Most of Cycle Oregon's about 2,200 riders took Thursday off, but about 400 of them made the optional, brutal but beautiful climb up Mount Ashland to have lunch.

Most of Cycle Oregon's about 2,200 riders took Thursday off, but about 400 of them made the optional, brutal but beautiful climb up Mount Ashland to have lunch.

"Wahhh!" 57-year-old Sandy Kienholz bellowed, as she rolled into the ski area parking lot. "I can't believe I just did that."

Avoiding Interstate 5, it's 23 miles of winding, uphill pavement to get from Cycle Oregon's camp in Ashland to the ski area — a 4,647-foot ascent.

"I've never wanted to quit so many times in my entire life," Kienholz said, finding a spot to rest her bike along the parking rail before heading straight to the lunch tent for a sandwich wrap.

This is Kienholz's first time riding with Cycle Oregon, the 25-year-old bicycle tour that's halfway through its 417- to 490-mile lap around Southern Oregon this year, which started and ends in Bly.

"Figured I might as well keep my legs moving,"' said Kienholz, of Poulsbo, Wash.

Kienholz also completed the route's other optional ride, a 27-mile pedal from Fort Klamath to Crater Lake, around the rim and back down.

That's been the most spectacular part of the journey so far, said 20-year-old Spencer Verdon, who made the pull up Mount Ashland along with his parents.

"My motivation to get up the mountain was to complete every mile of every single day, and not wuss out," said Verdon, who has been riding an unfitted and borrowed road bike with Vans skateboarding shoes the entire week.

"He was my motivation to make it up here," said Verdon's mom, 49-year-old Lisa Verdon.

Lisa Verdon's legs were sore Thursday morning when she rolled over in her tent, she said, but she was determined to make the gut-wrenching ride a family affair.

"I thought I might not go," she said. "I'm not as prepared as I had hoped to be, but I was suffering from back problems early this year, so I'm just thrilled that I can even do this."

Dad, 52-year-old Wayne Verdon, described the ride as "wonderful," while lining up a photo of far-off Mount Shasta with his camera phone.

It took him two hours and 50 minutes to get to the ski area from Ashland, Wayne Verdon said. The rest of the family was about 15 minutes behind.

It's the family's first time riding in Oregon, aside from some short mountain-bike commutes Spencer Verdon has made while attending college at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

"I've been moved by the magnitude of this event," said Wayne Verdon, who's been riding bikes for years with his wife. The family is from the San Francisco Bay Area, he said.

Lisa Verdon signed the family up in February, and asked her son whether he wanted to go five minutes before registration opened. He made a quick "yes" decision, which was crucial — all slots for Cycle Oregon were filled within an hour of registration opening, organizers said.

One thing is certain, they all agreed, the ride back to Ashland would be a bit more enjoyable.

"And, we'll get some ice cream tonight from town," Wayne Verdon said.

Riders Pat Burns, 51, Dave Masuda, 41, and Steve Holmes, 48, were looking forward to Standing Stone Brewery and an Oregon Shakespeare Festival play after their coast back into town.

In part, Cycle Oregon was founded to inject an annual flow of financial support into the rural Oregon communities it passes through.

Organizers estimate the event's annual economic impact on Oregon is $5.5 million.

"We're the traveling city," said Doug Muzatko, 58, of Portland, who has been riding Cycle Oregon for 10 years.

This year, he signed up with a group of 13 friends.

Muzatko didn't make the pull up Mount Ashland Thursday. Instead, he kicked back in the shade on Southern Oregon University's campus, reading, making phone calls and enjoying a break before "the long slag" up Dead Indian Memorial Road today, he said.

"It's a great way to experience the state of Oregon," he said. "I've gone through towns riding with Cycle Oregon that I liked so much I've come back to for vacation."

Nearby Jacksonville is one of them, he said.

According to organizers, Cycle Oregon has stayed the night in 115 different communities.

"This has become known as one of the best bike tours in the country," Muzatko said. "It's a lot of hard biking, but it's sure a lot of fun."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email