Christy Rheu Waldner has turned her passion for cycling into a community affair, for a simple reason: “I receive joy from helping make someone else’s journey a little more pleasant,” she says.
Waldner, owner of Mt. Vernon’s Bike Inn, a hostel by donation for cyclists, and Over the Hill Bike Tours, a guided touring company, has become a pillar of the Eastern Oregon cycling community. And in true public-spirited fashion, she measures her successes by the impact they’ve had, not only on herself, but also on her visitors and her community.
The Bike Inn was born in 2008 during an especially hot summer. Cyclists would arrive hot and tired to Mt. Vernon after pedaling all day in temperatures as high as 104 degrees, and Waldner began offering up part of her property to these road-weary travelers as a place they could rest for an afternoon or overnight.
Many of the Bike Inn’s guests are cycling the Old West Scenic Bikeway, which starts and ends in nearby John Day. Waldner has seen cyclists from across the state and across the world, including visitors from the U.K., Australia and the Netherlands.
“We’ve hosted — and enjoyed — people from all over and from all walks of life,” Waldner says. “By offering people kindness along with an open invitation, the world has been brought to my family and me.”
Over the Hill Bike Tours grew out of trips Waldner was already planning for herself and her friends. “It started with planning tours here and there, and then it became tours for friends of friends, and then friends of those friends,” she says.
To Waldner, the success of her touring business hinges on its ability to fulfill her personally and to make a positive impact on her community. “I make enough to cover my cycling, fun, food and lodging,” she says. “That’s enough for me when we’re supporting the small communities around us.” And they’re certainly doing that.
Waldner’s four- to seven-day road-bike tours often book every motel, cabin or bed in some of the small towns they go through, and she gives youth groups such as Future Farmers of America, 4H and school groups the first chance at catering the tours’ dinners and breakfasts. Every day, these tours bring out-of-area dollars to local business owners — some of whom yearly evaluate their ability to stay open.
Waldner’s community enthusiasm has spread to friends and neighbors, who have posted accommodations at Warm Showers, a hospitality resource for touring cyclists, or are making plans to open their own inns. “Not only do these resources make touring in Oregon more economical, but visitors get some heart-and-soul connection along with their overnight stay,” she says.
Why cycling in Oregon? Waldner loves riding with others in her home community, and she loves the varied scenery and low-traffic roads of Eastern Oregon.
She sums it up well: “Cycling is freedom from ‘have-tos,’ ‘suppose-tos’ and ‘need tos.’ I love cycling with others best, and I’m passionate about fostering a sense of community where everyone feels welcomed, strengthened and part of something bigger than themselves. Bicycle touring changes your perspective on life.”
Want to Find Out More?
Over the Hill offers multiple bike tours each year that include lodging, meals, SAG support and rest stops.
The Bike Inn offers a shady yard, picnic table, beds, a kitchen, hot showers, movies, wifi and more, from Mother’s Day to October 31.