Barbara Larrain has seen all corners of Oregon from the saddle of a bicycle. She’s climbed every mountain range and seen every desert in the state, and experienced thunderstorms, headwinds and dust storms from atop her bike.
For most people on Cycle Oregon, biking 500 miles in one week is already a huge accomplishment. Larrain has participated in all 25 annual Cycle Oregon rides.
Years ago, she did Cycle Oregon while pregnant. She did the ride with her toddler son on the back of her bike. Some years, she does Cycle Oregon a week and a half after finishing an Iron Man triathlon competition.
In other words, not much can keep Larrain from the iconic, weeklong ride that takes place in a different region of the state each September.
“It’s something I look forward to all year long,” says Larrain. “I really can’t imagine not doing it.”
This week, Larrain is riding with 2,200 other cyclists on a loop in Southern Oregon from the tiny town of Bly to Ashland and Klamath Falls and back. It’s the 25th anniversary of Cycle Oregon, and on Sunday night Larrain was among nine cyclists who were honored for pedaling all the rides.
Larrain was one of two women in the group of nine.
“That’s about representative for how the gender ratio was like early on,” says Larrain. “Initially, you were just a woman out there with a lot of testosterone.”
This year, 32 percent of the riders are women.
Larrain competes in different athletic events year-round, but Cycle Oregon is a more relaxed experience. She leaves camp mid-morning, several hours after some cyclists who start pedaling the day’s ride in the dark. She’s not here to compete. She comes for the challenge, the scenery and the camaraderie.
“I haven’t found anything else like it. I’ve been exposed to all parts of Oregon,” says Larrain.
She says the ride has introduced her to things and places she’d not otherwise know about — like the Oregon Trail museum in Baker City or parts of the Oregon Coast that she’s now returned to for family vacations.
The Cycle Oregon of today is far different than it was 25 years ago. Now, the event is a well-oiled logistical machine with hundreds of volunteers, contractors and staffers who keep things running for the riders. Since camp moves every day, it’s like transporting an entire city complete with bathrooms, kitchens, stage and equipment every 24 hours.
But the early years were different. The food was provided by local communities that didn’t always understand the caloric needs of people who are cycling 70 miles a day. There were a lot of Kiwanis Club hot dogs for dinners and white bread sandwiches at lunch, Larraine says.
And cyclists had to be prepared for a demanding physical experience each day. Today, riders can flag down a support van and catch a ride if they’re tired or injured. Back in the old days, if you had to use a “SAG” van more than twice you were kicked off the ride.
“In the earlier days, you really had to be self-sufficient. I believe you should come out prepared to do the ride,” says Larraine. It used to bother her to see women asking to use electrical outlets for hair dryers or to witness cyclists getting van rides up hills and then coasting on their bikes on the downhills. But that’s not really what she’s out here to think about.
“I use this for the real meaning of recreation, which is ‘re-creation,’ says Larrain. “You come away from this, you’ve been isolated, and the world functions well without you. Each year, I experience this beautiful renewal. Can I hold on to that? That’s what I want to dwell on.”
Larrain is 60 years old now and still feels strong. She says she thinks many more Cycle Oregons are ahead of her.
“I’m just going to keep on doing it,” says Larrain. “As long as I can be out here, why not?”