Cycling Around: Tour de Lavender and our volunteer ethos

  • Wednesday, August 14, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

The 2019 Tour de Lavender, which took place on Aug. 3, was a resounding success: a record 800-plus riders, major bicycle industry sponsors (a first!), 80 volunteers and $7,000 donated to area non-profits.

And — something few such events can claim — we had a 100-year age spread in our riders, from a 2-year-old riding in a trailer behind his dad, to 102-year-old Vern Frykholm of Sequim, who was chauffeured around by Sequim Wheelers.

As part of a special Sequim Wheelers ride event at the Tour de Lavender, Vern Frykholm, left, is piloted by Lanie Cates as they ride away from the George Washington Inn on Aug. 3. The Sequim Wheelers are an organization that provides bicycle rides to the elderly and disabled who otherwise couldn’t ride. Sequim Gazette photo by Conor Dowley

As part of a special Sequim Wheelers ride event at the Tour de Lavender, Vern Frykholm, left, is piloted by Lanie Cates as they ride away from the George Washington Inn on Aug. 3. The Sequim Wheelers are an organization that provides bicycle rides to the elderly and disabled who otherwise couldn’t ride. Sequim Gazette photo by Conor Dowley

Full disclosure right up front: I’m the event director, so the following reflects a lot of pride in what we accomplished with this year’s event. But the facts speak for themselves, and this year’s “TdL” was the biggest and, by all accounts, the best … ever.

TdL background

For those who may not know, this is the seventh year for the Tour de Lavender and to really appreciate how we’ve managed to make “TdL” the Olympic Peninsula’s premier cycling event, a little history is in order, as well as an extended homage to the volunteer ethos that is a central characteristic of the cycling community in our area.

In 2013, a group of cyclists with the Spokefolk bicycle club came up with the idea of having a bicycle tour of the area’s iconic lavender farms. It was a kind of “back-of-the-envelop” planning process that year, but it worked well.

The very first tour was actually a two-day event and attracted about 100 riders. Some did the Family Fun Ride, which was held both days. A sizable group, though, took on the challenge of riding the Metric Century route (62.5 miles) that started at Kingston and ended in Sequim on the first day.

That year I was one of the “ride marshals” providing help along the route, almost half of which was on shoulders of busy highways 104 and 101; only at Discovery Bay could riders relax on the stretch of the Olympic Discovery Trail taking them into the Sequim Dungeness Valley and the lavender farms.

We also had some daunting logistical challenges that are inescapable when you’re doing a point-t0-point cycling route of that distance.

We got a ton of compliments from our riders that year, and most said they looked forward to doing it again.

Growing interest

We changed things up a bit for 2014: the start as well as the finish was at the Boys & Girls Club in Sequim and we made the Metric Century ride a loop winding all through the Sequim-Dungeness Valley. By the time we wrapped up our second TdL, we had nearly 200 cyclists ride through our area and stop to enjoy the sweet scent of lavender along the way.

Each year, Tour de Lavender participation has increased by an average of 20-25 percent. Each year, we get extraordinarily positive feedback on how well the event is run, how gorgeous the ride is, how glorious the lavender is, and how hospitable the farms and the town of Sequim are. A lot of individuals and organizations are responsible for this.

Over the years, the City of Sequim and the Olympic Peninsula Visitors Bureau, along with numerous businesses in Sequim, Port Townsend, and Port Angeles, have provided essential financial and other support. Those partnerships have been indispensable to the Tour’s success.

Farm friends

Of course without the lavender farms, there’d be no Tour de Lavender.

They are what make the Sequim-Dungeness Valley the largest lavender-growing region in the United States and have earned it the well-deserved nickname of “America’s Provence”—a recognition of the link we share with the world’s oldest and most renowned source of lavender, the Provence region of France. For years, Sequim has been known as “the lavender capital of America.” The farms in our valley have become iconic, celebrated each year during the Lavender Festival.

The core idea behind the Tour de Lavender was to merge the draw of the lavender with the attraction of cycling in the region. I think it’s fair to say the Tour has become an enduring reality well beyond what was initially envisioned seven years ago.

The farms’ enthusiastic embrace of the Tour has been key to our success so we are grateful beyond words to B&B Family Farm, Fleurish Lavender of Lost Mountain, Jardin du Soleil, Kitty B’s, Lavender Connection, Martha Lane, Olympic Heritage, Purple Haze, Victor’s, and Washington Lavender — the best partners we could hope for!

Helping hands

But for all this, the Tour de Lavender couldn’t happen without the support of a legion of volunteers. And as much as our community is known for its lavender and its great cycling, it’s known for an incredible volunteer ethos.

Volunteers, in so many ways and so many areas, are an indispensable part of the vibrancy and resilience of this community, and those volunteers who also just happen to ride bikes are essential integral to the Tour de Lavender.

Every year, those of us involved in planning and putting on TdL marvel at the response we get to our calls for volunteers. As the size of the event has grown, so have the intricacies of planning and conducting it, meaning we’ve required an ever-increasing number of volunteers to make it happen.

From the 20-30 who put on the first Tour de Lavender, we now rely on 80 or more people who step up and help either in the long lead-up to the event or on the day we host hundreds of cyclists from across the U.S. and around the globe. Space precludes personal thanks here to each of these extraordinary teammates but … well, you all just rock!

I do want to extend a special thank you, however, to the members of the TdL Planning Committee, a small group of super-dedicated volunteers who start their work preparing for the next Tour almost immediately after the last one is over: Tom Coonelly, Frank Finney, Jeanie Robards, Garth Schmeck, and Al Streeter. They bring it all together, and each personifies the volunteer ethos of this great community.

The 2019 Tour de Lavender was the biggest and the best … so far!

See you touring the lavender farms on Aug. 1, 2020!

Ken Stringer is President of the Olympic Peninsula Bicycle Alliance. Cycling Around is a monthly column focused on cycling in Sequim and the surrounding area. For more information, go to or contact the author at opcycling@gmail.com.

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