LOTOJA is a European-style road classic that is unparalleled in distance and beauty. At 206 miles, LOTOJA is the longest one-day USCF-sanctioned bicycle race in the country. LOTOJA participants come from all over the United States to test their physical and mental stamina on a course that climbs and descends three mountain passes in the first 110 miles. The race starts in Logan, Utah and finishes in the shadows of the Teton Mountain Range at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
I did it! I rode LOTOJA! And yes, I rode it in a 5 person relay but this is big, my friends. LOTOJA is a serious bike race for serious bikers. And I was one of very few women that participated. Which makes me feel like a serious biker chick! It was quite the weekend experience which, for me, got started Friday evening. After packing bags and bikes we all made our way up to Logan for a 6:30 dinner reservation at Hamilton's Restaurant. The place was packed with LOTOJA goers. They even had a special LOTOJA menu for the evening...one that was specifically arranged with meals that lent themselves well to "carb loading."Afterwards we split up and made our way to where we were sleeping that night...the homes of Brian's and Jason's parents who graciously allowed us to take over beds, couches and air mattresses for the night. We were all nervous. Anxious to get to bed knowing that alarms were going off at 4:30 am. But that anxiety led to giddy silliness as we all prepared our gear for the next morning. I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. At the same time, it was fascinating to watch Alan, who was riding the full 206 miles as he prepared his gear and talked Adam (his support) through what he would need at which stops, etc. Besides just physical training, what planning has to go into a feat like this!4:30 am came all too fast. My nerves didn't make for very good sleeping companions. Regardless, I jumped right up and since I was the first rider for my team, decided to forgo the oatmeal and settled for a banana and some caffeine filled "shot blocks" for breakfast. 45 minutes later...my tires pumped, my race number attached to my bike...my biking partner Kim, and I were standing in the pitch dark, freezing (34 degrees) cold at the starting line. And I started to panic a little bit. I've never seen so many bikers in one place before. Gutter to gutter wide and as far back as I could see. They were letting them go in waves every couple of minutes. How in the world were we going to get moving packed in like sardines?? How was I not going to crash into someone???? 5:51 am Kim and I started off. Slowly, carefully. And then faster and faster....we were on our way!It was the most unique ride I have ever been on. So dark it was hard to see the road, despite the headlights we had on our bikes. Eventually the sky started getting lighter, but then the fog rolled in. One patch of fog so heavy that I was frantically trying to make my light go brighter, point it more firmly towards the road. Then the cold really settled in. My toes went numb. My fingers went numb. Then, after awhile, my fingers started REALLY hurting and I started really worrying about frostbite. But through it all we tried hard to enjoy the journey. To fully take in and appreciate the fact that here we were riding LOTOJA!!! Those 35 miles went pretty fast...the sun was just peaking over the mountain when we pulled into Preston, Idaho. My body was stiff with cold and I got really light-headed the second I got off my bike (probably related to all that caffeine..) but Kim and I were so proud of ourselves...so happy with our ride.
We sent the next two riders on their way and then racked our bikes and headed off to the next meeting spot. My body spent the next few hours going from shivering cold to boiling hot and then back again as my internal temperature tried to re-set itself.
And then, the great majority of the day was wrapped around picking up riders, sending more out and cheering for them along the way. About 6 miles out we parked the car, pulled our bikes off the rack, watched for our two riders to come by and then joined them, ALL of us, to finish LOTOJA together. I'm sure we made quite the sight... 2 relay teams worth of red jersey clad girls, riding in a line under the big FINISH banner. Our team name was announced. Our time of 11 hours and 57 minutes was flashed across the screen.
The LOTOJA finish line was quite different from the Ragnar finish line. Ragnar had a huge party at the end. Music, group pictures, free food. LOTOJA was much more understated. You finish. You congratulate yourself. You go home. It surprised me at first. But I think it's because Ragnar promotes their race purposely as a running party. And although the race is HARD, they encourage silly team names, costumes, and decorated vans. LOTOJA takes itself much more seriously. Funny enough, although Ragnar was physically harder for me, I'm more proud of accomplishing LOTOJA. But though I'm more of a biker than a runner, if I had to choose next year one over the other...I'd choose to do Ragnar.After rolling over the finish line, we congratulated each other, high-fived, took some pictures...and then took our celebration to The Q, a restaurant a few miles up the road. We all looked haggard after our long day but oh, what fun to share war stories and revel in our accomplishment. It was especially fun to hear the experiences of the guys that had done the whole 206 miles on their own. I can't even fathom how hard that must've been! We ate and we laughed and I looked around at all these friends and felt so grateful for the opportunity to do this with them all. This right here...this was just as good, if not better, than the actual biking.