Ticket to ride

May 10, 2013 10:52 am

Emilie Montgomery-Jones (left) and Scilla Coe, both of La Grande, ride along with a cattle drive on the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway Saturday east of Baker City. (Brad Mosher/The Observer)
Emilie Montgomery-Jones (left) and Scilla Coe, both of La Grande, ride along with a cattle drive on the Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway Saturday east of Baker City. (Brad Mosher/The Observer)

Cyclists discover great outdoors on 134-mile ride through backcountry

It wasn’t the long uphill climb to the summit on Highway 203 Saturday that impressed most of the three dozen riders in the annual Grande Ronde Spring Ride.

It was the weather and the scenery during the two-day, 134-mile ride along the new Grande Tour Scenic Bikeway.

There was a blue sky, warm, 75-degree weather and hardly any wind. 

For riders coming from the Portland and Seattle areas, that itself was a welcome change. 

For the riders who live in Eastern Oregon, it was perfect timing to herald the return of warmer weather while following the brand new signs marking the course.

It was just warm enough to add a shimmer to the ground as the warm asphalt reflected the sun’s heat, yet cool enough for some riders to wear jackets climbing up to the summit south of Catherine Creek State Park on Highway 203.

“It was awesome,” Bonnie Hayslett of La Grande said when she took a brief break near the summit Saturday about 13 miles from Union on Highway 203. She was talking about both the weather and the scenery.

Emilie Montgomery-Jones of La Grande has ridden the course before, but that was before it had become official.

On Saturday, the goal was having fun, she said.

She wasn’t the only one enjoying the ride. Scilla Coe of La Grande was riding with Montgomery-Jones. “It has been splendid. I rented a bike, so I couldn’t be happier.”

The riders left Riverside Park in La Grande Saturday and traveled at their own pace. 

Some rode faster than others, but almost all of the people who signed up for the event completed the two-day ride.

A few even made the complete 134-mile figure-eight circuit in one day.

Several reversed the course of the ride and went through the towns of Cove and Union first.

The bikeway through the Grande Ronde and Baker valleys is the ninth in a series of scenic bikeways in the state. The riders also had a chance to ride through several small towns.

The path also follows part of the original Oregon Trail and takes the riders through the ponderosa pines of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest on the climb out of Union. Riders then descended through the park along the Medical Springs Highway down to Pondosa and the sagebrush-covered hills across the Powder River on the way to Baker. That would be the end of the first section of the two-day ride.

Some of the riders found that the biggest traffic problem wasn’t in the towns of La Grande, Union or Baker City. 

Some shared the road with a modern-day cattle drive moving a herd to a new range as the warmer temperatures arrive. On Saturday, one ranch in the community of Miles was moving cattle on the road about a mile into the hills.

“It all added to the charm,” Anita Metlen of Imbler said Saturday. 

“Pondosa is always a fun spot to stop and buy something after the long climb from Union.”

This year, the ride had some participants from as far away as Portland, Salem and Seattle. 

“We are excited to see people coming in from out of the area,” she said.

Metlen was pleased with the success of the latest two-day ride. 

“We had 36 last year, but there was a drop-off in the numbers on the second day. We had like 12 or 15 riders on Sunday.” 

That didn’t happen this year, Metlen said. “We had 39 registered and probably had 42 riders each day. That was a big change and we were excited to see it.”

The good weather helped to bring in some late riders who waited until Saturday to register because they were not sure of the conditions beforehand, she said.

But, the weather also had a slight downside — some riders finished with a sunburn. “My husband looked like a lobster,” Metlen said.

A good thing about the route that the cyclists have enjoyed is the number of small towns they ride through, Metlen said. “There is Union, North Powder and not too far from Haines. Pondosa was open. They are spaced out so that you can stop and buy some food or something to drink on the ride. That gives them a little break and is the ideal conditions — to be able to ride 20 or 30 miles and be ready for a little break,” she said.

Even running into a herd of cattle on the road near Miles added to the ride Saturday, Metlen said. “It just added to the charm. This is Eastern Oregon. You can’t forget we’ve got a lot of cows — and cowboys.”

When La Grande residents Bill Delashmutt and his wife, Sharon, arrived at the summit for a brief snack break in the ride Saturday, it was both the scenery and the weather that impressed them. “It has been beautiful, really beautiful today. The weather is great and the scenery is too.” They didn’t even mind the 1,400-foot climb in elevation from Union to the summit.

Only a few completed the entire 134-mile route in one day, Metlen said. 

Two of them were Tim Elliott and Ed Spaulding — both of La Grande.

The pair made a brief stop for snacks and drinks at the summit following the long climb out of Union Saturday.

After retirement, the pair found a new job, joked Spaulding. “We ride our bikes.”

Spaulding joined in on the ride to do the whole thing in one day with his friend. “He talked me into it,” he added, smiling at his friend as Elliott ate an apple.

“We hope to make it (back to La Grande) before dark,” Spaulding added.

For a pair of riders from the Portland area, they had a temporary — and unplanned — pit stop along Lower Cove Road Sunday to replace a flat tire.

Even that didn’t bother them. The weather made it enjoyable, one of the riders said. 

Kent Coe and Chas Jones, both of La Grande, rode the course in reverse on their recumbent bicycles along with friends from Seattle. That meant they had a long downhill ride from the summit into Union Saturday. 

“We are doing it 100 percent backwards of everybody else,” Coe said. “With this weather and the people, it would be nice either way.”

For Coe and his friends, the return to Union gave them a chance to rest and relax in the Union City Park for a while before continuing on to La Grande Sunday.

Michael McInnis of La Grande was the first to return to Riverside Park Sunday, but he said it wasn’t because he was fast. He just left Baker City right after breakfast, he said, smiling. 

“It wasn’t a race. I just left way earlier than everyone else.”

The route back from Baker City took the riders west along the edge of the Elkhorn Mountains as they headed north along the Anthony Lakes Highway, bypassing Haines before cutting back to Interstate 84 and North Powder. The route continued from North Powder to Union on Highway 237 through Pyles Canyon before cutting over to Cove and north along Lower Cove Road to Market Lane where the bikeway went west to La Grande.

For McInnis, North Powder provided a welcome break. “I stopped in North Powder and sat around for a bit. I just took my time,” he said Sunday.

“The whole thing is just a beautiful route,” McInnis said. “The worst part of it I think was from
La Grande to Union — because of the traffic.”

Although McInnis noticed a little headwind on the route as he returned to Union County Sunday, it wasn’t enough to change his impression of the ride. 

“The weather was perfect. It was beautiful,” he said. He admitted he was into riding for the fitness and the camaraderie with other cyclists. “Except for today I just took off (from Baker) and didn’t see anybody.”

Since McInnis hadn’t been riding a lot recently, he said he was more interested in enjoying the ride, rather than racing it.

McInnis also is looking forward to riding the 3 Rivers race in June. “That goes up to a century for those who want to,” he said.

The ride also was sponsored by businesses in the Grande Ronde Valley and in Baker County, according to Metlen.

Businesses included Rodeway Inn, Union County Chamber of Commerce and Mountain Works Bicycles of La Grande, Quiznos Sandwich Restaurant in Island City, Northeast Oregon Cyclist of Imbler and Always Welcome Inn of Baker City. 

State official rides

One of the people participating in the two-day ride was Alex Phillips, the bicycle recreation coordinator for the state Parks and Recreation Department. Slightly more than a year ago, Phillips was at a hearing on the proposed bikeway in
La Grande. 

It was a reality Saturday as she finished the climb to the summit.

The Oregon Scenic Bikeway program is designed to build a series of bicycling routes in the state that help to showcase some of the state’s history and scenery.