An alternative Cycle Oregon route

February 22, 2006 11:00 pm

Cycle Oregon returns to the this year with stops in Starkey, Sumpter and Union and an optional day trip to Baker City. The ride begins and ends at Lake Wallula near Hermiston.

We're happy to see the partying philanthropic peloton to Northeastern Oregon. Cycle Oregon serves many riders as an introduction to the region.

That entree has all too often included an education on vagaries of mountain weather.

In 1999, hundreds of riders failed to make it to Haines from Ukiah after awakening to freezing temperatures there. Some 600 riders were bused down from Anthony Lakes after the sunset.

And in 2004, cool temperatures and rain made the difficult ride from Halfway to Joseph into an impossible test for many of the riders.

This fall, Cycle Oregon may face a similar challenge. We'd like to propose an alternative route from Sumpter to Union that could make the ride rather than break the riders.

At present, the Cycle Oregon route calls for riders to pedal from Starkey to Sumpter, spend the night, then pedal back over Blue Springs Summit the way they came. The ride stops doubling back at the North Fork of the John Day, where the route turns skyward toward Elkhorn Summit.

This is one tough route, with two main drawbacks — physical, one metaphysical:

ROAD CONDITION: The Elkhorn Scenic Byway on the east face of the Elkhorns is windy and rough — better for 2,000 sets of skinny tires to climb at 7 mph than descend at 37 mph. By contrast, the west face that Cycle Oregon plans to ascend involves lots of long straightaways — more enjoyable to ride down than up.

SHAPE: Cyclists are circular thinkers who prefer loops to out-and-back rides. They prefer rides "shaped" like wheels, which are not just for children, to ones shaped like lollipops, which are.

We'd like to propose an alternate route. Even if it's too late to change the official course, organizers could offer riders an alternative if the weather goes south. Enterprising riders could choose to "go their own way" and meet up with the ride back at the pass.

Rather than turn around at Sumpter and head back over Blue Springs Summit, riders could head for Hwy. 7 and Phillips Reservoir, mirroring a portion of the enroute to the eateries and shops of Baker City.

From Baker, riders have two paved options to get to Union: via North Powder and Pyles Canyon, or via Medical Springs and Catherine Creek Summit.

Both are spectacular, something Cycle Oregon knows well: both routes are part of an optional loop planned for a scheduled rest day in Union.

For certain, Anthony Lakes is not to be missed. In the elaborate calculus of cost versus crowds divided by scenery, this high alpine lake region trumps both Wallowa Lake State Park and Crater Lake National Park (which is precisely why it's on Cycle Oregon's route).

But our alternate isn't exactly short on views, either, with Phillips Reservoir, the Powder River canyon and the mountain-filled vistas of the Sumpter, Bowen and Baker valleys on the way.

Don't misunderstand. We admire the challenge Cycle Oregon offers.

But it's not the Tour de France, or even the . Cycle Oregon is high-intensity recreation and an opportunity to visit small towns along the way.

But you've got to survive the journey to enjoy it. We don't want to see a repeat of the low points of 2004 and 1999 prevent any Cycle Oregon visitors from having the time of their life here this September.