By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Just this year, 28-year-old Kele Hulson decided to get serious about bicycle racing.
She quit her job as a physical therapist, moved from Seattle to Fort Collins, Colo., and entered just about every race she could drive or fly to.
Fact is, over the past two weeks, she's raced in nearby Boulder and far-away Montreal, stopping in Virginia and Philadelphia along the way. Next week she's due in Fitchburg, Mass., about 50 miles northeast of Boston, for yet another race.
One of about 290 competitors who hail from as far away as Auckland, New Zealand, and Urbana, Ill., Hulson, who pedaled in last year's inaugural event, said she drove 14 hours to enter this weekend's Elkhorn Classic Stage Race because of great mountains and quality people.
andquot;I thought the first stage last year was the hardest I had ever raced,andquot; she said. andquot;This event offers a great opportunity to climb, and the organizers are good ambassadors for the sport.
andquot;This is the heart of our season. It's just one long summer of race and recover.andquot;
Organizer Nathan Hobson, a 1982 Baker High School graduate, played the part of genial host Thursday evening as old friends came by to register for the race at his old school.
A gregarious man who himself enjoys cycling, Hobson said he has been andquot;taken abackandquot; at the success of what in just two years has become one of Baker County's signature events.
andquot;It's way beyond where I thought the race would be,andquot; he said in between the handshakes, backslaps and jocularity that are part of most athletic endeavors. andquot;We're a long way from any major cities, but because we're in the middle of where a lot of people live, we're able to attract a good field.andquot;
Besides geography, the Baker City event has two advantages, Hobson believes one built-in, and the other hard earned.
andquot;Two things made us a success last year,andquot; Hobson said. andquot;One is the great course, as beautiful as many of these people will find all season. And the other is the community itself, which was so receptive last year.
andquot;People would come right up to the racers before the criterium last year. They weren't afraid to talk to them, and the racers liked that. Also the vendors and merchants were very nice to people. It wasn't hard to get them back this year.andquot;
Building the field hasn't been quite that simple, say Hobson's two brothers, David of Seattle (BHS Class of 1979) and Jason of Missoula, Mont. (BHS Class of 1989).
andquot;He's put his heart and soul into this race,andquot; David Hobson said. andquot;It's not about the money. It's about people having a great time with their friends and families. Nathan meets and greets people and makes them feel personally welcome. It's his passion, and it shows.andquot;
Craig Sinarian, a member of the HalfFast team from Portland, said that about 700 support people, family and friends have accompanied the 290 racers. Not only do they fill area hotels and restaurants, but they spill over into the small gym at Baker High School.
For $5 per night per person, riders can sleep on a wrestling mat and enjoy a hot shower every morning. Many, Sinarian said, sleep with their bicycles, which can cost as much as $5,000.
The BHS volleyball team will offer a $6 all-you-can-eat spaghetti feed Friday night, and the Fire Department a free hot dog and homemade pie dinner Saturday.
BHS principal Jerry Peacock believes the weekend of cycling action is good for participants and spectators alike.
andquot;I believe an event of this magnitude is awfully good for our community,andquot; he said. andquot;It's as good for our economy as the district and state basketball tournaments, and it introduces Baker to the rest of the world.andquot;
And thanks to the daughters of David and Nathan Hobson, this year's event will go down in cinematic history.
Nathan's daughters, Rachelle, 13, and Lauren, 12, will join with David's daughter, Sydney, 11, to videotape interviews with some of the competitors and as many spectators and hotel staff as will talk to the girls.
andquot;We've been planning a long time to make a history of this race,andquot; Lauren Hobson said. andquot;We want to make something like you'd see on the Travel Channel.andquot;
andquot;Dad's been going a little crazy getting all this together,andquot; she added. andquot;We thought it might be fun for him to see our documentary.andquot;