It’s More Than Just a Ride

Schulz HeadshotSince returning from the Week Ride, I’ve poured over your surveys and met with many of you who have expressed what a wonderful time you had and how extraordinary you thought the event was in one way or another (which is always great to hear). I’ve also been approached by folks who haven’t ridden Cycle Oregon and want to know why it means so much to so many. My first Cycle Oregon experience was in 2001 as a first time rider. I, too, asked, “What’s the big deal?” Then, I was transformed. Ever since then I’ve been a part of Cycle Oregon – as a rider, as a coach and as ride director.

It’s hard to simply describe Cycle Oregon and why it is so very special. It draws upon a myriad of senses and emotions. With it still fresh in our minds, let’s see if I can capture some of it.

The sounds of tent zippers and blue room doors opening and closing rustle us from our hibernation. We watch the morning sky light up as the sun breaks the horizon; the warmth beginning to radiate through our sufficiently chilled bodies – the result of our night sleeping out in nature. We see the steam rising out of the beverage tent as that next round of coffee is prepared for mass consumption. We hear bike pumps fighting the pressure in tires, water bottles being filled and quiet laughter as folks begin their journey for the day. The road beckons.

The legs are a bit stiff, but we listen to the pace of our breathing, we hear our cadence transferred through the drivetrain and we feel the buzz of the rubber hitting the road. Things start to come into rhythm and we are once again alive. Another blessed day in nature, simply riding and letting our cares drift away. A canvas of the countryside becomes painted in our minds. Mountain peaks rise up in every direction and we are in awe of their grandeur. We smell the fresh sage and pine. We hear quiet laughter in our surroundings. All is as it should be.

Our day is filled with emotion. Dread and pride come hand in hand as we approach and conquer the next hill. Childlike giddiness takes command as we fly effortlessly down the other side at speeds some would say defy the imagination. We begin to feel the fatigue in our body and our pedal stroke begins to suffer. Relief overcomes us as we approach the next gathering – a family reunion of sorts – at the next stop. We rest. We refuel. We converse. As we roll away, we’re warmed by thoughts of the small child who excitedly served us strawberries and thanked us for coming.

The day continues on like this, rolling through the countryside and small towns with magical townsfolk who prove to us that yes indeed, the world is full of wonderful people. We reach gathering after gathering until we finally roll to our day’s end. We are greeted by hordes of smiling, cheering locals. Most think we’re crazy for riding our bikes that far in one day but genuinely love that we have arrived. Joy overcomes us as we cross that finish line, and again, we hear quiet laughter.

Fatigued and elated, we relax into the next part of our day. The hot shower feels good on our tired bodies. We explore the town and meet locals, hearing their stories, which inspire us to look deeper inside ourselves. We feel good knowing that by just being here, we’re contributing to the sustainability of this haven we’ll call home, if just for one night. We vow to come back.

A cold beer quenches our thirst and begins to unwind our muscles. The hum of voices becomes the background music of our stories told with friends old and new. We settle in. Our hosts serve us our evening nourishment with smiles and ‘welcomes’ – we thank them. We’re honored that they’ve allowed us a quick glimpse into their life.

The chill of the evening creeps up as the sun begins to withdraw from our sky. We gather around the campfire and listen to stories, waiting patiently for our evening joke. Regardless if it’s good or bad, we laugh – because it feels good; we find comfort in our surroundings and at that moment nothing else matters. Eventually our mind and body start to tell us that this day must come to an end. We roust ourselves up, follow the narrow beam of light shining ahead of us to our tent, and slip into that cold sleeping bag – anxiously waiting for it to warm up. We think back on the day and all of the magnificent experiences we’ve had, and slowly start to drift off to sleep.

The camp is quiet. Again, we hear quiet laughter. We realize that it’s not coming from outside; It’s coming from within. We smile. Yes, of course it is. This is Cycle Oregon. And we can’t wait for tomorrow when we’ll do it all again.

What does your Cycle Oregon feel like to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Until next year …

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  1. As a solo rider of four Cycle Oregon’s, my experiences were very different from those who rode in groups, in pairs, or with a spouse. Being alone forced me to get to know people, rathe than staying in a comfort zone with friends. I remember my tent neighbor in 2010 buying me Ben and Jerry’s when I bonked in Clarkston, Washington. From 2011, I remember the kindness of Jay Graves loaning me a bike when mine was stolen two days before the ride. I also remember the Rest Stop 1 Coordinators encouraging me to keep going on the first day when I wanted to quit because I was crying from the loss of my special Trek Madone. In 2012, I remember the joy I felt in Ashland when I was able to give my Shakespearean play ticket to a student who needed it to complete a course requirement, as he couldn’t afford to buy his own. In 2014 I remember the chihuahua I played with south of The Dalles and hearing him bark at me when I left as if to say “Come back. We were having fun!” I remember going 39.9 mph down from Mt. Hood (my fastest time ever.) I remember a guy at the last rest stop before The Dalles, saying “Do you hate your bike yet?” My reply was “Our bikes didn’t sign up for this…we did!”

    Cycle Oregon has provided me with the opportunity to see what I am made of in my sixties…and my example has encouraged others much younger than me to take up cycling. I have met people from all over the world, have seen places in Oregon I wasn’t aware of (and I’ve lived here 62 of my 65 years)!

    I have completed my last Cycle Oregon Week Ride for many reasons, but I get to share my four-year adventure with my mother’s senior center in January and relive all of it as I put together my presentation. I was surprised that seniors in their 80s and 90s want to learn about it, but they’ve heard of it and want to know details. Thanks for all you do! I plan on doing some more volunteering for the organization (if you’ll have me) and maybe do a weekend ride or two.

  2. “it feels good; we find comfort in our surroundings and at that moment nothing else matters.”
    Thanks Steve for a great letter, a great week, and a great organization!

  3. Cycle Oregon is not just about each day, but about each pedal stroke we take, especially on those days of long or steep climbs (or both). My wife Cindie and I have done 5 consecutive CO’s now and we will continue to do them until, who knows when. It is the people you meet along the way, riders, CO staff and volunteers, local town folks, that enhance the experience. The places we visit, the history we learn, the sights we see are things that many of us would never encounter any other way. CO is a giving thing. It gives great pleasure not just to the riders but to everyone that assists in making it happen and it gives many thanks to communities that are in need of assistance and are off the radar for the lives of many of us. We are patiently waiting for the announcement of next years route, not that it makes any difference, so we can anticipate “what lies just around the bend”. And, all the time knowing the sound of a tent zipper will be serving as our alarm clock, for another week in time.

  4. I have ridden Cycle Oregon seven times, starting in 2001. I can honestly say that the memories and the feeling of accomplishment is with me as fresh today as when I rode the miles. I am always telling folks that ” I went there on Cycle Oregon.” I also often share the experience of being in Crane and Diamond on 9/11. I wasn’t able to participate this year, but am committed to doing so next year. It is a fabulous experience!