With the sun warming the sagebrush foothills and Galena Peak in the distance, nearly 300 bikers lined up Thursday morning in front of Galena Lodge for a 44-mile race winding through the Boulder Mountains’ lodgepole pine forests and down the Harriman Trail.
World-champion biker Rebecca Rusch stood before a sea of helmets as the countdown approached.
“I want you to enjoy our lovely trails,” she told the athletes. “Two-thirds of Idaho is on public land and we’re on a wonderful part of it.”
In the middle of the crowd, Wai Phong, who traveled from Brooklyn, N.Y., for the race, made last-minute preparations: extra hydration, stretching, bike checks. He said he looked forward to exploring the terrain, which gains about 4,000 feet in elevation.
“It’s as different from the East Coast as it gets,” Phong said.
Minutes later he whizzed past the start line in cloud of dust. Rusch, crouched intently over her bike, led the way at the front of the pack.
Thursday’s race—called Trail Adventure—marked the seventh consecutive year of the Rebecca’s Private Idaho benefit. Other races this Labor Day weekend will include the Dollarhide Time Trial on Friday and the Baked Potato on Sunday.
“I wanted to showcase different parts of the valley for people, expand their horizons and show how much land Idaho has to offer,” Rusch said.
The collective races have been rated a Top 5 gravel event by Global Cycling Network and one of the 25 Best Bike Rides in the World by Outside magazine, attracting professional cyclists from across the nation.
In addition to the bigger-name races, Rusch mapped out a more leisurely Thursday night ride to Corral Creek through the heart of central Idaho’s Dark Sky Reserve. The plan as of Thursday morning was to stop at “Papa Hemi’s” memorial along the way, recite Hemingway prose and take in the splendor of the Milky Way.
“The main idea is to get people out into the woods,” she said.
Four years ago, the Puerto Rican-born athlete made history in Southeast Asia after becoming the first cyclist to complete the 1,200-mile Ho Chi Minh Trail, a feat chronicled in the Emmy-winning film “Blood Road.”
The journey was intensely personal for Rusch.
“I went to find the place where my dad’s plane was shot down in the Vietnam War,” she said. “It was really life-changing for me, and it’s why I ended up launching the Be Good Foundation.”
She added that Be Good was named in honor of her father, an Air Force F-4 pilot, who signed off every letter that way.
In addition to uniting professional and amateur cyclists for a weekend every summer, Rusch said her Idaho races have helped promote the sport worldwide.
“It’s not just about a fun riding experience—the races support four bike charities,” she said. “The idea is to help more people get on bikes, from Idaho to Africa.”
Every year, funds raised are divvied up between the Wood River Bike Coalition, Idaho Interscholastic Mountain Biking, PeopeForBikes.org and World Bicycle Relief.
According to Sturtevants shop owner Olin Glenne, Rebecca’s Private Idaho is also a great yearly networking opportunity for those in the fitness and bicycle industries, or those who want to be involved.
As cyclists gathered under tents, various brand representatives handed out granola bars and vitamin supplements. Dozens of volunteers with brightly colored vests and stop signs set up along state Highway 75 to warn oncoming traffic of bike crossings.
Several members of the Ketchum Fire Department, including Rusch’s husband, Greg Martin, were also present in case of medical emergency.
An Off the Wagon Days after-party celebration at Festival Meadow will directly follow Sunday’s race, with events that include a bike-building competition and Gelande Quaffing.
For race results, see rebeccasprivateidaho.com/results.