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Volunteers welcome Cycle Oregon to Baker
By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Dave Johnson is used to directing traffic on the gridiron as Baker High School's head football coach.
But Johnson and his players have probably never dealt with the logistical problem that 2,048 riders with bikes and heavy suitcases and tents present.
Getting all those people offloaded and on their way from the high school to the Baker Sports Complex then depositing their gear exactly on the patch of grass each cyclist had selected for their campsite was the Saturday afternoon task of about 55 Baker High School athletes who joined maybe 150 other area residents to get the 16th annual Cycle Oregon started off right.
The football players Saturday's crew consisted of defensive linemen, while the defensive backs showed up Sunday morning to load the trucks took the brunt of the heavy work Saturday, offloading vehicles at the high school parking lot and reloading suitcases on trucks and golf carts for the short trip to the Sports Complex.
"At first, they were acting like they do at Lew Brothers (Les Schwab Tires), greeting everybody with a smile and offering to offload everything off every vehicle," said Tim Collins, Baker City's interim city manager and a member of the organizing committee. "But after a while, we didn't have time even to greet people. We were too busy."
There's a payoff for all those tired muscles, Johnson said: the softball and football teams will split the $800 plus tips they made for all that hauling, loading and unloading. The football team will enjoy new shoulder pads this season, and the softball players new varsity uniforms in the spring.
The tips were not inconsequential. Most ranged in the $2 to $5 range, but one woman offered up $20, Collins said.
"We told her to tell the others she'd given at the office," he said.
"They've all been very generous, thoughtful people," Johnson said.
Before Johnson, Collins and others could direct the long line of cars to the six lanes where they were off-loaded, the Baker County Ambassadors got to greet each motorist and give them instructions. That task fell to Deb Singer, Ginger and Kerry Savage, Liz and Will Burton, and others. The technique that worked the best was to talk to a motorist while the ambassador slowly walked backwards as the car inched forward.
Deliver the same little talk a few hundred times smiling all the while and you'll yearn for your easy chair by suppertime.
"I'm whupped like a dog," Savage said late in the afternoon. Added Baker High School senior Will Burton, "You just give 'em directions where to go over and over again. But everyone's been really great here. The idea is just to keep 'em moving."
That was also the theme at registration inside the small gym at the high school, where numbers that matched rider with suitcase and the all-important meal ticket were distributed.
"We smile, we're friendly, and we hand them their registration packets and T-shirts," said volunteer Dorthy Wooters. "The most important thing to do is get them to sign the waiver and to show us their ID."
Each packet contained a blue plastic cylinder with "Historic Baker City" stamped on. With an elastic string to hang around the neck, the cylinders were designed to keep valuables dry and safe all week long.
Once their smaller tents had been erected at the Sports Complex, cyclists ambled over to large tents where volunteers from area service clubs dished up chicken dinners.
That night, the crowd enjoyed live music from a portable stage erected on one of the baseball fields. Bluesman Jimmy Lloyd Rea and his band closed the night's entertainment with "Back to Baker Ciy."
Local volunteers returned at 4:45 Sunday morning to begin to feed the cyclists. Then the real work began. Football players again took center stage to load three 48-foot trailers chock full of suitcases in just three hours.
"Out of 2,000 riders, probably a hundred brought their bags to the trucks," Collins said. "The other 1,900 left their bags right there in the field. We started picking them up with four-wheelers, but by the end we were using pickups to finish in time."
More than one participant exceeded the 65-pound bag limit, Collins acknowledged.
"There were a lot of them over 100 pounds," he said. "I know people fudged."
By mid-morning, "not one piece of trash was left on the fields," Collins said. But a generator got left behind, and city officials were discussing Monday morning how to get the equipment where it was needed, whether in Cambridge, Idaho (Monday's stop) or at Tuesday's venue, Halfway.
Organizers said they'd heard nothing but compliments about Cycle Oregon's first two days in Baker County.
"They should be very happy with their first two Baker County venues," Collins said.
And with the Baker City greeting they'll receive at the end of the week Saturday. Beginning about 11 a.m., caterer Trish Everson is offering a free communitywide barbecued ham luncheon at Geiser Pollman Park, for cyclists and residents alike.
The riders will finish their 387-mile journey along the Leo Adler Parkway before crossing Campbell Street and breaking the finish tape at the bridge near the Baker County Library, Collins said.