Photos by Cody Wignall, et al.
I moved to Salt Lake City late August 2016 and started working at Contender Bicycles at the beginning of September of that year. I wasn’t new to working in bike shops, but one phrase consistently befuddled me because it wasn’t a real word. As of Saturday, September 7th, 2019, the word is real to me:
In 2016, the word Lotoja was thrown around these parts just as frequently as “27.5 plus,” “gravel grinder,” and “enduro.” Lotoja, for those not in the know (aka Alvin circa 2016) is 206 miles of well-supported bike route that snakes through Logan, Utah, through Idaho, before ending in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It is a cool ride, and looking at its profile doesn’t seem to be a big deal. That changes when you’re actually there, and it changes even more after you ride it.
Before I get into my breakdown of the ride, I completed the whole kit and caboodle in 12 hours, 55 minutes. I’m confident I could knock at least two hours off without any additional training just by hanging out less at the feed zones. First, here’s a breakdown of each stage, filled with almost everything I felt or thought that can put into words. For my review of the 2020 BMC Roadmachine I took with me, click HERE.
Leg 1: Logan, UT to Preston, ID
Why are people fighting for position in this paceline?
My group departed Logan at 7:17 AM. Kinda late, but that meant I didn’t need to ride with warmers, a jacket, or anything outside of my standard kit. I started with a load of fog up to the Utah-Idaho border, but that didn’t stop people from fighting for position in the paceline, as long as it wasn’t pulling at the front! They were clearly wiser than I, as I happily putted along at the front or near the front of the pack.
My team (shoutout La Boix!) did well, and I felt that staying together as a team would be simple enough. We rode into Preston in high spirits to see our team support driver (shoutout Jen!) in higher spirits still.
Leg 2: Preston, ID to Montpelier, ID
Climbing is cool, descending is better, but Gatorade is the best?
I talked with a guy from Seattle for much of this climb. He had never been to Utah, Idaho, or Wyoming before, and decided on a whim with his friend to sign up for the ride. He also confessed to me that after paying for registration fees and a plane ticket, he had largely forgotten about the ride and didn’t train as much as he should’ve. I felt that I needed to stick with him at least to the summit. Doing any climb can be difficult, but it is usually easier with someone alongside you.
I realized at the summit that while my Seattle pal hung on to me for the majority of the first climb, I had left the entirety of La Boix behind. I told everyone who asked about the ride that I planned on staying with my team, and so I stopped and waited. Three or four minutes had passed before a neutral support car stopped beside me, and with a smile, a gal asked if I wanted a Gatorade.
Under no circumstances should anyone in their right mind turn down Gatorade. Unless you have dietary restrictions, bad blood between you and Pepsi, or don’t dig the taste, you take that Gatorade. That Gatorade was perhaps my favorite part of the whole ride. Sponsor me.
I met back up with two of my teammates, bombed down the descent, and rode into Montpelier feeling great. 75 miles? A chump’s ride.
Leg 3: Montpelier, ID to the Salt River KOM to Afton, WY
“Who does this guy think he is?”
Just before leaving the feed zone, I locked eyes with a friend of the shop, Lauren. I asked her how he was doing, to which she responded, “fiiiiiine.” She said it almost in an exhale, a way that really lets you know how nonplussed she was for whatever came next. Maybe Lauren was preparing herself with breathing drills for the upcoming climbs.
How do I describe the King (or Queen) of the Mountain climb? Carnage, honestly. Every person I greeted on the way up the climb responded with a grunt or sheer despondency than some form of recognizable English. People struggled, riders were on the side of the road to catch their breath, and I felt like I was the only person who wasn’t second-guessing their decision to ride Lotoja.
This is where I started to really see riders separate. Until this leg, there was exactly one time in which I was riding without seeing any other cyclists within my sightlines. I rode with two of my teammates up the ride’s baby climb of just under 1,000 feet that descends right into the start of the KOM climb, found my rhythm going up, and ended up waiting at the top for my half of the team, where I was greeted with electrolytes, coconut popsicles, and a place to sit.
My favorite part of all of this? As I prepared to descend the mountain with my teammates, a cheery-faced kid came to us and said, “You’re doing a great job! The hardest part of the race is done and it is SO easy from here out!” I knew we didn’t really have any major climbs left, but there was no getting around the 100 miles left before we finished the ride.
The La Boix response? “Who does this guy think he is?”
Leg 4: Afton, WY to Alpine, WY
“It’s like you’re the energizer bunny or something”
After partaking of the bounty of Nature Valley bars the Afton feed zone had to offer, we prepared to roll off to Alpine when a fourth member of the La Boix, Colter, rolled up. His effort was truly remarkable, as he had made up something like ten minutes on that last stage alone. Colter had his game face on, and he was ready to game the rest of this ride. He quickly filled his water bottles before riding off to Alpine with us.
We spent a good amount of time in Afton. A vast majority of riders were feeling the miles; 125 miles on sore feet, hands, or legs can do that to you physically, if not mentally. Seeing Colter was a shot of morale to my electrolyte-filled veins. Again, shoutout Gatorade.
About halfway through the leg, Colter rode up to me and told me we had to pick up the tempo if we were going to roll into Jackson Hole before the cutoff. I was tired, and after making up all of that lost time, Colter was tired too. But we pushed ahead with a sense of urgency that wasn’t felt before. People have told me in the past that I secretly love working under pressure. If anyone needs proof of it, this is it because this was the most excited I’d been all ride.
We made a quick stop in Alpine to refill on water. Someone came up to me and said, “That was quick! It’s like you’re the energizer bunny or something.”
Leg 5: Alpine, WY to Jackson Hole, WY
Tired legs and sore bottoms
Maybe you’ve experienced a sore bottom on the bike. You stand up out of the saddle looking for any form of relief and drop back to the saddle only to do it again a few minutes later. Maybe you do that a few times on a ride. But what if you’re 190 miles into a ride and can’t stop? Most likely, you’ll do it pretty frequently. Everyone I saw was doing it like it was going out of style.
We latched on to a well-formed group of riders with a particularly quick rider who wouldn’t stop talking. If there was a 5% incline, he’d let you know. If his cadence was high and needed to be lowered, you bet he’d say something. I attribute his gift of gab to riding a bike for twelve hours straight; I also attribute my frustration with him to said twelve hours.
The sun was setting quickly, temperatures were dropping even faster, and I wanted with every fiber of my being to cross the line into Jackson Hole. If you had told me I needed to average nearly 20 miles an hour the last 60 miles or so after having already ridden 140 miles, I would’ve laughed at you for even thinking I could do that. But that’s what happened, and at 8:14 pm I crossed the finish line side by side with Colter so quickly that the photographer couldn’t even focus on us. It was cold, dark, there was some headwind, and I wanted nothing to do with my bike.
Now that I’ve ridden Lotoja, I feel like I understand what the word actually means. Lotoja cannot be defined solely by the 200+ miles that connect the start to the finish line, nor by the people who do this ride every year. It signifies the summer of training that riders do to prepare for an end-of-season hurrah, the efforts of the numerous volunteers, friends, and family, and the culmination of efforts that creates a true air of electricity. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.
I think some of the best rides I’ve ever done are the ones where I wanted nothing to do with my bike after the fact. In an ideal world, I would’ve spent less time at feed zones and picked up the pace on the flat riding areas. But everything else, from the camaraderie of a team to a fantastic support crew (shoutout Jen!), to the new friends I have, are things I wouldn’t give up for anything.
Will I do it again next year? Ask me in like two weeks when I can stand the thought of looking at road bikes.
Have any questions about the Contender Giro Shazam kit, Shimano S-Phyre shoes, Giro Aether helmet, or BMC Roadmachine I had at the race? Give us a call during business hours, or send us an email any time to firstname.lastname@example.org.