Photo by Linda Guerrette
Words by Yuri Hauswald - @yhauswald
Unlike pioneers of yore, who loaded up their wagons with the necessities for a weeks’ long trip and steered west, seeking land, opportunity and possibly gold, I headed east, to Ketchum, ID, to be exact. We packed my wife’s Ford F-150 truck with our gravel bikes, gear, food, and our 130 lb Rhodesian Ridgeback, Kingston (who gets the whole back seat to himself), and pointed our wheels east, towards Rebecca’s Private Idaho-a unique gravel race that has now expanded to include a first of its kind three-day stage race option- for the event’s sixth edition. It’s fitting that our path to Ketchum, ID, traced the route early wagon trains followed along the I-80 corridor through Nevada, and just outside Elko, NV, you can learn all about it at the California Interpretive Center, a museum that celebrates the history, and stories, of the 250,000 pioneers who rolled through here.
Turning north at Wells, NV, on Hwy 93, we sped through a pungent sea of sage as the terrain transitioned into a desert moonscape of sorts, majestic like an old western movie backdrop with unobstructed views that stretched to the horizon. We passed through Contact, NV, a semi-ghost town that was once thriving and is now known for its historical remains and the fact that it’s surrounded by a unique geological phenomena called a granite intrusion. We cross the Snake River in Twin Falls and roll through rural Idaho towns like Jerome and Shoshone, where the smell of freshly harvested hay wafts through the warm air and the corn seems to be barley shoulder height in some patches. And then there are the fields of jagged, black lava that spill out towards Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve to the east, but our wagon is heading north, to the Sawtooth National Forest.
Photo by Linda Guerrette
So what’s the Queen’s Stage Race all about? If you ask the queen herself, Rebecca Rusch, she’ll say, “to push the boundaries of what a gravel race entails…. and to inspire roadies, mountain bikers, and beginners alike to see where their bikes can take them and explore the gravel less traveled.” The event itself is comprised of three unique, really fun, and challenging stages packed into a four-day weekend: Stg 1: Galena Lodge Adventure (43 miles, with 15 miles of singletrack); Stg 2: DollarHide TT (50 miles w/ 4 mile uphill TT); Stg 3: Big Potato (93 miles). There’s also a Saturday social ride for those riders coming into town just for Sunday’s one day Big Potato (93 miles), Small Fry (50 miles), or Tater Tot (20 miles). Did I mention the Saturday afternoon parade? When was the last time you saw camels, basque dancers, albino buffalo, native performers, marching bands, wagon trains, and roller blading hockey dudes gracefully scooping up a potpourri of poop in the streets? I’m going to guess, never! Wagon Days, Ketchum’s Labor Day town extravaganza, and the largest non-motorized parade in the Pacific Northwest, celebrated its 60th year to streets packed with festive holiday goers.
But let’s talk about the Queen’s Stage Race. Last year I was lucky enough to be part of a small crew of riders who got to test Rebecca’s new gravel race format, so I knew what to expect when I toed the line Thursday with 140 other excited race pioneers, or at least I thought I did. Rebecca Rusch being Rebecca Rusch means that she never settles for good. It can always be better, which is why she moved the start to Galena Lodge to include 15 miles of really fun, well built singletrack. Yup, you read that right- singletrack in a gravel race. The elevation coupled with the chilly thirtyish degree temperature made for an even more painful start than usual. My heart was in my throat immediately, my legs screamed and I felt light headed. My only goal was to hold on until the singletrack came and then put my new Niner RLT RDO (never been ridden before) to work on the flowy, fun trails, hopefully able to recover a bit in preparation for the 26 miles of Harriman Trail that awaited. Exiting the smile inducing trails of Galena Lodge I was lucky enough to hitch my wagon to two other riders for the gravel road out and back, and was quite pleased to come away with a hard fought 9th place when the dust finally settled.
Day two was more about conversation than competition, which made it my favorite stage as it gave me time to catch up with old friends. The 50 mile Dollarhide TT is a bit misleading, as the stage only really consists of four miles of uphill TT racing, the remaining 46 miles done at a conversational pace (some folks even stopped to take a dip in the Warm Springs hot springs on the way home). Needless to say I didn’t set any land speed records up Dollarhide, but I did blow out the pipes in preparation for Sunday’s Big Potato. Speaking of spuds, no matter how fit I think I am for the start of Stage 3, the Trail Creek climb, which comes just a few miles into the day, always kicks me in the nuts and takes me longer than expected. On the backside of the climb, as the views and valley open up, there are wagon trains of cyclists traversing Copper Basin, some moving faster than others, where cooperation is key for a safe passage. Speaking of safe, my Nano 40s got me through the stuttery fire roads and loose, rocky terrain flat free and in time to earn a coveted custom bolo tie. And when the gravel has been ground at Rebecca’s Private Idaho? There’s beer to be slung in the Gelande Quaffing competition, just in case you need to really quench your thirst.
You hear that? That’s Rebecca’s Private Idaho, and the Queen’s Stage Race, calling your name. Looking for a gravel adventure or a fun new race format? Have a hankering to explore one of the most beautiful places in the world? Well, get your wagon, your sedan, or whatever wheels you roll, and start packing, cuz there’s gravel gold in them thar Idaho hills!