Before the STIHL Tour des Trees, if I had fallen asleep and dreamed of what it would be like to go cycling through Oregon, today would have been it.
Looking at the day's ride map, we saw that the amount of effort would be the same as yesterday. At the morning breakfast, I was talking to different riders and asking how they felt about tackling more climbs today, and the answers were the same as the day before. Some people felt confident, some people were sore, some people were stoic. Fortunately for me, today I felt confident. The good thing about the STIHL Tour des Trees is that the abilities of the riders vary, and the Tour is set up to support all levels of cyclists. The Tour director, Paul Wood, and his support team have done an amazing job with setting up each day's ride, marking the roads, and providing support and SAG, so no matter what we were feeling about the day's ride, we knew we'd be able to make it. That's what's nice about the Tour - your skill level doesn't matter, you don't even have to ride every day. Everyone is here because they care about trees and about caring for trees...and about cycling.
We started off from the village of Government Camp near Mt. Hood with some really great down hilling. The sun was illuminating the valley to our right and the air was still crisp, and if I had to compare it to Virginia Beach, it was like a cool fall day with mountains. We had more climbing through Mt. Hood National Forest. I talked to a lot of the other cyclists today during the ride, and it seems like some of us pushed through a wall yesterday, which made today's climbing enjoyable. We had downhill sections today that lasted five or ten miles, uphill sections that lasted five miles. Everyone's spirits were high, and the ride through Mt. Hood National Forest was extremely quick. As we approached the high desert, the evergreens faded away and more white oaks were present. We rode through rolling hills and wheat fields, by cattle farms, and the roads rolled on endlessly. There is definitely a noticeable difference between the atmosphere in the forest and the high desert. The dry heat of the desert presented the need for more hydration. As long as I stayed hydrated, today I felt invincible on my cycle, like I could ride forever.
I've had a chance this week to meet a variety of interesting people. Earlier in the Tour, I rode with Louise Desjardins, a yoga instructor, and we paced together for 15 miles, but at the last two miles, she blasted by me, making me feel old. Today, I even had a six degrees of separation moment (I'll explain later).
After a five mile climb, as we started our descent, we saw a calf that had gotten loose and was roaming the road. Fellow cyclist Claire Jordan's empathy kicked in and she wanted to help. I did a U-turn and approached the calf - it spooked and ran away along the outside of the fence. I had just texted my girlfriend a picture of horses, and was periodically informing her of what was going on along the route, so I texted her again that we were trying to rescue a calf, and she said "Good luck, they're hard to catch. I know from experience." Having this information, and the insight of Tour cyclist Pete Smith who pointed out, "Look! All the best grass is on the outside of the fence. That calf is smart," I proceeded along the cycling path toward lunch and left Claire to save the calf.
I made it to lunch the earliest all week (for me) and was able to eat with all the "hammerheads," the fastest cyclists on the Tour. At lunch, Claire reported that our antics had alerted the herd, and they all headed toward the fence, probably thinking the cyclists all had food. One rider tried to go the farmhouse to let them know a calf was on the loose, but to no avail, so they all left the calf to enjoy it's newfound freedom.
After lunch, my riding partner and I recognized this part of Oregon from travel we do from our work with STIHL, and actually passed a deli that we'd eaten at before. This was definitely a pinch-yourself moment. When I travel for work, I'm often on some obscure country road that will tease me as I'm sitting in my rental car. I'll daydream about having my road bike and being able to ride on that road. This was one of those roads. It felt again like this state was made for bikes. With only the occasional car passing, the road felt like it was ours alone.
My riding partner's knee was in pain, but he was going to try and work through it for as far as he could. Concerned about his well-being for the next couple hills, I waited as he managed them with one good leg. We hobbled along until the next break point, where he decided, after much persuasion on my part, to stop for the day and rest up for the last day of the Tour. So for the rest of the ride I was by myself, and I still had some pretty big climbs to do. One thing about climbing on the cycle is that sometimes you want to just get in the zone and pedal, and other times, you want a partner to distract you from the pain. The last part of the ride was one of those times I wanted a partner. I was on the Historic Columbia River Highway, and the last rest stop was at the Rowena Crest viewpoint. I stopped to get a victory picture, bike overhead and all, with the amazing Columbia River Gorge in the background. Then off I went for the last ten miles.
Along the way, I saw many other cyclists. I even stopped at one point to talk to some cyclists who were interested in knowing where we were riding, how long we'd been riding, and why we were riding. I'd be remiss if I didn't say that it made me feel pretty incredible to see their reaction when I told them I was cycling 600 miles for the TREE Fund. They expressed their support and were excited to have us in their state. The last part of the ride, I hooked up with a local named Charlie. He saved my life (not literally). The conversation really took my mind off the last hard work of the ride, and I always enjoy getting to know somebody new. It came out in our conversation that he's friends with the owner of a business I work with frequently out here. He knew where the end of the ride was for the day, and was so excited about the Tour, that he wanted to join me for the tree planting at the Hood River Waterfront Park in the late afternoon; but by the time we drew close, it was just wrapping up, so we said our goodbyes.
Each day is getting better and better. Every day I say I've had my best ride ever, but that's only because I don't know what's coming next.