Cycle Oregon is many things. The organization — in the midst of its 30th year — is dedicated to helping all of Oregon reach its economic and cycling potential while putting on events that bring people closer to new places and faces.
Cycling is at the heart of what Cycle Oregon does; but they’re really in the people business. When you “do” a Cycle Oregon event it’s entirely possible to come away with more memories of the people you rode with than the roads you pedaled on. That’s especially true on their Weekender event. Without the physical challenge of the much more grueling Classic ride (the seven-day event they’re most known for), Weekender is much more accessible in both price ($199 versus $999) and pain (120 miles over two days versus 490 miles over seven days). This means it might be doable for friends who aren’t as nutty about cycling as you are.
This past weekend I invited a few friends to join me on the ride. We chose to ride 78 miles from Portland to the base camp at Linfield College in McMinnville on Friday (thankfully someone drove our bags down for us). We followed that up with 73 miles on Saturday and a 52-miler on Sunday. None of the days had a significant amount of climbing and we kept our average speed chill and conversational (13-15 mph). It’s also worth noting that we chose the longest of three possible routes both days. (This event would be great if you have friends that would rather ride just 15 or 40 miles a day.) In between miles in the saddle we relaxed, got to know each other a bit better (easier to do than at home where our kids and other responsibilities constantly loom), soaked up the small-town charms of McMinnville, and let Cycle Oregon’s legendary hospitality do the rest.
Friday’s ride was highlighted by a trip up Oregon City’s municipal elevator (and its companion view), a lunch stop at the Butteville Store in Champoeg State Park (their food is amazing for a State Park general store), a trip across the Willamette River on the Wheatland Ferry, and a final toast of seasonal blackberry cider at the rooftop bar of McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon with 360-degree views of McMinnville and beyond. “I think I’ve had a perma-grin for the past six hours,” my friend Jason Dotts said as our server snapped a quick photo of us.
As a bonus it just so happened to be the 57th annual Turkey Rama Summer Festival so McMinnville’s main street was carfree and full of vendors, food and entertainment (which included the annual Beard and Mustache Contest).
Cycle Oregon kicked off Weekender on Friday night with dinner (which we ate outside amid the trees and grass of the Lindfield campus) and music from a great Portland band called Ma Fondue, whose lead singer Nayibe Rojas infused the crowd with impressive energy and vocals.
We woke up Saturday with breakfast in the rising sun and then set out on a 73-mile loop that would take us southwest of McMinnville to just beyond the small timber town of Willamina. The expansive farms and forests had us contemplating the history of the American west. My riding mate Lars Larson is a professor of English who just so happens to be something of an expert on the myriad connections between physical spaces, geography, history and literature. Lars shared insights about the behaviors of the native tribes (did you know they set fire to forests?) and megafauna extinctions and migrations in our recent past (did you know camels originated in America?).
Saturday’s ride was highlighted by the short and punchy climb up Rock Creek Road just outside of Sheridan and the splendid descent of Buck Hollow Road that followed. The best rest stop of the weekend was at Blackwell County Park where we enjoyed cups of local blackberries and watched crystal clear Willamina Creek glide along at our feet. The last 20 miles of the loop were sort of a hot slog and weren’t nearly as interesting as the first 50.
After another post-ride stop at McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon for just one more blackberry cider and some tots, we rolled into camp, put on our swim trunks, and headed straight for the pool! The cool liquid immersion was just what the doctor ordered.
After dinner on Saturday night we kicked back on the grass and enjoyed more great live music. This time it was another Portland band, The Junebugs, that got us talking. Just when we thought this three-dude, two-beard trio would be all folksy, lead singer Moses Barrett started covering pop songs from Lorde and Katy Perry. And he pulled it off!
Sunday’s 52-mile loop went east then south from McMinnville and meandered through small towns surrounding Amity between the Yamhill and Willamette Rivers. We lunched at Hauer of the Dauen Winery, tasted a few of their bottles, then rolled into camp where we were greeted with cheers and free ice cream.
As with every Cycle Oregon ride I’ve done, I feel like I know my state a bit more now. And having friends along to enjoy this one with me had the added bonus of feeling like I know them a bit more too.