Bikecentennial 76 -- Memories and Musings of a Trailhead Coordinator

June 20, 2016

My time as a Bikecentennial Trailhead Coordinator was perhaps the most challenging, frustrating, and tiring job I ever had. All summer long, touring cyclists were going or coming, and I always wanted to join them. Still, I was energized, and as weary as I often was from the long hours, that motivation and drive kept me going all summer.

Previously, I had started biking in earnest with college friends at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, riding to and from classes and taking short weekend rides. My first long tour occurred in September 1974, a solo trip that covered more than 1,000 miles through parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. That trip planted not only a deep love for bicycle travel, but also the thought that I perhaps had what it took to lead and inspire others not only to ride, but to ride well, safely, and respectfully. These and related ideas took root some 18 months later when I spotted the Bikecentennial Trailhead Coordinator job announcement on a bulletin board at the university.

Tom during his first long bicycle tour, September 1974.

While I was interested in the job, I knew almost nothing about Hemistour or most of what had happened in Missoula since then, during the build up to Bikecentennial. When I arrived at the Bikecentennial office, however, all that changed. Until that point in my life, I had never been with such a dedicated and passionate group of people. My inspiration soared, and I was honored to be offered the position in Reedsport, OR, a job I came to believe may have been the best Trailhead Coordinator gig Bikecentennial offered that summer.

Reedsport was a small conservative community whose residents initially knew or cared little about what was about to happen there. While I was excited, I too did not really know. Nothing like this had ever been done before, and the job came with few instructions, inadequate facilities, and minimal help. Like so much of what occurred that summer, a large majority of what I ended up doing was unplanned, a surprise, happenstance, and maybe even destiny.

The basic duties of the trailhead operation job included giving orientations and advice; distributing information, ID cards, and equipment; selling biking gear; running the trailhead and “The Welcome Hotel” bike-inn; making safety and emergency preparations; and addressing myriad unexpected problems. Until mid-June, we also ran a shuttle bus operation to and from Eugene, OR, and supported a campsite “bike-inn” 35 miles from Reedsport. I am forever thankful to Valerie Lingg, a talented and hard-working young woman to whom I give credit for helping me survive that bizarre, hectic, and hugely exciting first month.

What I did not expect that summer was the degree of public and media relations work, meetings with political and community leaders, troubleshooting, special event coordination, and long hours the job required to be successful. The job was an early and strong introduction to the real values of any job worth doing right — the immense power of good public relations, and that people and passion are far more important than work and money. Bikecentennial 76 was the best and only job I ever had for $300/month. It had to be a labor of love, and it was.

When first arriving in town, I encountered cold and indifferent attitudes from the residents of Reedsport, many that did not change until people started to see the bikers and learn what was actually happening. The two major exceptions were Councilman Ron Hanson and Rod Gayton from the Chamber of Commerce. Both men were initially quite interested and became very strong supporters. As is no surprise to anyone reading this, almost all of the cyclists I met and helped that summer were good folks. Because of the great image the early riders displayed (and perhaps due in part to some of my public relations efforts), the community quickly warmed to and increasingly lent their support to what we were doing.

My office the first two weeks was my tiny room in the Welcome Hotel. This also was my sales area, orientation/meeting room, storage space, and bedroom — a highly difficult and stressful situation for me and everyone else to deal with. When the townspeople saw that the cyclists had to repair bikes, eat, and conduct meetings mostly outside, things started to happen. Rod Gayton asked real estate broker John Diehl to allow the use of a roomy building he owned downtown just two blocks from the Welcome Hotel. John was concerned, but agreed once the Chamber said they would take responsibility for any damage. (This never became an issue as the cyclists and I took extreme care throughout the summer to protect the building, and John ended up being happy with his decision.) The County Parks department then brought in picnic tables, benches, and a trash can; and two local businesses provided a television and cable hookup for the cyclists. We were all happy as clams at high tide, since everyone could now comfortably store their bikes and conduct their business and trip preparations indoors.

Cyclists meeting and preparing their bikes in the Trailhead, May 1976.

The Welcome Hotel had rooms too small to accommodate beds for all the cyclists, especially that first month, so the owners removed furniture from four of the rooms so cyclists could sleep on the floor in their sleeping bags — up to seven to a room. Fortunately, the hotel had separate restroom facilities and a good shower. Leaders of the Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, including Ron Hanson, also blessed the operation that first month, offering the church basement as an overflow “bike-inn,” primarily for independent riders.

However, that was not all. The community as a whole became quite interested and involved with the cyclists. The Oregon Bank gave postcards to group leaders when they bought travelers checks, for which they paid only $2, and asked them to write about their travels. By the time I left Reedsport at summer’s end, the bank had received nearly 200 cards. Bank officials also posted in their lobby a U.S. map outlining the trail, and marked each group’s progress east with pins and notes showing trip codes and leader names.

A few doors from the trailhead, two real estate brokers marked the bike-inn locations on a large relief map of Oregon for all to see, accompanied by some cute biking cartoons. Another resident placed an attractive wooden Snoopy sign along the highway that said, “Welcome to Reedsport Bikecentennial Bicycle Riders.” A local Japanese woman helped us orient all the Japanese cyclists who could not speak English.

With help from Ron, I received the key to the town library with permission to use the County’s 16 mm projector and screen, and a room in the rear of the library became the movie house for showing the inspirational Bikecentennial film, which many townspeople enjoyed alongside the cyclists. Among my fondest memories from the summer were those showings. I loved John Denver and adored the movie, sharing it with everyone I could.

Overall, the people of Reedsport became very enthusiastic. They constantly asked questions, came to meet the cyclists, and many even started riding. I remember in particular a 50 year-old bartender who, after not touching it for years, painted his old Schwinn silver and started riding to work.

Several townspeople watch a group of TransAm riders leave Reedsport, May 1976.

The community also held a ribbon-cutting for the first eastbound group, and a colorful parade, complete with log truck escort, for two of the first arriving westbound groups. Bikecentennial headquarters supported the final group celebrations, providing half-sheet cakes decorated with a map of the U.S. and the trail, group trip codes, and “Congratulations Bikecentennial Riders.” Many groups took their cakes to the former Sea Cliff restaurant and held a celebration banquet.

On a slightly less positive note, the townspeople were delighted that Bikecentennial chose their community for a trailhead, but they wanted to see some publicity about it. Many cyclists did not know there were two designated Oregon trailheads for the route that summer — Reedsport, on the central coast, and Astoria to the north. Except for local coverage, all the new stories we saw talked only about Astoria, much to the dismay of the townspeople. This was especially significant since more than half of the TransAmerica riders who completed the trail either started or ended their trips in Reedsport. This fact notwithstanding, when the trips ended in early September, I believe most of the townspeople were quite happy with the summer-long event and hated to see the cyclists go.

Many residents also went out of their way to do favors for and take bikers in for the night. Most prominent among these was Ron, who also helped haul garbage, recycle used bike boxes, and assist with special events. He and his wife Orpha provided picnics for the first group to leave town, and the first to arrive from the east coast. We received strong support from him and the Council all summer.

However, as great as everything was that Ron did, by far the best support (actually gift) I received from him that summer was an introduction. One Saturday afternoon, he and Orpha walked through the double doors of the Trailhead and together they introduced me to their daughter, Cathy. It was classic love at first sight! To summarize a long and wonderful story, those fine people became my in-laws, Cathy and I have now been together more than 38 years, we have two grown sons who make us proud, and we are both still avid bikers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cathy did not own a bike when we met, but together we rode the TransAmerica trail east to west in 1979, and today she is still the best cyclist I know.

Tom and Cathy near Reedsport at the end of their 1979 TransAm tour.

The biggest challenge I had as Trailhead Coordinator was the demanding hours, especially the first month. I was perpetually tired. The most memorable result of my unending weary state happened the day after I met Cathy. I left her at an afternoon musical event with Bill Samsoe, now a longtime friend from Bikecentennial, while I went to my hotel room to get some sleep. That is right; she did not necessarily marry me for my smarts! Anyway, there were many contributing factors that kept me from getting enough rest: unending requests for group orientations, each lasting an average of three hours; working long scheduled trailhead and store hours, which needy cyclists usually ignored anyway; constantly checking to be sure cyclists were registered; and addressing unexpected issues all times of the day and night. Quite simply, there were just too many demands on my time. After mid-June when Valerie left, the hours got a bit shorter, but the wear continued as I then had no relief. By August, the work demands were less, but the hours continued to be a challenge, as I never knew when cyclists would arrive from the east coast but had to be ready for them. Overall however, and with good hindsight, successfully meeting the challenge of those long days was a good thing. I still got the girl, and I was better prepared for the many long days I would work later in life.

The benefits I received from the job as Trailhead Coordinator were immense, and they have influenced my life to this day. The job gave me great memories, bestowed increased confidence, made me more decisive, widened my vision to talents and interests I did not know I had, and brought me a wonderful life partner. They helped prepare me for a successful career as a sincere, caring, and respected public servant with the Department of the Interior, most with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, from which I retired in 2012. Just as important, I gained numerous good friends and relatives, both Reedsport residents and cyclists from across the country.

Cathy and Tom enjoying Death Valley National Park, March 2016.

These days I ride my bike probably more than at any time in my life, except for 1979 when Cathy and I rode the TransAm. On May 18, 2015, a blog about Bill Samsoe, the friend I mentioned previously, stated that he wanted to ride the trail again when he is 86, following inspiration he got during Bikecentennial 76 from 86 year-old cyclist Clarence Pickard. Clarence was also a hero of mine that summer, and over the years I have told many people about what he did. As I intend to keep riding until I absolutely cannot anymore, and I am only about a year older than Bill, maybe I will give him a call. In the meantime, I look forward to the 40th anniversary celebration in Missoula where I expect to share and celebrate experiences with Bill, former co-workers, and others I still think of and value so very much.

Photos courtesy of Tom Edgerton

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Comments

Greg and Tami Holt August 18, 2016, 2:44 PM

Wow nicely done. Enjoyed the read and learning details I'd never heard before. What great memories!

Ruth Nickodemus July 2, 2016, 4:51 PM

What a wonderful experience down memory lane with your story! You and Cathy were instrumental in my biking across the country in 1979 and then meeting you two in Colorado was life transforming! Life's amazing unfolding continues....

Val Lingg Kangail July 1, 2016, 3:15 PM

Tom. Absolutely fabulous piece and brought back fab memories. I often wondered what became of you and so cool to learn about you and Cathy. Yes, Bikecentennial changed many lives, mine included. I moved out to Oregon in 1977 and the rest as they say is history ?? Thanks for so eloquently posting such wonderful memories!!!

Bill Kent June 24, 2016, 5:00 PM

Wonderful memories ! I envy you for those experiences and that you met your life partner especially - as we have conversed, life is full of surprise and wonderment. Enjoy your summer and hope you encounter many of the friends you met during that memorable summer.

Kathleen June 24, 2016, 12:57 PM

Tom you still have what it takes, get busy on your book -- you can do the thing, I believe in you!

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