Plan your Grant County journey – by bicycle

<p>Riders climb the grade toward Dixie Summit on Highway 26, with Strawberry Mountain as the backdrop, in one of the summer tours organized by local cycling enthusiasts.</p>

MT. VERNON – Bicyclists can enjoy Eastern Oregon’s scenic roads less traveled with a local touring company taking flight.

What started in 2008 as bike tours for friends at the local Strawberry Mountain Outdoor Club, expanded to tours for “friends of friends of friends” and the formation in 2013 of a touring company.

Over the Hill Bike Tours, is more about passion than profit, said owner Christy Rheu Waldner of Mt. Vernon.

She is passionate about “fostering a sense of community among bicyclists, finding solutions, to breakdowns and supporting one another to make it up the hill or complete the last 12 miles of a 60-90 mile day,” she said.

Waldner offers three- to five-day bike tours in June and September with 15-30 riders joining each time.

The challenging fall tour, Sept. 12-17, begins and ends in Heppner, and, overall, has over 23,000 feet of elevation gain, – “Mount Kilimanjaro is 19,340,” she said.

   “Cyclists love riding our ever-changing rural scenic roads, seeing cattle, wildlife and rusty cars and farm equipment from year’s past,” she said.

How do the cyclists make it up the long hills?

“We have frequent rest stops and sag support cheering you up the long hills,” she said. “If you can’t make it, we put your bike on a sag vehicle, and once you get up the hill, you can ride down.”

Waldner, who works as a family law mediator in Grant County, has help from her grown children, partner Hans Magden (who is an artist), and a sag support crew.

The cost for five nights of lodging, meal and sag support is currently $430 a person.

This year’s tours include stays in Heppner, Spray, Mitchell, Monument and Ukiah, and next year’s rides will start and end in John Day.

“Sharing our area with cyclists brings dollars to our small communities,” she said, adding, “Even though June’s five-day bike tour was only half full, we still left over $800 in each of the communities we visited, and dollars were brought into John Day,” she added.

The tours also support FFA, 4-H and school programs which provide spaghetti feeds and other meals.

Waldner also offers a Bike Inn, a by-donation hostel in Mt Vernon, with shower, kitchen and breakfast items for cyclists traveling through the area.

“One evening this past week, I had three cyclists from three different countries – Scotland, Holland, Honduras,” she said. “Two stayed at the Inn and one outside on the trampoline.”

This May-October season she expects to have assisted 200 cyclists in their travels through the area.

“Every one of the cyclists will go back to their hometowns and tell others about the best riding in Oregon and hospitality of the bicycle friendly small towns,” she said.

For more information, call Waldner at the Bike Inn at 541-932-4275 and see her website, http://overthehillbiketours.

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