"That's a tough little climb, especially after 70 miles," said Dean Bose, catching his breath after pedaling up Coxcomb Hill to the Astoria Column.
Bose was among 2,000 cyclists who rode - or in a few cases pushed - their bikes into Astoria at the end of the 2005 Cycle Road ride.
The city hosted the riders and support crews downtown near the waterfront with food, live music and an official welcome by flag-waving Scandinavians at the "Finnish Line."
The climb to the Column was technically an optional side trip, but many riders felt reaching Astoria wouldn't be complete without going to the city's No. 1 landmark, however difficult it might be at the end of the seven-day, 425-mile trek.
"That last mile and half was not pleasant - that was cruel to put that in at the end," joked Dick Fraser of Riverside, Conn., who was completing his third Cycle Oregon.
"Some people do it for training, I just do it to see if I still can," he said.
Once at the top of Coxcomb Hill, some riders were content to catch their breath for a few minutes before heading back down. Others snapped photos and searched for area landmarks using the bronze map, and some even managed a climb to the top of the Column itself.
Cathy MacLeod of Portland admitted she might have bypassed the Column if her riding partner, Mike Barr of Torrence, Calif., hadn't wanted to make the climb. This was her 11th Cycle Oregon.
Cyclists reach the top of Coxcomb Hill. Some riders climbed to the top of the Column.
Tom Bennett - The Daily Astorian"I like seeing parts of the state I normally don't get to see," she said of the annual event.
That was a common refrain from almost all of the cyclists, who said their favorite part of the ride was the opportunity to visit some of Oregon's "nooks and crannies" like Halfway, Paisley and Dufur, some of the stops in previous years' rides.
Organizers of Cycle Oregon, which first hit the road in 1988, pick a new route each year but typically send the riders through the more sparsely populated parts of the state, picking small communities, some with populations of just a few hundred, for the riders' overnight stops.
Jill and Bart Eberwein of Portland met on Cycle Oregon six or seven years ago, one of many couples brought together by the event.
"There are these teeny little towns that might have 200 people in them, and they get 300 volunteers," Jill Eberwein said.
"I don't think you would get that many people turn out in Portland," Bart Eberwein said. "The smaller the town, the bigger the welcome."
Astorians rolled out the red carpet, too. Astoria High School students waved signs and shouted encouragement to the riders as they climbed Seventh Street.
Tom Bennett - The Daily Astorian
Bart and Jill Eberwein check out the map at the base of the Astoria Column. The Portland couple met on a Cycle Oregon ride.At the "Finnish Line" at 20th and Exchange streets members of local Scandinavian groups waved flags and shouted Finnish, Norwegian and other versions of "welcome" to the arriving cyclists.
"People are eagerly doing whatever needs to be done, whether they were asked before or not," said volunteer coordinator Marian Soderberg. Along with the greeters, members of the AHS football and soccer teams handled cyclists' gear, while the high school boosters club cooked food for the volunteers.
Among the greeters was Edith Miller-Henningsgaard, who was keeping one eye out for her daughter and son-in-law, Jolee and Dennis Ford of Longview, Wash., who were riding their first Cycle Oregon. Jolee Ford had called from Vernonia the night before to say the ride had gone well so far, but that "she could hardly wait to get home and sleep in her own bed," Miller-Henningsgaard said.
Kathleen Doll of Portland figured the climb to the column was worth extra dessert at the finish line. This year's ride was "very challenging," with a number of challenging climbs, but the hospitality of the host communities stuck out most in her mind, from the pompom-waving cheerleaders at Champoeg State Park to the logging contest in Vernonia.
Anita Raistakka gives a hearty welcome to Cycle Oregon riders.
Tom Bennett - The Daily Astorian"The small towns were great," she said.
Tim Shields of Portland rode his first Cycle Oregon in 2004, but decided this year to take it a little easier. "I thought this year I would relax, enjoy the small towns, the people, the whole celebration of it," he said. "In the small towns, we're treated like royalty. It's incredible."
This year's ride, coming on the 200th anniversary of Lewis and Clark's arrival at the Pacific Ocean, was centered on the theme of discovery. It began in Boardman in Eastern Oregon and passed through the Columbia Gorge and into the Willamette Valley before heading to Clatsop County via Vernonia.
"They reminded us along the way to look at it through the eyes of Lewis and Clark," Shields said. "That gave me a whole new appreciation for it."
The manufacturer of his new portable bike offered a 10-percent discount off the Cycle Oregon entry fee, which was good enough to get Oakland, Calif.'s Mike Wheeler to first try the event. A former marathoner who was looking for a sport less punishing to his legs, he had just taken up cycling when he entered his first Cycle Oregon "on a lark" in 2003.
"Now I'm addicted," he said. "I love this kind of stuff, and this event in particular."
His only other trip to Oregon had been a visit to Crater Lake 20 years or more ago. With the intimate, slow-paced view of the state he's gotten from the seat of his bike, he's now considering retiring here, he said.
"This is quite a place to ride," he said, noting that with a few exceptions, motorists are courteous to Cycle Oregon participants. "I don't think you could do this in California."