September 12, 2003 11:00 pm

There is pleasure in open spaces and pleasure in slower paces. Cycle Oregon is witness to this. The annual bicycle migration has visited the area before and tonight is back in La Grande for another encore.

THE LITTLE city's friendly folks — hey, we're no Portland — should roll out the red carpet tonight for the 2,000 riders in Cycle Oregon. It's a town within a town. The survivors of the 85-mile ride from Wallowa Lake will be ready to relax and, because it's Friday, party.

Welcome to town, guys. The riders — from all 50 states and many countries around the world — will chow down, get cleaned up and then many will converge on a downtown street party featuring the band Quarterflash. Remember them? The sax-infused rockers from Portland were a national phenom in the early 1980s, known for tunes like "Harden My Heart," and sultry vocals.

FOR RIDERS ARRIVING EARLY, the fast bunch, Cycle Oregon Main Stage entertainment will include local favorites Blue Pass at 3:30 p.m. and Too Loud MacLeod & the Silencers at 5 p.m. Local citizens are invited to join in the fun.

Guitarist/vocalist Marv Ross from Quarterflash is among the riders who have enjoyed and endured a ride through the "Alps of Oregon." And since they hit the area during the first cold snap, much character has been built riding into cold, hail, wind and seemingly endless switchbacks going 5 mph. We hope the riders will go back home and tell their friends about the splendor of this area and what a great place it would be to bring a business and raise a family.

BUT NOT ALL IS suffering in Cycle Oregon. The event is like a very healthy circus. Each evening of the Sept. 6-13 ride a small community is set up within a town. Every evening the riders get hot showers to be more socially acceptable, a beer garden, bike repair and detail services, apothecaries, massage therapists, chiropractors, more.

Local volunteers help make this small town-within-a-town function, and without their willingness to pitch in and help, Cycle Oregon, which goes to a different part of the state each year, wouldn't be possible.

The week-long ride begins and ends in Baker City. Drivers on the road Saturday to Union, Catherine Creek Park and beyond should remember to give the bicyclists a brake. A bicycle is no match for a two-ton rig.

TOGETHER WE CAN help this continue being, as many call it, the best bike ride in America. Our riders come from all 50 states. Many of the bicyclists return annually, and it's the hospitality — plus seeing such wonders as the Snake River with its gorge deeper than the Grand Canyon, the Seven Devils, the Eagle Cap Wilderness and the ancestral home of Chief Joseph, the Wallowa Valley.

La Grande should wholeheartedly embrace the visitors and show them a taste of good Eastern Oregon hospitality. And we should all take a moment to ponder the pleasure of open spaces — and the pleasure of slower paces.