After 70 long miles, we rounded the final corner into the tiny town of Silver Lake, wrapping up our first day of riding on Cycle Oregon, and I nearly burst into tears. Cycle Oregon riders, volunteers, and staff outnumbered residents by twelve-to-one – but it didn’t stop the town from embracing us all. The high school cheerleaders were jumping up and down and cheering for us on the corner, the local pastor was standing in the hot sun to high-five riders and welcome us to town, and a street full of residents and volunteers clapped and cheered and handed out chocolate milk. In that moment, and countless times throughout the rest of the week, I was humbled and amazed by the kindness and generosity of community members, and reminded that people are simply incredible.

One of the Cycle Oregon board members told us that one of the event’s greatest successes is the way it connects people. City folk and rural residents, cyclists and ranchers – we all come together for an intense moment and, in the words of the native welcome song shared with us in Bly, “now that we’ve met, we both have changed.”

We joined Cycle Oregon this year, the 25th anniversary, to capture the experience on film. What does it mean to the small communities that host Cycle Oregon? Why do people give up a week’s vacation to volunteer for the event? What is the magic of this ride that is so very much more than just a bike ride?

For me, it could all be summed up in that one moment of riding into Silver Lake, and feeling the energy and optimism. Or in talking to volunteers in Fort Klamath, who told us that funds raised from Cycle Oregon will allow them to insulate their small church (built circa 1920), which they currently have to start heating on Saturday in order for it to be warm enough for Sunday services during the winter.

Ever since we learned about Cycle Oregon, we have been impressed by the rural economic development component of its mission to transform individuals and communities through cycling. But simply hearing, third-hand, about the impact on small-town Oregon does not do it justice. The experience of being a part of the impact is overwhelming and breath-taking.

Without a doubt, Cycle Oregon was one of the most physically-demanding trips. In six days, we rode 400 miles and climbed roughly 25,000 feet of elevation. We camped out each night and woke up at 5am each morning (enduring two mornings of sub-freezing temperatures). We checked the Crater Lake rim road off our bucket lists, tested out the new disc brakes on the steep and fast descents, and were told by some roadies that we were putting them to shame by riding so fast on our fat tires. And, throughout it all, we lugged camera gear and shot over 15 hours of footage, including interviews with community members, volunteers, riders, board members, and vendors.

Long-time readers know that large event rides are not usually our cup of tea; but Cycle Oregon isn’t just a ride, it’s an ambassador for cycling and a community builder and a benevolent economic force. In town after town, we heard about how mindsets were shifting, residents were coming together, civic groups were raising money to improve their communities, kids were learning about the wider world – and we heard from riders who traveled from far-away states and countries, because they knew that their rider fee would be used to build something long-lasting and worthwhile.

Over the next many weeks, we’ll be re-visiting all of the footage we shot and compiling a short film about the Cycle Oregon experience. We can’t wait to share it, because it’s a story we can’t wait for everyone to know.