Ayleen Crotty is the Founder and Festival Director of Filmed by Bike, a film festival that showcases the world’s best bike movies every year in Portland, Oregon and through virtual and in-person events all over the globe year-round. When she’s not busy with her social media marketing agency (her day job), Ayleen loves to ride through Forest Park or hike with her dog Otis. Ayleen’s favorite climbs are the forested NW Saltzman Road and remote Larch Mountain Road.
Ayleen signed on for her first Cycle Oregon Classic in 2013 as a volunteer with the Smoothie Booth crew. By the end of the week she claims to have “caught the Cycle Oregon bug” and became a regular in camp and on the road in the years following. For our My Favorite Route series she takes us back to 2016 Day 5, Gold Beach to Indian Mary Park. It was the day the professed non-climber discovered a love of climbing on one of Cycle Oregon’s iconic routes.
My Favorite Route – Ayleen Crotty
My riding history included endless hours pedaling along the flattest of roads, getting lost among fields of corn and soybeans in Central Illinois – nowhere, to most people. It was heaven, but all this riding definitely didn’t do anything to prepare me to climb Bear Camp Road at Cycle Oregon.
Though I moved to Portland in 2000 and lived car free in a higher section of the city above the Alameda Ridge, I never loved my climbs back home to NE Portland. Especially on hot days.
When I agreed to help a friend run the smoothie booth at Cycle Oregon 2013, I had a mere three weeks to prepare. I wasn’t much of a distance rider and I was pretty apprehensive about the riding. But as a bicycle event manager, I relished the thought of hanging out with bike people for days on end, sinking into rural communities and staying up way too late the night before 5:00 am tented wake up calls. All in all, that year went pretty well; I rode strong enough to keep up and I realized right away I had caught the Cycle Oregon bug.
Every year on Cycle Oregon was magic as I pushed myself hard to ride stronger, hone my gear and have more fun doing all of it. I have always loved being one of the first people out on course so I can experience the wildlife and quiet morning with the road nearly all to myself. And, let’s be honest, I like to stop for photos and chill out at lunch, but I still had to be back in camp in time to help my coworkers at the smoothie booth.
By 2016 I was comfortable with just about anything Cycle Oregon could throw my way (after all, the support truly is top notch), but hills still weren’t my jam. I guess that’s why I decided to ride Day 5: Gold Beach to Indian Mary Park- 7,400 feet of climbing over 71 miles, most of which consisted of a steady 15 mile climb up to the peak of Bear Camp, elevation 5,154 feet.
You see, the smoothie crew is a small team of three and we had to have our booth set up well before riders began to stream back into afternoon camp, so only one of us could be released to ride each day. At the beginning of the event, we each selected our ride days. The theme of the 2016 ride was Go for Gold, so I decided to adopt that as my own rallying cry and go all in. I declared to my fellow smoothie booth pals I would happily take the Bear Camp day (they weren’t climbers, either) and I acted like it was no big deal. Strategy #1: Get your head in the game.
Truth be told, I had been wanting to conquer my aversion to hills for quite a while. A pretty obnoxious voice in my head endlessly shouted “UGH this sucks!” the entire way up challenging hills, and I had grown rather tired of that voice. I knew there had to be a better way. I started periodic rides on hills near my home and learned to transform “UGH this sucks!” into “You got this.” Though life always got in the way of establishing anything remotely resembling a routine, I found I kind of liked this whole hill climbing business. Bear Camp Road would be the ultimate test.
The morning of the ride, I set out bright and early. The Pacific Ocean receded into the distance behind me as I snaked my way along the wild and scenic Rogue River. Eagles and osprey soared overhead but it’s the piercing blue water and rocky outcroppings of the Rogue that always seize my attention. Eventually the course crossed the isolated Illinois River, known as the least accessible river canyon in the lower 48. Just seeing the name of the river reminded me how far I had come from my days pedaling the farmland flats of Illinois, blissful and hopeful. And now here I was, some 21 years later preparing for the biggest climb of my life, out in the middle of a different kind of nowhere, one that was much more lush.
As “I got this” rolled through my head, and plenty of riders passed me by, I took deep breaths and reminded myself what an incredible opportunity this was. One stroke after another, I eventually made it to the top – without once getting off my bike.
I’d like to tell you I felt victorious, but actually I felt really sick. After lunch, I laid down to rest in a roadside mound of weeds, Cycle Oregon style. I guess the discomfort was written all over my face because the Ham radio operator and some other support workers checked in on me regularly with a friendly “You doin’ okay over there? Need anything?” After a half hour of flashing them a cordial thumbs up, I suddenly felt the urge to hop back on my bike.
I quickly shot up, dusted off my chamois, thanked the volunteers and began the long steady descent into Indian Mary Park campground. Rolling through the finish line, my eyes welled up with the most satisfied flood of pride.
I took a few minutes to freshen up, down a recovery smoothie (of course!) and swap tales from the trail with smoothie booth fans hanging out in our recovery lounge. But then it was back to work! I strapped on my apron, hopped behind the blender and started slinging those icy cold and berry fresh smoothies we were so well known for.
The ultimate satisfaction to cap off the day came from riders who, while ordering their smoothie, gave me a slightly confused, inquisitive look and asked, “Hey, didn’t I see you out on the course today?”
“Yup,” I’d say. “How ‘bout that climb?”