(Above) Grunting my way up Dollarhide on Day 2. Photo: Dave Meadows
I’ve had my eye on Rebecca’s Private Idaho for a few years. MFMG has participated in previous editions and I’ve been there to watch the roll-out for the Baked Potato and heckle the Gelande Quaffing afterward. The atmosphere is contagiously rowdy, buoyant and inclusive- all components that have been lacking in my racing endeavors as of late. When my coach, Marilyn Chychota, told me she had signed up it was like an alluring door had swung wide open in my race season. “I’M COMING WITH YOU!”
Rebecca Rusch needs no introduction from the likes of me. But the fact is despite her hallowed accomplishments in the sports world many who read this will likely ask, “who’s that?” You can read about her athletic feats and philanthropic endeavors (both equally impressive) here, here, here, here and here.
Challenges get me fired up. Not one to be placated with the simple feat of racing 102 miles on gravel, I decided it would be best to add some spice to the mix. So I signed up for the Queen’s Stage: 3 days of racing on varied terrain with seasoned gravel riders, including challenging single track and grueling 4.5 mi uphill TT at elevation. Sounds like my kind of fun! I packed my overdeveloped engine and my underdeveloped handling skills and headed to Ketchum.
(Below) Galena mode of transportation. Photo by Idarodo
The description of each stage can be found on the RPI website. I would encourage any gravel-curious folks to take a few minutes and read through the stages and I challenge you to ignore the inevitable giddiness that flutters in your belly upon doing so.
Now that you’ve got an idea of each stage, here’s how things played out from my perspective.
Stage 1- Adventure Stage
This was by far the most anxiety-inducing day of the entire event for me. I and my Blue Hogback had previewed the course twice with the patient and reassuring guidance of MFMG. Round one had me hike-a-biking, wondering what the hell I’d committed to. I promised myself that I would improve my trail confidence before the event. (Matt presented me with a cookie at the end, so I had incentive). The second go resulted in less walking, a small tumble and one epic meltdown that I’m pretty sure we have on high-quality audio.
So by the time I lined up on the morning of the Adventure Stage, I’d worked my brain into quite the frenzy. Miraculously, my focus shifted from doing things “right” to doing things “well.” Meaning, I took all pressure (self-imposed) off my shoulders and decided to manage my day from a place of deliberate execution. That didn’t mean fast or risky or fearful. Rather, I embodied calm confidence to actualize the best day FOR ME. Results and aggressiveness didn’t matter.
(Below) A rare smile captured in the wilderness! Photo: Idarado
What a mental gift I gave myself at the start line. This ended up being my absolute favorite day out of the entire event. Perhaps because of the formidable nature of this stage, it provided me with the greatest joy and triumph upon executing it perfectly, on my own terms.
(Above) Pure focus and a dirty face. Photo: Dave Meadows
Unofficial podium in the dirt unibrow division
Crowned “most grateful to survive the stage without breaking my body or my bike”
PR in whoops and hollers, including one very enthusiastic “Yippee Ki Yay Motherf*&kah!” as I passed MFMG nearing the end of the single track
Stage 2- Dollarhide TT
(Above) Neutral roll-out to Dollarhide. Photo: Linda Guerette Photography
The elation of Day 1 carried me into Day 2 with vigor. Time Trial? That’s my jam! Though the rocky road and high altitude brought a new element to the conquest, I was ready for the inevitable pain that accompanies an all-out circa 30 minute effort.
(Above) From the summit of Dollarhide. Photo: Idarado
With the relaxed, 20 mile approach to the start, this was the perfect day to get to know some of my fellow QSR masochists and soak in some incredible Smoky Mountain views.
Join the Rusch Course Preview
Bless the recovery Gods, the leg cannons got a breather on the 3rd day of riding. Coach Marilyn had arrived so we headed out with dozens of others to preview the Tater Tot course. More chatting and camaraderie filled this day, plus an appearance by local foothills caffeine hero Richard the Mule for pre-ride coffee!
The final day brought everything Rebecca herself could have hoped for: plenty of dust, incredible Idaho vistas and challenging wind and terrain. Our course recon a couple weeks before produced lingering nightmares of the washboards at the base of Trail Creek and some trepidation of how El Diablito would shake out after 80 miles of hard riding.
(Above) View from Trail Creek climb
My strategy for the 102 mile day was simple: fuel well, find wheels and ride hard. I knew my Ironman experience had me at an advantage in terms of fueling and steady pacing.
What I wasn’t prepared for were the freight trains of riders rocketing past me with tailwinds and group dynamics on their side. I haphazardly dove at every chance to claw onto the back of a group. I hammered to close gaps as they inevitably opened up. My intermediate group riding experience and lack of top-end, punchy power worked against me for the first hour of the race. I found a few wheels, but struggled to remain in any one pack.
However, around mile 40 a domestique named Ben appeared who was more than happy to bridge me up to a group with which I’d lost contact. I finally got to sit in a good position and recover. About 15 minutes later, I felt like I could light the fire again. A group of 5 of us got organized into a nice paceline and headed into the Copper Basin.
(Above) Grinding out of the Copper Basin. Photo by Linda Guerette Photography
My little blissful group was shattered once we hit the descent into the Copper Basin. Luckily, I had a massive tailwind helping my now solo journey and spirits were high. This is some remote country, with awe-inspiring views of wide-open space and the towering Pioneer Mountains surrounding you. I’m pretty sure this is where I accumulated the majority of the dirt in my teeth, with my wide grin attracting every speck of dust for the next 15 miles.
Now for the darkest part of my ride, ironically in the brightest and hottest part of the day. As I turned west to retrace the road back to the Lost River Basin, I was blasted with a hot, soul-sucking headwind that felt like some a-hole pointing a massive blow-dryer at my face. Ever seen Spaceballs? I think it was something owned by Princess Vespa.
The next 18 miles required every bit of mental fortitude I could muster. I battled the gale, singing songs and repeating mantras that I’ve banked over years of Ironman training. I needed all of it! The unexpected upside to this stretch was that it had me really looking forward to hitting El Diablito, for despite it’s rugged and onerous terrain it was largely protected from the wind.
(Below) Scouting El Diablito with MFMG
The riders who had previously cleared “The Little Devil” left an obvious line through all the tricky descents and rutted climbs. Yahtzee! I had begun rationing my fluid intake by now, since the previous section had taken longer than anticipated. Still riding solo, I dreaded the return to Trail Creek Rd and that damned headwind. But out of nowhere I was greeted by Ben the super-domestique who’d encountered mechanical issues all day. I turned and exclaimed, “Man, am I glad to see you!”
Once again I followed Ben’s wheel, feebly offering to take a pull whenever he wanted. We ascended the back side of Trail Creek, where I gratefully allowed the cheerful volunteers to refill my empty bottles while I munched on pickles. PICKLES, people! This is a glorious and rare occurrence at any endurance race.
Onward to the finish, this time with a fun and fast descent and some last-chance paceline hammering on pavement. The timing mat for the finish is outside of town, with the official finish line welcome down the road at Festival Meadows. This brilliant setup allows riders to cool down (and calm down) so there’s no blazing through Ketchum in an attempt to win the day.
I capped off my experience with dirty hugs and handshakes between old friends, new friends and complete strangers. We ate, drank and recounted war stories from the day while our bikes were washed by the Wood River High School Mountain Bike Team. HIGH FIVES!
Named most likely to remind everyone to appreciate the view up Trail Creek
Awarded with top honors in cursing the headwind in Big Lost River canyon and singing spontaneously composed songs through El Diablito
Disqualified from participating in future RPI events unless I sign up for Gelande Quaffing
I cannot imagine how future RPI experiences will top my first. But I am certain there are more to come and if anyone can top an already stellar race-directing performance, it's Idaho's own Rebecca Rusch!
Above Photo by Linda Guerette Photography