The magnitude of the epic LoToJa bike race is daunting: A 206-mile course that crosses three states, traverses three mountain passes and ascends 10,000 vertical feet. Wondering who would be crazy enough to dream up such a mammoth ride? Try a 24-year-old bike shop owner and his slightly overweight college buddy.
In 1983, Jeff Keller was in Sunrise Cyclery, his Logan shop, when customer Dave Bern walked in with a big idea. “He said he was too fat and needed something to motivate him all year long,” Keller says. Bern proposed creating a day-long bike race similar to the European classics. “Of course I backed him up on it,” Keller says.
LoToJa (short for Logan to Jackson) was born. Today it’s become America’s longest one-day bike race sanctioned by USA Cycling.
“The attitude we tried to bring to it was let’s make it fun and entertaining — and competitive with yourself,” says Keller, co-founder of LoToJa. “I don’t know any company in this area that has done more to bring riders to the sport of riding than LoToJa.”
By Amelia Nielson-Stowell
Photos courtesy of LoToJa
From Amateurs to Recreationists
Now in its 34th year, LoToJa is a rite of passage for many cyclists in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and beyond. Since its inception, more than 18,000 cyclists from around the world have completed the ride. The race’s 1,800 coveted spots are assigned annually through a lottery system. And although the race was the brainchild of two 20-somethings, LoToJa is hardly a race for young riders. The oldest cyclist to complete the race was 84, and the average rider age is 42. There are 30 categories of riders, from top amateur racers to recreational cyclists.
The ultimate goal: Conquer the LoToJa beast by crossing the finish line in under 13 hours.
“LoToJa has a very special energy that I’ve never seen at another race,” says Dave Smith, a software engineer and LoToJa veteran. He credits the more than 500 volunteers and the camaraderie between the riders. “I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life.”
Smith raced in the past three LoToJas with his dad, Randy. “You might think this is a good bonding time for me and my dad, spending the whole day on the bike together, but the reality is that your brain turns into peanut butter and you’re just trying to keep pedaling,” Smith says.
The physical challenge is remarkable, but the iconic topography makes the cycling marathon unforgettable. Smith says the last 50 miles of the course are his favorite, when riders should be feeling gassed-out and too exhausted to continue. But this section of the course emerges from Star Valley, Wyoming, and climbs up Snake River Canyon.
“The scenery is just gorgeous, there’s often a tail breeze and the Snake River is winding 100 feet below you,” Smith says. “You’ve spent eight to 10 hours riding at that point and, even though you’re going uphill, that’s the fastest part of the race, it’s so motivating and exhilarating.”