Today was a perfect day to rediscover the joy I experience while riding a bicycle. The perfect confluence of crystal clear blue skies, warm temperatures, and smooth roads.
My ears soak up the sounds of a bird announcing our invasion of the quiet, the whirr of my chain, the clicking of flying insects, the pound of a hammer, my breathing as I climb Cooper Spur. My eyes absorb filtered sunshine, glimpses of Mt. Hood through the trees, a furry caterpillar scooting across the road, a stick which suddenly becomes a cricket and hops away just before going under my front tire, the golden vine maples among the green ferns.
This is what I love about cycling. This day is not about getting to camp, or the next rest stop, or riding a certain number of miles, or getting home by a certain time. This is about savoring every second, every minute, and every hour in the saddle, the air in the lungs, the burn in the legs, the sun on the skin. These are the sensations that will sustain me as I ride through the winter, during rides in the rain and cold. I will remember the warmth, the wind in my ears, and the sounds of this day when I am riding a fendered bike and bundled from head to toe.
All stress and work and financial worries and family issues disappear. My mind focuses only on the road, the handlebars, and the beauty around me. Bliss.
Reader's Digest version: Day 0, Portland to Elgin: Pack, drive 5 hours, freeze in tent, try to sleep. Day 1, Elgin to Enterprise: cold, not enough bluerooms, warm sun, paceline. Skipped option to see Wallowa lake (regrettably). Beautiful golf course for camp. Gorgeous sunset. Day 2, Enterprise to Clarkston: Gradual climb, winding descent, skipped rest stop (bad call), long, endless climb, great views. Finally lunch before fast gradual downhill, then fast winding downhill into Clarkston. Marching band. Skipped option to Lewiston. Day 3, Clarkston to Waitsburg: Ride along the Snake river. Paceline with Rich & Karen. Flat just before lunch. Day 4, Waitsburg-Walla Walla loop: wheatfields, rollers. Great lunch & best hazelnut latte ever. Day 5, Waitsburg to Pendleton: wheatfields, massive rollers. Sidis trashed by gravel at rest stops. Exhausted & cranky. Sprinklers on football field blast my tent. Lovely. Day 6, Pendleton: Awoke to rain. Ride? No thanks. Parade. Fantastic bistro lunch. Massage. Wine. Day 7, Pendleton to Elgin: 2am thunder, pouring rain, lightning. Anxiety. 5:30am, partly cloudy skies. Happy to pack wet tent. Ride squeaky Bike Friday guy off wheel. Great band at lunch rest stop prior to climb. Climb climb climb climb. 6600 feet! Relief at summit, fantastic singing downhill to Elgin. Done. Longer version: So, Cycle Oregon #2 is in the books. Did I ever question that I could ride it? No. Did I enjoy every minute? Certainly not. Can I do better in terms of packing & managing my time to get the most enjoyment out of the week? Absolutely.
I'd say the keys to enjoying Cycle Oregon are planning and recovery. You must plan to bring the appropriate clothing and gear, be prepared for any weather, and structure your days to get the most enjoyment out of the ride. That means be prepared, ride at your own pace, and give yourself time to relax. Sounds simple, but trust me, this is not an easy thing.
In reality, it's tough, considering some of the routes are long and challenging, and when you stop to fill your water bottles, eat, use the blue rooms and stretch a couple of times along the way, you may not arrive in camp until late afternoon. Then there is the business of finding your luggage, locating your camping "crew", and setting up your tent. Next is hitting the showers. Then dinner, by which time I am usually starving, so I try to find time to grab $5 and get a smoothie from the Ben & Jerry's truck, otherwise I'm running on the chocolate milk handed out by volunteers at the finish line, which is chugged and greatly enjoyed as the most welcome reward ever for riding that day's route.
Last year I said "this isn't a vacation." So this year I planned to get massages, go to yoga, do more exploring, and relax. That didn't happen. The first massage I had scheduled was on Monday, the day we rode over Rattlesnake pass from Enterprise into Clarkston, Washington. What a long ride - and the climbs were relentless. The descents were amazing though, especially the winding roads down into Clarkston. I got into camp at 4:45, not enough time to get my act together, and couldn't find the massage tent anyway. We did manage to take a shuttle into Enterprise for some BBQ ribs one night, but didn't do a whole lot of exploring besides that.
On the plus side, I camped with Dean & his Intel crew who were extremely entertaining, so we had a lot of laughs with them. I had plenty of solitary time on the road, so it was nice to have people to hang out with in camp. My one cranky day was the ride into Pendleton, and after talking to others that day, I wasn't the only one who didn't entirely enjoy the day of endless rollers, no scenery but wheatfields & clouds, and the hill you had to hike in order to camp, retrieve your bags and shower. So we set up camp on the football field, and after relocating 3 times I chose a spot on the edge of the field by the track. Bad call.
After a somewhat uninteresting dinner at 8pm which I merely pushed around the plate, I crawled into my tent with my iPod as company, deciding to keep the crankypants attitude to myself. Just starting to doze off around 9pm, I'm startled by what sounded like a torrential downpour on the roof of my tent. Wait, there's water IN my tent. Now the rainfly on the left side is plastered to the tent, ripped out of the stake, and water pours into the top vent. I quickly close the velcro on both "skylights", exit the tent & in my tights, keens & rain jacket I run to where my bike is standing, yank a stake, lay down the bike, and run back to my tent. Meanwhile my tent neighbor had grabbed a plastic lined cardboard box used for trash and up-ended it over the offending sprinkler to stop the spray. It was like a firehose! People are running around with headlamps, doing what they can to minimize the damage. It's dark, and people are asking if someone has notified Rider Services so they can shut off the water. I am drenched from sitting directly in front of the sprinkler to re-stake my rain fly. I crawl back into my tent to towel off and assess the damage. Not too bad, really. I hang the wet jacket to dry and crawl into my sleeping bag, replace ipod earphones and eventually drift off to sleep.
On Friday, Dean and I went into town after breakfast to watch the parade. It was fun watching the horses, mules, wagons, oxen and rodeo queens ride by. It was humid. Headed back to camp where the crew was getting ready to head for the rodeo, all but Dave who was the only one in our group to do the Pendleton option loop ride. He & I walked back downtown to find a decent meal for lunch, ending up at a bistro across from the steakhouse, which we followed up with a Tillamook cheeseburger at the Burgerville Nomad (2nd lunch) and then found a place to buy wine & chocolate. Thinking everyone would want to go out for dinner, we skipped the steakhouse. Back at camp, the rodeo attendees drifted in and 3 bottles of wine were consumed, with everyone talking until about 11pm which was pretty late considering we usually wake up before sunrise.
2am: I awoke to wind whipping at my tent, followed by torrential rain, and then thunder & lightning. I'm sure everyone was also thinking if the weather continued, Saturday's ride would be nasty. I figured it would be a game day decision. Fortunately we awoke to partly cloudy skies with no hint of storms on the horizon. Last camp breakfast force feeding (Bob's Red Mill oatmeal is my favorite!) Riding east, I got dropped at a stoplight by the group, but found Aleson & Carol. Couldn't stay with Aleson when the road tilted upward, she's just so strong now! Saw Glen & then Dean. Took a couple of photos but not nearly enough. Devoured my 1/2 sandwich & chips at the lunch stop where they had a great band playing songs by Eve 6, Pearl Jam and the Presidents of the United States. Climbed up the slide to toss my gear drop bag into the box, told that if I made the shot, my stuff would go to Elgin, but if I missed, my stuff would go somewhere else. Rode off with lyrics from "Peaches" in my head, energized for the climb ahead. It was long. Relentless. Beautiful forest, breathing in the clean pine air. Legs felt great. I could even shift, stand & comfortably pedal, unweighting alternate legs, no weight on the bars, and I began passing people. The pink signs from the amusing CO crew saying "this is not the top" at each false summit became annoying, followed by one declaring "This is the top - NOT!" Finally, the summit. Took a quick photo and smiled as I passed the sign saying "ALL DOWNHILL"! Cranked it up and let 'er rip! Passed Dean who gave me a thumbs down. Oh no! Turned around to find out what was up, he had a mechanical. Crap! Continued ticking off the miles to Elgin. Finally, a left turn, and there were the CO flags. Cowbells, I hear cowbells! Then I hear Barb yell "it's LINDA!" right turn to cheers, cowbells, photos, hugs, and chocolate milk. Ahhh. I could have ridden another 30 miles.
Barb is amazing. Not only did she and Dean drive us to Elgin, but she took care of my cat Levi all week. Then she got up at some insanely early hour to drive back to Elgin so she could help Emily sell the remaining windchimes that her students made. They are awesome. (I found some when I got home - Barb surprised me! No wonder she wouldn't let me buy any.)
After showers, we had a great dinner in La Grande with Emily, then went to bed early. Woke up early too, did some laundry & went to brunch at Foley Station. Excellent food! Drove home, arriving about 5pm, and Levi purred in my arms for a long time, insisting that I carry him around while he did so.
Next year? I hear the route is entirely in Oregon, and the only hint is that it contains the best 80 miles of roads that CO has never been on. So, we'll see. But I would definitely consider tent & porter or a more luxurious option so that I can enjoy the relaxing as much as the riding.
Last year at this time, I was probably 10-15 lbs. lighter. I'd done more climbing, having ridden High Rocks & Crater Lake on consecutive weekends, as the Portland Century. Seems like we had more climbing on our Saturday club rides as well.
This year, well, I haven't ridden as much during the week. Thursday evening SE rides, 1/2 Portland Century, disappointing Crater Lake due to winter in August, a few other rides here & there. Ride with Power class helped, I think. Neck & shoulder still bother me, even after physical therapy + massage - it's never enough. At some point, I'll just have to get another bike. Who knows.
Anyway, all that's left to do now is check the weather, then hope for the best & pack my stuff. I have it all piled up & ready to go. Squeeze everything into ziploc bags, toss it in, hope it all fits and is less than the maximum weight of 65 pounds, and look forward to a nice week of riding in beautiful country, meeting new people, setting up my tent, relaxing, and enjoying the week. Cycle Oregon, here I come!