Gorge Games bring out Gorge’s best

What a week. So sad to see it end.

I’m referring, of course, to Gorge Games Week 2002 — the best week-long outdoor party bonanza to rock this town since, well, last year.

Ample amounts of fun, sun and wind for 10 days. New faces, new excitement, and plenty of new sails. New music, new news, and don’t forget about all the new kites.

The competition, the competitors and the night life weren’t half-bad either.

Nearly everything about Gorge Games Week 2002 made it difficult for people to remember they were supposed to be working.

“You mean I have to go sit on a beach all day, talk to a bunch of world-class athletes and then write about it?”

That’s what I said.

Others working the event were saying, “you mean I have to work outside all day, talk to cool people and eat a bunch of free food?”

Tough life.

But it would be unfair to assume that this year’s Gorge Games didn’t involve at least a little work behind the scenes. OK, a lot.

No way this year’s edition of the popular sports and lifestyle festival could have reached such heights without the tireless efforts of our local businesses, civic servants and volunteers.

Hotel, restaurant, coffee shop and bar employees; police, fire and traffic crews; people handing out water, directions and offering free golf-cart rides from the Adventure Village. These are the folks who made it happen.

The out-of-town help didn’t do such a bad job either. In fact, they did an amazing job.

Starting with the dedicated crews from Octagon Marketing and Ford, the event’s new title sponsor, this year’s Gorge Games brought Hood River to its knees with the biggest, baddest exhibition of outdoor extreme competition ever.

Toting many of the same bells and whistles as ESPN’s X Games, without most of the token hype, the 2002 Games went the extra mile to show the extreme sports world that this place can turn itself upside down for a week, and not only land on its feet, but stand up taller because of it.

Not only did our local economy thrive, but so did our mental state. A consistent feeling of happiness and camaraderie reigned supreme that week, as locals and out-of-towners worked and played together in harmony.

Other factors that contributed to the general melodic state of being were the event coordinators (including judges, race directors and volunteers), the musicians and the world-class competitions. It was like having a small-scale Summer Olympics in our own backyard.

And before you shrug off that statement, remember that this year’s Games attracted national broadcast teams from NBC, National Geographic Adventure and Outdoor Life Network.

We’ve gone global, baby, and so have some of the local competitors. First and foremost, kiteboarder Mark Doyle of Trout Lake. The 19-year-old upstart shocked an elite field to win the freestyle event and permanently etch his name into the Gorge Games history books.

Three other Mid Columbia athletes — Mitch Gingrich, Web Pedrick and Tamira Wagonfeld — each made their mark on the freestyle windsurfing circuit, while Bruce Peterson, Dale Cook and Cory Roeseler took advantage of the home wind to dominate the Blowout.

Summit Projects surprised the world (including themselves) by winning the co-ed division of the 80-mile Adventure Race; teams of local mountain bikers used the home-trail advantage in the 24-hour race; and runners Cam Dauler, Christy Paul and Heather Laurance took over the leaderboard in the 10K trail run.

From the tourists to the locals, the athletes to the spectators, everyone in Hood River shined a little brighter during Gorge Games Week 2002.

Which begs the question: Do the Gorge Games bring out the best in the Gorge, or does the Gorge bring out the best in the Games?

In my opinion, it’s a little of both.

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