2014 Tour DaVita – Oregon, here we come!
Once again I had the good fortune to do a scouting ride of the Tour DaVita route. This year the Tour winds its way through Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley in looping routes near Lebanon and Woodburn, Oregon. Riding with me again this year were Seth Winbolt, accountant with the Accountables in Federal Way, Wash., and Dan DeYoung, a Seattle-based audit partner with KPMG. We were supported by Stephen Reese, a biomed manager and three-time Tour DaVita rider, hailing from the North Star Region which is hosting the Tour this year.
The Oregon route is beautiful, surrounded by mountains, rivers, lakes, farmland, vineyards and huge vistas. The course is relatively flat, especially on the first two days, with the third day introducing rolling topography. Quiet lanes, quaint covered bridges, country backroads, and a cornucopia of productive farmland comprise the vast majority of this year’s route.
We arrived mid-morning on Monday, intent on riding every mile of this year’s route before heading home Wednesday afternoon. Making a scouting ride is a very different experience compared to riding the Backroads-supported Tour; there are no smiling Backroads teammates, no rest stops set up with goodies. Generally, the route winds through quiet country roads which are far from convenience or grocery stores, making it difficult to casually stop for needed supplies, so it is important to have SAG support. Our call to the North Star Region for someone to “volunteer” to SAG for us was answered by Stephen Reese. Stephen was just super. Being a Tour veteran, Stephen always seemed to show up right when we needed him. Driving the SAG wagon consists of drop-off/pickup at the start and finish of each day’s ride and organizing a daily lunch for three overheated, dehydrated and hungry riders. It’s amazing how much driving time and effort that entails.
The total mileage for the long version of this year’s Tour is 255 miles and about 40 miles less for the shorter versions. Living in the greater Tacoma/Seattle area, we are somewhat familiar with the area of this year’s Tour. The area is generally pretty flat, with a long and wide valley floor. Awesome views of the surrounding mountains compliment the gorgeous topography of the area farmland. The Tour winds through the valley, beginning southeast of Salem in Waterloo County Park, which borders the South Santiam River. The campground will be our home for two nights as the first day of the route is a loop that brings you back to the campground. Day 2 will bring you north up the valley finishing at the town of Woodburn, where we will spend the final two nights at Centennial Park. Central Oregon is a warm and friendly place. The people are very cordial and cyclist-aware. On the road, drivers gave us a wide berth and were courteous and safety conscious.
First thing’s first: Backroads has once again designed a great ride this year. Looking at the MapMyRide maps will reinforce the view of a relatively flat, easy ride, rolling through country lanes, following local rivers, through forests, and alongside varied farmland growing a huge variety of crops. This region is a true breadbasket, with wheat, corn, berries, grapes, hops, Christmas trees and grass grown for seed. A little-known fact is that the fescue seeds grown in the area provided the sole source of grass seeds for all the turf used in the World Cup Soccer stadiums in Brazil. The roads were generally in good shape, predominantly asphalt with some concrete, and chip seal mixed in from time to time. We did not encounter much road construction, so we should be in good stead come September. However, always ride safely and pay attention to your surroundings.
A quick note about riding a flat course: This year’s route is pretty flat, especially on the first two days. On flat courses, larger groups of riders can often form and will tend to create pace lines. Riding in a pace line can be a lot of fun and you will go faster than you otherwise would, but you need to keep a few “rules” in mind. Rule number one: Never touch your brakes in a pace line unless you first signal clearly to those behind you that you will be braking. Failure to do so will likely result in riders suddenly hitting the ground. Rule number two: When you take a turn at the front, maintain a steady, predictable pace. When you find yourself getting fatigued, signal to the rider behind you to come up and replace you at the front (don’t stay up front and slow down, as you will slow the whole group). Rule number three: When you pull off the front, do so by pulling over to the left and drifting to the back of the line. Do not pull off to the right, as you will become a hazard and may find yourself trapped in a dangerous situation. Rule number four: Remember to “latch on” at the end of the line, which takes a final burst of energy so the line doesn’t ride off into the distance without you. Finally, when you are in a pace line, it is best to be in an easier gear while spinning the pedals a little faster. This will help prevent you from surging into the rider in front of you. Remember, predictability is really important to safe pace lining.
Again this year, we had intermittent user problems following the maps. We had dutifully printed out the maps and even downloaded them to our Garmin. We even added the MapMyRide app to our cell phones (this app is pretty darn good and can really give you a great view of where you are going). Each turn is laid out; right 1 mile, left .5 miles, rotate around the tree, go back, repeat and so on. Following the maps can sometimes be confusing or can take you to strange places. For instance, the map said to turn left (west) and after a while we passed that darn cornfield again and ended up in a wheat field…
All kidding aside, Backroads will have the route well marked with signs and painted arrows at most turns, so no one should get lost or go off course. Riders should not be worried about getting lost or having to ride through overgrown forest trails or wheat fields; we are on the road the entire route.
Okay, a couple of other comments before I move on to describing the course. The people in Oregon are incredibly nice and very rider-friendly. Drivers (although we encountered very few cars) gave a wide berth and everyone we met could not have been more helpful or kind. There are trucks driving on some of the country roads. Their drivers were patient and gave room, but please be careful, as trucks will win the physics battle 100% of the time. The weather was great while we were riding, but be prepared for heat, rain and afternoon winds. Much of the route is along open farmland as well as wooded lanes, which are usually following a river on country roads and byways. The biggest surprise on the route was how relatively flat the topography is, especially the first two days. There are real hills on each day, but in general it’s pretty flat.
Now, on to the route:
We rode the Day 1 Waterloo County Park Loop starting at midday. It’s a 73-mile route that is really pretty flat except for the climb up to the Foster Dam around mile 14, and a very big hill at around mile 20 (Holley Road) which is almost a mile long with pitches reaching up to 19-20% but averaging 9%-10%. This route is a tale of two different experiences. The first 35 miles are beautiful wooded lanes following the South Santiam River up to the Foster Dam. You will pass berry farms, vineyards, grasslands and—at mile 12—Dave’s Slice of Heaven (make sure you wave and say hi to Dave as you ride by). This first half brings you into the town of Brownsville, a cute western town where we stopped for lunch (with the added benefit of catching a World Cup match while we ate our meal). Leaving Brownsville you will roll out onto the main valley floor, which is wide-open farmland. This section will be pretty flat as it winds around the valley. Try to make your way across this section as early in the day as you can, as the wind can come up in the afternoon as the day heats up. You will be exposed to the wind here and, like most days, the wind will always seem to be pointed right at you no matter which direction you are riding.
Near the end of the day’s ride, you re-enter the town of Lebanon and the final 10 miles provide cover from the wind as you ride along rivers, through the woods and finish back at Waterloo County Park, a terrific park that is welcoming and picturesque. We will be camping along the South Santiam River. This should be a great campsite!
This year, like last year, Day 2 is the 100 mile “century” ride with a shorter, more manageable 71-mile version as an option. The route winds 100 miles from Waterloo County Park to Centennial Park in Woodburn. Day 2 is pretty flat, without the two bigger hills you experienced on Day 1. The route winds its way north up the valley. This day’s ride generally provides more cover as you ride through wooded areas, past rivers and over three really quaint covered bridges. The ride is very scenic and is really pleasant riding. You will pass hop farms and cornfields as well as Christmas tree farms and huge commercial nurseries. You will not find many towns, convenience stores or other support opportunities outside of the Backroads rest stops, so make sure you are staying hydrated and carrying plenty of water. The ride ends in the town of Woodburn, and the Centennial Park is a welcome finish after a long day in the saddle. The park is comprised of several soccer and baseball fields and should make a great home for the last two nights of the Tour.
Day 3 gives you a choice of either a 65-mile course or an extended section which adds another 17 miles, making it an 82-mile route. This is a gorgeous route filled with rolling hills, vistas that extend forever, ferry rides out and back across the Willamette River, and two challenging but conquerable climbs that reward you with fun drops and terrific variety. This route will take you past an abundance of productive farmland, wineries and vineyards, commercial nurseries, and generally eye-pleasing countryside.
The route starts in Woodburn with a quick trip to the DaVita Woodburn Dialysis Center. The teammates and physicians are already eager to meet the smiling riders in this year’s Tour. The road in front of the clinic is under heavy construction which should continue past the time of our visit, so take special care as we ride to and from the clinic area.
Backroads will guide us back to the main route, which is just a real hoot. Day 3 is one of my all-time favorite routes. At about 16 miles, you reach the Willamette River which requires you to dismount and catch the Wheatland Ferry in order to cross the river. This is a really cool ferry crossing that will also give you a chance to recover from the first section of the ride. Back on your bike, the route winds its way away from the ferry in a counter-clockwise loop past some of the most beautiful countryside you can imagine. After completing the loop, you will come back to the ferry for the crossing back toward Woodburn. Soon after the ferry crossing you will have the option of adding the 17-mile loop to the ride. This is a fun loop which offers great riding while being relatively flat. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!
Overall, this year’s route is terrific and will provide a great experience for both the seasoned rider as well as the novice rider. Be prepared. Bring sunscreen. Ride safely. Finally, hydrating is crucial to set yourself up for a spectacular experience. It is easy to be surprised and become dehydrated on long rides, so a good rule of thumb is to drink a full bottle of water every hour!
Enjoy the Tour!
Jim “Hammer” Hilger