Nearly 200 bicyclists drop into town for a visit

They rode into town Friday afternoon, alone or in small groups, a bright sea of reds and yellows.

It was their last overnight stop on a week-long bicycle journey that started and stopped in Eugene. What began 15 years ago as a trio of bicyclists wanting to see Oregon in a new light, has grown to 170 riders ranging in age from 12 to 80.

“I rode with Cycle Oregon in 1990 when it came through here,” said Ron Kogen of Portland. “The community looks so much better now. There were so many things boarded up then. Things just look like the economy is better.”

His riding partner, John Goveia of Portland agreed that Sweet Home made a pleasant last night for the crew which was destined for Eugene on Saturday. He was especially impressed with the community murals.

“The Oregon Bicycle Ride is much smaller, in terms of numbers, than Cycle Oregon,” Goveia said. “Instead of 2,000 riders, we have fewer than 200. It’s just more laid back. There are fewer lines, less hustle.”

The median age of riders is older organizers said, about 52.

Last year’s ride took the adventurers through the Klamath Falls area. This year’s ride went from Eugene to Philomath, then to McMinnville, on to Silver Falls State Park, (a leg to Estacada was abandoned due to a forest fire), then to Detroit and over Quartzville to Sweet Home.

The jaunt from Detroit to Sweet Home was the longest daily ride, encompassing some 77 miles and a climb to nearly 1,000 feet.

Carole Swan is one of some 30 paid staff members who help make the event happen.

She said riders can enjoy themselves and know that when they get to camp, conveniences will be available such as portable hot showers that roll in on a semi-truck.

A masseuse has a tent set up, Sunnyside Sports of Eugene provides free bike repairs except for the cost of parts and a catering service provides hearty breakfasts and suppers. Snacks and potables are provided along the way.

“We try to keep the rides under 500 miles and under 300 riders,” Swan said.

Cost is about $500, Swan said.

“We get all kinds of people on the rides,” Swan said. “There are the hard-chargers who get up early and get into camp first as well as the laid back riders,” she said.

Swan’s brother, David Swan, Bill Martin and Sandy Green, all of Bend, kicked off the first ride and have since incorporated the event.

Bill Martin said the trio lay out the route each year and try to start and stop near an airport in case out-of-state riders wish to participate.

“We look for stretches that are 50-70 miles between towns and we want to stay off the main roads,” Martin said.

Although Thursdays’ leg was the hardest of the week, Martin said the overall weather and ride was good.

“It wasn’t too hot,” Martin said.

When the riders get into camp there is entertainment and games, Martin said.

“We’re not rowdy and by 9 or 10 p.m., everyone’s pretty well sacked out,” Martin said.

Breakfast is served about 6 a.m. and Martin said the riders want lots of it since supper is a full 12 hours and thousands of calories away. U-Haul trucks are used to haul snacks to rest stops along the route, Martin said.

Friday afternoon, as riders arrived at the high school baseball field turned into a campground, Dave VanGundy, Denny Long, Laura Long and Amy Ream talked about the day’s events.

“It was a great ride today,” Laura Long said. “This is our fourth ride.”

The event was the first for Amy Long who said it was excellent.

“I wanted to see this part of the state,” Dave VanGundy said. “I’ve ridden other parts of the state but never had gotten to see much of this area. It’s beautiful.”

Denny Long echoed those sentiments, added that no matter how many times a person sees an area by car, it can’t compare to being seen while riding a bike.

“It’s the best way to see Oregon,” Long said. “I get to see places I’d never get to see otherwise.”

The nice part of riding a route, he added, is that if a rider sees something of interest, “we just pull over.”

He said several riders took advantage of the Santiam River and took dips coming down Quartzville Road.

The youngest female rider on the trip was 26-year-old Jennifer Overturf, a waitress from Oregon City. She was riding with her mother, Suzy, who bought her ticket as a present.

“We like the entertainment, the people, it’s so relaxing,” Suzy said.

Jennifer said she went on last year’s ride as well.

A handout provides riders with fun facts about the area and communities they pass through.

Here’s what the booklet had to say about Quartzville and Sweet Home:

Quartzville: The old town of Quartzville owes its origin to the gold mining activities that began in the 1800s. It is an area with a colorful past that centers on Quartzville and the people who lived there. Today the old town site is located on private land and all that remains is second-growth forest. The town was named Quartzville after the quartz rock formations found within the gold in the mines. Within four years, over 500 mining claims had been established and more than one thousand people lived in Quartzville.

Sweet Home: The original name of Sweet Home was Buckhead. Known as the “Gateway to the Santiam Playground”, Sweet Home is a small logging town located in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range on the eastern edge of the Willamette Valley. Sweet Home is built o the site of a prehistoric forest, which makes it a favorite destination for rockhounds. The Northern Spotted Owl controversy cost Sweet Home many jobs. Many former mill workers and loggers, when possible, retrained for other jobs. The other jobs all too often proved to be entry level, minimum wage jobs. Men could not support their families on such jobs. Many lost their houses, homes and family life.

Two mottos depict the deep friction:

“Save a Logger-East and Owl” from the timber industry and “Save an Owl-Ban Logging” from the environmentalists.