Sunday marked the start of Cycle Oregon, a 400-mile trek through Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Sunday marked the start of Cycle Oregon, a 400-mile trek through Southern Oregon and Northern California.

For about 2,250 bicycle enthusiasts, it was the beginning of a weeklong odyssey that will take them across the state border, up and down hills and across some rough terrain. But for Michael Bruhn, 13, the start of Cycle Oregon was a chance to meet some new friends.

Bruhn was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia last year. The Ashland Middle School eighth-grader is an avid sports fan. He is sponsored in this year's race by the Candlelighters, a service provider for children with cancer in Oregon and Washington.

Candlelighters have been riding in the Cycle Oregon race since its inception in 1987.

Each year they sponsor a child in the organization and ride to raise funds for the individual, as well as for cancer study and treatment.

"It's pretty cool," Bruhn said. "I'm going to ride with them, so that'll be fun." Bruhn will ride along with his father and younger brother on the event's final day.

The 2009 Cycle Oregon route will outline the "Mythical State of Jefferson," a stretch of land comprising Northern California and Southern Oregon, which some in the early 20th century favored seceding into a new state.

Cyclists took off from Medford around 6 a.m. Sunday traveling south. Their first scheduled stop was at the Lithia Park Bandshell in Ashland, where hungry bikers filtered in and out throughout the morning.

There, Bruhn had a chance to meet the Candlelighters riding in his honor. While Bruhn was introducing himself, Pete Jorgensen with the Ashland Lions Club was helping coordinate the breakfast buffet for riders. He said playing a role in the event was a privilege.

"It's going great," Jorgensen said. "We set up here at 6 this morning and the riders all seem happy."

From Ashland, the riders are heading south toward Yreka, then west to Happy Camp before crossing back into Oregon.

The ride concludes Saturday, Sept. 19. Cyclers will take off after a layover in Grants Pass, and head through the Applegate Valley back to Medford. Jorgensen and the Lions Club will be waiting for them at the Fichtner-Mainwaring Park, with 2,000 pounds of chicken, and nearly as much in fruit and bean salads. Their work is part of a 100-man volunteer effort by Lions Club members across the county to give riders a warm welcome home.

Michael Bruhn will also participate in the ride's last leg. He hopes to cap off a week full of athletic feats with one of his own.

"I'm going to do it all, hopefully," he said.