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Columbia Century Challenge is more than just a cyclist's dream, it's a steep, breathtaking climb through gorgeous back country woods

What started out as an effort to connect multiple communities in Columbia County three years ago is now the county's most notable and successful public bicycle ride event.

CYCLE COLUMBIA COUNTY PHOTO - Cyclists take part in the Columbia Century Challenge, which has now become an annual event in Columbia County. The ride takes place June 16 this year, with post-ride events taking place in Scappoose.Saturday, June 16, will mark the third year of the Columbia Century Challenge. The 112-mile cycling event finds riders testing their physical limits, while meandering through scenic back country forest and touring the Crown Zellerbach Trail. There is also an 82-mile option for riders who want a shorter distance.

The ride was first conceptualized by Bill Blank, who previously was involved with a rural communities project through the Ford Family Foundation. In his efforts to cull together an event with some degree of economic development impact, while uniting residents from different areas of the county, Blank decided what better way to show people the beauty of the county than having them explore the outdoors by bike.

Blank tapped local cycling expert Paul Barlow, owner of Barlow Bikes in St. Helens, to help with the details.

"It was really Bill Blank," Barlow recalls. "[The foundation] was tasked with coming up with a few projects. He suggested one of the projects be a bicycle ride to this part of Columbia County. At that point, he called me into it, being part of a bike shop here in town."

Barlow Bikes had long been hosting informal group bike rides from the shop for years prior, but the Columbia Century Challenge presented a new opportunity. This time, organizers had support from the Ford Family Foundation to market and promote the event. Within the county, organizers also found support from local sponsors to help with promotion and donated ride necessities.

The cycling event is now a privately run event, put on by Cycle Columbia County, a nonprofit organization started by Blank and Barlow with the intent of continuing the Century Challenge and using proceeds to fund bike repair stations, bike lanes and other improvements throughout the county for bicycle riders.

The Columbia Century Challenge is a daunting ride for those who aren't seasoned cyclists. Barlow said with the help of a few fellow riders, he was able to find a route that was both scenic and would loop around various areas of the county.

"The route is always challenging," Barlow notes. "There's a lot of hardcore cyclists out there. It certainly does narrow the group you can market this to. It's a lot of elevation, a lot of climbing. The idea is to try to connect people from all different communities."

He says many riders have used the Columbia Century Challenge as a precursor test-run for the more than 200-mile Seattle-to-Portland ride that happens each summer. Most riders will depart between 6 and 7 a.m. Saturday, and start to zoom back into Scappoose late Saturday afternoon.

"Next year, it will start and finish in Clatskanie," Barlow says. "The route is always changing."

This year, organizers expect more than 200 riders will participate from all over Oregon.

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