Cottage Grove rolls out welcome for Oregon Gran Fondo

Posted by on June 7th, 2019 at 10:57 am

Rolling out on the start of the 130-mile Sherman route. (I’m the happy guy in red jersey with #14 plate).
(Ride photos by Harry Apelbaum/Apelbaum Studios)


Ever had a ride that started with terribly bad luck that quickly changed to good luck? That was my experience at the Oregon Gran Fondo last weekend.

The event was the final round of the Oregon Triple Crown series (read my recaps of round one in Waldport and round two in Oakridge) and I started the day hopeful of becoming a finisher of all three. It was a fun goal I made for myself at the start of the year; a way to force myself to stay in good shape and learn more about three of Oregon’s intriguing small towns.

Brewstation Pub is attached to a farm and feed store.

(Photos: J. Maus/BikePortland)

On that note, I was very impressed with Cottage Grove. It happened to be Friday Art Walk and Main Street was abuzz: The many independent stores and restaurants were full of people; musicians busked on corners; and locals came out in droves to meet up with friends, buy and spy local art, and take advantage of free food and drinks served in nearly every establishment.

For such a small town, Cottage Grove has a wealth of good food and shops. Beyond several solid-looking food carts, there’s Axe & Fiddle Public House on Main Street. With its low ceilings, woodsy interior and bar full of smiling staff and regulars up front, it has the ambiance of a wild west saloon. The beer and cider list is sublime and the menu features many thoughtful and modern choices. Across the street is Jack Sprats, which was so busy I opted for quick baked treats from the counter: a house-made marionberry bar and a peanut butter cookie.

I felt welcomed in Cottage Grove because it seemed like every shop had a “Welcome Oregon Gran Fondo” sign in the window and encouraged us to show our race badges for discounts and freebies (event entry came with a $10 food voucher redeemable at any local restaurant). I also noticed a flyer for the “Mayor’s Bike Ride,” a good sign that cycling is respected.

Opal Whiteley mural on E 7th and Main.

Shared with pride by bookstore owner.

If you love used bookstores that reflect local culture, Cottage Grove doesn’t disappoint. I recommend Kalapuya Books and Bookmine. It was inside both of these shops I got my first hint that a woman known as Opal Whiteley was a big deal. My hunch was confirmed when I saw the massive mural devoted to her in the main public square. I had to learn more.

Whiteley was a mysterious figure who gained national fame for a diary she wrote about her life growing up in the woods of Cottage Grove. Despite her story becoming a national bestseller in 1920, there were as many questions about its authenticity as there were about the authenticity of Whiteley herself. As I payed for a copy of The Fantastic Tale of Opal Whiteley, (a historic look at her life published by The Lane Historical Society) the owner of Bookmine was thrilled to see I’d taken an interest. She beamed as showed me one of the original copies of Whiteley’s book and gave me flyers with copies of her poems and a walking map of where she lived.

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After soaking up history and the vibe of downtown Cottage Grove on Friday, I was up at sunrise on Saturday for the 6:30 am start of the 130-mile “Sherman” route. I chose this route mostly because it was the toughest course offered, but also because it was the only one with sections of unpaved, gravel roads. There were only about 20 of us who lined up on East Main Street. The Sherman route was new this year, and the classic, 117-mile Gran Fondo route still gets all the attention.

About six miles into the Sherman route, four miles before disaster struck.
(Ride photos by Harry Apelbaum/Apelbaum Studios)

I had my Co-Motion Klatch set up as a pavement machine, since I heard there was only about 30 miles of gravel roads and I figured I could manage them on relatively narrow tires. I opted for slick, 32mm wide Sector tubeless tires from Hutchinson.

For us Sherman riders, the adventure began just a few miles out of town when we hit the dirt of Gowdyville Road for a 1,000 feet of climbing along the South Fork of the Siuslaw River. It was a beautiful start to the day. On the descent down to Territorial Hwy, I started to think I was a bit under-tired for the day as I had to ride much slower over the rocks then I prefer.

When we retured to the pavement, something weird happened. There were about three of us on the empty road. I was in the front and suddenly another rider came up from behind me on my right and tried to pass. Before I could avoid him his rear wheel became lodged in my front. “SHHHH! BANG BANG BANG! POP!” was what I heard as I struggled to stay upright and watched his rear wheel skewer decimate my front rim and tire. When I finally stopped I knew it was bad. The wheel was done. Spokes bent and broken. The tire flat. Ugh.

Luke DeMoe of Velofix Eugene working on my bike.

A few minutes later, after the guy made a quick apology and then rode away, I was by myself on the side of the road with no cell service. I was dejected that my weekend had been wasted for just 10 miles of riding. I figured I would hitchhike back to Cottage Grove; if I could find a ride.

I could smile at this point because I knew it would all work out.

Then the first sign of changing luck came into view. A truck driven by a race volunteer pulled up and offered a floor pump. Within minutes we realized he could just drive me back to the start line. The Gran Fondo didn’t start until 8:30 am and I’d still have time to find a loaner wheel if we hurried. Flustered but hopeful as we got back to Cottage Grove, I made a bee line to the big red VeloFix Eugene van. Owner/operator Luke DeMoe didn’t hesitate to help. He had a loaner wheel and swapped my parts and tire over. 15 minutes later I was rolling again — with just a few minutes to spare before the start of the Gran Fondo.

It wasn’t the ride I wanted to do, but it wasn’t too shabby. It’s been years since I spent the day in roadie-mode, gliding along in the draft of a big peloton and taking pulls in a paceline. I connected with a strong group of 7-8 riders and spent most of the day with them. We ticked off the miles and averaged about 20 mph or the first 100 miles as we rolled along rivers, on empty backroads, and up on high ridges.

My second start of the day (I’m in the baby blue jersey just right of center. Yes, I changed jerseys because it had warmed up so much.) (Harry Apelbaum/Apelbaum Studios)

(Harry Apelbaum/Apelbaum Studios)

At the end of the day I finished in 32nd place, about 40 minutes behind the winners. 117 miles in six hours and nine minutes; not bad at all! And a testament to the versatility of my bike, which also handles singletrack and bumpy gravel roads with aplomb (with wider tires of course).

It was a great day on the bike and I was grateful to be out there, especially given my bad luck at the start.

If you’re looking for a memorable event with top-notch support based in a town well worth visiting, put the 2020 Oregon Gran Fondo on your calendar. If you’re curious about riding in the area, check out the routes on RideWithGPS.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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13 Comments
  • Avatar
    CaptainKarma June 7, 2019 at 11:16 am

    Good job of landing on your feet and carrying on, sir.

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    dwk June 7, 2019 at 11:49 am

    I am confused.. How does someone who is experienced enough to ride a 130 mile Gran Fondo crash into you on an empty road?
    Sounds bizarre. If I did something that careless and dumb, I would not have continued the ride, I would have given you my bike out of shame….

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 7, 2019 at 12:01 pm

      i was confused too. when it happened i was just mad and dumbfounded that somebody could do something so random and dumb. He apologized, but then when I said I was done for the day and the wheel was hopeless, he just continued on.

      I haven’t heard from him and I don’t expect to. so weird. But that’s what riding/racing is all about i guess. you just never know what might happen. I’m just glad I was able to finish the other route — although I was bummed to miss the more remote backroads and solo riding that I crave.

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        John Lascurettes June 7, 2019 at 12:14 pm

        It’s like the bicycling equivalent of a hit and run. Weird.

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        Dan A June 7, 2019 at 12:21 pm

        I’ve found bike racing (short track and CX) to be full of extremely nice people who genuinely care about the people around them on the course, but also speckled with the occasional twerp who just doesn’t get it.

        I recall a race where a guy wearing a Civilian kit (ironically) intentionally swerved into me to keep me from passing him (oh no, you might slip from 40th to 41st in the Masters B race!). And another race where a guy sat in the parking lot next to me with his engine running for 30 minutes so that he could charge his cell phone, and became hostile when I asked him to shut it off.

        I’m sorry for your bad luck this time.

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        dwk June 7, 2019 at 1:17 pm

        He did not offer to at least pay for the wheel?
        I assume your wheels are not cheap.
        I would send him a bill.

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          Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 7, 2019 at 1:39 pm

          No he didn’t offer to pay. Luckily Rolf Prima is an awesome company and I’m already working with them to promote these events and their products… So they took care of my wheel without a fuss. Otherwise, yes, I’d be out a few hundred bucks.

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    kate June 7, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    bummer that only one woman raced the sherman route. i was signed up but had to cancel because i just wasn’t ready…that’s a lot of miles/elevation so early in the season!

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    kate June 7, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    also glad that nothing worse happened to you, jonathan. nice recovery!

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    Dave June 7, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    Remember, when you ride an event in rural areas to not take your own food–do your best to be good for the local economy!

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      B. Carfree June 8, 2019 at 11:53 am

      The only stores available thereabouts are in Cottage Grove and one little gas station/mini store in Lorane (where my mail carrier’s daughter worked). This area is my back yard and I ride the roads, paved and gravel, from Drain to Walton regularly. There used to be a restaurant with a store just a bit west of Smith Falls, but now it’s just a bar that hasn’t been open when I ride by. Anyone who rides in the coast hills of Lane/Douglas/Coos counties will need to bring their own food and either plenty of water or a filter.

      I do fully agree that spending some cash can help generate good will and I do it whenever I can, which fortunately for me happens to be quite often.

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    fourknees June 10, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Cottage Grove is a nice community.

    The Row River Trail is also a nice rail trail that starts at essentially the same point as this event, but goes east 17 miles. You can also go slightly off the path to see a few covered bridges along the way too.

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