For the past 25 years, there were two things that made the Courage Classic one of the best known bike rides in Washington.
First, there was the challenging course that required pedaling over Snoqualmie, Blewett and Stevens passes in three days. Second, there was the royal treatment riders got from Pierce County Rotary Clubs. Massages, snow cones, banana splits, root beer floats and more.
Earlier this year, organizers from Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital announced the traditional course will be retired. Now, it seems, the Rotary will cut back its involvement for the Aug. 26-27 ride.
“Some of the riders I’ve talked to say they are dumbing down the ride,” said Jeff Lieurance, president of Puyallup South Hill Rotary. “(The changes) might raise more money, but it’s not what the hardcore cyclists are looking for.”
Lieurance said the new, flatter ride is more of a cookie cutter “community ride” than a challenge that captures people’s imagination.
This is why the Rotary balked when changes were announced. If he was to rate the clubs’ collective interest in continuing with the ride, Lieurance said, “On a scale of one to 10, it would be a four to six.”
What about his club? “Closer to four,” he said.
Ride organizers recently presented a proposal to Rotary officials. If six clubs volunteered to work the 11 rest stops and Rotary cyclists raised at least $20,000, the Rotary would be the presenting sponsor for the 50-mile ride. (Alaska Airlines is the presenting sponsor for the overall event this year.) Last year, Rotary riders raised about $90,000, said Kristin Barsness, executive director of the Mary Bridge Children’s Foundation.
“We wanted it to be attainable,” Barsness said.
Currently, only two clubs are excited about the idea while others are mulling it over, Lieurance said. Barsness said ride officials will make presentations in the coming weeks at Rotary clubs that are still interested in volunteering.
“As for the South Hill club, we are not thrilled,” Lieurance said. “We are leaning toward letting the sun set on this and looking for some place else to put our effort.”
The changes may be unpopular for some, but they are necessary, Barsness said in March. She said it cost $570 per rider to stage the event in 2016, nearly three times the cost of similar rides.
More than a decade of remaining construction on Interstate 90 also made the changes necessary.
The new ride will have room for unlimited riders while the previous ride was capped at 650. And with routes of 5, 30 or 50 miles and two-day options of 150 or 175 miles, organizers believe the ride will appeal to more people.
More than 100 riders have signed up for this year’s ride since registration opened March 16.
Also starting this year, the ride is dropping Classic from its name, and using proceeds to benefit all programs at Mary Bridge. In the past, proceeds went to fund child abuse intervention programs.
Regardless of how much Rotary scales back its involvement, Barsness said keeping high-end, creative rest stops will be a priority. “It’s one of the things we hear the most about the ride,” she said.
Lieurance said the Rotary has nothing but fond memories of a ride it helped start.
Courage Classic built a $10 million endowment that plays a significant role in funding Mary Bridge’s child abuse intervention programs. Last year, the endowment supported 41 percent (about $400,000) of program costs.
So, while the classic ride might be gone, its legacy rolls on.
“Ten million dollars is a lot of money,” Lieurance said. “It’s something the clubs are proud of.”
Mary Bridge Children’s Courage
When: Aug. 26-27.
Location: Pack Forest near Eatonville, Centralia, and Pierce and Thurston counties’ backroads and trails.
One-day rides: Five, 30 and 50 miles.
Two-day rides: 150 and 175 miles.
Registration fee: $35-$75.
Fundraising minimum: $50-$750.
Accommodations: Participants can camp or rent a room at Pack Forest.
More info: courageclassic.com.
Read more: tinyurl.com/kog5abp.