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“Route Talk” with Ken Chichester

Ken Chichester

Last year we inaugurated this feature, where master CO route planner Ken Chichester gives you the lowdown on how routes are chosen and what to expect. Riders loved it, so he’s back with more.

First this month, a little Q-and-A on route planning in general:

What do you start with when you plan a route – an area, a theme, a particular spot?
The impetus behind a route varies from year to year. Sometimes the route is based on a particular area or theme (e.g., the Lewis & Clark Ride a few years ago) and sometimes the route is based on a particular spot (e.g., Crater Lake). The idea for a ride can come from a number of places: the Cycle Oregon Board, Cycle Oregon staff, ideas submitted by riders or requests from communities to visit. Once the area or theme is defined, then the rest of the route has to be designed around the theme or specific spot so all the days of the week tie together.

This year, Day 2 (Cottage Grove to Reedsport) is the day the entire week is built around. I had driven along the Smith River Road more than 20 years ago, and I always remembered what a beautiful drive it was, with almost no vehicle traffic, so I wanted to use the road someday as a Cycle Oregon route.

What are the main considerations in planning a route, and what do you think makes a good route?
Ideally, the route should not be a repeat of what we’ve done before. Each year a significant percentage of our participants have never ridden in a Cycle Oregon before, but the majority of our riders are repeats. For cyclists who are CO veterans, it’s nice if we can give them something new. After 24 years, that can be difficult or impossible.

And safety is of paramount importance, which is governed by factors discussed in the following section.

A good route has options on some days for riders of differing abilities and experience, with a choice of length, or difficulty. Often it’s impossible for every day of the week to be spectacularly beautiful, but varied scenery throughout the week is important also.

What are the biggest challenges involved in route planning?
The biggest challenge is to ensure each day of the week-long route is neither too long nor too short. The length of each day is obviously defined by the overnight location, and at times finding a community that meets our space needs and is a workable distance from the previous overnight location is difficult. At times there is only one available road between potential destinations, and other times there are choices of roads. Regardless of road choices, the terrain (e.g., how hilly), traffic volume and road surface and geography must be considered. All these factors contribute to the overall safety of cyclists and motorists who share the road.

Many times the biggest challenge after a route is defined is finding locations for our water, rest and lunch stops. We like to have a stop approximately every 12 miles. In many areas it is very difficult to find a location for a stop that is large enough for our needs and at the right distance.

Why do you like the 2011 route?
Each year we do a survey at the end of the ride; one of the questions asks which areas of the state we should visit. The Oregon Coast is always among the top two or three on that wish-list. The 2011 route spends two full days on the coast, which is a first for Cycle Oregon. Another reason I like this year’s route is the majority of the roads we will ride on are new to us, and every one of the overnight stops is a new overnight community. One year we “sort of stopped” in Cottage Grove, but the overnight location that year was Schwarz Park, quite a few miles from town.

Then we asked him about Day 1, Sutherlin to Cottage Grove.

Why did you choose to go this way?
There are three options for traveling between Sutherlin and Cottage Grove: the freeway, county and state roads west of the freeway (too long of a distance), or the county roads we’ll be riding, on the east side of the freeway. We have used some of these roads in a previous week or weekend ride, and they offer low traffic volume and a scenic riding experience.

What planning challenges were involved with this route?
There weren’t many planning challenges. About the only challenge is locating a site for our stops, and we had to secure permission from private, county and federal entities.

Can you provide a brief point-to-point description on this route?
The day begins by leaving Sutherlin on little-used county roads to arrive on Elkhead Road, the main roadway east of I-5, which essentially parallels the freeway. The route is somewhat hilly without really long hills, but many short to medium-length climbs of maybe 5% through a very rural and scrub-forested terrain.

After the second stop, the one long climb of the day travels over London Hill. The length of the climb is approximately three miles, with three short sections of gravel. It appears the pavement was washed away by heavy rains, and has remained gravel for many years. The downhill section is also about three miles, and is an easily manageable descent.

After lunch at the London School, the terrain is flat to the finish and travels alongside Cottage Grove Reservoir (a Corps of Engineers project) en route to the overnight community of Cottage Grove, at the brand new Bohemia City Park.

We try to make both the first and last day of the week shorter rides, to allow people to loosen their legs at the beginning of the week, and finish the week with an easier ride. But for those who want more than 45 miles on the first day, an optional ride of another 26 miles is available. This loop travels around Dorena Reservoir, another Corps of Engineers project, and uses the Row River National Recreation Trail for nearly half the loop.

The Row River Trail is a Rails-to-Trails project using the abandoned Oregon Pacific & Eastern (OP&E) rail line. The OP&E line was owned and operated by the Bohemia Mining Company and once hauled ore, logs, supplies and passengers between Disston and Cottage Grove. The Eugene District of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) acquired 14 miles of the abandoned railway in 1993 for settlement of a debt from a timber-sale default. The City of Cottage Grove acquired the remaining three-mile segment of the OP&E rail line that extended from Mosby Creek into the historic downtown district. Three historic covered bridges – Mosby Creek Bridge, Currin Bridge and the Dorena Bridge – are all located near or adjacent to the Trail.

After leaving the trail, the route follows a county roadway around the lake, and then travels over a short hill to a fourth covered bridge (Stewart Bridge) before returning to town, again using part of the bike/pedestrian trail.

How would you assess the route from a rider’s point of view – difficulty level, things to be aware of, not to miss, etc?
Even though this is a short-mileage day by typical Cycle Oregon standards, there are many rollers and shorter hills before lunch. You won’t be able to miss the peacocks at the first stop of the day, Mildred Kanipe Park. After lunch, the remaining 11 miles to the finish is flat or downhill. The day should be viewed as a moderate Cycle Oregon day, with good spacing between stops to relax and refuel. The beginning of the optional loop is just over a half-mile from the finish, so everyone can assess their fatigue level and determine if they would like to ride around another lake, or just call it a day.

The optional ride, being on a converted railroad grade, does not have any steep hills traveling from town to the top of the hill at the reservoir’s spillway. The Row River Trail is mostly shaded, and is an asphalt paved path about 10 feet wide. After leaving the trail near the head of Dorena Reservoir, there is a short descent past the earthen dam, leading to an easy climb of one mile before riding past the final covered bridge and a flat ride back to the finish.

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