FAMILY FRIENDLY CYCLISTS CHRISTEN MT. EMILY RIDE, STRIVE TO MAKE IT ANNUAL EVENT
By Dick Mason
Observer Staff Writer
It happened without warning.
Four Union County mountain bikers were riding down from the south side of Mount Emily late Saturday morning.
Suddenly the cyclists heard about a dozen animals crashing through the forest.
The riders had nothing to fear. They had every reason to feel awe-inspired.
The cyclists took their eyes off the road and witnessed something they may never see again. Elk cows and calves were running along both sides of the rugged dirt road.
"They were crashing through the forest; I think we woke them up,'' said Greg Howard of La Grande.
The elk were about 20 yards away and soon disappeared into the overcast darkness of the forest.
The elk provided an exclamation mark for what may become an annual event in Northeast Oregon.
The four riders were participating in the first La Grande Lions Club "Family Bike Ride on Mount Emily.''
In addition to Greg Howard, the participating riders were Union County Commissioner John Howard, Greg's brother; Vicky Lamoreaux of Cove and Larry Berg of La Grande.
The 12-mile ride started at the Indian Rock overlook on Mount Emily. From the mountain, one gets a view of the Grande Ronde Valley that one might get while in a low-flying aircraft.
Although the mountain bikers would descend about 3,000 feet during their ride, they gave their hearts a workout before putting their brakes to the test.
The cyclists first climbed about 500 feet over the course of a mile to Grandview Peak.
They then began their descent. It was made treacherous by rain-slick rocks. Greg Howard said that it was important not to brake too tightly when traveling over the wet rocks since this could cause one to be thrown off the rocks.
"You had to be careful not to grab your brakes too hard. It was better to glide over the rocks,'' Howard said.
In some parts of the descent, it was difficult to keep one's speed down. Berg and Howard both reached a top speed of 35 miles per hour on one portion of the descent.
The ride required riders to constantly brake and steer. It took a toll on some riders including Lamoreaux.
"My arms were very tired. We didn't do much pedaling but we rode our brakes a lot,'' said Lamoreaux, whose husband, Craig, was among the volunteers who helped put on the ride.
Vicky Lamoreaux had a stiffer challenge than the other cyclists because she rode a bike with tires narrower than those of the other cyclists. The narrower tires added to the challenge of steering down Mount Emily.
Cycling downhill is more difficult than many people realize.
"Riding downhill can be as challenging as going uphill,'' Howard said.
He pointed out that when going downhill, riders must always look 20-30 feet ahead because their momentum can carry them into logs and rocks if they are not careful.
"You constantly must be watching the trail ahead of you,'' he said. "You have to be more focused.''
By contrast, riders going uphill have more control and can afford to look off the road and take in more scenery.
The most difficult part of the ride came at about the six-mile mark when the cyclists came past a rock bluff under which rocks were strewn everywhere. All of the cyclists had to carry their bikes about 100 yards over the rocks.
The cyclists came out at Owsley Canyon Road and then rode to Riverside Park to complete their trek. The 12-mile ride took about 2 hours.
John Howard, the chief organizer of the trip, is optimistic the ride may become an annual event.
"There are possibilities,'' said Howard, a member of the La Grande Noon Lions Club.
He believes that Saturday's turnout was hurt by rain.
Howard said the format of the event may change in the future. One option he is considering is having a mountain bike race to Mount Emily. It would be followed by a family ride down the mountain.
An event like this could catch on given the popularity of mountain bike riding, Howard said.
"It could become a drawing card for the county,'' Howard said.