Unlike pioneers of yore who loaded up their wagons with the necessities for a weeks-long trip and steered west, seeking land, opportunity, and possible riches, my wife and I recently headed east, to Ketchum, ID, to be exact, to seek gravel gold. We packed our prairie schooner (a Mercedes sprinter by Sync Vans) with our gravel bikes, gear, food, and our 130 lb Rhodesian Ridgeback Kingston (who gets the whole back to himself) and drove out for the tenth edition of Rebecca’s Private Idaho, a unique gravel event that includes a three-day stage race option. I’m proud to say that I’m one of a handful of folks considered Trailblazers, riders who have participated in every year of the event’s history, so this year’s event held even more meaning for me.
Trailblazers have participated in every edition of Rebecca's Private Idaho
It’s fitting that our path to Ketchum, ID traced the route early wagon trains followed along the I-80 corridor through Nevada where, just outside Elko, you can learn about the 250,000 or so pioneers who rolled through this region over 150 years ago at the California Interpretive Center.
Turning north at Wells, NV on Hwy 93, we sped through a pungent sea of sage as the terrain transitioned into a desert moonscape of sorts, majestic like an old western movie backdrop with unobstructed views that stretched to the horizon. We passed through Contact, NV, a semi-ghost town that was once thriving and is now known for its historical remains and the fact that it’s surrounded by a unique geological phenomenon called a granite intrusion. We crossed the Snake River in Twin Falls and rolled through rural Idaho towns like Jerome and Shoshone, where the smell of freshly harvested hay wafted through the warm air. And then there were the fields of jagged, black lava that spilled out towards Craters of the Moon National Monument to the east, but our schooner was heading north, to the piney greens of the Sawtooth National Forest.
Yuri enjoys that gravel gold in Idaho.
So what’s the Queen’s Stage Race all about? If you ask the queen herself, Rebecca Rusch, she’ll say, “to push the boundaries of what a gravel race entails…. and to inspire roadies, mountain bikers, and beginners alike to see where their bikes can take them and explore the gravel less traveled.” The event itself is comprised of three unique, really fun and challenging stages packed into a four-day weekend: Stage 1: Galena & Harriman Trail Adventure Day (43 miles, with 20 miles of singletrack); Stage 2: DollarHide Summit TT (50 miles w/ 4 mile uphill TT); Stage 3: Baked Potato (102 miles). There’s also a Saturday social ride for those riders coming into town just for Sunday’s one day Baked Potato (102 miles), French Fry (56 miles), or Tater Tot (20 miles). Did I mention the Saturday afternoon parade? When was the last time you saw camels, Basque dancers, albino buffalo, native performers, marching bands, wagon trains, and roller blading hockey dudes gracefully scooping up a potpourri of poop in the streets? I’m going to guess, never! Wagon Days, Ketchum’s Labor Day town extravaganza (and the largest non-motorized parade in the Northwest) had streets packed with wall-to-wall festive holiday goers.
Singletrack in a gravel race? You know it.
But let’s talk about the Queen’s Stage Race. I was part of a small crew of riders who got to test Rebecca’s new gravel race format way back in 2018, so I knew what to expect when I toed the line Thursday with 250 other excited racers, or at least I thought I did.
REBECCA RUSCH BEING REBECCA RUSCH MEANS THAT SHE NEVER SETTLES FOR GOOD.
It can always be better, which is why we start at Galena Lodge so she can include 20 miles of really fun, well built singletrack. Yup, you read that right - singletrack in a gravel race. The elevation coupled with a grinding opening climb thinned the field out and made for a more painful start than usual. My heart was in my throat immediately, my legs screamed, and I felt lightheaded as a I bobbed and weaved my way through the opening climb. My only goal was to not get dropped too badly before the singletrack came and then put my new Niner RLT RDO to work on the flowy, fun trails, hopefully able to recover a bit in preparation for the 26 miles of Harriman Trail that awaited. Exiting the smile-inducing trails of Galena Lodge I was lucky enough to team up with a few other riders for the gravel road out and back, although the wheels did come off my bus with about five miles to go, which meant I limped across the finish line dusted and cramping.
Cracked but happy.
Day two was more about camaraderie than competition, which made it my favorite stage as it gave me time to catch up with old friends as we pedaled out to the base of the day’s timed climb. The 50-mile Dollarhide TT is a bit misleading; the stage only really consists of four miles of uphill TT racing, the remaining 46 miles done at a conversational pace (some folks even stopped to take a dip in the Warm Springs hot springs on the way home). Needless to say I didn’t set any land speed records up Dollarhide, but I did blow out the pipes in preparation for Sunday’s Baked Potato. Speaking of spuds, no matter how fit I think I am for the start of Stage 3, the Trail Creek climb - which comes just a few miles into the day - always kicks me in the teeth and takes longer than expected. On the backside of the climb, as the views and valley open up on the bombing descent, there are wagon trains of cyclists traversing Copper Basin, some moving faster than others, where cooperation is the key to a safe passage. She didn’t get the nickname “Queen of Pain” for nothing, so it’s not surprising that Rebecca threw in a singletrack twist at the very end of the Baked Potato route, a torturous three mile stretch of trail that she’s dubbed El Diablito, that’s notorious for shaking things up after an already long day on the bike. As fate would have it, I intercepted the Queen herself at the top of the last climb and we got to finish the day off together, which was the cherry on top of an already amazing weekend.
You hear that? That’s Rebecca’s Private Idaho, and the Queen’s Stage Race, calling your name. Looking for a gravel adventure or a fun new race format? Have a hankering to explore one of the most beautiful places in the world? Well, get your wagon, your sedan, or whatever wheels you roll, and start packing for next year, cuz there’s gravel gold in them thar Idaho hills!