When the Pendleton on Wheels bicycle club rides the 56-mile Echo loop in September, they will carry Ann Wyatt with them.
At least in spirit.
Wyatt lost her life in June as she pedaled south on Highway 331 to her job at the U.S. Forest Service on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. An SUV going the same direction struck the cyclist the morning of June 8.
Wyatt and her husband Oran moved to the area about 16 months earlier. The 62-year-old decided to get back into riding, jumpstarting her effort by joining the 5:30 a.m. spin class at the Roundup Athletic Club. This spring, she began riding with Pendleton on Wheels. Her last ride was a 50-mile ride on Memorial Day.
“She was slowly moving her way up in mileage,” said POW member Christine Guenther, who also teaches the early morning spin class.
News of Ann’s death hit the club hard.
“My heart just sank,” Guenther said. “It was surreal.”
Cyclist Connie Macomber got the news in a text from another rider as she got into her car to go home from a line-dancing class that evening. The message stunned her.
“I lost it,” Macomber said. “I couldn’t leave the parking lot for at least half an hour.”
Michael Ladd heard about Wyatt at the Great Pacific where he sipped a microbrew after work. He felt deeply sad, thinking of her ever-present smile and her hot pink “biker chick” jersey that featured a fuzzy yellow chick wearing a bicycle helmet.
“It was gut-wrenching,” Ladd said. “One of the first thoughts that went through my mind was ‘I’m selling my bike. I’m giving up biking.’ It was just too close to home.”
Club members will honor Wyatt’s memory with a memorial ride they have dubbed “Ann’s Next Ride.” Just before her death, she was looking forward the club’s next ride — a 56-mile loop through Echo and Despain Gulch.
“She was super-excited,” Macomber said.
Wyatt’s sudden death got the club’s 40-plus members thinking more earnestly about bike safety. Ladd started giving safety talks before each weekly ride. He called the loss a wake-up call.
He and most other riders have experienced scary moments that could have ended in tragedy, but didn’t, frightening close calls when a car veered too close or turned in front of them. Riders do well to pretend they are invisible.
Macomber, Ladd and Guenther sat in the shade on the lawn at Wildhorse Resort & Casino not too far from where Wyatt died, talking about cycling safety. They wore bright-colored “In Memory of Ann” shirts with “Share the Road” underneath a graphic of a cyclist. The club is selling the shirts through DG Gifts in honor of Wyatt.
All three riders love cycling, but they drive cars too. They see not only motorists, but cyclists not paying attention. Ladd praised the majority of drivers he observes while riding in Umatilla County.
“Most of the people we encounter are really courteous,” he said. “They swing way out into the other lane if they can.”
Not all, though.
“Those are the ones we have to watch out for,” Ladd said.
The riders wear mirrors mounted on their sunglasses or bike helmets. Their bicycles are outfitted with taillights and they wear bright colors to help motorists spot them. When riding in a large group, they yell “Car up” or “car back” to alert each other when a car is approaching from front or behind.
All have observed cyclists who exhibit risky behavior.
“I see people out there with no helmet, ear buds in, riding down the middle of the road, really irritating drivers,” Macomber said.
“Riders blowing through red lights or going the wrong direction,” Ladd said.
Serious cyclists know the rules of the road and work hard to abide by them, the riders said. They know that in any car-bike encounter, the cyclist won’t win.
“We’re pretty defenseless,” Ladd said.
He urged motorists to treat cyclists the way they would if it was their loved one out there on that bike.
Oregon law requires motorists give riders enough room to avoid being run over if they fell over into the lane of traffic. Cyclists have equal rights to travel the roads, but must obey traffic laws, just like motorists.
Ann’s Next Ride is scheduled for Sept. 22. Cyclists will gather at the Pendleton Chamber of Commerce at 8 a.m. The 56-mile route follows the Umatilla River along Rieth Road to Echo, then swings toward Stanfield and back to Pendleton via Despain Gulch. Riders will gather at the Prodigal Son after the ride for refreshments. The ride’s purpose is to bring awareness. Anyone is welcome to ride, though Ladd said there is one strict requirement.
Wear a helmet.
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0810.