A blog for (semi) athletic middle-aged men (and women) holding on to (the last vestiges of) their youth
by training for and competing in running, cycling, swimming and triathlon events!

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Tale of Two Rides: Cycle Oregon and Ride the Rockies

After completing nine of the past 12 Ride the Rockies cycling events I decided to explore new terrain this year and headed west to Go for Gold on Cycle Oregon. As my brother and I researched various rides around the country I often wondered how each ride would compare to Ride the Rockies. If you are looking for a life-changing adventure, both Ride the Rockies and Cycle Oregon are great events, well supported by amazing staff and volunteers who pull off the logistics of moving 2,000 riders  from stop to stop, providing aid stations along the route, Support and Gear (SAG) vehicles, bike maintenance, medical support, and accommodations, but if you are trying to decide between the two there are some key differences to consider.

Looking for epic climbs? Ride the Rockies has them! Hint: so does Cycle Oregon.
One thing both Ride the Rockies and Cycle Oregon offer is beautiful scenery. Over the course of nine RTRs I have witnessed the depth and breadth of the Colorado Rockies from Rocky Mountain National Park up north to the San Juan National Forest in the south. I've ridden over most of Colorado's iconic mountain passes including Wolf Creek, Cottonwood, Monarch, Independence, Loveland, Vail, Trail Ridge Road (in both directions) and Grand Mesa from the north (ranked the 3rd toughest climb in Colorado and 24th in the U.S.!). To say the scenery is stunning is an understatement.
Ride the Rockies features stops in popular Colorado mountain towns like Telluride (Leslie and I at the start of RTR 2013).
The Rocky Mountains make a nice backdrop for the music stage at the overnight stops on RTR.
I have only done Cycle Oregon once but the 2016 ride ride did not disappoint in the scenery department. From the rugged Pacific coast up the Rogue Rover Valley into the remote Klamath Mountains, the views were jaw-dropping at every turn. This video from Cycle Oregon 2016 offers a bird's eye view of the amazing diversity of the landscape along the coast and coastal range of southwestern Oregon.

In talking with other riders who have done Cycle Oregon in the past, I'm certain it delivers in the scenery department whether riding around Mt. Hood, the Willamette Valley or pretty much anywhere along the coast! So, if you are looking for a scenic ride, you can't go wrong with either Ride the Rockies or Cycle Oregon. But there are several key differences between the two rides. In general, Cycle Oregon provides more of an "all-inclusive" model while Ride the Rockies is more of an a la carte experience. As Cycle Oregon Ride Director Steve Schulz said, "All you have to do is show up and ride. We take care of everything else."

For the most part, that is accurate. You also pay for it. The fee for Cycle Oregon 2016 was $985. The fee for Ride the Rockies 2016 was $495, almost half the price. What makes Cycle Oregon so much more expensive?

Food is one of the biggest differences between the two rides and likely accounts for the majority of the difference in the registration fee. Cycle Oregon provides all the meals -- breakfast, lunch and dinner -- as well as snacks and water stops along the route. RTR also provides snacks (fruit, chips/pretzels, etc. along the route but food at the designated lunch stop is provided by vendors who travel along with the ride selling everything from burritos to burgers. While this provides more options there can also be long lines for food during peak times. RTR also works with local charitable organizations to provide a community dinner but there is a charge for that as well (with proceeds going to the charity). I typically go out to eat on RTR, preferring a good steak or burger to the typical pasta and poultry offered at the community dinners.

I was concerned that the meals provided on Cycle Oregon might not measure up to my expectations. After all, the options on the registration form said "Vegetarian" and "Non-vegetarian." :) But the food was actually pretty good and included plenty of animal protein (there was one line for vegetarians that was never full and several lines for "non-vegetarians" that were always full but not long). Let's just say that it provided sufficient sustenance and was convenient. The bottom-line is that eating out is not an option on Cycle Oregon, at least not this year, given the remote location of most of the overnight stops, but I'd prefer more food options if given the choice.

Both RTR and Cycle Oregon provide a designated overnight location with spots for camping, shower trucks, and port-a-potties. On RTR this is usually a school, which is also open for "indoor camping" (in hallways, doorways or packed in the gym like sardines). I tried this one night on my first RTR and hated it. It's noisy, cramped and there is zero privacy. I much prefer to sleep in a tent. The other option is to pay for hotels, which many people do on RTR, where most of the overnight locations are resort towns with lots of hotel options. Hotel options were very limited on Cycle Oregon this year -- two of the nights there were no hotel options anywhere near the overnight location.

Several of the overnight stops on Cycle Oregon were nowhere near hotels or restaurants, like this overnight in Camas Valley.

Our campsite at Bandon-by-the-Sea on Cycle Oregon 2016
My brother and I booked a room overlooking the ocean in Gold Beach (where we spent two nights in the middle of the week) but camped out the other five nights in our own tents. I used to camp every night on these rides but putting up and taking down your own tent every day takes a lot of extra energy so it's nice to take a break from the routine and sleep in a bed with your own bathroom, shower, etc. Another option is the tent and porter service (aka "valet camping") offered on both rides if you want to shell out several hundred dollars ($450 this year on Cycle Oregon) to have a tent ready and waiting with your luggage (both rides carry one bag per rider from stop to stop).

Camping within site of the beer, food and music tents is a bonus. No busses!
One thing I loved about the accommodations on Cycle Oregon is that the beer tent and entertainment were always located at the campsite (and were open from 12 noon to 10 p.m.). On RTR they are often at a separate location requiring riders to either ride on a shuttle bus or walk -- neither of which are ideal, especially late a night after numerous adult beverages! It was really nice to be able to stumble back to our tents when the music stopped and the beer tent shut down.
Shower trucks and Port-a-potties
Cycle Oregon scores a win in this category with superior port-a-potty and shower truck logistics. Whether it was simply having more shower and potty space per rider or the way they were spaced out around the camp, we rarely encountered a line for either.

Port-a-potty logistics on these rides are amazing. I like the way Cycle Oregon spread them around the campsites rather than lining them all up in one or two locations like Ride the Rockies.
Mileage and Elevation Gain
We rode 431 total miles in seven days on Cycle Oregon, an average of 61.5 miles per day. This is pretty similar to the RTRs I have done, which usually average around 65/day. I was on the longest RTR in history in 2013, which totaled 545 miles in seven days (~78 miles per day). Frankly, that's too much time in the saddle for me to be able to fully enjoy the ride. I've also done an RTR that featured more than 30,000 feet of elevation gain, which is too much climbing for me. By contrast, Cycle Oregon 2016 was around 26,000, which is closer to the average for the RTRs I have done and is much more doable.
The thing that caught me off guard on Cycle Oregon was the steepness of the climbs. These two videos offer a glimpse of the steep Forest Service roads we traversed on Day 2 and Day 5.

The climb up Weaver Creek Road featured grades of more than 15% for two miles. It is the toughest stretch of road I have ever ridden (yes, even in the Colorado Rockies).
The descent from Bear Camp on Forest Road 23 made the 15-mile climb to the top worthwhile! Sorry for the shaky video. Blame the Forest Service.

Suffice it to say Cycle Oregon provided every bit as much of a climbing challenge as most of the RTRs I have been on. But the one thing Cycle Oregon can't compete with RTR on is ALTITUDE!
Check out this climb up Loveland Pass (elev. 11,990) on RTR 2014...

And just for fun, here is the descent on Lookout Mountain into Golden, Colorado, later the same day...

As you can see, both Cycle Oregon and Ride the Rockies offer amazing views of some of the most beautiful areas of our country. I definitely enjoyed the views along the coast during Cycle Oregon, which is something the Colorado Rockies don't have to offer.

On the other hand, the Rocky Mountains offer simply stunning views...

The bottom-line is that if you are considering a weeklong cycling adventure this summer, you can't go wrong with either Ride the Rockies or Cycle Oregon. My plan is to check out the RTR 2017 route when it is announced on February 4 and decide whether to register, but I'd love to come back to my home state this year and complete my 10th Ride the Rockies.

Ride on!


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Cycle Oregon 2016: Days 6-7

One week ago today Jonny Rocker and I crossed the finish line of Cycle Oregon 2016, having ridden 431 miles in seven straight days of riding, gaining nearly 26,000 feet of elevation (according to my Garmin Edge cycling computer). In case you missed the first two installments of my travelogue, here are Days 0-3 and Days 4-5. And now, for the rest of the story...

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Day 6 (Friday, September 16): We woke in Indian Mary Park on the morning of Day 6 ready for what looked to be a relatively easy 66 mile day. I know better. The sixth day of a week-long ride is never easy (check out my Five Tips for Surviving Multi-Day Cycling Events). The miles -- 322 to this point -- and the big climb on Day 5 were taking their toll on my body. The usual suspects began to complain: my left foot, lower back, right shoulder, and the 3-pound mass between my ears!

Rest stop at the historic Wolf Creek Tavern (currently closed for remodeling)
Actually, my hot foot, back and shoulder pain didn't flare up as much this year as they have on previous rides (I'll never forget the day we rode the Three Bitches on Ride the Rockies 2014). My body held up pretty well but the mental issues began around mile 32 after we rode within two miles of our final destination for the day (Glendale High School) then rode in the wrong direction another 16 miles for our free* lunch.

*all meals are included in the Cycle Oregon registration fee.

First cell reception in more than 24 hours!
My RTR buddy Woody would call these "bonus miles" (miles added to the route for no particular reason other than to add miles). For the next 16 miles all I could think about was how much I did NOT want to be on my bike at that time! But Jonny Rocker charged on ahead of me and I knew if I turned around and headed back to Glendale I would never hear the end of it (after 52 years I'm still trying to "keep up" with my older brother!).
Chief Miwaleta Park at Galesville Reservoir
The lunch spot at Chief Miwaleta RV Park and Campground on Galesville Reservoir was actually worth the trip. We ate a leisurely lunch at a picnic table by the water and watched several cyclists go for a swim (which seemed like a bad idea since we still had to ride 16 miles back to Glendale and wet cycling shorts are kind of like a soggy diaper). The ride back was a lot better than the ride out and my attitude shifted from a camel trudging across the desert toward a mirage to a horse headed back to the barn!
Unofficial rest stop at the Azalea General Store.
I think this placard on the outside of the Azalea General Store
sums up the attitude of a lot of the folks who live
in this remote area of southern Oregon.
On our final night of camping in tent city we chose a location near the main stage and beer tent, but had to hoof it quite a ways to get to the shower trucks (and spend another night in a hay field). We were determined to make it to the end of the band for the first time since the opening night -- and we did (but only because we were able to watch the last few songs from our campsite)!
Relaxing with a cold one at our campsite on the final night.

For our last night of camping we chose a spot strategically located near the Main Stage, food and beer tents!
Choosing a camp spot is both art and science on these rides. Our approach was to ride around the area (park, school, etc.) upon arrival to scout for a site. Once we found a good site we'd go pick up our bags and ride back to the site with our backpacks on. Most riders bring their gear in large duffel backs and settle for the site nearest the luggage truck, rather than drag their gear to a nicer spot. We may expend more energy but prefer to get away from the massive tent city!
Packing up camp for the last time on Cycle Oregon 2016

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Day 7 (Saturday, September 17): I have to admit I bitched a little about the bonus miles on Day 6 but the organizers of Cycle Oregon nailed it on the final day. The 43 mile glide down Cow Camp Road was the perfect victory lap at the end of a tough week of riding. I picked up where I left off on Day 6 mentally and hammered the final 10 miles into Myrtle Creek with Jonny Rocker and several other riders in my wake (at 6'4" I create a decent slipstream :).

One last Team Beef selfie
Ice cold chocolate milk at the finish line. Yum!
The obligatory finish line photo!
I may have underestimated the amount of climbing we would do on this ride, having completed nine Ride the Rockies. Cycle Oregon 2016 was a tough ride. Crossing the finish line felt every bit as satisfying as any of those rides, though it lacked some of the emotion of saying goodbye to good friends. Jonny and I pretty much did our own thing and didn't really forge any lifelong friendship like my Team Bar2Bar buddies from Ride the Rockies. But Rocker did say he would consider RTR 2017 after succesfully completing his first week-long ride!

A big shout out to all the staff and volunteers who pulled off an amazing ride. I have been asked several times if I would ever do Cycle Oregon again and the answer is a resounding YES! From my viewpoint the week went off without a hitch, the route was amazing, the food was good, and there were never any lines for the showers or port-a-potties! Bravo.

Ride on!


Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cycle Oregon 2016: Days 4-5

When we last left off Jonny Rocker and I were in Gold Beach on the southern Oregon coast about to begin Day 5 of Cycle Oregon 2016. It was an epic day traversing 71 miles of wilderness on seldom traveled Forest Service roads, but that story will have to wait until I finish my previous post with a recap of Day 4.

Face Rock near Gold Beach on the Southern Oregon Coast.

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Day Four (Wednesday, September 14): Day 4 was billed as the "optional day" -- a 55-mile loop from Gold Beach to Brookings along the rugged Pacific Coast, including portions of the Wild Rivers Coast Scenic Bikeway -- and it was immediately clear many riders opted out as we encountered far fewer riders on the road. Their loss! As touted on the Oregon Scenic Bikeways site, Day 4 featured "towering basalt sea stacks and vast ocean views" around every corner. What the site doesn't mention is that the weather along the coast can turn in a minute -- alternating between sunny and warm to windy and cold. At one point a foggy mist blew in off the ocean threatening to envelope and drag us with it back out to sea. As we rolled into Port Orford fighting a blustery headwind, I seriously considered turning around and heading back to the comfort of our hotel room in Gold Beach (we booked a room for the two nights in Gold Beach and camped out in Tent City the other five nights) but I pressed on despite a bad attitude and was rewarded with some of the most scenic views of the entire ride.

One of the highlights of Day 4 was a stop at the Arch Rock viewpoint.
We took the "high road" on the return loop and got some great views of the famous Oregon "sea stacks."

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Day Five (Thursday, September 15): The fifth day of Cycle Oregon 2016 began with a lovely 30-mile ride up the gorgeous Rogue River Valley to Agness (elev. 210) and the confluence of the Rogue and Illinois Rivers. Other than one decent climb this stretch was mostly a gradual 1-2% grade. At this point the Rogue River enters a gorge (accessible only by boat) so we turned on to Forest Service Road 23 (aka Bear Camp Road) and began the "real climb." For the next 16 miles we climbed 4,510 feet through the Klamath Mountains to Bear Camp Overlook (elev. 4,720) then essentially coasted the final . I don't think I have ever ridden a more isolated stretch of road in my life. For more than 40 miles we rarely saw a vehicle (other than the Cycle Oregon SAG wagons) or human being not clad in spandex! After meeting back up with the Rogue River we reached the overnight site, Indian Mary Park. It was a beautiful spot along the river reserved exclusively for our traveling encampment.

Riding along the Rogue River from Gold Beach to Agness, Oregon.

At the confluence of the Rogue and Illinois Rivers.

Riding on Bear Camp Road in the Klamath Mountains.

Jonny Rocker relaxes and refuels at the Day 5 lunch stop at Bear Camp.

Relief and trepidation. The climb is over. The steep descent looms ahead.
Next up: Days 6-7 and the end of Cycle Oregon 2016

Ride on!


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cycle Oregon 2016: Days 0-3

Waking up in Gold Beach, Oregon, this morning I remembered that had really planned to post every day on Cycle Oregon and here it is day five and I haven't posted anything! The fact is finding time and sufficient internet access has been difficult, as it always is on these rides. But I hauled my Surface along on the tip, packing and unpacking it in my backpack every day, so I should at least take time to post some pics and brief travelogue.

Mt. Shasta in California on the drive up I-5
Driving up the I-5 from California
 Day Zero (Saturday, September 10): We drove from Sacramento to Myrtle Creek, Oregon, for the start of the ride on Sunday. Jonny Rocker's daughter, Tina, drove down from Portland, to meet us for the opening night ceremonies, sleeping over in Jon's tent. We found a good campsite near the baseball diamonds at Umpqua High School and settled in to the beer tent, listened to the bands on the main stage and got our first taste of the ride food (beef stroganoff -- not bad, actually).

First beer tent beverages!
Jon's daughter Kristina joined us for the opening night.
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Day One (Sunday, September 11): I woke for the first day of the ride in a bit of a panic realizing I had not charged my phone or backup battery charger overnight, so I climbed out of my cozy sleeping bag and tent and wandered around in the dark looking for an outlet. I was able to find one open spot outlet to get my battery charging. I'd just have to use it to charge my phone during the ride (I have my bike rigged to charge my phone, Garmin and bike speaker while riding!).

Crisis averted, we packed up camp, tried (and failed) to make our first pot of coffee with the Jet Boil, had breakfast with Tina, and rode off on our week-long adventure. As we prepared to ride the wind picked up and a layer of fog rolled in. We debated whether to wear our jackets, eventually opting to go without. We have since learned that the weather here is very unpredictable and have increasingly added layers!

The ride was a relatively short 52 miles with several steep climbs (a sign of things to come). We arrived at our destination -- a large dirt patch in the middle of nowhere (Camas Valley) -- in the early afternoon, set up camp, showered, and headed to the beer tent. It was hot and dusty all afternoon but cooled off significantly after dinner and overnight.

Team Beef getting ready to roll on Day One.

Tine sends off her dad with a big hug.
The BEEFMAN Rideth!
Our destination on Day One was a huge dirt patch in Camas Valley, Oregon.

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Day Two (Monday, September 12): We woke to the return of the fog from Day One (at least it was less dusty!). The ride from Camas Valley to Bandon-by-the-Sea would require us to climb over a number of steep ridges between us and the Pacific Ocean. The first climb was a nasty 4-mile hike up a Bureau of Land Management road that featured the steepest two-mile stretch I have ever ridden -- with grades between 10-15%.
Once over the first big climb we foolishly made the mistake of thinking "it's all downhill from here). Actually, the ride down the other side was as strenuous as the climb! We actually had to wait in line for over an hour to descend, as they spaced the riders out in small groups. No wonder, the steep descent was treacherous. We actually had to stop to rest our hands and let our tires cool from braking so much!

By the way, the climbing wasn't over by any stretch of the imagination. Between several shorter but steep climbs we headed toward the coast, battling a headwind all the way in to Bandon. At the end of the day we were relieved to find a nice (not dusty) campsite in the Bandon City Park. However, a heavy, cold breeze coming off the ocean drove us from the beer tent into our tents -- and warmth of our sleeping bags -- long before the band finished playing.

The scenery along the route has ranged from stunning to awe-inspiring!
Tent City on Bandon-by-the-Sea.
My trusty Coleman tent.

Jonny Rocker checks out the sunset on Bandon Beach.
Day Three (Tuesday, September 13): Our first day riding along the coast was, well, tougher than I expected. What appeared to be a relatively flat jaunt down the coast on Highway 101 from Bandon to Gold Beach featured less coast and lots of climbing over the massive ridges that jut out into the ocean forming the rugged Oregon coast and famous "haystack" rock formations.
We enjoyed our first in route beer near the first aid station on day there in Langlois, Oregon -- 14 miles in to a 70-mile day!
The highlight of Day Three was a 10-mile detour to visit the Cape Blanco Lighthouse. It was worth the trip!

Well, I have run out of time and need to get ready for Day Five, featuring the longest, and possibly toughest, climb of the ride. We head from Gold Beach on the Cast up the Rogue River Valley, climbing from zero to nearly 5,000 feet!

Here's a brief glimpse of Day Four. Stay tuned for the write-up on this amazing day and the rest of the ride in the days to come...

Sea stacks along the Southern Oregon Coast

More sea stacks

Lunch stop in Brookings (that's a fruit juice drink)

Ride on!