On Sept 8, Drew participated in the 206 mile LoToJa bicycle ride. I was "support" for him; driving the truck and giving him refilled water bottles and food at the designated support stops. This ride has cult-like status in this part of the country. It is advertised as the "longest one day ride in the US". You are a "real" biker if you complete this race. They have a slick website , many sponsors, and a lot of publicity. The ride is limited to 1400 people (including relay teams). The Internet registration was only open approximately 16 hours before the race was full. Supposedly this year's ride had participants from 42 states and several other countries. This was the 25th LoToJa race.
Drew trained long and hard on his bicycle this summer, including six century rides. In August, Drew rode the Panguitch Desperado Duel 200 mile ride. We missed a lot of rock climbing and other shared activities this summer because Drew was bicycling so often.
LoToJa has seven "Feed Zones" along the course. My job was to meet Drew at four of these feed zones to replenish his food and water (and whatever else). The other three Feed Zones are termed "neutral support", and are managed by the LoToJa crew (no personal support). The personal support vehicles are given a separate route to drive as to decrease the traffic alongside the bicycle riders. These separate routes were long, desolate, and even included an extended section on a dirt road. Since there were close to a thousand support vehicles for this event, the small towns were overwhelmed when we descended upon them! Parking was wherever you could find it. In my case, this often meant quite a long walk from where I found a parking spot to the area where the Feed Zone was located to support Drew. Thankfully we anticipated this, and I was equipped wearing a backpack so I could sprint from the car to the Feed Zone area.
On the morning of LoToJa, Drew started riding from our hotel at 6:30 in the morning. He crossed the LoToJa finish line at 8:20 PM that night. The organizers at LoToJa discriminate against both older people and the citizen classes of racers. Riders are released at the starting line in groups every 5 minutes. The Cat 1 riders (fastest riders) are first, followed by Cat 2-5. The citizen classes follow the pro riders, grouped by age. Since Drew was in the 45 and up Citizen category, his group was third to the last to leave the starting line. Starting the slowest riders last penalizes them, because LoToJa closes the finish line at 8:30 PM. Therefore, a person who starts earlier (sooner) can take longer to complete the course. If you're one of the last groups to start, you'd better ride faster (in order to make up for lost time) to ride 206 miles before dark. This year there was a nasty head wind which slowed the riders pedaling against it.
The moniker "LoToJa" is a misnomer. The ride does not end in the town of Jackson. It ends in Teton Village, which is about 10 miles away. One would assume the ride ends in the parking lot of Teton Village, with hundreds of spectators cheering, bands playing, sponsor tents, etc. Well, not exactly. The riders continue past Teton Village on Rte 390 -- a completely unlit (dark) road with little or no shoulder for riders. The finish line is in a random spot, perhaps just to push that extra mile over some other 205 mile race elsewhere in the country. The finish line is on a lonely spot on the road with no room for support vehicles to park nearby. I arrived at dusk. During the time I was waiting at the finish line, there was no food or water for the riders. I only witnessed two workers at the finish line and they appeared to be volunteers. Neither was happy about riders continuing to cross the finish line as the night was falling. At 8:30 PM, an announcer said "the finish line is closed" so I began to walk back to the parking lot. I assumed the riders who had not finished the race would have support "sag" vehicles picking them up. NOT! If there were official LoToJa sag support vehicles, they certainly weren't out assisting riders in the final (and most dangerous) portion of the race.
The nearest parking lot from the finish line is almost a mile walk back toward Teton Village. After finishing the grueling ride, the riders are left to struggle back to the parking area on a bicycle path (also without lights). All the riders I witnessed opted to walk rather than ride a few extra miles. I saw more than one rider walking in SOCKS, since their feet hurt from 12 hours clipped into pedals.
To describe the finish line as "anti-climatic" for a 206 mile ride is an understatement! These exhausted riders who had trained so hard, for so long, and many had traveled so far -- left to fend for themselves in a dark lonely road! I felt so bad for them!
Drew rode the entire course, has an "official" time six miles from the finish and a finisher's medal. However, on the LoToJa website, Drew is listed as DNF (Did Not Finish). He DID finish (in the dark). There were many riders behind him without lights of any type. This is extremely dangerous. Not only are the exhausted riders pedaling without being able to see what their tire is about to hit, but there is the normal vehicular traffic traveling on the road beside the riders. Most riders did not have any reflective gear. This is an accident waiting to happen! Thankfully, Drew anticipated the late finish time and installed a light on his bike. When Drew crossed the finish line, a volunteer loudly yelled "STOP NOW", and took the $75 timing chip off his ankle. There were no "congratulations" spectators, and I was walking back to the parking lot. Well, I was stumbling back to the parking lot because it was pitch black and I couldn't see. There were no snacks, no water, NOTHING at the finish line. There were no white boards for people to meet each other in the parking lot. How would Drew every find me? It was pandemonium in the dark. With night fall, the temperatures were dropping. I worried that an exhausted Drew without food or water would succumb to hypothermia while trying to locate me and the truck.
It turns out Drew asked two women from Houston to make a call on their mobile phone -- otherwise it may have taken hours found each other! [The pre-race meeting specified that riders were not to talk on mobile phones during the race, so Drew opted to leave his phone in the car].
I was shocked to see how unorganized LoToJa turned out to be. Pedaling into the neutral stops, Drew would discover the aid stations had ran out of bananas and food items.. When reaching the town of Jackson, WY there is a critical left turn you must make in order to continue to Teton Village. There were no signs indicating this -- except two small signs on the opposite side of the road. The small signs were not visible unless you had already moved into the left hand turn lane. I wonder how many riders went straight and missed the turn. I was driving in my truck and I sat through three turns of the light in order to make that left hand turn. No traffic direction (police) were provided at the traffic light.
This was not a charity ride. So what did the $150 entry fee buy? Well, there were some slick LoToJa colored logos in Drew's packet. Rides such as the Ulcer put on by the Bonneville Bike Club not only provide better support to riders, but also donate thousands of dollars to charity.
While I spent hours and hours driving in long lines of support vehicles, I was disturbed by the amount of CO2 that LoToJa is pumping into the atmosphere. With 1400 riders, there are probably 1000 support vehicles driving all day. A fully supported loop ride would negate these needless carbon emissions. It would be staggering if someone calculated how many gallons of fuel were burned for this BICYCLE event!
Apparently there are numerous riders who do enjoy LoToJa; as witnessed by the number of repeat riders. I even saw one rider who had the LoToJa logo tattooed onto his calf. However, I feel it necessary to share our experience on the Internet so aspiring bicycle riders aren't deluded into thinking LoToJa is a well organized, professional racing event. It is both a "fun" ride and a race. Perhaps the racers have a much more favorable perception of the event. If you are in the "Citizen" category, mentally prepare yourself for a big DNF listing, even though your time may be shorter than some Cat 1-5 riders with "official" times.
After LoToJa was finished, Drew and I hung out in Jackson for two more days. The town of Jackson was having an Art Festival on Sunday, but the hiking weather that day was sketchy. Our last day the weather improved, and we were able to enjoy some hiking in Grand Teton National Park.
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