We are feeling especially grateful for the Cycle Oregon community as we wrap up Cycle Oregon 2015. We had been planning for more than a year and were excited about our Hell on Wheels ride through Hells Canyon and the Wallowas. We know these communities well and were looking forward to giving them the old Cycle Oregon economic boost.
We were scheduled to visit the scenic town of Halfway and then ride over the Wallowas to enjoy two days on the idyllic shore of Wallowa Lake, one of Oregon’s most iconic and important natural features. Then the Dry Gulch Fire erupted two days before we were scheduled to arrive in Halfway. We were faced with a difficult situation: could we find an alternate campsite so we could still make it to Wallowa Lake? We knew it was too far to ride in one day – 124 miles plus more than 10,000 feet of climbing.
Ride Director Steve Schulz brought a small team down Hells Canyon to evaluate whether we could move our camp. We typically need 10-15 acres for our campsite and services. Coppefield Park at Oxbow was simply not big enough for us – and that was the only possibility.
Steve and the team then visited Halfway to see for themselves what the conditions were like and to talk directly to Oregon Department of Forestry and County Commissioners. When they arrived in Halfway, hills above town were aflame and the air was heavy with smoke. While rain was forecast for the night, it was predicted to be accompanied by strong winds, which were expected to increase the fire.
After weighing the information at hand, Steve made the toughest choice. We had to cancel our plans to go to Halfway and – by extension – Wallowa Lake. We couldn’t risk interfering with fire-fighting efforts and we didn’t want to expose our riders to what we thought could be dangerously smoky conditions.
We gathered our community to stage in a soaking downpour and gave them the news. Then this happened: everyone felt some degree of disappointment – and then they got over it. The community – including staff, volunteers, host towns, community groups, vendors, service providers, state and local governments and agencies, speakers, entertainers and, of course, the riders – rallied and did what needed to be done (which was a lot).
We had an amazing week. Every day the smiles and well wishes just kept coming, and Come Hell or High Water, everyone was determined to just keep riding. While we did not make it to Halfway, Joseph and Enterprise, we did make it to Cove, Pondosa and Union along the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway – an utterly stunning route.
In the end, we all realized that Cycle Oregon is not a destination. Cycle Oregon is an experience. It’s about creating community with riders from around Oregon and the rest of the world and with the small towns we call home for a day or two. And it’s about seeing a different, slower, rural way of life. And along the way we got to see our mission in action: transforming lives and communities through bicycling.
So thanks again from all of us at Cycle O headquarters, where we are already hunkered down, working on our 2016 rides. Stay tuned. They’re sure to be epic. And memorable. Always memorable.