I’m fortunate to get to cycle with a diversity of folks-many of whom are sources of inspiration. I first met Thomas Shafer and Tom Mage in 2008 on a memorable Goosebumps century ride around the Kitsap Peninsula. After that ride Thomas shared a report about an “invitation only” ride–the “Goosetour”–he and some of the other Goosebumps did in Canada the previous year. The report was indeed inspiring.
Some of that same group put together a similar trip last summer (2011), this time to the Wallowas in eastern Oregon. These guys have a regular ongoing Wednesday evening ~35 mile fast and spirited loop around the city (which I’ve nicknamed “the gangsta ride”). The group’s average age is about 50, with a couple 30-somethings and a septuagenarian. Eligibility requires a passion (not to be confused with an obsession) for cycling.
Although their group operates on an “invitation only” basis, as a way to inspire similar trips, Thomas graciously agreed to share some of the details of the Wallowa adventure. His contact information is at the bottom of this post in case you have questions about putting together something like this yourself.
The summer 2011 adventure was nicknamed the “Wallowa Wallop” (“WW”) and planned around these objectives:
• 75-80 miles/day
• At least one pass climb per day
• Self-sagged (eg, a vehicle followed the tour carrying luggage, food and supplies); everyone took turns driving, usually 15-20 miles per shift
• Stay in hotels/motels/lodges each night – although this tour included one night of camping
• Picnic lunch somewhere along route each day
• Group dinner each night
• Keep tour costs down and ride pace up
• Many of the tour participants took on planning responsibilities such as shopping for lunch foods, assigning sag-driving shifts, making hotel reservations, etc.
Bryan Smith: Ex Cat 2 road and track racer. Quiet, but absolutely dominant and fearsome on all types of terrain.
Jeffery Miller: The tour’s strongest climber, camp cook, and an all-around good-natured tour companion.
Jody Carter: Quiet and soft-spoken, but always consistently strong. Jody was the tour’s map and cue sheet-maker.
Kenny Kramer: The tour meteorologist, as his day job is forecasting Cascade mountain weather for the US Forest Service
Mark Rivera: Officially the tour beer steward, but his duties were mostly trumped by everyone else’s eagerness to purchase beer. Mark is the group’s bike-collector.
Pete Adachi: A Seattle-area optometrist who was the WW tour scout, and pre-rode most of the route on a motorcycle.
Ray Willis: The tour finance manager. Ray was the newest to cycling but he showed great ability.
Svend Sorenson: Known for climbing out of the saddle for prolonged periods. His t-shirt and “street shorts” style was a direct antithesis to the team kits everyone else wore.
Tom Mage: At 72 years young, Tom had just returned from a trip to Vietnam, and celebrated his 70th birthday by cycling the Himalayas.
Thomas Shafer: Tour organizer and “CEO”
Thomas selected this year’s route. He had wanted to ride the Wallowas for a long time but he couldn’t find a tour group that followed the route that interested him. The two primary attractions were:
1. The Wallowa Mountain Loop “Highway”, which crests the east side of the Wallowa Mountains, affording a panoramic view of Hells Canyon, and provided miles of dead-quiet, low traffic volume, serene pedaling through mountain forests, and
2. The chance to camp in and ride through Hells Canyon
Nearly everyone had a tour duty:
Route selection: Tom S, Pete
Route maps/cue sheets/elevation profiles: Jody
Hotel reservations: Tom Mage
Sag assignments: Tom S
Camp cook, purchase camp food: Jeffery
Beer Steward: Mark
Loan minivan as sag vehicle: Tom S.
Loan carrier for gear, tool box, water coolers: Bryan
The sag van was set up to carry the camping gear in a rooftop carrier and luggage and food down below. All the rear seats were removed and it was rigged to carry up to three bikes.
Day 1: LaGrande to Halfway / 107 miles / 5,300’ climbing
The route through the Powder River Canyon between Baker City and Richland was gorgeous and included several climbs, but the longest and steepest came at mile 95 between Richland and Halfway. Everyone suffered.
There were very few cars along Catherine Creek between Union and Medical Springs. The group had a picnic lunch in the shade of gum trees on a quiet farming road. There was a long, fast descent east out of Baker City followed by a bloody – hot climb out of Richland. The view of the Eagle Cap Mountains was spectacular as the group rolled into Halfway, where they had the beautiful rustic Pine Valley Lodge to themselves.
Day 2: Halfway Oregon to Copperfield Campground in Hells Canyon, then out and back routes south and north through the canyon with campground as “base camp”. Mileage and elevation varied; Thomas’ day was 60 miles with 2500 feet of climbing.
This was the day the group camped— by the Snake River. Highlights included a fast pack ride through S-curves on the southern route in the Canyon. Mark Rivera attacked a scant couple miles out of Halfway, which amped up the pace until they arrived in Hells Canyon with tongues-a-wagging.
Day 3: Copperfield Campground, Hells Canyon to the south end of Wallowa Lake, south of Joseph, OR / 75 miles / 7,500’ climbing
The weather was stunning—cloudless and warm, but not too hot. There were only about three cars from Copperfield until the Imnaha Highway at the end of the ride. The 30-mile, 3,800 foot climb from Copperfield to Hells Canyon overlook was amazing, with a stunning view from the Overlook. The route follows rivers and passes through verdant forest, with fast, technical descent from the Mt Loop Highway summit to Joseph. Riding along Wallowa Lake felt like a mini version of Lake Como.
The negatives for Day 3 included one temporarily-lost rider when he overshot the turn-off to the Canyon overlook, and a pothole-ridden descent from the summit.
Day 4: Wallowa Lake to La Grande / 77 miles / 1,900’ climbing
The final day was a steady 40-mile descent from Joseph. Along the way there were drop-dead gorgeous views of the still snow-covered Wallowas. The last climb of the tour happened at about mile 45 where everyone pushed the pace. Negatives for the day included heavy traffic and nasty headwinds during the final 10-15 miles into La Grande.
Traffic was minimal for most of the tour and the weather was great. Group cohesiveness was exceptional—everyone pitched in and looked out for one another. The campground was fantastic and the climbing on Day 3 was sublime. There were views of the Blue Mountains, the Eagle Cap Mountains and the Wallowas nearly 100% of the ride. Every ride ended with beers and chips but the ones shared on the veranda of the Pine Valley Lodge were especially tasty and memorable. As with the best rides, it’s often less about the bike, and more about the camaraderie.
In 2012 they plan to ride the mountains in north-central Oregon.