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Cyclists take to scenic bikeways to experience the best of Oregon.

Byline: Lewis Taylor The Register-Guard

EUGENE TO OAKLAND AND BACK Registration: Call (503) 287-0405 to sign up for the weekend ride, or go to www.cycleoregon.com by midnight Monday

That blur of carbon fiber and lycra on the horizon isn't a summer mirage - it's more than 700 cyclists pedaling their way 142.4 miles from Eugene to Oakland and back again to christen the state's newest scenic bikeway. The cyclists will be passing through Lane County July 22-23.

"We're trying to show the best of Oregon," said Rocky Houston, trails coordinator with the state's Parks and Recreation Department. "There are so many scenic gems that people aren't aware of."

Although the state is in charge of establishing a scenic bikeway system, next weekend's massive group ride is organized by the nonprofit organization Cycle Oregon. The route takes cyclists through the heart of Lane County wine country and into the rolling hills of the southern Willamette Valley. For $175, riders receive full support from an army of trucks, ambulances and traveling port-a-potties.

"We're really excited to be in Eugene," said Jerry Norquist, executive director of Cycle Oregon. "It's one of the cycling capitols in the state with probably one of the best bike route systems we have."

Norquist, who has twice ridden this year's route, said the ride will take cyclists past tall trees, meandering rivers, gentle hills and into a friendly small town at the midpoint. Once in Oakland, riders will enjoy a hot meal, live entertainment and, no doubt, a good night's rest in a group campsite before returning to Eugene on a different set of roads.

Tentatively titled the Kalapuya Mountain Scenic Bikeway, the route follows Territorial Highway, Highway 99 and Goodrich Highway going southbound and a series of rural roads and frontage roads on the return trip. The bikeway won't officially be opened for some time, and it's unclear whether it will be established as a loop or as a point to point route, Houston said. Signs bearing an icon of the state and a bicycle will be installed and routes will be mapped and logged on the Parks and Recreation Department's Web site. The state is in the process of hiring a bicycle recreation coordinator who will oversee the bikeway system.

Until then, events such as this weekend's ride serve to further promote the state's emphasis on cycling.

Not to mention, provide an opportunity to have a good time, said Kathleen Dugan, 45, a massage therapist from Eugene who is registered for the ride.

"It's only a weekend, it's do-able and it sounds like a lot of fun," Dugan said. "I love that kind of physical energy. ... I like endurance sports; I love being wiped out."

Dugan said she also likes the company and security that comes from riding with other cyclists. Coincidentally, the southbound segment of the route includes the same stretch of road where Eugene cyclist Jane Higdon was killed on May 31. Norquist said the incident reinforces the need for safer bike routes.

"It's a tragedy," he said. "And I think the best way to solve the problem is to improve the route."

Cycle Oregon's routes are selected based on a number of factors including low traffic counts, Norquist said. Although Cycle Oregon is well known for its seven-day rides, which take place in early September, this is only the third year the group has offered a weekend ride, and the second year it's partnered with the state on a scenic bikeway ride.

In establishing its official routes, the state looks at similar factors, and also considers the proximity to state parks, Houston said. Last year's route followed the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway from Champoeg State Park near Newberg to Armitage Park.

Nearly 1,400 riders participated in last year's weekend ride, including Cynthia Allyn, a clinical social worker from Eugene. An avid cyclist, Allyn was drawn to the social aspects of the ride - she says riders get to know each other pretty well after spending two days in the saddle - as well as the long-term implications for the state.

"I think it's terrific for tourism," she said. "I think Oregon is becoming more and more cycling friendly."

That's the ultimate goal, said Bart Eberwein, a Cycle Oregon board member who believes Oregon could associate itself with cycling in the same way Utah has marketed itself as a skiing destination and Wyoming has branded itself as a cowboy state. He envisions a network of bicycle routes winding their way through some of the state's most scenic sections, boosting the economies of small towns along the way.

"One of the things I'm really excited about is the potential for bicycle tourism to be an economic development driver for the state," Eberwein said. "You look at a steady stream of aging baby boomers - the adventure tourism types with money in their pockets, looking for some scenery - and I just think the table is set."

Until then, there are plenty more routes to be established - and pre-ridden by Cycle Oregon. Some future paths being considered include a coastal connector along Highway 38 and a series of roads that takes riders south from Oakland to Wolf Creek, Houston said.

"We're building a larger awareness," he said. "An awareness of how beautiful Oregon is."
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Title Annotation:Recreation
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 16, 2006
Words:877
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