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Exploring the Willamette Valley by Bike

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Today's ride on the STIHL Tour des Trees began with an inspiring tree dedication ceremony with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, where we heard the tribes' history and met some of the members of the tribe.

Before we dedicated the tree, the children of the tribe performed a traditional song for us called "t'amala," which means "tomorrow we'll try to do better."

What stood out for me about the ceremony was that the story of the tribes' work to reestablish themselves and keep their culture intact parallels the TREE Fund's work to build a culture of awareness. We finished with another tree dedication led by Professor Pricklethorn, and I laughed again. That guy gets me every time.

Then we started the ride. Today was promised to be an effortless recovery day ride through the beautiful wine country of Oregon. In the morning, it was another day of epic scenery. The ride was downhill, the sun came out, and it was a perfect day for cycling.

We passed multiple clover fields, which I learned were planted by honey farmers to provide pollen for bees. We passed hazelnut orchards and a working wood mill that was de-barking trunks; and then we made it to our first rest stop, Coelho Winery.

The winery was originally a hardware store, and the bar was made from reclaimed wood from a 1920s grainery. The table was also made from reclaimed wood, from a schoolhouse in Kentucky. Yet another reason why this part of the world was made for me.

This morning we tried to ride as a team -- there are four of us on Team STIHL cycling the full Tour. Early on, one of the team members took a nasty spill, but he picked himself up, dusted himself off, and continued through the rest of the day.

Our stop for lunch was at Stoller Vineyards; I bought a bottle of Pinot Noir for my girlfriend -- her favorite.

After another delicious lunch, we were so mentally fatigued that we were battling to finish the ride. After about five miles, the hills and varying speeds spread our team apart as we began a 900-foot climb. The climbing was intense and pushed me to the limit.

Toward the end of the climb, there was a switchback as steep as a water slide and at the top a road name was "Mountain Top Road." Upon reading the road name, I immediately assumed I was on top of this mountain. I received a small reward for this climb, a slight downhill run, and took a left only to discover that Mountain Top Road was nowhere near the top of the mountain. Blast these beautiful Oregon hills!

After a certain point, the beauty of the landscape is eclipsed by the amount of work it takes to conquer it, and today was one of those days. I've never been more appreciative of the flat landscape of Virginia Beach.

While the climbs today were intense, the downhill made me speechless. I easily rode 40 to 50 miles an hour, twisting and turning through the roads of the Willamette Valley. This is addictive and makes all the up hilling worth it.

One fascinating aspect of this Tour is hearing people who are passionate about trees in cities talk about their work. The ride brings together many different professions -- researchers, educators, and industry professionals -- and gives us a chance to have conversations about the importance of the research and how we each can help move it forward. The presenter last night, Jim Skiera of the International Society of Arboriculture, was speaking about the ways in which information is shared across disciplines, specifically the impact trees have on retail sales and storm water management, which can now be quantified as a result of research funded by the TREE Fund and others. This data can then be effectively communicated to civil engineers, which helps them appropriately and cost effectively solve a problem that involves trees.

Each evening of the Tour is dinner in a different city and tonight we were hosted by the Collier family at their home near West Linn, Ore. This was easily the best dinner of the Tour so far. Some of the food highlights we savored was locally caught Steelhead and locally grown cherries. All this took place in the Collier's beautiful garden, as the sun set over the hills we'd climbed earlier in the day.

At the end of the evening, we headed home and prepared for t'amala, which we need, because tomorrow, we climb Mt. Hood.

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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

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