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Bill  On The Road

 by: Bill Oetinger  10/1/2021

Back to Touring (!)

I’ve just returned from an extended journey looping up through Oregon and Washington…a nice adventure. The trip was split between visiting family and scouting out routes for future bike tours. This column is about the scouting, or more generally about getting back into cycle-touring. Along with so much other trouble and turmoil, the pandemic put a serious crimp in our touring agenda over the past couple of years. Now we’re getting back into it.

Back in February, 2019, I wrote one of these columns about the process of scouting out and planning a week-long bike tour. Specifically, that was about a tour in Northern Oregon featuring the Historic Columbia River Highway and its assorted bike paths. That tour—one of the best I’ve ever dreamed up—was scheduled for August, 2020. You know what happened to our world in 2020…in particular, what happened to our bike activities. That tour was scrubbed, as was another one I helped organize for May of that year.

Compared to all the bigger issues with the virus—closing in on 700,000 dead in this country alone, not to mention endless disruptions to our daily lives—the canceling of a couple of little bike tours is a tiny blip on the radar. But to those who were signed up for them and for those of us who had put the work into planning and organizing them, it was a serious disappointment.

I thought about trying to reboot that tour for this past summer but at the time I would have had to begin making reservations—Summer and Fall of 2020—we didn’t even have a vaccine yet, nor any sense of how effective it would be once it was rolled out. So I put that tour off for yet another year: I’m now making reservations for August of 2022. I’m about halfway there with more booking windows opening up this month.

We did manage to stage our other postponed tour this past August. It was a much less ambitious tour closer to home in Lake and Mendocino Counties. But even that one was affected by COVID, indirectly. It was supposed to have been in May, when the weather in that region is at its best. But we weren’t confident enough about the state of the virus and the vaccines at that point so we pushed it back to August. That meant the potential for hot weather in Lake County. We gambled on that and lost. The forecast was for 107 degrees during our three days in that region. We might have plowed ahead with it anyway, but the smoke plume from the massive Dixie Fire was blanketing the region and the air quality was terrible…not anything you’d want to breathe while huffing up a hill.

So we made a last-minute decision to lop off the first days in Lake County and pick up the tour as it moved into Mendocino County…a decision our participants wholeheartedly endorsed. We ended up with a very modest tour of just four days. But after a year-plus of no tours at all, folks were so starved for that experience, everyone thought it was just the bee’s knees. Smiles all around. You never saw so many happy people, so many good rides and good times in the camps. Just so you know, we invoked a vaccine mandate for the tour and no one complained about an infringement of their liberty.

This most recent scouting trip was not to revisit the routes of the tour that includes the Columbia River Gorge. That one is already pretty well laid out. I did spend part of one day looking at one road that I might use to change part of Stage 5, but in the end did not make the change. Even though it didn’t work out, it was worth it to spend the time and check it out. It might have been an improvement. It wasn’t. But sometimes you can’t make those calls based on what you see in Google maps. Sometimes you just have to be there and see it up close.

Bend ORMostly this trip was to sort out a long list of questions regarding a new tour I have in the pipeline for 2023…the High Desert Tour, set around Bend. I’ve had this one simmering away on a back burner for a year or two. I’d done as much as I could with my own past touring and driving in the area and with whatever Google could tell me. But as I say, sometimes you just have to put your wheels and your eyeballs on the roads, the camps, and the scenic attractions to finally decide what works and what doesn’t. In fact, some of my tentative routes did not pan out. But once I knew that, I was able to move on and begin exploring other options. It all worked out well: a seven-stage tour with long and short options each day—an average of 64 miles for the long rides and 54 for the short—and loads of great scenery and cycling fun every day.

If you read these columns often enough, you know by now I’m a tireless promoter of multi-day bike tours, especially the kind I call cooperative tours, where the participants share in the chores that keep the tour moving each day. (The column at the other end of that link was written way back in 2005. Some items in it are now slightly out of date. But the general premise is still viable.) Now that our lives are slowly edging back toward something we can call normal, it’s sweet to once again be planning and staging multi-day tours. For me, they’re just about the best biking fun out there. I’ve planned and participated in 36 of them over the past 25 years or so, adding up to over 260 stages and over 16,000 miles, and I can’t say we’ve ever had a bad tour. We’ve had bad days, when it rained hard or when someone crashed out, but overall, great days on the bikes and pleasant times in the camps or hotels along the way. It feels great to be getting back to that again. Here’s hoping your cycling life includes at least one good tour in the coming year.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net

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