Get ready for the Tour des Chutes

Bend cycling fundraiser is about community, not racing

By Tara Bannow / The Bulletin / @tarabannow

Tour des Chutes 2014 event location

All Tour des Chutes routes begin and end at High Lakes Elementary School, 2500 N.W. High Lakes Loop, Bend.

Parking

• Available on streets around High Lakes Elementary School (some spaces available on the north side of school).

Event start times (Saturday, July 12)

• 100-mile bike ride: 6 a.m.

• 75-mile bike ride: 8 a.m.

• 50-mile bike ride: 8 a.m.

• 25-mile bike ride: 9 a.m.

• 7-mile bike ride: 9:20 a.m.

• 5K run: 10:30 a.m.

*Kickoff festivities will begin approximately 20 minutes before each route begins. Participants are encouraged to arrive at least a half-hour before their start time.

Post-event festivities

• Lunch (included with registration) will be served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at High Lakes Elementary School.

• Beer garden from 2 to 4 p.m. on Northwest Crossing Drive where the neighborhood farmers market is held.

Spectators

• Those cheering on family or friends are encouraged to do so at the event venue: 2500 N.W. High Lakes Loop, where they can buy lunch ($10 for nonparticipants) and cheer on participants as they start and finish their respective routes.

Registration packet pick-up times

• Thursday, July 10, 4 to 7 p.m.: Pick up packets at Sunnyside Sports, 930 Newport Ave., Bend.

• Friday, July 11, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.: Pick up packets at Sunnyside Sports.

• Saturday, July 12, 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. (until 10 a.m. for runners): Pick up packets at event, 2500 N.W. High Lakes Loop, Bend.

Contact: www.tourdeschutes.com

In two months, hundreds of people from around the country will amass in Bend for the annual cancer fundraiser Tour des Chutes.

But this year — the nonprofit bike tour’s 10th anniversary — the vision and mission are bigger than ever before. The most obvious change is an expansion from being a bicyclist-only event to including runners as well. That’s to honor the memory of the late Johanna Olson, a runner who inspired many in Bend while battling the same type of brain tumor that Tour des Chutes’ founder, Gary Bonacker, lives with.

“She and I were chemo pals; we would sit next to each other during chemotherapy,” said Bonacker, who continues to suffer seizures from the tumor doctors first discovered in 2003.

Olson, a Minnesota native, died in 2013 at age 34 after battling cancer for 15 years. She came to Bend to train for the Olympic trials in marathon running, which she qualified for twice, and worked at Central Oregon Community College.

The proceeds from the event’s running component will benefit the Pediatric Foundation, a new charity launched in part using $20,000 of the proceeds from last year’s Tour des Chutes event that will provide financial assistance to families of children with cancer.

As in previous years, the bicyclist proceeds will go to St. Charles cancer survivorship programs, which support cancer survivors and their families with camps, activities and support groups. Last year, $75,000 of the roughly $100,000 donated went to the St. Charles cancer survivorship programs.

Tour des Chutes organizers donated $100,000 in 2012. In 2011, that number was close to $90,000, Cogswell said.

The bulk of the money raised through Tour des Chutes comes from corporate sponsorship, which this year range from $1,000 to about $10,000, Cogswell said. Adults pay $50 to bike and $25 to run in the event with discounted rates for families, and individuals also can donate if they’re not participating.

Bonacker founded the Tour des Chutes in 2005 — two years after his diagnosis — and used the proceeds to help launch St. Charles’ survivorship programs.

Leslie Cogswell, executive director of the Tour des Chutes, said she thinks this year will be the event’s biggest ever with the addition of the running component. She said she hopes to see 200 runners. The number of bicyclists is still limited to its usual 1,500 people to maintain the event’s intimate feel.

“It’s really important for our participants to feel that community,” she said, “and that’s a big part of what this event is. It’s a reunion.”

Organizers say that’s what separates the tour from other events in Bend. For one, it’s not a race. Rather, it’s a recreational event for families.

And while people can certainly bike their hearts out — the event does include a 100-mile route, after all — they can also take it easy and just have fun. The bicycling routes start as short as 7 miles and include 25-, 50-, 75- and 100-mile routes. For runners, there’s a 5K route.

Planning for your route

Preparing for the Tour des Chutes isn’t like preparing for a race, Cogswell said. Bicyclists planning to ride 75 miles don’t have to train to ride 75 miles before the event, she said. There’s no rush along the route. In fact, camaraderie is encouraged, and there are eight rest stations along the way.

Mechanics will be at the event and safety riders will bike alongside participants with food, water and other supplies.

That said, Cogswell suggests each participant bring at least one water bottle — probably two — sunscreen, a light jacket, an extra bike tube and a camera. The aid stations also will be stocked with food, water and supplies.

Helmets are required.

When Cogswell and Bonacker get together to talk about the event, there’s just as much focus on creating fellowship during, before and after the tour than on the actual biking and running.

“People love to come to Tour des Chutes not just to ride but to gather together at the end,” Cogswell said. This year, participants will have more opportunities to do that. Aside from the May 1 kickoff party (the first of its kind), participants this year are invited to a preparty at Worthy Brewing the night before the tour for a free pint of beer and snacks. (It’s a ride, not a race, Cogswell emphasizes, so a beer the night before is permissible.)

After the tour, bicyclists and runners will be treated to a beer garden in Bend’s NorthWest Crossing neighborhood.

There will also be bands and food, and — the part Bonacker said tends to start the tears flowing — yellow roses will be handed out to cancer survivors as they cross the finish line.

As the co-owner of Sunnyside Sports in Bend, Bonacker has hosted his share of bike races in the past. Tour des Chutes is different, he said.

“A lot of rides, you know, you do the ride and you hand them a cookie at the end,” he said. “This is one of my favorite days of the year. It always will be.”

For Bonacker, an avid cyclist throughout his life, cancer has stripped him of the balance required to ride a bike. Even though he can’t bike alongside his friends, the Tour des Chutes remains Bonacker’s favorite day of the year.

Bonacker is feeling much clearer since doctors put him into a three-day coma at the end of January in order to draw down his dosage of anti-seizure medication. Before that, the drugs made him constantly groggy and absentminded. Now, he takes naps every day and tries to maintain as low a stress level as possible. Fatigue and stress are the main triggers for a seizure, he said.

He’s down to one seizure about every four to seven days, which is far fewer than he had been experiencing before the coma.

So things are looking up for now, and Bonacker said he always tries to stay positive. It not only helps him — it helps those around him as well.

“I will not fool you by saying I’m happy-go-lucky, kicking my heels all the time — this is really hard,” he said, “and I’m working on it all the time.”

Doctors tell Bonacker that his type of slow-growing tumor tends to reach a breaking point after 10 years where it becomes less resistant to the anti-seizure drugs. So far, the drugs still work for him.

And he still has hope. He even built a bike without pedals that he rides back and forth from his house to his bike shop and a new, red bike he hopes to be able to ride soon.

“I want to see my daughter graduate from college and graduate from high school and I’d love to grow old with my wife and that may not happen,” Bonacker said. “Not to sound like a Hallmark card, but I try to live each day as full as I can and live the next day fuller than the day before.” •

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