely exchanged a few words outside of the meals, but we were mostly in survival mode. Finally, finally. Things were looking up!
- Bike with heels down and pull up rather than push down.
- Warm weather makes people happier and more social.
- Expect (a lot) less brake efficiency in wet or frozen weather.
Day 6 Cycle “I’ve Got This” Oregon
Today’s Route Diamond Lake to Dorena Lake 91.2 Miles 3916′ Elevation Gain
Fresh legs. Dry clothes and warm weather. What could be better? I was so excited about this ride today. After riding for 4 miles from Diamond Lake, we had 40 miles of gentle downhill slopes following the majestic Umpqua River. Of course, what goes down must go up (at least on this ride). Anyway, the 40 miles of downhill riding was soon forgotten as we began to climb for the next 13.
There was a snack stop around mile 63 at the top of the hill and volunteers warned riders about the upcoming steep (10-11%) grade 10 mile downhill ride with blind corners and potholes. I walked over to a group standing at the top waiting for SAG and heard talk about tires blowing out and treachery on the descent. I looked at a map and decided that I didn’t really need to ride down a hill that looked like a blueprint for Space Mountain.
As I waited with the group to SAG down the hill, another van pulled up with room for one more rider. The group encouraged me to go ahead and I let the driver know that I was just needing to get to the bottom of the hill. He nodded as he hoisted my bike up to the roof.
I jumped into the van. Well, this was a tired group. I started to think that their plans were not mine. It didn’t look like anyone in this group had an intention of riding again that day (or week?). We stopped once on the way down to pick up a rider who had blown both tires. The driver announced that we were heading back to camp. I reminded him that I was happy to give up my seat and had planned to ride back, but we were on a return mission. Such a bummer. I only made it 63 miles today and I looked longingly at the rails to trails shoreline along Dorena Lake as we made our way back to camp.
I signed up for an acupuncture session that evening with the resident Cycle Oregon acupuncturist. What a lovely lady. My hope was that she could do something about my persistent nausea and GI issues. As she was placing the needles in my abdomen and neck, we casually discussed kids, biking and triathlons. Suddenly she hit a spot on my foot that nearly sent me through her funky tent roof. When I asked her what happened she explained that this was my “liver 3 acupuncture point…the emotional seat.” I probably didn’t need a poke in the foot to tell me that my emotions were dysregulated and fragile this week. Holy cow!
- Probably best to not take rides from strangers. You lose control of your destination.
- Don’t believe alarmists. I could have ridden down that hill.
- I need to save up for a bike with disc brakes.
- The liver is involved in the smooth flow of energy, and I am challenged in this aspect.
Day 7 Cycle “Sign Me Up For Next Year?” Oregon
Today’s Route Dorena Lake to Oakridge 53.6 miles 5227′ Elevation Gain
This day is probably the most difficult to put into words. It was literally and figuratively full of peaks and valleys. Lots of climbing packed into this ride (3 summits!) in the bucolic Umpqua National Forest on forestry roads followed by a 20 mile descent back into Oakridge.
Although the climbing was intense, moods were cheerful and celebratory. Riders were cracking jokes and supporting each other as we all kept grinding out the miles. The scenery and perfect weather obviously helped!
After the second summit the road began to drop. The downside of forestry roads is that there are some sketchy areas due to roots, cracks and gravel. I studied the map and realized the slope, but I wasn’t about to get into another SAG vehicle. I decided to take the descent and finish this ride properly.
The road became narrow in several spots, but the cracks and gravel were generally well marked. I stopped around mile 45 to cool my rims and 2 riders followed my lead. I was relieved to see Laura go by a few minutes later. One of the riders had just been involved in an accident. Someone clipped his back tire and flew off the side of the road. The other rider was a self-proclaimed “chicken” on the downhill and was happy to stop for a chat.
We wished each other luck and moved on. The drop seemed vertical between miles 45 to 49, so I decided to stop one more time to make sure that I wasn’t burning up my brakes. My chicken friend stopped a few minutes later and we waited together for our rims to cool.
My new buddy and I took off again. We hit a patch of gravel just as we were picking up some speed and congratulated each other when we didn’t wipe out. Within 100 yards we heard tires grinding on the gravel, screaming, and helmets hitting the ground. We both stopped our bikes and turned around to see two riders down. I pulled out my cell phone and called 911 while we stopped the flow of bike traffic.
Within a few minutes there were a dozen riders stopped and trying to help. I began to panic in earnest when I couldn’t tell the 911 operator exactly where we were located. She asked me to go back to the fallen riders and provide as much information as possible while she got a GPS signal. My nausea came back in a wave when I returned to the first unconscious rider and described the situation. I had to tell myself that this was not the time to throw up as I talked her through the condition of the second rider.
I was on the phone for 10 minutes before an ambulance arrived. The support team quickly took over and warned us to go slowly on the hill since there was another accident ahead of us.
We were about 3 miles outside of Oakridge and I wasn’t sure that I wanted to get back on my bike. There truly was no other option. I was shaking again from the inside out, but this time it wasn’t from the cold. I got back on my bike and descended to the finish. Laura was smiling with a camera pointed toward me as I passed through the flags and balloons.
I have mixed feelings about this ride. I would love for my story to be light and humorous. The reality is that I am traumatized by the sounds and sights of people injured and in pain. I realize that this is a chance that we all take when we test our limits. I am not sure what the lessons are today.
I can say that I was so grateful to see my family and my dog in Oakridge that night. I can’t help but feel worry and sadness for the injured riders and their families. Surely those terrible phone calls could have been made to any of our loved ones.
At the end of the ride I checked my email and received an invitation for Cycle Oregon Classic 2020 early registration. I know that I will get back on my bike, but it might be a little soon to decide about signing up for this adventure again.
Today brought more questions than answers.