One of the Best Early Season Cycling Events in Oregon
It is early April and in many places in the Pacific Northwest, the snow is only now beginning to recede. But for avid cyclists, it is time to pull our bikes off those stationary trainers and test how well our cardio training has done in the winter. One of the first organized rides of the season is the Cherry of a Ride in The Dalles, Oregon (April 10). The Cherry of a Ride is a very inexpensive ride ($25 without a t-shirt - and God knows, I’ve got enough t-shirts - or $35 with a t-shirt) and features a number of options to suit any level of rider. For the extreme athletes there are 80 and 100 mile rides, but these aren’t for the faint of heart. For those who want a challenge, but are less prepared to jump right into the season, there is a very strenuous 60 mile ride, and for those riders who want to just spend an enjoyable Sunday on their bike their are 48 and 30 mile rides. My review will cover the 60 mile route of the ride.
If you are looking for a test of your current fitness level as you prepare for the upcoming season, The Cherry of a Ride will certainly provide you with that test. The sixty mile route is basically a figure eight. For the first potion of the ride, I started at St. Mary’s Academy in The Dalles and headed east riding along a road that for a period of time overlooked I-84 before turning south and heading into the rural farmlands of Wasco County. This section of the ride was mostly a long steady climb with my garmin bike computer reading about 7% incline most of the way. The first rest stop was 25 miles into the ride and by that time, I was really getting tired of climbing. The wind was not much of a factor during this portion of the ride, but that was probably mostly due to my slow climbing ability. Wind can’t affect much when you are only going 6-7 mph.
In the second section of the ride, you work your way back toward town and then work your way out to an interpretive center on the edge of the Columbia River. This was a pretty easy section as it was largely down hill from the early climbing of the first section. As you returned to The Dalles, the notorious Columbia Gorge wind began to make itself felt which you definitely felt in your legs.
The third section of the ride was featured some pretty tough climbs. At the interpretive center, might wife commented that we had completed about two-thirds of the ride, but only 1800 of the expected 4000 ft. Of climbing. And we sure picked up that additional 2200 ft. In a hurry. After riding west for a bit, we started climbing toward the Rowena Crest view point. This was a long (and for me slow) methodical climb. Again, thankfully, we were largely shielded from the wind until you reached the top of Rowena Crest. For most rides, this would have been enough, but we still had two significant climbs left as we headed into the third rest stop.
The final section of the ride was basically (and literally) a breeze. After climbing just a bit more out of the final rest stop, we finally got a chance to test our brakes on a down hill. After all of that climbing, I knew we had to come down at some point. On this ride, the down hill is pretty much all at the end. The wind really wasn’t so bad on this day, in years past, when my wife and I have done The Cherry of a Ride, the wind can be so strong that you have to peddle even on the downhill grade to keep your speed up. I basically coasted into town and was thankful to see the end of ride. It was definitely a real challenge and told me a lot about where I need to go with my immediate training for future rides.
There is nothing better than seeing the Northwest from the vantage point of bike. The pace of a bike really allows you to look around and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us. The Cherry of a Ride is one of the most beautiful and scenic varied rides that I have done. The terrain shifts from expansive wheat fields that stretch into the horizon and features an array of rustic farm houses to the magnificent power of the Columbia River (and the Bonneville Dam) before changing to the rock formations that are signature of the Columbia Gorge. Although, the ride advertises meandering through blossoming cherry orchards, most of the cherry trees had yet to begin blooming, but that was only a minor disappointment. Whenever I had time to look up my front wheel (which wasn’t often) there was always something amazing to see.
The one drawback to this ride was the level of support. In terms of following the route, the Don Henry markers are crucial. On The Cherry of a Ride, there were some key points were the markers didn’t appear until after a turn. Not very helpful when you have just climbed a steep hill unnecessarily. The route maps were also not much use because the weren’t formatted well to be read on the bike. I have a clip on my bike that allows me to keep the route map in front of me and this works well when the map can be folded into into quarters with all of the information visible. The maps for this ride were too wordy and stretched the width of the page, which made them impossible to read from the bike. Instead, I stuck the maps in my pocket to pull out when I needed to double check our directions. By the end of the ride, the map was a soggy pulp and offered no help at all.
The food at the rest stops were fine, but at a few of the stops the food wasn’t prepared in advance - the packages weren’t open or the oranges weren’t sliced. I’m sure this is nitpicking, but I really don’t want to hang out at the rest stop breaking open packages or cutting up fruit. It is much better if I can just grab the food and go.
Also, on many events, there are frequent support vehicles visible. This provides some assurance that if you have a problem, either physical or mechanical, you won’t be stranded in a bad spot. As we were getting ready to leave the last rest stop, a support vehicle did pull up with more supplies for the stop and a rider in the car who had wheel issues, but other than that, I didn’t see any support vehicles on the ride.
Finally, after riding 60-100 miles, you feel like celebrating your accomplishment. Many events will have elaborate post ride festivities involving live bands, gourmet meals, and free beer (it is important to hydrate after all). The first two years that my wife and I rode the Cherry of a Ride, we were disappointed to return to the school and discover that there wasn't any sort of post ride event taking place. For the $25 dollar entry fee, this is completely understandable, but it still felt a little bit anticlimactic at least. This year, instead of culminating the ride to a fanfare of crickets, the organizers of The Cherry of a Ride had...what else....but cherry cobbler. Warm cheery cobbler to be exact, and I'll be honest it was the best cherry cobbler that I've eaten. Probably because after completing sixty challenging miles, it was definitely guilt free cherry cobbler.
Even though it has it's flaws, The Cherry of a Ride is one of the better early season cycling events in Oregon. It is set in one of the most diverse and interesting areas in the Northwest and definitely offers you a real chance to see how your off season conditioning plan worked or didn't work. I would recommend this ride to any serious cyclist.