The Best Bike Ride in America

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Ian Madin Rocks Geology — Lava Landscapes


Overview of the Day Six route

We start Day Six riding across a broad plateau with a few dips where little canyons cut into the plateau. At about Mile 11, we descend into the valley of Antelope Creek, where we start a long climb. As we drop down to the creek, we once again enter an area of the John Day Formation, which is made up of a wide variety of 30- to 40-million-year-old volcanic rocks, and we make another big geologic transition.

The landscape up to Antelope is quite varied topographically, with numerous knobs and bumps along the route and off to our right. To our left we will periodically see the edge of a higher plateau. These two different landscapes are the result of the very different nature of the rocks underlying them. In the John Day Formation, there are layers of ash and lake sediment with little blobs of lava from small volcanoes. This variety means that there is a wide range in the hardness of the rock, which is why the landscape is so varied, with the ash layers making low spots and the lava making knob and knolls. We’ll see some of the bright white ash in road cuts, and about halfway up the climb we’ll cut across a distinctive reddish-brown ridge of lava.

The high plateau to our left is made up of a stack of lava flows that are part of the Columbia River basalt. This hard, uniform lava makes for a very different landscape and typically forms broad, flat plateaus cut by steep-walled canyons. As we leave Antelope and start the steepest climb of the day, we’ll see the dark lava of the Columbia River basalt capping the ridges on either side, and as we make the final hairpin turns and reach the very top of the climb we’ll once again be riding through the basalt.

This view shows our route climbing from Antelope up to the basalt plateau. Notice the layer of dark basalt that is visible along the edge of the plateau.

When we cross the boundary between the ash of the John Day Formation and the Columbia River basalt, we are taking a step through time of some 20 million years. In many places you can put your finger on the exact spot on the ground where that huge gap in time occurs. The Columbia River basalt is a very useful tool for geologists in the Pacific Northwest. It is found in many parts of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, is very distinctive, and was erupted in a very short period of time, about 15.4 million years ago. This makes it an excellent milepost of time for geologists; if you’re in rocks on top of the basalt, they must be younger than 15.4 million years, and if they are below, they must be older.

As we descend across the basalt plateau toward Shaniko, we’ll be passing through an area that is covered with beautiful Mima Mounds. This area has not been plowed for agriculture like the areas around Dufur and Tygh Valley, so the mounds are well preserved. They make beautiful patterns on the ground, and will be quite obvious from the road.

From Shaniko we continue across the basalt plateau, and if conditions are right we should get good views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and quite possibly Mt. Rainier in the distance beyond Mt. Adams. We will eventually descend to the Deschutes River at Maupin. As we proceed down the river, we will be riding through a canyon cut into the Columbia River basalt, and where we cross the river at Sherars Bridge, a spectacular series of falls has developed as the river struggles to erode through a particularly hard layer of basalt.

This image shows beautifully developed Mima Mounds along the road between Antelope and Shaniko. One theory suggests that they are formed by thousands of years of burrowing by ground squirrels.

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10th Annual Policymakers Ride

Cycle Oregon (DR) (2 of 25)Cycle Oregon is more than an organization putting on amazing bike rides that change people’s lives for good while raising money to support a host of great causes and projects throughout rural Oregon. It also plays a leadership role in local and national cycling advocacy. In addition to the Week Ride, the Weekend Ride and CO3, Cycle Oregon organizes an event called the Policymakers Ride, which brings policymakers, planners and advocates who work to improve active transportation infrastructure and community health in the Portland metro region.

Last Friday was the 10th anniversary of this important tour. Many segments of this year’s 30-mile course included bike paths that will soon make up the country’s first urban Scenic Bikeway. The route highlighted several achievements that have been made in Portland over the past several decades, as well as some of the challenges that have yet to be conquered.

After opening remarks from Cycle Oregon Chairman Jonathan Nicholas and Executive Director Alison Graves at the Moda Center, the group of 150+ riders saddled up and cruised the Eastbank Esplanade, the Springwater Corridor, the Hawthorne Bridge, Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the Steel Bridge bike path, Willamette Blvd. and the Going St. bike and pedestrian overpass.

Stops included Sellwood Riverfront Park, Tilikum Crossing, Holladay Park and the University of Portland. Among the many great rest-stop speakers were Mike Houck, Nastassja Pace, Wim Wiewel, Dave Unsworth, Kyle Anderson, Laurie Kelley and Jennifer Dice, talking about topics ranging from the Intertwine Alliance to public/private collaboration, from active transportation integration promoting economic development to the challenges of continuing forward progress.

A Virtuous Competition

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Thanks to people like former mayor Bud Clark (who has been a part of all 10 Policymakers Rides), Portland has had a pretty nice head start in what has become an important competition among an increasing number of mayors – to be named “Best Bike-Friendly City” by the likes of the League of American Bicyclists or Bicycling Magazine. The secret, says Clark, is to keep riding bikes and keep drinking beer. Done and done.

Portland’s current mayor, Charlie Hales, calls it a “virtuous competition” that helped soften the blow of losing the top spot to Minneapolis a few years ago. His bike currently wears a sticker from Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak that reads “Portland is Just an Avenue in Minneapolis,” which will remain until Portland “earns” back the top spot (something that tends to happen pretty regularly).

Mayor Greg Ballard of Indianapolis was also part of this year’s Policymakers Ride. Mayor Ballard shared his perspective on what happens to a city that goes from virtually no cycling infrastructure to a whole lot of it in a few short years. In just five years, Indianapolis went from having a single lonely mile of bike lane (which was reportedly in disrepair) to 82 miles. By next year the goal is to have 200 miles of interconnected bike paths, lanes and greenways.

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At the center of it all is the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a protected eight-mile walking and cycling trail in the heart of downtown that connects six of the city’s cultural districts, features seven public art projects and connects to an additional 40 miles of the city’s Greenway Trail system. The Cultural Trail is so impressive that it put Indianapolis on the New York Times list of 52 places to go in 2014 along with Athens, the Arctic Circle, Nepal, Vienna, Belize, Namibia, Dubai and the Vatican.

The entire project cost the city little more than a few parking spaces. The majority of the funding came from private donations and a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. While the cost to the city was minimal, the payback is massive. It has revitalized a huge swath of the city, generated substantial tax revenue and even raised property values along the pathways by 11 percent.

More important, an increasing number of people are exploring the city by bike. Mayor Ballard, who served in United States Marine Corps for 23 years, got all choked up when he told a story about a middle-aged woman who said the trail is what made her comfortable enough to get out and ride, managing only the ability to say “That’s huge” before regaining his composure. And that IS huge.

Cycle Oregon (DR) (25 of 25)The Indy Bike Hub YMCA works to make it easy for commuters to use the Cultural Trail every day. There’s a store that sells bike gear and clothing, a repair facility and a shower/locker facility. The mayor took it upon himself to make sure lockers were big enough for people to store a week’s worth of clothing, which has indeed created a legion of regulars who commute exclusively by bike. He also leads a number of rides throughout the year, including the aptly named Mayor’s Bike Ride.

Why is Mayor Ballard so gung-ho about bikes? His answer is simple: It isn’t because he’s a bike nut, it’s because he knows cities have to compete to attract talented people – and that’s exactly what projects like this do.

And while the mayor did say Portland provided a great model for cycling cities, he did say a lot of cities are catching up, so it’s up to us to “get on it” and continue showing the way. Sounds like virtuous competition words to us – we’re on it.


Rider Profile – Scott Gustafson

ScottScott Gustafson is a busy fellow. He’s a veterinary surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive surgery and practices throughout the entire Willamette Valley, southwest Washington and Olympia. Busy though he may be, he understands the importance of taking time out to ride.

As many people know, an activity like Cycle Oregon can be life-changing. Success takes training, discipline and sacrifice. There’s a large contingent of riders who use the event as a way to rehabilitate themselves from some kind of illness or addiction and then continue to ride as a way to maintain a new (and improved) way of life. Scott is among them. Three years ago he had a spinal tumor, and Cycle Oregon was part of his path to wellness.

He continues to do the event year after year because he enjoys it and because it forces him to work riding into his hectic schedule. To that end, he just bought himself a snazzy customized Sprinter van so he can keep his bike and gear with him and be ready to ride whenever and wherever he may be.
This year Scott used CO3 to be better prepared for the Week Ride, and he found the riding and climbing to be very much to his liking. He also enjoyed the small groups, the food, the hotels and the chance to meet members of the communities. Based on what I hear from some of his fellow riders, he’s going to tear it up in September.

Training and Paying your Taxes

When it comes to training, Scott is a big believer in taxing the body and “feeling the burn.” He always trains with a heart rate monitor and says he feels naked without it. It provides assurance that he’s pushing himself as hard as he thinks he is, and it also shows how fast he recovers after a long effort. All that information provides a lot of inspiration.
His biggest piece of advice for new riders is simply to hang in there. By the end of the week, your body will also adapt. Your average heart rate will plummet, and everything will get easier. “The body is an amazing machine, and the more you work it, the better it runs, which is absolutely evident throughout Cycle Oregon,” he says.

The same is true for managing everything that needs to be managed off the bike. The first couple of days may be a little hectic, but you’ll soon get into a groove – ride, shower, swim, do laundry, go to announcements, boogie, sleep and repeat. By the end of the week you’ll have it down and be able to go indefinitely.

So keep on training and, like Scott, you’ll be ready come September.


Route Talk with Ken Chichester

DAY 6             Madras to Tygh Valley

Leaving Madras 3 SistersWe start on a highway that would not be a first choice when designing a route, but is one of only two roads available – both U.S. highways. The route travels north on U.S. Highway 26 for two miles, before turning onto county roadways. The short jaunt on Highway 26 allows us to avoid 13 miles of Highway 97, which everyone must cross just before the first stop of the day. After this stop, we must use Highway 97 for three miles. Then, just when you thought you were in for a huge climb that has been staring you in the face for a mile or so, there is a right turn (hooray!) to ride to the town of Antelope. This road, also a state highway, has almost no traffic, and a few good-sized bumps and rollers (aka whoop-de-doos).

Antelope, for those not from the Northwest or of an age much younger than our average rider, was named Rajneesh for a year. In the 1980s followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneeseh started the city (commune) of Rajneeshpuram on the nearby Big Muddy Ranch. Followers of the Bhagwan forced a vote to change the name of Antelope to Rajneesh. The Bhagwan later pled guilty to criminal charges and was allowed to leave the U.S. (without his fleet of Rolls Royce cars and personal planes). The town’s name was then restored to Antelope, which now boasts a population of about 40.

After a stop in Antelope, a three-mile climb leads to the ghost town of Shaniko, today’s lunch site. Shaniko has a population of about 30, but in the early 1900s it was known as the wool capitol of the world and was Wasco County’s fifth-largest city. In 1901 the town had the largest wool warehouse in the state and marketed 4 million pounds of wool.

When finished with lunch, riders use the main highway for a short distance and then turn onto Bakeoven Road for nearly 25 miles of almost all downhill to Maupin on the Deschutes River. Wool is still important to this area – the route passes the Imperial Stock Ranch, which provided the wool used in the 2014 U.S. Winter Olympic Team sweaters. After a stop on the banks of the Deschutes where green grass abounds, the route follows the river for eight miles to Sherars Falls and bridge. This is a historic Native American fishing area, which is still used today. Look for the wood fishing platforms built above the falls.

A short climb from the river leads to a flat ride to the finish in Tygh Valley. For those interested in a short detour, the route passes White River Falls State Park. The park is the site of a 90-foot falls with an historic hydroelectric plant (now defunct) at its base.



Madras – A Great Place to Make a Tough Decision

map_of_madras_orTo ride or not to ride – that is the question:

Whether ‘tis nobler in the tush to suffer the saddle and ride to Smith Rock

Or to chill in Madras. To swim – to sleep – and ride no more.

Until Friday comes and the circus leaves town.

If all you know about Madras is that it’s that town you zip through on the way to Bend, you’re in for a really big treat. As is the case with many special places, there’s a lot more to it than can be seen from the highway. After an 83-mile ride on Wednesday, Madras is going to be a sight for sore legs.

This is where we spend the layover day, which means Thursday morning you’ll be faced with a tough decision. Will you do the optional – yet spectacular – Smith Rock Loop, or will you get to know Madras better and recover before Friday’s 90-mile ride back to Tygh Valley? I know what I’d do, but you’re not me and I’m not you.

Should you opt to hang around town, you’ve got many options. The Madras Aquatic Center is sure to be a crowd-pleaser with its lap pool, rope swing, diving board and “lazy river” feature. It also boasts a patio that has a view of seven (magnificent) Cascade peaks – the perfect place to watch the sun set.

Those looking for cultural enrichment can check out the Jefferson County Historical Museum on the upper floor of the Old County Courthouse, which tells the story of Jefferson County from Native American times to the homestead and railroad boom era through dam construction and beyond. There are also several art galleries, and there will even be a wine-and-cheese tasting in the park.

There are several restaurant options in Madras, including four Mexican joints, a Peruvian eatery (Hola!), a Salvadorian bistro (La Salvadorena) and an Italian grill (Gino’s). There’s also the Crossroads Pub and Grill and the Rialto Tavern for those looking to enjoy beer – or even a Madras.

Like many of the places we’re visiting this year, Madras is focusing more on bike tourism. With 300 days of sunshine annually, it’s an incredible place to ride (sometimes even in January or February). There are several short bike routes available for those who want to keep their legs fresh. There’s also the 30-mile Scenic Bikeway loop, which features huge views of the Cascades and Lake Billy Chinook.

In addition, there’s a lot of excellent walking and hiking, including the Willow Canyon Trail that overlooks Lake Simtustus, or the 1.5-mile trek up M Hill, which offers a fantastic view of town. Look for fliers around town about the many biking and hiking options.