We hear it a lot: “Cycling changed my life,” or “Bike touring changed my life,” or “Cycle Oregon changed my life.” But what does that actually mean for an adult? It’s much easier to understand the impact of cycling on kids. The joy of learning to balance, the broken body parts, and the sense of freedom it gave us all played an obvious role in making us who we are today.
However, those who stuck with the bike – or rediscovered it as an adult – know that this is just the beginning. If you live in a remotely bike-friendly urban area, spend a few minutes sitting by the side of a road or a bridge heavily used by self-propelled commuters. The smile-to-frown ratio is 10:1. Now take a look at the faces of the folks sitting in their cars.
I can vividly recall a beautifully voyeuristic moment when I once spotted a dear friend of mine on her ride home from work from the hidden vantage point of a restaurant where I was enjoying a bite with another cyclist friend. It was a beautiful spring day in Portland – one of those days that makes locals remember why we put up with nine straight months of rain. Her skirt flowed as her thick mane of vibrant red hair trailed behind an angelic face that registered sheer bliss and utter contentment. In that moment, she wasn’t commuting; she was living. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. I know for a fact cycling has changed her life, just as introducing her and others to the joys of the bicycle has changed mine.
Cycling represents a lot of things to a lot of people. Those who have raised a stiff and defiant middle finger to cancer or other tragedies use it as a way to celebrate their victory and embrace life (and, yes, it’s still perfectly fine to be grateful to Lance if he gave you the idea or provided inspiration). The same goes for recovering addicts or even recovering couch potatoes. Many of us aren’t so lucky as to naturally have the urge to constantly stay active, and the threat of slipping into sedentary mode is always there. Riding provides an ideal way to stay on the primrose path.
Just ask future Cycle Oregon rider Audra Hermes. Fewer than two years ago, she was suffering from Type 2 diabetes and obesity, and realized it was time for a change. She changed her diet, took up riding and has since dropped 37 pounds. She is diabetes-free and recently bagged her first half-century. She’s getting ready for her first metric century now (which she’ll do on a mountain bike, no less). Where she goes from there is anybody’s guess, but she’s got the bug pretty bad. Don’t be surprised to see her whiz by you some day on her first double-century.
Like centuries (and marathons and other epic adventures), bike tours such as Cycle Oregon provide another treasure trove of life-altering possibilities. Tours give you a goal. They give you a reason to train all season long. They expose you to mind-blowing places and the equally mind-blowing people who live there. They also pose a significant challenge – particularly to first-timers who will spend several months wondering if they can do it (the answer, by the way, is a resounding “YES!”).
Events like this can and usually do transform recreational riders into bona fide, dyed-in-the wool and lifelong cyclists. Many a triumphant tear has been shed at the finish of big tours, and I’ve got dozens upon dozens of pictures of all types of folks to prove it.
But perhaps the very best part of cycling is the bonds you forge with your fellow riders – particularly those with whom you train regularly. Many of my most favorite people in the world are those I’ve met through cycling or converted to the Church of the Open Road. And I’m far from unique in this regard.
Friendships formed on bike tours very commonly blossom into romances, and it’s not uncommon for people who meet during a tour to be married on future versions of that very same ride.
Nora Auseklis met a towering Dutchman named Walter Moolenkamp in the dining tent on the first day of her first Cycle Oregon in 2008. The meeting quickly turned into a friendship, which then ignited into a full-blown international affair. We can’t go into the steamy details, but let’s just say a lot of frequent flyer miles were earned over the following months. By Cycle Oregon 2009 they were engaged, and by Cycle Oregon 2010 they were married. Today, Mr. and Mrs. Moolenkamp are living happily ever after in Hillsboro.
At the end of the day, it isn’t necessarily important why people ride – what matters is that they do. And if they do, chances are great that their lives have been changed for good.