ASHLAND — Thousands of cyclists wound up Old Highway 99 in Ashland and over the Siskiyou Summit to Yreka Sunday on the first day of the 400-mile Cycle Oregon across the scenic and rugged State of Jefferson.
The weeklong annual ride, held since 1988, began Sunday morning in Medford, where the some 2,200 participants camped overnight at Fichtner-Mainwaring Park.
In the morning, riders pedaled up Old Highway 99 and stopped for breaks along the way, including the landmark Callahan's Siskiyou Lodge in Ashland just two miles shy of the 4,465-foot Siskiyou Summit.
Donna Bergquist, owner of the 60-year-old restaurant and lodge, clapped and cheered as cyclists arrived at the restaurant's walkway from Old Highway 99.
"Yay, you've done the hard part," Bergquist called out. "Just two more miles to the summit."
Chris Miller, of Portland, said the ride from Medford was uphill almost the entire time.
"It was pretty steep but a great road, gorgeous," said Miller as he rested on a grassy knoll in the middle of Callahan's parking lot.
Kevin Arhea, of Portland, said coming up a steep hill, he saw a herd of deer and warned the other riders.
"That kind of took my mind off the hill and the heavy breathing," he said.
Peter McLaren, of Edinburgh, Scotland, and Aimee Ericson, of Portland, said they were delighted when they happened upon a lemonade stand on Old Highway 99, where three children were selling glasses of lemonade for 50 cents each.
"The sign said 'Lemonade Ahead,' " McLaren said. " 'Ahead' was a little dyslexic That sold it to me."
The 2009 route takes cyclists along Highway 99 over the Siskiyou Summit to Yreka and Happy Camp in Northern California, Lake Selmac, Glendale and Grants Pass before finishing where it started in Medford.
The Day 1 ride ended Sunday in Yreka. Temperatures were in the lower- to mid-80s and possibly cooler at higher elevations, a welcome relief from Saturday's mid-90s weather, cyclists said.
Rolando and Carol Ortegon, of Vancouver, Wash., said they had never been south of Ashland.
"This is new country to us," Carol said.
The couple started cycling after their sons left for college.
"This was to get our minds off that," Carol said.
Participants, who hail from 40 states and 10 countries, pay $850 to join the ride. Cycle Oregon spends about $125,000 to provide food and drink, camp sites, portable toilets, showers and live entertainment.
Arhea said before he could afford to join Cycle Oregon, he and his friends would schedule a ride the week after the event and follow the same course, using maps from participants.
"We were Cycle Oregon wannabes," Arhea said. "The food was not nearly as good. We had trees instead of porta-potties, but we had fun."
McLaren said he found out about the ride when he did a search on the Internet. He had been interested in biking along Highway 101 from California up to Washington state but heard from fellow cyclists that Oregon was the only coastline worth biking. While researching where to ride, he found the Cycle Oregon Web site and decided to give it a go.
Some cyclists use the ride as a means to raise money for causes they care about. Don Jones, of Portland, and his wife, Suzy, were among about 55 riders who were raising money for Candle Lighter, an organization that assists families of children with cancer.
Jones looks forward to the ride every year.
"You show up," he said. "There is no responsibility, no cell phones, no Internet. It's an escape."
Ricardo Medina, of Vancouver, Wash., holds a mini family reunion with his godfather and his godfather's son during the Cycle Oregon ride. This was Medina's sixth year in the ride. His banker, Marco Romano, of Seattle, joined the group three years ago.
"It's like a snowball," Medina quipped. "It keeps growing."
Hosted in a different location in Oregon each year, Cycle Oregon held its last ride through Southern Oregon in 2004.
On the Web: www.cycleoregon.com
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail email@example.com.