Adventure September 26, 2017
Rebecca’s Private Idaho
The Gravel Grinder takes to the back roads

‘‘Iowa?” No, Idaho.

It is a common and ironic mistake considering the mountainous terrain north of the potato fields for which Idaho—if people have even heard of it—is most commonly known.

Instead of trying to explain why she lives in Ketchum, Idaho, professional cyclist Rebecca Rusch decided to create a race so that everyone and anyone could see it for themselves. Going on five years this Labor Day weekend, Rebecca’s Private Idaho gravel grinder will bring 800 riders to Sun Valley to take on the area’s most beautiful back roads.

The race starts and finishes in Ketchum Town Square and climbs up over Trail Creek Road into Copper Basin. There is a 50-mile “Small Fry” course and a 100-mile “Big Potato” course.

Rebecca's Private Idaho race

Racers climb to Trail Creek Summit. Courtesy Rebecca’s Private Idaho / Photo by Linda Guerrette

“Idaho has a lot of gravel roads, so this race can bring in road cyclists, mountain bikers, beginners, and pros,” noted Rusch. “From the beginning, one of the most important things to me was to create an atmosphere in which everyone feels like a local. We host multiple parties and group rides, and over Labor Day, there’s the Wagon Days parade, live music and a whole
festival.”

Rusch noted that the race brings people from all walks of life, and even while growing every year has maintained 30 percent female participants, compared to the average of 10 percent for cycling endurance races. “I’m proud that we’re getting more women involved. We also have a great age diversity within the race. In past years, we’ve had a 13-year-old finish the 100-miler and someone in their 70s.”

Nate Whitman won the event last year, finishing the 100 miles in a mere 4 hours and 55 minutes. Executive director of the New Balance Billion Mile Race and a professional mountain biker, Whitman also holds top finishes in such events as the grueling Leadville 100 mountain bike race.

“People of all abilities are out there pushing their own limits and seeing what they can do personally,” Whitman said. “Rebecca’s Private Idaho isn’t road racing, where you’re having to deal with closed city roads, and it’s not mountain biking, which I love, but on single track there is less of a sense of being
in it together. In this race on the gravel
roads, there’s a big sense of community
and comradery. It’s a great vibe and a challenging course, but a really supportive
atmosphere.”

Missy Vail

Missy Vail. Courtesy Rebecca’s Private Idaho / Photo by Linda Guerrette

Missy Vail, mother of two, only started riding bikes a couple of years ago. It was a commitment to improve her health and change being “overweight and completely inactive.” Once she got on a mountain bike, something clicked, and she never got off.  Last year, Vail, her husband, and two friends made their way out from North Little Rock, Ark., to ride Rebecca’s Private Idaho.

“I remember first hearing about Rebecca and everything she’s done after turning 40 years old, and I thought, ‘if she can do that,
I can do that.’ So I entered my first mountain bike race, and I got a podium finish,” Vail said with a smile. She described talking to a friend about her bucket list dream of riding in Rebecca’s race. “I told her, I would just love to be able to do this ride Rebecca does. It’s in Idaho, right? Is it Iowa or Idaho? I don’t know where Idaho is on the map, maybe around Colorado? Close to California?  When we got there and I saw the mountains for the first time, it was the most awe-inspiring thing.
I was just blown away by the magnitude of the place.”

This year, Vail’s whole crew is returning and bringing more. “I help run a women’s cycling nonprofit organization called Arkansas Heels on Wheels (AHOW),” added Vail. “We promote women’s health through cycling. Two of the girls coming with me are AHOW girls. We encourage each other to set goals and reach them and to never doubt how strong and capable we are.”

Vail is excited that this year they’ve planned a little more time in Sun Valley.  Recognizing that many riders come and want to stay longer, in 2018 Rebecca will be hosting a Private Idaho Gravel Training Camp and a stage race so that people can race multiple days. She will also be adding a 25-mile course named “The Tater Tot.”

As Rebecca’s Private Idaho grows every year, it raises and donates more and more to local, national and global nonprofits, giving funds to the Idaho High School Mountain Bike League NIKA, the Wood River Bicycle Coalition, People for Bikes, and World Bicycle Relief. In 2013, the race donated $7,500 to charities and since then has raised over $40,000 (not including the 2017 race).

As it is, looks like there’s a lot going on in Iowa …  wait, we mean Idaho.

This article appears in the Fall 2017 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.