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Rolling back into town after biking the length of Oregon to raise about $2,500 for United Way's community HOPE Chest, Geoff Jensen says the experience was worth battling tough summits, strong headwinds and quite a few saddle sores.

"My butt is really sore," said the Phoenix High School senior, with a rueful chuckle.

"We took different routes and hit some bigger hills we really didn't plan on hitting."

Jensen and his former science teacher, Scott Varnegar, started on Father's Day in the northeastern part of the state and traveled through La Grande, Baker City, Burns, Lakeview and Klamath Falls before ending up back in the Rogue Valley Monday afternoon.

That the 17-year-old made the 500-mile trek to raise money for the less fortunate in his community shows his commitment to caring, said Dee Anne Everson, United Way executive director.

"Geoff is an amazing young man," said Everson. "I remember him sitting in my office saying his training was one ride to Grants Pass and back."

Launched in partnership with the Mail Tribune, the HOPE Chest follows the six-month Hank's Bank pilot project, created in memory of Hank Collins, Jackson County's former head of Health and Human Services who died in February 2008.

Hank's Bank helped more than 130 people with everything from surgical Hank's Bank helped more than 130 people with everything from surgical stockings to wood to heat homes to assistance with rent and power bills. Funds donated to the HOPE Chest will be used to render the same types of aid, said Everson.

Jensen and Varnegar had hoped to make between 75 and 80 miles a day, but sometimes had to settle for a little less.

Jensen, who made the trek his senior project, sent regular updates on his experience to Everson, who posted them on the United Way blog at http://www.unitedwayofjacksoncounty.org/uwjc-blog.

Breakfast was at 7 a.m., lunch was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and dinner was hot dogs and beans, Jensen said. His father followed in a car with the provisions, he said.

"We ate a lot. We drank a lot of water, too," said Jensen.

Headwinds of 10 to 20 mph made for hard going in the afternoons. And after an accidental detour over cracked roads, tumbling trees greeted the group when they stopped to camp at Catherine Creek State Park.

"A cottonwood tree fell across the road," said Jensen, adding they called 9-1-1, put out flares and cleared one lane of the back country road so traffic could safely get by.

Day three brought three major summits, all more than 5,000 feet. By Saturday, they were riding 90 miles of rolling hills from Riley to Valley Falls when they endured an olfactory assault.

"It was a pretty relaxing day but tiring near the end when we hit terrible smells at Albert Lake that went on for 20 miles," Jensen blogged.

Speaking of smells, a hot shower was a welcome experience Monday afternoon when Jensen and crew rode into Talent from the Greensprings area above Ashland, traveling on local bike paths.

"We were kind of grody. It was all good though," Jensen said.

While the $2,500 Jensen raised may not seem like a lot to some, it may mean the world to someone needing a few hotel nights, car repairs or rent assistance, Everson said.

"Geoff isn't incredible because he's a good kid, a soccer star or even because he rode his bike across Oregon," Everson said. "Geoff is an incredible young man because he cares about his community."

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