« on: August 13, 2013, 12:21:29 pm »
see rideidaho.org for the 2013 route information and daily maps.
This was my eighth year and Ride Idaho's ninth. This is the fourth time the route has been set in northern Idaho and the third time we've been on a similar route that included some of the same towns and the delightful Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes.
Ride Idaho is a fully supported, non-luxury ride, 350-380 riders, six days, 400+ miles. Amenities include most meals, a 16-stall shower truck in camp, appropriate sanitation faciliities, fun and interesting extracurricular diversions, excellent sag and communications on the road, superb mechanical support on the road and in camp. An espresso service out of Boise provided specialty coffee in camp at reasonable prices. Swag inlcuded a nice t-shirt with an elegant logo over the breast, a water bottle and a chance to buy the dated event jersey. I have a closet full of jerseys so I didn't buy one.
The route was fabulous, probably the best ever for this organization. We saw parts of Idaho I have never seen. They found obscure backroads that kept us off the main highways for most of the ride. However, some of those backroads were unpaved and we rode on hard-packed dirt. This really upset some of the skinny tire/carbon folks but the tradeoffs, in terms of safety, remoteness and scenery, were worth a bit of careful bike handling and some dust. I enjoyed the challenge and the views but mostly I appreciated the careful attention Ride Idaho expended to find and vette these backroads.
After nine years, you'd think Ride Idaho would have their little tour down to a science but they still have several things to work on. Maps and cue sheets were dumb, produced by free software and assembled without ground truthing, and the route marking was disappointing. They used Route Arrows (disclaimer: I know the inventor of Route Arrows and avidly promote them whenever possible, in fact, he accompanied me on this year's Ride Idaho), a simple and nearly foolproof marking system, but the marking crew was improperly trained. Only a few of us got lost, so, while I expected to be provided with far better maps, marking and cueing, I guess they were adequate to the task.
Inconsistencies in how the volunteer staffs at the rest stops operate their food and beverage dispensing methods meant l-o-n-g lines at some stops and instant access at others. Protection from food-borne illnesses and contamination was adequate but inconsistent. However, most small tours have no sanitation practices at all so I give Ride Idaho lots of credit for what they're trying to do for their clients.
Food? Using local organizations and small catering firms for meals still presents issues for Ride Idaho. We had fabulous meals in several locations and mediocre meals in others. Providing adequate calories, made of wholesome ingredients, on schedule, and accomodating vegetarians with high quality foods are not complicated tasks but Ride Idaho can't quite hit these goals. A dedicated catering service would solve those issues but, without lots of additional sponsorship income, likely raise the cost of a seat on the ride beond what most people would be willing to spend.
In two towns, Sandpoint and Wallace, we were given coupons to use at local restaurants. A good meal cost much more than the face value of the coupons.
Campsites? We stayed three nights on major railroad corridors and two nights next to a freeway. I was raised on Air Force bases so I didn't mind either of these distractions. Earplugs took care of the worst noise but, sheesh, there were lots of sleep-deprived, grumpy folks staggering around most mornings. We stayed the last night in Heyburn Park, near Chacolet, on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes. It was crowded and the grass was neither flat nor level. Bummer. But we had a great performer for entertainment and, of course, there was the beautiful lake and the shower truck. We managed.
Extracurricular activities this year included an opportunity to rent some mtn bikes and do the Trail of the Hiawatha ($50 group rate), explore Wallace ID on foot during the layover day and take relaxed rides to a unique museum and up a ski mountain while in Sandpoint ID. Providing these opportunities required energy and creativity and Ride Idaho deserves credit.
Weather in the Northwest has been stupid hot for months; above average temps for long weeks with absolutely no precip. We had a few very brief thundershowers in Sandpoint and saw some fabulous electrical storms in Heyburn but, for the most part, it was predictably sunny and hot for six days. Fires raged in the distant mountains around us. We were never threathened but that was a toss of the dice. Lightning could have started fires anywhere this year. Anywhere.
Bottom line: Ride Idaho continues to improve while curiously and stubbornly refusing to change some fundamental stuff even after nine years. Come ride with us anyway. I think you will have a wonderful time.
Next year is the event's tenth anniversary. Something special is expected and the event should sell out quickly. Announcements will be made in January, 2014. You can get on the mailing list at the rideidaho.org site.
You should consider Ride Idaho 2014 if you are looking for a fully supported event that is small enough to give you some personal attention yet large enough to provide amenities like the unspeakable luxury of the shower truck. You will see great scenery on a well designed route. You will have all the snacks you want and meals will be, umm, adequate to great. You will enjoy most of your time with us but, like me, find a few things to complain about; these will not affect your enjoyment of your visit to Idaho.