Cycle Oregon cancelled due to wildfires and poor air quality
The 30th annual Cycle Oregon "Classic" ride scheduled for mid-September has been canceled for the first time in the ride's history.
The ride, which is dubbed "The best ride in America," was scheduled from Sept. 9 through Sept. 16 and would have covered between 430 to 490 miles. Approximately 2,000 riders participate, alongside hundreds of support staff.
"This is unprecedented. This is the first time in 30 years that we’ve had to cancel an event, so it is all uncharted territory for us at this point," said Steve Schulz, executive director for Cycle Oregon.
The route was adjusted several days ago to avoid disruptions, but as wildfires spread throughout central and southern Oregon, it appears as though no contingency plans would have allowed the ride to occur this year.
"We’ve been hoping for the best. We developed some contingency routes in case we couldn’t go on some of the roads and some of the roads got closed; so unfortunately, those contingency plans are now covered with smoke and fire," Schulz said.
Schulz wrote the following letter on CycleOregon.com Thursday afternoon:
Oregon is in crisis.
Forty-four percent of acres burning nationally are in Oregon. Fifty percent of individuals fighting fires nationally are in Oregon and Washington. Eight of the highest trained firefighting teams in the nation are working on the fires in Oregon. These fires are spread throughout the entire state, with the heaviest fires being in central and southern Oregon – encompassing our 2017 Classic route. Currently, fires are impacting five of our seven days with smoke and air quality levels ranging from unhealthy to hazardous. Previously designed alternate routes are now affected with fire and smoke from both new and existing fires. Statewide weather forecasts for the foreseeable future are for more hot, dry and windy weather with an associated increase in fire activity and smoke production.
After discussions with numerous authorities including the Oregon Department of Forestry, the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Oregon Department of Transportation and others and conducting on site personal meetings with Incident Commanders at the fires, we have come to the most difficult decision to cancel the 2017 Classic event.
This is an enormous disappointment for all of us. We as a community rise to challenges, but sometimes the risks far outweigh the potential benefits. We have exhausted the options and possibilities of doing anything but cancelling. The one priority that we won’t jeopardize is safety; we feel we cannot go forward without doing just that.
We are sensitive to the current struggles throughout our communities and our state. Right now, Oregon needs our support; Cycle Oregon will not add to these already challenging times.
This situation is unprecedented in Cycle Oregon history; we are in uncharted territory. As we work on next steps, we ask for time as we determine the best path forward. We realize you have many questions and we are committed to answering them. We will focus our current efforts on taking care of our communities as they deal with their struggles, being as generous as possible to our riders and partners, and supporting our state and those standing up and fighting these perils on our behalf. Cycle Oregon is something that we all embrace, and want to experience, but there are much bigger things at play here.
Over the next number of days, we’ll be working on how we stop this freight train and assess. We will reach back out to you by next Wednesday with our next steps.
Cycle Oregon is more than just a brand or a bike ride. It’s a way of being. We will move forward. We will embrace the environment that surrounds us – good or bad – find meaning in it, and remember that we are here to make a difference. And we will ride on.
As for the riders, at least one participant understands Cycle Oregon's predicament.
"They made the best call possible," said Ted Davis, a participant. "When you stick 22-hundred cyclists on the road, and you’ve got fire trucks and emergency vehicles going by, you’ve got a recipe for disaster."
Davis is co-owner at Airstream Adventures Northwest, a sponsor of the Classic ride. He said he's sticking by the sponsorship deal despite the cancellation.
"I just felt bad for them, and I felt bad for the communities because I know what the economic impact of having this mini city come through is," he said.
Despite the turmoil surrounding the cancellation, Cycle Oregon is hearing from riders who only want to help. It's something Schulz says speaks to the character of the cyclists involved.
"There are people offering -- how do they help the communities -- so it’s a great family we have and it means something to be a part of this family, and so we’re more than a bike ride, we are something a little bit different than that. We will continue to move forward. We will ride on and continue to do events and help Oregon," he said.