By Jim McLaren
For the Oregon Beer Growler
The idea seems as obvious as Mount Hood on a clear, spring day: Beer, bicycles and tours celebrating both.
But the obvious sometimes takes time to get rolling. In this case, it took a trip to Belgium seven years ago by an IT guy looking to reboot his work life.
It’s a sunny Memorial Day in Hood River. As a light breeze comes off the Columbia River, Claire Cohan is setting up bottles of beer and the makings for sandwiches on picnic tables in Port Marina Park. Soon, a group of riders with tour company Beercycling will arrive and devour the spread.
Claire says this tour began in Portland, where the group met and test rode bikes rented from The Bike Concierge in Oregon City. “We stayed at the Jupiter Hotel, and from there we rode across the Tilikum and Steel bridges to get warmed up. That was the first day. Then we got a tour at Hair of the Dog, which, of course, is amazing.”
During the five-day tour, riders pedal 20-32 miles per day. The route from Portland east to Hood River is mostly flat with the 900-foot climb to Vista House overlooking the Columbia River Gorge being the most breathtaking — both in terms of the view and the oxygen-sucking effort.
On day two, the group rides to Troutdale where they’ll spend the night at McMenamins Edgefield. Day three has the big climb and a stop at Thunder Island Brewing Co. in Cascade Locks. On day four, the group pedals the finished part of the Historic Columbia River Highway, then loads into a van to hop the gap along the unfinished section. A picnic lunch in Hood River is followed by visits to Full Sail Brewing Company and pFriem Family Brewers.
As Claire is running down the itinerary, 12 riders and Evan Cohan coast into the park; the riders are quickly off their bikes and moving toward the beer and food.
Evan comes over for the interview. But he first asks, “Can I have a beer while I answer questions? I’ll answer better that way.”
So, why did Beercycling start in Europe? Taking a sip from a special, non-breakable tasting glass Evan explains, “I’d been there once with friends. Flanders has a dedicated bike infrastructure that goes that entire part of the country and into Holland. You can get between points pretty much traffic free. The whole country is the size of Maryland, and when you focus on a couple of provinces you can really get anywhere really quickly.”
Evan likes beer, likes cycling, but what he wasn’t so happy with back then was his job. “I was having my, kind of, ‘I’m-done-with-my-day-job crisis’ in my mid-20s. Earlier than most. I thought, ‘What would the dream job be?’”
He found the answer on the road through Flanders. “It was a magical trip when you get into Belgian beer and you hear the stories about the Trappist monasteries. We just went for fun on a spontaneous trip, but I learned a lot.”
And he wanted to share what he learned — not as some sort of elaborate pub crawl, but as a lesson about the cultures surrounding beer. “You go along these canals and through farms, and it was amazing. And we got a couple of tours there. The Flemish people are really generous. And I thought this would be the ideal place for a bike tour. It has all the ingredients for logistics to make it happen safely. It would be like doing bike tours in Belgium visiting breweries.”
Stan Bashaw came from North Carolina for the debut Oregon tour. With a beer in one hand and a sizable sandwich in the other, he says he’s participated in a Beercycling event before. “I happened to see a Facebook post Evan put up about Beercycling and from day one I said, ‘Someday I’m doing that.’”
Stan then convinced friends to go with him. “We had the best time. Cycling in Belgium, the Belgians are used to bikes being everywhere. At least back in North Carolina, folks are used to bikes being annoyances. It’s been really great here [Oregon].”
The Beercycling European tours include mini-seminars on brewing, rides through hop fields and visits to ancient breweries. But Stan has one particularly fond memory: “The part of the tour that is really appealing in Belgium is all the food. Oh my gosh, we had such great food. The picnics we had alongside a bike path, Belgian bread — fresh made that day. Oh my God, it is just amazing.”
The food was especially welcome when “we biked out to the North Sea on a really cold day. I think that was really one of our favorite days. We were cold. We were wet. We found a coffee shop because we were so cold. We got warmed up, then rode past World War II artillery fortifications that go on for miles. We had a 20-knot wind behind us, and we barely had to pedal.”
Bashaw and his friends liked Oregon’s attitude toward cyclists but are anxious to do another European tour next year.
It took Evan and Claire about two years to work out the Oregon tour logistics, but they’ll hold three this year and perhaps more next year.
In Europe, Beercycling has grown to six tours: three in Flanders in northern Belgium, one in the Ardennes in southeastern Belgium, another around Milan in northwest Italy and a loop around Amsterdam in Holland.
The tours run from five to ten days with prices ranging from $1,475 in Oregon to $2,850 for one of the Flanders tours. Visit beercycling.com for dates, itineraries and bios of the guides.
By Alethea Smartt LaRowe
For the Oregon Beer Growler
As we ring in the new year, many of us will make a list of resolutions which inevitably include something related to health and fitness. Why not accomplish several things at once by participating in some fun activities with the added bonus of beer as your reward?
Note that there were too many events to list here in print, so be sure to check with travel bureaus, breweries, gear shops, fitness and sports clubs, and tour operators for even more outings involving beer.
Event: Fit Right First Thursday Urban Adventure Run
Details: Similar to a scavenger hunt. At 6 p.m., a checkpoint map will be revealed in person and on the Fit Right Facebook page. You'll have one hour to go to as many stops as you can to receive a raffle ticket. At 7 p.m., there is a raffle drawing where you can relax with one complimentary beer and listen to music from the disc jockey. All abilities and paces are welcome.
Dates: March 5, April 2, May 7, June 4, July 2, Aug. 6, Sept. 3
Event: Fit Right Pub Runs
Details: A social running event that happens monthly or sometimes twice a month at a designated brewery. The pub run is three miles in length and will start and finish at the brewery. Occasionally, footwear brands will sponsor the run and bring footwear demos for runners to test. After the run, happy hour beer prices are offered to the participants, who have a chance to socialize over a few drinks. The breweries rotate around Portland and Vancouver, Wash. All abilities and paces are welcome.
Dates: This run typically happens on the third Tuesday of the month.
Event: Thirsty Thursday Run
Location: Portland Running Company, 800 SE Grand Ave., Portland
Details: Join owner Dave Harkin and a fun group of runners at 6 p.m. for a 4- to 6-mile waterfront or neighborhood run, followed by beers at a nearby watering hole. PRC will buy the first round for everyone who shows up, provided you're age 21 or older.
Dates: Every Thursday night
Event: Shamrock Run
Details: Run really fast and win your weight in beer! The men and women winners of the 5K, 8K, 15K and half marathon (including the wheelchair divisions) will be mailed gift certificates from the Shamrock Run during the week of March 16 with instructions for how to redeem their weight in Widmer Brothers beer.
Date: March 15
Event: Bite of Bend Beer Run
Location: Downtown Bend
Details: The Beer Run happens each June in conjunction with the Bite of Bend. It’s a 5K walk/run that includes stops at several local breweries.
Date: Late June
Event: Bend Beer Chase
Details: The Beer Chase is a one-day six-person running relay approximately 70 miles long, consisting of 12 legs of varying distance (4 to 8 miles per leg). The course starts in Bend at Worthy Brewing, travels to Redmond, then goes to Sisters and back to finish in Bend at Crux Fermentation Project. Each time you hand off at a brewery, you will have the option to enjoy a 3- to 4-ounce sample of beer.
Date: June 6
Event: Pints to Pasta
Details: Pints to Pasta is an award-winning Portland 10K run. Participants follow a downhill course through the city to Widmer Brothers Brewing, then across the Willamette River, finishing at the Old Spaghetti Factory where runners get to enjoy free post-race pasta meals along with their finisher’s beer.
Date: Sept. 13
Event: Santa Speedo Run
Details: The Santa Speedo Run is an annual fundraiser for The Ethiopia Project. Included in your entry fee are four drink tickets for Deschutes beer and light appetizers. This event is for men and women over the age of 21. Speedos and costumes are not required but Santa hats and bells are encouraged.
Date: December TBD
Event: Worst Day of the Year Ride
Details: The Worst Day of the Year Ride is Portland’s annual you-can’t-stop-us celebration of year-round riding. The event draws around 4,000 riders who show up in sometimes outrageous costumes (there are prizes!) or not, enjoy belly-nourishing warm treats along the way, and ride 15 (or 46) miles with wide smiles no matter what the weather. Laugh at the elements and enjoy the finish line party at Lucky Lab Brew Pub.
Date: Feb. 8
Event: Blitz 2 The Barrel
Details: Blitz 2 The Barrel is all about having a good time. From start to finish, there is something to satisfy every bike fan. Racing, jumping, downhill riding, street riding, arm wrestling — and let's not forget beer! Traditionally hosted at 10 Barrel Brewing, this event truly embraces its Central Oregon roots.
Date: June 16
Event: Baker City Cycling Classic
Location: Baker City
Details: This is the first bike race in the world to offer equal prize money for women and equal distances for all riders. It's one of the most difficult stage races in the country and is open to amateurs and professionals. It also finishes at the highest elevation in the Northwest at 7,238 feet above sea level. Barley Brown’s Beer is a longtime sponsor of the Cycling Classic and is a commanding presence at the finish line where all participants enjoy beer and winners get pint glasses containing their cash prize.
Dates: June 26-28
Event: Petal Pedal
Details: Petal Pedal is a gourmet distance bike ride like no other. You’ll journey along scenic, quiet roads along mostly flat routes (with a hilly option to visit Silver Falls) as you drift away to another world. The ride starts and finishes at The Oregon Garden, Oregon’s premier botanical garden with more than 80 acres of specialty areas. Your ride pass includes breakfast, lunch, gourmet dinner, free Hopworks beer and access to the garden.
Date: June 27
Event: Anthony Lakes Mountain Bike Festival
Location: North Powder
Details: The second annual Anthony Lakes Mountain Bike festival features guided rides for all abilities, a kids bike park, barbecue and beer from Barley Brown’s, bike demos, swag giveaway, and lots of good ol’ Anthony Lakes fun.
Date: Aug. 1
Event: Tour de Lab
Details: This annual festival is a triple threat that celebrates a few of Portland’s favorite things: beer, bikes and dogs. After a spirited costume contest, participants choose from two bike rides: the Puppy, a 19-mile flat ride or the Big Dog, a more challenging, 40-mile ride that offers a spectacular tour of the city. Riders stop for rest and “people treats” at up to four Lucky Lab Brew Pubs, earning dog costume gear (tail, ears and nose) along the way.
Date: September (TBD)
Event: Deschutes Brew Bus
Details: Throughout the winter season, Mt. Bachelor partners with Deschutes Brewery to offer the “Deschutes Brew Bus” between Portland and Mt. Bachelor. For $109, riders get bus transportation from the Deschutes Brewery pub in Portland to Mt. Bachelor, a lift ticket for the day, a lunch voucher, a light dinner at the Deschutes Brewery pub in Bend and transportation back to Portland — all in the same day. Of course, riders can enjoy some Deschutes Brewery beer as well!
Dates: Jan. 19 and 31, Feb. 16, March 7 and 28, April 25
Event: Laurelwood Town Challenge
Location: Mt. Hood Meadows
Details: The Town Challenge, sponsored by Laurelwood Brewing Co., is a recreational race series designed for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. The goal of the series is to provide both business and non-business teams the opportunity to enjoy Mt. Hood Meadows in a team-oriented, family friendly, recreational racing environment. Participants may race as an individual or as a team.
Dates: Feb. 27, March 6, March 13
Event: Anthony Lakes Nordic Crawl
Location: North Powder
Details: This new event invites you to Nordic ski from brewery to brewery for tastings. Enjoy up to 10 different beers and up to 10 different wines, all local of course! Family friendly, non-alcoholic beverages provided. Enjoy at your leisure or register for the competitive event.
Date: March 22
Event: Full Sail Banked Slalom
Location: Mt. Hood Meadows
Details: Sponsored by Full Sail Brewing, this event challenges skiers and snowboarders to complete a series of banked turns. The faster a rider goes, the bigger the course becomes due to the nature of the course’s high walls. Everyone gets two runs and the combined time will be used to determine the finish order. The event is open to men and women, juniors as well as adults, open and masters divisions. There is a cash prize purse to be split among the open and masters division winners (based on full fields) and gift cards for the junior divisions.
Date: April 4
Event: Sno-Kona Pond Skim
Location: Mt. Hood Meadows
Details: The ninth annual Sno-Kona Pond Skim at Mt. Hood Meadows, presented by Kona Brewing (brewed in Portland), challenges snowboarders and skiers to skim across 100 feet of frigid water. All competitors must be 21 or older. Participants get one attempt to cross the pond successfully. There will be prizes for the top competitors as well as best costume, best splash and more!
Date: April 25
Event: Shoes, Brews & Views
Details: Wanderlust Tours offers snowshoeing tours in the winter with a beer component.
Dates: Daily, check website for availability
Event: Brews & Views
Details: Wanderlust Tours offers canoeing tours in the summer with a beer component.
Dates: Daily June-October, check website for availability
Event: Raft n’ Brew
Details: In the summertime, Sun Country Tours does whitewater rafting trips in conjunction with local breweries.
Dates: Various, check website for schedule
Event: Beers Made By Walking
Location: Various cities in Oregon and other states
Details: Beers Made By Walking is a program that invites brewers to make beer inspired by nature hikes and urban walks. Each walk is different and each beer is a portrait of that landscape. The program happens in multiple cities each year.
Dates: See website for schedule
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