You know it's summer when I feel compelled to enter a bike race of some kind.
Boise is loaded with "real" bike racers. They race for teams. They have sponsors who dress them in nifty outfits. They ride their bikes year round, and they ride much faster, and farther, than me.
But when summer starts rolling around, I begin to scheme with friends about entering some race or another. It began, years ago, with a short triathlon. We got there late, ran to the starting line just as the gun went off, and I ended up swimming without goggles on because I was too scattered to think about where they might be (they were in my pocket).
I learned two things: One, that it's best to stick to what you know, and two, that I'm an awful runner. But I've always loved to ride my bike and can do so for hours.
That's good, because in the summer of 2005, a group of riding buddies and I decided that we would enter a race so far out of our league that we would live in terror of the starting date for months. The Leadville 100 is, as the name indicates, a 100-mile mountain bike race that takes place in Leadville, the "highest city in the West." The old mining town is scattered across the alpine tundra of Colorado, at 10,000 feet, and it's surrounded by mountain passes that sometimes crest 13,000 feet.
The format is simple: ride to a high point at 50 miles, turn around, and ride back to town. Along the way, you'll ride over several passes, up and down numerous old mining roads and through a couple of streams. You'll scarf food from several aid stations, and grimace to the applause from the people gathered at several points along the race. Your legs will likely cramp. So will your lungs. If you cross the finish line in less than 12 hours, they'll reward you with a gawdy silver belt buckle that looks like something a rodeo veteran might wear.
And, brother, you'll find a way to wear it; anyone who's not a serious racer and finishes a race like that has license to wear odd belt buckles, even if they don't quite match the rest of your duds.
So I did it. Then did it again the next year. Each time, I started a summer in Boise with an obsession for riding as much as I could around the Foothills.
This began the way anyone should start their training in Boise: Grabbing one of the excellent (and free) maps made by the Ridge to Rivers trails organization (www.ridgetorivers.org) and starting to explore. The good news is, you can effectively train for a major gut-buster of a race right here in town. Whether you only have a half-hour to an hour to ride, or the entire day, that map can provide you with a number of good options. Yes, many of them involve going straight uphill. There just isn't a flat trail in the Foothills that's longer than a mile or two.
The maps are available at any number of local shops, including World Cycles at 180 N. 8th St. (www.worldcycleboise.com), Idaho Mountain Touring at 1310 W. Main St., or George's Cycles (two Boise locations: 5515 W. State St. and 251 W. Front St.). You can also download a PDF document of the map from the www.ridgetorivers.org Web site.
Maybe it's the incredible weather we've had lately, but it feels like the trails are getting pretty crowded out there. For the most part, it's been great to see people enjoying the riding and the hiking, but the more we crowd the trails, the more critical it is to pay attention to your fellow trail users.
So when you see some hapless bloke straggling up the trails heaving like he's about to gasp his last (that's me), you might consider giving him the right of way. In fact, it's not just a good idea; it's a rule of mountain biker etiquette: Uphill riders get the right of way. Face facts; they're working harder than the person going downhill. No matter how awesome your descent is, you owe it to the uphill slogger to give them the trail. The International Mountain Biking Association's trail rules, online at www.imba.com, have a few other good ones. Considering that we bikers share the trails with hikers and trail runners, bowling them over while trying to set a new land-speed record isn't going to help matters. The IMBA rules make it plain: "Don't startle others. Show your respect when passing by slowing to a walking pace or even stopping. Anticipate other trail users around corners or in blind spots. Yielding means slow down, establish communication, be prepared to stop if necessary and pass safely."
So, after traveling two states away to get into a race that's out of my league, I'm hoping to do so right here in town this year.
I've noticed that Darren Lightfield, a local racer for the Tamarack bike racing team, has taken over the Wild Rockies Racing organization, and it looks like they'll have a good list of races to consider. Check out their Web site at www.wildrockies.com for a full list. Lightfield has already been on my case to try one of these, and I think this could be the year. The Annual Barking Spider Bash went off earlier this month, and I'm glad I didn't try it; I just wasn't ready. But their racing schedule is long and diverse, with lots of room for rookies and hard-cores alike. Each race has several different age-group and experience levels, from ages 12 to 57, and from beginners who barely know how to ride hard for 15 minutes, to confirmed racing champions like Lightfield.
They've got races all over the state, from Salmon to Idaho City, to right here in town. On June 9, they'll be running the Idaho City Excellent Adventure, which takes place on a 17-mile course starting right in town. I'm trying to come up with a good excuse not to race that one, and it's getting difficult. But the one I've got my eye on this year is the legendary Bogus to Boise Banzai downhill race, which isn't as insane as it sounds. On September 16, they'll stage what they call "The World's Longest Downhill Cross-Country Race," in which riders take the Bogus Basin Quad chairlift to the top of Deer Point, where they will begin their own amazing 16.5 mile Banzai downhill adventure. The Banzai finishes up with a huge finish line party at the Boise Co-op, which last year looked like it was going on for hours.
Need more choices? The Knobby Tire Series is also putting on a series of mountain bike races all over the state. Check out their Web site at www.knobbytireseries.com for a full list of races. They've got one coming up this weekend at the Avimor development out on Highway 55: the Coyote Classic, now in its 5th year. Here's their description of the 15-mile race course: "high speed rolling double-track where speeds hit 40 mph; tight, technical groomed single track trails twisting through sagebrush; get-your-socks-wet water crossings; quick steep drops; and nasty little granny gear climbs."
What more could you ask for?
Yes, the Leadville 100 will be going on again this year, in August. But I'm happy to say I'm not tempted by its call this year. When rumors began running around that Lance Armstrong himself would be racing in it, I happily closed the door on that one. For me, summer doesn't have to mean training in terror all year long. I'm hoping that, this year, it means racing with other Boiseans, and keeping my bike in home turf as much as possible.