The fourth day of the STIHL Tour des Trees to benefit the TREE Fund started off with mass confusion. The Department of Transportation closed one of the bridges to the cyclists, so the majority of the group was shuttled to the departure point, and our amazing support crew coordinated moving more than 100 bikes and people on short notice.
A small group of us stayed behind to do a special tree planting with the CREST Environmental Camp in Wilsonville, Ore., and I had the chance to be part of another special Pricklethorn Presentation. The kids at the camp were there to learn about the environment, and they even have a pet corn snake, Ruby, who all the cyclists got up close and personal with. They were a great audience for Professor Pricklethorn. I'm always impressed with the Professor's ability to easily explain complex issues concerning urban trees, especially the concept of planting the "right tree in the right place," one of the basic tenets of professional tree care.
He uses the example of how inappropriate it would be to put a chihuahua on a dog sled team. The idea of "right tree, right place" is the same. You shouldn't plant a tree in a place where it won't thrive. This is a simple concept with profound impact. One of the main things I'm learning on this trip about tree care is how all these simple concepts that arborists live and work with daily can affect the overall scheme of our landscape. I'm also learning the importance of incorporating these concepts into my own life, down to the trees I would plant in my own yard. We were all impressed with the children at the event. Their knowledge of the environment and trees even stunned the Professor. I even learned something new from the Professor, called "wood bathing." (I'll explain later.)
After the morning's tree planting ceremony, we were shuttled to the lunch stop, where we met up with the rest of the group and prepared for the challenge of Mt. Hood. At this point in the day, as a rider, I was feeling envious for missing the morning's ride. We watched the other cyclists enjoy a great ride along the Clackamas River Gorge as we motored by in the shuttle. The environment changed dramatically from yesterday's ride through the Willamette Valley, which was mainly vineyards and farmland, to a beautiful evergreen forest. The weather was mild (for once) and I was trying to pump myself up to face 30 miles of climbing. The bio diversity of Oregon is ridiculous. If you haven't experienced this state, you should.
I spent the early afternoon trying to block out my riding partner talking about the next hill, how high it is, how long the climb will last, what's up next... I put mental blinders on and just started to grind out the ride. It seemed easier today to climb, knowing that the hills wouldn't end.
For upwards of 20 miles, there were no cars in sight. It was like the roads were made for biking alone. Imagine this: winding uphill and downhill roads, large Douglas firs and Lodge pole pines lining the drive, crisp air and temperatures in the 70s. My life doesn't get much better than this. At one point, we hit a dead end road, and had to carry our bikes across a creek and over dirt mounds. It felt incredibly remote.
I stayed with my riding partner until the first break, which was after the largest climb of the day. When we started out from the rest stop, I was so sedated by my surroundings that I decided to take an easier pace. At this point, I remembered what I learned this morning from Professor Pricklethorn about "wood bathing" and decided to try it. Apparently, "wood bathing" is when you go into the forest and try to take in the energy from the trees. I'm either not very good at this or not well-practiced. It didn't work, so I used the time to just chill out for a little bit, on my own, in the middle of the woods.
Having failed at regaining energy, I returned to my bike and pushed forward anyhow. I did see some wildlife today, including red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures. The vultures were coming for us, but in the words of fellow Tour cyclist Phil Bennett, "We're not dead yet." I was told early in the day that we might see marmots, and along the ride, I heard a distinctive chirp. After a little fact-checking, I verified it was indeed marmots I'd heard throughout the day.
The hills today were relentless, but they came with a reward, some great downhilling. We came around a corner and in the distance, looming above, was snow-capped Mt. Hood. It made the work seem worth it, and the pain diminished for exactly one second. No longer. Phil and I stopped for pictures and then began the last leg of the ride. Still uphill, and fortunately for us (or not), there was a headwind that wanted to push us back down the mountain.
We had 10 miles to go, and it might as well have been 10 million. But the one thing that pushed me through is that I will have conquered yet another Oregon challenge. In a cliche way, I told myself that if I could finish this ride, I can do anything, and there was a major sense of accomplishment at the end of the day when I had.
When I rolled into the hotel and got the daily smile and nod from the other riders, the one that says "you made it, and don't you want to do it again?" All I wanted to do was get the room key and get a warm shower, but I knew that what I just experienced was something once in a lifetime.
Chuck Kellen is an employee of STIHL Inc. who is spending this week cycling through Oregon with the STIHL Tour des Trees. The event benefits the Tree Research and Education Endowment Fund (TREE Fund). To learn more, visit www.stihltourdestrees.org and www.treefund.org.
Photo Credit: Alvin Gilens